Bonding

I was determined to go to the farmer’s market, bum ankle be damned.

A crutch under each arm, I tick-clomped, tick-clomped down the sidewalk, following your patient shadow. I stop. You stop. My armpits ache and sweat slides down my forehead.

I will make it to the farmer’s market. I will buy a goddamn bundle of radishes.

The world conspired against me a day earlier. It tilted the sidewalk; it dug out a crevice for my foot to slide into. It bucked me bronco-style onto the sidewalk.

I cried when it happened–partly out of pain, but mostly out of self-pity. I’m an active person. It’s one of the outlines that defines my shape. And a sprained or twisted or whatever-the-hell ankle is not good for the inevitable malaise I feel when I can’t be outside, when I can’t move around.

I feel a second (third? fourth?) wind swell within me and I step forward, into your shadow. I prattle at you and laugh at nothing, hysterical with the pain/pity cycling through my brain. You say nothing, but let me chatter. As is your way.

Two more blocks. I see the white canopies. I can smell fried momos and kettle corn.

You try to adjust my crutches and I get snappy. As is my way.

“I can do it myself, thank you.”

A sarcastic thank you, and I immediately regret it. You’re only trying to help me travel the vast distance between home and vegetables. You didn’t have to come along.

“Sorry,” I say. “I’m an asshole when I’m injured.”

You shrug. “Yeah, kind of.”

We laugh. I tick-clomp on.

When we reach the farmer’s market, I let out a sigh and feel some of my pain dissipate into a bundle of almandine-colored beets. It’s hard to be mad at the world when it gives you treasures from the soil.

The pace is slow here. No stretches of mean, straight sidewalk. I take my time, looking at the green offerings, smelling the basil, eyeing homemade jars of jam that would only sit next to my other jars of unopened homemade jam (but they’re so pretty in their jewel tones, posing behind mason jar glass!)

I reach one of the stands and pause to examine a bundle of collard greens. A woman stops at my left side. She’s fine-boned and stretches just above five feet; a field of thick gray hair tickles her shoulders. She is leaning on a cane.

We exchange a glance, eyeing each other’s walking aids.

“The struggle is real,” I say.

She laughs. “The struggle is real.”

I tick-clomp on. A sliver of my heart remains tangled in her wild hair.

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Seffley Town (Book Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from a book that I’ve been working on, off and on, for a year and a half. The basic plot: a drug-soaked street artist believes his work has been stolen and used in a popular children’s book. As he struggles to prove his story, we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes…

 

The town of Seffley sat on the upper end of a string of grubby suburbs to the east of Tempest City.  It was a half-moon of municipalities generally avoided by Tempest Citians and the other surrounding suburbs.  There was nothing to see in the Eastern String except warehouses, manufacturing plants, rows of boxy, plain houses.  There was nothing to do except tour the ear-rending, throat-gagging, nose-offending factories and see where steel sheets, boilers, and lawn mower parts were made.  Most outsiders were not interested enough in the origins of their lawn-cutting instruments to bother paying the eastern burbs a visit.

And there wasn’t much to see beyond the Eastern String.

After struggling past the steel-boned buildings that rose haphazardly from the ground in a showcase of lackluster city planning and “who cares, let’s put ‘er up here” attitude, after breaking through the gauzy veil of noxious factory air, after enduring the constant grinding of industrial machines, eastbound travelers were only greeted by…the east.  It stretched out in front of them, scrubby and dry, the home of ribby cattle and sheep herds.  A few houses dotted the beige landscape, but the most common features were dirt and dust, a few bramble bushes and thin-leafed thickets, the occasional clump of reedy timothy grass, and plenty of gray basalt rock.

Seffley sat on the northwest-most edge of the eastern flats.  It didn’t care much about them.  It was too busy churning out tractor parts and machining corrugated sheet metal.  Entire families were employed by the two main factories in town: Gerald Fischer Tractors and H.R. & Sons Metal.  Men generally worked on the factory floor; women worked in administration and sometimes delivery or quality control.  It was a world traditionally divided, and no one gave a hoot about gender equality.  That kind of stuff was for the city.

Simon never truly felt at home in Seffley.  It was too narrow-minded.  Too focused on factories, family, football.  It loathed creativity.  It abhorred stepping out of line.  There was no room for a tech-obsessed, scrawny-armed man, plagued by social-awkwardness and powered by unrealistic dreams.  There was no room, and yet he stayed.  He stayed because he didn’t know where else to go.

This is where Simon grew up, shitty as his childhood was.  Aside from a brief hiatus during college, Seffley was all he knew.

Even among the Eastern String, Seffley had a reputation for being a dump.  The citizens cared little about their own hygiene, let alone the aesthetics of their town.  Buildings fell apart without anyone bothering to fix them; parks overgrew with weeds and rust; feral dogs happily shat on sidewalks and folks simply stepped around, letting the turds dry themselves in the sun and eventually join the rest of the dust that clung to the streets.  Simon remembered kids from other eastern suburbs relentlessly taunting Seffley, making up nonsensical song-rhymes about it: “Seff, Seff will make you deaf!  All the women, fat as hefs.  This is why I up and lef’!”  Or, “Why the eff do ya live in Seff?  Tell me, why the eff do ya live in Seff?”

Many of these rhymes were chanted at sporting events, kids singing gleefully in the bleachers, gesturing viciously at the Seffley side as they endlessly intoned insults.  It started as early as elementary school.  Simon remembered.  That was the only time he attempted athletics (pushed into them by his father who was severely disappointed in his tiny son and detested the boy’s tendency to sit quietly inside for hours on end, reading, tinkering with his chemistry set, solving math problems from a puzzle book).  On the basketball court, Simon’s entire body froze solid when the rival school kids starting chanting.  He could feel their cruel eyes on his jersey as he stood, shoulders slumped, on the court.  He was terrified of the ball and did his best to avoid it, stiffening his arms by his sides and jumping out of the way if the ball happened to sail toward him.  After a while, his teammates stopped passing to him, the coach stopped putting him in the games.  Eventually, Simon’s father threw his hands in the air and let Simon quit the team.  The tiny child breathed a sigh of relief.

But his reputation at Seffley was formed, solid as the sheeted metal from H.R. & Sons.  He was the kid who couldn’t catch a ball; he was the boy who refused to bond with his team.  He was quiet and miniscule and brainy.  He was different.