Crossing Cooper

Why did the chicken cross the road?

*  *  14  *  *

“Come on, Ronno! What are you? Chicken?”

Ron stared at the terrifying gauntlet that was the intersection of 56th and Cooper. Cars whirred by so fast that they seemed to merge into a single multicolored streak. He placed one foot on the curb, and when it was met with a blaring horn, he pulled it back to the safety of the sidewalk.

“Ah! Ronno! You had it!”

Ron despised that nickname. He didn’t even understand it. Technically, Ron was already a nickname. If they were going to make his name longer, why not call him by his real name? Or something with some genuine thought put into it.

“Ronno! Ronno! Ronno!”

And of course, the chanting. If he was being honest, he had expected the chanting to start sooner. It never failed: get a group of teenagers together, someone starts chanting eventually.

Ron took a deep breath, closed his eyes, raised his foot and . . .

“Ah, man!”

Ron opened his eyes to see that the traffic on the street in front of him had come to a stand-still. Looking at the light, he realized that he had waited too long. They weren’t going to let him cross like this.

“I guess this gives the chicken more time to work up some nerve. Eh, chicken?” Kneecap was by far the most vocal of the group behind Ron. He was something of a natural leader. Charismatic, vocal, and intimidating but just likeable enough to make him dangerous. Kneecap, of course, was not his real name. He refused to allow anyone to call him by his real name. His family got away with calling him “Whit”, but to everyone else, he was Kneecap.

“Give that chicken all the time in the world, he still won’t do it! He’s original recipe. Couldn’t make it as extra-crispy!” Phin was Kneecap’s right-hand man. Metaphors weren’t exactly his strong suit, but Kneecap didn’t keep him around for his brains.

“So, chicken, how much more time you need?” Kneecap sounded almost polite.

Ron didn’t respond. He couldn’t. All he could bring himself to do was watch the light and hope it didn’t change.

“Maybe sometime this centurion?”

“Century, dumbass,” said Kneecap.

“Hey, I was close!” Phin retorted. In fairness, by Phin’s standards, he was pretty close.

Ron was still staring at the light, and, to his horror, 56th now had a yellow. He was out of stall time. “You know what,” he said in a half-mumble as the traffic on Cooper picked up. “When was the last time you crossed Cooper, Phin?” Ron was surprised by the level of confidence in his voice. He wasn’t sure where it came from, but it motivated him to turn and face his tormentors.

Phin looked shocked. He hadn’t been spoken to like that since he had joined up with Kneecap. “I . . . it’s not . . .”

“Easy, Phin,” said Kneecap calmly. “Chicken here’s just looking for an out.” He turned to face the small crowd. “Are we going to give it to him?”

“NO!” The response was powerful. “Ronno! Ronno! Ronno!”

“What about you, Kneecap?” The sudden silence was equally powerful. An emboldened Ron took a step closer. “When was the last time you crossed?” More silence. “You know, come to think of it, I don’t remember you ever crossing. Does anyone else?”

A murmur went through the crowd followed by silence. Then, from somewhere in the back, it started quietly and quickly gained in strength. “Kneecap! Kneecap! Kneecap!”

“You heard ’em, Kneecap,” said Ron with a grin. A look passed between the two of them. In that moment, they both knew that Kneecap had no real options.

“You got this, boss,” said Phin in a whisper.

“Oh no, you dunderhead,” said Kneecap. “If I’m doing this, you’re coming with me.” And without another word, Kneecap licked his lips, grabbed Phin by the arm, and threw himself at the mercy of traffic.

The pair managed to dodge a total of two vehicles before everyone heard a scream cut short.

Ron waited until the light changed and the pedestrian crossing signal told him it was safe before he entered the crosswalk. He paused briefly to kneel down next to the duo. Phin seemed relatively okay. Kneecap, appropriately enough, seemed to be trying his best to get his leg to bend the right way.

“Better luck next time, Whitney,” Ron whispered as he crossed Cooper.

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