Summer Sun

The morning held a bright blue glow, filling the room with light coming in from all directions, the shades pulled high. The boy’s eyes heavy but his body nimble, the warmth of the sun tickling his skin, and excitement building in him. This was it, the morning they’d been waiting for for months, through growth in body and soul, through the trials of adolescence.

The first day of summer. He felt it, all of last night he felt it, the end had finally come. School had let out and there was the little party at the Murphy’s home, celebrating the kids but moreso celebrating the parents, they got the kids through another year, now they deserved a drink and some time together. To reminisce over the challenges of the year, the school plays and the carpools, the stomach aches and the calls at work, the trips to practice and away games, the laundry, all of it. On this night they shared those moments, gave their long forgotten memories form and then let them float away into the giant pool of parenting memories.

The warm floors pressed against the bottom of his feet, a lightness to it, a gentle skip from side to side, his siblings rumbling too, their collective pattering filling the air with a gentle hum that had become so common, a requirement to the morning, a signal to the world that the Landry’s were taking shape in it, occupying the space that belonged to them.

He went downstairs and scanned the living room from side to side, to the spots each member laid claim to with their possession, he saw the couch where his mom watched tv from, with it’s research papers next to the small table, folder after folder of studies from from this experiment and that. He saw couch he shared with his sisters, the pillows sunken and deformed, from the wrestling, from the propping up to get a better view. To separate their bodies from each other as they tried to stretch out during a movie. The underused coasters strewn across the table, the dark water stains along the wood grain, the old red patch from the christmas wine incident. He loved this room, it was a placed that filled and expanded with laughter dependent on the situation, it carried with it the memories of their years, every spot had collected a story, or a few that blended together into the warm glow of collected history. The story of his family was here. Not in the photos on the wall, not in the buddhist statues, the plants strewn about, but in the air, intangible but there. Smaller in space as they’ve grown but just as important, the spot for the christmas tree, the place where the exercise bike had lived that one summer.

He walked further, walked into the kitchen, into the den where decision and action met. Where his mom waited up for them every morning, no longer fighting them as they slowly worked themselves awake. This was her summer too, she’d found a way to get to work later in the day, and so in the mornings she waited up for them. The days news flowing to her old tablet she won at the work holiday party.

The ugly sweater contest that erupted when she came in with the set her daughter had sewn for her in home-ec class. The pasty purples and reds that she thought best reflected her mothers favorite colors, shaded and woven with intricatately crooked patterns, a technique her daughter had called double stitching. And the giant reinder patches she had acquired from god knows where. She couldn’t imagine that there was a stores that would sell patches like this. To what end, to torture parents with their childrens creations, to bring out that practiced but instinctual smile that all mothers had, that came in the mothering manual.

The way to make sense of your childs limited abilities in the mishmash of activities school forced upon them. “These are the gifts I’ve given my children, they’re using them to the best of their abilities and if the world wont be that kind to them for it at least can.” So she wore that god awful sweater to the office and smiled and told the story and watched the smile grow and spread to the other parents who recalld a story of their own. All the parents whose kids see their purpose in the world as returning their parents love with crayon drawings of mishapen geometry and cardboard glued tributes to art and science. The napkin holder from woodshop that stuck to and stained all the napkins. Placed in the center table for as long as the mother could stand to apologize for it. For as long as the other siblings could stand to remain civil in their derision of it, until it caused more fights than it was worth, and then the mothers touch to gently explain to the child why it would be better to store it and save it for summer picnics. Bring it out when they needed it in the benches, and put in a place where it can’t be seen by her guilt.

The kitchen full of these trinkets, placed in strategic places, spread out so that no one kid could take the grunt of their siblings ridicule at one time. Hung on fridge magnets, in cabinets, Christmas plates hidden at the bottom of the drawer.

Diamonds Dancing

We caught him staring up at the sun sir, 3 hours now, he was just standing there

Tell us what you saw up there son.

A diamond and a grasshopper, the grasshopper was carrying the diamond on its back and going from one dark spot to the next. When it got there it would hop on its back, rub itself against the surface and then turn over and move to the next one.

The man walked over to the side of he sergeant and whispered. 

Does that make any sense to you captain?

Hell naw, but you know what they say about the kid, predicted the last monsoon a week out, started telling everyone about the hat wearing turtles being carried away by the giant dragon flies out over the lake.

So what you’re saying son, is that the grasshopper was grinding the diamond into the dirt in the middle of these dark spots? What did the diamond look like when he turned back around.

The same. Only a little bigger, the bigger it got the harder it was for him to carry.

And what happened when it got too big? 

The grasshopper would put it down, and start doing a little dance around it.  He stood up on his two front legs and moved back and forth between the edges of the diamond, sometimes hoping over it, sometimes bumping it with his shoulder. The more he danced and bumped the more the diamond started to shake, and when it seemed like the diamond couldn’t shake any faster it broke up into a thousand little pieces and floated up into the sky.

And what did it do in the sky.

They would start to join in the dance, only a few at first and then more and more. And they started to slowly circle in around the grasshopper, and when they had him covered up they all fell to the ground at once, and the grasshopper was crushed underneath them.

And why did the diamonds do that son?

Because the grasshopper had started dancing.

And why did the grasshopper start dancing?

It was the only way to get them diamonds to split up.

Did he know what would happen to him when he finished?

Probably.

So why did he do it?

Because all his friends were watching, and it was his turn.

But it was no good for him.

Grasshoppers don’t think like that. They have a special bond with one another, it’s only bad if the whole group thinks its bad, breaking up the diamond, this was the best thing they knew.

So then what happened?

The diamonds floated away and the flames licked at them a little and they turned into dust. And the dust blew over to grasshopper island and they bathed in it until it was all gone.

And then the collecting would start again?

Yup.

And what does all this mean son?

That it only takes one grasshopper to make things better for all his friends.

Okay son, you can go back outside now.

Thank you sir.

Made in America p1

He walked up Crenshaw and Monroe, his shoes bright and glistening, past the other business suits and young professionals, orderly and motivated, walking with purpose but at peace. Their lot in life was a promised fulfilled and he envied that. The feeling of comfort that came out of believing that you were deservant of all of the good the world had to offer. Early on he tried to mimic that feeling, that confident stride with your head lifted and gaze soft on the horizon. As if you were envisioning that future version of yourself and every step you took you were making noticeable gains towards becoming that person. That happy, successful and fulfilled version of yourself. When he looked out at the horizon he would never arrive on one version of himself, there multiple visions and at times they would blend together, success mixed with illness and loneliness, comfort without purpose, and always a deep shame of what he had given up to get there. His life, all the good in it as far as he could see was built on a series of fortunate events. Fortune that never happened to people like, people that came from where he came from, and so he knew in his heart that at any moment his luck would leave him and he’d have to fall back into that place. That place where his family and friends had stayed, that place where you wouldn’t dare look towards the future because the present weighed so heavily on you, because life demanded all your attention now and you were forever at it’s mercy.

He walked past Low Street and through Main, up past the finance sector with its high rises and parking garages. Sports cars and luxury vehicles neatly tucked away in underground fortresses while the money and prestige that afforded them swirled in and out of computer screens and servers above. Up through the seaport where the people thinned and the streets grew empty. He was always struck by how bright and lonely this part of town was, so much space dedicated to a part time of activity. As if money and people couldn’t co-exist in one space for more than a set number of hours a day, the separation of church and state.

He made it to George street, that line that exists in every city where the new came in contact with the old. Where the character of the city was molded and then left to rust. The line marked by broken bottles and giant graffiti murals splayed along the walls. The smell of urine and old cigarettes filling the air. And then there was the music that filled the air, first coming from the cars whose speakers roared down the street, but when you listened more closely from the people, the sounds of the neighborhood carrying along the long blocs and tall buildings. People sitting on their stoops to escape the heat, telling stories of the day or days past, kids running past one another on the narrow blocs and his body responding to it. His shoulders loosening and his step becoming more fluid, a fluidity to match the unpredictability of the city.

The part of the city he knew best. There was a comfort here that he had a hard time explaining to his friends. Seeing in the people you were around, all the people you grew up with. Not just their faces or their skin color but in the way they carry themself and the customs that they consider essential to everyday life. His worries were different here, there was crime but for whatever reason it all felt less menancing than walking by the armed guards on wall street. His friends had come to visit a few times, always down for a more authentic food experience but it made him uncomfortable to have them nearby. Like disaster was around the corner and he would be held responsible. It wasn’t something he had an easy time explaining to them, the visions he had, always haunting him. The panicked dreams of waking up one day and seeing his mother dragged away like his father had been. Of being alone and at the mercy of child services, of the group home, of the anger of the other abandoned kids.

A black civic screeched by yelling “This is America, don’t catch you slipping up, dont catch you slipping up” and then turning the corner. He always hated Gambino, hated pretension in celebrities, thinking they’re of such a different mold than everyone else. It was his biggest fear to be thrown in that category. To be one of the ones that got out and thought themselves above it now. His mother accused him of living in the old neighborhood out of guilt, to tally some points in the imaginary ledger all people of color are measured against.

She was right that he wanted to be true to his family. To those that cheered him on when he left for college and forced him to show himself when he came back. Dragging him to cookouts and dances, telling exaggerated stories about his new life to his little cousins. Painting him as the model of what life could and would be for them when they were grown up and ready to be on their own. And all the while fighting off the negativity that came with that kind of success. From the neighbors, from the extended family, from those who thought his progress came at their expense. That for him to succeed it would mean solidifying all of their failures. A big reason he made it through college was their support and to leave them now, to do exactly what those neighbors expected of him, use and run, was more than he could bear.

Rise and Shine p2

As the nurses took charge the doctor turned his attention towards Ms. Emily Tille. She was a petite woman. She had veiny hands and tiny wrists, short light brown hair atop a long but deliberate face. Her pregnancy had left her body mostly untouched, a small bump and swollen feet, her sharper features more muted, the edges diminished under her added weight. She was pretty, the doctor had thought it since the day they met, young and pretty and pregnant. She lay with her eyes closed, her neck at a slight bend, pushed against the pillow. “Are you okay Ms. Tille? Do you feel all right?” And she opened her eyes for a second, only to close them in response.

It was about as much as Stevens had expected. For fifteen hours he’d watched this woman teeter on the edges of sanity as her body relentlessly pushed her along its biological apex. Hour by hour the strain of labor had taken away all of the pieces she had accumulated over the past nine months, and it was hard for him to see what was left. It started with her courage, her eyes swelling alongside the pain, her nails digging past their breaking point. And then it went after her determination, every push less successful, her breathing without rhythm. And as her strength waned their words no longer reached her, both doctor and nurse unable to communicate. And soon she would look towards the ceiling for a different set of instructions, and her lips moved soundlessly and her hands began to shake, and they noticed that her chest no longer rose. And in seconds she would gasp for air, choking on it, and the nurses would rush to her side where instead of words they spoke in pictures, of a mother and child, of life in unimaginable bliss. And the mother would look at them, and shake her head, and look back towards the ceiling, and start again, and eventually she had no strength left, and then the screams came.

The doctor was witness to all this. He knew that if it were just this once he might be okay, but more and more he saw these things. He thought of his drive home tonight, long winding roads that would belong only to this child and to these thoughts. To the terror on the mothers face as she watched some invisible narrative between the ceiling lights and her sunken face. And he pictured his wife of twenty years who still woke every time he entered the room, and of her cloudy eyes that saw right away all that he had seen and of her lips that would whisper tiny consolations as she wrapped her arms around his chest…

“Emily… Emily. Here’s your son.” The nurses had finished their preparations and began to walk towards the mother, the older one lightly nudging the doctor to bring him back. There was a visible excitement on their faces. The boy had charmed them just as quickly as he had charmed the doctor, and any concern over the mother and the labor was lost in a sea of cooing noises directed towards the child. They stopped and called again, this time Emily opened her eyes.  The room was smaller than she remembered. It had tiled beige floors and blue walls that curved around the ceilings. There were wooden window shades blotting out all but the edges of the sun. At the foot of her bed was the doctor and to her right the boy.

He wiggled as he was placed in her arms. He was the warmest thing she had ever held, and so she held him closer. She watched as the faces of her three observers widened in earnestness and she rocked the boy and waited, for any of those same feelings to take over.  For a glimpse of what those nurses saw as they whispered by her beside. She put the boy up to her chest, she stared into his face, but she couldn’t see it. The child, tiny and foreign, was completely detached from anything she understood. He belonged to a world that no longer existed, and she wished she could send him back. She pushed the child away and as the doctor took hold she fell onto her side in tears. Stevens walked towards the window, the sun was approaching its highest point and as he tugged on the shade a tiny streak of light cut right across the boys face.

“Emily… It’s okay honey. You’re tired and you need some rest. Your boy will be waiting for you when you’re ready. I can already tell, this is a strong boy and he’ll wait.”

The boy blinked warmly at the world.

Rise and Shine p1

It took Lucas over half a day to come around to the idea of his birth. He had been pushed, pulled, twisted and prodded, all of which he handled admirably, the boy seemingly impervious inside his cervical cocoon. But somewhere around the 15th hour, his mother in desperation began a particularly loud set of cries.

“LUCAS….”
“LUCAS….”
“LUCAS….”
“LUCAS….”

Over and over, followed by a battery of expletives that sent everyone in the room reeling backwards. The nurses moved quickly to calm the mother but Lucas who had never heard screaming at such a frantic pace didn’t know what to do. The noise was unlike anything he had faced, it surrounded him and his entire body shook under its force. The more he kicked, the louder it got, the faster he spun, the louder it got and every new round only grew in intensity. Lucas, who felt he had been more than patient throughout this ordeal was growing fed up with all this commotion. For hours now his home had been vandalized by unknown intruders. They had no respect for his privacy, or his property, and now they’d made it so he would never sleep again. Before the screams he was sure he could come to some sort of understanding with his assailants(they seemed to be losing their nerve), but now, as the minutes passed and the sound grew he realized that he had no options left. If they wanted his home so badly they could have it, for he was more than capable of finding another. He took one final look around, uncurled his fingers, flattened his toes and began his slow descent into the world.

His entrance was greeted by a Dr. Randall Stevens, a giant in all white who promptly spun him, lifted him high into the air and gave him a hard slap on both cheeks. A stern warning meant to discourage any last minute resistance, and the boy gave a wiggle and cry in protest. There was an audible sigh of relief as that cry rang out.  The birth was two weeks late at this point, and as the time passed the mother had become increasingly uncooperative, ignoring all of the doctors commands, even as she was made aware of the danger to the child. Her screams at the end were the most she had said in hours, and as the boy emerged Dr. Stevens wasn’t sure what to expect. He had seen cases before where a mother’s silence signaled a problem with the child, and for those quiet hours this thought kept appearing. But here he was, red and slimy, in perfect health and as he was wiped down the doctor took a closer look. Lucas had silky black hair down to his neck, shiny brown eyes that cast about wildly. Small but not too small, his chubby arms were a light pink and began rolling about his chest. His limbs growing more dexterous by the second. It wasn’t long before he was practically wrestling with the towel and throughout his face was framed by a tiny, unyielding grin. The doctor was impressed, and he made note of this as he handed the boy off. “This is a lively boy you have here Ms. Tille. He took his time but now look at him.”

And Lucas gave a long stretch, seemingly inspired by this newfound responsibility.

Boys of Summer

The bright red clouds soaked with the last of the suns light, mirrored across the falling trees and the neighborhood that held a special glow for a precious few minutes as the boys recapped the days events in smiles and exaggerated reenactment. Passing by other groups doing the same, each drawing from the others excitement. Knowing that adventure didn’t belong solely to them, but that no other groups could compare. The humidity finally breaking as the ocean breeze carried them forward. Reaching the abandoned soccer field where they ended all of their summer nights, each other no more than a shadow in the wide, dimly lit field. Running back and forth, jostling and telling stories, each boy falling into their individual roles.

And it was one of the sweetest pleasures of childhood to have a box that only you fit in. A box that was forever necessary for this thing that you knew to be an absolute good. Lifting their fingers towards the sky to feel the wind against their moist hands. Drawing them in as they plotted the next days adventure. The boys finding that no amount of energy expended was a waste, that it ran continuous and when one of them fell behind the others would gift them energy with their words of encouragement. The whispers turning into screams as their joy caught up with them. The heightened language of childhood and its possibilities.

And the stories slightly awkward for the boys didn’t know how to compliment one another, to relay their admiration for the individuals courage and cunning. So that all of the glory fell back on the days events and its outcome. The actors only mentioned in passing, but all of the boys knew and they relished in their contribution. Bellowing with laughter as their fears and panic were recounted, their twisting torsos barely holding form as they shook and pounded the ground. Falling over themselves to feel as strongly as their bodies would allow.

And sometimes they would lay down on the grass and talk about things bigger than themselves. About the world that was changing all around them, almost as if in response to their own changes. Their dreams growing bigger as they began to understand what their group had come to represent.

‘I’m gonna beat him..’

‘Stop it.’

‘Come on Simon… Let it go’

‘The man with the big hands, I’m gonna beat him once and for all’

‘You can’t beat him, just ignore it. Remember last time.’

‘That was last time, you watch. When I beat him everyones gonna know he’s a fake’

‘It wont do any good, not with a guy like that, everyone knows it but they don’t care. They like him as a fake.’

‘That’s why, they like him because they don’t think there’s any other way. That’s what we have to do.’

And the boys knew that anything said on that grass, especially by Simon would become their collective destiny. That it was his right as their leader and that he had earned it. They could beat him and everyone would be better off for it. The man with the big hands would have to be next.

Penance

 

(M) – The rags cut off at her knees, ankles black like she had been dragged through the woods for miles, red splotches covering her face, and her father? Skinny…worn, sickly in the way exhaustions makes all weakness more severe, his hands almost translucent as he gripped his daughters shoulders, tight. His eyes bloodshot, standing and sitting, and walking around, never in one place for too long. Talking nonsense for minutes at a time then stopping abruptly and staring up to the ceiling and resting there, mouthing back the things he had just said. It was like his mind couldn’t keep track and he had to keep rewinding to a place that was more familiar, but every restart the story expanded, unrelated things being brought together. We had to let him get it all out

(D) – What could we say… The man was so weak, consumed by his choices and resigned to them. There were no words that could right his course. There was no fight left in him. And with Emily sitting right there, as close to our sister in face as a child could be, taking her tiny weathered hands and thumbing away at the sides of her dress, over and over while the three adults stood above and tried to make sense of all of this.

And the way he left that child.. With an inaudible goodbye, hugging her from behind, drooping over her, his back folding in on itself as every bone shone through that sun dyed shirt. Smelling of rain and grass, with remnants of the earth still clinging to his damp clothing. And the child saying nothing, not looking, not feeling, her face frozen in place as the father collected his last memories of her. And for the rest of the day the child would not eat, would not speak, barely moved until she felt her way towards and bed room and fell into the corner, wrapping herself in her arms.

(M) – We stayed up that entire night, pacing around the house, searching every place in our hearts for something to give this child when she woke up in the morning. For some answer to a question she may not know she had but that would one day haunt her, ‘why is some part of me missing, why don’t have all the pieces I’m supposed to have.’

(D) – And how we put off that letter, for hours it rested on the kitchen table. It’s very necessity terrifying. Why couldn’t Margaret come, we asked ourselves over and over, what had that man meant when he said she wasn’t in a position to travel, that she refused to place a call because of the vibrations, that she couldn’t leave the house because it would only make things worse. How many times we lifted it and laid it down, surprised at its weight, guessing at how many pages it would be, at what our sister would write to us after all these years.

(M) – We didn’t say it, we couldn’t, but we knew what was waiting for us in that letter, it was our sentence. The price we would have to pay for the things we failed to do for our sister, for what our parents did to her. For standing idle as the misery of those two pushed her to that place.