“What’s that?” the oldest girl asks. She’s maybe eleven, boobs just starting to bud.
“Salami and cheese.”
“Where are you from?” As if salami is such an exotic lunchmeat. Elizabeth, Katy, Drew, Alex, Amy, and Charley are brothers and sisters. They stand in a half circle around us. I offer them food. Charley tries a slice of salami. The other kids watch him chew it.
“Why are you walking?”
I look up. The girl who asks looks smart.
“Why don’t you just ride a bus?” Questions flying from little mouths.
I take a bite. “Buses,” I tell the kids, “are for going to school.” The children nod. Birds chirp.
“We don’t go to school anymore,” Drew, the oldest boy, says.
“That sounds like a bad idea.”
“Not just us. None of the kids here do. They shut the school down.”
“For a while. Our town couldn’t afford it.”
“That’s not what happened,” the smart one says. “The adults voted to cut the budget so the teachers walked out.”
“So. No school? What do you do for fun?”
Most of the village is visible from here. There’s one intersection. A notary sign hangs outside a ranch house. There’s an oak dresser on a porch with a for sale sign duct-taped to the front. There’s a water tower with the town’s name painted diagonally and, behind that, the school—a chain and a padlock around the front doors.
“Two things. Come on.”
From hands and knees, I push up to standing. Ruth arranges the pack behind her shoulders and lies back, uninterested in fun or kids. She shuts her eyes in the circle of six unpeopled bikes. The kids stare at my belly as I stand. Charley, the little one, chuckles until Amy stops him. “Nothing funny about that.”
The kids lead me away from the store, oldest first. I fall in line behind small Charley. Out of earshot from the others, I tell him, “Well, it is kind of funny.”