by Justin Noga
He’d been a cop, once upon a physical condition. In full cop regalia, he could do squats for six hours at a time whilst an egg hardboiled up his ass, snug and uncracking. Were it to crack, the Squad required six more hours of squats. It could be done, the Squad said. They had all done so. And once upon a physical condition, life at the Station with the glass doors and the buzz of iron bars and the coupons pinned up and arrayed on corkboard like feathers ripe for the plucking, it all felt magical to him. But the cop had to decouple from copdom—money was owed, or he solved the wrong crime, or he spoke of witnessed violence to his commanding officer that should not have been spoken of, or he did the violence and others spoke—whatever it was, the bubble popped, and he didn’t have the heart to pinpoint the needle. The magic evanesced quick as a billy club could be wiped clean. Boot locker soon found soldered shut. Squad car got stuck in perpetual repair. His partner took a leave of absence as partner to become the third wheel of a duo who rolled in that classic kind of Impala. Blue. Sky blue. Partner refused to answer house calls. Inseparable from the duo. Mornings, all three sat on the hood of the Impala in the parking deck, roof level with a view of the city, and in rotation sipped from the same owl-shaped mug.
“That mug was a gift to you,” the cop whispered through the binoculars, belly flat on the deck’s ramp. Hose water from a paddy wagon streamed under him, but the cop had been weeping so hard he thought it was all his doing.
At HR, he kvetched enough that he got commissioned a 10-speed, which got downgraded to a fixie before he even hit the streets. He ordered biking attire, but only got the socks, thigh-high. He made do. On a new beat by the pier, he’d pull people over by slamming into the rear of their cars—the fixie could not be stopped otherwise. He had to up his barrel roll game, then, and tumbled across the tops of Cherokees and Pintos and Escorts, dodging antennae and roof racks accordingly. In those moments he learned the impossibility of de-escalation tactics, even when he landed with a curtsy. “No harm, no foul,” he told one lady after a roll, taking her license from a shaking hand. The fear in her eyes. “Suck it up, honestly. Don’t pretend like it’s the first time you’ve been pulled over.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw his shoe print on the center of the windshield, a fresh crack in the glass around the heel, but instead of pointing at it, he squinted at her name and let her hear the sweetness of his clutched attempts at a trill.
Now the physical condition was life as a teacher. The gut cast out further, the eyes bespectacled. The pills made his smile shine out in spite of the pain that lay inside him.
The un-copped cop stood in front of his second graders that first day expecting attention but not granted attention. He saw none were white children, not a one, and he was white, and he acknowledged his whiteness by ignoring it. A boy whapped at a girl’s hair beads. Wailing. Laughter he judged being of an unhealthy tone. Phones out.
The cop cleared his throat. He climbed up on the desk and perched over them like a giant.
He announced that he had been a Cop before being their Teacher.
“An Officer of the Law,” he told the children, and spoke of its rigors.
One kid said her dog got shot by a cop last week. All broken up about it.
“Sounds like a pit,” the cop said.
“She wasn’t a pit,” she said.
“Probably part pit. Or acting like a pit. I know a pit when I hear what happens to the pit.”
“I said she wasn’t a pit.”
Wailing again. Christ. The cop knew what do with kids, though—his old partner even had one. Hearing about a dead pit and assuming kids’ll stay at ease was simply naive. He spread his arms out and said, “Okay, I can’t tell you that an Officer did wrong by you or did right by you because when an Officer shoots your pit, He or She does it via the Even Hand of the Law. We are all trained so. Can’t cast some wide net and say you can’t shoot this or shoot that. Sometimes you got to shoot a pit. You know the phrase throw the baby out with the bathwater? One bad apple spoils the bunch? I mean,” and he pointed to the boy again flicking the girl’s hair beads.
That look. That look. This was not going well.
The cop stood there on the desk because he didn’t know why anymore. A real scene was developing. Complaints of a variety he once would’ve flown over and ticketed.
Before he knew it his training had taken over: he spun around, unbuckled his pants. He rested his hands on his knees and squatted deep. Long flabbed-over muscles tightened, snapped, shook, and that whole pale sheet of him ran bright, bright as the safety tip on a K-Mart gun, bright as an arrest warrant you stuck right on the body. A hardboiled egg slid out. So quiet in that room you could hear it land pat in the cop’s palm.
“See?” the cop said, turning the egg in the light. “Not a crack.” The cop hopped off the desk and held it to the girl with the dead dog. Held it out for her to take it in her own palms. To see its perfection, to pass around the room, child to child, egg to egg, to let that old magic live again.
Justin Noga is a fiction writer from Akron, Ohio. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. In 2019 he received a fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center. His work has been published in Conjunctions. He lives in Tempe, Arizona, and can be found on Instagram @jus.tin.no.ga.