By Patrick Crerand
Featured art: ‘blue sneakers’
My father never exercised. He chased me upstairs after a fresh word at the dinner table once or twice—quick sprints that ended with a face-slap photo finish—but no trips to the gym, hardly even a ball game on TV. On weekends, he wore sneakers—not tennis shoes—always sneakers, as if that’s what one did to hide silently from the world of sport.
But that day—my sixth birthday—after he made the cake and gave me the Frisbee, he said to my surprise, “Let’s see if it spins.” I was out the door in the backyard before he had laced up the first shoe. Neither one of us was very good, but there we stood, spinning the bee in front of the sugar snap peas he had planted, when we heard Aaron, the boy next door, scream in a high, inhuman pitch—a cartoonish noise I thought only diving eagles made, or the ricochet of bullets in old westerns. I almost laughed. My father knew better. He straightened and ran toward Aaron in the side yard between the houses. He leapt over the chainlink gate with a quick hop, following behind the crying boy until he caught him by the arm and saw where Aaron was pointing. “What?” my father asked.
“My sister,” Aaron screamed.
Now my father followed the invisible line from Aaron’s finger to his front screen door, running up the soft ramp into the house, below the wooden sign that announced in carved letters whose place it was—The Hammonds: Stan, Patty, Aaron & Jane—a sign that swung on its chain after my father rushed past.
I knew Jane best of all, had seen the bus stop and the big door open and the steel mesh ramp unfold, lowering her and the chair to the pavement every weekday at 2:30, an afternoon spectacle that bested the mechanical precision of anything the Transformers could do. Though my mother—now outside herself and running to Aaron—told me not to stare, I always ignored her advice and peeked between the vinyl slats to watch Jane’s brief return leg of her trip from ramp to road to ramp again. Her mother pushed her. She wore white socks pulled up over her knees, the knobby joint much thicker than her calf and thighs. On her feet, a pair of blue running shoes with an electric yellow design. Lace-ups. This girl of wheels and gears, what was her life inside the house? My mother told me it was spina bifida, that staring made people sad. It was their privacy. I had been in other friends’ houses on the block, but never in theirs, so I had a thousand more questions. I kept coming back to the same one though—why did she need to wear shoes if all she did was sit on wheels?
Her brother, Aaron, was svelte, a runner—a neighborhood bounder in blue-striped tube socks, always outside—and now a high-pitched keener sounding an alarm on the sidewalk, his legs rubberized and jittery behind my mother, telling her, “Do something.” The story fell out of him in pieces. “The phone rang. My mother was only gone for a second. Jane slipped down in the tub.” My mother—a good swimmer, once a teenage lifeguard—darted past him across the driveway, up the ramp and into that dark frame. I wouldn’t see her again until a couple EMTs arrived to spell her during chest compressions, a uniformed pair of men walking out a half hour later to roll the sirens and burp the horn—a bubble of red air bursting down our drive, a last call to clear out all the kids who’d come running to see the gurney, its wheels and bars, the white sheet pulled up to Jane’s sleeping face.
But I stayed. Hidden behind a juniper bush in the side yard, I waited as my parents walked past me, my father—a foot taller than my mother, but almost shorter now—stooped by grief. I stood pretending to look for the Frisbee buried in the grass behind me and swatted the mosquitoes and the lightning bugs, late for September, but still blinking, until I saw Aaron there in his driveway, hiding too behind his mother’s Ford Fairmont that his father always backed in. I followed Aaron’s eyes into the doorframe of his house. We heard a different cry and watched as Stan—Aaron’s taller double—kicked the bottom panel of the front screen door into an aluminum bubble until the door popped open. He ran outside to the back end of the car and kicked in the trunk. The force knocked Stan backward but not off his feet, so he kicked it hard again, then stomped on the fender, over and over, the old shocks shrieking, rocking the wheels to life as Aaron stood and cried, his hands out, hovering above the hood of the car as if to calm it. I just stood and waited for my father to come outside again, to hear his voice calling me back inside for the night, and he must have, not long after.
Patrick Crerand lives and writes in Florida, where he also teaches at Saint Leo University. His recent essays have appeared in North American Review, The Collagist, and other magazines.