Bus 752

By Todd Richardson

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is about my brother. Out of respect for his wishes, I’ve chosen not to use his name in this piece.

My brother is schizophrenic. He hears voices. When their whispers began inside his skull, it was like they took turns carving up his grey matter with a serving spoon. He’d forget to feed himself. He’d forget to bathe. He wouldn’t sleep for days, and then when he did, he’d wake up in angry fits of paranoid delusions.

I watched the disease erode him, wash away pieces of him, stone by stone. His illness left a perfectly sibling-shaped hole inside me—a cartoon silhouette of my brother’s body punched through my abdomen.

I called him this Thanksgiving, like I do every year. When I first heard his voice through the receiver, I cringed.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’ve decided to look into our family history,” he said. “Joined the Buchannan’s Scottish genealogical society.”

“Oh,” I said, “that could be interesting.”

“I gave them my first and last name, but when the guy wanted to swab my cheek, I told him no way. I don’t need anybody cloning me.”

On the other end of the phone, I squeezed my eyes shut, pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and finger. “You don’t have to give them your DNA.”

“Yeah, well I’m not going to,” he said, “I’m already afraid of what they’re going to find in our family history, because what if all they find are fucked up people like me?”

My stomach tightened as he spoke. I wanted to tell him that he wasn’t fucked up, that he didn’t have anything to be ashamed of or fear, but instead all that came out was: “I’m sure it will be fine.” As soon as the words left my lips, I regretted them. They sounded insincere. Vapid.

“Whatever,” he said.

A moment of awkwardness between us.

It was my brother that spoke first. “Are you safe?” he asked.


“Keep a hammer next to your door,” he said. “In case they find anything in this genealogy thing, you should be ready.” There was a beep as he hung up the phone, followed by empty silence on the other end of the receiver.  My hands trembled as I ended the call and let a wave of grief roll over me.

My brother wasn’t always like that. Most days, I tell myself I can’t recall what he was like before his illness, but that’s not true. I remember him as he was when we were boys: fearless, rebellious, and endlessly fucking cool.

When he was in fifth grade and I was in third, we used to ride the same bus home together, number 752. We’d sit in the back-back with some other boys, fold up paper airplanes out of our homework. My brother always creased the wings up like a fighter jet.

We’d sit and wait for the driver to haul the bus over the freeway, and at the very peak of the bridge, we’d yell “Bombs away!” and send our worksheets sailing out the windows. Then he and I would exchange giggles, reveling in a shared sense of euphoric vandalism as we watched our squadron glide over the railings of the bridge and cruise over afternoon traffic, crash-landing somewhere out of view on the asphalt far below.

My memory of him on the bus is crisp like a snapshot—his open-mouthed cackle as we send our worksheets out over the warm draft of the freeway, me with my first two knuckles stuffed between my teeth in an effort to contain my excitement.


One day, the bus driver, a woman with stiff greying hair, got sick of our antics and stopped 752 on the other side of the bridge. My brother turned to me as she marched her way down the aisle. “Don’t say anything,” he told me, just before her presence loomed overhead.

“Who threw that?” she said. Her gaze was a searchlight in a prison yard, bearing down on unruly inmates. I didn’t dare look at her; I knew my face would betray us. Instead I watched her shadow in the sunlight as she swung her head over the tops of the brown, faux leather seats.

When no one answered, she spoke again. “I’ll write you all up,” she said. “Suspend every last one of you.”

“We didn’t do anything,” my brother said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my him square his jaw.

“You threw those planes out the back,” she said. I pressed my knees together in an effort to keep them from quivering.

“Nope,” my brother said. “Wasn’t us.”

“I saw you!”

“Couldn’t have,” my brother said, “because we didn’t do it.”

“I don’t—” the bus driver stopped midsentence. “I saw it in the mirror, paper airplanes zooming out through the window.”

“Did you see who threw them?” He cocked his head to one side, a perfect imitation of a concerned citizen.

“I saw them flying out of the back of the bus.”

My brother shrugged and shook his head.

“Don’t bullsh—” the driver held up a hand. “I’m writing the principal.” She turned on her heel and made her way to the driver’s seat, muttering under her breath. As soon as she sat, she shifted the rearview mirror so that its reflection squared perfectly on my brother. Then she started the ignition. For the rest of the ride, the gaze of the bus driver’s hazel eyes watched my brother in the extra-wide rearview mirror. My brother calmly returned her glare, his hands tucked in his pockets, one leg sprawled lazily across the center aisle, until we got to our stop.

  “I’m watching you,” the driver said when the bus pulled to halt and my brother headed to the open door.

He grinned at her as he passed. “Sounds great,” he said, and climbed off the bus, me tagging behind. As he made his way across the street, he shrugged off his backpack, unzipped it and withdrew a folded piece of paper. He turned in the middle of the street  and flung his fighter wing down the length of the bus. It soared past the driver’s side window, the 752 stenciled in black, and well beyond the rear wheels. The driver honked, shook her fists. My brother smiled back at her and flipped her a thumbs up before sauntering his way toward our front yard.


I know he got in trouble for the paper airplane stunt, but I can’t remember what his punishment was, I guess because the consequences didn’t matter to me. What I remember is my eleven-year-old brother’s smile as he flung his plane, its white edges winking yellow against the side of the school bus—like he was James-freaking-Dean.

I don’t know what the genealogical society will find when they trace our family history. But, Brother, I hope they find a slew of people like you. Brazen, bold, and endlessly fucking cool.

Todd Richardson is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.

Brother Jeb

by Todd Richardson


“We don’t need prostitutes in San Marcos,” the man said, “because we’ve got sorority girls!” He stood at the base of a statue in the Free Speech Zone of the quad, his index finger raised at a young woman in a tank top. He wore a brightly colored stole draped down his shoulders. He clutched a bible in one hand and a staff mounted with a crucifix in the other. The passing woman looked up at him, horrified that she’d been singled out, and hid her face behind one hand like a horse blinder as she shuffled through the crowded forum.

The preacher went by “Brother Jeb,” and was a campus celebrity. I recognized him from last fall when he’d put on a similar show, berating students from the protection of the Free Speech Zone, proclaiming hellfire and doom on passersby. Brother Jeb had drawn a herd of spectators that semester, many there to oppose him and others there just to watch. Later, a friend showed me a video on his phone shot from just over Brother Jeb’s shoulder. The camera focused on the students yelling and cursing the reverend. Red lettering flashed at the bottom of the screen: HATE, GODLESS, BLASPHEMY.

Now that Brother Jeb was back, I wanted to see what would happen. It was a sunny Friday afternoon after a fresh rain, and a cool breeze whispered overhead between the oak leaves and carried a scent of earth into my nostrils. The good weather had brought several university organizations to the quad hoping to recruit students trekking from one end of the university to the other. Fraternities, sororities, the LGBTQ Student Union, the Anime Club, the Quidditch Club, the Universal Unitarian Student Organization, the Hispanic Business Student Organization, The Black Student Alliance, and unaffiliated groups of hippies playing ukuleles and bongos lined the quad, choking the narrow walkway through the Free Speech Zone marked by a large Grecian statue. It was at the base of the statue that Brother Jeb set up shop, yelling down at students as they passed.

“The Lord will punish all sodomites!” Brother Jeb directed his voice toward the LGBTQ Student Union. “You will burn in hell for your disgusting sins!” The group of students behind the LGBTQ booth ignored the taunts, but his comments drew boos and jeers from other students.

“You’re sick!”

“You’re not a Christian!”

A knot of students formed in front of the statue. A few began debating scripture with Brother Jeb, but for every verse they quoted he replied in kind with something hateful. Each shout drew another spectator from the passing students, who decided that the hate-spewing preacher was reason enough to skip class. Brother Jeb began whipping the growing audience into a frenzy as he lashed out with his fiery tongue.

“Those scuffed knees are badges of your sin!”

“Fuck you!”

“Oh Lord, help these wayward women keep their legs together and find good husbands, as was your intention.”

“Someone ought to slap you!”

Brother Jeb spread his arms and lifted his head toward the heavens. A woman pushed forward to confront him, her hands clinched in rage, but her friend pulled her back. Behind the preacher, I saw a man and a woman emerge from the corner of the quad and set up video cameras pointed at the students. I wondered if I might find their videos online later.

I turned my head and saw that the Universal Unitarians hung a sign in front of their booth that read, “We’re not with this guy.” The Catholic Student Union hung a similar sign that said, “Forgiveness, Love, Charity.” Somewhere at the back of the crowd, students began to clap in unison and sing “This Little Light of Mine.” A few of the hippies in the quad joined in with their ukuleles, and the song spread from student to student in the crowd.

Brother Jeb tried to shout over the singing, but it washed his voice away. I could see him, red in the face, mouth open with his bible and staff raised, quaking. But nobody could hear him anymore; the only sounds were of clapping and singing and rejoicing.

Finally, Brother Jeb gave up. He dropped his arms, turned, and motioned to the man and the women with video cameras. They picked up their equipment and walked away. The quad erupted in applause as Brother Jeb left.

That day in the quad, I saw hope. I witnessed its power. I cling to its promise.


by Todd Richardson


As a devout atheist, I don’t believe in the supernatural. But when my friend offered a free tarot card reading, I thought I’d entertain the idea, just for fun. I met her in a square room filled with photographs yellowed with age. A circular table stood in the center. I took a seat across from her.

She looked me in the eye as she unboxed the cards. “Are you open to this?”

I shrugged, “Sure.”

She held my gaze as she spilled the cards face-down on the table. She swirled them, her hands gently floating over their surfaces as she churned the deck. “Is there some paperwork that you need to finish?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Something for work?” she asked.

“I’m still waiting for a teaching contract.”

“It’s coming on Thursday.”

“Sweet,” I said. Lucky guess, I thought.

She told me to pick five cards and place them in order on the table without turning them over. I chose from the pile at random. She flipped them over one at a time. A woman. Swords. Cups. The moon. A sunflower.

She pulled the first card—a man surrounded by cups—toward her.

“You have a financial opportunity coming,” she said.

“Great,” I said. How cliché, I thought.

“Three months, maybe. Watch for it.”


She tapped on the card with a picture of the moon on it. “The moon means you have someone watching over you. Was there someone important to you who passed away?”

“Not really,” I said. My thoughts drifted toward my grandpa, who died when I was fourteen.

“I’m getting a grandfather?”

I nodded in confirmation. C’mon, I thought, who doesn’t have a beloved grandparent they hope watches over them?

“He’s sending me an image of boots,” she said.


“A pair of old, leather boots.”

“Nope,” I said.

She paused. “No, it’s definitely boots.”

Don’t make me put my boot in your ass, I heard his voice echo in my head. I smiled. “That used to be his brand of heartfelt motivation,” I told her. “He used to say he’d put a boot in my ass if he thought I needed it.”

“He’s telling me that he’s there for you, to give you that boot in your ass when you need it,” she said.

I chuckled. Ok, that was pretty good, I thought.

She dragged the three remaining cards closer to her: the sunflower, the swords, and the woman. There was a pause before she spoke again.

“The sunflower means fertility,” she said. She looked up and my throat tightened. My wife and I had a miscarriage, but my friend knew that. I’d told her about it weeks ago.

“You’ve been through something horrible,” my friend said. She reached across the table and placed a gentle hand on my forearm. What did she see? I thought. Could she see the toilet bowl full of blood, the frantic drive to the ER, me wringing my hands like a damp wash cloth as the nurse pressed an IV into my wife’s vein? I swallowed hard.

“Something good will happen.” She gave me a knowing look. “I see a seven. Seven weeks, maybe. Seven months. I’m not sure. Just be strong.” She pointed to the card with swords on it, looked at me, and smiled.

“Whenever the good news comes, your wife will become a warrior.”

“She’s already fierce.”

“She’ll be even stronger. Just wait. You’ll see.”

I thanked my friend and left. I spent the rest of the day full of equal parts doubt and hope. I wanted to believe my grandfather was beaming down at me. More than anything, I needed to be a father again, to feel whole in a way that only the baby had made me feel. But I was skeptical. Mystic cards held no sway over the forces of the universe; life was determined by choice and chance, not fate.

I woke up the next morning. It was Thursday. My teaching contract sat in my inbox awaiting my signature. Son of a bitch, I thought and began praying. I don’t know about God, or the cards, but I prayed for seven—seven days or weeks or months—prayed for the day my sunflower will come.