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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Cheshire

Fog is weird. 
Go to bed and it’s hotter than Hell, wake up and it’s a cool sixty degrees and the moisture in the air is thick enough for you to stick a straw in and take a drink. There’s your car. Parked as close as can be to the tailgate of your neighbor, because their lack of common courtesy leads them to park in the middle of the two spots in front of the duplex. 
Can’t see shit. It’s still dark as night, and when the phone flashlight blinks on it illuminates one of the land clouds you seem to be standing in the middle of. Motherfu—you catch yourself before the entire expletive has escaped because there in the upstairs window across the street are the sleepy, blinking eyes of a little, curly-headed girl. You smile at her through the dark, unsure if she can even see you. Likely, your teeth look like a scary Cheshire cat smile while your skin blends into the darkness around you. 
You fall down into your low riding car, simultaneously tossing your bag in the passenger seat. It wasn’t zipped all the way, and now your books and your lunch are spewed all over the floor of your car. Wonderful. You’re already running late, even though the sun isn’t up yet, so you choose to ignore the mess for now and get to the highway as fast as you can. 

This is no easy feat. You do the thing your boyfriend hates—a three point turn around in the middle of your street instead of driving around the block with the flow of traffic. But, again, at the ass crack of dawn you don’t give a shit. So, you turn, careful not to hit any of the neighbor’s cars, especially since you can’t see through the fogged-up windows, and pull up to the stop sign at the end of your street. 
This stop sign doesn’t make any sense. This is the same thought that crosses your mind every morning. You are stopped, the cross traffic is continuous, and there is a stop sign about twenty yards to the right for the continuous traffic. This means it’s an absolute bitch to get off of your street. The other stop sign, and the continuous traffic of the road in front of you, creates the perfect timed parade that keeps you from beating the school busses on their morning routes. 
Finally, a gap opens up and you peel out into it. Probably a bit unnecessary, but you don’t care. You see ahead of you a gleaming green light, beckoning you forth into the light early morning traffic. “Yes!” you whisper to no one in particular, but it’s followed by a much louder “Fucking A!” right after. The geezer in the car in front of you is sitting through the green light. You beep your horn at him to alert him of the green light, and with a speed that would rival a sloth he lifts his head to see the green blink away into yellow. He flies through the light, leaving you in the glowing cloud of exhaust and fog now glowing red.
You grab your phone and plug in the aux cord, knowing that nothing but a good song will make this better. You try Pandora, the safe option as the driver of the car; but the first song it plays gets a thumbs down, and the second one isn’t any better, so you switch to YouTube and type in the new Sam Smith song you heard last night. 
When you peer up from the glow of your phone the light blinks back to green and you turn your car to the right. Both front windows are rolled down just a bit to get some cool air in the car. The AC went out when you got in a fender bender a few weeks ago, and you’re still waiting on insurance to send you a check in the mail—minus the deductible of course. 
You can tell by the moisture, and even the smell of the fresh air this morning, that it’s going to be hotter than hell again. How exactly is one supposed to dress in this type of weather? You opt for jeans and a loose-fitting button up, but when you walk out of the building this afternoon you’ll break a sweat halfway through the door. Or you could wear a dress and bring a cardigan to layer, but inside the building the AC is so strong that you’ll be shivering in class. It’s the annual fight between summer and fall that leaves everyone feeling swamp-assed and miserable. 
You look down at the speedometer and realize you’re going ten over in a thirty-five. You ease up on the gas just enough that you don’t thinkyou’d get a ticket if pulled over. “Eight you’re great, nine you’re mine,” right? That’s what my dad always told me, and he’s never had a ticket. You pass the donut shop, wishing that you hadn’t hit the snooze button so many times this morning. The smell of fresh dough wafts through the open window as you pass and your stomach lurches in hunger. 
You brought a water and a little crystal light packet with you… maybe the sugar will trick your stomach into thinking it’s getting some food. Your left knee assumes the position on the steering wheel, and you try to pay ‘hyper-attention’ to the road, while in your lap you are balancing a full bottle of water and your hands are tearing open the little package of dust. You take your eyes off the road for one second to line up the packet with the mouth of the water bottle, and when you look up you are forced to slam on the brakes at a red light. Motherfucker!This time the expletive escapes in all its glory when you see the pink dust and half your water bottle swirling together in a deadly mixture in the lap of your white jeans. 
You grab some napkins out of the glove compartment, but there’s no fixing this pink mess. You dab up the extra liquid, but the stain is setting and the sky is barely starting to lighten on this beautiful day of yours. You’re wet all the way through to your underwear, and it feels as if it’s spreading to the car seat too. Mom is going to be pissed off when she sees the stain on the seat. You figure this is what you get for requesting cloth seats in your new car. 
You make it through the next little strip of stores without any disasters, and you come up to the area where the two lanes go into one. You continue frantically checking the time, wondering where the busses are at any given moment. All you can hope is that they’re running late as well. 
Being the safe driver you are, you decide to search for another song on YouTube. You do the eye dance—up, down, up, down, up, down—dodging mailboxes, making sure you don’t cross the yellow line, and pulling up the song you want to hear. You literally have to swerve to avoid one mailbox in particular, and after that you verbally scold yourself for being such an idiot… but you know you’ll do it again. 
You’re feeling confident about the time you’re making. When it’s this early, and it’s still dark, there are so few people on the first few back roads that you can get up to seventy without a single worry that you’ll get a ticket. You are also moving quickly to try and beat the bus that cuts you off almost every day on your way to class. You make your left turn onto the road and your heart drops to the floor of the car. There, 100 yards in front of you, are the flashing red tail lights of a school bus picking up the first of many children on the road. 
This particular school bus has to be the most cautious one in the entire state. After picking up the little tike at this house, the bus won’t even risk going ten miles per hour to the next pick-up. Yes, a lot of these houses are next door to one another, but you’re in the middle of nowhere and acres separate the houses. So, here you sit. A line of cars slowly builds up behind you. The dread and frustration as heavy as the morning fog that surrounds the cars. 
No one even bothers honking their horn. You all see the lights, the one the driver of the bus won’t turn off for the next two mile stretch. You were really hoping to avoid a headache today, but as the lucky car sitting directly behind the bus today you feel the claws of a migraine slowly taking their hold on your brain as the red lights flash on, off, on, off, on, off. It doesn’t help that the jacked-up truck directly behind you is situated just perfectly to shine it’s left headlight into your side view mirror. 
The frustration of this unsolvable situation, and the promise of a horrible migraine, has you throwing your head back in frustration. You could probably take a nap right here in the car and when you woke up the bus would still be right in front of you. Okay, you know you’re being a bit dramatic… but the situation is calling for dramatics. 
You groan when YouTube plays the most annoying add to have ever been made. The tomato soup add. You know the one? It’s some commercial for a laundry detergent or something and a man and a woman literally take turns singing the words “tomato soup” and “shirt” back and forth to each other. The thing is, when the man sing-screams shirt it sounds like he’s saying shit. 
You turn the car volume down all the way until the add finishes, and as your car continues to creep along you pull up Twitter to tweet about your advertisement outrage. YouTube for the love of God please remove the tomato soup add before anyone else has to hear that atrocity. 
When you look up the bus has pulled forward again and you pull up a bit to match its progress. When you look to the driveway of the latest stop you notice there isn’t a child standing there. The bus waits. And waits. And waits some more. Clearly the kid isn’t coming, and you’re about to let the bus driver know when he thankfully pulls forward to the next house. 
You know that these kids are young, but they have parents that will get them to the bus stop on time, right? Are you expected to be late to your own job because someone else was late getting their tween out to the curb? You think not, but the bus pulls up to another dark deserted driveway and then it waits. 
You give a tentative tap on your horn, it makes a puny little sound, and it seems this made the bus driver mad. Of course it did…but you’re mad too, so you don’t care. The bus driver sits there longer to spite you and your pansy horn, even though it’s clear that this desolate driveway isn’t going to produce a bus rider. 
You turn the volume back up a bit and play the next song on the YouTube recommendations list. It’s a country song you used to listen to on here a lot and it pleases you after the ear bleeding caused by the tomato soup/shit commercial. You turn it up enough so you can sing and not hear yourself, but it’s doing little to distract you from the clock on the dashboard. 
You carefully pull your car closer to the yellow line. You’re hoping to get a view of the street ahead of you. Maybe then you can figure out just how many houses are left to stop at, and how the traffic is looking on the street ahead of you. Unfortunately, it’s illegal to pass a school bus, otherwise you would have whipped it past this guy without a second thought. It looks like you might finally be nearing the end of this never-ending street. Thank God.
The snake of cars that you have become part of pulls up to the stop sign at the end of the street and all comes to a halt at once. At this point you're like one big creature winding through the streets at an unbelievably slow pace. The brakes of the bus whine out as if slowing from ten miles per hours to none was a taxing feat, and the exhaust pummels you through the window. You cough out a protest, and try to fan the black smog back out the window before it settles itself in your car. It’s no use, the cloud inside is as bad as the fog outside. 
The red glare in front of you diminishes, and you realize that the bus may in fact be making its right turn. Yes, you will still be stuck behind this yellow monstrosity for a few more miles, but at least there are fewer houses on this road. You try to think positive thoughts, but Monday’s and migraines aren’t conducive to that kind of thinking. 
Even with the smaller number of houses, you are inevitably growing more irritated with the knowledge that you’d be going fifty-five miles per hour if you hadn’t gotten stuck behind the bus this morning. Instead, you’re going a smooth twenty and then the yellow flashing lights come one. Like a stop light, the bus is warning you that it’s about to stop at a driveway for another little kid. 
You wonder how many kids this damn school bus can even hold. It’s got to be getting close to capacity. 
The yellow lights change to red, and the monster in your head rears in protest against the unbelievably bright flashes of light coming from the back of the bus. You have no doubt that these bulbs have been changed recently. This is your school bus, or at least it feels that way, and you recognize when something about it changes. So, the spotlight brightness of the warning lights is a little bit different from the bleak red that was there at the end of last week. 
The school bus has a hard time gaining any speed whatsoever after this particular stop, because we are heading up a steep hill. At first it seems as if it might even come backwards and bump into you, before the engine churns to life and pulls the giant metal beast forward. It’s chugging up the hill slowly, but you know it has another stop at the bottom on the other side. No need to get excited about a little movement. You sing along to the end of the country song and try to keep your cool. After the next two stops you and the bus will be going your separate ways. 
You pick up your phone and search for a song that you can belt out once you're moving quickly. You're scrolling for a minute when red lights seem incredibly close. You whip your head up and slam the brakes on harder than you ever have before, squealing to a stop behind the school bus. 
You can smell the burned rubber from your tires, and you see a pair of curious little eyes peering over the last bus seat. Your heart is racing so fast it almost hurts, and you released your phone at some point in your hurry to hit the brakes. You have no idea where it is, but you're also too scared to take your eyes off the road for right now. 
“Holy shit,” you say to yourself. You roll the window down a bit to get some more cool air coming in, it seems you’ve started to sweat a bit from the sudden surge of adrenaline. You are less than an inch from the back of the school bus. That could have been so bad. You mentally scold yourself for looking at your phone too long, and swear that next time you’ll be more aware while you search. 
The car behind you looks as if it must have swerved to the right avoiding your back end and the oncoming traffic, but they also appear to be flipping you off out the window. You wave your hand out the window trying to show you're sorry, but they probably couldn’t care less. You pull your hand back into the car and grab at your heart, still racing. 
The bus is finally reaching the top of the hill. It should all be smooth sailing from here on out. There’s just the last stop at the bottom of the hill. You give the bus ample space to pull ahead, and you lead the snake forward once again. 
The hill leads down into what seems like a small valley. You notice the fog is much worse at the bottom, as if it got trapped there overnight and couldn’t escape. You have trouble seeing the line on the road, and when the bus isn’t hitting its breaks you swear it disappears into the dark. You carefully make your way down the hill after it, but you’re excited to finally be gaining some speed. 
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” you yell to no one in particular. The song has ended and you can’t believe what has just come over the radio at high volume. 
The add. 
“Goddammit,” you mutter and grab for the aux cord. You have to follow its length over the middle console to the floor on the passenger side floor of the car. You can’t reach it without ducking your eyes under the dash of the car—rendering you completely blind to what’s going on in front of you. But you cannot listen to another second of this song. 
You focus on the road ahead of you for a three count, making sure you don’t see any brake lights, or oncoming traffic, and you take the plunge. Your thumb and pointer barely grab onto it, but you have it! You can turn off this stupid add, and turn on a banger to improve this drive. 
When you lean back up the flashing red lights are the closest they’ve ever been, and a new monster is tearing its way through you. 
Fear. 
Time stops for a moment. You feel frozen in time. Tomato Soup! The radio man scream-sings at the top of his lungs. You can’t even feel frustrated with him right now because a cold crippling fear is gripping onto your body.
You look up at the back of the bus, helpless to do anything about your situation at this point, and the last thing you see before collision is a Cheshire cat smile and two glowing eyes peeking out from the back seat of the bus. 

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