Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 7

Dec. 2nd, 1982

“Maria is not ecstatic about my next step. I have no choice. This is my community.” 

The same year the Fort Greene Community Center opened its doors, the neighborhood was on fire. It was as if the city waited for us to burn it down before they’d begin rebuilding.

This is what Ms. Cruz said at a block association meeting, three weeks after her only son Roberto died from an asthma attack, “It took those pendejos ninety minutes to get my son. When the ambulance arrived, he was dead.”

Our section of Brooklyn, in the 1980’s, was bursting with culture. Ethnic restaurants and boutiques were popping up everywhere, hip-hop’s melody made its way through brownstone windows, and kids played loudly in the daylight. But by nightfall, we were all inside. In the same week Roberto died, two boys set a token booth on fire, someone robbed and shot a limousine driver that was just passing through, twenty-one students and a teacher were held at gunpoint at Brooklyn Tech, and an assailant stabbed a doctor at Cumberland Hospital that was just outside for a cigarette break. 
It was time. 

Maria looked at her husband like he’d lost his mind. 
He’d readjusted his cufflinks and his collar, sweat visible on his brow. He told his lovely bride that this had always been his dream.
“A community center, William?”

William coughed, “I know it sounds like a lot to take on, but I’d only be giving up three days a week.”
“What happened to you climbing the ladder so that you could start your publishing company?”

“I could still do that. I’m not giving up on publishing, but my heart is in more than one place.”

“So…where is the money going to come from?”

“I took out a small business loan. I’ll work out all the kinks on the non-profit end…”

“Wait, what? You’ve already taken out a loan?”

“It was spontaneous. I’ve been thinking about this a long time, but I did this all in one day. I’m tired of reading about our boys dying.”

“Some of that is their fault.”
William stood up, from the chair he sat in, and faced his wife, “Imagine if someone felt that way about us, Maria?”
“We got out. We don’t owe…”
“But we do! We had teachers take a chance on us. We had parents who gave a damn.”
Maria paced up and down the living room. She could feel the plush carpet they just installed under her feet. They’d only had their house for a few months, but they were living the dream. Compared to the studio apartments, in the housing projects they grew up in, across the way, a decaying but fixable brownstone was cloud nine. 
“I turned the other cheek when you gave up basketball. I told you things would be okay when you put aside writing for the publishing job. I even put up with the long hours, because I knew it’d provide a better life for Jai. I don’t know if I can do this.”

William placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders, “We can and we will.”
Maria opened her mouth to speak but decided against it. Once her husband’s mind was made up, there was no changing it.


Present Day

I can hear God in the train car  
A pot belly and a du-rag asks a science textbook with glasses, 
what grade she's in 
Slurs the language of paper bags and tipsy, 
“B--ch, I said what grade are you in 
Don't you speak f-ing English."
He slips imaginary tongue to the air
This is Wednesday  
On the A train 
My intuition trembling on train track turbulence  
I wince at her innocence 
Her thumbs push her headphones in further 
And sometimes I too want to block out the world

I scribe while I take the train. It’s the only way I can stomach New York City, sometimes. The to and fro, especially when I manage to get a seat, allows me the freedom to work on my craft. 
My writing hadn’t left my notebook, since college. I’d left home, aspiring to put my insecure words to paper and stage, hoping someone could relate. I spent my freshman year on the slam scene and at weekly open mics. My lips, almost touching the microphone, spewed words to strangers that I couldn’t say to my father, Benjamin, my college boyfriend, and to myself. After the accident, I didn’t say much at all. I watched my world crumble with a phone call. My grandparents were gone, my parents were only children, and although I was an adult and everything would be left to me, I still felt like a child.

My boyfriend, at the time, tried to piece me together. I rocked between the muscles of his legs, as we sat on our apartment's hardwood floor, my tears slipping between the lifelines of my palm. He held me close and told me it would be okay. 

"Things get better. Your parents loved you, and they'd want more for you."

I spent an entire year of school this way: despondent, rocking, broken. I cried for more the poems, for there was no other way to describe the rhythm of their entity, which birthed me. I cried for my forgotten relationship with my father. I cried for the nights he'd tried to apologize and the way I hummed internally, blocking out every word he said. I cried for my mother that tried to glue us whole, with her meals and songs on the radio. I cried for never getting the chance to go back and do it again. 

The train jolted. It woke me up from my daydream, from the pages of my journal. I look up, at the stops left until work, to catch a pair of eyes watching me. I remember those eyes. I remember those lips, trying to connect with my own when he felt like I should've been ready. It'd been months. Why couldn't I love him the way he assumed I did, before? 

My college love sat across from me. He was still as beautiful as the day we'd met in the library. We always sat in the same cubicles, across from one another. We dreamed of New York City and the things we'd conquer once I got back, and he finally made his way there. I guess he made it. 

A portion of his mouth curved into a smile. My heart wanted to return it, but something dark wouldn't allow me to. I was cold. These were his words as he packed his bags and left our sophomore year. I didn't try to stop him, just as I couldn't manage the word "hello" before he finally got up and off at his stop.

I spent the day keeping my distance from Malaki.

I grabbed the office coffee, hot and ready, from a cafe nearby. I brought it straight to my boss' office and got right to work, at my desk. Everytime Malaki walked near my area; I immersed myself in a pile of papers or the screen in front of me.

Eventually, he had enough.

I could hear his footsteps grow near; firm and sure. I saw the tailored cuff of his suit, cross my desk, before he spoke, "Can I take you to lunch?"

I looked up at him. There was a plea in his eyes. I knew he wouldn't take no for an answer.

We left the building and walked into the Lower East Side of Manhattan searching for something discreet, with enough distance from our co-workers. We ended up finding a gyro spot, with seating and chose to eat there.

Malaki grabbed ketchup for his fries while I waited, sitting in front of our steaming selections.

"What's up with you?"

I did my best to play it off, "What do you mean?"

"One minute we have this serious chemistry, the next you're cold."

There was that word again: cold. Funny that it set me ablaze. I had every right to be frigid.

"You're on the same level as my boss. I'm just trying to be professional."

"I'm not your boss, Jai."

"I know, but..."

"I think you're interesting. I like you, a lot. I wish I could say more than that, but you're not giving me the chance to get to know you."

"I'm sorry..."

He put his hands on my book of the week and my journal that sat next to my untouched food, "I also know you're a writer."

I raised my eyebrow, "How do you know that?"

"You're always, at work, in some nook, writing. You should be reading manuscripts, but you seem to get a lot of that done too. It doesn't bother me, as long as your job gets done."

I smiled, "Yes, I'm a writer. I'm getting there."

He grabbed and turned the pages of my old and tattered journal, as if it was a flipbook, "You're there, already."

"I'm not in publishing for me."

He put his hand under his chin and cracked a huge smile. He tried to keep himself from laughing and failed.

"I mean...I want to be published one day. I love finding new voices too."

He moved his hand to my own, "I believe you. You don't have to explain that to me."

"I thought you wanted to know more about me?"

"Well...okay then...explain."

I tried to pry something open. The restaurant buzzed with the clinking of spatulas and the prompting of speech. I couldn't deny another man the pleasure of knowing me. It was time for me to get over the wall I'd built unknowingly.

My phone went off. It was a text from Damali.

"I need to see you. I want to tell you something about your dad. I think it'll help."

The cold was melting. Something inside of me started to crack, splinter and spark. I liked the feeling of being warm. The problem was, I could not tell its source.


You can find Erica's books, here.

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