The entire bus chanted Bucky’s name like we were headed to a hollowed out place in the woods to perform a ritual, where this busload of kids would surround her body with fire and dump bags of snakes on her head. Every morning she took shoves, elbow-jabs, kicks and got pinballed from seat to seat, up and down the aisle. Sometimes she’d fight it, other times Bucky just cried. Big Al roamed the bus driver mirror when Bucky got on the bus. He peered under the rim of his mesh ball cap that read, “Big Al’s Refrigeration.” He watched everyone; his big eyes like a kit kat clock’s.
Big Al was a big man with a low voice. His voice rattled the bus windows when he called out for a kid to make room in their seat so Bucky could sit down. Big Al was a lug. His head sunk into a stack of neck fat. His skin tags looked like cornflakes or southern-fried, chicken skin. His neck disappeared into a pair of shoulders that weren’t really a pair, but more like a mattress with a front-pocketed, t-shirt somehow stretched over it. His shirts always read, “Big Al’s Refrigeration.” My father said he had a decent business and did good work. Big Al pointed his bratwurst fingers up at the mirror and tapped the reflection of whatever kid he picked that morning, leaving a fat greasy print on their disappointed face as they stared back at his eyes.
No matter who Big Al’s bratwurst finger landed on, myself included, every kid slid open their little window, dropped down to the dirty floor, and pinched their nostrils like they were practicing a poison-gas safety drill. Bucky’s odor cut clean to the brain. I breathed her in, over and over, like she was tragic footage.
Bucky’s smell took me into her house, face to face with her family. Her father smoked four cigarettes at once and they all dangled from his lip while he pissed in a coffee can behind a recliner. Her mother stood in the kitchen with the dog hiding out under the hem of her mauve housecoat while she discretely pressed herself against the corner of the countertop. Unintentional compost piles grew in psychedelic, fuzzy-whites, purples and greens and hugged the dishes and glasses that were stacked and piled in the sink like children’s books on a shelf. Bucky’s two brothers played bloody-knuckles and knocked each other’s fists as hard as they could. They flicked their cigarettes into a litter box full of clumped-up cat urine, feces, and half-buried, plastic army guys. Satan sat at the kitchen table, clipped his finger nails, and read the local paper. He peered over a pair of reading glasses as he scanned the local bowling league results. The smell of cheap black ink wavered off the thin pages while jagged, translucent brown fingernails flung around the kitchen. The smell was piss, cigarettes, animals, decaying food, newspaper ink and clipped fingernails. That’s what Bucky smelled like to me.
Bucky’s mother dressed her in short, sleeveless tops with low v-necks and white jeans that looked like they were frozen to her legs. My father made comments about her while we played horseshoes in the yard. When he’d see her walk or ride by on her bike he’d say something about how I should be chasing Bucky around the neighborhood and not playing horseshoes with my old man. He said I needed to be trying to get in her pants, and sometimes he’d imply that I was. When my legs were covered with poison ivy infections, my father was certain that I’d been out in the woods with Bucky, rolling around between her legs and putting it to her. I just kept tossing horseshoes when he’d talk about that kind of thing. I said things back like, “She really smells,” or “I think Snyder likes her,” or “They worship Satan at her house.”
“Always an excuse,” he’d say. He clanged his horseshoes together to knock the sand off. He leaned to the side to avoid the smoke that climbed up his face from his lip-dangling cigarette. He squinted at Bucky through the smoke as she rode off up the hill in her frozen-tight jeans. “You should be more like that Snyder kid, out there chasing that neighborhood piece around,” he’d say.
Snyder was tall and slim with blond hair and jeans full of holes. Girls signed my school yearbook with, “Have a good summer!” and “See you next year!” In Snyder’s they put, “Nice knees!” and “Call me!” He was the kind of kid my mother didn’t like having in the house. She thought he might steal. To my mother, his mere presence in the house made it dirty. It didn’t feel safe to leave him alone with anybody, either. Buddy Smith told me a story about when Snyder was at his house, his mom sent him to get the mail and when Buddy Smith came back, Snyder had his hands up his mom’s shirt. Buddy Smith said Snyder bragged about it and said they were like beer mugs.
At Snyder’s house we took pulls off vodka pints that were stashed away in a top cabinet and ate snack cakes and pastries from the bakery outlet where his dad drove a truck. There were pocket-sized, glazed pies; pecan twirls; little donuts that came wrapped in a tube; and taffy candies wrapped with jokes that weren’t funny to us until we made them our own. “Q: What do you do when a rhino charges you? A: Give him your credit card and kick him in the balls.” And “Q: What do you call a horse that likes arts and crafts? A: A homo horse.”
We ate pecan twirls on Snyder’s twill couch and he put in some video of people fucking on a kitchen floor. The video was homemade-looking and he always made a big deal about how the movie came from some religious spot in his old man’s sock drawer. “The old man’s got little pencil marks drawn on the bottom of the drawer to outline the video,” Snyder said. “And there’s always a pair of red-striped socks right on top, rolled up tight. He never wears them.” In the video, the floor the people fucked on was dirty and stained and the linoleum pattern looked familiar. The man and woman were hairy and average-looking and were always getting in the way of the chairs at the kitchen table. I stayed out of Snyder’s kitchen and feared that I might recognize the pattern in the linoleum and the lion paws on the bottoms of the table legs.
Snyder came out of the kitchen with a couple of wine glasses. “A nice tit should fit perfect in a wine glass,” he said, with his shirt pulled and the glass to his skin so it surrounded his nipple. “That’s what the French, over in Europe, say.” Snyder’s family didn’t seem like the type to drink wine to me, but they weren’t wine glasses anyway. They were tit measurers.
One day, me and Snyder ghost-rode our bikes into the ditch and headed into the thin woods behind Bucky’s house. We explored around through the trees and wandered into a hollowed-out circle of peeling cedars. It looked like somewhere a kid would go to smoke cigarettes and look at dirty magazines. There were half-melted army guys, butchered dolls, frayed cigarette butts, pocket-sized glazed pie wrappers, empty bottles, and a box of mason jars on the ground, full of blood and sealed with brass lids. There were initials, vulgar words, goat-faces, upside down stars, and other strange dyslexic-looking letters burnt and carved into the bark of the cedar trees.
We knelt down on the shale inside the circle. We were afraid of the jars, curses, witchcraft, and the blood. I pulled a jar from the box and held it up to the light that came down from over the trees. The blood was too thick and dark to let any light through. Light hit the brass lid, then my eyes, and then I dropped the jar. I caught it, somehow, before it hit the shale. I squeezed it tight and took a deep breath while Snyder just knelt there smiling, his bare knees pressed against the shale through the holes in his jeans.
Snyder stared at the jars of blood in the box. He picked one up and raised his arm into the air. The brass lid shined. It was quiet. Snyder hurled the blood-filled jar into the shale and it exploded. Blood and glass went all over everything in that circle of cedar trees. We knelt there, looked around the circle and then outside. There was nothing around, just handlebars standing out from the weeds where we dumped our bikes in the ditch.
We smashed the rest of the jars of blood and hoped nobody at Bucky’s could hear us. We hoped we could outrun Satan or Bucky’s brothers if we had to. We hoped we could make it to our bikes, no matter how blood-soaked and afraid we were.
“What kind of blood is it?” I asked.
“Cat or dog, I bet.” Snyder said.
“Maybe it’s deer blood.”
“Babies, maybe,” Snyder said. “Looks like baby blood to me.”
The smashing went on, jar after bloody jar. It was a murder scene without a body. We smashed and splattered for what felt like hours, but had only been minutes. Blood dripped down our necks and soaked our shirts. It soaked our socks and dripped off our shoes. Blood spattered over the peeling cedar bark, the pocket-sized glazed pie wrappers, the frayed cigarette butts, butchered dolls and half-melted army guys. We stood still and smelled the blood, shale and our sweat in the circle of cedars. The sun was on its way down and everything was getting an orange glaze. My legs were shaky, like I’d been running and running, but I’d been in that circle all along. The sweat was cold. Snyder’s chest swelled up big as he breathed. He spit. Then I spit. Then we left. We didn’t see anybody around. We pulled our bikes out of the ditch and rode away standing up on our pedals and pumping fast with our blood-spattered legs and our hair, wet from sweating and the blood, stuck to our greasy foreheads.
I became obsessed with that small circle of cedar trees. I couldn’t stay away. I wondered where the blood came from, if it was cat blood, or dog, or baby blood like Snyder said. I wondered if there’d be more, and what was happening with it; if somebody was drinking it, or taking a bath in it, or performing some kind of ritual with it. I’d ghost-ride my bike into the ditch, dive into the weeds, and watch for something to happen around that circle of cedars.
One day me and Snyder hid behind some gravel piles and spied on Bucky’s house through her backyard. Satan was out on their rotted deck that surrounded a blue, above-ground pool. He dipped a net, rowed back and forth with it, and ladled an eddy of leaves and water striders. He knocked the net on the deck rail and dumped wet piles of things into the grass. There was a rusted grill on the deck. A small, steady stream of gray smoke puttered out from under the lid like old lawnmower exhaust. I smelled meat, onions and burnt butter. Satan smoked a cigarette, never let it leave his lips, and exhaled from his wide, dark nostrils. Obnoxious and opaque brown horns grew out just above his forehead. They curled out around his ears and went down close to the corners of his mouth. He was lean and wore a white tank top with a neon cigarette-brand logo. The same kind my father smoked. He wore cut-off jean-shorts and thin, gold bracelets dangled from his hairy wrists. We watched him scoop and net a dead cat from the pool. Its fur poked through the mesh and looked like a giant sea urchin. He hung the net over the deck rail and spun it quick, flinging water as the dead cat dropped poolside, behind the blue vinyl walls. Satan put the net down, flicked his cigarette hot into the pool, and piled the meat and onions from the grill onto a plate and went inside.
“I still think it’s baby blood,” Snyder said. “It’s way too dark.”
On the bus a few days later, Bucky made her usual way down the aisle. She rolled her eyes at every kid that pinballed her away from them. Buddy Smith didn’t even see her. He sat up in his seat, up against the wall as usual, and stared out the window. Nobody was next to him, so Bucky sat down on the edge of his seat and Buddy Smith never seemed to notice at all. At school, Buddy Smith was known for his poor attempts at suicide. He often tried to saw his wrists open with safety scissors and made that look impossible. He’d get a bathroom pass just to go ram his head, with a running start, into the aluminum bathroom stalls. But, somebody always heard him before he ever knocked himself unconscious. One time, when I caught him, I let him take a few runs. “Go ahead,” I said to Buddy Smith. “Give it your all. You can do it.” I said. When he dropped the kickball or made a bad throw, he quit to go wrap the swing-set chains around his neck. He dangled himself from the swing set chains as much as he could, but the chains were always too long and his knees would touch the ground. We all watched him kind-of dangle there, flopping around in the mulch while the swing swung around and knocked him. He swallowed staples, too, but only one-at-a-time and it never killed, it just made him squirm at his desk. Some days he sprawled himself out in the turn-around at the main entrance of the school, so a parent wouldn’t see him and run him over. Buddy Smith was a tall, lanky, albino-skinned kid, like day-glow, and everybody saw him lying there when they pulled into the driveway to the school.
Bucky sat down on the very edge of Buddy Smith’s seat and he never said a word. The bus didn’t move. Big Al just stared back at us all with his kit kat clock eyes and held the door open. Everyone was quiet. Big Al nodded and then there were footsteps on the bus. Two mop-headed boys bobbed up the steps and stood in the aisle. They were Bucky’s nameless, older brothers. I didn’t know anything about them, other than that they drove a green station wagon with wood veneer along the sides and that nobody knew their names. They didn’t go to school. Bucky grinned and just looked outside at whatever Buddy Smith was staring at, as her nameless brothers stood in the aisle of the bus and looked around. Big Al nodded up to his mirror and the mop-headed boys nodded back.
They had blonde hair that twisted, feathered and curled around their features, almost covering their eyes. They had pale skin and freckles and wore thin t-shirts with stretched-out cigarette burn-holes, grease smudges and other stains. They wore jeans like Snyder’s, with holes in the knees, but they looked like real holes that hadn’t been made on purpose (I know Snyder made his with a pocket knife.). Their shoes were bulky, untied hi-tops, with tongues that bulged out. I pretended that I didn’t notice they were even on the bus.
They patted Big Al on the shoulder and came down the aisle. Most of the kids on the bus had never even seen Bucky’s nameless brothers or had any clue who they were. They stared at everyone, but paid no attention to Bucky. She paid no attention to them. The nameless brothers made their way to Snyder and me. One clogged the aisle while the other shoved the kid sitting in front of us into the wall and leaned over their seat into my face.
The few whiskers he had hung out of his chin. He smelled like his sister. His breath fogged my glasses. I shook. Snyder cowered.
“Stay the fuck off our property,” he said. I felt the heat of his breath on my face. He pulled my glasses off and stuffed them down my shirt. “Understand?”
“I do,” I said.
“Do you?” He smacked Snyder’s face. Snyder squinted and turned his head like a dog.
“Yes,” Snyder said.
“Don’t fuck with our wine,” the brother said. “You ruined our whole fucking supply.”
“Wine?” I held my glasses in my shirt and wiped the lenses with my thumbs. The bus was silent. Buddy Smith stared out the window.
“What’d you think it was? Fucking jelly?” the brother said. Bucky just sat there, but she must’ve wanted to say something.
“Blood,” Snyder stood and spoke up from his seat. “It was blood!” The brothers looked at each other. Bucky pretended she had no idea what was going on. The brakes hissed again. Big Al let the bus roll a little to remind the brothers that he had to move along to school. Snyder started to chant, “Blood!” he yelled. “Blood! Blood!”
And the busload followed along, “Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“We make our own wine you dumb-asses,” the brother leaned over the seat again and shoved Snyder down by his throat. They walked backwards down the aisle. The busload continued to chant at them, “Blood! Blood!”
“It takes a long time to make your own fucking wine like that!” One brother yelled. They nodded at Big Al and stepped off the bus. The brothers leaned on their green station wagon in their driveway and watched the bus pull away full of kids pumping their fists and chanting, “Blood! Blood!” Until Big Al’s voice rattled the windows.
“Quiet.” He stretched.
I squinted back through the bus window and tried to dig my glasses out from under my shirt. The brothers gave us the finger.
Snyder and me went back to that circle of cedar trees now and then, but we never smashed anything. We dumped our bikes and snuck into the trees to look at the jars. Sometimes Snyder brought a girl along and told her the story of how we destroyed everything and that there was bear blood everywhere, and nothing about baby blood.
The next summer that came was a jar-of-blood summer. The back of my yearbook was full of “Have a fun summer!” and “Stay cool!” Snyder’s had phone numbers, hearts, and “xoxoxo.” The weekend before school started back up, Snyder and a couple of girls took some mopeds for a ride down a dirt road out to the Four-Mile Dam. It was off a dirt road just past Fatboy’s trailer and at the end of a two-track. Katydids flung themselves from the ditch weeds into their tan forearms and shins as they held the throttles. Snyder’s kneecaps tore through the holes in his jeans and his shoelaces hung down and popped off the dirt road. Fatboy bred peacocks at his trailer and they wandered and squawked around his yard. Snyder and the girls yelled at each other and pointed to Fatboy’s dumb flamboyant birds. There’s a hill just before Fatboy’s, then a sharp corner. And that day there was a brown, Caprice Classic, with four doors, flinging gravel around the corner that they never saw, or heard coming. The mopeds were too loud and the peacocks were too flamboyant. And that was it.
Our little school did the things that little schools do. Counselors were made available and brought in from other schools. Moments of silence were asked for and granted. There were moments of silence that just happened out of awkwardness. There were excused absences. There were excuses to be absent, without it ever really being the reason. New sections of the library and the playground were built and dedicated to their names. Teasing and bullying stopped for a few days, and started up again. Flower gardens and saplings were planted and commemorated. Donations were collected. Teachers, their helpers, principals, children, the super intendent, librarians, and especially the lunch ladies cried. And it went on through the school and then the town.
The local news station interviewed classmates and they did their best to sound like adults and talk about the meaning of things and the reasons for things but they just sucked air. Sobbing families were interviewed and they said they forgave the man that drove the brown, four-door Caprice Classic, which everyone knew wasn’t true. The funerals were well-attended and the local flower shops were very busy for the few days after. Someone built a cross out of two-by-fours, painted it white, hung flowers on it, and pounded it into the shoulder of the dirt road where the accident happened. And it still goes on.
Every year, there are memorial spots in the small town’s newspaper that send love and prayers to the kids that rode those mopeds that day. They are published on their birthdays and usually say something like, “You would have been 24 today,” or whatever their age would be. They have little sayings and rhymes about love, memories, angels, reuniting and journeys. Those memorial spots are laid out in the newspaper between bowling league scores and lumberyard ads. They are above advice columns and underneath church service bulletins. And whenever the memorial spots are printed in the local paper, somebody clips them like coupons and tucks them away in a nicely-bound book.