On the Way Down
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Chaos"
Originally featured on 06-05-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

A giant insect scuttled against my thigh, its abdomen rumbling, probably trying to give birth. It was stuck, and did not make any progress up or down my thigh. I was gripping Papa Smurf’s handlebars for dear life, tearing down Northwest Lovejoy at what felt like thirty miles an hour and was not about to stop. The insect went suddenly still, its weight still clinging to my thigh. I flew across Twenty-Fifth Street where traffic was paused for me and Papa Smurf (my bicycle is not blue and does not possess any features resembling a Smurf, but it’s my bicycle, and I can name it what I like) and made it half way to Twenty-Fourth when I felt it vibrate again. There was no insect.

It was my cell phone. I slowed to a stop at Twenty-Fourth and reached into my pocket to see who had the gumption to bother me at Eight AM on a Saturday morning.

“Hello?” My voice sounded sweaty. I love the way my voice sounds when I’m sweaty. It’s saying on some inaudible frequency, I don’t have time for you.

A middle-aged female voice said, “You aren’t wearing a helmet. You should be.”

My head swung around. My ponytail swatted my back, sending shivers up my neck. It was not the caller who irritated me; it was the fact that I stopped to look around for someone standing on a street corner. This was my Saturday. My Papa Smurf.

“Who is this?”

She hung up. I would much rather have been holding a giant insect and watching it give birth to a hundred maggots in the palm of my hand. Now I had to jog my mind-

A car honked, jolting me into a dance. I was standing in the middle of the road. I scrambled to the sidewalk, feeling embarrassed. Now I hated this woman, this mysterious friend who saw me pass by. I dialed the number.

Hills scare me. Both the going up and the going down. I’ve always made a point to do things that scare me. At least one a day, or however the mantra goes. Trouble is, the same things the thoughts of which used to scare me still scare me, even when I keep doing them. I thought about fear as I waited for the phone to ring. Twice. Four times.

She picked up and said, “Stop making a puzzle out of this. Your only thought of me should be the words I speak, and my only words to you are regarding your lack of protective headgear. Get a goddamned helmet.” I could feel the next word gathering momentum in the trees flanking the brick buildings on Lovejoy. I felt it start in the back of my throat before I heard it. I felt it reach its brittle, crumbly hand into my stomach and twist my bowels around my spine. When she said it, my skin became too small for my body. She spoke in the same tone as she had spoken the previous words. “Scott.”

That’s not my name. That’s not even my goddamned name. What if it were? I’ve never particularly liked my own name. I mean, It’s as good as any other name. But when it’s your name…nothing in the world is as boring as the sound of your name, especially when you yourself speak it. And your own name is the only human sound guaranteed to wake you up when you’re sleeping. I never adopted nicknames, because that would mean just another word to start hating. Names scare me. Their permanence.

I tasted the tears thick as the filling in a cream donut (today’s breakfast was yummy; thank heaven for twenty-four-hour donut shops that serve bacon on sugary pastries) before I realized I was crying. My eyelids slammed shut. Scott? Scott.

The next surge of tears was thick as a muscle. I swallowed it back into my face, bit hard, tightened my stomach and shat all my fury out through my mouth into the cell phone in a vehement splurge of phlegm, not sure what I intended to say.

And then a soft feeling washed up into my shoulders. I wanted to float away in a swimming pool filled with nothing but that feeling. There was no need for a belt. Or a shirt. I removed both of them and tossed them behind me.

After a while I got back on Papa Smurf and continued en route to the waterfront.

“Scott,” I whispered. The word smiled, but my mouth was not big enough to hold it. “Scott.” I said it louder. “Scott!” I laughed. Scott has no need for pants either.

Anybody who saw me coasting naked, laughing hysterically while weaving a path through the middle of the street will undoubtedly remember me.

The next person I see, the next person I talk to, I’m going to grab a robust handful of their shirt collar, press them into a wall and yell in their face, “Say my name. Just say my name.” Maybe I don’t have to yell. I can wait for the wind to shift directions, and tell them softly. Say my name.

I’ve suspected this for a while now; every time I bike over a bump in the road, when I have momentum, there seems to be more than a moment when Papa Smurf’s tires are not touching the ground. This may be what Papa Smurf has been trying to tell me. I’ll bet there’s a very simple way to do it. It’s the not doing it that takes energy.

Papa Smurf can fly.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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