The Gospel Bus by Jessica Reed

Finalist, 2018 Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

actual ten-commandments charm bracelet from story

Every Sunday my legs bleed. I’m waiting in just my white cotton panties and itchy, lacy bobby socks, covered in goosebumps while my mama picks out my Sunday School dress. It don’t matter to me which one she chooses, cuz I hate them all.

“Why do I have to wear a stupid dress, Mama? Lots of the other kids wear jeans and t-shirts!”

“Those are just the bus kids,” she says, setting the pink and white checked dress with long sleeves on my bed.

When she leaves me to dress myself, I know who will be waiting on the other side of my bedroom door, just like every Sunday. The door opens, whoosh, my mama leaves, and my cat Pinky slips in. My cat hates my bare legs, nobody else’s, just mine. And I’ve got my arms straight up in the air stuck in the sleeves, and the dress caught on my face, trying to pull it over my head. I think this dress is getting too small, I can’t wiggle it down past my shoulders. I am blindfolded by pink and white checkers but I can see that cat circling down there. I’m twisting and turning to hurry when I feel those claws sink in. I let out a scream but the dress is covering my mouth so it ain’t as loud as it is inside my head. But that cat is climbing my legs and holding on with her teeth and ripping the inside tops of my legs with her back claws. Her claws are blurry they are going so fast. I can feel the blood running down, sticky and hot but cold and itchy when it reaches my socks. I am busy placing a gambling bet on which trickle gets to which sock first. Pinky lets go and runs out when my mama opens the door, cuz she knows my mama is gonna give her a swatting.

“That’s just a mean cat,” Mama says, “we should take her to the pound.”

“Nooo!” I say louder than I should cuz I’m crying. “I love her!”

“If you knew what a nice cat was, you wouldn’t love her,” says Mama. But I’m not listening cuz guess what I hear? I hear the Gospel Bus coming up our road. The Gospel Bus is so magical, it is all different psychedelic colors and has loud Jesus music coming out of the speakers on top of it. The song goes like this and right now I am singing along under my dress.

If you want to ride on The Gospel Bus,

the bible tells us that we must,

be born again.

So, if you want to get on board,

take Jesus as your Saviour Lord and right then,

all your sins will be forgiven,

and you’ll be on your way to Heaven,

for sure, when The Gospel Bus,

beep beep, stops at your door.

I know that riding that bus is the only sure way to Heaven. I think that when you die, the bus picks you up, but only if it knows where you live. Otherwise it’s down to Hell you go. The bus stops at my friend’s door that lives catty corner from me. I see it there every week. My mama has got my dress pulled down over me and is trying to sop up the blood with Kleenex she spits in that’s got her lipstick stains on it. The spit is burning my scratches, so I’m hop, hopping away to my window. I love watching The Gospel Bus, there ain’t nothing in this life more beautiful. I see my friend Eric and his little brother Derrick rush onto the bus and their mom is in her bathrobe reaching up to hand over her two-year-old little girl, Erica, who is also wearing jeans, to the helper. Their mama is pregnant and I just know that I know she is gonna name the new one Derrika.

“Mama! Please, please, please can I ride that bus? It’s going to our church! I bet it’s going to get there even before us!” I beg.

“No, we are going as a family,” she says as she is fastening my ten commandments bracelet around my wrist. I got my heart set on a ride on that bus though and I beg her every week and every week she says no.

So I can’t help but mention to the back of her head as she leaves, “But they stop for free ice cream after church!” She turns around and gives me that shush look.

I drop it cuz I gotta finish getting ready. There is no way I can be late for Sunday School. Eleven weeks ago, I’m keeping count, we were all given a gold bracelet. For free! And then they told us that if we learned a new commandment every week for ten weeks they would give us a commandment charm to put on it. So, every week we line up and go whisper it in the teacher’s ear. Some kids get all shy and red cuz they forgot to learn it, stupid kids. They don’t got all the charms. There are weirdo spaces on their bracelets, but not mine. I earned them all so far and when I turn my wrist back and forth and back and forth, the charms fly out and clink each other like music. The charms are real gold too, I know this cuz I bit one and it felt like gold, and then I scratched a window with it, which I know is for diamonds, but it scratched a little anyway. They all look like scrolls, and the commandments we learn are written on them in fancy, old-time letters. This is the last week and I gotta have that tenth one or else. Thou Shalt Not Covet, Thou Shalt Not Covet, Thou Shalt Not Covet, I say it over and over in my head so I won’t forget.

My brother is already standing at the door in his crazy cool patchwork denim suit that he cried for in the store. Mama gave in and bought it for him, even though it cost a lot cuz he don’t usually cry for nothing. He is twelve, two whole years older than me. He’s got a bracelet too, only it’s chunkier than the girl ones, but he said he likes mine better. My daddy is standing there all handsome and we climb into the green Gran Torino and we are off like gut shot rabbits. I’m standing in the back, bent over with my arms around Daddy while he is driving, we don’t gotta wear our seat belts like some dumb kids. “Thou Shalt Not Covet, Thou Shalt Not Covet,” I say under my breath.

“Daddy, what does covet mean?” I ask.

“Well,” he says, “I reckon it means not to be jealous of what other folks have or get to do.” And at that moment I see it out of the corner of my eye, that shiny Gospel Bus whizzing right on by us. And I reckon I am coveting those kids on that bus right now. Looking way up I can see them while they are passing, all laughing and comfy in their T-shirts. I see some kid named James waving from the back and making faces at us. It’s a full bus and I’m hoping there is enough tenth commandment charms to go around.

“Daddy! Don’t let that bus beat us to church,” I scream out real loud. And that is all my daddy needs to hear. He laughs and lurches out into traffic and I’m holding on for dear life while my mama yells at him cuz she was putting on her lipstick and now it’s jaggedy all over her face. And we are whooping and egging Daddy on, and we almost got them passed when Mama turns around, and she is not smiling. And the lipstick down one side of her mouth gives her a clown frown and makes me scared and so I stop laughing real quick.

And then she says in a growly voice that doesn’t sound like it belongs to her, “Don’t you know those are the kids whose parents don’t love them enough to take them to church themselves? Those are just the kids whose parents want to get rid of them for a few hours!” I am all kinds of shocked cuz I did not know this and I look over at that grand bus just as Daddy is pulling ahead of it and I see a kid in one of the windows who still has some jelly or something on his face from breakfast. His mama ain’t even wiped his face.

We make it to the church right before The Gospel Bus, but then it pulls up right to the curb at the front door. My mama and daddy go around to the side door for their class. My brother is about seven steps ahead of me on our way to the Sunday School door on account of his longer legs. I am trying to catch up but avoiding the sidewalk cracks cuz I don’t wanna break my mama’s back. I’m jingling my almost done bracelet and repeating, Thou Shalt Not Covet real quiet when I see James step off that bus. He’s the last one off cuz everyone knows all the bad kids sit in the way back. James is old. Old enough for lots of zits so that makes him like thirteen. James comes off the last bus step onto the sidewalk just as my brother passes. I see him looking mean at my brother.

“Faggot,” he says, and then he spits right where my brother is walking. Now, I don’t know what a faggot is, but I can tell my brother does and I heard him called that at school before too. He slows down, but just for a millionth of a second. And the backs of his ears look like the sun is shining right through them. His head drops just a little along with his shoulders but then he just keeps right on walking.

If he had turned around right before he entered the Sunday School doors he woulda seen a Goddamn miracle. Ain’t that what people come to church for anyways, a miracle? He woulda seen me flying through the air and landing right smack on top of James’ shoulders. I don’t even remember how I got there. It was like the angels picked me up. Everyone is inside and the bus has gone and I am holding onto James’ greasy, curly hair like there ain’t no tomorrow. My thighs are locked tight around his neck and my knees are dug up under his armpits, with my shiny, black church shoes stuck into his sides just like we are playing Chicken Fight in a pool. James is twisting and wailing but I’ve learned from my cat Pinky and I ain’t letting go and I am scratching with my claws. There is slippery blood on James’ neck, a lot of it. And I’m so proud until I see that most of it is mine from the scabs of my cat scratches opening back up. So, I reach my head down and I take the top half of his ear in my cat teeth and I bite down until I hear a crunch and my mouth gets salty blood in it, his this time. It tastes like when I sucked on and swallowed a penny when I was little.

And then just as I am opening my mouth to let go of his ear, I get real close and whisper right down into his eardrum, “You only ride the bus because your parents don’t love you enough to take you to church themselves, they only want to get rid of you for a while. And you wear jeans cuz you ain’t got no expensive patchwork suit like my brother.” Something changes in him and he stops twisting and screaming and his shoulders drop a little like my brother’s did, making it easy for me to climb down. I don’t look back when I go through the Sunday School doors. I’m too late to whisper Thou Shall Not Covet to my teacher so I don’t get a charm, and when I look down I see a weirdo space in my bracelet. I count twice but the Ninth Commandment is gone too! It must have fallen off during my miracle fight. I remember it from last Sunday, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor. My daddy had said that meant not to lie about others. I look over at James and he is sitting with his head down. And I think, I won’t bear false witness against him, I’m gonna tell the whole truth on him, and then some!

After church I run outside lickety split and see The Gospel Bus waiting by the curb again. That’s when I see the sun shining off the gold and reach down for my Ninth Commandment. It is right behind the bus tire and is all scrunched up with some gravel on it, on account of the bus running over it with both sets of tires. I grab it and see that it is scratchy and bent back on the scroll part and missing the piece that hooks it to my bracelet. I look at it real close up to my face and see that underneath the scratches, the gold is flaking off and it is just plain silver metal. It ain’t real gold, and it ain’t nothing special and I drop it. I look up at the bus while I am squatted down there, and I can see up underneath it, all dirty and greasy, and I can see it’s been painted cuz it’s still got old yellow paint in parts. I stand up and watch the bus pull out as it runs over my ninth commandment again, and I think to myself, that bus ain’t nothing special either.

Jessica ReedJessica Reed published her first book in first grade and then didn’t write again until she entered and won a coveted spot at the Guideposts biennial week-long workshop. Since then her work has appeared in Guideposts, Angels On Earth and Mysterious Ways, both as her own stories as well as ghostwritten for others. She also writes for various Upstate New York Publications. She resides in Walton, New York, nestled in The Catskill Mountains. Since losing two of her Ten Commandment charms at an early age, Jessica has lived by the Eight Commandments, and this has served her well. Her family includes her daughter, Willow, her son, River, her ex-husband/best friend, Michael and many pets.


STORY IMAGE: Courtesy the author

  1 comment for “The Gospel Bus by Jessica Reed

Share a Comment