Read Little Chicago Online

Authors: Adam Rapp

Little Chicago

Little Chicago

Adam Rapp


From the woods my house is so blue it's almost purple.

It is after the night and a light has been left on in the kitchen window.

The moon is still in the sky. It looks gray and heavy.

There's the night and there's after the night but the name for this keeps getting lost in my head.

The path is hard to follow but my legs move through the plants and sticks. There are rocks and garbage, too. The trees smell like pepper.

My legs are okay, I tell myself. My legs are good.

The air is cold and I'm shivering so much I wonder if I'll be able to stop. It's like when you get the hiccups.

I see some birds and this helps matters. They are black with small eyes and when they spring from a branch they shriek like people.

It's the morning, I tell myself. It's the morning.

When I come out of the woods I walk through the field and past the dead Ford Taurus. The mud is hard and black and there are shriveled cornstalks everywhere.

The sky looks metallic. The clouds are flat like fish.

My legs are still okay, I tell myself. My feet sting but my legs are okay.

In the back seat I see an empty case of Milwaukee's Best beer and several smashed cans. The early morning light makes the Ford Taurus look like it grew right out of the field. Like a farmer planted a car seed and never came back to harvest it.

Someone has stolen the steering wheel.

What would you do with a steering wheel? What would you use it for?

I touch the antenna. It is chilly and numb-feeling.

And there's my hands, too, I tell myself. My hands are okay, too.

Our backyard is swampy with dew. The grass is brown and colder than I thought it would be. The slime comes up through my toes. But it's a small yard and there's not much farther to go.

I walk under the swing set and past the poplar tree.

There's a cat up in the branches. He's gray with white stripes and he's staring at me like I'm the cat and he's the human.

Hey, I say to it with my mind. I try to use my mouth but it's not working.

I slip through the patio doors and stand in the kitchen.

I am breathing, I tell myself. There is air in me and I am using it.

The kitchen smells like tuna and dirty dishes. On the stove someone has left a glob of Velveeta Shells & Cheese in a pot. I poke at it and it's hard like a rock.

From my reflection in the window I can see that there's a brown leaf stuck to my chest. My hair is wet and matted. When I touch the leaf I can feel my heart squirming like an animal.

My heart's still working, I say. My heart works, too.

My feet sting more now and there's blood so I wrap them in Bounty paper towels with two-ply absorbency.

The refrigerator hums like it's praying. I look inside. There is a package of bologna and other items but my stomach feels sick so I close it.

The clock over the toaster says six-thirty but I know this is not the right time cause it's been stuck this way forever.

I peel the leaf off my chest and put it in the sink like it's a plate.

My fingers are okay, I say. My fingers work, too.

I walk down the hall and knock on my sister's door. I can hear her sleeping on the other side. Her breathing is deep and warm-sounding.

I knock again cause I feel like I'm disappearing. Somehow the knocking keeps this from happening.

My hands are scraped raw from the woods.

When Shay opens the door she leans against it like her bones are too heavy. She is wearing her Moby shirt and nothing else. The Moby shirt is red with blue letters and it goes down to her knees.

Her toenails are red. The other day I saw her coloring them with a Sharpie permanent marker.

She says, What time is it, Blacky?

Her eyes are half closed and mascara is smeared below her lids. She smells like cigarettes and hairspray.

I open my mouth to talk but no words come out. Instead I sort of baa like a sheep.

Shay wipes snots from her nose and looks at me for a second. Her nostrils are pink and raw.

How come you're naked? she says.

I make a fist in front of my genitals.

She says, Do you realize you're naked, Blacky?

I try to speak again but my throat feels like there's a fist in it. I want to tell her how I found a newspaper in the woods and how I was using it like clothes. I had it wrapped around my waist but it was wet and it kept falling apart.

Shay squints and says, And your feet. What happened to your feet?

I open my mouth and baa again.

I saw a sheep at a petting farm once. It had a face like a president.

Shay takes my head between her hands. Her breath smells like Doritos Cool Ranch tortilla chips and alcohol.

Talk to me, Blacky, she says. Talk to me.

Feeling her hands on my face makes me pant.

I was over at Al's, I finally say between breaths.

My voice sounds small and dead. I have to swallow that fist to talk again.

I just got home, I say. I was over at Al's.

You just got home?

I nod so hard my chin hits my chest.

Shay says, It's five-thirty in the fuckin morning, Blacky.

My neck works, too, I think, nodding more. My neck still works.

Ma let you spend the night on a Sunday?

I say, I had my toothbrush. Al was gonna drive me to school.

Shay looks like she's shrinking right there in her doorway. Like someone's pulling her away with a rope.

I want to go to her bed and climb under the covers. I want her to tuck me in and fluff the pillow.

Blacky, what's wrong with your feet? You're bleeding all over the place.

I feel an ache in my chest like I might cry.

They got cut in the woods when I crossed the creek, I explain. I was staying the night.

Shay crouches down and examines the paper towels.

She says, You got scratches all over your legs. Do you see how many cuts you got? She touches them and says, They're everywhere, Blacky.

There's black polish on her fingernails, too. Either that or they got smashed.

I say, Is Ma home yet?

She don't get home till seven-thirty, Shay says, standing back up. Her hair is red and wavy like Ma's. And her eyes are bluer than the house.

Shay says, Blacky, did somethin happen at Al's?

I was staying the night and then I woke up, I explain. I was staying the night …

Shay takes me by the shoulders and looks me square in the face. Her pupils look like they're shrinking.

She says, Did Al do somethin to you, Blacky?

But I just go blank.

What did that motherfucker do?

Sometimes I wish I was a fish. This way I could breathe when I'm drowning.

I left my clothes there, I say. My Bears jersey and my toothbrush. I couldn't get my Nikes, either.

Shay says, Forget your Nikes!

I need em for Gym, I say. I need em.

This is so fucked, she says. I'm callin Betty and we're takin you to St. Joe's.

Then Shay turns and pulls on a pair of sweatpants and her green flip-flops.

For a second it's like I'm there but I'm missing at the same time. There's a poster on her wall but I can't figure out what's on it. I used to know this information. I even knew it yesterday.

Shay says, Go put some clothes on, Blacky. Go now!

When I try to turn toward my room I have to stop cause I realize that I'm urinating on the floor. It just comes out like water through a spout.

Shay says, Oh no, not in the hall, not in the hall.

Then she hugs me and helps me to the bathroom and my head goes real heavy but I aim so the last bit makes it into the toilet bowl.

Shay is crying and hugging me and saying, It's okay, Blacky. Everything's gonna be okay …


When I wake up I'm lying on a padded hospital table with paper on it. The paper is cold and crinkles.

My head hurts.

My mouth is dry and tastes like a spoon.

A nurse in a white uniform is standing over me. She smells like gum and Jergens lotion.

I'm wearing clothes now and the light is harsh.

Somewhere I can hear Shay's and Betty's voices like bees buzzing on a window.

Hello, Blacky, the nurse says. She is tall with brown hair and she has a face like a hawk's.

Where am I? I say.

The nurse says, You're on the second floor of St. Joseph's Hospital. Your sister and her friend brought you in a little while ago.

Her voice is gentle and strong at the same time.

Shay must have got the clothes on me, I think. Shay did it.

I am wearing a pair of jeans from T.J. Maxx, a white T-shirt from my laundry pile, and my black Sunday shoes. The shirt smells damp and moldy. My shoes feel tight in the toes.

Would you like something to drink? the nurse asks.

I nod and she gives me a 7-Up with a straw. Like she saw it in her head and then it just appeared in her hand that way.

There's a black blood-pressure thing wrapped around my arm. While I drink from the straw the nurse puffs it up and makes it leak. My muscle swells so thick I think it might burst.

Is Shay still here? I ask.

The nurse says, She's next door speaking to Dr. Darius. We're just going to get some of these cuts cleaned up and then the doctor will need to examine you.

My ma works here, I say. She's a radiology technician. She's up on the fourth floor.

But the nurse doesn't register this fact. She's too busy removing the blood-pressure thing from my arm.

Can you take your shoes off for me? she asks.

Okay, I say, but my hands won't move. I stare at them for a second like they're someone else's hands.

Do you want me to help you, Blacky?

I can do it, I say, and then my hands finally move and I take off my Sunday shoes. The nurse sets them on the floor and opens a brown bottle.

What's that? I ask.

It's iodine, she says. It kills germs. We don't want any of those cuts on your feet to get infected.

Her breath is warm and minty-smelling.

This might sting a bit, she says, pouring the stuff over a cotton ball. It's orange and smells like it will hurt.

Just relax, she says. Breathe easy …

While she cleans my feet I jerk and flinch.

There, there, now, the nurse says. There, there …

Then she dabs at the scrapes on my arm and the backs of my hands. After she bandages my feet I just sit there and drink the 7-Up. It's so cold it hurts my teeth but I finish the whole can in about a minute.

When I look up the nurse is gone and a tall African American man with a mustache is standing there. I didn't even hear the door. It's like he was hiding under the table.

Hello, Blacky, he says. I'm Dr. Darius. His voice is deep like a song.

Hello, I say.

He takes a step closer and takes my hand and looks at the cuts. He says, I bet that smarts, huh?

I nod and then he undoes his jacket and checks his watch. His mustache looks like he bought it at a store.

He says, I understand that you've had quite a morning. How are you feeling?

Okay, I say.

Your sister filled me in on some of the details.

His uniform is so white it almost hurts to look at. I try to drink from the 7-Up again but it's empty and I wind up making slurping noises.

Would you like another one? the nurse suddenly asks.

I have no idea how she got back in the room. I didn't even see the door open.

When I was running through the creek I thought I heard Al Johnson whispering my name. It made me run faster and I slipped and fell in the rocks.

… Blacky? the nurse says.

My hands are okay, I think. My hands are still attached to my wrists and they're working just fine.

Would you like another can of pop? Dr. Darius says.

Yes, please, I say.

Then the nurse leaves and when she opens the door I can see into the hall. Shay and Betty are talking to a woman with frizzy hair. The woman is writing things down on a yellow pad. Shay's doing most of the talking. Betty's just sort of standing there. She's wearing a blue bathrobe and her face looks dead.

When the door closes, Dr. Darius says, Blacky, this might be a little uncomfortable, but I'm going to have to examine you for a moment.

I'm okay, I say.

I know you might feel that way, Dr. Darius says. But we have to make sure.

Then the nurse comes back in the room with my 7-Up and another straw, but she doesn't give it to me this time. She just stands there like the police.

I say, What do you need to examine?

Dr. Darius says, Your rectum.

What's a rectum? I ask.

Your bottom, he says. The part you use when you go to the bathroom.

Why? I say.

Because we have to be sure about certain things.

I'm sure, I say.

I know you're sure, Blacky. But
have to be sure, too. It's part of the procedure. Would that be okay?

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