With No Hands

Mile 5: It’s Chicago hot outside. “Chicago” is an adjective that trumps ones like “very” or “extremely.” You ride the trail with Phil anyway because he’s leaving for basic tomorrow and Mom says you have to. Little rivers of sweat flow out to sea from the banks of your stubbly armpits. Stubbly because when Phil showed you how to shave, you took it you were supposed to shave there too.

Mile 10: You fish sweaty directions out of your pocket, unfold them like they point the way to treasure. You were out of printer paper, so it’s a palimpsest of CCD homework. On Jesus’ face it says, “Turn left.” Phil says a man shouldn’t need directions. A man should just know. You do mutter something under your breath, but you swear you didn’t because that’s an offense punishable by gutpunch. When you pass through swarms of flies Phil calls them clouds of flysex. You make a show of taking your Jesus directions out when Phil’s inner compass fails him.

Mile 15: The second shirt you sweat through is the one the recruiter gave Phil. Your lopsided perspiration turns ARMY into MY. Phil’s the type who needs a break forced on him against his will. You pull out a deformed juice box from the mini cooler that Dad smoked a month for. You ask Phil what did he want. You say it like that too, in the past tense, like he’s already gone. You pack away the cooler before he can answer, pop your kickstand and ride so fast the gravel dust kicks up in his face behind you.

Mile 20: The empty cicada skin in your hand glows like honey in the high sun, over Phil’s head as he “drains his lizard” and turns gray gravel black. Even at thirteen you consider the phrase crude. The cicada’s empty alien claws latch onto Phil’s shirt the way they would the bark of a tree. When Phil whips around, he’s still going. Some of it splashes onto your ankles. You find this is an offense punishable by eyepunch.

Mile 25: Your eye’s already starting to swell. Your failing depth perception tries telling you that faraway Phil is actually close-up, tiny Phil. He hits the last mile marker and stops, turns around, heads home. He grows in size right before your eyes the way the jingle insisted the little foam dinosaurs will when you “just add water.” You ask Phil if he remembers the little foam dinosaurs and he acts like the wind’s drowned out your voice.

Mile 30: Your chain comes off and your shoelace tangles in it and Phil cuts you out with the pocket knife he let you use that one time and you ask about the school Mom wants you to go to: Our Lady of Something. If Phil didn’t go there, why do you have to? Phil pulls out the one hitter he let you see that one time. You can take a hit if you’re not a little bitch about it. Phil holds a can of Coke to your eye after you’re through and you watch the way the cursive swirls away from you and into Phil’s face, the space behind it.

Mile 35: You tape Pokémon cards to your spokes to try for something like a Harley, but you only have a couple, so it sounds like leftover fireworks a week after the Fourth. Phil empties his wallet out. Together you tape on old gift cards, IDs both fake and not, legal tender. The sound effect is glorious until the tape fails and leaves a trail of identification behind you. You try to stop for it but Phil won’t let you. Try to protest but Phil says leave it. Just leave it all.

Mile 40: When you get there, always keep your uniform neat. Always be thinking of ways to be more presentable. To look better. And don’t mouth off. If some kid starts shit, that’s another thing. You hit him so no teachers see but all the other kids do. It’s kind of like prison that way. Don’t try to act smarter than everyone else. Get out of the house sometimes. Playing games all the time is just jerking off. If Dad starts drinking too much, don’t hide his shoes like I did. Let him go. (You mime like you’re taking notes.) And stop doing shit like that.

Mile 45: The gravel turns to paved and lined mini-road in the rich areas before going back to gravel again in your neighborhood. When the tires make the transition it’s like you’re flying. The handlebars wobble at first when you let go, but they steady out. They calm down. Phil laughs at you, but you peer pressure him into letting go too. You ask him if he’s ever done this before. He does it all the time. He did it when you were still in diapers. You feel like you could ride this way forever, with no hands. Phil’s front tire thrashes like a frightened horse. He gives in, grabs the handlebars. But he’s not scared. He just doesn’t want to show off.

Mile 50: When you ride back in it’s past pepto pink Chicago sky and closer to the way the world fades out right before sleep takes you. Where you’ve gone to there’s the tide melting into sand, marking its height against it like a kid on a wall, but horizontally. The kickstands don’t hold up on the beach, so you let your bikes fall. It’s late in the season with a kind of a chill, so no one else is out. This beach is your domain. The two of you own it. There’s a lighthouse so distant it could be shining from another state, way out there. You and Phil watch the way the fog takes the light and pours it over all the water. You let the sand erase your feet on the shore.



KC was seven years old when he first realized that all grownups are a little broken inside. He was seven, and scared, and in the sewage-shit-stink of his then-flooded basement, with a couple of garbage bags hauled over his legs and duct-taped for the journey as his seventeen-year-old brother Colin stood at the basement door, peering down into the muddy black and cheering him on in his own way.

“See it yet?”

KC brought his hand shakily up, aimed the faulty beam of his flashlight in front, then to both sides. Behind and back up the stairs, temporarily blinding Colin.

“It’s gross down here, Col. Can I just come back up?”

“You rather be grossed out and have a fan, or clean and die of heat stroke?”

KC aimed his beam down near his bagged feet, where he could see newly submerged wrecks scattered in the fetid water–diecast cars, cap guns, video games. In time they’d be covered in seaweed and barnacles, select destinations for the most intrepid miniature divers. But for now they were lying in wait, all of them clamoring for the chance to puncture the plastic film that separated KC’s feet from hundreds of gallons of raw sewage. He looked back up at the top of the stairs where his older brother still stood.

“How about have a fan and be clean?”

“Can’t have your shit-covered cake and eat it too. Sorry, kid.”

KC wheeled around the room, sent up ripples in the knee-deep water as he did.

“But maybe… maybe Mom’ll be back soon. Back with a fan.”

“Sure. And she’ll bake us cookies and tell us what wonderful little boys we are and pinky promise this is the last time she goes over to her boyfriend’s while we’re stuck here in the shit.”

“But she said she was just getting more gas for the generator.”

“And the last time she ‘got more gas for the generator’ she was gone the whole weekend.”


“And the time before that she was ‘running a few errands’ for a week. And the time before that she was ‘taking the car for a wash’ even though it was pouring outside, and the time before that–”

“Col, can you just come down here and help? It’s hot and I can’t see nothing and your flashlight’s better.”

Colin made his own makeshift duct-taped bag boots and waded down into the water that was already gathering a film at the top and frothing up like some unspeakable mug of root beer. KC was right–Colin’s flashlight was way better.

“Never send a boy to do a man’s job, huh?”

“You’re not eighteen yet, Col. You’re still a boy too.”

“Shut up, Case.”

“Shuttin’ up now, boss.”

After their shared song and dance was over, they glided quietly through the murky pool, flashlight beams constantly adjusting and searching, each step carefully calculated. Old, hoarded newspapers floated in the spots where stacks weren’t deep enough to remain rooted to the basement floor, the soggy headlines now shouting out to no one in particular.

“Wouldn’t be as hard to find without all of Mona’s crap stacked all over down here.”

“You mean Mom?”

“Mona. Mom. Whatever. You still looking?”

KC aimed his beam blindly this way and that, hoping that he looked busy. His ruse worked for a while, until:

“Either look for real or go back upstairs. But don’t expect to get any of the fan once I find it.”

KC’s beam took on a much more natural path then, and lucky for KC Colin couldn’t quite make out the little-brother-pout he was sporting on account of low visibility.



“You’re not gonna be dorning, right?”

“Dorming, you mean?”

“Yeah, dorming.”

A nearly imperceptible sigh.


A smattering of flies were gathering near the water’s filmy surface, attracted by the smell but dismayed by the lack of places to land.

“But you should dorm when you go to college. Find some school on the other side of the country. Don’t even tell Mona where. Study your ass off. Get scholarships. Trust me, kid.”

Colin made as if he was pushing aside a stack of floating family photos to check for the fan behind their now-waterlogged TV, but he was really just keeping himself busy as he waited for KC’s response.



“You wouldn’t ever say you were just going to get gas for the generator and then leave forever, right? You wouldn’t do that?”

“No, I wouldn’t do that.”

The two of them marched on through the muck with hands held up and out of splashing range. Traversed the minefield of toys with absolute caution.



“Mom’s not coming back this time, is she?”

Nothing but the muffled splash of bagged feet maneuvering awkwardly. Flashlight beams criss-crossing in the dark.


“I don’t know, Case. All right? I don’t know. And I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, but right now we need to find this fan. We can talk about it later, and be scared later, ’cause I’m scared too, Case. I’m scared too.”


“Case, for God’s sake, I–”

“Col, I found the fan.”

A very audible sigh this time.


“I grabbed it off the cabinet, but then you started talking about being scared and I dropped it a little in the water and it got a little wet and I’m sorry, Col. Don’t be mad at me, please.”

Colin turned his beam toward KC, who was now proffering a dinky little fan as if it were a sacred relic. Colin was careful to keep the beam at KC’s chest so as not to blind him. Looked in his eyes.

“I’m not mad, Case. It’s fine. Great. You did a great job.”

Colin waved KC on to lead the way back upstairs, which he gladly did, the fan held aloft like some putrid trophy.



“I love you, Col.”

“I love you too, Case.”