Christi Krug - The Hiccup Man

Two little monkeys jumping on the bed.


When it’s raining, we jump from Theodore’s bed to the folding chair, but it’s a long way and sometimes I fall, and sometimes we go on my bed instead, crawling up and inside—it’s supposed to be a bed, because I’m old enough, but it has crib bars. We grip the bars, pretending we’re in a cage, and we spring, higher and higher, and the mattress rattles, and Theodore makes the best monkey noises.


The rain stops after a while, no more cages, and the world is white sky over your head and red worms on the sidewalk, and all the things and people that fill up your eyes, that make you hungry for looking. The hiccup man comes out and sits on his steps. His black-faced dog barks and huffs, rattling a chain tied to the porch post. The man sits and unkinks the chain, and hiccups, and his T-shirt slides over the hair on his lumpy belly. Black specks circle his gray mouth. I ask Mommy and Theodore why he hiccups all the time.


“It’s a medical condition, I think,” says Mommy.


“Definitely some medical condition,” says Theodore. He’s nine and knows things.


People come out who belong to other doors. The lady with the bald baby walks slow around the porch, bouncing the baby and patting its diaper. There’s the old man who wears a coat in summer.


It rains again, and we jump on Theodore’s bed, and the covers roll and ruffle and I’m riding them like waves close to the ocean, and I’m laughing so hard, until my next jump takes me to the edge of the bed with the sliding covers, and I slink all the way into the ocean, and I whack my chin on the edge of the folding chair.


One fell off and bumped his head.


Sun comes out and the sky is yellow, and warm, and shines on the faces. Theodore plays cops and robbers with Steven and I run after on the bumpy green wet grass but I never catch up. The hiccup man watches. He laughs.


One night he doesn’t have his dog.


“Got sick,” he says. In between is a hiccup.


“Why you don’t take your dog to the doctor?”


Mommy called the doctor and the doctor said . . .


He shakes his head, flopping the skin on his neck. There’s a hiccup. He bends over to look at the crack below the porch steps. Staring, like something is going to crawl out. There is nothing but a long-stem dandelion, still yellow, without wishes.


“Don’t have enough money.” Another hiccup.


I have money.


I’m five, and I have money, and this is important. I run to mine and Mommy’s room. Under the bed are bowls and dirty underwear. In the closet is my broken See-N-Say and a pink sock. In the drawer is my green plastic purse with the buckle.


Grandma gave me the purse. She put money in it. She put it in my hand and clucked her mouth and said, “At least you can learn to save. You won’t be poor all your life.”


That was the day she and Mommy got into an argument about our apartment. “Do you have to keep things such a mess? And it’s a bad neighborhood,” Grandma said. She thinks it’s Mommy’s fault. Cribs for beds, and now there’s a crack in the headboard. Big-teethed dogs and porches with cracks and grass not smooth enough.


She doesn’t understand about the white and yellow light, the sky, all the things to find out, all the ways to be.


I run outside, pour the pennies from the purse into my hand, clink, clink. They are cold and heavy, mostly old brown ones, and three shiny ones. I hold out my hand to the hiccup man.


It’s a lot of money.


He waves it away. “That’s not enough money,” he says.


“If you save, you won’t be poor,” I tell him.


He laughs.


I don’t see him for a long time. Theodore says, “Something happened because of his medical condition.”


The lady with the bald baby says the hiccup man’s dog died. The old man who wears a coat in summer says the hiccup man died in the hospital.


Our uncle who is a doctor comes over with a toolbox, and opens the toolbox, and takes out a screwdriver, and twists it around on all four corners of my bed until the crib bars are gone. I can look out the window from my bed, and see what the world is doing, rain or sky, and get down easy.


My uncle stands up and says in his soft, deep voice, “You’re a big girl now.”


The hiccup man died because he was lonely and missed his dog.


What I remember is how he watched us play, and sometimes laughed. He didn’t hiccup when he laughed.


No more monkeys jumping on the bed.

Christi Krug's stories have recently appeared in Luna Station Quarterly and Stay with Yourself. Prior to the pandemic, she served as writer-in-residence at North Cascades Institute. Her fiction and nonfiction have shown up in everything from horror anthologies to Sunday school publications. She is a Portland resident, a multi-faceted coach of creativity and mindfulness, and the author of Burn Wild: A Writer’s Guide to Creative Breakthrough. www.christikrug.com

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