At four p.m. the day before Christmas,
There’s no one on my bus.
Dark as midnight; everyone’s bailed out.
I slow to a stop at the foot
Of the hill to Lakeridge. Snow
Beneath the streetlamps glows
Slick as melted plastic. Two cars
Abandoned in the ditch endure
Their gradual erasure, flakes
Stippling out their color. I look
At the snow tapping the windshield
And call Control. Afraid I’ll get stalled,
I ask if this road’s been closed. No—
Continue on regular route. I swallow.
Can I get this big machine to the crest?
I lean forward and press the gas.
I begin to slip—
Snow chains scrabble like a planer
Over the ripples in a warped board.
The tires whine and skirr,
But the bus isn’t moving. In a nearby yard
A girl staring makes me stop and set the brake.
No bigger than the snowman beside her, she kicks
Its stomach; like ghosts of winter, they gleam
In the light from my windows. The engine hums
When I climb out, as though it’s wondering, What now?
Beats me—I should’ve been driving a plow.
Can you fix it? yells the girl. I trudge
Over, clouds of breath bringing my fridge
To mind, and the turkey stuffed inside it.
Hope so, I smile, but from her side of the street,
All I see is a bus that’s stuck
As a lit-up block of ice. A snowball smacks
My arm; when I turn, the girl laughs and flings
Another. Then her eyes widen: Your bus is leaving
Without you. I whip around—it’s starting to slide
Slowly backward. It’s gaining speed
As I lurch-run toward it. When I reach
The middle of the road, all I can catch
Is the sight of the bastard receding like a flare
Dropped down a well. Missing the cars
And the ditch, my runaway steers true
As a toboggan in its chute.
Oh Lord, let it get all the way to the flat
And just hit
Some snowbank! But then it hooks a left, loudly cracks
Aside a wooden fence and—the angle blocks
My view. Hurtling down the slope, I snag
A mailbox, whacking my leg
Against what’s left of that fence. The bus has punched
Through the front of a house: it looks clenched
In a ragged mouth. I knock on the door
That’s been knocked in and call out—no one’s here.
Squeezing through, I turn off the engine.
The house inside is dark as the den
Of some beast, so I find the kitchen light,
Call Control again. After a long quiet,
I hear: You’ll have to wait a while; there’s lots
Of buses tied up now. I figure I’ll sit
Back in my seat, but a car pulls up
In the driveway. Sighing, I lick my lips
And go out to meet the owner. She whistles
When she sees the wreckage, then grimly smiles:
I didn’t want to cook tonight anyway.
I’m apologizing for everything, but she says:
I need some hot chocolate. You want some?
I feel myself nod, my face numb.
Gathered in her kitchen, the three of us
Sit close as kin—this woman, me, and my bus.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 28 Number 4, on page 31
Copyright © 2021 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com