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  • Flood Day

     

    “How was your week?”

    “Long, tiring, six meetings about future meetings in four days kinda week, yours?”

    “It was the norm but extremely low key, you know; when you have him during your week my life seems less chaotic. Not that I don’t like having him here every other.”

    “If it’ll help, maybe we can look at AJ staying with me during the weeks and you during the weekends? If it’ll help I mean.”

    “We’ll see, what are you doing with yourself this weekend?”

    “BAR!”

    “Meaning getting drunk beyond recognition and then stumbling around in a haze until you’re sober enough to drive home. Let me go grab the oxy’s, two is good right?”  and get them.”

    “Wait, Tiffany, these are clonidines, are you trying to have me walking around Mount Vernon, naked again?”

    “You know you need to stop drinking and popping pills anyway, something bad could happen to you.”

    “No worse than getting a ‘say no to drugs’ speech from my drug dealer. I see you put a new Zeta Phi Beta sticker on your car.”

    “I see you’re still hating on my sorority.”

    “I’m not hating just never thought you the sheepish type.”

    “Ok Aaron, I’ll call you later, gotta go…”

     

    Green fur, ripped in places, beer stained

    Red, orange, blue black, solids and stripes

    race, crack smash, crash into corner and side pockets,

    fleetingly.

     

    19oz is heavy in drunk hands,

    2 loses later Semisonic echoes

    resisting the urge to leave,

    for 4 more loses

    nodding by lights on.

     

    A Friday night Charles St. is a strange thing to eyes weighted by two pitchers of Killian’s red: foggy, cloudy, deserted. The trees lean further over the sidewalk, lurching closer to the gutter. They cause a thick layer of darkness which consumes everything beneath their wavering green canopy. As he walks down the street, he notices that no one is going the same way.  Even though others are also leaving the bar, Aaron barely senses them getting further away from him. The faint murmur of random conversations catches his ear from behind, he’s not alone, no matter how it feels.  The amber glow from the street lamps dances between the cars, across the pavement; reflecting off every piece of glass in the buildings and cars passing by or parked out there. None of the yellow light catches Aaron’s ground turned face; his brown features stay brown amidst a sea of yellow. None of the light breaks through the canopy; and so, Aaron stumbles along the dark sidewalk.  Step by step, he clumsily makes his way toward his car; the noise from the bar’s closing drifts backward, disappearing from earshot. Soon he is alone. 

    No more than two blocks from the bar; somewhere between Charles and Gilford, he sees them. Four guys in hoodies. Four guys in thick winter hoodies and gloves. In the middle of August. In Baltimore. At 2:30 in the morning. He knows what they are up to and decides to cross the street before the group is up on him. As he steps off the curb, he notices that one of the guys has also stepped off the curb and is on a path to intercept him. Aaron tries not to panic, but drunk instincts take over. His sloppy samba toward his car turns into a decided quick step and then a fucked- up trot. Now on the opposite side of the street, slightly cloaked by the darkness of the row of Maples along the curbs edge; the guy approaching just a few steps in front of him, Aaron feels himself running. Unabated he continues running. He struggles to keep breath and pace steady. Through the alley and then around a corner. Across another street and through two more blocks. He finally stops, leans on a tree and tries to catch his breath. He doesn’t see anyone behind him.   The enveloping darkness that is a drunk Mt. Vernon at night must have swallowed him, allowing him to escape. The same darkness stopped him from seeing the four guys ascend one of the sets of steps jutting from the row of Brownstones on the street where Aaron had first noticed them. He had been alone for blocks and no one had chased him.

    He arrives at Guilford, still short of breath. Slightly confused he stops and looks behind himself. Then back in front and up and down the street. Struggling to comprehend where he is, he notices two things. The first is that the guys were long gone and he was a good 4 blocks past where he’d last seen them. Secondly, his car was on Preston and Charles and he’d walked; well, ran all the way to Guilford and Biddle. He turns around and heads back up the hill. He struggles to level his eyes as the oxys he’d gotten from Tiffany fought him at every effort. They swung from his eyelids drawing them like window shades. His eyeballs spun slowly upward in their sockets. He was pretty sure he was close to the car but he wasn’t sure if he should trust what they were showing him.

    Exhausted, he leans against the red brick apartment building on one side of an alley. His back pressed firmly against the rough face of the building, he’s comforted in being supported by something stronger than himself. The roughly pointed mortar stabs him in the back a little. The smooth face of each individual brick is worth the inner lying rows slight annoyance. He realizes that the alleyway will lead him straight to his car. Pushing himself from the wall, he is able to see his driver side door and part of the car’s roof. Once through the alley, he’ll have to cross the street but still, it’s almost over.

    Garbage cans, a huge flat screen TV box split down the front, exploded garbage spewing kitchen trash all around, a few hatch-backed hybrids parked on cement squares just big enough to fit them, cat tall rats. Piss, fried chicken, spilled liquor, toothpaste, bleach, pine sol, comet, shit and more piss. Overwhelming piss smell forms a hard block on the back of the tongue; choking, ever expanding. Crumbling orange- red bricks that scrape the soft, light side of the hand, as the body stumble- tumbles along; drugged they bleed at the knuckle and on the palm. The houses on one side of the alley meet the apartment building on the other side above Aaron’s head; darkness once again canopied from above. At tunnels end, hunter green, paneled, windowless, van sits, sealing the exit.

    He didn’t think anything of the van and so, he just half stepped backward turned left and started around it. His foot still in mid- air, barely lifted from the curb, the sliding door on the side of the van opened and slammed back against its framework. Startled by the reverberation that followed, Aaron’s want to run rose in him again. He stutter stepped but decided not to run. He didn’t want to show fear or seem like an easy target.  He took a deep breath but held his chest as flat as he could manage and kept moving toward his car. Almost immediately, he regretted his decision not to run. The two guys that jumped from the van’s open door as Aaron went around it followed him to his car. The two guys that wouldn’t have been able to grab him, one on each arm, and carry him back to the van. Aaron again wished he’d run as he felt the cold hard steel brace that ran down the center of the floor of the van bruise his left cheek on impact; his ribs feeling like they had suffered the same.

     

    Multiple poles in multiple holes,

    spit and shit,

    PISS, BLOOD

    swords pushed until they fit,

    it splits,

    bleeding. 

     

    1 and 2 in one apiece

     and then 3 and 4 if two in one

    5 and 6 if one in each hand,

     7 stands pants- less camera in hand,

    8 just watches, blue and white orchestrated,

    it happens.

    Screaming, kicking, swinging, scratching,

    convinced, subdued, forced

    it’s happening!

    Firestones screeching non- stop

     

    Beretta steel met bald brown scalp more than once

    convince and reiterate to a straight mind that this had happened

    blood and shit and sweat and piss out slicked wet

    Ejected!

    Bricks and concrete met bald brown scalp.

     

    Aaron had lain in the gutter for hours, he thought. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in the back of the van. He wasn’t sure how long he’d laid with the rats running across him. They followed the mix of bodies’ fluids draining from him and his clothes. The brickwork beneath soaked, the mix pooling beneath him. Still, he felt like lying there, so that’s what he did. He laid there until the late morning joggers started asking him if he was ok. He could understand why a half-naked man in his state would draw a crowd but why ask him if he was ok. Did he look? Torn black t-shirt stained yellow, red, brown, white; head busted open, more red. He couldn’t see it bleeding but he knew the difference between the blood trickling down the left back side of his neck and the piss covering his nose and mouth. Not to mention, he had no pants or underwear on. He was pretty sure that the warm fluid trickling from his ass and down the inside back of his thighs was blood too. No one offered him anything to cover himself, just snapped pictures and continued the incessant, “Are you ok”. Slowly pulling himself to his feet, he found his way to an alley and sat against similar brickwork to that of the gutter. Aaron leaned with his back against the wall before sliding down it, letting his knees meet his chest.

    He sat there between two overflowing garbage cans, waiting for someone to come help him. Eventually he heard the sirens wail and then the alley was flooded by spinning blue and red lights. For the first time, in his whole life, this black man was relieved to see the police. The two tall black men in dark blue uniforms starched so heavily that white crust cracked and peeled at the creases.

    But life goes on.

     

    It was a rough few months.  Aaron kept the incident a guarded truth that didn’t need to be brought up. He’d tried to deal with it alone but things weren’t as easy as he would later remember. He didn’t go to any shrinks or talk things through with his pastor. In his mind, he just got over it. He had asked his pastor to pray for him as he recuperated which resulted in a weird gay- innuendo laden semi-sermon, phone conversation on the places that we go versus Sodom and Gomorrah. The conversation was partially the catalyst for his, “I’m one of the only straight guys to ever be gay bashed” stage. That lasted about two months. Then there was the “Maybe I need to lay off of the trashed weekends” self- blame blowup and fallout. Aaron stayed in that stage for 3 and a half almost 4 months.  If it hadn’t been for flood day; the day that he cried all day long for no reason at all, he may have stayed in self- blame land forever. But flood day, he just cried. Actual tears. He hadn’t cried since he was a little boy and he couldn’t remember what had made him cry even then. After flood day however, he was able to start piecing his life back together.

    He didn’t let AJ come over for a month, though he spoke to him on the phone every day. When he finally did come to see his father, all of Aaron’s wounds could be covered with a t-shirt, the physical ones anyway; and so, he saw his father as he always did. When AJ wanted to go to the game center to shoot pool like the two did on their weekends together, Aaron took him.  During which he ignored his worry that he may pop the stitches that stopped his intestines from falling out of his ass; at least that’s what he’d convinced himself they did. Most times, after AJ had gone home however, Aaron was left exhausted and sore from head to toe.   

    Tiffany had been over a few times during his recovery. She actually drove him home from the hospital. She cooked a bunch of food and left him with a refrigerator stuffed with overflowing Tupperware. She’d already gone and gotten his car from where the incident had happened, before he got home from the hospital. Anything that he needed, she ran to get without him asking. About 4 months into his recovery she even tried to have sex with him. He had brushed it off but thought later about having more kids with her. He never told her what happened. She assumed that he’d gotten super drunk and mouthy and again, got into a fight and deservingly got the shit kicked out of him. Either way, she stood by him. He wondered if calling off their engagement was the wrong decision more than once.

    Six months later, it was time for him to deal with the last part of the incident, the second HIV test. The one he’d taken earlier in his recovery was of course negative but the doctors advised him to get a test at six months just to be sure. Plus, some of the semen removed from his ass had indeed contained HIV antibodies. Supposedly, the barrage of pills that were forced down his throat by the Sisters of Mercy emergency room staff would prevent him from catching it.

     He of course went alone, even though he was sure Tiffany would have gone with him, but he didn’t think that it was a trip for her to accompany him on; until he saw her at the HIV doctor’s office.  The specialist that the city’s victim relief fund mandated that he see if he wanted them to pay for things. She was arm pressed against arm with some dark skinned, preppy type brother. Sweater vest, bow tie, matching socks type of brother. And then he saw it. The sigma ring on his finger, immediately he knew once again Tiffany was messing with another one of her sorority brothers or frats or however you refer to them. Then he thought to himself, “why is she here?” The doctor only saw people for one thing and she was sitting here arm pressed against arm with another guy. “Maybe she’s here to lend moral support,” he relieved himself in thinking. At least until the guy leaned over and pecked her on the mouth. It was clear, that she and Aaron would not be having any more kids together. One of the doctors came from the back and greeted both Tiffany and her “bro” as if he’d known them for a while. He shook the guy’s hand vigorously, grabbing it deep within his own hand almost up to the wrist. He gave Tiffany a slight hug and the three started toward the back of the clinic. On the way through the door, he heard her “bro” speak and suddenly he realized he recognized his voice. 

     

    Medical steel meets coincidence

    just consequence

    Sounds and familiarity take us back

    voices from unique incidents

    faces unseen before

    Beretta steel and 1 reluctant participant

    Enemy and ally allied, confused

    Doctor ally established relationship, more confused

    Ringing two talls with negative results in hand.

     

     

    Tiffany’s bro struggled a little as the cops drug him toward the car, one on each side holding an arm apiece. Aaron watched from across the parking lot, half ducking behind his own car. He opened the door and put one leg into the driver’s side.  The other he left on the ground just outside the door frame, he wanted to leave but something inside of him needed to see the guy arrested.  He wanted to go to Tiffany and tell her what her boyfriend and his friends had done to him but she would look at him differently, he knew it. Plus he was lost as to why she was at this doctor’s office, with the guy in the first place. Instead of asking, or even approaching her, he just started his car and pulled off. There was relief enough in the mental image of the guy rotting away surrounded by grey bars and cement tiers. Not to mention the thought that somebody would do to him what he himself had done to Aaron. Further satisfied when the cop let the guy’s head bounce off the frame of the car door; on the way home, Aaron laughed aloud for the first time in months. 

     

    “Good Morning Officer…”

    “Good Morning Mr…. well Aaron, sorry for waking you up this morning, especially after what happened yesterday at the doctor’s office but I have to ask you some questions, if that’s ok.?”

    “Come on in…”

    “No need, we can do this here. First how were you and Tiffany getting along?”

    “We get along pretty well for ex- fiancés with a kid together but if you mean are we sleeping together, no we’re not. We haven’t in a while but I think…”

    “No that’s not why I asked, I meant does she have any reason to hate or despise you, want you dead?”

    “No, we aren’t in a custody battle, I’m not behind on child support, the breakup was amicable…”

    “I’ll be back to talk to you again but your kid is in the back seat of the car and all I can tell you at this point is that his mom has been arrested for her participation in your incident. Well, orchestration of… the district attorney will be in touch.” 

    “You’re kidding right, she wouldn’t gain anything from…”

    “You know the old saying, keep your enemies close and your friends closer!”

     

    Aaron sat across the table from his son, a pitcher of Killian’s between the two. He was content in listening to his now, 21 year old knock- off of himself, regale him with boastful stories about the girl that sucked off every member of his frat. He didn’t see it coming but he should have known it would come up eventually. As he finished laughing at his brother that had nutted before the girl even got to him, Aj almost silently asked his father, “Why did my mother do what she did to you”? It wasn’t the first time Aaron had been asked by his son about the incident but he always found a way out of discussing it. Thinking that he was old enough to know the truth, he tried his best to explain.

    It’s like this AJ, I can’t give you a solid answer. We weren’t beefing. I never did anything to her. I never cheated on her, when it was over I told her so without milling around the issue. Once we were apart, anything she needed I got. You never needed for anything. I tried to ask her through a letter about 5 years ago but she never responded. I tried to go see her to confront her in person but the district attorney told me that it wasn’t a good idea as it may look good to the parole board later down the line. A few years ago, your first year in college. My first year alone. It hit me. I would never know why she did this to me but it doesn’t matter. I had to get on with life anyway and by that time what would knowing what demented reason she had in her head for having me raped and trying to intentionally infect me with HIV.

    AJ’s eyes widened as he watched his father’s brick like exterior crumble in front of him. Eyes welled with tears, voice cracking, almost silent. He didn’t know what to do to bring the blubbering mess across the table back to the unshakable rock that he knew as his father. After pouring another glass from the plastic pitcher, AJ looked at his father and said, “but you got over it dad so it doesn’t matter, right”?

     

     

     

    ***

    Modernized Warfare

     

    Excitement rolled in the bottom of Marco’s stomach…or maybe anxiety rode his inside edge. The bus smelled its usual mix of ground shoe rubber and sweaty hand rails. And though, the crowd’s exhaust sat in the back of his throat, in his ears and plugged his nose; it wasn’t responsible for his unsettled state. Grinding and fizzing; the bus’s engine fought for volume domination over the junkies laughing and praising some downtown dealer’s new dope blend and the High School girls from Dunbar recounting why some other girl caught a red bottom to the face. This too was normal. He was accustomed to the noise on the bus ride home from school and so he clearly heard his riding buddy’s comments about their other friend who recently came out as gay.  Marco didn’t respond because he didn’t care about 13 year olds coming out as gay or straight and what it said about society. Personally, he didn’t care one way or the other about anyone’s sexuality and he didn’t understand why other people cared either. Not unfamiliar but still unidentifiable, anxiousness kept Marco distracted throughout the ride and so he had another excuse to drown out the conversation. Before he knew it, he was on the bus alone left in the crowd.  

    The three block walk from the bus stop to his house was unremarkable. Mike, the corner drunk, leaned against the long out of service, coin operated newsstand that sat outside of the bar on Curley and Monument. Evan Williams in one hand and a crutch in the other, he struggled to steady himself between his: one side worn down lift shoe, crooked leg, normal leg, crutch and bottle; but the weight of his early afternoon drunk kept his back affixed to the crudely painted box. Marco tried to slide past him without him speaking. He stayed on the opposite side of street, keeping his head down and walked as quickly as he could. “Hey young- when you going get that doctor degree so you can help me out?” Mike yelled across the street at Marco.

    It was the same thing he said to Marco since Marco first started going to school alone. From that corner, on that shoe and that crutch, with a new bottle of Evan Williams in his hand; he made the same statement to him every day for four years. Marco didn’t know what it meant and he just wanted the guy to stop saying it. Why would he do anything to help the guy? He was one of the main reasons Marco hated his neighborhood, and so he kept on his way without acknowledging Mike. Nothing changed in four years. 

    As he turned the corner onto Curley, he passed the “alley” street’s car wash guys. They didn’t live on Curley, or anywhere in the area. Two of them grew up near there; Marco remembered them being teenagers when he was in elementary school, but they moved away years ago. Still, Marco walked pass them and their cars every school day. “If having a nice car means washing it every day then I would rather drive a hooptie”, he thought to himself a few years ago. Now, he knew they weren’t out there to wash cars. Some day’s there was a hose, others just a bucket of water. The cars were always wet but it was an obvious front so the police didn’t lock them up for trespassing. He didn’t understand how it wasn’t trespassing even if they didn’t live in the area. When his mom explained it to him he got the sense that she didn’t know either. But like passing Mike, Marco kept his glance fixated on the ground and moved silently pass them. 

    Around one more corner and he was finally in his own block. He was met by several police cars, a police wagon and a platoon of officers on foot.  Their cars lined both sides of the street; sirens blaring, lights spinning in the daytime. Some were even parked on the sidewalk. Without running, the police circuitously chased the normal neighborhood stand- abouts. They didn’t catch anybody and nor did any of them leave the block, so the chase kept going.  Marco continued unaffected by the chaos. Without removing his bag from his back, he pulled his key from the small pocket on the front. He was completely in the house before raising his glance from between his feet.

    The living room light was off. His mom wasn’t home yet, so he threw his book bag up the steps and went straight into the kitchen. 

    “Marcccccc!, … come on, we gotta go, I’m running late,” his mom yelled as she came through the front door. Her voice stopped him mid-step. Her volume must have shaken his mind because like some old school tetris demo everything fell into place and Marco understood the feeling in his stomach. It was the third Friday of the month.

                “Hurry up Marco, your grandfather already called me asking what was taking us so long” she said walking past him into the kitchen. He was still standing motionless as she confirmed his Friday was shot.

                Her ford explorer slid a little as she alternated slamming on the gas and the brake during the drive to her father’s house. “Hurry up and get out before he gets out here Marco!” his mom said while she helped him undue his seat belt with one hand and clicked the door locks with the other.

                “Aye, why you don’t just let him catch the train over here instead of you bringing him every other weekend and third Friday!” a male voice bounced through the glass and badly painted iron security door.

                “Hurry up Marc, I don’t want him…”

                “It doesn’t matter ma, he can see you from that chair,” he answered her dryly with his back toward the house as if his grandfather might be able to read his lips from his chair. “He’s always sitting in that chair looking through the door and at the tv at the same time.”

                “Well, hurry up before he gets up and comes…”

                “Ma, he’s not coming out. He’s not getting up unless his homeboys come over!”

                “Homeboys? Marc my father is a little old for him to have “homeboys” don’t you think”

                “Tell him that!”

                “What did you say?”

                “Not like that ma, but he’s trying to act young now, and it’s weird.”

                “But you know Marc, he isn’t really that old. Your grandfather is just turning fifty and they say forty is the new…”

                “Maaaaa, come on pleaaase don’t start telling me that stuff you read on Facebook, I see all that crazy stuff people write on there, you can’t believe any of it.”

                “Marc!”

                “For real ma, we don’t believe any of it just y’all. But anyway, I don’t want to go.”          

                “Marc he enjoys spending time with you.”

                “He just wants to beat me at chess again, I’m sick of playing chess I can beat everyone I know and besides how am I going to beat him if he taught me how to play!”

                “That’s what this is about?”

                “Ma, it’s the chess but it’s like… don’t worry about it, have fun at your… sh- thing!”

                “I swear I will make it as quick as I can, now go, I’m already late” she said leaning across her son, opening the door and kissing him on the forehead.

                “Next time can I bring my Xbox?”

                “I guess but why?”

                “No reason.”

               

                His grandfather was indeed in his chair, sitting the same as always. The brown lazy boy faced the space between the TV and the door allowing him to watch both simultaneously.

                “Hey granddad…”

                “What did I say about that shit?”

                “Sorry, … I mean, not sorry, um… the fuck is up Mil?”

                “Nothing, same ole shit, how have you been? You got any pussy yet?”

                “No gran- I mean Mil!”

                “You know, I had my first piece when I was about your age…”

                “No you were 12…”

                “Right, 12, I didn’t meet your mother’s mother until I was fifteen!”

                “I know and you got a whole lot of ass between 12 and 14!”

                “Yea, lil nigga only thing is, you gotta be careful though- that’s…

                “The way bitches trap you… I know Mil. A baby is forever.”

                “Yea well that’s what they say”

                “No that’s what you said!” Marco thought to himself. “So what do you do if she gets pregnant and you don’t want to deal with her?” he asked his grandfather. Sometimes his grandfather could be annoying but Marco knew that Mil would tell him the truth where his mother wouldn’t.

                “If she’s pregnant, then you take her to a clinic, if she’s already had the baby you take her down south to visit your cousins in North Carolina! Used to be if she was pregnant you just pushed her ass down some steps or had some cousins jump her but that shit will get you in more trouble than it’s worth.” He shook his head a little as he spoke. When he finished the morbid statement, his gaze drifted from the floor where his focus fell during the dark turn.  It continued up the adjacent wall and onto the ceiling, where it hung for a few moments before finally letting his head follow it back and to the right.

                “Mil, what cousin’s down south?”

                “Your mother don’t tell you shit, do she? She never told you about… another day- so you gonna pull it out or do I have to get it?”

                “Mil, is the board already setup?”

                The corners of Mil’s mouth crawled across his face, stretching wide first and then opening into a half lemon that covered everything, nose to chin. Face fixed, he silently walked around the wall that divides the dining room and the living room and reappeared instantly. He carried the previously setup board atop his rust brown card table like a waiter bringing the main course.

    Before Marco finished his opening, Mil snatched his queen, both bishops, one rook and most of his pawns. Marco on the other hand took Mil’s queen and two pawns. Every move that he made, Mil quickly countered with a kill. Marco took longer to make each move in an attempt at slowing the game, but once his hand left a piece Mil wasted no time moving and popping the clock. Marco was trying to consider each move’s consequences before he made it while Mil’s moves were pure instinct.  

                “Check”

                “Gran… Mil that’s mate! I don’t have any more moves!”

                “Yes you do, king’s rook to knight’s seven.”

                “Yea and then you move your queen, and I’m running for three more moves until you trap my king from across the board with the same queen that you’re going to chase my rook with!”

                “But you have my queen.”

                “Yea and that pawn is about to replace her, come on Mil.”

                “So if you can see it why can’t you stop it?”

                “There’s no way to stop it! You told me that when you taught it to me.”

                “So all these years of playing and you haven’t figured out a way to stop the same thing? You’re losing to the same moves?”

                “Grandad, I don’t wanna play anymore” Marco yelled, flipped the board, and kicked the table. Everything on top of the flimsy tray sailed across the room. With his gaze captured by the sight of his flying glass chessboard and pieces, Mil didn’t notice Marco storming out of the front door. Angry but not deliriously so Marco stormed all the way to the front porch. He sat on the far right side, far enough where he couldn’t be seen from Mil’s chair. From his spot on the porch however, he could see Mil; on all fours, picking up the pieces of his chessboard.    

                “Shit!” Mil yelled and dropped the shards of broken glass. He grabbed his right index finger with his left hand causing blood too ooze from all directions. From the top, from the bottom and from between each finger blood covered his hand and pooled beneath it before Marco got off of the porch.            

                “Mil, you alright…?”

                “I’m good; look, go ‘head and grab some money out of my drawer; you know where I keep it. Your mom should be home by the time you get there!”

                “But Mil…”

                “I’m fine. Go ‘head. I’m sure there’s some bitches somewhere you could be chasing anyway.” A weak smile crept across Mil’s face. Weak enough that through Mil’s coffee and Newport stained teeth, Marco could see that he did something wrong.  Mill went into the kitchen, wrapped his finger with a paper towel and went back to picking up his chessboard pieces. Marco went into the bedroom, got enough money to catch the bus and started back toward the living room.

                “Take a twenty; you can get something to eat on the way!”

     

    ***

    Saturday came and went without incident. Marco woke up around 10. He grabbed his normal bowl of cereal, watched cartoons for a while and then sat by the window. The sidewalk, sunshine and smog called to him but he knew his mom would never let him go outside. She was one of the home owners that surrendered the block to the section 8, independence card, and the junkie majority and she wasn’t about to let him attempt to claim it back. The dirty kids from up the street rode their bikes back and forth through his block. “MMM, their mom doesn’t give two shits about them,” he thought to himself. “Dirty clothes and free to run the neighborhood alone, CPS should do something.” Mike, already drunk, stumbled by his window singing one of his made-up songs. “Loose ones and I got new ones….” Marco could only hear half of the song but he knew the rest of the nonsense that he sang any other time so he was pretty sure he knew the rest without hearing it. The kids flew by again. “They must be racing,” he thought, “My new bike is way faster than two of their bikes and the other one I could out ride. The same bike that she never lets me ride.” A little aggravated, he left the window, stormed up the steps and into his mother’s room. He stood in the door for a while and looked around.  Missing a purpose, he picked up random items from his mother’s dresser.  “Shi…” he grabbed his mouth with both hands and looked back at his mom’s empty bed as he accidently knocked one of black ballerina figurines to the floor.  “Oh yeah she’s not here” he said aloud, looking around to check again. “I can say what the fuck I want,” he laughed to himself. The figurine didn’t shatter so he placed it back on the dresser and left his mom’s room exactly as he found it. After a quick pit stop in his bedroom to grab his xbox; he was back in the living room. The curtain sat open, allowing him to see out of the window as he played the game. Somehow, he didn’t see the sun ride through the sky and settle behind the row of houses across the street.

                “How long have you been sitting there,” his mom called through the door still struggling to turn her key in the lock.

                “Not long Ma, “Marco answered, hopping from the floor and running to her aide. “I thought you were going to call me before you left work?”

                “I did call you, where’s your phone?”

                “On the charger,” a light went off in his head, “and that’s why I didn’t hear you call.”

                “Could be,” she answered his statement with a chuckle and a weary smile.

                “So how was work, Ma?” She sat on the couch and slipped her feet out of her black leather low heels. Before her butt hit the seat, he slammed down on the couch, right up against her.

                “Nothing new…” she shook her head in disapproval. “It’s not important! What did you do all day today?”

                “Oh” shaking his head in emulation, “it’s not important.” He laughed at himself imitating her and she followed suit.  “Ma…?”

                “What’s wrong Marco?” She knew the tone meant that there was a question coming, one that she probably wouldn’t want to answer.

                “What’s wrong with grandpa?”

                “What do you mean?” She answered through a chuckle.

                “I mean like why don’t, Aunt Trish or Uncle Dom have anything to do with him; and how come you can’t bring his name up around grandma at all!”

                “Can’t bring him up to Aunt Trish either,” she answered under her breath before addressing him directly. “Without making a big deal about it, sometimes parents do things that kids won’t forgive.”

                “So why do you deal with him?”

                “Well because for one thing, he paid the price for everything he did and some. Two, he was there for me when they turned their backs on me.  And most importantly, I doubt he did what they say he did!”

                “What did he do, or didn’t he do?”

                “It’s not important because he didn’t do it,” she answered coldly. “Let’s just say, he had to go to jail for it anyway.”

                “Is that why you and…”

                “Wait, what’s behind all the questioning? More importantly, what are we doing for dinner, it’s past eight.”

                 “No reason! Can we get pizza?”

                “I guess, go get your phone and pull up the app!”

     

    ***

     

                To Marco school flew by so quickly that the only things that set in his memory of the day were the feelings of loneliness on the crowded bus twice more. Nothing was any different than Friday. He tried to avoid Mike’s comment but, “You’re gonna have to help me young blood,” caught Marco’s ear from behind as he turned the corner. Once inside of the house, he let out a deep breath, he didn’t realize that he held his breath from the bus stop to his house. The constant site of his neighborhood bothered him but he didn’t really know why. His mom always talked about how nice his block was when she first moved into it but as far back as he could remember the whole area was the same. The few near altercations at school were stopped before he threw a single punch simply because of his neighborhood’s reputation. 

                He dropped his book bag just inside the door and dove length wise, onto the couch.  His mom wouldn’t be home for a few hours which left him looking for a boundary to nearly cross. “Milton Chase Bradley” he said aloud and jumped to his feet. He tripped up the stairs to his room and turned on his laptop. “If he was arrested for it, I can find it on the internet. She doesn’t have to tell me, I’ll find out for myself,” he thought. “There it is…” he couldn’t believe his eyes. “It makes sense but…” something just didn’t sit right with what he read. “Wait, she did say he didn’t do it… but then that means that she’s a liar… well one of them is a liar… and that’s why she doesn’t speak to grandma or Aunt Tricia” Marco’s head spun with thoughts.  He wanted to believe his mother but he didn’t believe that Aunt Trish was that sort of liar.

                “Mil, I wanna ask you something,” Marco asked Mil through the phone as soon as it stopped ringing.

                “Afternoon to you too, what’s on your mind?”

                “I know you said that men can talk about anything without getting all emotional and stuff…”

                “Wassup lil nigga, some bitch got you in your feelings? I didn’t even know you had a whore? Whatever, you can tell me about her later. What did she do though?”

                “No there’s no whore Gran… Mil. I had a question about something you did… or didn’t do, well the question is did you do it…”

                “What’s on your mind Marco, spit it out!”

                “My mother told me that you went to jail for something you didn’t do and…”

                “You wanted to know what I did? Well you gotta understand Marco, your Grandmother and I were going through a very rough time then and I was angry that we couldn’t get along. I would work all day and then come home to a bunch of yelling and complaining. You’ll have at least one of those women in your life. No matter what you do, it’ll never be enough to please them. So one day, she started yelling at me and I tried to leave. I was tired of her constant complaining and though we have three kids together, I was at the point that I knew I would only be happy if I raised my children from outside of the home. Besides my side chick was giving me the 80% that your grandmother used to give. Meanwhile your grandmother wasn’t even giving me the 20% so you know it was time…”

                “I know Mil 80/20…”

                “Good don’t forget the other half of that, when your 80 starts giving you 20…

                “Find a new 80…

                “So as I try to leave; nothing but the clothes on my back , your grandmother jumped on me. I fell into the wall, knocking her out and your Aunt Trish jumped on me trying to defend her mom…

                “So you got locked up for woman beating?” anger started bubbling in Marco. 

                “Yea basically, there’s more to the story but…”

                “Yea, like the part where you molested Aunt Trish and had been molesting her since she was 3 years old!”

                “You’re mother told you that?”

                “No I found it myself! I thought you said men don’t lie! Mil, you wouldn’t even tell me the whole story why should I believe you. Fucking liar!” Marco screamed into the phone and pressed the end button as hard as he could.

                Before he put the phone on the table in front of him, it rang. Mil left several messages and kept calling Marco back until Marco finally blocked him from calling. “Just more lies,” he thought to himself. When his mom got home, before she could even start to fuss at him, he started with her          “Ma, I don’t want to talk about it, I know I was wrong for calling Mil and…”

                “What are you talking about Marco? What did you do?”

                “Nothing, you haven’t talked to granddad?”

                “No, why? Should I have?”

                “No Ma, guess he didn’t want to lie to you too,” he said under his breath.

                “What’s going on Marco?”

                “Nothing Ma, how was work?”

                “I know you did something but I’ll find out, anyway work was fine; how was school?”

                The two continued the distracting conversation until after dinner and then each went into their bedrooms and didn’t see each other again until the next afternoon.

     

    ***



     

                “C’mon Marco, your grandmother is waiting for us!”

                “She’s not waiting for us, she’s waiting for me! Ma, do you think you and grandma will ever make up.”

                “Marco some things are outside of your understanding, but your grandmother and I are fine, our personalities have always clashed.”

                “Ma, I know why you don’t get along… I don’t understand it but I get it…”

                “Wha… Marco, don’t they mean the same thing… you know what, on second thought, long as you understand,” she said as she pulled up in front of his grandmother’s apartment building and kissed him goodbye. “By the way, tell your Aunt Trish hi,” she yelled out the window as she pulled off, leaving Marco still outside of the building.

     

    ***

     

                “What did you do?” she screamed from behind her closed bedroom door at 6:47 am Friday morning, “Marco get up and come here, now!” Before she could yell anymore, Marco opened her door pleading his case, “Ma, I just said I understood why Aunt Trish didn’t speak to Mil, er, grandpa and she started flipping on me, you know how she is.” He blurted out the entire statement in one breath. She looked at him and her face softened completely as she pulled back the covers and slid to the edge of the bed closest to the window.  She turned her back to him and faced that window, lost in whatever she saw through it that he did not. Marco could still see her facial expression through the back of her head. The way her ears sat or maybe the angle of her chin caught from the side, but he knew how her face looked at that moment. She didn’t say anything else and neither did he.  He left her room and got dressed for school. He could hear her playing the radio in the bathroom as he left but he was pretty sure she didn’t hear him leave the house.

     

    ***

     

                School was uneventful as usual. He went to all his classes, oblivious to everything going on around him. But that was the norm too, Marco was usually oblivious to, and unenthusized about school. He wasn’t extremely popular but no one disliked him. His riding buddy spent lunch doing a monologue about their newly outed friend being transferred to an all boy school by his parents, even though Marco initiated the conversation before the lunch period started.  After school, he and his best friend hopped on the bus and Marco made his way home. He was still dwelling on what he did wrong to his Aunt but he hadn’t yet figured it out. To him, his mom was being unreasonable. “How could she not believe her sister,” echoed in his head over and over throughout the day and continued at home.  When his mom got home, his bag was already packed so he could go to her meeting with her. He figured he wouldn’t be going back to Mil’s for a while and his grandmother’s was out of the question too.  Lain across the couch, he patiently waited.  Around 10 the unmistakable sound of a McDonald’s bag of food smacking the wooden coffee table woke Marco. He saw his mom’s back as she went upstairs. Her ears looked the same as earlier. Still groggy, the sound of her bedroom door slamming shut woke him completely.  On his way to his room he heard her TV playing, but he went to bed without bothering her.

     

    ***

     

                The next morning the sound of his grandfather and mother downstairs…, talking and laughing woke him.  “Is this bitch kidding,” he said aloud and then quickly looked around the room as if someone may have heard him. He decided that he was done with whispering. He ran to the top of the stairs. “Ma, how can you laugh with that man,” he yelled down at her. He could hardly believe it himself. In his mind, he said, “Bitch are you fucking kidding,” or something to her. At least, he expected her reaction to suggest so.

                “Marco, calm down and come here,” she answered him without a hint of anger in her voice. “We need to talk.”  Instead of continuing to yell, Marco calmed down as he walked the steps. It seemed like there were extra steps during the walk, but he needed those to calm down, completely. He didn’t understand why, but he was angry at her for believing Mil. People don’t tell those kinds of lies and that he was sure of.  As soon he got down the stairs he sat between the two and his mom started explaining. Everything was exactly as Mil told him.  She even added that her mother; his grandmother, used to get drunk and fight everyone in the house. The words shocked Marco to the point that many flew by without him understanding what they meant. He caught the gist of her statement; Mil was innocent, but he couldn’t see his grandmother acting the way his mom was suggesting. Then she stopped talking, hopped up from the couch and grabbed her pocketbook from the coffee table on the other side of the room. After riffling through it for a few seconds, she pulled out a key chain with a bunch of key chains encircling one another. No keys just identically shaped, different colored key chains. There were two gold A’s on one side of and some gold words in cursive on the other of each individual chain. “I’ve seen those before, they’re AA key chains, you get them for not drinking.” Marco interrupted her before she could begin to explain.

                “True, but do you know who they belong too?”

                “Well, I’m guessing Grandma’s since that’s who we’re discussing… I mean….”

                “Yea Marco, you said what you meant, anyway, yea they’re hers. She gave them to me when she stopped drinking, she still gives them to me.”

                “Why?”          

                “It’s the only way I let her see you.”

                “Wha..”

     

    ***

     

    “Try being quiet and listening for a second. The night that she called the police on your grandfather, he did hit her, and it was in self-fefense but the whole fight started because she was drunk and coming after me again. We learned in Al-anon that abusers normally have a favorite target and I was your grandmother’s. After 16 years of the dumb shit with her I just got sick of it so when she swung I swung back. Daddy got mad with her for starting it and we were both leaving, together.  She didn’t like me choosing my father over her so she ignored Mil leaving and focused on me. We ended up rolling around the living room….”

                “Ma, really, “

                “Oh yeah, your mother was a mess when she was younger,” Mil, who up until this point was stone still and silent while Marco’s mother was talking. “I remember she got into a fight with a set of sisters around…”

                “Daddy, we’re not doing…”

                “Ok, I’m sorry go ‘head…”

                “So basically, Marco you understand what happened?”

                “I understand what you’re saying but then why didn’t she go to jail?”

                “There’s no real answer to that.”

                “Ard Marco man, it’s nice outside, why don’t you go ride your bike or something.”

                “Gran… Mil, gran… you know I’m not…”

                “Call him whatever you want and just don’t go too far.”

     

    ***

     

    Before Marco knew it, the week was over again. Time to go to Mils’ again and he was actually excited about going. As he got off the bus and started toward his house, the neighborhood didn’t seem so bad.

    “Hey young…”

    “Hey Mike,” he still didn’t know what the corner drunk meant but he figured it didn’t hurt to humor him.

    “Hey Marco”

    “Marc!”

    “M”

    The three dirty kids on bikes rode by him before he got to Curly, “ wassup Smurf, Ant, Nick, I can’t come outside today, going over my grandfathers but I’ll holla at you when I get back.”

    “Wassup Marco?”

    “Wassup Black, where’s Doodoo and E?”

    “At work, same place I’m going when I finish washing my car.”

    Even his mother noticed his attitude. “Marco you okay,” she asked when he jumped into the front seat of the truck.

                “Yea Ma, I’m fine, I just got something for Mil,” he answered patting his black xbox bag.

                “What’s that, the new chessboard you bought him?”

                “Yep and a little insurance too!”

                His mom didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space.  Once inside, she sat in Mil’s chair as he silently relocated to the couch. Mil’s face lit up as Marco pulled the chessboard out of his bag. Within seconds the two were back to their usual conversation. Mil was talking about girls and Marco was trying not to feel uncomfortable. After a few minutes, annoyed at a losing streak of 5, Marco grabbed his black bag again.

                “Hey Mil, your tv have an hdmi slot?”

                “I think so, ain’t that it on the side?”

                “Yep, I got another war game for us to play. Let me hit the head and then we can get into it.”

                As soon as Marco left the room, Mil leaned toward his daughter and asked, “So did you tell him about Dominick?”

                “No! I doubt he’ll take having a gay uncle too well and I don’t want to deal with the questions.”

                “I think you just don’t want to deal with the questions” Mil answered her under her breath.

                “Ard let’s get it!” Marco said as he turned the corner reappearing in the living room grinning ear to ear.

                The room fell silent as Marco plugged his xbox into the tv. Besides mindless chit chat from his mother and smack talking between him and his grandfather no one said anything to Marco.

    About The Author

    Dejuan1 (2)

    Persecution Avenue

    Persecution Avenue is the pseudonym for D. Antonio Clark Senior. He is a classically educated, multi-platform, multi-genre freelance writer; currently, penning academic, business, creative and technical endeavors, full-time. Having completed his B.A. at Coppin State University in the spring of 2015 he is currently working on an M.F.A. in creative writing and publishing at the University of Baltimore. Persecution appeared at the Baltimore City Lights Literature Festival in 2011, and has had his poetry published in Coppin State University’s literary magazine in 2012. He has enjoyed success as writer in a host of different markets. His past “creative” publications have been with aaduna that published two of his poems and a short story. Those pieces can be found in the spring 2015, 5th anniversary edition.  Other previous publications, as well as and further artist information is available on his website, dantonioclarksr.wix.com/persecution.