The door bounced open despite the boy’s repeated smacks to keep it shut. It was the familiarity that got to the old white woman. As if it were HIS house. Impudent little black robber. At first she kept her mouth closed tightly, as if stitched. She cowered behind the wooden rocking chair, but didn’t cower so much as maintain a defensive position behind a rampart.
Ray Bostick pushed against the knob. He closed the door on Brooklyn: his (Bed-Stuy) and hers (Bensonhurst). He held the joint in his other hand. He jiggled the knob. He steadied the door. He pressed firmly on the hinges with two hands, joint dangling from mouth. He backed away from the door quietly as if it were a living thing. The knob gave way. Hafoofixat. Dangeroushit.
“Hafoofixahlady,” he said.
“Get out! Get out!” shrieked the reply. “This is not your house.”
“Gabidness in this house Moms. Tuhkerama bidness I leaves.”
“What in heaven’s name do you want?”
“This what I want,” said Bostick, giving cough, waving joint, loosing airy sleet on the carpet.
Ashes to. And dust to. A man named Art Creely turned him onto dust. Making him feel like electrical cord plugged in. Bostick couldn’t get enough though he was learning control when it reached critical mass. Like every painful or bizarreshit experience in his fourteen-year-old life compressed and milled into this nice powder. Breathed in like herb then poured out leaving him an empty thing. While the joint retracted, leaving ash to expand like merely material death. Tap it away.
“Those ashes are alight!” said the old woman. “You’ll burn us to death! That’s it I’m calling the pleece!”
A slashing move ripped phone out, with enough violence to mutilate the jack, enough left over to have done damage to his victim. But she had precipitated her own downfall, moving too quickly on loose carpet, doing a jig before landing on her hip. Her screaming yelp fissured into low moans.
“Ain EVEN gon help you up Moms.”
Falls like that usually heap years on the old. But something had shaken in the old white woman, who thought of cream skimmed off milk. Many seconds, accumulated divisions and sub-divisions of time sloughed off, leaving a glistening larval moment. She rose to her feet, triumphantly, hatefully, haltingly, timidly, proudly, awkwardly, gracefully, self-consciously, unself-consciously.
“I don’t need help, from the likes of you. And I’m not your Moms.”
Ray Bostick reached book down from bookcase. Flipped, one page then another. Faster and more skittish and more frenetic. It wasn’t just the dust. His mental juices were winterbourne, languishing in the warm months, backed up, until they overflowed at the beginning of September. It was now the middle of October.
“What do you want?” she said.
“Money, money, money!” shouted suddenly.
“Oh, for God’s sake! There isn’t any money.”
Ray Bostick read like an eight-year-old balancing unwieldy letters: “How—not—have—pit—pity—when—walkin—in—fi—fields—with—they—lil—ac—”
“Let me have that! Lilacs—how not to have pity when walking in the fields ... A great writer wrote that. Elmer Llewellyn. My cousin.”
“It you cousin wrote that lame shit?”
“Learn to read before you criticise.”
The old white woman opened the chapbook, which gave a loud crack. Some pages stuck together, needing to be cut. Ray Bostick obliged with his switchknife, forcing a gasp from the woman. She pursed her lips at Bostick. Then pursed her lips but not at Bostick.
“He never said nothing, ever. For years I thought it was because he was deep. We say ‘still waters run deep.’ Then I thought it was because he was stupid. I still think that. I don’t care a fig for this book or what they say about it—‘fields with their lilac trees’!”
Dust gasped from the book as it snapped shut, and as she snorted.
“Shit is right.”
She snorted again, and he laughed. Then she cackled, surprising the both of them.
“Now I knows you got money.”
A sheen but dull, not really a sheen but goo, had covered Candy’s birthed litter. Five or six. Recoiling little girl horror, thought they were nothing but goo. Those labor cries of Candy—never heard dog noises like that. Following night ate three pups. Why’d she go and do? Fortunately she hadn’t been there to see. The moist film covering the money on the dresser looked like that afterbirth if you put your eyeball up to it. Within the moisture it was grainy like tapioca. The pups’ cowls too; like tapioca. Maybe why she gobbled them. She thrust the money at the black boy.
“Money. Take it.”
“They’s slobber all over it. Thas nasty. Some nasty shit.”
“Now look you take this here money. It’s good legal tender. It’s just got ... mildew. Take it!”
“I’m not—oh, for Christmas’ sake.”
Christmas? Not for a couple months. The dust kicked in and reality did a jiggly dance, things separated out into constituent parts. Cells. Molecules. Particles. The repugnant pile on the dresser broke apart into atomised value, Legos of desire that Ray Bostick could rebuild into a Christmas present for his sister as he rebuilt bicycles out of throwaway parts. Anything you could work with wasn’t all bad. But that pile was oozing.
Sliding with stupid grace of accident Bostick’s hand seized a sandalwood figure playing flute and rammed it on its mantlepiece setting, splintering it.
A porcelain ashtray was next, pitched in a strike zone above the white woman’s head, in the middle of a framed family portrait.
“All you know how to do is to destroy!” A step taken towards the glowing black boy.
“Money!” Pushing back the glittering old white woman into a table.
A vase shaped like a fish was stamped on. Fancy lamp hurled up at the ceiling. A hanging tapestry slashed as if he were holding a brush in front of canvas instead of his switchknife. Evil gravity drawing him to memory-linked things he thought would do most hurt to an old person. Memories of the past shatter like those things. Like his perception shivered by the dust, everything breaking down into parts, perception-ligaments sliced, around him perceptual smithereens. His eyes dazed. The old woman’s eyes glazed, but still. Bostick continued smashing, one thing after another. Diaphragm regular; breathing calm. Objects hurled, crashed into bits. Memory unmoored; free.
Floating in the air is the glass-encased Sacred Heart of Jesus her great-aunt had bequeathed, levitating with aid of an irregularly muscled brown arm. By dint of a wrinkle in her gray matter the arm disconnected from the boy committing aggravated armed robbery in her house. It had come from Rome, the time of Pope John XXIII. Destroying that would be going beyond her, beyond her great-aunt, beyond that busybody of a Holy See, if not all the way to Jesus, then still beyond. But the boy did not lift the object to fling it down, rather to drop it in the pocket of his windbreaker.
The old white woman was going to say something. All her life it was her wont to say something. She held her tongue.
“Shit be vayable. Wan day.”
Yet it came out of the pocket of the hooded windbreaker to be set on a sideboard. Stood smack before the Sacred Heart of Baby Jesus, as Aunty Dora called him. It was not cracked, but nothing’s perfect. On the wall to his left a portrait of Dr. King, aglow, soft-textured, looking-not-quite-at-you, like portraits of Young Adult Jesus. Atop the latest Ebony and Time a folded Amsterdam News, yellowed program from the Apollo Theater, an old dreambook. Jackets of 78’s alternated grim and smiling R&B faces ‘neath elaborate shiny conks.
“Smatter chile?” came out of thin old white woman’s lips.
“Why--Smatter chile?” Saying it like a white woman just to aggravate him.
“Smatter chile?” Exaggerated pronunciation, to mock.
“Smatter chile?” Worst of all: tenderly. Just like Aunty Dora. With Aunty Dora’s voice, which she’d appropriated somehow.
Bostick toked, deliberately, and toked again, very deliberately, and again. As if this would speed things and take him to dismal but normalizing, that is opaque, comedown. N.O.T.Y.E.T. said the dust.
“Make me something to drink, will ya honey?”
“Dombee—” A cough.
His respiratory system was sore. It made smoking more sensual. The smoky tendrils descended to fingerfuck his lungs. Much too deliberately he stepped to the bar and mixed gin tonic in a Texaco highball glass.
A trade effected : gin and tonic against a tray of bratwurst. Ray Bostick seemed to age as his face scrunched on the brats. While the old white woman became younger, the wrinkles softened, face smoothed, sheened by the alcohol.
Like an old man Ray Bostick landed on the floor with resonating thud. Or was it the wall, which a force not gravity threw him against, splatting head against edges of different pieces of furniture as he hollered but not in pain. At the end of the spiralling fall he sat on the floor cross-legged and cross-eyed, the old white woman looking down upon him with com- plicity. Pain was a commons, like the square near her home where she walked the dog she no longer has, sharing conversation and sunlight with her old friend ... who? A hole, orifice in memory, warm dark non-place where anything can go. Surprisingly pleasant to contemplate—as long as you still had the gray matter to do so from the outside. Once that was gone, and it was from the inside, then it must be terrible, what the little black ...? bent-over young ...? writhing sweaty ...? was feeling now that made him bellow.
“Donbelookin! GitOUTTAheah!” Flopping on the floor like a fish in a pail, hands intending to rub his face, but smacking instead. “Donbelookin! GitOUTTAheah!”
“Can’t leave my own house chile! Where on earth would I go?”
Lucidity passed over her like cloud-break and she stood staring at the black boy.
Lucidity something that Ray Bostick had to push through chambers of skull, cotton wadding to jam though there. And punch out. He forced himself up and sprawled over the old white woman, holding her by handfuls of fabric at the shoulders. As if holding on to stay up but in a delibarate movement tore at her, ripping off the top. As she shrieked and fig-leafed with her arms he continued ripping at her clothes, now the bottom. Now the underthings. Now even her stockings.
“Now you stop that this instant!” came a schoolmarm’s voice even she didn’t recognize.
The old woman’s body was oddly, irregularly aged. Pale more than anything, as if she hadn’t exposed herself to swim sunbathe work in the outdoors for many years. Body pale ectoplasmic; or like a premature baby. Depending on whether Ray Bostick were inhaling or exhaling. If her pubic hair was mousy matted brown the breasts with their nipples could have belonged to a much younger woman.
Bostick was at the end of his joint, which he flipped away. To loom over the old woman as much as modest frame would permit. To go through motions: hands down—forcing knees apart. Forearm up—blocking. Fingers in—inside her. Stroking—like searching pants pocket for a coin. Stopped by sweetness, the proximate air jasmined by fear emanating from the old woman’s cunt. Familiarity somehow stroking her. She gulped air convulsively, gulps of pleasure and confusion.
Lucidity passed over Ray Bostick like cloud-break, eyes wide as if pulled open by fingers.
The comedown. N.O. It was impossible so soon. But something to compensate for. A constructed dream-perception of Aunty Dora. Only person for whom he could feel L.O.V.E., mother of his mother. Before him; still. Her words; enveloping. Big heart; with eyes. Gnarly hands; to wring sadness out. Missed her if he missed anyone, wife of his father. Just a compensatory D.R.E.A.M. But Ray Bostick thrashed open his fly, as if to pee on a tree trunk he did not appreciate.
With pants pinioning ankles he entered like a missionary. His dick throbbing blood meant reality always. Only a joint packed with phenocycladine was as real. The old white woman thrashed till she made him come. For some instants he kept on, emptied of fluid and feeling, trying to rescusitate himself. He withdrew and backed off, while she awoke to the situation.
“Why ... you little nigger! You black nigger! What we call your kind! How could ... I want to die! After you ... I only want to die! There’s only dying now! Nig!”
She was lying by a heavy old-fashioned radiator. After he zipped up buttoned his fly he bent towards her took hold of her with his two hands under her jaw and around her head. Bashed the head against the cast iron. Blood blood-red like Easter egg food-coloring. Another white woman had them do that in school. She was a Jewish lady and some children had rolled pennies at her, making her eyes flutter, but she’d kept her calm, she’d stood her ground. An eggshell cracked. Brittle, thin, weak, like an eggshell.
“Weren’t my fault,” he said.
Eyes serene, calm, not glassy, as they stared ahead.
“Weren’t your fault neither.”
When Bostick positioned himself in front of her, just right, it was as if she were staring serenely at him. He bent forward as if to give a soft kiss to her dead but still-warm cheek. Then backed away, heavily, gravitas of the comedown. There was a siren sound he was sure was not for him. He headed for the door behind which lay life, and death too.
D. Keramitas was educated at the University of Hartford , Sorbonne, and the University of London , and holds degrees in literature and law. He lives in Paris , teaching English and law in the French university system. His short fiction has been published in many literary journals. His story “The Art of Flight” won the Paynton Scholarship at the 2010 Paris Writers Workshop. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, and is a contributing editor to Movies in American History (ABC-CLIO). He has recently completed his first novel.