I Lift Mine Eyes, short story, originally published in American Fiction, Volume 9.
His mother opens the door in her bathrobe, and the police head straight back to EJ’s room through her tidy, little house. They stop outside the door and one of them reaches his arm around and fumbles inside the room for the light while the other tenses himself opposite as if EJ will come out shooting or slinging a baseball bat at their heads. The police haven’t surprised EJ. There is no surprising EJ. He is already dressed, or still dressed, sitting in the dark on the edge of the bed. The other bed doesn’t hold a body, but it isn’t made. He doesn’t say anything. The cops would love it if he showed some anger. Cops got no respect for his rights. Rights are a game they play like some kid might say, “Ya wanna play 52 pick-up”. They are ignorant and fat-assed and got nothing to hold on him. He lets that attitude out he’ll be in big trouble. Attitude alone will get you with these mother-fuckers. They’d get in his face for forever. They arrest you for nothing if you show them any attitude, and he got some attitude. Attitude about all he got, his attitude would melt them down to puddles of stink.
He sits, studying his sneakers, the black straps that cross over the top, while the officers start to dig through his stuff. “You mind?” one of them asks with a sneer before he starts in on EJ’s socks and his boxers. EJ wouldn’t grace them with an answer for nothing. He knows better. The other one leans on the dresser and pretends to pick his teeth. He’s going to be the talker. Copsalways got a talker and a quiet one. “You a god-damned good for nothing nigger,” he says congenially. “Now, I don’t use the word lightly. I know what the word means. Half the black men on the street ain’t niggers. Half the white men are.” He’s got this spiel memorized. They dig through a lot of black kids stuff in a week. The other one is swilling around in his shirts getting them all out of order. “But you a nigger, kid,” the one with the mouth goes on. He starts like he remembered why he’s there and goes to root around in EJ’s cd’s, frisbeeing them aside one at a time. “You gonna end up dead on the street because you’re getting stupider than you already were. That’s pretty fucking stupid,” he says. “You’re getting desperate. Then even your mama won’t cry. She’ll be relieved.”
“Don’t talk about my mother.” EJ softly spits his words. The cops are too busy mouthing off to hear it.
When EJ was a kid his mama would come home from her college classes whirring past him through the living room with its trashed out furniture and into the bedroom, trying to shove her books under the bed and trying to get to the kitchen, saying, “Dinner won’t be but a minute.” Ignoring him, so he followed her. Just a kid, needed his mama. “I got big plans,” she would say, talking all the while. Her body a nervous energy and a smell like sweet dirt. “I’m going to make us something that will turn ya’ll’s stomach to plain heaven.” Hands flying, pans coming out.
But she was never quick enough. His father’s face shone and his jaw wrapped around it like a vice. He would grab her from behind as she tried to get by, spin her around and hold her there like he was just checking did he remember what she looked like, until she quivered in his big hands, then her dead silence while he slapped her, she let her head slide back and forth with the blows; or the hands were a vice on her throat until her eyes were white with fear, hit her, and hit her until he left her kneeling in front of him, holding her bruised stomach and sucking her bleeding teeth. Sometimes he grabbed her head then and shoved it into his crotch, EJ afraid she would die; EJ standing on his unstable baby legs, howling, and his father turning to give him his.
The other cop says, “Hey, this a new shirt?” and he holds up a new shirt. “I don’t remember this one from last time.” They dig.
“Where is your cousin?” asks the talker. The quiet one is going through the closet now while the talker roots under the bed right at EJ’s feet. EJ could kick him in the teeth. “He carry away the goods? Ain’t he too young to be out his late? You turning him into your errand boy? You make him just like you? Or maybe he’s just visiting his crack-head mama.”
They don’t find anything. They never have. They aren’t looking for the drugs anyway. It’s the guns they got a search warrant for. Rumor is that a month or so ago EJ was shot at by some skinny, desperate pipe-head trying to hold him up for a bottle, and EJ fired back, hitting him. EJ has a reputation for liking guns, but this is the first time they heard about him using one. EJ is too level-headed, too cool, for any of those showy gangster games. No one will actually talk to the cops about it, least of all the druggie who survived after a few weeks of indigent care at the stinking, overcrowded hospital where he spent most of his time on a gurney parked in the hallway yelling at the nurses, either begging, “Baby give me some of that thang you swishing,” or moaning like he’s been watching too much daytime T.V., “I needs some morphine, or I’m gonna die,” Stretching his arms out grabbing at the white uniforms passing. Usually, getting it.
Soon as EJ was old enough to flee out onto the streets and take up the games that were being played there, serious games, real games that were freedom from what the world was already telling him he was not, that’s what he did – running for a big time dealer when he was eight, making more money than his father. His father working for the city all his miserable life coming home to the rank and hot projects every night, threading back down the piss stained stairs after dinner, making his way down to the Soul Palace to hang, talk and laugh and rant some about how the white man held him down. Black man got no future. White man had, and had, and had, riding on black’s man’s backs like monkeys on an elephant. Anger rolling under his skin, a river of molten hate. He took the rent money sometimes and bought cheap liquor to go around, and cruised away in the fancy cars of his low friends.
One day one of those fancy cars squealed to the curb with the door already open and swinging a little with the sudden movement, then his father fell out and the car slipped away, the door wobbling, then banging shut. His father crashed to the sidewalk with a knife up under his ribs. “Shit,” he said. “Ain’t no way to treat a man,” squinting his mean face up into the sun at his boy standing over him where he had been squashing ants on the sidewalk with a stick, reaching his arm up for him, “Come here, boy. Help your old man up. Come here, boy,” his arm fading to the sidewalk, then his eyes drying up, then his lips drying up. The boy never moved. The man a chalk mark on the sidewalk the next day when the rain came. When his mother cried he had told her to shut up.
The police had gone through it all. The quiet one even ripped the inner soles out of his sneakers and threw the gutted remains back into the closet, and then they left looking disgusted and having said the same, old things. “You heading for a heap of trouble now, son. We know what you up to. You better get wise before you die out there.”
EJ’s mother is leaning in his doorway in her old bathrobe. “Where your cousin?” she asks him.
His cousin, Marky, right at that moment, is walking down the street. There was rain, and the streets shine under the street lights, but it is still hot, South Carolina hot, mist rising from the pavement. Marky has a hitch in his walk that he is cultivating. Someday he’s going to be just like his older cousin- that’s what he hopes. Ej is cool, nothing much bothers him. Plus, he’s got morals- loves his mama, respects women, does pretty good in school. Morals are important.
That’s what EJ’s always harping at Marky about: that’s what is wrong with all these assholes out here who think they’re so cool. They ain’t nothing cause they got no compunction. Marky accepts this without thinking. He doesn’t think about much. He is failing school, but then he’s been failing school all his life and they keep passing him, so it doesn’t much matter.
Marky has his friend with him. Little Joe. Joe and Marky are thirteen but Joe is about six foot tall, and Marky figures he’s going to be a huge mother fucker. He likes having Little Joe with him, even though he can’t play basketball for shit. He’s too slow. That’s where they think they’re going. The courts always got something going on even at one in the morning. He especially likes to play then. The lights at the court are weak. Everyone has a shadow that dances across the backs of everyone else, and beyond that there is just the black night. The street lights around are all busted. Marky makes sure they stay that way. He flings rocks at them. The dark world beyond the lighted court makes it like playing on the moon, and sometimes he feels like he loses gravity and flies across the court and up toward the glare of light and the basket. Then he has escaped.
There are little bits of wet trash in the gutters. When they enter the park they see an old bum sleeping on a bench. “Hey,” says Marky, “look here.” He walks to the bum and looks down at him. “What a piece of shit,” he says. He scoops up some wet trash and leaves from the ground and rains it down on the old man, but the old guy doesn’t move. This isn’t satisfactory, so Marky goes over to the garbage can overflowing its wire cage and yanks the lid off its wire tether. It takes a couple of good yanks and Little Joe helps. Then Marky scoops the lid into a dank puddle and comes up with rain and mud, and the rain and mud rain down on the old man. “Keep you cool man,” says Marky. The mud runs across the grizzly face and under the stinking collar of the filthy striped shirt but there isn’t any movement still. “Shit,” says Marky. “He dead.” and Marky takes some firecrackers out of his pocket. He always carries them because he likes to catch cats and stick firecrackers in their mouths and ears and asses. Usually he does that and throws the cat off a building so the explosion will happen in the air. Over people’s heads is best. “Shit, watch this fucker,” he says and he slips two of the noisemakers off their string and lights them, then he grins at his oafish friend and sticks the firecrackers in the man’s ears. He stands right over him looking down at his smelly face, watching. The firecrackers explode and so does the man. He surges off the bench and a thick gurgling scream rises from him, then he runs, shuffling and hopping in his lopsided too big shoes and holding his ears.
Little Joe starts to laugh. He sits down on the bench and his fat belly spits out a huh, huh, huh panting laugh. Marky stands with his hands straight down in the pockets of his pants, bustin’ the slack, looking at Joe. Something inside him stings a little. “It ain’t that funny,” he says, but Little Joe is falling out. Marky turns and looks up at the brothers playing in the fishbowl. He can see them flying away from their shadows. He doesn’t feel like playing anymore.
EJ got the shadow of his sorry father hanging on his back. He got the shadow of every black man. It’s those cops fault. He can’t even see himself in his own mirror. He don’t look like nothing. Thought he had the right to make himself something else. He’s looking himself in the eye and it looks like he was wrong. He brushes his hair and he walks out. Doesn’t say a word to his ma. She is in the kitchen just standing there hypnotized by the hissing of the kettle. That’s the way she was. Sometimes she gets in your face, sometimes she turns to stone.
The street looks evil. Even his own house is just a tiny, hollowed out concrete block tossed out to bake in the heat. It’s fucking sad.
“EJ, yo, what up man,” calls some raggedy headed kid from across the street, kid standing with his fingers laced in the elementary school fence.
“Why don’t you learn to speak English? ” yells EJ. “You got some ignorant mouth.”
“My bad,” the kid answers. There are other kids in there with him. They look like a bunch of convicts in the prison yard. “Get the fuck home,” he yells. “What the fuck you doing out after dark?”
“Fuck you,” the kid yells and laughs, all pleased with himself. “Just watch. When Tyrone get to that High School, I gon’ be stylin’ like EJ.”
“You be dead before that,” EJ says, but his voice falls flat on its face in the dark.
The brothers are behind the Soul Palace doing nothing. Doing nothing at all, all the time. A street light glares across the bright blue front. The cars rotting in the back are covered with leaning bodies. He’d like to go over there and tell them they were all born dead men. Stand him on top of one of the cars and preach. Black man got no future. White man a monkey on their backs. Black man got no future. He’d like to take a bat and crunch all their bones to rice. Their cigarettes glow up and down in the dark, and the little bit of blue neon from a window beer ad glints on the bottles as they make their slow go round.
There is Godfrey, bouncing at his elbow, up out of the dark from around those cars. “My man. I just about be looking for you.” He was a nervous little mother-fucker. Nobody could mind half the shit he said. He ranted so much it fogged up your hearing. He was like someone’s retarded little brother hanging around the pool hall waiting for someone to hate him enough to beat the shit out of him. Only the little retard always managed to keep the games going. EJ wouldn’t let kids deal the streets for him. He had a couple of Godfrey’s who did it. But now Godfrey had a killer connection and EJ was using that.
Now he had his arm sloppily around EJ’s neck. “You gotta come hang with me, man. We gots to take us a ride. We gonna pick up some of the best shit you ever tasted. You gon’ be able to stomp this shit, man.” He jabbed his skinny finger into EJ’s chest. “You gon’ be rich. I gon’ be rich. I deserves to be rich so I can spend it before the world end in 1999. You ever hear ’bout that shit, man? That shit is serious.” EJ shrugs his arm off. “You ever hear about that shit, man? That shit is serious. Ain’t none of that Nostradamus or Revelations. None of that shit. It the Chinese.”
“What the fuck you want?” EJ asks him.
“Woo, ain’t we testy. Ain’t we just steaming in our own puddle. What you need is something to take your mind off your troubles. You needs you a parrot. I had me a parrot one time.”
“What you want.”
“I said make you rich. Tomorrow night. Same place, man. Why change around when you got a good thang to count on. You know what I’m saying.”
“Get me at nine.”
Godfrey was talking at someone else, already sucked back into the shadows before EJ had gone two steps.
EJ walks on blindly. He’s practically already at the strip before he realizes that’s where his feet are headed. All the money is down there, bunch of restaurants and bars where tourists and rich whites hang out. His funk hangs on his face like hate. Even if it didn’t they’d be clutching each other like they are, keeping an eye on him and stepping off the sidewalk, cutting a wide circle like they would to walk around a snake. He cuts a path through the crowd just by being. When he was a kid some of his friends and him used to jump out from behind bushes and listen to the squeals. Those folks would walk backward in terror, their hands held in front of them warding off a bunch of twelve year old pranksters. A few times they even fumbled out their wallets, throwing them and running. Once someone begged them not to kill him. They all thought it was proof of the omnipotent power they were practicing. It wasn’t anything but the color of their skins. One time one of their victims pulled a gun and held it on them and said, “Come on nigger.” They didn’t do it anymore after that.
He makes it to the river, down to the black up under the bridge. Black on black, ain’t nobody gonna see him down there. There isn’t any way to see the other side. Not in the dark. Makes it like he can see out into forever. He strains his eyes after it. He really wants to jump. He wants to wash up somewhere else, but he wants to wash up alive, and he can’t swim. He is staring so hard he sees things out there creeping close to him and slipping away as if it were all out to catch him and keep him prisoner. The dark comes right up in his face to stare him down. Some day he always thought he was going to walk away and be someone else. A college man, a lawn man. Everyone but him probably knew better than that. He never could really see it anyway. All he ever could see was what was all around him and he became it. So now he was shit – a dope dealer who wouldn’t sell to no kids or pregnant woman. How is that for shit? The dark, it don’t listen to none of his explanations.
The next day is Wednesday. Wednesdays EJ’s mother goes to church, so Wednesdays EJ plays Pied Piper. When he leaves his highschool, kids are waiting for him. They toss their cigarettes into the street, and crowd around him. He reaches out and pushes their tight heads. They follow him to his house, play his Gameboy, listen to his music, have something decent to do for a change. Then they play football. First thing they got to do once they get to the elementary school across from his house is to pick up all the trash. Every one of them got so much jive in their walk that they look like puppets jerking around peeling candy wrappers, potato chip bags, and condoms off the bottom of the fence and out of the puddles under the swings.
Those kids, they look in the mirror they see a great big future grinning back at them. EJ remembers. But that future going to come right out of the mirror and suck them up to nothing – ones that live that long.
EJ sees two brothers he kind of knows hop the fence and start across the yard. They both wear baggy jeans and they have crue colors hanging from their back pockets. They both slink like gangsters. They wave at him.
“What up, EJ!” EJ nods. “What you got these kids doing man?” “You get paid for being a Cub Scout leader?” They laugh. “No man. I respect that man. You good. I mean it.” They laugh more. They keep on walking across the hot sand yard and right up on some kid- kid been coming for a few weeks now, followed EJ around last week. Wanted to talk about rap all the time. Called all the girls in his fifth grade class ho’s and bitches.
The two gang members shove the kid off his feet. The kid gets up and shoves them both back, one hand on each. The world has gone bad on EJ. He could get his gun, but it’s clear across town. Wouldn’t do that anyway anymore; gave him a real bad feeling. He could try to chill the situation. ‘Hey brother, you need to give the little man a chance. Whatever he done, he do whatever it takes to make it right. Ain’t that right little brother? Whatever your name is.’ He’d just be in the middle of it. Some kid getting killed and there he’d be standing right there in the middle of it holding his hands out like some Bermuda fucking traffic cop in them shorts, Cub Scout. What he going to do? ‘Go on, man, this ain’t your corner; this my corner.’ Yeah, he could do that. ‘Go on, you messing with my turf now, and round here we love each other.’ He could just picture that worthless shit. One of them grabs the kid. He can’t hear anything but the clenching rumble of their threats. All the other kids come stand around EJ. Them kids all hiding behind EJ because they’re safe there. They think of him same as those guys who are spoiling that kid. They think they’re safe because they’re with one of the bad guys.
The one holding the kid lets go and takes a step back. As soon as the kid’s feet hit the ground the other one takes a swing at him. The kid spins around on his feet and drops to his knees, holding his face where blood is gushing through his jerking fingers. The other one slams his heel into the kid’s back a couple of times. The kid wrenches around on his knees, still holding his face. He screams something up at them, his voice stuffed full. They laugh down at him.
One of the gang members picks the kid up from behind by the elbows, and the other punches his stomach five or six times- full cocked-back man punches. The kid folds around the fist over and over. He screams, his voice stringing across the distance like the hollow screeching whine of train brakes. And then the kid starts to vomit. The puke rolling from him in two great heaves onto his own thighs and the shoes of one of his attackers. They let him go, jumping back, but then start punching his head over so far it looks like it is hanging by a string.
The kid is on the ground hunched over like he’ll never get up. They walk away. One hitches up his pants. The other pretends like he’s checking his knuckles as they pace back across the lot. “See ya, bro,” to EJ.
The kids all run to the downed one. The kid is lying on his side, his hands on his stomach clutching up his shirt over and over. His face was bleeding bad and some blood was coming out of his mouth and the one ear. “Fuck,” the kids are saying.
“They wouldn’t do that shit to me.”
“You ain’t fighting no whole crue you fucking weenie head.”
“I do whatever the fuck I want.”
“I get me a gun and kill them.”
“Shit, I’d blow away they mother. Right EJ?”
EJ left already.
When Marky leaves his school it’s with Vanessa because she has on some red jeans that wrap around her butt and that is seriously having an effect on his thinking. He never fucked a girl before but he sure got imagination and need. “Come over my house,” she said to Marky. “You EJ’s cousin. You be cool to it.” He knows what she’s talking about; he knows she uses. EJ always says only really stupid people used the shit he sold. EJ gets right up in Marky’s face every chance he can get, his face so serious balled up with the pressure of what he is trying to say that it looks like his eyeballs are going to bust out. “I ever hear about you touching that shit, you’ll have one whooped down ass.” Then Marky asked EJ if he ever tasted the shit and EJ said all he needed to know was that it was stupid and he wasn’t stupid. EJ wasn’t everywhere anyway. EJ would never know what ticket he used to get some wet coochie out of those red jeans. There were lots of problems with Marky’s plan, though. Lots of problems. Like he is walking along behind that red butt and sweating. The sun is burning down on him like its pointing its finger just at him, because the day just isn’t hot enough for all the sweat he’s producing. And Vanessa, she got tits that point out from her like speed bumps. He ready to take her for a drive every time he sees her. Walking like that is not comfortable. They’re walking on the road because this old town has no sidewalks. The weedy yards just trail on down to the road. And they’re walking down the middle of that sweating road toward his old neighborhood. Nothing but about ten houses and a store area got a little grocery that’s so dirty and dark inside you can’t read what it says on the grimy cans. That man in there is so mean to kids that Marky stole a whole carton of cigarettes from him once when he was about seven, then stood right in front of his store and sold them pack by pack. It makes him remember his Mama, when he remembers that neighborhood, remembers her laying on her bed with a man tucked up between her legs and an old cooked-up spoon and a lighter on the bedtable yelling at Marky to get her a cigarette when there ain’t one in the house and she knows it. It wasn’t only smokes she sent him out to beg. Usually, though, she was on that corner right by the store with her back against that wall, leaning. All the men know her. Some want it, and some spit at the sidewalk right in front of her like they couldn’t hold it another minute til they get past. He hasn’t been around here for a couple of years.
“Come on,” says Vanessa. “You shuffling like you got a load in your pants.” She walks backward, watching him walking. She looks at him out of the top of her eyes. Her feet chop down behind her like the ground is supposed to be farther away. “Come on,” she says. She grabs both Marky’s hands, and jerks him along with her. Her tits float around in her shirt like little animals stuck in there trying real hard to hang on. He can feel the sweat sliding down his sides. Then she pulls his hands to her hips and holds them there, pulling him along. Their knees bump. Marky sticks his fingers into her beltloops and he pulls her hard right into him, now he’s walking her backward. “Shit,” she says and shoves him off. “You nasty.” Then she laughs and turns around, walking fast.
She turns down the alley right before they get to the store. Looks like that store hasn’t been open for about 50 years. Looks like its full of old broken TVs and radios. Ain’t no one gonna bother to spit there anymore.
This alley runs along behind the houses. It’s nothing but a dirt track, some mud holes and a grassy hump. Vanessa just plows on ahead of Marky. She walks up to an old leaning garage and Marky sees someone leaning against it. Vanessa walks right up to this guy. This the guy she coming to see. She says, “Give me two bottles.” But the guy isn’t looking at her, he’s looking at Marky then he’s out of the garage and out into the bright afternoon light. He flings his arm around Marky’s neck dragging him over sideways with the weight. “Yo, Marky,” Godfrey says, “brother come all this way to find me must have him a job he doing, cause you ain’t never visited me before. You holding something for me? About time that cousin of yours got smart, start using his kin to do the business. Now that’s smart business. Sure as the sun come up every day on this same stinking world, family business a good thing. You can tell EJ I done said that. I said it to him before, but ain’t til now he ever listen.” The scars on Godfrey’s face make it look chewed up. He is sticking his head so close to Marky’s that’s all Marky can see. “Can’t trust no one like you can trust you family. Ain’t that right? And when you got you some family, you got safety. That’s what I say. Cause family, they stick tight. Now, I ain’t got me no family, don’t even remember my mama, and that’s a serious disadvantage. You know what I’m saying?”
“Come on,” says Vanessa. She is standing half in the shade of the garage, half in the sun. Godfrey loosens his head squeeze on Marky just enough so he can see there is an old couch way back in the garage. He can see the sidewalk going from the garage up to its old house with its puke green shingles.
“Well, well, well, who this pretty, little thing you brought with you?” says Godfrey. “This a friend of yours, brother? You bring her here without you telling her we don’t do business with no little girls. Not even if they special friends. You know what I mean? Real close friends. That what EJ say, and he still mainly the boss. The big boss.”
“What you talking about?” Vanessa asked him. “You always be selling to me. You know I ain’t but thirteen.”
Godfrey takes his arm off Marky and starts toward Vanessa, backing her into the shadows. “Now, you listen real good to Uncle Godfrey. You shouldn’t be coming around here, girl, or no place like it. You start hanging around here and you get yourself in trouble. That a fact.” He keeps looking back at Marky, making sure Marky can hear real good.
“What the fuck you talking like that for?” asks Vanessa. She squints past Godfrey at Marky like he’s the police. Marky knows now he don’t have to worry about facing EJ after he done run up Vanessa. He don’t have to worry about going deeper in this neighborhood and maybe seeing his ma. He wipes the sweat from his forehead and pulls his stuck shirt away from his chest, fanning himself, takes one last look for today at the fine bulbs of those tits and that place where the red jeans cut up a crease between her legs.
EJ wakes up at 9:30 because Marky is standing in the doorway yelling at him. EJ has been sleeping since he left the playground. Marky stands there and watches EJ painfully pull his sleepy head up. That’s about all the time he’ll give him before he starts in with this usual whine. Can he go and he won’t get out of the car and just for the ride. Marky never did listen very well. EJ was always telling him but Marky still seemed to think there was something glamorous about it all. Now he didn’t know why he thought it would matter. “Come on if you want,” EJ tells him. So Marky scoots out of the house behind him in such excitement he slams the door so hard it bounces and he has to go back and shut it right. Then he squeezes in behind the seat where Godfrey is already sitting with his wrists draped over the wheel, his face fried looking around the two long scars he’s got where it looks like someone sliced him with a knife in both hands. “Fly wheels,” says Marky.
Godfrey’s laughs his donkey laugh as he starts the car and pulls out, heading for highway 21. “Yeah,” says Godfrey, “easy as licking a whore. Sittin’ in the fuckin’ dark. Not a soul around. Ain’t nowhere for nobody to go to round there anyway. It was down in that neighborhood your mama live in, Marky. You ain’t been down there in a long time. Now is you?” Godfrey looking at Marky in the rear view and scratching himself like he’s nervous. EJ can’t see Marky’s face. Marky doesn’t like to be reminded about any of that, about his ma, and no wonder. “Wouldn’t be down there myself except for business,” says Godfrey. “Sure ain’t no place to park no car.”
EJ isn’t too sure he can stand Godfrey’s blabbering all the way. It’s grating him worse than usual. The air sliding past his open window reminds him of something coming unzipped like the sky is going to split open and show him something besides its dull black self. He wants to just pay attention to that and nothing else ever again. He stares flat out the window. “One time, ” Godfrey is saying, “I lifted me this real nice car, real nice, sweet as my wife’s titty in the morning.”
“You have a wife?” Marky asks, bouncing on the seat like he’s some little kid.
“She dead or something,” says Godfrey.
“Just shut the fuck up for once in your fucking useless life,” EJ mumbles.
Godfrey falls quiet for about two seconds, and Marky stops bouncing for maybe three. “So anyways, I get the fuckin’ thing started.”
EJ stares at the scrubby pine slinging past- the dark against the lighter dark of the moonlit sky. He stares without moving his eyes so it all turns into blur like on a carnival ride. His life nothing but a rinky dinky carnival ride about to fly off the tracks. Godfrey goes on and on about fuckin’ this and fuckin’ that and tits and cars and the Chinese until they turn into the yard of the house squatting right on the highway like a boil- same rusty junk cars in front, same kids playing on the sagging porch. Their mother comes to the door in stretchy black pants and the usual mean look like she done learned not to take any shit from anything. Toaster don’t work she’d probably stab it. “Get on in the house,” she yells at the kids. She looks out at them with the sound of the car doors opening. Her eyes catch at EJ’s. They look as blank as cement on a sunny day. She yells back over her shoulder into the house, “Romaine, you got some company out here.”
Marky pulls the handle to make the seat go forward. He wants to go in that house. He really wants to see what’s going to go down in there. He has a lot of scenarios in his head, but none fit this dump of a shack. He was thinking more like a five hundred dollar a night hotel room, maybe a bitch in the jacuzzi in the corner pretending like she don’t hear what they’re saying.
“You ain’t getting out,” says EJ.
Nothing he can do but just watch them disappear into the house. It was uncool him sitting out here in the yard, sitting in the car like he’s too young or maybe untrustworthy to go in. It made him burn with anger. He yanks back and forth on the front seat but its movement is too small to satisfy. He watches the kids get yelled at some more by their mean looking mama. She comes out and smacks both kids on the head real hard. “You hear me calling You. Who you think you is? You best get your ass in that house when I call you.” She swats at one of them as they dodge for the house. Marky wished the kid’d shoot her the finger at least, stand there and maybe pull his little, bitty dick out and wave it at her. Kid reminded him of himself. The kid does kind of make like he’s going to hook the screen against her, but he doesn’t. Then his mama pulls the screen so hard it slams back against the house and sticks there for awhile. Bad day for doors.
Neither EJ nor Godfrey holds anything when they come out, but when they get in the car EJ slips a little, brown lunch sack out of his pants and slides it under the seat. Godfrey starts laughing, just giggling to himself as he starts the car, adjusts the mirror.
Marky wants to at least ask some things, but EJ has an evil look on his face like he saw something in there made him feel ill. EJ been looking kind of ill all day, so Marky’s trying to keep his mouth shut. He slaps a rhythm on the back of the seat as he bounces up and down. He wanted to make some money, have anything he wanted. He didn’t understand why EJ didn’t have him a car like this one. Didn’t understand what EJ had to sit there and look sour gone bad for. If he was EJ, made his money, he’d have three cars, give them away on the street to some fine chick. First one would speak to him who had one of them butts like a little shelf, he give her a car. “How fast this car go?” he asks.
“Shit,” says Godfrey, “This car can fly. This car take you wherever you goin’ without touching down. Shit.” He floors it and keeps it floored. Marky gets thrown back. The car accelerates smoothly and steadily on and on. The trees start slipping by so fast the moon is just a blue beating between them. Marky is scared shitless, but he isn’t about to say anything to Godfrey. Godfrey’d just keep going faster. Godfrey would love to think there was somebody on this Earth, even better, in the car with him, that he could scare. Marky could feel the thrust of the exhaust under his feet trying hard to leave the car. He wished EJ would say something. Usually EJ was the boss of wherever he was, acted like he was the boss of everyone, so how come he was just sitting there? The tires scream along the pavement trying to keep hold. EJ just staring out the window again like he was some fucking priest, like he was used to this. “Fuck,” was all Marky could think after the first minute or two. “Fuck. Fuck.”
Marky’s stomach jumps. They’ve launched into the air way out beyond where they should be. Road gone behind them somewhere, useless. This some ride for about a second. Something slams into him from the side. It yanks his whole body, jerks his head like it’s going to snap off. The sound is terrible. Marky never heard anything so loud. That’s all he thinks. He hears it like its crushing his head, like a fucking skyscraper was falling down. He is yanked back the other way when they slam something else, another tree. His shoulder hits up against the door. He thinks maybe the door will open and fling him out, maybe his shoulder is broken. He puts his hands out trying to hold something, but they float in slow motion. Things are flying around inside the car, pieces of the car, pieces of trees. Things slow down. He can actually see the pine trees blur past, thinks he can see their bunched needles like silver blades aiming down at him. They are tipping, things are falling on him, the air grinds with the creasing and folding of metal as the car goes over on its side, skiding, crushing the ground, slamming into something else. Then there is silence like the world stopped breathing.
Marky finds himself sitting on the ground where the window would have been. The car is lying on its side, curled up. He feels like he’s lost some time- he asked Godrey how fast was this car, then, like that, they are just sitting here in the woods. Hasn’t been any time. He can’t see anything. He can hear someone shuffling up along the front seats. Must be Godfrey, must have fallen on top of EJ and trying to push himself off, but there isn’t anywhere for him to go, not like he can just hop his ass over in his own seat. His seat is stuck up in the air. EJ grunting and panting like he stuck in a nightmare. Marky thinks he is working himself up to scream. EJ’s scream would be a terrible thing. “Get the fuck off him.”
“What you think I’m trying to do?”
“You hurting him.” Marky can begin to see the black blot of Godfrey crouching only inches from him on the other side of the seat.
“I think I the one bleeding here. I think I got me a cut on my head. Damn. My favorite shirt. Damn.”
“You don’t get the fuck off him you going to have some real blood to worry about.”
“You a real fucking comedian, man.”
EJ makes a sound. That scream starting to come up.
“Get the fuck off him. Get the fuck out.”
Godfrey plants his feet, and EJ’s new groan chokes in his throat, breaks itself, and dies. “Sorry, man,” says Godfrey. then he reaches, gets hold of the window frame and pulls himself up and out, his feet scrabbling at the front window and the seats trying to find a push. Marky hears him fall from the top of the upturned door to the ground with a grunt like he landed flat on his back.
“I hope that asshole don’t get a breath for a month. Come on, EJ,” Marky says, “let’s get out of here,” and he reaches over the seat to where EJ is still hunched against the ground. EJ isn’t answering. Marky shoves at him a couple of times, seems like he got his arms around himself, seems like he’s holding himself, that fucking asshole Godfrey. EJ won’t answer, no grunts, no moving, sure as hell no talking. Nothing. “Come on, EJ. Come on, EJ. Come on, EJ,” like he’s trying to wake him for school until he realizes he’s not making any sense. EJ must be out. Must have hit his head or something. “We got to get EJ,” he yells up into the dark. It’s going to be hard to lift him. His cousin is a lot bigger than him.
“What you talkin’ about, man. I’m dying out here.”
“He hurt,” Marky yells. “He hurt.” EJ just a black hump, he doesn’t feel anything coming off him. Not like he’s not there. He’s there. He’s there like the weight of nothing. Marky feels like he is swimming up through the air, but he just sits there, quiet closed around him black as his insides. He doesn’t even live that minute, doesn’t exist. It’s like a long time, long time of nothing.
“Shit,” says Godfrey. “Get the package first.”
The dark snaps to around Marky again, but he’s running on automatic. He reaches over his own legs and under the end of the front seat. “Come on, man,” Godfrey begs. “Hurry up. We got to get that junk out of here before the cops show up. We got to go.” Godfrey is sounding like he’s dancing out there, about to piss his pants. “Come on. Your mama faster than you.”
The package isn’t there. Marky has to get onto his knees and feel all around up under the seat, his hands scraping past springs and metal bars, in and out, until he finds where it is jammed. When he pulls it out he hears a rip. “I got it,” he says into the air.
“Throw it here, man,” he hears from outside. He throws it up. He couldn’t get any power in the cramped space, his elbows knock against the seat beside him, but it sailed on up, out past the window. A fine sifting rained down on him.
“I’m out a here,” he heard.
“Got to get EJ out,” Marky yells, “Come on, we got to get EJ, panic ripping him. He tries to get his legs under him, they are rubber, they are nothing, they are needles.
“Naw, man,” we got to get out of here. We gon’ be charged with possession and stolen vehicle. We got to get out of here.”
Marky reaches over and pulls on EJ’s arm from the squat he has managed, but the arm weighs a million pounds, it’s muscles bunched under the skin like lead. He can see the outline of EJ’s head curled up on itself. He can hear his own panting in the dark like some animal close by, waiting, waiting.
“Come on, my man.” Godfrey was saying. ” I ain’t waiting for your ass. The police be here. They get him. They be here any minute.”
“We can’t leave him,” Marky says. “We can’t fucking leave him. We ain’t fucking leaving him. He my cousin.” That’s what he says, but he feels that animal down there with them, crawling on its belly. He feels the hair on his back go up. He’s looking at EJ, trying to really see him, but his face is gone in the dark. He wants to see his eyes like they shine. Ain’t no eyes to see and he knows it. He gets hold of the window frame, pushes himself off the ground and catches it under his belly, teeters there. It sounds under him like something has sprung. The air down there sucking in around him, pulling on him, letting him go. He can go. He pulls himself up so he is sitting on the door that’s flat to the moon. He’s got his ass out now. He is tired. The dark pulls.
“What you gon do for him? ” Godfrey been talking all this time? “You his doctor? Since when you his fucking doctor. The police get him. There ain’t no sense in no three niggers going to jail.”
“I ain’t leaving him,” says Marky, but he pulls one leg free, then, slowly, the other. He is let go. He is out of it. He jumps down to where Godfrey is standing clutching the brown package like a baby.
“You a fool, man. He leave you. He ain’t stupid. Ambulance come a lot faster than you trying to pull him out, man. You hurt him, you try to pull him out.” Godfrey turns into the dark, walking away.
There is the car behind Marky, the roof shining like skin where ever the moon can find it. It’s got a weight heavier than a boulder. “This car dead,” he says, and he can hear Godfrey, not too far away yet. “Fucking good thing it was free.”
“Nothing is free,” thinks Marky. EJ told him that. “Don’t matter what job you got, nothing is free. It all work. Some work just pay better. But then you had to pay the work.” He can see EJ’s face in front of him like its broad daylight, like it was the day he actually said it. “Go on,” EJ says, and shoves at Marky’s head. “Go on. Get out of here. You ain’t going with me. You don’t need this shit. You going to college or something. Go play some ball.” And Marky turns away. Pissed off. Pissed at EJ. What EJ want? Like there was going to be something else for him. He’s like his cousin. That’s the truth. Pissed off. Son of a bitch, always leaving him. He can feel EJ far away in the dead quiet. “Fuck you,” he says to EJ, then adds, “They be here to get you in a minute.”
Godfrey was way off. He was just a dark head deep in the scar the car made.