Bus horns wake you, alone in bed with the kids — you drove up for his conference, you knew he’d be gone all day — last night he said “All of Chicago is your playground,” while you fussed about the room searching for bus fare, your head drowning with worry: ‘What if we don’t have exact change?’ What if the planetarium is closed?’ ‘What if our son wanders off at the gift shop?’ ‘What if, God forbid, something worse happens?’ — you keep a watchful eye on him since he ran from you at Target that one time — this boy, who sleeps pressed into you while your daughter lay just out of reach, close to the edge — at five, she minded, played mother to the boy — you decide to wake them or they’d waste the morning watching Elmo — so you feed them cereal bars and make coffee, pack the backpack with snacks, spare clothes, pull-ups, a water bottle to share, which reminds you: take your pills — the ones that soothe your brain like a wide, flat knife smoothing icing on a cake — before you head to the lobby and out the door to the bus stop, and wait with the kids — your toddler crushing your hip, your daughter’s hand clutched tightly in yours, only letting go to feed bills into the fare box — and, deju vu, here you are again, heading home on the same line after a full day at the planetarium — Elmo followed you to the theater where he made galaxies appear on the ceiling — and you bought magnetic stones at the gift shop — black and polished, clenched together in string bags — with a promise of ice cream back at the hotel — you swear you taste vanilla, until the bus swerves onto Wabash instead of Michigan — you recall your husband explaining the route was circular, one-way streets and all — but in real life, you startle, search the bus map, plan your escape, memorize the stop — your boy sleeps in your lap while your girl watches the city blur past — you remember to scan the cross streets for 12th, but, according to the bus map, the next street is 10th, and that’s when you realize . . .  you missed your stop, so you grab the cord hard, awkwardly maneuver the boy, strap on the backpack, and watch as your daughter reaches the steps and empties onto the sidewalk before you can catch the door handles — the same handles that now freeze when you push against them — the doors, your daughter, her eyes, your heart — doors lock when a bus is in motion — and this bus moves, drifts back into traffic towards the next stop — leaving your girl and the magnetic rocks and the corner and the promise of ice cream — you pound the door, slap the windows, scream at the driver, ‘Stop!’ and passengers join you in an urgent chorus, ‘Stop!’ and still the driver continues down the street for three . . . more . . . blocks until finally you — the one with the backpack and the wild eyes and the daughter left standing alone on the Chicago sidewalk — fall out the back door — your boy, awake now and laughing, jostles against your breasts and the backpack heaves from side-to-side — and you run headfirst into the crowd pressing against shoppers, tourists, people in suits and button-downs, all heading the opposite direction, while you barrel past drug stores, street merchants, and restaurants, your arms numb under the boy’s weight, your diaphragm, shins, heels burn — you’re sweaty and red-faced and the pain of it all shakes you into awareness — all this time you focused on the wrong thing: the backpack, the fare, the bus, the planetarium; you made promises, waged negotiations with the wrong child — the boy was safe, spluttering with laughter on the best mommy-sized ride of his life — you should have seen her, hanging off the bed, pulling away from your grip, inching towards independence, eyes glued on the city, not you — and realizing this you understand: safety is an illusion mothers use to smooth the brain like iced cakes; you don’t drive the bus — maybe no one does — still, you run like hell, one block to go, pushing forward . . .  forward . . .  forward . . . until you see the top of her head, standing hand-in-hand with a kind stranger, waiting for you, pulling you to her like a magnetic rock — until you fall into her and, finally, stop.


Amy M. Miller is a freelance writer, illustrator, writing instructor, and nonprofit consultant. She divides her time writing personal essays and children’s fiction. Her work has appeared in SalonHippocampus Magazine, [PANK]Flyway – Journal of Writing & Environment, The Louisville Review, and more. In 2017 she received the Harpur Palate Creative Nonfiction Prize. Amy contributed to Air: A Radio Anthology, published by Books by Hippocampus. Formerly the Executive Director of Louisville Literary Arts, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and two children.

Photo by Laura Oliverio