I’m waiting in line, and there’s this little girl standing behind me. She has big brown eyes and blonde hair, and I drift into her conversation the way people do sometimes.
The girl is talking to a man dressed in an old-time suit with one of those high collars. The man spins the brim of his hat in his hands. I presume the man is the girl’s father and that he has dressed-up and brought her to this.
The girl says that she just had to come because the bus driver used to drop her off special right in front of her house, even when it wasn’t raining or snowing. Not only that, but he once let her borrow his gloves, and she holds up her hands and says she has been meaning to give them back and forgot and now this. She says she was going to paste one of the gloves into her scrapbook, but she hasn’t figured out how to do it.
The rose she holds in her floppy covered hands she has dipped in wax. She says the tight, waxed spiral did not open like her teacher said it would, instead its head is all droopy and the stem is about to break.
The procession jolts ahead, then stops. Those upfront pause as if to take note of a traffic accident and to thank God they’re not participants in it.
“He couldn’t read very good either,” the girl says, ” ’cause he suffered from this letter switching disease. Sometimes STOP became POST; sometimes YIELD became YLIED.”
She says she sat in the seat behind him every day and held onto the metal bar when the bus went down the other side of the mountain. She says she feels especially bad because she didn’t say anything to him Monday morning when she got off the bus; she was too busy finishing her dreams.
We inch toward the coffin: a sturdy transport, long and bulky, immobile, ready to carry its passenger to his final stop.
“I think they should retire his bus number,” she says, “and, I’ll tell you what I hope they don’t do. I hope they don’t paint over it or change it or something.” The girl holds up her gloved hands, one on each side of her face and tries to read the scene like side mirrors, her brows knitting-up. “If they change it then when he looks down from Heaven he won’t be able to read it as his number ’cause in Heaven the letter-switching disease will be all healed.”
She drops her hands and gives me one of the gloves. “I’ve decided, I don’t want to go up there anymore. Just tell him that I sure do appreciate him letting me borrow his gloves, and tell him I’m sorry and I would have returned them but I misplaced the other one. Just tell him that, will you?”
Dr. J. Bradley Minnick is a writer, public radio host and producer, and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Minnick has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” which celebrates influential authors and novelists with unique facts from their lives. These spots air weekly on UA Little Rock Public Radio and its affiliated stations. In 2014, Minnick began work on Arts & Letters Radio, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work. He has produced over 95 episodes, and this work has been acknowledged by the 2016 national PRNDI 1st Place award for Long Documentary for “Sundays with TJ,” and a 2020 SPJ Arkansas Diamond Award for Long Documentary/Investigative Reporting for the two-part “They Liked My Phras’n: The Life and Music of Rose Marie McCoy. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.