- Night at the Fiestas
Frances was pretending to be someone else, someone whose father was not the bus driver. Instead, she told herself, she was a girl alone in the world, journeying to the city. With every gesture, she pictured herself: turning the page of her book, tucking a sweaty lock of hair behind her ear, lifting her chin to gaze out the bus window. Except Frances wasn’t alone, and her father, evidently thinking she’d come along today for his company, kept calling back to her with boisterous cheer over the exertions of the engine.
“Broke down here in forty-two, Francy.” He indicated the endless yellow grass, summer-dry and dotted with cows and the occasional splintered shed, and Frances sighed and lowered her book politely to meet his eye in the rearview mirror. “Had a busload of fellows all on their way to training at Fort Bliss. Every day for three years I picked up two, three boys from each town and brung them south.” He chuckled at the memory. “You wouldn’t believe how many ideas twenty ranch boys have about a bus engine.”
Not counting Frances, eleven passengers had boarded early that morning in Raton, many of them also heading to Santa Fe for the Fiestas. Frances’s father had offered each and every one of them a jolly greeting. “Glorious day, isn’t it?” “Got my girl with me.” “Getting off in Santa Fe? So’s my Frances.” Each time a lady boarded— three did—he took her bag and followed her to her seat and stowed it in the net above while she removed her gloves and arranged her purse. Then he stood aside with his bulk pressed into the seats to let other passengers by. Frances had found herself looking away from his sad, obsequious displays of friendliness, embarrassed.
The day of the breakdown must have been a good one for her father; it must have been a thrill to share in the camaraderie with fellows his own age, part of a brotherhood, if only until the gas line or distributor or whatever it was got fixed. Frances pictured him twenty years younger, standing among the uniformed boys, grinning and eager and tongue-tied. Pity and affection welled in her.
Frances hadn’t been born then, but she was aware that the war years must have been hard for him, strangers looking him up and down, wondering why he wasn’t [End Page 6] in Europe or the Pacific. Frances had felt the shame herself as a child when kids at school talked about their fathers’ service. They’d traveled to incredible places, those fathers—Japan and Singapore, Italy, England, France—and they had souvenirs in their houses to prove it: flags, medals, a Nazi helmet, a tin windup rabbit found in the pocket of a drowned Jap.
“My dad was a conscientious objector,” Frances had said at school when she was eleven. “We’re pacifists.” She’d shrugged, regretful, smug. “We just don’t believe in fighting.” But she’d had to stop saying that when it got back to her mother, who’d pinched her hard on the upper arm.
“Do you know what it would do to your father to hear you spreading those lies? He isn’t a coward. He has a condition.”
The condition in question was a heart murmur, and, as far as Frances knew, the only ill effect he’d ever suffered was fainting once on the football field in high school. Now, nearly an adult, Frances no longer judged her father for those war years, but it did strike her as darkly amusing that, not trusting his heart to hold out in the Army, someone saw fit to put her father in charge of a busload of civilians careening down the highway at fifty miles an hour.
An hour and a half into the trip, the passengers were scattered throughout the baking bus, dozing against the windows or reading newspapers; across the aisle, a stout woman was crocheting something in pink acrylic. Even with the windows lowered, the air blowing through was hot and dry, and Frances was...