So! You get old stuff. Old can be good, like fine wine, or it can be bad, like leftovers from another century that you just found in the back of the fridge. When I was ranting about names, I mentioned a short story with a main character called Pandora. Actually, the whole story is called Pandora. I first wrote it a couple of years ago and then rewrote last year. It's set in my city, Auckland. The full story is partially set in the Auckland central business district, a part of town I know almost off by heart (which is where this fragment takes place), and also in a magical, hidden part of Auckland called Othernorth, which I made up.
I saw the bus for the first time when I was eight years old and my mother was not misplaced yet. We were going to see a movie in a theatre that looked like a palace, with turrets inside it and painted gold and marble, with stars and clouds buried inside its ceiling, and panthers with eyes that glowed.
She didn’t go out much, and I was worried that it would scare her. ‘The panthers aren’t real, honestly,’ I explained. ‘You’ll be okay.’
The crowd was not too thick, but her eyes went through as if she was trying to check each face for something. She flinched as buses went past, and held my hand tighter and tighter. Her grip was cold and piercing. She wrenched us to the side, towards a shop entrance. Inside, I could see lines of shining chip packets waiting patiently.
‘Mum,’ I said, getting out my best manners, ‘can I please have some salt and vinegar chips, please?’
‘No,’ she said, flinging us into the shop. ‘We don’t want anything.’
I followed her gaze. The bus pulled itself away from the stop, a pale blue-silver bus. The world was coated in heavy afternoon sunlight, but the bus was inside a thin white mist, one that looked like misty morning breath. Silver sparks came off its wheels and dissolved as they hit the road. While you looked out the window and held your ticket tight in your hand, this bus would take you into another world. I wanted to see who was on it.
I detached myself from my mother. ‘Pandora!’ she said.
As I ran, her hands hovered at my back, a step behind grabbing me and putting me back inside the sensible world among the chip packets. I ran onto the pavement and three ordinary buses appeared and blocked my view. My mother wrenched us both back inside the shop. I landed against the blue ready salted row.
‘Are you okay?’ said the shop assistant. Being asked this is a common occurrence in my family.
‘Can I have some chips please?’ I said, looking up at Mum.
I didn’t know what her expression meant. Her eyes went thin, then closed, then opened widely. ‘Well, Pandora,’ Mum said. She put her hand in her pocket and discovered a two-dollar coin. She gave it a surprised look and handed it over.
I had chips and I’d seen a magic bus, and the movie hadn’t even started yet. I was pleased with this.
Mum never mentioned it again, not even last year on the day I saw her step onto it. She didn’t have a chance to mention it to me after that. I thought at the time that maybe she would leave something that explained everything: a magic ring; a locked diary; a tragic letter. Dad and I inherited her bed, her clothes, her jewellery, her things. They were all silent. I inherited her confusion. It didn’t tell me anything either, not really.
If anyone's curious, the theatre mentioned in the first paragraph is this one.