The doors sigh open. It asks me to enter through its mouth. Quarters jingle and things rattle in my backpack. I swing it around the front of me and pull out enough to pay for our ride to the clinic, downtown. I look over my shoulder at Maddy and Eddie. They smile. The little machine eats my money and then theirs, and the bus driver doesn’t look at us, his stomach rests against the steering wheel. The doors woosh closed.
My leg scrapes against a seat as I walk down the long throat of the bus. My fishnet tights scratch my skin under my plaid skirt, the sleeves of my sweater hang down past my hands. I wanted to look adult for this. In the booth against the back wall of the bus, sits a man and a woman. He’s wearing a long black coat. A scarf covers his neck and most of his face.
And she’s wearing this hat. This big, floppy hat like it’s sunny, but it’s cloudy. And this skirt. This skirt covered in flowers, that dance up and down the length of it from the floor where it ends, to her hips where it starts. Her arms, covered in a soft, red blanket, look like they’re holding something tight to her chest.
The bus monster hums, warns the cars around it to get out of the way. I stumble backward when it pulls out onto the road. Maddy presses her hand against my back, my backpack rattles. Still making my way down the walkway to find a seat, I turn to look at her.
Smiling all teeth, her eyes closed, Maddy says, “Fuck.”
Back at Maddy’s house, before here, Eddie cut up little paper squares. He placed a sheet of them on the floor. He pushed the edge of his pocket knife down onto the edges of the squares. He rocked his knife back and forth until the paper split and left the blade carving into the hardwood. Paid for by empty stomachs at lunch time and my sudden imprisonment in my parent’s house, where I’ve cleaning the kitchen, dusting family portraits of me and mom and dad in matching sweaters. All for a shitty allowance.
Eddie said that if I took acid, it would help me relax. I wouldn’t be so nervous for my appointment. They’re going to make me take a pregnancy test. We’re really going because Eddie doesn’t have the money for an abortion, so he wants to get some of those pills, Plan B’s, for emergencies. Just in cases. And then he wants me to get on the pill. He says it’ll be easier. My parents can’t know.
Eddie said that we were supposed to let the acid dissolve naturally on our tongues but Maddy and I kind of chewed them instead. Acid tastes like nail polish remover and the smell of our new History textbooks.
After we took it, we waited.
And then we walked to the bus stop.
Eddie looks at me over Maddy’s shoulder at me. He bites his lip.
He points to the open seats by the man and woman.
Mostly, the bus is empty tonight. We pass a woman in scrubs, nurse-lady, asleep under an ad for the local Planned Parenthood. We pass an old man, probably homeless, in a big and torn coat. He watches the road, breathes heavy. And I can feel his rattling breaths in my throat.
Eddie tells us to sit down. Maddy and I sit on the seats against the side walls of the bus. I set my backpack on the empty seat next to me, the zipper still undone, and my History book falls to the ground; my medicine rattles in its container, rolls on the floor to the book. Eddie picks up my book and my pills for me, then he sits across from us. I look at the clock at the front of the bus; time to take one. I open the lid, put a pill in my mouth and swallow, then screw the lid on quick and throw it back in my bag.
The man and woman, between us against the back wall. The woman smiles at me, her yellow eyes light up, watch me a little too long. The man doesn’t move, under his scarf it looks like he’s sleeping.
Eddie whispers, “Be cool.”
His green hoodie turns his face greener every time he moves.
My eyes burn from the beaming red color of the woman’s blanket. I smack my lips. Cherry cough syrup flavor fills my mouth. Colors have tastes, now. And smells. Like, the Planned Parenthood ad. Pink, bubblegum-flavor, Hubba Bubba smell. The blue and purple carpet material on the seats, blackberry-flavor, elementary-school-classroom-smell. I wipe spit from the sides of my mouth with the back of my hand.
White cloth peaks out over the woman’s arms, over the red blanket. Maybe she’s holding dinner. A plate of food, maybe a loaf of bread, and it’s covered by a white linen. They’re both dressed for a dinner party. Maddy grabs my leg, every detail of my fishnets pushes into my thigh.
“Have we not been talking this whole time?” Maddy’s eyes go wild, she waits for my response.
“Shhhh,” Eddie looks down the length of the bus at the driver, he says, “we just got on.” And he seems serious.
I lean forward toward Eddie and put a hand up over my mouth, so the woman can’t see. “What do you think she’s holding?” I whisper, trying to point with my eyes.
“Why don’t you ask her?” he says. And he laughs.
Me and Maddy and Eddie; nothing else matters. Best friends again, now that I’m finally ungrounded. My parents were totally against me and Eddie at first. But they finally decided they “trusted us.” Trusted him, I guess. My parents said that a sophomore in college shouldn’t want anything to do with a sophomore in high school. But I’m mature for my age, I said. Adult. And Eddie comes from a nice family, we keep the door open when we’re together.
When my mom walked into my bedroom, Eddie pushed me off of him before I even had time to react. My mom didn’t close the door or run away or give us time to get dressed. She just started screaming. Eddie shot up, my mom told him to get the hell out of our house. I put the covers over my head, rocked back and forth. The front door slammed, my mom yelled for my dad to come here. And then I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere but school for months.
My mom dropped me off at Planned Parenthood and parked around the corner. She didn’t want anyone to see our car there. The nurse who did my STD test didn’t look anything like the one in the bus ad does. She was old and wrinkled and had pink lipstick in the creases of her lips. She called me “mija,” and asked how many sexual partners I’ve had. She took my blood pressure and had me pee in a cup. She said it was okay to tell her if someone was hurting me. She wouldn’t tell my parents. I told her no, it didn’t matter anyway.
They already think their baby’s gone.
Maybe she’s holding a puppy. That’s what it is, I can see the fur, peaking out over the white linen; little brown hairs. A newborn puppy who she just picked up from a breeder, maybe, and she doesn’t want it to get cold on the way home. The hairs on my arm stick up, sweat starts to drip from my forehead. I shiver.
The woman looks at me, she says, “Cold?”
“Oh, no,” I say and look at Eddie to see if I sounded weird.
He doesn’t notice. Eddie’s green jacket bleeds into his skin a little more.
Maddy holds her hands out in front of her and stares at her skin. “It’s like, sewn together,” she says, “do you guys see all the little lines?”
The bus goes from light speed to a complete stop. Mouth opens, exhales, and new-comers step on. Everyone wearing jackets, with their headphones in. A mass of life. I put my fingers through my hair, forgetting how short it is, now. Eddie likes me better with short hair. He wanted to cut it, too. In my backyard, I sat with a towel around my shoulders, my hair in a ponytail. And Eddie used the kitchen scissors to cut my ponytail off. He threw my hair in the trash. It looked like he took years of my life, years that lived in the length of my hair, and he tossed them out.
My hand just hangs there where my hair used to be, down past my chest.
The bus pulls away from the stop and pulls me with it. I hit my head on the plastic headrest of the seat next to me, my backpack rattles underneath me. Back to light speed. The man, still sleeping, snores, smacks his lips. And the woman giggles, squeezes the loaf-of-bread-puppy to her chest.
Maddy looks at the woman, “Can I pet your baby?”
Baby. Maybe it’s a baby. But the woman, the Mom, she’s holding it so tight. She’s not giving it any room to breathe. The Mom loosens her grip, lets the cherry-red-cough-syrup blanket fall away from her arms to her seat. And there she is, a sleeping baby, wrapped in white.
The baby’s skin, grey and soft, looks too tender to have out here, on this bus. Her white onesie, the little hairs her head; innocence. Maddy reaches out and pets the baby’s arm. She laughs a heavy laugh, straight from her throat. She looks at me and then at Eddie, and Maddy says, “We were babies, once.”
The movement of the bus rattles the baby’s cheeks.
“How long have you had it?” I ask the Mom.
“Sorry?” she looks at me, tilts her head.
I sit up straight, “I mean, how old?”
“She’s one month,” the Mom touches the baby’s stomach with her fingertips.
The world looks all black and bursts of light outside the window. Spaceship. The old man in the front with his big jacket, spacesuit, he pulls his window open. I brace myself, clench my teeth, waiting for everyone to be sucked out into the stars. But the bus monster stops, sighs its doors open. People shuffle off and on. Eddie sees me shiver and he takes his green skin hoodie off and throws it at me. The bus driver eyes him in the rearview mirror. Nobody’s supposed to leave their seat once we start moving again. Eddie looks up at the drivers and pats the seat to show him that he didn’t break any rules.
I look back to the open window.
Cold air dances in from it and shuffles the old spaceman’s hair.
The Mom looks at Eddie, she says, “You all go to school together?”
Eddie says, “That’s a cute baby.”
Maddy leans into the Mom. She tries to whisper, but in more of a raspy yell, she says, “We’re on acid.” Maddy rolls forward, puts her head between her legs as she laughs. The Mom giggles, shakes her head.
“Seriously,” Eddie reaches across the walkway and hits Maddy’s knee. “Shut. up.”
My throat tightens, goes totally dry. Eddie’s touched Maddy a lot since we got on this bus monster. The Dad snores louder, I can feel it in my nose. I reach up to my face and squeeze mine. Eddie squints his eyes at me. Maddy sits back up and looks at the Dad, “Is he… dead?” she says. I wipe my palms on my fishnets.
The Mom looks at the Dad, “Seems like it!” She pulls the cherry-red-cough-syrup blanket back around the baby with her free hand and laughs.
The bus monster, spaceship, moves onto the freeway. Looking around the people left, the overhead ads, my friends and these parents and the baby that must be a really heavy sleeper because she hasn’t moved since we met her, my heart races. I can’t let my eyes land on something for too long because what if, after the acid wears off, what if something gets stuck in acid-view forever? What if Eddie’s green forever? What if we can never un-see all the little lines in our skin?
What if that baby never moves again because I haven’t even seen her flinch?
Eddie leans toward me and swats my hand away from my mouth; my fingers, covered in spit and bite marks. I don’t remember putting them in my mouth.
Maddy tries to whisper to the Mom again, “We’re going to the clinic,” she looks around the to make sure no one’s listening, “Eddie thinks she’s knocked up.”
“What,” I look at Eddie confused, grab my stomach. The Mom looks down, her hat covers the baby. Eddie looks at me and shakes his head. He points at Maddy and mouths the words she’s tripping.
“Where are you going?” I ask the Mom, sitting on my hands now, still watching to see if the baby moves. Or breathes.
The Mom’s yellow eyes get huge, she swallows hard at what Maddy said. The Mom looks up at the Dad, drool falling from his mouth.
She rocks the baby a little, “We’re going far away.”
Eddie asks if the parents are from around here. The mom shakes her head no, rubs the baby’s arm.
“What’s her name?” I ask.
“I named her Claire,” the Mom leans down to the little loaf-of-bread-baby in her arms and rubs her big nose, to Claire’s tiny nose. The baby still doesn’t move.
Eddie looks at me. He looks at the baby. The bus monster bumps and jumps as its tires run over freeway debris, my medicine rattles every time. And nothing. Eddie scratches his forehead. His eyes sink into his face, his teeth get all sharp. The woman in scrubs at the front of the bus, she wakes up from her nap, stretches her arms. She looks so old, now. The spaceman, he coughs. Maddy sighs as she pets the baby, says how she wants one.
And I feel Eddie scratching. My arms have to stretch and my chest builds a cough and when the Dad snores there’s a tickle in my nose. But the baby. Claire doesn’t have a feeling; not scratch or a stretch or a cough or a heartbeat.
Maddy keeps petting the baby’s arm, she says, “I don’t think she’s pregnant, though. But like, Eddie never uses a condom, everybody knows that.” Maddy laughs. The Mom looks at me, right in my eyes. I look down at my shoes. Maddy’s high. She doesn’t know anything.
The bus exits the freeway. Almost downtown. My eyes meet the bus driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Slowly, I creep out of my seat, and step across the walkway to the empty seat next to Eddie.
The bus driver yells, “Sit down.”
My stomach jumps into my throat.
Eddie puts his arm around mine, holds my hand. He never holds my hand. Our arms and hands go all green, his hoodie turning both of us colors. Every wrinkle, every scar and hair and pore on Eddie’s face. I see them. The bags under his eyes, all grey and heavy. His features sink into his face. And he looks old.
Eddie whispers, “Are you okay?”
I cover my mouth, put my lips against his ear, “I think that baby is dead.”
“We’re almost there,” Eddie squeezes my hand, “don’t freak out on me now.”
Eddie holds my hand tighter, his palms cold and wet. He strokes my hand with his fingertips and his touch feels like fire, like every time he pets me it burns. We never hold hands. Maddy won’t stop laughing at everything the Mom says and every time the Mom moves, her ginormous hat moves with her; she keeps looking at me like I need help. And the Dad, none of the bumps in the road wake him or baby Claire up.
I shake Eddie’s hand away from mine, “Can I hold her?”
“What are you doing?” Eddie says like he’s my dad and I’m in trouble.
The Mom looks at me, her hat follows. She looks down at the baby, her hat covers them like a shield, and the Mom says, “Claire’s sleeping.”
The nurse pulls the yellow cord to get off at the stop.
“Let’s just get off here,” Eddie says, and he puts his hand on my fishnet thigh.
“Just for a second,” I reach my arms out toward the baby.
The bus slows down, the click clack of the turn signal. The red and then green street lights make the Mom’s face change shape. She pulls her cherry-red-cough-syrup-red blanket up over the baby. Redder now, like the blood that poured from my nose after the Planned Parenthood nurse told me that the test was positive. And then my mom took me to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. But it didn’t seem real. He said he was a virgin and that he loved me and I had a History test that week and this couldn’t be happening because I’m still just a kid.
I forgave him. And trusted him.
And now he wants me to get on the pill.
The Mom says, “I think this is your stop.”
The mouth opens. Woosh. Eddie stands up, he pulls Maddy to her feet, touches her again. He never touches her. Staring at the poor, grey little baby, I clench my stomach. What if there is a little life in there? I’m still a kid. And what if there isn’t any life in Claire? What if she’s just that, just his heavy thing in the Mom’s arms. This could’ve-been-girl.
Too big for a pill to kill.
Eddie puts my backpack over his shoulders, he says, “Let’s go.” It rattles.
Eddie and Maddy start walking down the bus-monster-spaceship throat, toward the exit. I try and comb my fingers through my hair again but it’s so short. Phantom-limb-follicles. I stand up and the Mom smiles at me but her yellow eyes aren’t right and the Dad just snores again and the bus exhales and the streetlights change and the nurse stands up to get off of the bus and I should follow Eddie and Maddy but I just can’t leave Claire and Eddie comes up behind me and touches my shoulder and I turn around and pull my backpack away from him and it drops and my pills fall to the floor and scatter and sound like hail hitting the walkway and I lunge for the blanket and pull the baby, Claire, from the Mom’s arms.
The bus sinks down toward the sidewalk.
I stumble back and drop Claire between the Mom and me. The Mom jets up, her hat flaps like bird wings. She screams. The Dad jolts awake, he grabs the Mom’s arm.
And there’s the baby, Claire, on the floor of the bus.
Baby-powder-white pills; adult-candy, all around her.
Her pink, Hubba Bubba cheeks.
She gasps for air.
Sunshine Barbito is a twenty-one-year-old, emerging fiction writer. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Her short story "The Injury" was published in issue sixty-six of 34th Parallel Magazine, and her short story "Heavy Lifting" was published in issue three of Lilun Magazine. Previously, she worked freelance as an editor on many projects by Dark Horse comics, including The Umbrella Academy, Lady Killer, and The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. She has participated in readings all over Portland. Sunshine attends a fiction workshop with a wonderful group of liars; fiction lovers. She intends to continue pursuing a life in writing in New York City.