11 February 2010


Here's the first in a series of excerpts from my short-story collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books, 2009). I think "Bouncing" is, like, an allegory for something. Maybe you can figure it out.


Due to a powerful convolution of entanglement, one ankle blocking the path of another, a knee tilting inward while a foot swung around backward, I fell and I hit my head. I didn’t witness it from nearby but from within my very self, and so I am only speculating upon the precise sequence of limb-related fiascos, but the blows to my head I am certain of. My head hit the ground, and then hit it again, and then again, and so forth, until I was bouncing down the small hill like an upturned pogo stick, which is something I’d believed possible only in cartoon animation. I’m tempted to digress for a moment so we can compare our favourite Saturday-morning children’s programming, but my doctor — as well as my brothers and my mother — have expressed impatience with my digressions, and I don’t want to exasperate you, too, because right now you’re the only person who will actually talk to me.

Here’s the thing: with each blow, each contact of the top of my head to the hard-dirt ground — along a sloping path that served as a shortcut to my home, allowing me to avoid the paved sidewalks riddled with children and their lemonade stands — I uttered a sharp “Ah!” or “Unh!” depending on the exact angle of impact. Thus did the people who lived up along the brink of the ravine, their houses in danger of tumbling into the trees, hear me and come running through secondary and tertiary paths to witness my comical descent. Well, they found it comical until they found it alarming. They jogged along behind me, their numbers growing, discussing amongst themselves what they might do to slow me down and bring me to a stop, lest I bash my brains to smithereens in the ravine, making it impossible for them to, in the future, gaze wistfully down into the trees and mist without evoking the terrible image of my boinging demise.

As for me, I wondered if, after all, it wouldn’t have been preferable to sidestep the occasional lemonade stand and hurt the feelings of small children by declining to patronize them as they made their first desperate stabs at capitalism, a system I championed, but whose drawbacks I was all too aware of. Yes, perhaps I might even have stopped to enjoy a plastic tumbler of the pink and sugary lukewarm drink, parting with a nickel or dime or whatever these midget entrepreneurs extorted from passersby these days. It is unlikely, that way, that I would have experienced this terrible pounding atop my sorry noggin.

I could hear only snatches of the discussion taking place around me, but there was talk of lassooing me, rolling a log into my path, shooting me with a sedative-loaded dart, and tackling me outright; one woman, gasping for breath as she loped along, suggested passing me a pillow that I might hold above my head, or more rightly below it, given my inverted posture, to cushion the impact each time I bounced. They argued, they joked, they shouted to each other and to me, they formed committees and subcommittees, agreed on meeting dates, venues, and catered lunches. That they were taking my predicament seriously was reassuring.

By now I had reached the cradle of the ravine and had begun to bounce up the opposite incline. This surprised me, as I had expected to tumble into a heap at the bottom, not continue my staccato trajectory uphill. I had to accept that this would not end, that I would continue pogoing along, my audience dwindling and swelling again depending on the time of day, the weather, their work schedules, and what was on television. I would never show up at the plant again — they would hire someone else to press the button when necessary — and I might never again see my family.

A stocky man in a rumpled sweater followed along beside me now, close as he could safely come: he was hunched over, and his legs were kicking comically as if he were a Cossack dancer. I recognized him from the tiny square picture that appeared beside his name in the daily newspaper, and took comfort that it was no mere city reporter assigned to me, but a popular columnist.

“I am the Bouncing Man,” I told him. “I was a happy child and a content father and husband, but now I spring through the ravine and shortly up into the street and down the highway and through an endless string of villages, each blow to my lid a reminder that we are placed upon this earth by God and we are set upright and given a tiny shove that we might begin moving and determining our own direction and in this way defining who we are and what our values might be. Tell your readers I have a joined a club of exceptional men — men who stumble without cessation about their living rooms, who stomp day and night through the corridors of their offices, who teeter like metronomes in public squares. I am not alone.”

Eventually, and I have no idea how much time had passed, I became oblivious to the activity around me — those who mocked and those who tried to help; those who genuflected and those who tried to profit. The cameras, the cars, the trotting dogs. The handsome woman who said she was my wife; the children who called to me their impressive grades. Each village became an overturned blur, each downpour a welcome laundering. I could focus only on the blows to my skull and the subsequent rattling, the quiver of every molecule of bone that held my increasingly irrelevant brain in its protective embrace. I lost track of time, and of my name, and of the significance of this ball of dirt across which I bounced, bounced, bounced. I became merely impact and motion, impact and motion.

I remember a story my father once told me. A boy is playing in the sandbox in the schoolyard, and darkness falls. He hears the voice of his mother calling him in for supper. On his way home, he loses his way in the shadows and walks until his feet are sore. He curls up against the side of a stranger’s house and falls asleep. In the morning, the sun pries open his eyelids. He is back in the schoolyard. He realizes he is not the boy at all, but the sandbox, and so he is already home.

Copyright © 2009 by Stuart Ross


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