Clip and I run Pennypack Park with a carton of cigarettes, knocking over the joggers. He goes for the ankles from behind. When they fall, he hangs over them and blows a lungful of smoke in their faces. The joggers cringe into little balls, waiting for a second hit that never comes. Then I follow Clip off into the woods.
We keep running.
I light two cigarettes in my mouth and hand him one. We both have the same cold sores from sharing, but in opposite corners of our mouths. Mine has gotten especially bad and I can’t open my mouth all the way. Otherwise, we have good muscles and health from all the running because the park is hilly. But we’ve got no air from the smokes. We wheeze.
There’s nobody for a while. The early morning joggers are gone, so we smoke off the path up in the woods like two Indians. The city is above us, surrounding the park, and below it, too, in the subways. We haven’t been out there in a while.
We talk a little.
“I’d like a little music out here. A radio,” Clip says. “It’s a shame.” He dances a bit, kicking up leaves. He opens another pack of cigarettes.
“Have you hit the same guy twice yet?” I say. Do they come back to the park, is what I want to know.
“Hard to tell from behind,” Clip says.
“But you do look them in the face,” I say.
Clip just shrugs. He pinches his smoke between his thumb and pointer, which he claims is “European” style. I try to hold it like that, but end up biting my fingers.
“What have we been doing?” I say. I can barely remember. The days seem to repeat, more than move forward. Clip stands up on a tree root.
“We are symbols of the modern age—”
“Is that right?”
“—the face of the backlash, little brother! We—”
“Now I remember.”
A mountain biker speeds past on the path, catching us off guard. Clip can only yell a curse, smoke curling around his mouth as he does it.
The moms are out walking their babies. By then my heart rate is way up from twenty-five cigarettes and the veins in my arms and legs ache. Clip’s voice is gone from the smoke and yelling, but still he’s full of great gestures. He pumps his hips at them.
Two moms walk by with their kids and we just watch from off the path. He told me yesterday he wants to get into this, and I don’t know if I agree. Clip’s main worry is that he’ll be maced.
“They don’t bring purses usually,” he says. “They probably won’t have it with them, right?”
“Some of them have pepper spray key-chains,” I remind him. “Some stab with car keys.”
He lights a new cigarette from the old one.
“Fuck a key. I just don’t want them burning these baby blues out.”
Clip’s eyes were gray, and I wonder if he’s ever seen himself. He must have, though. There’s mirrors in our bathroom. Where we sleep.
Clip jumps on my back, whooping and smacking me. I carry him through the trees and the branches cut my arms, but I don’t want to stop because I know he doesn’t want me to.
I just started following Clip around. He called to me once while I was fishing off of Big Rock. I ignored him, thinking he was crazy. He came out to the Rock and redirected my pole. I still caught nothing.
“Forget it,” he said. “Come watch this.”
We hid twenty feet off the path for ten minutes. He didn’t say anything. Finally, a rollerblader came around the bend, and Clip flew onto the path, knocking the guy over, out of his helmet. When the guy finally got up, he looked around frantically, and me hiding and spying like nothing I’ve ever felt.
I gave everything else up. Not that anyone missed me. They must have broken down the door to my apartment by now, and realized, at my job, that I never did anything anyway. I carry the cigarettes and do all the talking when we go back into the neighborhood to buy more smokes and sandwich stuff. I don’t do much actual hitting. It’s not for me.
There’s another mom coming down the path pushing a carriage, just walking her baby in the sunshine. Pretty through our smoke.
“If you see Mom pull something out, give a yell,” Clip says.
“Probably not a macer,” I say. He just nods, prayerful like he gets before he takes off. “What exactly are you going to do?”
Clip breaks from the trees down onto the path leaving a trail of smoke behind him like a bad car. Mom screams, and he grabs both sides of the carriage and blows a big cloud onto the baby. Then he takes off across the path on the other side, hooting.
Mom stops screaming. She picks the baby up and runs back the way she came with the kid at her shoulder, crying.
And I think she saw me.
When she’s gone, I come out of the trees and examine the carriage she left behind. It’s a nice one: thick, blue plastic, good bearings in the wheels, roomy. I put the carton of cigarettes in it, and roll it through the woods trying to find Clip.
With Clip, no one fights back, though I think many could chase him down, catch him, and beat him in a fight. Actually, we’re both skinny and weak. But the act is mainly a mysterious one and frightens people. I don’t have the confidence yet, and I don’t give anyone fear. Except now, I’m thinking about that mom who saw me up in the trees. Seeing me up there, she thought I was the real threat, and Clip only a diversion. When she turned to run, she expected me on her back with a knife. I just know it, the way Mom looked at me.
I finally find Clip half a mile off the path on the banks of the creek. He’s huffing between puffs on his cigarette, his hands on his hips.
“Well, what did she do?” he says.
“She took off running,” I say.
“You brought the carriage. Shit.”
“What are we gonna do with it? It’s evidence.” He grabs the carriage and starts to roll it into the creek.
“Wait!” I say.
He stops and I grab the carton out of it. We have another cigarette. Minnows circle the wheels of the carriage and take little bites.
“How was it?” I say finally.
“Are you gonna do it again?”
“I think we should.”
“I’m gonna keep the carriage.”
“Keep stuff in.”
“I think I hurt my ankle coming down that hill.” He takes his shoe off and shakes out a few rocks.
“If the cops come, I’ll say I found it,” I say. “Because she just left it. I could have found it like anyone else.”
“You know there’s no cops.” Clip wades into the cold creek. “My ankle. It’s swelling up.”
I wheel the carriage back out of the creek up onto the bank and try to dry the wheels with the baby blanket so they don’t rust. I put the carton of cigarettes back in it with the wet blanket. The lunchtime joggers will be coming soon, but Clip doesn’t seem interested in getting out of the water. He’s talking.
“Wonder if Mom will send Dad down here looking for us,” Clip says. “That carriage might get you beat up, if so. That’s my only point.”
“She didn’t see me,” I say.
“Yes, she did. She was watching you up in the trees the whole time. They always watch you.”
“You’re the one tackling and hooting.”
“And you’re the weirdo watching,” Clip says. “They expect worse from you. Me too.”
Then Clip just dunks himself, cigarette and all, into that grimy, cold creek.
Clip’s ankle is bad and he doesn’t want to chase anyone else for the rest of the day. It’s become big and ugly and wrinkled, like a purple cantaloupe. We smoke out on Big Rock with him dangling his leg into the cold water to help the swelling. Some kids are fishing nearby, and Clip is yelling instructions at them from the Rock.
“If you kids had some raw hot dogs, you’d do much better!” Clip says. “Mommy and Daddy shouldn’t have bought you all that nice gear!”
The kids just look at us. One has some sort of machine that he’s pointing at the water. The other two cast their complicated poles where he points.
“Why don’t you want to chase them out?” I say.
“Well, they might be you and me. The older ones, we already know.”
Just then, one of the kids pulls out two nice-size sunnies on one hook. They cheer. Clip curses, and when he pulls his ankle out of the water, I see it throb.
“Why not go blow smoke in their faces like that baby, though?” I say.
“Is that a dare?”
“Just a question.”
“You want to watch, don’t you, you sick maniac?”
He limps across the water, splashing and hopping. All but one get away, and Clip pins the kid by his shoulders to the bank. A healthy Clip would have caught all three of them. He would have flown across that water without even getting wet. I’ve seen him do it.
“Get over here!” he yells at me. “Bring the smokes!” I’m still sitting on Big Rock. The kid is crying, with Clip pushing him half-buried into the mud. The fish they caught are trying to bounce back into the water, but are still on the hook. His two friends are up in the woods, watching. I see them.
“Hold him down a minute for me! Fuck.” I grab the kid, and Clip sits in the mud, holding his ankle. “My foot is numb! My whole leg!”
The kid spits on me, sensing that I’m not Clip. He saw me hesitate. So I take a huge huff of my cigarette and blow big in the kid’s face. His friends run.
We keep the kid until after the park closes, so he is kidnapped. This was my idea. They will come for us now and we want that, I think. We must.
The three of us all head back to where we sleep—one of the public bathrooms in the park. We shut the door behind us and run the hot water in all the sinks for as long as it works to heat the place. We sleep under the pipes.
The kid, we name him Roger, has gotten agreeable and falls asleep first. I know I have moved, somehow, hopefully closer to Clip, doing what I did. He is so sweaty, he takes his shirt off and coughs in his sleep. When his chest and stomach tighten up to cough, it’s a nice sight.
And Roger is a beauty too. He sleeps through sunrise and the smell coming off of him is like some kind of fruity cereal. Awake, he doesn’t seem surprised at all to see me staring at him. He walks right over and takes a cigarette.
That day out on the path, Clip is whispering to Roger while I push the carriage behind them. Every once in a while I hear a little of the conversation.
“The name ‘Pennypack’ comes from an Indian word meaning ‘inside the mind of the bear there is music.’ Did you know that?”
Roger blinks. “Which tribe? Lenni-Lenape?”
Clip has never spoken of this with me before.
“An Indian tribe, kid! What does it matter? And where we’re standing right now used to be ten feet under water.”
We get to one of the good straight aways and start running. Roger is fast, but Clip seems slowed by his ankle. The leaves are turning up like it’s going to rain. We hear a whirring—looks like two on mountain bikes are coming towards us. We think between me and Clip and Roger and the carriage we can get a good hit.
But as the bikers get closer, something seems off. They must see us. But they pick up speed. We pick up speed.
Clip leads with his shoulder, but hits the biker dressed in purple like he’s a wall. Roger, getting the idea, gives a jump-kick that completely misses and then runs into the trees, laughing. I purposely steer away from the bikers, but my carriage topples over at that speed and the cigarettes spill out. The biker dressed in yellow gets off and kicks me in the stomach when I bend over to pick them up. Then I play possum.
Clip tries to run, but his bad ankle gives. The guy in purple hangs over Clip and hits him with something in the stomach. The guy in yellow finally pulls him off, and they get back on their bikes and take off.
Roger comes back, obviously enthused. He pretends to do some more karate, and hoots and bounces around us. Then he sees the blood on Clip’s shirt.
“You’re dead!” Roger yells happily.
“I’m fine!” Clip says. “But stabbed. Shit. I think they knew we were coming.” He looks at Roger. “This never happens.”
The rain starts full on. We go back to the bathroom, and Clip tries to clean the wound in the sink. He gnashes his teeth when the soap hits.
“I think that guy hit me with his water-bottle,” he whispers. “The crazy fuck sharpened the plastic top.”
The wound is messy and ragged. If you press on the sides, it opens like a mouth. I think Clip told Roger that the jogger had hit him with an axe or something. I let it go.
I try to get Clip to go the hospital, but he tells me, “We can’t leave the park. You know that.”
I’m not sure. I know I can’t help him, and that even if he has stopped bleeding on the outside, he may still be.
Three days pass like this. Clip screams at night in his sleep. His wound leaks orange and black and smells like a garbage disposal. His ankle has gotten worse, too. His entire leg is swollen like a rolled-up carpet and too big to use. Roger and I heave him into the baby carriage and roll down the path in the mornings.
“Don’t you guys eat?” the kid asks.
“If we find a picnic.”
“Can we find a picnic?”
“I don’t know. Looks like it might rain again.”
“OK. Watch this!” Roger yells, and spins a big cartwheel on down the path and keeps running.
Clip starts talking out of the carriage.
“This park is all there is. That kid is a wolf. He wanted to get caught by us. Don’t forget it. Mom is scared, mainly of you. Give me a cigarette.”
Clip is in a coma, I think, and snoring too. The park is blue in the mornings when we can’t see the sun yet over the trees. We startle some deer while we walk. The mist coming off the creek makes me feel unsettled, and the clouds of it are warm like out of a sewer.
“What are we doing out here?” Roger finally asks, practically skipping, and I realize he’s talking to me. I’m in charge now. Clip just moans and drools. Roger and I have another cigarette. Now the kid is blowing the smoke out of his nose. He shows his teeth too when he does it.
“When I think of myself,” I tell the kid, “This isn’t it. But I guess it is. I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok,” Roger says. “No school!” He takes off running and I try to keep up, pushing sick, delirious Clip in the baby carriage. The path forks, and one way, if I remember right, is the way out of the park. Roger is stopped when I get there, staring up towards the exit. The morning fog still hasn’t burned off, and the exit to the park is just a bright mist. There are shadows moving in it, but nothing we can make out.
“Should we leave?” I ask either of them, not knowing who is more capable at this point. Not me certainly. Roger leans into Clip’s wound and holds his nose.
Just then, Clip starts up, knocking Roger back, and gets up out of the carriage. A pink, bad-smelling cream drops out of his stomach wound. Roger laughs and pretends to puke, but all I can do is squeeze the handle on the baby carriage tighter.
Clip looks at us like he’s never seen us before and limps up the path towards the exit. When he hits the mist, it doesn’t look like he’s walking anymore. The path disappears and he is just a rising shadow, and that finally disappears too.
We go the other way.
Dad never comes looking for me, though we still use the carriage. Roger’s friends never come looking for him. No cops ever. Clip was right.
When I was a kid in this park, I remember, Dad would point into the woods and pretend to see Indians. I would always just miss them. As a teenager, I learned that the park was actually filled with the drugged homeless. But now I see. I’m the Indians no one sees, just hunching and ignored. Imagine that.
Now, the joggers and moms come and go and we don’t bother with them too much. We mainly hide and watch from up in the trees, maybe throw rocks. Roger is getting bigger everyday, and bristling and anxious, but I insist for now on just lurking and watching. But one of these days, I’ll have to let him loose, or he’ll kill me.