Speed Bump by James Avramenko
The tequila refused to mix with the night, so I left without saying goodbye. I walked up Yates and passed the McDonald's I never had the guts to go into. The teenagers were already out in force. Bored gangs itchy for something to remind them they were alive. I kept my eyes on the pavement and tried to get by quickly. A couple young boys, not even ready to shave yet, started to holler at me. I ignored them, letting them look brave in front of the pimply runaways that just might open their jeans for them later.
I stumbled through the rest of downtown and soon the trees closed in. Streetlights dotted the sidewalk at odd intervals, most burned out or straining to stay lit. The dull hum of electricity underscored my footsteps.
Somewhere along Shelbourne was where it happened. Ahead of me was a shape on the sidewalk that seemed to be walking towards me. I tried to size it up but my vision kept fading in and out of focus. A car passed, its headlights flashing high. The momentary flare startled me into a loose awareness.
Through the row of trees I saw a white car, its top lights dark but the street lamps shone through them in muted blue and red.
"Fuck." I muttered to no one. Victoria cops leave you alone for the most part. Until they don't. Then you have a problem.
The cop car slowed slightly, almost imperceptibly. Its course corrected gently to the left. Then without warning it gunned the engine, burning rubber with a sharp squeal that shattered the quiet of the street. The car burned straight ahead, some muffled hooting trailing out the windows.
A blur of black and grey made a surprised attempt to leap out of the path of the oncoming car but failed. There was a dull thud, like any other speed bump ignored by a lift kit and ignorant confidence. The cops didn't pause or slow down. They just burned off into the night, a fading patter of laughter following them.
The black blur began to mewl pitifully. It tried to lift itself up, looking from a distance like a high schooler trying to finish their first push up. It pulled itself to the side of the road and collapsed in the grass lining the street.
The figure ahead of me, having been forgotten in the commotion, sped towards the struggling blur. I walked cautiously towards the scene, not wanting to get involved if I could help it.
"The fuckers." The figure said. "The fuckers aimed for it."
Up close I saw it was a young woman speaking. Her hair was a mess of dreadlocks pulled back into a loose ponytail. She stood over the blur that I now saw was the mangled body of a house cat. The woman knelt down and inspected the collar.
"Some kid is going to be heartbroken tomorrow. They won't ever know what happened."
She stood up, brushed her knees off thoughtlessly and then looked over at me.
We looked at each other for a moment, both unsure what to say next. I sort of opened my hands a little, turning the palms towards her. She nodded and looked down at the cat once more.
I said "Should we say something?"
The woman didn't answer. She just kept shaking her head and looking back towards where the cop car drove off.
“A promise is a dream with a death wish”
When I was younger. Could have been six or seven. When you're that age, that magic time before the vibrating hellscape of puberty strikes, the world seems to glow and mix together. But at the time, I remember my mother coming home one day with a present. If I'm being very honest, that's not something all that special. My mother, for all her flaws and regrets, was a generous woman. Especially with me. Being the third child, I was the baby of the family and was treated as such. Spoiled is what she would call me now. Loved was what I thought she meant then.
She came home this day when I was six or seven or some other age before I wondered where I stood in this world, and she said she had a gift. She held out her hand and gave me a small box. I think. It's funny though, isn't it? I remember the contents and I swear it was in a little box or a bag maybe, but I can't picture it. I'm sure it was in something, it was a present after all. But I have no idea for sure. This is one of those moments. When I've thought about this day so often so as to make it not even be real anymore.
But no matter. The gift was in my hand and I got my first look at it. It was small, even for my child hands, maybe the size of my palm. A grey polished medallion with a thick blue ribbon at the top, looped through an eyelet. The medallion was shaped in a rendering of an illustration of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh sitting back to back. Christopher Robin was pulling a boot on and Pooh bear was helping to brace him. Below was inscribed "Promise you won't forget me, ever."
At the time I was going through a Winnie the Pooh phase. Every other month I would find some new obsession and talk only about that thing. It felt almost arbitrary the way I would jump from one obsession to another. This week it was Ghostbusters, the next it was Mighty Max. There was no rhyme or reason to it. More than likely I was just being swayed by the advertising juggernaut that every nineties kid was bombarded with every afternoon after school. I'd sit slack-jawed in front of the tv and be hypnotized by whatever product the marketers had decided I needed this week.
Of course even at my age I knew it wasn't cool to like Winnie the Pooh. There was nothing tough or extreme about him and I tried to keep my love for the whole hundred acre woods to a discrete level. When my mom gave me this medallion I remember feeling a wave of emotions. First elation because it was Pooh bear, then embarrassment because of the implication of it. That I was getting a sentimental little treat from my sad mom who wanted to be sure she would get validation whenever she needed it. Maybe I'm being too cynical, maybe I'm sounding harsh. But the world turns and stories change and the way I see my mother is not how it was then. Maybe that's painting my memory, who knows.
I thanked her as politely as I could, hoping she didn't hear the lingering disappointment in my voice. I then hung the medallion from my reading lamp. Every night from then on it would click against the metal post when I brushed it to turn the light off. The tinkling sound was a comfort to me. It make me think of a train riding off in the distance as the bell faded away.
The medallion stayed on my lamp for years. Even when my mom kicked me out of the house for getting my nipple pierced, the lamp came with me and with it the medallion. When I moved away to school, the lamp was lost but the medallion came along. It was soon tied around a new lamp, eventually joined by an old Batman action figure I found at a thrift store.
The years passed and my relationship with my mother waxed and waned. It's a hard thing to know what is common and what is unique in this story. I don't know what I remember properly and what has been blown up from years of resentment and bitterness. That medallion came with me everywhere. The last time I saw it was with my mother.
I had just moved back to the city I grew up in after a decade on the coast. I had a new girlfriend and we had just moved in together. One day my mother came to pay a visit. She was in one of her better moods. I still have never figured out a proper barometer for guessing her different moods. I just answer the door and hope for the best.
She knocked as she walked in, as she always did. Made her way back to the bedroom without asking. My mom was the kind of woman who thought anything that belonged to the family belonged to her. She used the space accordingly. She looked around my room, appraising the state of things. Then her eye caught something glimmering in the light.
The medallion, still hung around my lamp.
She smiled when she saw it and walked over to it. She read the quote to herself. Then she looked up and met my gaze and when she spoke her voice was soft and innocent.
"This is beautiful." She said. "Who gave this to you?"
James Avramenko (he/him, @anaveragemango) is a poet and podcaster currently working from Saskatoon, SK, Canada. He is the host of "Friendless" a show about how to be a better friend by losing every friend you have, in which he interviews Facebook connections then unfriends them at the end of the show. He is the author of "BU TT HE AD" a collection of poetry about social anxiety, coping mechanisms, and Dolly Parton.