The Ravages

The ravages started on the day the earth tilted; June nineteenth. Red Rain Blood Water poured from the sky, imbibed with the life of Rah’s tears and on this day, the earth itself joined forces with the OtherLife to show light to the way.

The axis occasionally tilts for the seasons, the earth’s chronometer, but for the ethereal watcher of all, for Rah, the earth took on a gangster lean. And Rah watches with the kaleidoscopic vision of omnipotence as the ebb and flow of existence transcends the chaos that troubles the souls of humankind. The eyes of Rah settled steadily on the world, on man, and the purposeful manner of his ways. Man is awful. Man is good. Man is peace. Man is war! 

So on this day, the earth tilted. Not the usual slant that governed the seasons. No, this time the earth angled further, deeper, as if Fate and Karma had a brilliant design on reality. The result of this altered actuality was not catastrophic, in fact, the act went totally unnoticed by the lives that walked the earth. The Cosmic shift tilted and  the Red Rain Blood Water poured down in a deluge that became life itself, feeding the soil, soaking the earth, animating the firmament, sending Karma and Fate on a symbiotic journey of unforeseen and unknown destiny.  The Hudson River drank in the rain too, it’s waves leaping from the surface, rising up to meet the sky as if the waters themselves had been starving. Rah’s tears, Red Rain Blood Water, gave new life to the forgotten souls, gave strength to the anguished spirits and they gave breath to a  heartfelt syncopation; they tasted life, they tasted a higher power… and they rose up. 

Under a sky that  glowed blood red and sobbed  tears of anger, pain, passion and life, a cosmic inferno burned across centuries, calling out to the spirits of the Hudson and the bones of the slaves buried at Schuyler Flatts. Rah’s tears are life-giving cosmic fluid, blood rain, and it’s fingers reach out, seeking the communion of spirits  and intertwined with the cries of bygone pain and anguish that emanated from beneath the dirt and from under the waves, deep down from the abyss. The bones absorbed the Red Rain Blood Water, suckled the moisture of destiny’s teat, became one with it, transforming into essence, taking shape, swollen… and alive.  The spirits of the Hudson River swirled violently as if dancing with joy, as if they knew that their time had come to walk the earth again. They pushed back centuries worth of pain and darkness, back to its source. There was too much hate and anger in the memories. Life could not hold its form with that much desperate anger but it couldn’t be extinguished; so it simmered, constantly slow burning but a quick switch away because the pain couldn’t be shaken. Life would have to wear  the scars of past transgressions; there was no way to be rid of the darkness that was part of existence.

Lightning rumbled in the sky, purple ribbons of light, flashed bright red against the blinding light, followed by white streaks that burst across the sky, flashing light and then darkness. Light and then darkness.There were dazzling flashes that sparked in syncopation with the spirit’s newborn heartbeat, a deep thumping that could be heard above the rain. 

The wind howled now, bending trees toward the river and tossing aside anything that wasn’t nailed down. The wind  was visible as the rain pounded through the gale and fed the spirits of the earth, spirits that thrummed and took on the semblance of life. 

Red Rain Blood Water clashed against the surface of the Hudson River, pelted like a thousand handclaps, crashing into the water in a stinging rhythm that took up harmony with the painful moans of thousands that emanated from the depths of the river. The island of Avalon sat in the middle of the Hudson; the trees waved in the gusting winds, a few small rusted structures remained standing hidden by steep brush and dense foliage. It was foreboding from afar, mysterious and rarely was anyone seen there.  On the hill above the river in Schuyler Flatts, the chorus of the dead rose from the graves and began to sing their song too.

There was no one to witness the life that burst through the surface of the river or feel the quake of the earth when the graves burst open.

********************

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Red Rain Blood Water

Juneteenth.

 A celebration that seems insidious at its roots. It’s basis… the crime of delayed freedom, has somehow become a cause for joy. That day, that nineteenth of June, marked the formal end of slavery but not the practice of it. For over two hundred and twenty thousand people, slavery was still a way of life after that day… But June nineteenth? It was a day. As good as any. Symbolic, really. 

The streets were crowded with celebration. Booths were set up along the block, barbeque aromas wafted through the air, photos flashed on young couples and the promise of the night called out to the loneliness of the small town residents.

  The daytime heat had been an exhausting, overbearing swelter that forced everyone inside where the air conditioning provided blessed relief. But when daytime gave way to the night, to the perfect breeze, well, what more could a Friday night ask for? The nighttime was the right time and the vibe was one that only tight communities could feel. The joy. The deferred pain. The lovers. The fighters. The ones who moved better in the dark. Life was brand new for a few hours… nights like this were rare and meant to be enjoyed. 

The night was young, the party not yet in full swing but the undercurrents were there. The streets between South Second and Union Street  were sealed off and for one night, the citizens claimed their territory. They were free and loose and inhibition went the way of the first upturned glass of brown liquor. 

Greg and John sat at the bar in the Toasted Bone… well on their way to the ‘drunk’ they wore on the regular. Greg looked into his drink, only his third, and a thought occurred to him before he picked up the glass and raised it to his lips.

“Yo, John,” he said. “I always wanted to ask you; why you do that crazy shit you did?”

“Again?” John raised a brow. “Again? What did I tell you last time your drunk ass asked me that question?”

“‘None of my business? That ain’t no ‘why’, man. I was askin’ you ‘why’?”

“It’s an answer though.” John took a drink from his glass. “Only answer your raggedy ass gonna get.”

“Now, why I gotta be raggedy, John? Huh? Why I gotta be all that?” Greg was rough, everything about him was wrinkled, from his clothes to his face. He came to the Toasted Bone straight from his job at the factory, as usual, and he still had his work smell all over him. 

John didn’t answer. He turned to look out of the window and watched the people walking down Union Street, strolling, enjoying the night. 

And then the sky split open. 

A lightning jag tore across the sky, ripping a ragged streak of white against the ceiling of blue, like a knife tearing through flesh, leaving a gash that puckered and then the water began pouring from it’s bloody edges, down onto the city. 

The Red Rain fell from the swollen skies and soaked the earth. In the graveyard, it dripped from the trees and clung to the aged tombstones, absorbing the names, the years, the lives that have long since been snatched away. 

Outside the Toasted Bone, red puddles pooled on the pavement like putrid acne, splashing as the drops fell. Another streak of lightning flashed and the houses on Union Street were painted wet and dark in the sudden, pale light.

Shrieks rang out into the night as the hot rain fell. People ran for cover from the stinging dark drops that pelted their skin. The Red Rain had swept up suddenly on a warm night, a strolling night and struck from nowhere. 

           The dark drops splattered against the window. 

Greg stood next to him. “What the hell going on out there?”

“It’s that steel mill,” John said. “All those chemicals and shit they be puttin’ in the air.”

The big steel mill down by the train station  pumped out black smoke all day long. Sooner or later, he mused, there had to be some black rain or something. 

In Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground, the red rain gathered in puddles and soaked into the earth, into the soil above the graves, down past the shallow dirt to where the bones of slaves lay, buried and forgotten…until now. Red Rain Blood Water. God sent…elixir manna for the dead. And the spirits had been waiting. It was time to awaken. 

One Minute of Freedom

In doing some research for my next novel, I’ve stumbled across some stories, some chapters, that littered the terror path known as The Black Experience in America. Obvious stuff that should have been recorded as stitches in the cloth of U.S. history but was simply never mentioned and never taught. It’s some really interesting shit! Tragic, in many cases but informative as hell. And so impactful. This story raises one important question so please respond with your honest answer.

Okay. Here’s the story.

The year 1774. The place – Claverack, New York, where an African girl is born into slavery. As a teenager, she, along with her sister were shipped off to Massachusetts with their master. One of her duties after her arrival there was that of a maid. Of course as the maid, she was also the waitress and she served the meetings where white men were writing the Massachusetts constitution. This slave girl, who eventually settled on the name Elizabeth Freeman, was serving them food and drink but she was also listening. Learning. The white men spoke of humans and their rights. And their freedoms. And their peace of mind.

One of the men stood and announced in a booming voice that seemed to shake the rafters: ‘Mankind in their natural state are born free and equal.

Free! Equal!

The realization touched her humanity, the essence of her spirit, the tangibility of being!, this awakening, put into words … well, it stunned her, it lifted her.

And then… she knew.

She took her case to a lawyer. He asked her what caused her to think that she could possibly be free; a black woman slave. And she cited the state’s new constitution, the law that civilization held precious. She made her case legally and rightly. The lawyer agreed and he took her case. When they asked her about her desire to be free, her response made me realize that, as a Black man today, I cannot grasp the depths of the impact of slavery on our ancestors, the dark places it would take the soul, and the spirit that would be needed to fight it.

Elizabeth Freeman said, “Anytime while I was a slave, if one minutes freedom had been offered me, and I had been told that I must die after that minute, I would have taken it just to stand one minute on God’s airth [earth] a free woman. I would.” 

Now that is deep. And here is the deeper question – For a moment of freedom… would you?

Wisdom and Vanessa

I’m getting ready to become a social media person! Crazy, right? But it’s time. I’ve been fighting it for years but the internet don’t fight fair. It hits you with lefts and rights and uppercuts and all kinds of ish when you ain’t lookin, and….” Anyhoo… let me get back to the point. I’m off on a tangent on the internet. Huh. That ain’t right. But anyway… I lost the fight. Probably because I was supposed to. Time to see if I can be creative online: Testing, testing, one, two, three! Testing!

Wisdom and Vanessa

“Do I need a vagina to understand this conversation?” Vanessa smiled at Wisdom. They had only known each other for a few passionate hours, a few intense hours, but they had connected. They had both felt it.

“For real,” Wisdom repeated. “Do I?”

“No,” Vanessa answered. “Well, maybe you do.”

“Because I gave you, what I thought, was some good advice but you seem to keep missing my point.” Wisdom turned on his side, giving his undivided attention. “I think that you have to let it go.” 

“But she was my good friend,” Vanessa said. “A good good friend and it hurt when she just stopped.. being my friend. Just like that. For no reason.” They were laying in a dark bedroom; they had used the darkness when they climbed into bed and  the only illumination in the room came from a single candle that burned in front of the mirror on the dresser. Vanessa’s eyes danced in the flickering candlelight, her skin changing from chocolate to bronze in the glow. Wisdom ran his fingers gently over her skin as she talked; he liked the feel of her face. “That was just pure dirt,” Vanessa said. “Dirt and dirty is all I know about that.”

“Maybe she wasn’t the friend you thought she was,” Wisdom brought his hand down and gripped her waist through the sheet. Solid fullness greeted him. “If you ain’t a friend to me… I don’t have a problem not being your friend either.”

“It’s not like that,” Vanessa said. “We did a lot of things together. We were friends. Good friends, I thought.” 

Wisdom smiled. “Again, I ask you: Do I need a vagina to understand this conversation?”

Vanessa laughed. “Yes. You do.”

“Well give me yours then. Put it right here. In my hand. Then ask me. I’ll give it back later. For real!” Vanessa twisted her lips in doubt. “What?” Wisdom said. “Why are you looking like that? You think that I wouldn’t give your vagina back to you?

“No.”

“Listen.” Wisdom looked into her eyes. “You’re smart. Intelligent. That’s one of the things I like about you. You’ll do the right thing.” He looked into her eyes and watched the candlelight flicker. After a moment he said. “And that means that I’m going to listen, with this male brain, which you know is quite limited, and I’m going to give you straight, male answers. They ain’t gonna make sense to you but since you won’t put the coochie in my hand, it’s the best I can do.”

Vanessa pushed him in the chest and smiled at him.

“And I can listen,” Wisdom said. 

Dark Water

The dark water came for him often, pouring down from the night sky, invisible in the ebon thickness of the night. Hot, darting rain splashing against his skin. The blackness. Always the blackness. It covered him like inky molasses, surrounding him in it’s dark wetness when he stumbled through his nightmares. Dark water chased him in his dreams. 

He ran-  face first- into the barn door with enough force to slam him to the ground. He lay there, stunned as the doors swung open, revealing a sight that would chase him in his sleep forever. His brother, George, lay on the ground, feet twitching, head twisted at an impossible angle and a rope around his neck. Johnny Lee lurched to his feet and fought his way to his fallen brother. He knelt beside him, clawing at the rope embedded in the flesh of his brother’s neck but his hands slid off uselessly. His eyes followed the length of the rope until he saw the other end of it tied to a beam in the rafters. The bitter ends dangled raggedly from where the rope snapped under George’s weight… but it was too late. George was dead.

And then there was the blackness. Always the blackness.

The dark water haunted his nights.

Jim Crow ruled his days. Johnny Lee suffered and strained under the iron fist of  oppression, forced into a subservient existence that chafed against the very essence of his manhood and resulted in a bitterness that never quite left his face. The strictures of southern living sapped his joy and happiness; a loss to him and his family.

In the first two years of Johnny Lee and Sara’s marriage, the first two children came like clockwork. Two big, strong, strapping boys that brought Johnny Lee a secret pride and gave his life a little light- gave him a reason to endure the barbs that bit at him daily. His  sons became his strength, his driving force and as the years wore on, and more children came, he lived his life with the purpose of watching them grow as he prepared them for the life that was out there waiting. Especially Hiram and Jig.  He marveled at their strength when they worked, living vicariously through the vigor and joy as they tackled the constant flow of life. Until a day came that Johnny Lee would never forget. 

And the dark water became real.

He’d had a rough day at work; hard labor under the oppressing hand of Jim Crow force feeding him a constant dose of humiliation that he kept tamped down beneath his simmering rage. Home had come to represent not only family but freedom. The only place where he was allowed to be king and rule the roost; not that he was the complete ruler or an oppressive monarch because his queen had as much say in the kingdom as he, but his sovereignty was unchallenged and unspoken and meant as much in its quietude and joy as the warring factions outside. There was no place like home. Yet on this day, there was a sheriff waiting on his front porch – never a good sign – hat in hand and a somber look on his face.  Johnny Lee approached him cautiously with growing apprehension, fear creeping in with cold fingers that pushed his heartbeat into double time.

“Eve’nin sur,” Johnny Lee said. “What brangs you to my do’ this evening.”

Sheriff Bannon twirled his hat in his gnarled hands, eyes downcast before looking up at Johnny Lee. Bannon was a fairly decent man, as far as country crackers went, lacking the vicious spirit that would make him go out of his way to hurt Black folks and he generally tried to keep the peace as much as possible. “I got some bad news, Johnny Lee,” he said. Johnny waited expectantly. “Real bad.”

“Yessuh?”

“Well. It seems that down by the river… well, some kids was playing down by the James River, they said they was swimming down there, well, down by the river…” He paused and looked Johnny in the eye. “They found your sons.”

“What you mean, Sheriff? What you mean, ‘they found my sons’?”

“Down by the river.” His voice was heavy when he said, “They hung theyselves. When we found them… they was dead.”

“Both of my boys? Both of my boys!”  The words hit Johnny Lee with such force that he clutched at the wooden rail to steady himself on suddenly wobbly feet. “Where they at?” Bannon paused for a moment. “Where is my boys at, Sheriff?”

“They down at the morgue, Johnny Lee. We got they bodies but…”

“But what? Ain’t no ‘buts’. I’ll be down there to get ‘em. Be down there right quickly.”

“Johnny Lee. I gotta tell you something before you go down there. Something you need to hear before you see them.”

Johnny Lee waited. The sheriff’s words were washing over him, roaring in his ears and Johnny Lee’s mind barely registered the garbled mess. “What you talkin’ bout? What you mean?” Johnny Lee forged on before the sheriff could speak. “My boys is good. They good boys. Both of ‘em.” Death was no stranger to Johnny. There are a thousand ways and many more reasons to perish in the south and he had witnessed enough pain to become numb. Atrocities were tempered with experience, anger was handled with a sigh and justice was a foreign concept; something that he imagined existed somewhere else in the world. Johnny Lee was content with his life; his wife still carried that secret crush they shared from way back when, during those tender years when a look she had given him had led to a lifetime of always having her. There would be no life for him without Sara. And the children that she had given him.  Hiram and Jig were the fulfillment of a promise for them. The promise that one day, if they were truly blessed with the know-how, the brains, the common sense to be able to maneuver their way through this life, that life would truly get better for their sons and daughters. That one day, their sons would be the men that Johnny Lee knew he could have been if God had worked in different ways. It was their promise.

But god hadn’t kept the promise.

God had thrown his hand down on the deal and the cards of fate fluttered painfully to the floor of Johnny Lee’s soul. Why?

His daddy had been a slave for most of his life but he had lived to see his last born son, Johnny Lee, be born into freedom. Happiness had accompanied his birth into the world… yet the chains remained. His soul was on empty. He was a slave still… to his selfishness when he dared to love his children, dared to dream of happiness, dared to see something better than the echo of oppression reverberate for  his prodigy.

A pained sob escaped his lips and Johnny Lee sank to one knee.

Sheriff Bannon moved to help him but pulled back and let him be. A man has to handle his own grief in his own way. Placing his hat on his head, he turned to look down the road that led to Johnny Lee’s house that stood a half mile from the town. The homestead had been built by the rough labor of Johnny Lee’s hands when the town was still new and uncertain and he managed to do what few Negroes could; he owned land. It hadn’t been easy but he managed to buy a bit of land while he squeezed a living out of the blisters on his feet. Johnny Lee was a worn man… wrung and squeezed but still standing, even though his heart was breaking right now. Colored people know how to handle things like this.

“It can’t be so,” Johnny Lee looked up at him. “Not my boys. Let me see ‘em, Sheriff.” A grim fire colored Johnny Lee’s eyes, a sadness that was hardening into a disbelieving anger. “Not mine. My boys ain’t ‘bout to leave me.” He turned away and walked back down the steps, stopping to gaze up into the tall flowering dogwoods, its flowers having burst through their bracts weeks ago now seemed lifeless, even their beauty had tarnished luster. Sara waited for him in the shade of the big, bushy tree, visibly anxious, rocking back and forth, from foot to foot, waiting for the men to finish. The sheriff had walked right by her as if she were invisible but she took note of the hard set of his chin, so she watched and waited. Her apprehension turned into white hot fear when she saw her husband go down on one knee. The skittering of her heartbeat scared her and she found herself rocking, more afraid than angry, and cringing with the growing pain that burgeoned inside her, a pain that she couldn’t stop.

“I’ll meet you down there in a few minutes, Johnny Lee.”

Johnny Lee didn’t answer, he just kept walking, each step heavy. He walked over to his wife. Sara searched his face and sank into his arms and sobbed against his chest. He held her, rocked her, looked out into the beyond. And he saw the wave coming.

The dark water rushed toward him, crashing and whirling… and he welcomed it’s fiery touch.

The Toasted Bone

“Goddammit, I’m drunk!”

Claude wasn’t… not really… but he fully intended to be before the night was over.  He slammed the empty shot glass down on the bar and signaled for another. It was a night for getting twisted, to let his three sheets flap in the wind, and though he wasn’t a good drinker, when the occasion arose Claude was more than willing to meet it head on. And what better place was there to water his brain than this one? The Toasted Bone was a familiar joint, a neighborhood meeting spot that offered all the comforts that a drinking man could ask for; bar stools, a jukebox and an attentive bartender.

The perfect place to plot a murder.

The Bone was slowly filling up but Claude didn’t see anyone that he would like to drink with, none of his buddies that he could laugh and get wild with and when an old man sat down next to him, Claude simply looked straight ahead at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar.

“Gimme a mule,” the old man said. The bartender set the drink down in front of the old man and went down to the end of the bar. The old man pulled a flask out of his pocket and quickly poured a dollop of liquid into the glass. He looked over at Claude and held the flask up, offering. Claude shook his head. “No thank you sir,” he said. “If you don’t mind me asking; what is that drink that you are putting on top of another drink?”

“It’s otherworldly type shit,” he said. “The type of shit that you been looking for.” He paused to lean toward Claude. “You know, when you getting read to do something that you ain’t supposed to be doing? This here is the remedy.”

Claude was taken aback. “What you talking about? Do I know you? Do you know me? No. You  don’t know me. What do you think I’m looking for? I know that it ain’t in a bottle of whatever you’re drinking.”

The old man smiled at him before taking a sip. “You sure about that?” he said. “You don’t want none of this here? It will change your world. And your world needs changing.”

“It does, huh?” Claude said.

“Yeah That’s why your trying to find peace and quiet in the carbonated spirits. I’ve been there and done that. Don’t work as well as this otherworldly shit. I been around the world, aye, aye, aye! Around the motherfucking world! And there ain’t no world like the other world inside this here drank.”

“What in the hell are you talking about,” Claude said.

“See. You think you know, don’t you? You do! You think you know… but you don’t know.” He pointed a thumb at his chest. “I know! But you don’t know.” The old man wrapped his hands around his drink and held it firmly. His eyes glistened and Claude saw something in his stare, a bit of the crazy that he wanted to share.

“So what is it you drinking,” Claude said.

“Never share a drink with a stranger,” the old man said. “You find trouble on the bottom of the glass. Trouble. Trouble.” He reached his hand out to Claude. “Monty,” he said. “My name is Monty.”

Claude took his hand and shook it. “Claude,” he said.

“Claude,” Monty said. “Now we ain’t strangers no more.” He cackled an old laugh, a whiskey giggle and slapped the top of the bar. “I’ll tell you what I’m drinking but a story comes with it. A story that you ain’t gonna believe but one that was made for you. You ready?”

“Made for me?,” Claude felt a slur coming on. The liquor was sneaking up on him. “Yeah. I’m ready.”

“You playing me for a fool,” Monty said. “But that’s alright. Been done before and it ain’t harmed me yet.” Monty was a thin man, wiry, with the lanky frame of a runner. His eyes were slanted oddly, placed on his face by an unjust god, glinting strangely in the dark. He shifted in his seat and Claude caught a whiff of burning, an incense that he couldn’t describe and Monty’s mouth hung on his face in a lopsided grin. He smiled at Claude now, his teeth a flash of faded white that seemed out of place with his demeanor.

“How about I tell you a story,” Monty said. “Now, when I tell you this story, this story of you and yours and your life and the real you, you ain’t gonna believe it. You gonna need some of this mule.” He tilted his drink at Claude. Claude declined again. “Okay. I’ll save it for you.” He glanced around the bar, shrugged his shoulders and got comfortable, rubbed his chin and fixed Claude in his stare. A strange glint emanated from one of his eyes and Claude noticed that it didn’t move, even when the other eye darted about. Impulsively Claude blurted out: “Pardon me for asking, but what’s wrong with your eye?”

“Oh, this?” Monty said. He reached up, took his eye out of its socket and laid it on the bar. “I lost the real one but I’m due to get it back soon.”

Claude nearly jumped out of his seat. “What the hell?”

The eye was pulsing, giving off an eerie light and Claude thought he saw it move. Monty watched him, bemused, a twinkle in his eye and his lip curled.

Monty guffawed. “What? You never seen an eye before?”

“That is not funny Monty! That’s gross man!”

“I gots my eye on you!”

“You nasty, man!” Claude grimaced.

“It’s an eye,” Monty said. He picked it up and fitted it back into his head. “Lesson one. Don’t ask questions if you can’t handle the answer, son.” 

Racism Junkie

 

“You know what I find hard to believe?” Rodney leaned back in his chair. “I walked in the store today and they were watching me like I was a thief.” Rodney was clean, a well-dressed man; shirt, tie, razor edged creased slacks and he wore his blackness like a well-earned badge that no one was going to be shitting on anytime soon. “In this day and age? Still?”

“Really?” HossColla eyed him. HossColla was natural-born old school. Gruff voice, coarse exterior with a wisdom born of hard experience.

“Yeah, man! Rodney stroked his goatee, speckles of gray mixed in with the black. It leant his face an intent countenance, accentuated by his steely dark eyes. “I guess that ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ never really happened, right? In this day and age. It’s been 400 years. You would think…”

“Here is the problem that I have with you… you and those of your ilk.”

“Ilk?”

“Yes. Ilk. People like you. You and your kind.” HossColla said and patted his short afro. He used to have an Angela Davis joint but age had taken most of his hair. “You expect people to give up their prejudices and attitudes… just like that?”

Rodney sat up straight in his chair. “Colla, it’s been 400 years!”

“My point exactly!” HossColla said. “You want people… you expect people to give up their racism just like that? Cold turkey? For real?”

“Yup. I sure do. And the fact that they’ve had this long to get it right! That things haven’t changed in all this time, only makes it worse. This is the twenty first century! Socially, its enlightenment time. People are supposed to be more culturally aware. More diverse. We had a Black president goddammit!”

“And yet?” Hosscolla said and spread his arms, waiting for an answer. When none came, he spoke calmly. “After the slaves got freed, they still had to send the military to force slave owners to let my people go. They had to force them! The hate was too strong. Then after that, there was Civil Rights movement; MLK and all of them. We got the right to vote, equal rights… all of that. Equality was the law! Law of the land! That thing that civilized folks obey as the basis of civilized living! But they still had to send the military to enforce that law too!”

“I know you have a point, Colla,” Rodney said. “So what you saying?”

“You can’t expect racists to give up racism cold turkey. They can’t just yank the needle out! They gonna have the DTs and everything. And you know how junkies get when they can’t get their fix! All hell breaks loose. Next thing you know… they shooting again.”

“A racism junkie,” Rodney said.

“And some of them got guns!” Colla pointed down at the window. “You know that boy, used to live down the street? Bone?”

“Haven’t seen him in a minute. Where that nigga, Bone? Where Bone at?”

“He died.” Colla heaved a huge sigh. “Well, he got killed, I mean.”

“For real?”

“Yeah. He was a junkie. Died with a needle in his arm. In the alley off Allen Street.” Colla turned to look at him. “Racists are like that.”

“What the hell does that mean, Colla? You know, you got some shit with you sometimes bruh man. You know that, right?” Rodney gave a short laugh. “Okay, Colla. I’ll bite. How so?”

“Racism has been here so long that you would think that it’s in America’s DNA. It’s not though. It’s just been here so long that some people have become junkies. Racist junkies. Hooked on the stuff.” Colla tapped his fingers on his forearm – the spot where junkies shoot the needle. “They take hits. The hate. Everyday into the bloodstream. Straight into the vein. Makes them have illusions and whatnot. It’s their world. Because they own it. They run it. Racism. It’s a helluva drug.”

“And you think that they are so addicted to this drug, this racism, that they can’t stop?” Rodney said.

“Not cold turkey,” Colla said. “That racism be callin’ em, Rodney. It be callin’ em!”

“Not seeing it,” Rodney said. “Even drug addicts hit bottom and…”

“And die?”

“Not all of them. Some maybe.”

“And some of them watch you like a thief when you go into their stores. They think ‘black’ and ‘bad’ are the same thing. Always have. Maybe always will.” Colla nodded his head. “How much hate do you think it took to enslave grown men who only knew freedom? Think about what it took to do that.” He leaned forward, intent on bringing his point home. “You have to adjust your humanity, your reality, to be inhumane. And that takes a drug. Racism is as good as any drug. Works better too.”

Rodney arched an eyebrow in question.

“Drugs wear off,” Colla said. “Racism is portable; that high can last a lifetime. You can carry it around with you. Everywhere you go. Can’t no piss test catch it either. In fact, it’s so well hidden, the junkie convinces himself and everybody he knows that it isn’t even there. Nobody can tell if you are racially stoned, not by looking at you; it just doesn’t show. So you can be a racist junkie, twenty four seven.”

“Damn, Colla!”

HossColla nodded his head. “I know.”

 

 

 

 

See Me

 

“If you don’t see my race, then you don’t see me.”

Boyce and Max were mired in a debate  over an issue that had only subtly affected their friendship. They had long ago agreed that they were starting from slanted angles; they were viewing the same subject from alternate viewpoints, so they agreed  to factor in their differences from the start.

“Max,” Boyce said. “Only a white guy would insist that he doesn’t see color. That’s a white privilege thing… and it’s intellectually dishonest.”

“Theoretically,” Max said. “You are absolutely wrong.”

Boyce barked his laughter.

Max continued. “I’ve heard black people say the same thing. Many times, in fact.”

“They were intellectually dishonest too.” Boyce paused. “Max. Are you telling me that you can actually look at me, in my face, and tell me that you don’t see this Bronzed Mandingo Warrior standing before you?”

“I thought you said you were Mau Mau?”

“Let me have my moment here, Tarzan.”

Promenade Park was a small park that overlooked the eddying Upward River that streamed past. Its waters, flowing down from the Tunya Mountains, gave it the look of constant movement. When they were younger they would throw objects in the water just to see how far the currents would take them downstream.

“I guess that you could say that I don’t look for skin color then,” Max said. “It’s not something I look for. I don’t make judgments and stuff based on color.”

“Don’t matter,” Boyce said. “But I’m not invisible. See me. Everything about me – just see me. Because everything I am is everything I am.”

Max nodded his head in understanding.

Boyce was going through some things. He constantly found himself wrestling with an anger that he didn’t understand. It tickled his blood an riled him up and gave him violent thoughts. He turned to look out at the river, the swirling surface and the many memories that drifted away with the tide.

          “He’s changing”, Max thought “His body is changing. And I don’t think that he recognizes it. He’s gotten stronger.

“How are you feeling, Boyce?”

“I feel good. My body feels pure. Clean. Like I’m at peak condition. Tip top shape.” Boyce raised his arms and flexed. “See?”

“Yes. But how do you feel?”

“This is crazy!” Boyce said and took a seat on the bench next to Max. “I’m confused, man. And a little bit scared. I don’t’ know what to do with this… power. And I don’t know what it’s doing to me. I feel like I’m bigger. Stronger.” He looked to Max. “I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“You are bigger,” Max said. “And it’s noticeable too.”

Max wore his geekiness with stuttering gravity. Tall and slim with the eyes of a hawk, quick and sweeping, he could always be counted on for the truth. That’s why they were friends. “We need to test you,” Max said with all of the nerdiness he could muster. “Test your strength levels.” He pointed toward the track of forest that sat between the park and the river. “No one will see us in the woods,” he said. “Come on, Boyce! I want to see you pick up a boulder. Maybe throw it as far as you can. Like Hercules.”

“Like Samson,” Boyce said.

“No,” Max said. “Hercules was stronger.”

“Twasn’t.”

“Twas.”

Boyce laughed. After a moment he said, “Maybe we will, Max. Maybe we will.”

UNK

             

                 This motherfucker ain’t catching me!

                A hot trickle of sweat slid down between his shoulder blades, his arms pumped furiously, adding more power to his stride. Fear and adrenaline propelled him and Unk felt as if he were moving at light speed, moving with the speed of wide eyed panic and a runner’s high.

“Police! Stop!” The warning carried as if it were uttered underwater, an undercurrent sending it eddying into the darkness.

Not today, bitch! Eat dust!

                He felt the air flood through his lungs. His legs pumped as he stilled the panicked burst of energy that threatened to overtake him. He settled into a steady yet brisk pace and he let his heartbeat break back into the beat of his long stride. His mind told him that it was okay. That if the man pursuing him hadn’t caught him in the first one hundred yards of their mad sprint, then he couldn’t and wouldn’t catch him now. Unk took a quick check behind him. Yeah, the cop was still there, a good twenty feet behind him, but still there… but he wasn’t gaining any ground.

                Unk’s body was a fine tuned machine. Built for the long haul. Built for distance. And all he wanted to do now was put some distance between himself and the horror that he was leaving behind. Visions of Michael, his best friend, crumpled and bloodied, flashed across his mind, an image quickly replaced by anger.

He felt the weight of the gun in his pocket. There was no stopping. There was no turning back. It was all so unfair. Life hadn’t ever treated him right. The good, the bad and the ugly… that is what seemed to always describe his existence.  Michael was the proof. The image of Michael’s body, crumpled and bloodied, pushed Unk on. He leaned into his stride, determined to escape from the man behind him and feeling as if he could run forever. The sound of footfalls spurred him on as he dashed out onto Fairview Avenue, heedless of the traffic, his breath heaving in his chest as he crossed the four lane street, cars screeching as the drivers hit the brakes, before he bounded to the other side. A half mile up Fairview he powered the corner of Smithfield Lane, a side street that led to a bike path behind the baseball field. From there he cut down the pathway toward the city dump. He had to stay off the roads, had to go where no one could pursue him in a car, he had to run free. He was sure that after a few more miles, the man behind him would give up the chase too.

He stole a quick glance back and saw the cop chasing him. Still. The gun banged against his leg; a stark reminder. Unk was in trouble and he knew he wasn’t about to be caught. The first fifty yards, he knew, were the most important. If he wasn’t caught quickly then he wasn’t going to be caught at all. Every race he had run began with a mad sprint, heart beating, arms pumping, muscles straining, dashing…  before the real race began.

“Stop running! You can’t get away!” The cop’s voice was strangely clear. Unk didn’t hear the strain of lost breath or even a hint of fatigue. “Stop! I just want to talk to you. Stop running.”

“Yeah, right!” Unk yelled out. He ran faster. The sound of sirens could be heard in the distance. Nearing. He felt a moment of desperation. A despair that was all too familiar and threatened to cause him to give up, maybe stop and throw his hands in the air. But he had seen that pose, the surrender, and he had fought past it all of his life.

But what would he do if they caught him? The very thought of it crowded all other thoughts from his mind. Life was unfair. His flight was the proof. And even though he couldn’t outrun the slings and arrows of his actions, he knew that there was no other way that his life would go… there was only one foot after the other until the journey ended.

It always seemed to end up in blood.

So I run!

He settled his breathing and settled into stride. He was a strong runner, a distance runner and had been since he discovered that he had the talent. When he was a freshman, he was determined to make the football team and even though he was slight of frame, he was a tenacious, fearless hitter. He loved the sound of a solid hit on a player who was much bigger than him and the satisfaction of bringing the bigger player to the ground. He mind smiled at the memory. The time when they did a nutcracker drill and the coach lined Unk up against Rod, a muscle bound linebacker and Unk took him down with a straight shoulder tackle. But the next year, most of his teammates went through a growth spurt while Unk gained nary a pound. While his slim build was ideal for the track team it didn’t serve him well on the football field. His frame remained the same even as all of his peers outgrew him and it wasn’t long before his friends talked him into going out for the cross country team.

“Come on, man! Run with us,” Dave said.

“You know that you aren’t going to start on the football team,” Bob said. “You might not ever even get to play!”

“And we can win the conference if you run with us,” Glennon threw his two cents in. In the end, Unk realized that they were right. He loved football but he was a natural runner, and after much pleading from Dave, Alan and Bob, Unk finally joined the team.

And he never regretted a single day.

Unk found a new set of brothers, Dave, Glennon and Bob were the leaders of the cross country team but they gladly welcomed Unk as a leader with a little something extra. An attitude of a nuanced Black man that added an extra edge to the entire squad. Unk only let a little of his Blackness show through; he felt like he had to, he was the only minority on the team and in all of the meets that they had, he rarely saw a Black runner on the other teams either. But that wasn’t ever a barrier between Unk and his friends; they were all a little young, a touch crazy and brazenly daring in their high school, sophisticated way. They rebelled together, big time! And their causes were cerebral, intended as complex resistance to those who were adamant about dictating the behavior of teenagers. They yearned for the ‘how did they do that’ reaction from adults and the ‘why did they do that’ from their peers. They reveled in their muted roles as outcasts and their quiet messages of defiance for the discerning grownups. “Let them sort it out!” was their rallying cry. They made running fun for him and Unk found that he was better than he ever imagined he could be; he had speed, stamina and a strategic mind – and they did win the conference that year. And every year after that. Their nearest competition was always crushed and playing for second place halfway through the season. No one could fuck with them.

Unk took a quick look behind him. The man still gave chase. He ran to be free.

And this bitch is about to get lost!

 Unk quickened his pace, lengthened his stride and felt the man falling away behind him. He could maintain this pace for miles and he had found during cross country season, that there weren’t many who could keep up with him. He listened to the footsteps of his pursuer fade away. Unk was losing him.

The gun in his pocket banged against his thigh again. Visions ran through his head. Michael lay, slumped there. Bloody pouring from the bullet in his face. It poured out in a vivid red; bright and shiny and slick. Michael’s lifeless eyes were open. Vacant. “Huh! Huh!” Unk ran faster. Harder. He was haunted by the image of his dead friend, his blood. His breaths became labored. He felt his chest tug. And a heaviness began to creep into his legs. He focused. Slowed his pace.

And then he heard the footfalls behind him.

They were gaining ground.

The Man Downstairs

A modern day love affair. Jeremiah is smitten. Patricia keeps it real.

Jeremiah and Patricia lay in the bed together, their breathing having long since returned to normal as the strands of music floated up to them from the man downstairs. A soft, ivoried melody, the distinctive keys of the piano matched the harmonic voice that brought the sound to its fullness, playing directly into Jeremiah’s vibe.

Patricia nuzzled deeper into his embrace, her lips, finding the tender spot on his neck,  dry and warm, her breath on his skin, reassuring and comforting. His fingers found her waist and he held her there, where the swell of her hips began, and he let the music take him…

 

‘I’ve kissed your lips, and laid with U

And I cherish every moment we spend

In each other’s arms’

Jeremiah closed his eyes and pulled her close, listening to her breathe, but sleep wouldn’t come for him. He was having thoughts. Left field thoughts – way out there and headed for the fences that sent him sprinting for the ball but gaining no ground, the earth churning like a treadmill beneath his feet, destined not to catch such foreign emotions.

He looked down at Patricia. She had a hair out of place, a stray strand, evidence of the heat they had just shared. Jeremiah smiled and gently nudged it back into place.

He was catching feelings for Patricia, she was different than Candy, more mature, more… ‘special’. Candy was high school. Patricia grown and sexy. Candy was wild malt liquor on a Friday night. Patricia was champagne and bubbles at the break of dawn. Yet Patricia baffled him in so many ways and he was drawn to her every mannerism. She had no reservations, no hesitation about sexing him up, sharing her body with him in ways that shocked him sometimes, surprised him to the point where he had to drop some of his own sexual notions and open his mind to pleasures that he never considered.  But when she refused to answer his questions about whether she was seeing anyone else, her response was the equivalence of a straight arm to the chest that kept him at his distance and reminded him of the extent of their relationship. Jeremiah felt a pang of jealousy, an emotion that totally surprised him and he found himself in left field and running for the fences.

She was Ronnie’s sister, and that would be a serious complication if he ever found out, but Jeremiah felt that he could live with whatever happened. In life, unexpected happenings should be expected, things happened, events that were beyond anyone’s control and Jeremiah figured that this was one of those times, so he discarded all reason and went with the flow.

“I’m just here to have fun,” she had told him. “If that’s too much for you, Jeremiah, then we need to stop this right now.”

The music floated up to him as he lay there. A soft, melody riding the intensity of the wave of the piano keys, washing the night, bathing him in its melancholy, as sexy as skin on skin.

“I guess my eyes can only see as far as U

I only want 2 be with U

And the nights you’re not with me

I’m scared,

That you’re gonna leave.”

Jeremiah stirred. The night hadn’t started as smoothly as he had hoped. They had argued when Jeremiah asked her if she were seeing anyone else. Patricia had never spent the night with him since they had become sex friends and he wanted to know the reason.

“Why can’t you just ‘like’ me,” Patricia said. “And enjoy what we do together without getting extra emotional about it?”

She was so lovely in the candlelight as she sat across the table from him. Jeremiah had truly wanted to make the night special so he had watched the Food Network for hours until he saw a show that prepared a meal he thought Patricia would enjoy. A meal that sat untouched at the moment; salmon with a creamy lemon sauce, Basmati rice and French green beans all served with a glass of White Zinfandel, a meal momentarily forgotten as she waited for his answer.

“It’s not that,” Jeremiah’s voice was calm but in truth he didn’t know what he meant either, didn’t know how to tell her that he wanted to claim her, to have her for more than his bed and he couldn’t justify such desires to himself. If he could only tell her, if he could only put words to the emotions that he, himself didn’t understand. Left field thoughts. Way out there.

“So what is it then?”

“Is that what you want then?” Jeremiah said. ”Robot sex? Emotionless, passionless screwing? Would you mind if I got some pleasure from it? Do you?”

“You’re being ridiculous now,” Patricia said. She sighed before she spoke. “Jeremiah, if you take the passion out of the bedroom, we might as well cut this thing off, right now, because there’s no need to go any further.” Her voice softened when she reached across the table for his hand. “I want your passion. I like it. It touches me more than anything. And in all the right places. It pleases me, satisfies me, and it’s all good. But you gotta leave it in the bedroom. You have to.”

“All I asked you was if you were seeing someone else.”

“And I’m answering, okay?”

“’Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies?’” Jeremiah said. “You call that an answer? I get no more than that?”

She stood from the table. She was wearing a short, black dress that hugged her body so smoothly that it appeared to be another layer of skin. She had delicious curves, a temptation that he couldn’t resist and her beauty reached to her eyes, a look that captured him.

“Actually, Jeremiah, you get all of this.” She moved her body like a snake. “All of this.”

Jeremiah laughed his appreciation. “Okay, Patricia. Please. Sit down and let’s partake of this delicious repast.”

“So we’re good?”

Their eyes met. “Yeah. We’re good. Sometimes I get all emotional and shit.”

Patricia smiled and sat at the table.

“It’s just that you got ‘all of that’, Patricia. All of that! You got breast-isis and ass-isis. What is a brotha to do?”

She laughed out loud.

The rest of the dinner went off smoothly. They talked about Jeremiah’s plans for college and his chances of making it to the NBA, the daily drama of making it out of the ghetto and their final destinations in the future. They sat in front of the television and watched Unstoppable, a movie about a runaway train, and then they went to bed.

The song was ending now, a high falsetto that seemed to scream at Jeremiah, a rhythmical warning.

“I guess you’d say that I’m

I’m just being a fool.

But I always, always want to be

With you.”

Jeremiah glanced at his bedside clock. Ten thirty. The night was still young and he could feel Patricia’s heartbeat as she dozed against him. He watched her sleep for a while, pondering how she seduced him without even trying. Her face was soft, he found her beauty touching, her lips full and inviting and her eyes, when she looked at him, promised a satisfaction that was beyond his imagination.

He shook his head to bring himself out of his trance. He chided himself: he was actually watching this woman sleep! Like he was a character on a Lifetime movie! What in the hell?

I better get a hold of myself.  Before I get caught up!

“Were you watching me sleep?” Patricia murmured, not unpleasantly. “Thinking nasty thoughts?” She moved against him and he felt himself responding.

How does she do this to me?

He answered. “Isn’t that what you want me to think, nasty girl?”

“Patricia! If you’re nasty.” she said and her lips found his. A sleepy kiss that slowly became much more and Jeremiah found himself lost in the sensation. Her tongue tasted sweet, sugary, and he started a slow dance, touching, savoring, and Patricia responded with a tango, uptempo, faster, urgent. Her hands found his chest, moving him so that their connection gained more depth and Jeremiah surged forward. They gasped in unison, their lips, touching and for a second, they were apart, a hairs breath the only distance between them, and their eyes locked in the dark light.

Softly, yet somehow, clearly, music could be heard from the man downstairs, its words and melody seized them with a warmth and breadth that intensified their embrace. The singer’s voice floated on silken chords yet was heavy with need, vulnerable. A man, speaking his piece and meaning every syllable.

“I’m missing you.

Don’t know what to do

My life is dark

So dark without you”

 

“You are so sexy baby,” Jeremiah said. “Let’s make love tonight.”

Amusement gleamed in Patricia’s eyes.

“Be serious, Patricia! I figure I can make love for about five, six minutes, tops, and after that I’m back to booty scratchin’ sex.”

“In that case, you have a deal Mr. Goodbar.”

Jeremiah pulled her on top of him and held her tightly as they resumed their tongue dance. They moved in waves, a lusty slow dance in a world where the only sound was a voice crooning for them. They moved to the music, slow dancing in the dark, their bodies beating in syncopation, unhurried. They composed their own ballad with the sound of heated flesh clashing in agreement and their cries only echoed the musical poetry of the song.

“What you doing to me

What I did to you

This is torture to me

I feel just like a fool”

 

At the end of the night, Jeremiah was finally able to fall asleep but when he woke up in the morning, Patricia was gone. Never had his bed seemed so empty, the absence of her warmth seemed like a tragic loss to him. When his phone rang, he hopped out of the bed, anticipation coursing through him.

“Hey baby!”

“Hey to you too baby.”

His smile died. It was Candy.