School Bus Yellow (Rebecca Ackermann)

The girl stabbed a blue Bic pen into the leather seatback as the boys chanted “slut, slut, slut.” She ripped the hole into a hiding spot after one boy grabbed her in the narrow aisle. His hand met denim and squeezed hard hard, like he could take home a piece of her. She kept the blue pen in the hole, a Saguaro-shaped lighter, a folded-up note.

The boys gave my little sister other names—“dummy,” “freak”—and I’d cover my face so they wouldn’t see we looked alike if she ever brushed her hair. I didn’t let my sister sit with me; the girl invited her to climb in next to the window. Together they tattooed the back of the bus seat with a Sharpie treasure map, x marked the hole.

“What’s in there, fleas, used tissues, bloody pads?” The boys were laughing but also curious.

“It feels like how a girl feels in there,” she said. They suspected she was lying, but no other girl had let them try.

She stood aside, hand-in-hand with my sister who was chewing on her bottom lip; I hated when she did that.

 The curly-haired boy slid into the seat. Looking back at his friends, he waggled his tongue, then shoved in his arm up to the elbow.

The nurse said he’d need six stitches. The hole, lined with weeks of x-acto blades and pushpins, tore up his white skin, staining it red and Bic blue; he wouldn’t stop howling. They suspended the girl. We heard she switched to a school with skirts and tucked shirts. Behind his office door, the principal told me to keep better watch over my little sister. “She’s easily influenced,” he warned, putting his hands on my shoulders and pressing down hard. “Good girls like you should be more careful.”


Rebecca Ackermann: I am a writer, artist, and designer in San Francisco. My writing has appeared in The New York Times, Gloria, and Barren Magazine (forthcoming), among other publications. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time at the In Cahoots and Wellstone Center in the Redwoods residencies, and I’m currently querying my first novel. In a previous life, I was an editor at New York culture magazines Index and Heeb.

image: MM Kaufman