Basement of a Bull – The Howard Stop

By: Lucy Coletti

Mid December 2017

I don’t know why Chicago insisted on building most of “The El” above ground. Like was this city part of the tropics sixty years ago? Who thought this was a good idea in a city that’s freezing half the year?

I followed the library man over to the Brown Line station. We climbed the stairs, he scanned his Ventra card twice. I said thank you and put the furry hood of my coat up as a cold gust of wind came howling over the tracks.

“So, what was it about 2009?” he asked.

“Say what now?” I replied.

“You said that you’ve watched every Bulls game since 2009.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah, so I grew up in a suburb of Detroit so I actually, it’s kind of funny to think about now, but I used to hate the Bulls. I absolutely hated Michael Jordan. Was a die-hard Pistons fan.”

“I see.”

The way he said it, there was almost this disappointment in his voice. Like I wasn’t who he thought I was or something. I don’t know. Might be looking too much into it.

“I was dating this guy at UIC, and he watched every game, so yeah, I just started then around Valentine’s Day 2009 and then I got hooked. I bought a Derrick Rose jersey. Was a huge Joakim Noah fan.”

“Are you and him still together?”

Still together? I couldn’t read these questions at all. What was going on? Did the library man think we were on a date?

“Oh no, we broke up before I graduated. Dated about two years. He’s some big shot detective guy now.”

“In the city?”

“Yeah.”

“And yet you still kept watching the Bulls, yeah?”

“Yeah, at some point I started liking the Bulls more than him.”

“I see.”

The Brown Line train pulled up to the station. I could hear the announcement. Brown line train on the outside tracks, Brown Line train on the outside tracks. 

The Brown Line is always the best one to ride if you’re looking for a good view of the city. I stared out the window as we looped around the city, the buildings slowly moving to the background. We took the Brown Line up north and transferred to the Red.

When we got on the Red Line, the library man took off his hat and gloves.

“Here, take a seat,” he said.

“Oh, that’s alright, I can stand.”

He smiled.

“I insist. We’re gonna be on this thing for awhile. Taking it all the way up to Howard.”

I didn’t know anyone who ever went all the way up to Howard. The furthest north I had been was Wilson and that felt like I was barely still in the city. Howard? That’s another 10 stops north! That’s literally the end of the Red Line.

For the first time since the library, I was starting to get a little bit nervous. The questions about my ex. The ominous “I see.” The way he would never really look at me, just out the window. I needed some answers and I needed them like right now.

“Ok, sorry, I know you said you’re just taking me there, but where are we going? Where is there? Can I at least know like a general vicinity? I might need to give my husband a call, let him know I’ll be home later than expected.”

“Your husband.”

“Yes.”

“But that’s, not the detective?”

“Correct.”

“I see.”

Again with the “I see!” Well, I’d like to know what he sees because all I see is the next stop and how I can make my exit.

I looked up at him and for the first time since the library, we held a brief second of eye contact. He looked down at his shoes.

Then he smiled. He reached into his coat, pulled out a book.

“Have you ever read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?”

He handed me the book. I wanted someone to hand me a pen so I could write HELP ME! in big bold letters. I looked around, there were only three people left in our… car? Section? Pod? All three people were on their phones, they each had those new floating earbuds in.

When we got to the Howard stop, he reached out his hand to help me onto the platform. A totally unnecessary gesture, but it did at least help ease my fears of whatever the hell was going on.

Still though, right there I almost made a run for the stairs. I was thinking about throwing the book at him as a distraction.

“Ok, so go down the stairs, a woman by the name of Valeriya will take you the rest of the way,” the library man said.

“The what now? Who?”

“Believe me, you won’t be able to miss her.”

I don’t know why I went down those stairs. I really don’t. The only rationale I can give is that I was afraid. I was afraid of running to the other train, afraid he’d chase me or something. Afraid he’d pull out a knife. Afraid of the 20 other things you hear every week on the news. But when I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see him standing there, watching me, making sure I went down the steps, he was nowhere in sight. He was already gone.

There was no one else at the bottom of the stairs, but even if there was a crowd of 10,000 people, Valeriya would have stood out like a sore thumb. She stood there wearing leather pants and a Ramones t-shirt. She has to be about 6’2” and I checked, that was in regular shoes, no boots, no heels. Next to her was a Bernese Mountain dog. Half of her head was shaved, the other half spiky purple hair. She had bright red lipstick and a tattoo of the Bulls logo on the side of her neck.

“You ready?” she asked.

I don’t know why I followed. I don’t know why I hopped in a minivan of all vehicles and sat down next to a slobbering Bernese Mountain dog who breathed heavy and liked to fart. I guess that makes sense that dogs fart too, I just had never considered that before.

Valeriya played the music loud and had no interest in making conversation. We were on the road for a good ten minutes, then she turned off into some field. We bounced around, I started to feel sick, then she pulled back onto a dirt road, made a couple turns–something that was funny to me, she used her turn signals. I don’t know why that stood out so much, I think it was just kind of bizarre that this was the one rule she seemed to religiously follow.

We pulled up to a giant gate, behind it was this huge mansion, bigger than any house I’d seen in the burbs of Chicago or the burbs of Detroit. She punched a couple numbers in and the gate started to open. We drove down this really long path. The Bernese looked out the window, panting, slobbering, farting.

“Alright, we’re here,” Valeriya said unbuckling her seatbelt. Taking the keys out. “Follow me.”

We walked to the main entrance. The door had to be 15-feet tall. And of course, it had a giant lion shaped knocker. I had one last thought of sprinting away, or I guess wrestling Valeriya for the minivan keys, then making a mad dash.

But instead, I followed.

I stepped in and there was a giant chandelier hanging over the entrance way. Soft music was playing in the background. I counted five sculptures like the kind you’d see around a fancy fountain in an upscale park.

“You ready?” she asked.

Ready? Ready for what?

She opened another door, I could see carpeted stairs going down to what I assume must be the basement. I couldn’t take it anymore. Every horror movie, you don’t just willingly walk into the basement of a strange house.

“I’m sorry, I need to go home,” I said. I started to cry. “I don’t understand what’s going on, I’m scared. I’m weirded out. He told me, he told me, he told me.”

“Hey, easy there, relax,” she said. “Calm down, calm down. Breathe.”

“I just wanted to get a copy of a game I didn’t see, and it’s so stupid, I don’t know why I care that much but he said he had the game, and now I’m here and I don’t know where here is and I’m sorry, and you seem nice, but please, please can I just go home.”

“Absolutely,” she said. “Once the Bulls make the playoffs.”

“Say what now?”

“Come on, follow me.”

This was the second flight of stairs I had no business going down in one evening. But at least these ones weren’t as slick and muddy as the ones at the Howard stop. I heard people laughing down in the basement.

When I reached the final step, and could finally see the room, finally see this incredible basement, it was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to color.

I couldn’t believe what was in front of me.

Basement of a Bull is one big experiment in fiction. It’s a story with multiple authors, all of us have no idea where the story is headed. I want it to feel like Chicago improv where whatever happens, we roll with that to the next chapter, try to make it all fit together. If you’re wondering where this is all headed, hey, so are we. Right now, there will be new posts every Tuesday and Thursday and pretty soon a podcast element (that will make more sense soon). I hope you’re enjoying this tale, to catch up to speed check out the Basement of a Bull page right here.

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