Berk is studying fiction writing at Columbia College in Chicago, where he lives. He rides the overcrowded brown line and dislikes winter.
I didn't know grown men shit their shorts until my father came through the finish line of the Chicago Marathon with the evidence running down his leg. The brown liquid zigzagged out the aqua running shorts that tapered up his hips. It ran down his shaved inner thigh and his calf muscle, to his sock.
He threw his hands on the top of his head, crossed his fingers, and slowed to a walk. He saw us. He came over, his neck glazed and pink, his black visor salt-stained with sweat.
"We're so proud of you," Mother said. She wrapped an aluminum-foil sheet around his shoulders. She hugged him and the aluminum crinkled and creased.
"Hey kid," he said to me. It was only October but his breath formed white clouds. I grabbed his hand and shook it, a quick whiff of body odor and shit stung my nose. I pulled back, instinct, but he held tight. When I realized he couldn't let go I almost apologized. His face wrinkled by the response his brain couldn't make, his muscles exhausted. His hand cold knots, lumpy knuckles like mixed nuts.
He said, "Sorry Benji." I looked away, it was all so much.
Once seated on the train on our way home, Mom handed Dad a bottle of OJ mixed with water. He tipped his head back and let the juice fall down the back of his throat, a little juice trickled out, down his chin.
His aqua runner shorts rode up his legs, exposing his bone-white thigh. The chocolate brown streak on his leg dried, cracked and flaked. The stink suffocated the iSnob's with the white wires in their ears, thumbing their touch screens in the confined space of the train. Mom peered out the window as if nothing was unusual. She ran her palm over the aluminum that draped his shoulders, his cape.
"I'm proud of you," she said.
His face ribbed and pale as chicken skin, emotionless as a wax statue on display in a museum. He gawked out the window. The shit flaked from his leg in thin wispy sheets the color of mud.
The train car took a turn, his face crunched in pain. The thick stench of sweat and shit rocked the train car stirring the mix, back and forth. Shit stew.
The train turned left, his face wrinkled, and the shit zag on his leg turned in the same direction as we did. Belmont, turn. Paulina, turn. No fucking way. Mom looked me directly in the eyes.
"Look." I pointed to the train map. Mom's white face bundled in black North Face gear. "The Brown Line is on Dad's leg."
Her mouth formed the shape of an egg.
"Watch, the next turn is at Montrose." I pointed to his leg.
"Watch your mouth," she said.
"I'm warning you." The words spit through her teeth.
"Seriously, look," I said.
The train snaked left at Montrose.
Mom looked down.
"See?" I said.
The brown liquid collected a line along the ring of his sock above the ankle.
"Rockwell," I said. I pointed where the dot should be.
We exited the train car. Mom held an arm around Dad's waist and upon hitting the couch at home he began to snore. There it was, the Brown Line on Dad's leg. I uncapped a sharpie lowered to my knees and labeled him from where the train exited the loop inside his aqua runner shorts.
Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Sedgwick, Armitage, Diversy, Wellington, Southport, Paulina, Addison, Irving Park, Montrose, Damen, Western, Rockwell, Francisco, Kedzie, Kimball.
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