I Had Time to Kill
I already lost the long jump, scratching. I’d had a tempo in my steps, knowing when to lift myself, after getting closer to the line, then up and up and in the air until I landed. But I misjudged more than once. Disqualified. The winner was a girl I went to school with.
I sat on the swing, feeling bad, soothed by candy bar and soda. I still had to run the hundred. I had time to kill. I got on the merry-go-round, letting it go slow, thinking of starting blocks, how I might push off them.
A group of boys came. They spun and pushed the go-round and I held the edges. They went faster, running it in circles. I slid closer to the edge. I hugged a rail, then harder, but I couldn’t hold my body. They went round and round, and I could feel my body sliding. My arms weren’t strong enough and I landed on the pavement. The boys ran away. I walked to the nurse’s station, where she told me to lift my shorts. I needed lots of bandages and I could feel the stinging. The nurse said, “Now go and run the hundred.”
I lined myself up. Some people asked what happened to me.
I got on my starting blocks and put my mind on something else: cereal, weeds, my father’s hands, my mother’s dirty apron. The gun went off. I just busted ahead and ended up winning. I got my ribbon and thought about telling the boy I liked. I imagined him helping me dress my cuts.
That night, my mom told me that this boy from my school had gotten sick of himself and it ended with a handgun. I watched my mom’s chin quiver and then she asked me if I knew him. I almost told her, but I decided not to.
I went to bed, lying on my good side.
Originally appeared in elimae and appears here courtesy of the author.
What does Kim Chinquee do in her short fiction “I Had Time to Kill?” Just about everything right. The course of action appears elementary: A child athlete loses a track and field event. She sulks. She climbs onto a merry-go-round, is spun silly by a group of boys, and falls off. She cuts herself. She wins her next event. She goes home. But that’s when everything simple ends. Chinquee tears the walls down with the news of a child suicide, so quietly and suddenly, that her readers can’t help but retreat to temper the shock of what they’ve just learned.
The genius of the piece is that it’s not definitively in this world or that. Like the young narrator, the piece is in between. Chinquee achieved such ambiguity with painstaking word choice. Consider choices like “up and up and in the air,” “soothed by candy bar and soda,” “merry-go-round,” “swings,” and “nurses station.” These words evoke images of childhood. But when balanced against the nut of what’s happened, that a boy has killed himself, the story’s universe is suddenly rife with complex, adult themes. The narrator, after learning of the suicide, chooses not to tell her mother how she knew the boy because she realizes how that would affect her. A mature decision to make.
This piece is a lesson in balance. On the merry-go-round, the narrator is spun, she “couldn’t hold her body” and she falls off. Her need to hang on to time, to try to keep tight to her innocence, is beautifully and tragically balanced with the boy’s suicide. His life clearly spun out of control. How did he stop it? With a gun. The finality of that gunshot is juxtaposed with the gunshot the narrator hears. Instead of symbolizing finality, her gunshot serves as a new beginning, a chance to validate herself after her previous athletic loss. There is even balance in wounds: she is bleeding, he is bleeding. These are carefully executed craft decisions.
The last line does just what flash is meant to–hangs in the air like smoke. She’s “lying on her good side” because her physical wounds hurt too much to lie any other way. But she’s lying, too, by not acknowledging the truth of how badly her emotional wounds are throbbing.
About the Author
Amy Kates has somehow managed to make a living from writing. You can find her work in Delaware Today, Delaware Bride, Philadelphia Style, Super Lawyers Magazine, Texas Monthly, Main Line Today, Boston Magazine and in the archives at paranormalpopculture.com. For a year she worked her dream job, covering baseball for Merge Magazine, a weekly insert in the Allentown Morning Call. When not writing her way through Rosemont’s MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) program, she spends disturbing amounts of time obsessing over baseball and pop culture.