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"The Honkers," short story excerpt

Tuesday 9/20/22

“I just think it’s funny that you think you can help her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Not funny ha ha.”

A husband and a wife looked out of their bedroom window into the yard across the street. One of those yards bowered by trees so that it looks like a room that happens to be outside. A girl with no legs who was maybe fourteen and hadn’t lived there long dragged herself across the lawn wearing pads where knees would have been. She flipped onto her back and threw a soccer ball as high as she could with a heave from her chest, catching it as it came down in a perfectly designed arc. It was easy to have the ball land behind your head and bounce away, but she’d perfected her technique. The fallen leaves on each side of her looked like bed coverings and that she’d just awoken in the freshest air there was.

The husband had noticed she was quite developed. He didn’t think it sexually, but within a framework of ironies. His wife probably thought the same, but he wasn’t going to say something.

Kids from the high school who drove by would honk their horns. The man was initially unsure if they meant to be friendly or not. Probably friendly. Honks of “Hey! We’d be honking anyway, we’re not just honking because of whatever.” Throwing some support behind the girl. Good kids with six gun salutes of “You can do this!” It was almost like she was popular in a place she hadn’t even gotten to yet with people who would be gone when she did.

Some of those kids had been their daughter’s friends. Kids for whom the wife had cooked meals. Taken to roller rinks and lots of crappy movies. But that’s what you did it for. Roller rinks and crappy movies. That was the fun. The car rides. An additional ferrying venture. Another answer of, “Yes, okay, I can take you and your friends,” while pretending to be harried, but not too so that anyone really thought you were. It was just the one roller rink. No place has any more than one, but she thought of them as indefinitely pluralized.

The high school kids only honked when the girl with her pads was out on her front lawn. The man would go to the window to check, hoping that the girl without the legs wasn’t there on her blanket of burnt orange leaves and that maybe the kids were honking for his girl.

No, not his girl. Not their girl. For them. No—not even that. For him.

He wasn’t proud of the realization and could feel his daughter’s ghost laughing, but in a kindly fashion. Ghosts wanted to be helpful, or this one was, and it was the only ghost he knew.

He hadn’t been able to help his daughter. She used to read under her bed with a penlight. They’d put it on blocks so that it was up in the air. She called it her reading cave. Her foot had dangled out. No again. That was the wrong way to put it. Why did he always think that the foot had dangled? There’s motion in dangling. The foot had been there. It wasn’t the color of a foot. He pulled it like it was the first part of a magician’s handkerchief, that apricot tinge of orange, and out she came. She didn’t have any clothes on and her eyes were open. He felt like she was seeing him see her, but he was still supposed to look. It was okay again, like when he was a protector. Changed diapers and kissed her nose afterwards to mark that they were done. Another trip around that form of the sun that lives indoors with families, where it is just them.

The man had seen enough from the window with his wife. He was a helper of people now. A giver of strength because he had nothing else to use it for anyway.

He left his house, walking across the street to where the girl threw the ball on her back, ready to impart support and lend his example. Say hello. Make a remark of “If there’s anything you need.” Ask if her parents were home. People weren’t neighborly anymore. Never too late to right a wrong. They probably knew him and his wife as the people who didn’t venture out much anyway. The people, not the couple.

“My wife is a teacher at the high school,” he could say. He needn’t add that it seemed like she lived there, and spent a lot of money out of pocket for her kids, though she never called them that and he never spoke of allocation. Some of them numbered among the honkers.

“The kids who honk for your amazing girl,” he could finish.


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