I’d Hug You If I Had Arms
On Friday morning, Trey spends the first hour of his shift watching reaction time videos in his small shared university office and sending manatee memes to his sister who responds only with “stop being such a Chad.” His sister is three years older, in med school, and somehow—even though he’s 22, a year away from a journalism degree, and living with his girlfriend, someone with whom he’s moved past delivery pizza and fucking and into paying bills and looking at grad school brochures—somehow, still, his sister can always make him feel small.
Trey’s job is to retrieve bicycles for a University-funded program that puts bikes branded with the school’s stupid cartoon bird mascot into to the hands of any drunk or wandering person who wants to use them to go for free wherever. When they sit still for more than a week, a tiny chip alerts Trey to their whereabouts, and he walks to retrieve them in alleys or dumpsters, anywhere from where they need saving.
His first alert of the day directs him to the neighborhood of old houses with their matching planters potted with the kind of annuals his mother used to cart home late in the season when they were heavily discounted in her small attempt to make their ranch house special. The plants usually stayed in their packs for weeks, browning and unplanted, while his mother smoked on the step and listened to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” on repeat.
Trey walks the blocks past the stadium and the yellow-painted liquor store on the corner and into the neighborhood where he assumes children never have pop-tarts for breakfast and all of them take lessons like archery and jazz trumpet. He makes a hard point of not looking at any of the sorority girls in their nylon shorts so that he can feel guileless and deserving when he fucks his girlfriend later before falling asleep.
When he finds it, the bike is resting on its seat and handlebars like maybe someone has been working on it. It’s a minute before Trey sees a man sitting a few feet away from it on the grass. The man’s hair goes in all directions like he’s being perpetually electrocuted. “That’s my bike,” the man says to Trey, a little too loud, and the skin around the man’s mouth twitches.
“Oh, hey, man,” Trey says. “Hey, I have to take the bike back to campus. It’s like my job . . . ”
A squirrel is right near the bike staring in the direction of the cartoon bird on the bike’s frame like, “Are you one of me? No, you’re not,” and then without warning the man comes running at Trey and knocks him flat, and the squirrel darts up a tree doing squirrel things: chattering, gathering, leaping between distant branches as if, yes, he really can fly.
It surprises Trey to be on the ground and then to look up and see a gun in the man’s hand. He shouldn’t be surprised. It’s Kansas with its insane concealed carry allowances, and there’s always this moment in Target or wherever when someone pauses an extra second, and Trey expects a gun to come, but then it’s a phone or just nothing. But this time, it’s actually a gun, and the man holding it seems more disturbed than angry, like really off his rocker, which isn’t appropriate to say anymore, but it’s something engrained because his mom said it constantly when he was a kid, as in, your sister is truly off her rocker today.
There’s that freeze-frame minute when he really does think, okay this is it for me, and it hasn’t been that great, but it hasn’t been awful, and who am I to expect more, really, because it’s sort of a born and then do some things, and die situation, and he’s always known it, and really it’s something to just be there with redbuds and dogwoods all around him and about twenty grackles cackling and sifting through grass seed on a patchy lawn someone is really trying to turn into a showplace.
And then another man, an older version of the man with the gun, but this one with white hair reaching out into all available airspace, comes out of the house with the patchy grass yelling, and they are both equally tall and lanky like they’d win the tallest and thinnest contest in any room they entered.
“Put it down, Jon,” the man yells, but Jon doesn’t. Jon starts firing, and the grackles ascend in a pack, and the squirrels hide themselves away, and the man, the father of Jon, tackles him and Trey thinks: this man, the dad, probably sat with this kid while he vomited, or he watched him walk away in some airport for some class trip or pretended his science fair project was actually interesting. It only takes a minute for the dad to get the gun away and throw it somewhere in the lawn, and then the man who is Jon is crying in a way that sounds more animal animal than human animal, and Trey is riding away on the blue and red bird bike as fast as he can up the hill and toward his office and it’s all immediacy and abandon and acceleration and all the things that take you closer and faster to death but are still somehow the best things. In his office, he won’t let himself think but instead again sends his sister a couple of manatee memes: “Oh no he did not” and “You have awoken me, what is your wish child,” both with the giant brown and kind-faced animals in blue bodies of water, and this time, amazingly, she sends him back three cry laugh face emojis, and Trey pulls up as close as he can to the desk in his sad small office with the new drywall smell and just waits until it’s late enough to go home.
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