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THE THING WITH CHICK IS

by

Stephen F. Anderson



Chick told himself to answer clearly -- clearly as any old boozer would with that cop's flashlight blaring in his eyes. First, though, he had to stop swaying. Headlights and streetlights blinked and blurred, blending with the fluorescent storefronts across the intersection, and the sidewalk seemed to dip and swell. Damn traffic, Chick thought. Stupid no-good strip malls

Beyond the trailer park fence, the Mexican kids laughed and called his name. "Papa Cheeck!" they sang, "Papa Cheeck!" Manuela was there, and little Edgar.

Chick pretended not to hear them. He knew how this would have to go down. It would be a long night on a hard bench.

A car slowed for a look. The bicycle cop waved it on with his ticket book. He turned back to Chick. "So. Do a little drinking tonight?"

Chick's head spun, and he swayed again. His fingers trembled. Got to show some willpower, he told himself. He was Churchill -- no, FDR: he had steel leg braces all the way up to his knees. That was better. He squared his shoulders. "Little," he said, pointing a thumb at his surefire Schwinn down and out on the sidewalk. "But I'm only riding my ole bikey."

"Were," the cop said and grimaced: white teeth replaced his thin moustache. Smartass kid, thought Chick. "How old are you?" the cop said.

"Seventy-seven -- wait, seventy-eight. Just able to miss WW Two -- and Korea."

"Lucky man."

"Maybe. Hell, officer, I was sticking to the sidewalk. And I was just about home."

"How many you have?"

"Ta drink? Couple beers." Chick nodded at his words, turning his back to the kids over the fence. "Yeah, couple."

"Could you step back up on the curb, sir? Hate to have you get hit."

"Right, right ..." Chick swayed again. Staggered. He tried to think of steel braces but he saw white dots. No good. The dots whirled, sending him into blackness.

The next thing Chick knew he was sitting on the sidewalk, the cop standing over him. "Just sit a while," the cop said.

Over the fence, behind them, the kids had sat too -- all in a line and silent, as if someone had turned on the TV and put in a video.

Another blackout. How long had it been this time?

The cop leaned his patrol mountain bike against the fence. Chick focused on the gleaming spokes and sprockets, and it helped bring him around. In the doctor's office that morning, he had read how his own generation had cared more about the possibilities of such gadgets than of the gadgets themselves.

"Some trike you got," Chick blurted. "Bet she's got 30 gears."

"Only eighteen, but they're titanium," the cop said, purposely not looking at Chick -- or so it seemed to Chick. Then, the cop sighed.

A heat filled Chick's neck, tightening his chest. The cop's sigh had rubbed him the wrong way. It was a pity sigh.

"What am I doin," Chick snapped, "chatting with the cop's going to bust me?" He rammed his fists in his pockets. "Ah, hell ..."

"Suit yourself, sir."

To calm down, Chick took deep breaths. He gazed up into the black sky, to find a few stars if he could, but his head spun again. He lowered his head between his legs; he closed his eyes. When he looked up again, the kids were gone. He took another breath. Nice spring night, he thought -- cool wind in the trees kind of night. The cop was sitting next to him. His legs were crossed, and with all his gear on looked to Chick like some sort of American Indian chief. They sat in silence.

It was all downhill from here, Chick told himself. Might as well shoot the shit. He cleared his throat. "Used to be a sportswriter," he said.

The cop's eyes flashed. "That so?"

"Sure, sure. UPI then the AP, nothing big time -- had the local beats. High school, colleges, did the Dodgers for years -- Portland Dodgers. Then there was the Trail Blazers, of course, and hockey, Soccer Bowl '75 --"

"I remember that: Pele was there, I was like five or something --" Voices screeched on the cop's shoulder mike. Facing away, he placed his earphone in his ear and listened with a hard jaw. He turned back to Chick. "Where do you live?"

"Just over the fence here."

"That's what I thought. The kids --"

"I help out around the park, is all. Trailer's in my wife's name -- she's passed on."

"I see." The cop unlocked his legs. He talked softly now, like the nurses did at the clinic. "Mr. Simon, you know riding a bike under the influence isn't better than driving. Seen it time and time again -- you can still endanger lives, or kill people."

"Or get myself killed," Chick blurted, "don't forget that ..." He stared ahead, trying to think. The blurs of traffic became crisp reds and whites, and across the boulevard the storefronts re-formed. There was the Coffee Cabin, Holiday Cleaners, Deportiva Taqueria -- or whatever that said. This moment was clear, but nothing preceding it. He couldn't even remember the bike cop sneaking up behind him -- or wherever he came from. "Cops peddling the sidewalk," he muttered, "man, that's rich." But the truth was, he had blacked out. Lost control. He could have peed his Wranglers.

"Truth is, I can't remember," he said, feeling at his inseams.

The cop nodded.

"Hit the fence, did I?"

The cop nodded.

"Didn't hurt nobody?"

"Luckily, no. Not this time." The cop sighed again, under his breath now. "Here's the deal, sir -- you could still be hurt somehow. It's possible. If you let me call you an ambulance, it might just help things go better for you --"

"And what? Spare me some grief? No. Nothing doing." Chick gave the cop a quick once-over. He saw he wore corporal stripes, and his cheeks shined like waxed apples. Looking away, Chick saw his bike down on the sidewalk. The chain was off; the handlebars were backward; the front wheel was bent. "I don't know. Probably could salvage the fenders," he said. He stood, though he had to lean against the fence. There. Damn right FDR.

The cop stood, stone-faced. "Well, in that case, I'll have to do a few tests on you."

"Fire away." Chick planted his feet a good foot apart. In his mind, he could let go the steel leg braces. From here on out he was Chick Simon, Retired Small-Time Sportswriter.

The cop drew a mini flashlight about the size of a nice felt pen. He stood close before Chick. Chick could smell the sweetness of milk, the tang of sweat. Smartass kid must be new to this, he thought. The cop blinked, a little longer than usual. Chick knew that look from pro athletes. The cop was clearing his thoughts. Game face.

He said, "Sir, now, if you could follow my light in your eyes as I move it from side to side, remembering not to move your head or jerk your eyes whatsoever."

Chick made his head move his eyes. When his eyeballs got to either side, he made them bounce and shiver and jerk. The trick was not to overdo it.

The cop gave him nothing -- no nod, grimace, nothing. He shined his bigger flashlight down to the sidewalk, forming a circle of light. He said, "All right, now we're going to do a little exercise that goes like this." He placed one foot directly in front of the other, his heel touching his toes, and again and again like some giant toy soldier. Chick pretended the sidewalk was swelling again. He swayed. "I'm going to ask you to do this just like I did, but nine times in succession. All right? Can you try that?"

"Sure ..." Chick lined up just right, like a gymnast on a perfect ten landing. But as he placed his rear foot before his front, his heel to his toes, he made himself wobble. His arms flung out for balance. He tried the next foot but tottered and reeled and landed on his knees.

Silence. Down for the count. Chick stayed down, letting his head hang. That should clear up any doubts, he thought. He caught his breath, and he stood.

The cop clicked off his flashlight. He stroked his thin moustache. He studied Chick with eyes scrunched up like raisins. His cheeks weren't shiny anymore.

He said: "How many you have? Truthfully?"

Chick threw up his arms, letting them slap at his thighs. "All right, you got me," he said, adding a sigh and really laying it on. He scratched at his head. "Had a six pack at the least, whisky or two, not ta mention the two pitchers down at The Gravy Train -- or was it The Bull Pen? Man, I honestly can't remember."

"That so?" said the cop. "You're really plowed, huh? Really tanked."

"Mm. Yep."

"I don't believe you. No. I don't think you're drunk at all."

"Wha? Am too."

"No, you're not. You're faking. And you just faked failing that test."

Chick had stopped swaying. His lower lip hung. He tried to summon FDR again, throw in some mean old Joe Stalin if he could, but it was little use.

The cop had tightened his lips -- fighting a grin, it looked like.

Chick, avoiding his eyes, said: "I better check out my ole bikey, that all right?"

"Go ahead."

As Chick bent to pick up his Schwinn, a small, clear, round dispenser fell out of his coat pocket and rolled over to the cop's feet. The cop picked it up and inspected the pills inside. He read the label. His wide eyes found Chick. "These are prescription," he said.

"They are? Well all right, so what if they are?"

The cop read on. He looked up. "You've ... had a stroke?"

Chick released a sigh, and he lowered his broken old bike back down to the sidewalk. "Couple," he said. He spoke softer now, so his voice would not break. "But the kids over the fence, they don't know."

The cop spoke softer too -- less monotone. His eyes moved across the black sky, and refocused on Chick. "My granddad had the same prescription. If you're taking these, they must have you on a lot of the other ones."

Chick stared at his bike. He kicked a tire. "A lot? There's a whole mess of em."

"Thus the dizzy spells."

Chick said nothing.

"Has there been any ... senile ... dementia?"

"Demon-what? What kind a word is that? I can handle it."

"And diabetes too, I would guess." The cop placed a hand on Chick's shoulder. Chick let him. "The lights get to you, right? Headlights, store fluorescents, neon. That's why you don't drive. My granddad --"

"What about him?" Chick's fingers ached, and they trembled again. He stuffed them in his pockets. "Here's the thing -- if I forget to take the right pills, well, crazy things happen. And that, officer, is the godawful truth."

The cop took a step back. "And you're that stubborn, that proud, you'd rather sit in detox than admit it?" As he spoke, the cop slid his flashlight back onto his belt. He grinned, and he shook his head at his grin. He said: "Mr. Simon, I'd say you got more than a few years left on you."

Chick thought about this -- especially about that last thing the kid cop said. He shifted his dentures one way, then the other, and his eyes drifted, searching between the slats of his trailer park fence.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen F. Anderson's short fiction and humor appear in Elimae, The Freedonian and the 12-Gauge Review. A freelancer, Anderson lives in Portland, Ore., where he can be found revising his novels when he really should be looking for work.




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