Displacement

The Location Prompt
(A Short History of the Home City)

by Jay Shearer

 
  Home  |  Contents  |  Authors  Wordrunner eChapbooks  | April 2024  |  echapbook.com      

In the earth-toned lamplit office of Dr. Abraham Smallovitz, Rick handed over his response to the assigned prompt, and watched as his therapist’s left brow, just the one, rose in clinical concern.

“This seems, well, a little glib for the exercise, don’t you think?” said Smallovitz. He did the eye flutter thing he couldn’t seem to control.

“Maybe,” said Rick. “It’s what you asked for. A short history, emphasis on short.”

 Dr. Smallovitz stared down at Rick’s response to what they’d called “The Location Prompt”: Write a short history of your home city, or rather, your time there. Include any and all salient events. Rick had taken half a minute to think it through, then wrote, in chronological order from his move here in ‘92, the quickest, shortest history he could muster, sophomorically reliant on sports and politics. He wrote: 

Bulls win / Sox win / Obama wins / Hawks win / Rahm wins / Cubs win / Trump wins

The last event of course wasn’t Chicago-exclusive but had landed here like a neutron bomb of existential dread. Rick thought Trump’s victory ought to be included since it was wed so firmly and forever to the Cubs’. Two things they said could never happen, happening back to back in a matter of days, like the twin towers in reverse, cursed entities we’d assumed would collapse, rising instead from the preemptive ashes. But Smallovitz wasn’t having it.

He read Rick’s short history aloud, with question marks: Bulls win? / Sox win? / Obama wins?—then stopped and gently shrugged. “I mean, it’s all wins, Rick,” he said. “No losses. Who’s that undefeated in their home town?”

“I didn’t say I was undefeated.”

The mild-mannered Smallovitz clucked his tongue and sighed. “You’ve lived here nearly a quarter century, Rick. And now you’re about to move. That’s huge. I can’t see how …”  He shook his head. “I mean, what about the birth of your son?”

“Oh that’s …” Rick leaned up and took the list. “Just after the Sox win.”

“And your divorce?”

Rick cleared his throat. “Start of Obama’s second term. But …”—and he thought he’d inject a little humor—“no bailout for me! This guy’s not too big to fail.”

“Ha. I see,” said the doggedly humorless Smallovitz. “And when uh … when was the, uh, restraining order?”

Rick stared back at him, stunned pale. “It wasn’t a restraining order. Jesus, Abe. You know that. Restraining order? It was … an arrangement she asked of me informally. Just some time off. But that’s over. Totally done!” He looked down at the list. “Um … sometime before Rahm beats Garcia in the runoff. Like, just after the Laquan McDonald tapes are released.”

Smallovitz winced, clearly trying not to. “You see your life in newspaper headlines?”

Rick shrugged. “Not really. Sometimes I don’t see my life at all.”

Smallovitz nodded, not giving in. “How about … well, when did your wife cheat on you?”

Rick’s head shot back as if he’d been tazed. “Anna didn’t cheat on me!” His eyes fluttered in amazement. “She just … after we split, she got together with a close friend of mine. A once close friend. Very. Hell, he sees my kid maybe more than I do. But … well, you know all this, Abe. What the fuck?” Rick leaned up for effect. “Are you high?” Smallovitz stared back in suspicious silence. His eyes seemed watery and insecure. Rick winced. “Are you?”

Smallovitz sighed. “I’m a bit sleep-deprived. Sorry. And I forgot to take my Omega 3.”

A hot ready anger pulsed through Rick. “Shit, Abe!” he said and stood at his seat. “This isn’t working. I … I don’t know what any of this has to do with my location. Or with… the city that’s about to spit me out!” He turned on his heel for the door. “Fuck this city! This city is an overpriced rapist! Go ahead and bill me for the hour!”

He shot out past the empty front desk, took the elevator that was open and waiting, as if it knew he was coming, and landed eventually on the street, where he bolted east in a huff toward his car. Fuck this city. Forget this city. Hammond, Indiana, here I come. He would close on a modest little house there next week. Here, he couldn’t afford one. Not somewhere he wouldn’t be scared to live anyway. But forget that. Forget it. Forget. Forget.

Rick heard a crowd chanting, loud, then louder. When he reached the corner, he stood rock still as a mass—hundreds, thousands—passed. What march was this? There’d been so many lately it was hard to keep track. Then he saw a few signs and remembered. Oh right: the science rally. The mass pep rally simply for the principles of science. Seemed a touch peculiar on its face, but here felt perfect. In fact, a godsend. A healing! Not some single individual with their little problems, but a mass of citizens facing the large ones. The voice of the damn people!

Rick stepped right in and marched along, though he wasn’t normally one for crowds. He often felt dissolved in the mass, lonelier than ever, but here—here—he was empowered. A rush of expansive feeling. Yes—science! Science and reason will save us! God bless rational thought!

As the pulsating oneness moved toward Michigan Avenue, Rick was brimming with emotion, part euphoria, part desperation. He high-fived strangers and chanted along, in love with it, forgetting himself, when, off to the side, near the Art Institute, he saw her, or thought he saw her—just a flash—and stopped dead in his tracks. Oh god, is that Anna? With Jackson in his little Sox cap? Her hippy chick blondeness was hard to miss, plus that Aztec-patterned shawl she wore? It was exactly the sort of thing she’d go to. As would her fiancée, his old friend Eric. Was this city so small he couldn’t escape them? Even in a massive crowd? Shared custody didn’t mean they shared plans, though moving to Hammond was about to fuck all that up. Marchers swept past, grazing his shoulders. He waited, fighting the impulse to turn and flee.

But then he thought: no. This was his town. Rick’s town. He owned it too. Why do they get to keep it? He wouldn’t run away. He’d run toward. He shot through the crowd, shouting “Anna! Jackson!” He slalomed through the bodies, too swiftly, clumsily, a desperate sort of plunge. “Anna! Eric!” But he still didn’t see them. He put his head down—a kind of fullback— and picked up speed, then whacked hard—wham—into a body, which fell back to the curb. 

Rick stared down at what he’d done: he’d knocked over a cop, a short stout white woman, hair threaded in a bun, who in turn had crashed into—and startled—three or four demonstrators behind her. Shock white, Rick said sorry, so sorry, but when he reached over to help, a firm hand gripped his bicep. “What the hell was that?” A heftier cop, fleshy male with a Ditka mustache. “Was that on purpose? Were you aiming for her?” Rick protested. No, no. As if he was some sort of anarchist, a cop-seeking kamikaze, hailing violence on the rational mass.

Rick shot for deferential as the woman cop stood and brushed herself off. A small crowd encircled them. Rick apologized repeatedly, but the hefty cop didn’t care. You’re out of control, he said. Let’s go talk about this.

Rick stared back, stunned.

“I said I was sorry!” he said and then shouted at the onlookers. “I’m sorry, guys! Come on. I’m not … some anarchist in black with a fucking bomb.” The hefty cop’s mouth hung open. The cop he’d capsized openly grimaced. Rick couldn’t seem to help himself. “What? You gonna interrogate me in a dark room? Why don’t you to take me to the ‘black site’ in Homan Square and beat it out of me?”

Both cops stared, part amazed, part amused, then reached for the cuffs on their belts.

Handcuffed in the back of the cruiser, left there alone for nearly an hour, Rick eventually had to smile. Two plus decades and he’d never seen the inside of a jail cell. Or even a cop car. Then the memory rushed in and he recalled that he had: he’d sat in a cop car briefly, ages ago, as they questioned him after his car was stolen, a car they would recover the same day, the thief inside it, idling next to a second car his friends were stealing. Rick had to show up in court downtown, not far from here, a tight little room with tin-pot grandeur, and confirm he neither knew the accused nor had he given him permission to drive his car. A skinny tall black kid, only fourteen, with an angular cast to the bones in his face, looked as sheepish and inward as any adolescent caught red-handed in the wrong. An innocence still there. A purity. Rick surprised himself and on a whim, probably a stupid or naïve one, decided not to press charges.

He felt virtuous about it, but not for long. That very evening, as if to answer this act, Anna miscarried late in a pregnancy for the second time in as many years. Just crushing. If Jackson’s pregnancy hadn’t taken, they’d probably have given up trying. But the car theft and that kid in court were wed forever to this horrible loss, as indelibly entwined as the Cubs to Trump. A rich, seething moment in his life. In their life. And they’d survived it. Though who knew about that kid in court. Let’s hope he’s pulled through. That might be the real miscarriage.

He should put all that in his short history. How could he forget that one? There were so many more. So many. He should write it all out before he moved, he was thinking. Smallovitz was right. Smallovitz was right.

end of story

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