by Noel Jones
Before I was a drunk that slept in parks, I was a twenty-something who took the bus to and from work every day. The bus passed through bourgeois neighborhoods in Brooklyn with brownstones and brown nannies.
One day, my bus crashed. I escaped all right physically, but neurologists said a jellybean-sized piece of my brain was boggled so hard that I’d always be a little weird.
When I was still normal, I read magazines. On the day of the accident, I, and the man sitting next to me, read a magazine. Just as we turned a page, I heard a small voice say, “My shoelace is untied.”
People never spoke to me on the bus, so I had no idea how to react. I looked up from the article and said, “Excuse me?”
“I said, ‘My shoelace is untied,’” the girl repeated.
I watched as she lifted her foot and dangled her lace above the grooved floor of the bus. I hadn’t needed to speak to someone that young since I was her age. I didn’t know if I should treat her like a puppy or a person. She stood there with her typical blonde hair and green eyes, like one of those kids in public service announcement ads on the subway. I felt like asking her what websites she visited that day.
Our bus sped over a pothole, and the little girl fell into me. For a moment I smelled childhood in her bubblegum shampoo and the fading scent of strawberry toothpaste on her breath.
I held her up and asked, “Do you want me to tie your shoe?”
I wondered if the other commuters would think I was a pedophiliac foot fetishist looking to get off, but I knew they didn’t care.
“Yes, please,” she said.
I stood up and set my magazine facedown on my seat, which made the man next to me scowl. With an avuncular gesture, I knelt in front of the girl, and slapped my thigh. She understood and raised her foot. I have a daughter now, I thought.
As this happened, an old woman on the bus shouted, “You moron, you’re passing my stop!”
“The chime’s broken, lady,” the driver said. “Just say, ‘next stop!’”
As they argued, the bus hopped a curb and pummeled through the glass façade of a nearby bank. Like the Hindenburg disaster, nobody knew how it happened, but everybody remembered the aftermath.
The bus fell on its nose. My magazine and I slid into the corner of the bus behind the driver’s seat. Anyone that couldn’t grab a pole fell and landed on the windshield, which soon looked like the palette of a painter experimenting with reds. One guy bounced toward the windshield like a doomed trapeze artist, first off the ceiling, then off the floor. Although I couldn’t see the old woman that caused all this, her handbag landed on my chest, and in it I saw crumpled tissues, hard candies, and rosary beads.
My little girl wasn’t spared. I reached out for her when it all started, but she, too, fell to the front of the bus. She looked up at me as she tried to push herself up, but the man who was reading my magazine fell on top of her. The windshield shattered beneath her like a partially frozen lake, and glass punctured her stomach.
At least she’ll never get old and pathetic, I thought.
When it was all over, I looked around and saw that, although bloodied, most of us lived. I climbed over a man whose head was smashed like a Gallagher watermelon, and crawled through emergency exit window.
While onlookers rushed toward the wreckage, the cries of the survivors urged me to walk faster. I walked through the neighborhood and saw people my age that should’ve been on their way to work, standing around, eating croissants in cafes, all while I had just lost my daughter. One woman that should’ve been working walked her dog toward me, and then stopped to dab at my temple.
“You’re bleeding,” she said, and then showed me her fingers.
I shrugged and looked at her dog. “Is she a Welsh Terrier?”
“Yes, she is,” the woman said. “Why?”
“She kind of looks like an Airedale.”
“A little,” she said. “Why are you bleeding?”
I told her that I was a contractor renovating a pre-war brownstone, and said, “Always wear your hard hat!”
We laughed until blood dripped from my nose, and landed on the dog.
“Abigail!” the woman shouted, and she and Abigail left me.
I collapsed on the sidewalk.
When I woke in the hospital, a neurologist stood over me and told me about my injury. Two months later, I’m drunk and sleeping on a park bench, where I am now a bereaved parent.