Em flicked on the four-way flashers and waved to me out the bus’s window. I was in our car following closely behind. We’d driven about 500m, and I wasn’t surprised that there was already a problem.
This was the beginning of June, 2019. We’d had the bus for almost a year by then, but aside from a few trips up and down a country driveway, this was the first time we’d taken our real-life bus onto the real-life road.
Following behind Em for the first minute, it didn’t seem like what we were doing should be allowed. All we’d done was call a few people (well a lot of people before we found someone who would insure us), signed a few forms, and paid some money for license plates and registration, and there we were, legally allowed to drive this contraption that we’d gutted and rebuilt on any road in the whole wide world.
I put on my four-way flashers and dodged a few cars speeding by before approaching the bus and bracing myself for the worst. While the insurance broker hadn’t stopped us from driving the bus, and the government hadn’t stopped us from driving the bus, I’d been sure from the start that someone would. If not a human, then why not God, reaching a great thumb down to crush our dreams? I didn’t actually believe in God, but fourteen years of Catholic school fucks you up in times of crisis.
Em opened the door for me, and I climbed the stairs with caution, quite sure that at any second the entire bus would burst into flames and I’d be flung 50 feet back like I was the villain in a low-budget Bond film.
I peeked into the back of the bus with one eye and then the other. The barn door we’d built in front of our sink had fallen off. It had scratched the entire front of our couch, and all of our kitchen drawers had flung open.
The road we were on was a country road, but it was still pretty narrow and pretty busy. While Em and I stood by the driver’s seat, trying to figure out what had happened and what we were supposed to do now, cars honked and swerved around our bus-car convoy.
“Should we go back?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.” Em’s skin looked more grey than white, and I imagined all the blue veins under it, bringing blood sucked of its oxygen back to her heart.
Another car honked, and I glared at them out the side window, then looked around the bus. We had two wrenches, string, two cloths and a roll of duct tape.
“Right,” I said grabbing the tape and ripping off a long piece with my teeth.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” Em said.
“Well, did you want to go back?”
“No. I don’t know.”
I knew this was a bad idea. I knew we were idiots and we’d been delusional from the start, but as Em stood by the driver’s seat, looking more like an old-fashioned photo with every second, I felt a cinching inside myself. It was like the laces that held my brain to my skull were tightening to keep out anything but the broken door in front of me and our beautiful drawers with their mouths wide open.
I ripped off piece after piece of duct tape, drawing long lines of silver across the barn door, the counter and the drawers. I was sweating maybe, or swearing, or else absolutely quiet, trying to get the job done.
Another car honked, but I could hardly hear it, and I could hardly hear Em. It was the bitter taste of duct tape, the glue against my fingertips and the wood that had to hold still or else the bus would fall to pieces and Em would fall to pieces and I would fall to pieces and everything would be terrible, terrible, terrible.
“Everything’s falling apart, and the couch is all scratched,” Em said, sounding 300 miles away.
“Everything is not falling apart.” I said back. “We’ve got tape and nothing broke, and if it does, we built it so we know how to fix it.”
“It’s all ruined.”
I had another piece of duct tape in my mouth and didn’t respond.
Another car honked and narrowly missed us, and I handed the duct tape back to Em.
“We’re only going 40km, right?” I asked.
She took the duct tape and climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“What about the scratches on the couch?” she asked.
“We’ll deal with it,” I said. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
I kissed her and closed the bus door behind me, dodging into our car again and waiting for a break in traffic when we could pull onto the road again.
I watched the cars whip past with my head against the headrest, taking note of the dents in the back of the bus and the way my heart felt too small and too quiet for my chest. We were leaving on our trip in just over a month, and the bus was mostly held together with tape. We had no idea what we were doing, and everything was bad, and I’d known it from the start.
Another car drove by, and the bus pulled forward.
Here we go, I thought. There was nothing I could do but follow after and hope for the best.