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Four fictions, by Kim Chinquee

 

I Took One of Her Legs

Back at the hotel lobby, the pleasure of the first cold beer was wrecked by our feeling vomitus and stinky. We straggled to the hotel after the race, the last guy on our team looking pale, like he was about to keel over.

Still, we kept upright for the pictures, did the thing where we smiled, held up our medals. There were eleven of us, and one guy did two legs, so he held up two of his medals. The backs of all the medals said something unique, the parts of them, put together, solving a puzzle. As if, after two hundred miles, our team could even think straight.

We all ordered Goldens. We were in Niagara Falls. There was nothing portentous about it. The waiter put napkins under our beers. We sat looking at the beers for a while, undermining the quality of them, or of this moment, which we had talked about—assumed—during the whole race would be special.

We hadn’t even planned to go to the hotel lobby after, in the first place.

The finish line wasn’t far. I lived just south, sixty miles tops. Two of my colleagues, who lived within thirty miles of me, lived a lot closer. The other folks traveled all the way from Ohio, one from Massachusetts. One from Albany. The only two guys from our team lived in other countries. Tom lived in Brazil. Jay lived in Toronto. We had two vans. It was a Ragnar.

The race started in Cobourg, Ontario. We had to drive to get there, and shuttle run the rest of the way. We went day and night. Sleeping in our bags in parks. At any given time, at least one of our team members was running. We’d get in the van and go, go, go. Run, run, run. Always, across all these many miles, we’d see all these people running.

I did better than I expected. I took the baton when it was my turn. I crossed fields in the daytime, and at night, I filtered through the late bar-life streets of Mississauga, where folks stood drinking and smoking legal pot on the sidewalk.

I only covered eighteen miles, on my own feet, running. We came and went, we came and went, we got in the van. I drove part of the way.

I got lost, not only driving.

We slept. We ran. We ate. We slept in sleeping bags in the air in the middle of Toronto. We pooped in port-a-potties. I brought the toilet paper. Stuff fell out of the van. It’s like living in a purse, said one of my teammates.

One of the girls was injured, so I took one of her legs.

Stacy was from Massachusetts. My friend Ann was from New Jersey.

Some of us brushed our teeth on the sidewalk.

 

Veteran’s Hospital

The stillness of the elevator made its occupants grow silent. A woman with curved hands holding a stability ball squeezed herself into a corner. A man stood wringing his cap the color of a kidney. Another, who held the leash of his furry companion, donned with a harness labeling him as service, looked up to the ceiling. An amputee in a wheelchair wore the same kind of jungle hat another woman (a veteran herself) recognized, like the one on her son’s head in the picture he’d sent the day before, geared up in his flack vest, rifle on his chest, his face done up in black and green and brown. She said hello to the man. She looked at his eyes. He had nothing in return. She had nothing more to lose. She said hello to just about everyone.

 

Special Operations

They entered the fort-like railway station with eyes like grains of sand. Some of the emblems on their uniforms were embroidered commando daggers. US Army Airborne Special Operations. They wore combat boots. Most of them were shiny.

They were deferential. They wore their hair short. Some had none at all. Respect for regulation.

They carried duffel bags filled with underwear and t-shirts. They were fit. They drank from their canteens.

They held their phones. They wrote to their mothers, if they had them.

Some of them slept.

They took up most of the station.

 

Maybe You Can Help Me

The woman gets out of the car and asks, Are you okay?

She has long dark hair and sunglasses. I’m trying to get up, but my shoes are still clipped to my bike, and I’m trying to get out of them. I say, Maybe you can help me?

I smell gasoline. A sprinkler sprinkles water on the sidewalk.

I slip my foot out of my shoe, get up and say, I’m okay.

The light has turned green. I lift my bike, hope I didn’t hurt it. I bought it less than an hour ago from a store where a man sized me. It’s an upgrade. The last bike I bought used from a girl in the middle of a breakup.

I look at her car and say, I think your car’s okay. I’m sorry I fell into it.

There’s a smear on it, a grease spot.

The car takes off, and I see a line behind her.

I take inventory of the damage. I have a scrape on my knee and on my elbow. My arm hurts.

My bike seems free of damage.

I get back on and ride one block to the park, where I will do two-mile loops, testing out the gears, the aero bars, shifting up the hills, then down them.

My bike is black, with red tape on the bars and handles. Pretty tires. The bike is handsome. Masculine, I’ve decided. Definitely a he. I think of what to name him.

 

Kim Chinquee is a regular contributor to NOON, Denver Quarterly, and Conjunctions, and has also published work in Ploughshares, The Nation, Story Quarterly, Fiction, Mississippi Review, and over a hundred other journals. She is the author of the collections Oh Baby, Pretty, Veer, Shot Girls, and Wetsuit. She is Chief Editor of Elm Leaves Journal and Senior Editor of New World Writing. She co-directs the writing major at SUNY-Buffalo State, and lives in Glenwood, NY.

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