Old Scratch and Baba Yaga

Old Scratch and Baba Yaga December 13, 2017


It was bitterly cold, and the bus was a little late. I was so grateful when it arrived that I barely had time to register that the driver was Old Scratch.  Old Scratch no longer shaves his head; he’s growing it out on top in one of those Richard Spencer haircuts, which does not flatter him.

He was arguing with an old woman downtown when I boarded the bus. As far as I could gather, the topic of their argument was Donald Trump’s sexual harassment of women. They dropped it when Rosie and I boarded. Old Scratch will swear a blue streak when Rose is on the bus with her father; he uses the N-word and the F-word and all the other choice four-letter Anglo-Saxon alphabet words. But he doesn’t swear around me for some reason. I’ve noticed it several times, lately.

“Okay, people on the bus,” he said to the old woman as I shuffled Rosie into a seat. He thinks I’m people, for some reason. I think he thinks I’m a lady.

“I’ll bet you voted for him,” rasped the old woman with a weird kind of grin. She’s skinny with glasses and red frizzy hair that sticks out, and she usually wears a scapular outside her clothes– but today she was all bundled up in a shapeless old coat. She might have been a less frightening Baba Yaga.  “I’ll bet you did. I’ll bet you voted for the man.”

“Why shouldn’t I vote for him?” asked Old Scratch. “What’s he done? Is he gonna deport you?”

The woman cackled and turned to me. “DONALD TRUMP is gonna deport me!” she squealed.

That counts as a joke, in the Ohio Valley, if you’re white. I don’t think the Mexicans who ride the bus from time to time think it’s funny. The black woman who was the sole other passenger was silent as well, concentrating on her phone.

“What’s he done? Tell me. What’s he done wrong?  Donald Trump’s goin’ to the Olympics. Gonna watch them Hispanics pole vault. However high they go, he’s gonna build that wall higher.”

The woman cackled again.


“He ain’t gonna deoport you. Are you crazy?” asked Old Scratch.

“I am crazy,” said Baba Yaga. “I’m certified crazy in three states: Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio!”

“But you can still go to West Virginia?” I asked, not because I was interested but because it seemed like someone should say something.

“Why are there so many unsolved murders in West Virginia?” asked Old Scratch. “Because everyone there’s got the same DNA!”

The old woman cackled again. I admit I made a noise myself because I make guffawing noises when I’m horrified, and then Rose was laughing because she thought Mommy was. The black woman silently concentrated on her phone.

“Now Rose,” I said, “Get ready to get off. We’re almost at the stop. Just a few more minutes.”

“You goin’ out with Mommy today?” the old woman said to Rosie.

Rosie nodded.

“We’ve got a dental appointment,” I tried once more to steer the conversation into something Old Scratch couldn’t use to make a bigoted joke.  “And then we’re getting ingredients for baking.  She’s learning measurement in homeschooling so we’re going to practice.”

The woman looked concerned. “Why do you homeschool?”

Because of the conversations I keep having with products of the Steubenville public schools like Old Scratch, I almost said.

“Because we’re going to move to West Virginia before the end of the school year, and I don’t want her to have to switch schools halfway through,” I said aloud.

Old Scratch seemed genuinely embarrassed. “And here I was makin’ jokes about West Virginia,” he said. He truly doesn’t want to insult me. I think he thinks I’m a lady.

The conversation turned to my job as a writer, how I work while homeschooling Rosie and Michael does the housework.

The old woman looked impressed. “And you and Michael are married?” she asked.

“Yes.” It happens to be our eighth anniversary today, as a matter of fact. We were married at the traditional church downtown with the gorgeous stained glass and the Communion Rail– me in a white gown, him in a tie, both of us innocent as doves and about half as wise. That was back when I thought I understood anything about life.

“And is Rose Michael’s real daughter?” asked Baba Yaga.


She gave me a suspicious look. “These days, it’s hard to tell who the real father is.”

“Well,” I said with all the dignity I could muster, “I’m absolutely certain that Michael is Rosie’s real father.”

Old Scratch laughed longer and harder than I’d ever known him to do, all the way to my stop.

“Merry Christmas,” said Baba Yaga.

I’ve been told I speak too critically of the place I live in. I’ve even been accused of “throwing Steubenville under the bus.” Honestly, though, most days it feels like Steubenville rides the bus over me.

(image via Pixabay) 






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