to the Zoo
I see him at the bus stop, waving his arm in rhythm with my
windshield wipers. His pink t-shirt sticks to his black skin. His head
almost hits the top of the doorway as he pulls himself up into the
bus. He shoves his pass into my face and grunts. What do they do with
them in those group homes, if they cannot speak? I motion for him to
move back. Can’t he see? MOVE BACK, it says. Only
a nut like him would go to the zoo on a day like this.
Dad used to take us to the zoo every Sunday, when Ron was a baby, before
the doctors knew. “The boys’ day out,” he said. “To give
mom a chance to sleep in.” One day we heard a lion roar. “Did you
see that?” I said. “Did you hear him roar?” Normally they
just lie there, watch the emus through the fence. Smart how they put the emus
there, for the lions to watch.
I loved the zoo. The tigers first. Then the elephants. I knew them by names.
Patsy. Rosie. Flint. Small sad eyes, thick eyelids. They look at you, and they
talk to you with their eyes. I used to stand there, trying to understand. Something
about Africa. Hot. Dry. Lost. Loss. Then we would see the zebras. They have
a large place to run around. Almost like in the wild. I took Chris there once,
after the divorce. He just wanted to ride the ponies.
In the rearview mirror I can’t see his face very well. Only the
white of his smile, and the eyes. What does he have to smile about? What
did Ron have to smile about, showing his crooked teeth, rotting right
in his mouth?
Whenever Mother turned her back I punched Ron in his stomach. He would look
at me and smile. Sick brain, sick body. I never smiled, and I was not the one
beaten that much.
Mother gave Ron away when he was seven. “Someone else will clean his shit,” Mother
said. I was happy, but nothing changed. Only that he was not around to punch
anymore. Mother slept as much. Yelled as much. Took as many pills. I told Mother
once I missed Ron, and she beat me with Dad’s belt, left welts on my
legs. I never said anything, not after that.
By the next stop I see him tugging on a girl’s sleeve. She looks like
a nice girl. In a dress. Long black hair. I should go down, ask if he is bothering
her. Throw him off the bus. Some of them are violent, you know. So many kicks
in one’s gut make one want to kick back. Ron never kicked back then,
but I am sure one day he would have. I think about radioing the dispatch for
help, but they think I am crazy, too old to be driving, too old to take care
of myself. Five years till retirement. Unless some retard with a gun kills
When I look in the mirror again the girl is talking to him. The dummy must be
bothering her. If he was Ron, I would have kicked him off the bus.
Ron must be dead by now. Downs don’t live long. Their hearts are
The girl is laughing. Are they doing a crossword puzzle or what? The dummy
even talk. One word from her, and he is off my bus.
He presses the stop button, three stops till the zoo, grunts something
that sounds like “bye,” looks at me as if I owe him something.
Like I should say something back. Just houses around here. A new development.
Red brick. Large windows. Rich people like lots of light. I press on the
gas, I see him slide past me. A gush of air rushes out through my nose,
takes me by surprise. I am not used to holding my breath for that long.
The girl comes to sit at the front. Purple hair, not black. A nose ring.
Tattoos on her hands, a ring on each finger. I do not talk to girls like
her. I don’t
understand a word they say either. When Chris comes once a month, things he
says, I don’t get half of them. And he is a good boy. Combs his hair,
goes to church.
“Can you let me off just after the turn?” she says.
What, am I a freaking taxicab?
“Please?” she says. “I forgot my umbrella.”
I make the turn, open the doors. The girl jumps off even before I stop. She
is not going to the zoo either.
I wait at the zoo for seven minutes. It should be ten. No one gets on,
it is still raining. I punch in my time, I drive off. He must be still
on the street. There is nowhere for him to go. He must have gotten off
at the wrong stop. I will open the door, yell out to him, “Hey! Get on my bus!” I
can give him a ride, I have three minutes saved. As long as we go straight