A very short story
He had been drinking for most of the night and knew he should pull over until the world stopped shifting like liquid so when he saw the hydrant he figured it would be a good distraction. The kids were tired and it was late but he needed to sober up a little before the drive back to the suburbs.
The hydrant was open and there were some teenage boys diverting the spray onto passing cars, the summer night was hot and people were in the street in full force.
“Look at that, you want to go play in the water?” He asked his two children, who only looked at each other with that same goddammed worried look they always exchanged when he was letting off some steam.
“Dad we don’t have swimming stuff,” Sam said meekly, looking out at the street and the night crowd that wandered it. They frightened him.
“Just go in your underwear, it’s fine.”
“I don’t want to,” Mary said, and her father patted her head.
“Sam, you go then, get out there and have fun.”
Sam felt the fear in his gut but knew somewhere in his child’s brain that he would either do it willingly or after being forced to, so he opened up the truck door and slid out onto the street. The city was loud and hot and humid and he took off his shirt, then his shoes and pants and threw them all into the cab of the truck beside Mary.
“Take your socks off but wear your shoes, there’s broken glass everywhere.”
“Okay.” Sam put his shoes back on and stood there in his white underwear and his sneakers and looked at his dad.
Please don’t make me do this, I don’t know these people and they’re older than me and I’m scared and you’re being weird like you always are after we visit your girlfriend. PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS.
“Get out there, have fun!”
Sam felt the sinking in his stomach, the kid realization that he was invisible and mute and powerless in the force of others’ wants and needs. So he looked at the hydrant and the teenage boys who might as well have been 40 year old men for all he could tell. They looked strong and dangerous and he wasn’t 9 years old yet.
“Go out there! Go play in the water!”
He took a deep breath and resigned himself, walked the sidewalk toward the corner and the laughing and cursing and shit talking and yelling and screaming and an old lady bumped him and he was essentially naked and he could feel the city press against him. A mist of cool water hit him as he got close to the corner and he stood there, eyes wide and the soft touch of water felt good.
The teenager straddling the hydrant looked over and saw Sam standing there and pulled the plastic plate from the stream of water. He was strong and dark skinned, darker than Sam, and had a large afro and under it was a face that went kind once he smiled. His friends and he paused in their casual chaos and the water coming from the hydrant resumed its gushing flow.
“Hey, the kid wants to take a bath.” Laughter.
Sam looked back at the truck but couldn’t see his dad behind the windshield.
“Let him get wet.” Another said, then said something else in Spanish and they all laughed.
“Go ahead kid, jump in there, have fun.” The hydrant commander smirked.
In Sam’s mind the situation had taken a sudden shift, and it was no longer him being forced to do this thing but him JOINING these tough guys in doing something fun and it was okay.
“Get wet, lil’ doo! It’s hot out here!”
That’s all Sam needed and a smile forced itself onto his face and he ran toward the hydrant and the splashing gush of water. The teenagers watched him with casual grins, lighting cigarettes.
Sam ran into the spray and it was a punch, hitting him in the hip and lifting him off his feet. He was in the air and tumbling and the street came up and knocked him in the face and there was a moment of confusion as he rolled to a wet stop. Quickly realizing he was in the middle of the street, the panic of being run over bolted through him and he sprung to his feet and ran back to the hydrant.
The guys were laughing.
“Holy shit boy, you okay?”
“I’m okay,” he said, and the guys started laughing again. And he laughed too.
The teenager on the hydrant let his cigarette dangle from his mouth and grinned. “Here, little dude, get that street off you.” He dipped the plastic dinner plate into the stream and a soft spray hit Sam and in it he brushed the hard bits of loose asphalt off his body and admired the numerous abrasions on his elbows and knees.
“Oh shit, here come another.” Sam heard and the spray was diverted again as a big sedan rolled by and the teen hit it squarely on the driver’s side window, which had rolled up just in time. They all laughed and Sam walked back to the truck and got in next to his sister and waited, shivering, for his dad to wake up and drive them home.