Bleeding Cowboys and Hopeless AddictsFinalist: Winter 2019 Writing Contest
It had been a long day. Hell, who was Bill kidding, it’d been a long month. Now, Bill found himself pacing back and forth in Washington Park, staring at a cigarette he’d promised to give up for his eight-year-old daughter, Chloe. But Bill had just been fired from his job, and a cigarette was about the only thing in the world that seemed enough to make things a little easier.
His smoking cessation started about a month ago. His daughter had a class presentation on the dangers of smoking, which scared her. She came home crying and made him promise that he’d stop smoking so she could always have a daddy. It wasn’t something he could lie to her about. And it was a request that he couldn’t refuse. He threw away every carton he’d hidden in the house. Of course, he forgot about the pack that he hid in his car, the same pack he was now looking at like a forbidden mistress.
His quitting led to a long string of unfortunate events that made his life go from bad to worse. Without the nicotine that he’d smoked every day for the past 20 years, he found himself snapping at everyone for everything. He was first written up for yelling at a co-worker who didn’t file paperwork correctly. The second time, he accidentally cussed out his board of directors after he ended a conference call without hanging up. The third, and final, write up came when the copier jammed, and Bill ripped the top paper feeder off of the giant, expensive machine. His boss fired him there and then.
Now, Bill had to go home and tell his family he was fired because he couldn’t control himself. Somehow, the worst part was still the fact that he couldn’t smoke. Just throw them away, Bill kept repeating to himself. It’ll be done once you just throw them away. Just do it. Do it now… Now. But he couldn’t. Some dark force glued them to his hand, and he just couldn’t get rid of them.
At the same time, another voice kept running through his head, just have one. You’ll feel better once you have one. Chloe doesn’t need to know. Just do it. Do it now… Now. Bill played with the red box’s paper packaging with his finger, pretending to smoke in his head, like a dream. It didn’t help. The longer he held off the voices, the louder they got.
“Hey, man. You got a second?” someone called from behind. Bill stopped pacing and turned around to see who was talking to him. A young man stood there, holding a wad of paper towels tight against his arm. Despite the sheets, Bill could see that the man had a massive gash that ran from the palm of his hand to his elbow. It was still bleeding and rapidly soaking through the paper towels. He had more chunks of skin peeling off of his chin and his knee. Those seemed to have stopped bleeding, at least. Blood was caked on every piece of clothing he wore. Bill had never actually seen so much blood in real life, and the sight of the young man made him a little sick.
“Jesus Christ,” Bill said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” the young man said with a smile. “Can you just help me with something real quick?”
Bill reached for his phone, “Do you need me to call an ambulance?”
He laughed and waved off the gesture like Bill was crazy. “No, I just need some help.” He was carrying a bike behind him that Bill didn’t even notice through the wall of carnage in front of him, which had a wheel folded into a warped angle. “I need help bending the rim back into place.”
Bill stood utterly frozen, wondering if the man hit his head or something and was delusional. But the young man reassured him that he was okay while squirting water from his bottle over the gashes to wash away most of the blood. “See? It’s nothing. Just a little scrape.”
“I think I should get you some help.”
“No, please don’t. If I had a nickel for every time this happened…. I’d have like a quarter, I guess.” He laughed again.
“You must really like this?” Bill said, gesturing toward the bike.
“What, bleeding? The scars don’t hurt with the ladies, I guess.” He was full of jokes.
“No. I mean, riding a bike.”
“Oh, yeah, I love cycling. There’s nothing like it. Going downhill at 50 miles an hour. Wind’s in your face. Sun’s shining down on you. Makes you feel alive, like you’re invincible. It’s better than sex. You should try it sometime.”
“Maybe. How’d you get the cuts then?”
“Going downhill, 50 miles an hour.” He smiled. “So, which side do you want? Tire or handlebars?” he said, no longer asking Bill if he could help. Bill chose the tire. “Alright, get a good grip.” Bill braced the tire between his knees and held it with his hands for extra leverage. The young man took the handlebars and started pulling. He grunted, and the veins popped in his forehead. He struggled against the metal as it moved slowly back into place. The man’s knuckles turned white, and his hands shook. A trickle of blood squirted down his arm and dripped onto the walkway. The two persisted until Bill’s knees hurt. And then, voila. The wheel was precisely where it needed to be.
Through his exhaustion, Bill asked, “You don’t ever think about taking up a different hobby? Maybe one that doesn’t have you crashing down hills?”
“No, that’s part of the fun. Getting back up and doing it all over again. It’s all part of it. Anyway, thanks, man.” He hopped back on his bike, tested the tires, and rode off down the walkway. He gave a friendly wave over his shoulder as another thank you.
Bill could see his face as he hit a small hill. He smiled ear to ear. Children don’t smile with that level of joy, Bill thought. And with that, the young man rode off into the sunset like an old western cowboy. Bill threw his pack of cigarettes into a metal trash can and walked home.