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Category Archives: Chicago

Chicago is knuckles and sandwiches, skinned knees and fury, the key to a Gordian lock.

“I never know what she’s going to do next, I just know it’s going to hurt.” —William O’Neil


“Do you exist?”

“Of course.”

“How do you know?”

“Cogito, ergo–”

“Not good enough.” Chicago shakes her head. “I don’t believe that anymore, there’s nothing to it. It’s turtles all the way down.”

“Have you got something better?”

“I don’t have to offer anything,” she says, “strictly.”

Grand nods. “Just getting your kicks in at dead white guys, then. Real productive.”

“No.” She goes to the railing and leans over. “I am because I demand to be.”

He picks up the soccer ball and spins it. “Makes you want to spit, right?”

“I bet I can hit that guy,” she says.


You can paint the walls green and blue; you can trade the cold bar lights for bulbs. You can hang posters and play music and knock out big windows, but the soul of a hospital, its atomic nature, is its smell.

Chicago wonders if they pipe it in through the little oxygen nose masks. Maybe it steams off the coffee? But it’s not much like coffee–more like instant oatmeal, cooked with disinfectant and chewed fingers and piss.

Things are fucked up, says the smell in its little yellow voice. Things are fucked for you and they are not getting better.


Pretty soon Chicago’s going to end the fight with a kick to the ankle and a shoulder to the jaw, but right now she’s enjoying it. Harley’s got better reach. Harley’s got a scholarship to Wellesley. Lithe, blonde Harley the volleyball player can’t throw a punch.

Not that Chicago took boxing lessons: her cousin Diego taught her to fight filthy, when they were young and short together. Diego grew up with four big brothers. Chicago, with none, always wondered why he didn’t run and hide.

This is what she’s learning: it’s a hot sick good time, hurting people bigger than you.


Chicago doesn’t have the French for what she’s seeing, but she needs it. English isn’t concise enough: she’d have to list cogwheels and levers by name, belts and screws and mangles. There are wax cylinders and ribbon cables, great discs on arms and tiny hydraulic tubes, the hiss of steam and an electric hum. Some pieces are gleaming and some are shattered. None of it ever stops moving.

Not far above her are people, cars and the lazy downtown sun: Chicago sees the arms rising into darkness and thinks, maybe she does have the French. Machinerie, diablerie, éminence grise. Grand Guignol.


Grip tape on her deck and Swiss ceramic bearings: Chicago likes the language of skating, the tumble and slide of it. It says what it is.

But cars, gah. Their language is so bent and angry, so tired: crankshaft gasket manifold. Ding. Chicago’s got a permit but, she reflects as she hauls him into the passenger seat, they never did get around to those driving lessons. So what. She’s seen a key cranked, she knows about mirrors. How hard can it be? One of them is gas, the other is brake, and she’s got this empirical test to distinguish between them.


Chicago shows up at Grand’s, triumphant, smelling like rye.

“Nobody takes precautions,” she enunciates, lying back with her feet in the pool. “Nobody changes the factory password. Nobody locks both drawers in a desk.”

“Nobody expects a fifteen-year-old to be snapping pictures,” says Grand, amused, “through the glory hole in the storage closet.”

“Will now.” Chicago shrugs, wiggling her shoulders against the warm concrete. “Tooo laaate.”

“Tell me which of your victims is which someday,” says Grand, lighting a roach in its clip. He inhales, then proffers it.

“No way,” says Chicago, standing, swaying. “That shit’s bad for you.”


Teach Their Minds, And Their Hands Will Follow

is the motto of B. M. Gallows High, and Chicago’s seen it in the lobby every day for two years now. She guessed that the translation was a bit off after three weeks of badly-taught Latin; here, underground, a dingy sign confirms it:

Tame Their Souls, And Their Hands Will Obey

Chicago’s lost her cynicism, her buzz, her weapon and her shield. It’s cold. She’s kind of sick. She never thought, until now, that her own methods were so close to theirs.


And here, at the heart of the whole thing (maybe below the heart; maybe the colon) there’s a dusty little black webcam trained on a picture of her.

Chicago realizes her mouth is actually hanging open. It’s too much. A recent picture, too; she only got that haircut last month, but then why is it yellowed and curling? She’s never worn that shirt–

Not her. Her mother. She reaches for it.

Later, skating like mad away from the machine’s defenses, she thinks about Jamaica. Grand’s family has a house there, right? Maybe she could borrow it, go sip mimosas and tan.


Chicago’s hair has the curious trick of stopping abruptly, across a perfect horizontal line: she always looks like she’s just seen a barber with a ruler. This makes her look even younger, though less so when it’s short. She’s considered shaving her head.

At least that would provoke cold stares instead of simpers. “I need you to wait outside, young lady,” smiles RICHMOND, Administrative Assistant.

“I’m here to see the vice principal,” says Chicago.

“She’s a teensy bit busy–”

“Now,” says Chicago, “or I tattle about the low-quality joints taped under your desk,” and gets the cold stare after all.


Chicago’s mother’s sister’s boyfriend was her sitter, two or three times a month, while she was in first and second grade; and each of these times he hurt her. It ended when he moved away. For her tenth birthday he sent her his silver hip flask.

Over the course of her thirteenth year, remotely, she removed the foundations of his life. She left him bankrupt, disgraced, severely injured and finally arrested; still an amateur, she nearly blew her cover several times. She learned quickly. He died in prison.

She carries the flask, filled with gin, in the pocket of her jeans.