Replete, we exited the house through the garage and continued across the driveway, the asphalt cracks packed with caterpillar-like birch catkins. From our hilltop vantage point on Ellis Avenue, we could just view Main Street and catch the faint rush of passing cars below. An imposing grass cliff topped with stately gravestone pillars rose behind Main Street. As we descended each swell of the hill, my grandfather pointed out the houses, “That’s where Hardy Hubbard lives. Here is Virginia, she gave you that handkerchief once.” I nodded resolutely, not wanting to disappoint him that I did not have the slightest memory of these figures.
At last, we turned into the gravel driveway of the abandoned repair shop and gas station. Rows of silhouetted orange-amber glass bottles guarded the windows of the shop. They always glowed eerily, whether sunny or cloudy, convincing me there was some light within, undoubtedly ghostly, that gave them their inextinguishable power. Passing the bottles and turning the corner, we emerged into the yard of buses, most of them traditional and yellow, some of them pug-nosed, some of them dolichocephalic, all of them retired for unknown and uncounted years. The buses were surrounded by rivulets of gravel as rain wash flowed around their wheels and grass grew underneath them. I climbed the stairs through the open front doors, sat in the driver's seats, grasped the towering, immobile steering wheels, squinted in the cracked rearview mirrors, jumped over the rows of seats, clicked the seat belts, opened and closed the doors that were not rusted in place. I darted about, at once the admonishing bus driver, the criminal backseat sitter, the impatient stop waiter.
But in the end, I always felt melancholy about the buses. I needed to see all of them so none would feel unvisited, none would yearn for the cudgeling from a child’s foot. As I grasped my grandfather’s hand and we headed back towards the street, I looked up at him and knew with a deep longing that one day too the grass would grow around him, his glasses would become cracked, and his limbs stuck in one orientation. Now, I imagine the bygone buses in their heyday, flowing with oil and roaring diesel, and I still walk with my grandfather. I still hear the reassuring timbre of his voice, watch the corners of his lips draw up in joy, and feel his solid presence full of movement that seemed like it would always be there.
You stand there in front of the reptile cages at Petco, your hands at your side, accepting the do not tap the glass stickers as law. You watch them with academic interest, not with want like your older sisters, although you tell me you wouldn’t mind a snake if Fishstix, our cat, wouldn’t try to eat it. Some grow large enough to eat babies, you continue matter-of-factly, pushing your glasses up your nose, but I remind you that your little sister is seven and too large to be eaten by a snake. A woman tosses an odd look our way, but I ignore her.
You used to live inside a glass cage like the snakes do, air controlled perfectly, but they called it an isolette. You lived the first two months of your life inside this glass cage, small enough to fit entirely in my two hands pressed together like a bowl. I was allowed one hour a day to hold you, but only if you tolerated it. I still dream of the beeps and shrieks from those machines that kept you alive. You were my third child, and yet changing your diapers terrified me. I used to wonder if you even knew I was your mother, as my milk was given to you via feeding tubes and nurses tended to you more than I did. A recorder played our voices inside your cage, your dad and I reading stories while your older sisters shrieked and giggled in the background, but I feared you wouldn’t know us--wouldn’t know me.
Your sisters weren’t old enough to come inside the NICU, so they pressed their faces to the hallway windows and looked into the vivarium of many babies inside many cages and tried to figure out which one was their sister. When you were big enough, a nurse would take you out and hold you as close to the window as the wires connected to you allowed and your sisters marveled at you, how tiny and weird you were, careful to never tap the glass.
Now you grab my hand, strong and slightly clammy, and pull me towards your next curiosity.
FLASH GLASS: A MONTHLY PUBLICATION OF FLASH FICTION, PROSE POETRY, & MICRO ESSAYS