Smokehouse

In late fall 1973 I sat on a long green counter just inside the smokehouse door, skinny legs dangling, whacking my heels against the cabinets below. First grade suited me. I waited for the school bus by myself instead of driving into town with my oldest brothers like last year, when I went to kindergarten at St. Thomas. Now I took the bus with kids who ranged in packs, most from the trailer courts and floodplain homes down on Lower River Road. They’d sensed fresh blood when a bucktoothed tomboy joined the route, and the year kicked off with a lively few kids barking like dogs when my face emerged above the wide bus stairs. Other mornings they wondered loudly if anyone else smelled a gangrenous gopher coming down the aisle, or yelled to one another about the dirty tumbleweed lodged above my ears. My cropped hair was always messy then and did have the color and texture of tumbleweeds. But I didn’t give one damn about my hair, and I cared even less about the big kids on the bus.

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