I haven’t posted any writing in a long time since I’ve been doing work-for-hire that I don’t think I can post. But today I’m posting a short story I wrote this past year, which received an honorable mention in a Glimmer Train fiction contest a few months ago. It’s called ‘Suspension’ and is based on a true story.
Come with me to this party, Hakim had said. I have to stop by. Have to. It’ll be quick, painless. The kids are cool. Way cool. Nothing to worry about.
They went after the Giants beat the Phillies at home. Ryan hadn’t planned on going out after the game, but he was so ecstatic. Ec-sta-tic. One more game and they’d be in the World Series. The World Series! It was almost too much to hope for, but he couldn’t help himself. Sure, he said. They could go to a party. It would probably be good for him. They hopped a bus to the Mission and entered this railroad apartment. It was an awkward layout for a party. People were crammed into the kitchen up against the food and drinks, and spilling out onto the deck.
Hakim was swallowed into the crowd immediately. Ryan thought of having a beer since he was practically on top of the beer table anyway, but he’d had three at the ballpark. He was buzzed, happy. It was obvious nobody at the party cared about the baseball game, but they were just happy anyhow. He squeezed through the kitchen and onto the deck, where it was cooler and less crowded, and some pretty girls were passing around a joint. For a moment he was sorry he came, but then a guy sitting on the steps half-raised his hand greeting.
Hey dude, said the guy. How’s it going.
It’s going good. We just came from the ballgame.
No kidding. How was it?
Awesome. The Giants won.
Awesome, the guy said. I’m Lee.
Lee. Ryan. Ryan bent over and shook his hand, then leaned on the railing next to him.
What’s the occasion? Just a party?
It’s my birthday.
Oh, happy birthday.
Thanks. And…I’m leaving next week for Afghanistan.
No shit. The guy smiled and shook his head to himself as though he couldn’t believe his good luck.
I’m a police officer, Ryan said, before he could stop himself.
Yeah? In the city?
Yeah. Well. He tried to stop himself from saying it, but it came out. I’m on suspension right now.
The pretty brunette sitting on the other side of Lee looked up. What for?
He smiled involuntarily, his worst reaction, making it seem like a conspiracy, a joke. I can’t talk about it.
He looked down, still smiling, though he could never figure out why. Legal stuff. Courts. I’m not supposed to talk.
I know how that goes, Lee said. How long are you out for?
Come on, the girl said, and now her two friends were looking at him, too. Between friends.
Ryan ignored her. It’s been a few months. Supposedly it should be cleared up in a year, maybe two?
Damn, Lee said.
It’s not so bad, Ryan shrugged. I’ve been bartending.
The girl turned her back to him as someone passed her the joint. Ryan looked at her longingly, but also hated her. He wished he could turn his back to her as well, but Lee touched his shoe.
That sucks, man, he said.
It’s all right, Ryan insisted. He couldn’t remember how the topic had come up, but it always did, no matter what. He looked over his shoulder to see if Hakim was around, but all he saw were the shadows of people against the light coming from inside. Someone was laughing, a laugh that sounded like a growl. He glanced down at Lee, stooped over his beer. He remembered it was his birthday.
How old are you now? He hated himself for asking it. It made him sound so old.
Huh. I’m twenty-eight, Ryan said. He wished he had just taken the bus home from the ballpark. By now, he could be at home, watching TV in peace. Even gatherings with his closest friends, with his family, had been awkward ever since the incident. The girl next to Lee laughed loudly. That look she had given him—it was like the look his mother had given him when he’d said what they had instructed him to say: It’ll clear up soon.
In the months following, he had tried to talk about anything else but that night—movies, video games, sports—Christ, the Giants were going to be in the fucking World Series, for fuck’s sake. Before that night, he went out all the time, brought home girls. Not that he was a big conversationalist, but he never had to think of something to say; it just came to him. Now everything he said just made him sound guilty.
Lee stood up. I’m going to get a beer, you want something?
No, thanks. He watched him ease his way back through the crowded apartment. He thought of The Rub, the bar he’d worked at before he began training, and the bar he was now again working at. He remembered walking in the same day he’d spoken with the recruiters, announcing to himself that he was going to be a police officer. He knew that one day he would walk the neighborhood and feel the same sense of pride, of ownership that he felt when he was behind the bar. The sense of fellowship that he then felt with The Rub’s owners, and other bartenders around the city—he’d feel that with other law enforcement. Not just cops, but guys in the Army and the Navy and the Marines.
After the incident, they promised him he’d be back. He hadn’t been barred from talking to his partner, but they hadn’t spoken to each other since that week, not even once. Whenever he thought to call him, he was seized with a sense of anxiety.
He dreamed about the guy outside the video store, but it wasn’t that night, and they weren’t outside the video store. They were in Ryan’s old neighborhood, back when he lived in the Valley, and the man was the same age but Ryan was younger. The man would approach him to play, but whenever he would open his mouth to speak, nonsense would come out, hostile-sounding garbage, and instead of laughing at him or trying to understand, Ryan would cry like a little kid.
They’d set him up with a counselor, a girl he went to talk to every week for forty-five minutes. He’d told her about what had happened at the video store during one of their first sessions, and then they’d never talked about it again. He told her about the bar, about how it was fine except for when other officers came in, usually guys he didn’t know, but still—it was strange, like a dream where you’re a past version of yourself looking at a future version of your self. He tried to tell her about the dreams but it came out wrong, sounding like he was scared or upset, when he knew it was just a dream.
The brunette was holding the joint again, and she looked as though she were wondering whether to pass it to him. People always did that when they found out he was a cop. But pot just made him anxious lately, so he did her a favor and looked away. He looked for Lee, for Hakim, then crept down the steps into the garden. The sounds of the party grew muted and the lights became thin slices through the slits in the deck. When he reached the bottom step, he took a few breaths. His heart was beating fast. He hopped the fence, and felt his way along the wall through the dark alley between the two buildings until he could hardly see or hear the party at all. He was at the front of the building now, at the front gate, looking out at the street. He tried the gate, but it was locked. He shook the handle, thought of texting Hakim and asking him to go out the front to open the door, but Hakim would’ve had to find someone with the keys—and who knows how many people would have come down and seen him trapped there, like this? He laced his fingers through the painted iron and gazed out at the street. Two men were making their way up the sidewalk, in caps and jackets, slowly. He stepped back from the gate and into the darkness of the alley and held his breath until they passed.
I must be losing it, he thought. I’m a fucking cop.
He sat on the concrete and leaned his back against the wall. He envied Lee, his birthday, his place full of well-wishers before his deployment. Upstairs, he heard the sounds of palms slapping and Hakim asking, ‘Anyone seen Ryan?’
That’s the story. I hope you liked it. I am trying to make time for more short stories because it satisfies this goal-oriented part of my psyche that has been starving ever since I started writing this novel four years ago.
Incidentally, this cover photo I used is from 2010, when I was working on the second or third or fiftieth draft of this beast. I was living in Buenos Aires and my laptop was malfunctioning and so I had to get this external (Spanish) keyboard to type. Right–and the mouse, too.
Still got that laptop. That’s the real beast here.