Watching parkour, I dream of having wings. So did Ralphie.
This is an excerpt from Too Quiet in Brooklyn, the first book in the Fina Fitzgibbons mystery series. It’s about Ralphie and his love of parkour. Ralphie is a strange character. He makes the mystery move. He’s an antagonist. More to the point, he is a challenged soul, someone to hate, someone to pity, someone to forgive.
But first, a few lines about parkour, a city sport I knew nothing about until I began developing one of the main characters in the series and needed him to be able to climb walls. I searched for something online and found lots on parkour, including wonderful YouTube videos, like this one.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged, parkour comes from the French: alteration of parcours course, route, from Medieval Latin percursus, from Latin percurrere to run through, from per- + currere to run. First Known Use: 2002.
And the English definition: the sport of traversing environmental obstacles especially in an urban area by running, climbing, or leaping rapidly and efficiently <Parkour has been described as the art of quickly moving from one point to another, overcoming barriers in an efficient and flowing manner. — Richard Chin, St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press, 5 Mar. 2006>
Anyway, here’s the excerpt from Too Quiet in Brooklyn:
Ralphie watches from the tree, the one with a nice Y. He loves trees with Y’s that are high. He can hang out all day and no one finds him. He sees Buster waiting for him in the park at the end of the street. Buster’s so small he can lift him in one hand. Ralphie shimmies down the tree and goes over and sits on the curb next to him, and Buster leans into him. His tail wags up dirt because it hasn’t rained in a long time and Ralphie coughs, and Buster barks and makes whining noises. Ralphie wonders how Buster will survive outside all alone, but his sister says winter’s a long way off, so don’t think about it.
He runs inside, fills a Dixie cup with water, and brings it out to Buster, who slurps it up and begins gnawing at the paper. Only food he’s got are chips and peanut butter between two slabs of stale bread his mom brought home last week before she went away, and some M&Ms he took from his sister’s dresser. Buster looks at him with eyes like the holy lady in the picture. Once he tried to bring Buster inside, but his sister stopped him. Ralphie slaps at a flying bug. The park is full of them—bugs and dog shit and men who sleep on broken benches. Ralphie pees behind a tree the way his brother taught him.
His sister’s calling him. She won’t see him climb inside, she’s leaning out the front window. He runs at the wall on the side of the house, just like his brother taught him, running, bending his knee, and sticking his leg out and hitting the bricks, keeping his foot flat, hitting it fast and going with the flow, up and around, up and around. Parkour, that’s what his brother calls it.
He remembers practicing parkour. Day in and day out he runs at the low brick walls in front of the scrawny shrubs. Bounce off one to the other and bounce off that. Higher, higher. Go with the flow and follow your own path, he can hear his brother yell. But Ralphie can’t do it, not the way his brother can. His brother makes it look easy. He cheats with ice picks and with grippers. “Run at the wall,” his brother tells him, “and land with a foot flat on the wall and go up and around to the window.
“Think of the wall as lying flat on the ground. Hit it fast, reach up and over. Up and over. Ain’t nothing you can’t do if you get good with parkour.
“If you want to go into a window, don’t start under the window, think of a circle,” his brother says. “Run at the wall way to the left of the window and hit the wall flying with the flat of your foot and grab with the flat of your hand and the grippers, and keep going up.”
At first, Ralphie gets his lefts and rights mixed up, but his brother is fine with him. He teaches him left. He squeezes his arm and says, “Left.” He shows him how to get left of the window.
“Fast, hit it fast and flat and hard. That’s parkour,” his brother says.
Ralphie’s brother tells him, “Don’t be afraid of hitting the wall. Run at the wall and find your rhythm.”
Once he ran at the wall and couldn’t get up. He saw white dots in his eyes and lay there on the ground for a long time until his sister found him. That’s when the headaches started.
“Climb to that window up there,” his brother said. “Remember to start way left of it.”
He runs at the wall just like his brother taught him, using the special grippers his brother made for him. At first he can only make it halfway up the wall and falls back until finally, something clicks. He gets his rhythm. He finds his path.
Day in, day out, parkour, parkour. He forgets about the Y’s of trees. Up, up, almost to his window, grabs the sill and hangs but cannot lift. He remembers his brother telling him to get snap-on rubber cleats, like for snow, but Ralphie can’t find them in the shops. His neck hurts and his legs too, and feet.
Then Ralphie starts to grow. He’s taller than his brother, but his fingers are raw and his head hurts from the pounding. One day he runs at the wall, up and over, up and over. Grabbing the window ledge, he grits his teeth and pulls himself up and over as if it was the Y on a tall tree. He sits on the ledge and waves to his brother, and his brother waves back and whistles. Ralph remembers his brother whistling. The whistle echoes in his head. Inside, he brushes brick off of himself and creeps down the stairs.
“Ralphieeeee!” his sister yells, sticking way out the window.
“Boo!” he says, surprising her from behind.
“Should have told me you been in your room. Been looking for you.”
Photo: South Brooklyn. Credit: dalioPhoto (Flickr), Creative Commons.