Brooklyn got the bright lights of surveillance. No Milky Way sparkle. No romantic cosmos stuff. We could barely see stars.
Tonight, a hovering helicopter chops up the shady silence of Fulton Street. Bug-eyed, with wings like propellers that send small thunderclaps through the air. I wonder who they looking for. Someone on the run? Someone missing?
I wonder if they would look for me. On the ground, me and my girl LaShonda walk home from the grocery store she work at. Tired. Not saying nothing. I’m thinking about my manuscript for my creative writing class. Had a horrible meeting with my professor today. I’m still seeing her blink her eyes when I tell her that I’m gonna write a book for middle schoolers. About growing up someplace in New York that ain’t gentrified. Some place magical. Like the Bronx. Give it illustrations that look like the graffiti of the ‘80s.
“That sounds like some solid character development, Paul,” my professor said. “But, what’s the hook here? These slang terms, these racial issues, these characters won’t resonate with readers who aren’t Black New Yorkers.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“What I’m saying is, that wouldn’t sell.” My professor smiled as she handed me back my paper. “Ah, well. Fair enough. You know what, I think this story will be good for what it is.”
As me and Shonda turn the corner, our Timberland boots crush the light snow, creating a mush of destroyed hope. And our hoodies armor us against November’s chill. Always have.
“I’m so close to getting this Master’s, babe,” I finally say, squeezing Shonda’s hand. “I just gotta wrap up real nice. Then it’s your turn to go to school.”
Under the streetlights tonight, Shonda looks foreign. A glimmer of Victoria’s Secret lipgloss. A white halo of hard snowflakes. And nobody’s getting past that scowl she has protecting her from prying eyes. Not even me. All she gives me is a silent nod.
A gun shot rings out. Neither of us flinch. But the voices of protesters marching down Atlantic Avenue sound like something Ma would watch on the nightly news. With updates about the grand jury decision in Ferguson looping at the bottom of the screen. An aerial shot of a line of police cars.
I imagine the protesters’ palms raised in the air as they shout, “Don’t shoot!” The bloodrushing down from their defiant arms. Their hearts pulsing harder during the discomfort. “On the ground,” as they say. Same thing they say ‘bout Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria.
Another shot ring out. I swallow air. The shot could have come from behind me. In front of me. It could have been me.
I feel myself starting to run. Shonda struggles to keep up with my pace. She squeezes my hand, but I ignore it. We’re close. I feel the sounds of the gunshot vibrate in my ears, in my chest. I run faster even though I can’t escape what I’m really terrified of.
So, I space out. In my mind I go somewhere far away. The sky is purple and gold. I’m flying. Up over Fulton. Over New York. Over America. I don’t know where I go. But where I’m at feels like home.
I imagine the day that Shonda and I met three years ago. I was eighteen. Stupid. I ran some lines on her. All the shit I thought I was supposed to say. “I’m a busy dude. I’m like,always in the studio, recording tracks, you know, might have a deal soon. Then I’ma probably move, get me a bigger crib.”
I hear LaShonda’s response. “So you gonna give me your number?”
She was my Eurydice. She took me in and loved me like she had nothing to lose. Butnow, she does. We all do.
I’m back to reality when I hear Shonda’s hollow boots hitting the pavement at a speedy staccato. Then she slip. Fall.
“Paul,” Shonda says, panting, kneeling on her knees as if begging for mercy. “Look what you done did! Help me up.”
I pick her up by her armpits. She stands up, walking slow like the gunshots done put her in a daze.
“You look cute,” I snap. “Real fuckin’ cute. Walk like you got somewhere to go!”
“You look ridiculous,” she replies, “Running in the damn snow.”
“No. I’m tired.”
“We’re all tired!”
“Oh, shut up!”
“You shut up!”
Suddenly we’re silent again as my grandmother’s brownstone creeps up in my peripheral.The front steps look like teeth. Christmas lights electrify the banisters and the door frame. A small photo of Black Jesus hangs from the window. We home.
Inside, our son, Martin, is probably sleep. I don’t know how I will face him. As if I didn't help to create his perfect brown eyes. As if he don’t got the same birthmark on his nose. As if he isn’t me.
Still, I suffer as I realize that his discovery of our brilliant universe will include uncovering his label as a pariah. That childhood is a privilege withheld from Black babies.
Shonda walks up the stairs first, me behind her, holding her waist so she don’t fall again on the slippery steps. Man. I got to finish school good and fast. So I can write my stories. So I can make my characters seem real. Make us seem real.
I close the door behind us as I hear the scream of an ambulance. Or, a fire truck. Who knows?
This night of No Indictment sounds like every other.