penance

Her hands shake as she puts the kettle on. Her fingers are knotted and swollen with age and she moves slower than she would like.

When the old kettle whistles she fills her favorite cup to the brim, steeping the strong black tea.

She adds three sugars and a splash of cream and places three shortbread cookies on the saucer.

She shuffles into her bedroom and places the cup and saucer on the nightstand. She stands for a moment beside the bed and stares at her heart, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest.

Later she will curl close to him and rub her cold feet against his until he opens up for her, but not now.

Now she will sit until the tea gets cold. She eats one cookie and decides to read for awhile.

As her eyes grow heavy she stares at the tea with intention.

***

“You’re late,” he smirks in the dark.

She gives him a wide smile.

“I’m never late. Here,” she offers the steaming cup of tea and the cookies.

“You ate one,” he accuses her. She shrugs.

“Be glad I brought any. They’re your mom’s recipe.”

He stares down at the cookies wistfully.

“I miss her,” he says. He always says that.

“I know,” she replies. She always says that, too.

“How much longer?”

He shrugs. “Time doesn’t work that way here.”

She is silent for a long while, watching him.

Time has ravaged her. It has thickened her knuckles and thinned her hair. It has amplified her step and silenced her voice.

Time has pulled pieces from her memory and chipped away at her so that she has the task of rebuilding and viewing herself from fragmented memory like a kaleidoscope.

He is frozen in time, still a young man. His skin glows, his smile is perfect. She thinks he does this for her, this presentation of perfection.

Where they meet time cannot follow. It waits for her at the precipice and sometimes he peers over, brow furrowed with remembering. He can’t remember though. He can remember the snapshots but not the whole. Not the painful whole that they on the other side carry.

She supposes this is a gift given to him. If he remembers time then he will remember how little he was given.

“Your mom is close,” she says at last. “Another week or so.”

“I want to see her.”

“You will.”

“Not yet. I’m not finished yet.”

“Well finish. You have time.”

He takes a long sip of his tea, thinking.

“There was a boy in the neighborhood. He was small and weak. I hit him. He was bullying your sister. And I hit him and I liked the way it felt, his cheek in my palm. So I hit him again and again and again. Until his cheek was wet with blood and I was satisfied.

“He wasn’t the first or last. But he smelled. He smelled like stale urine and fear and I recognized it. And I hit him until the only smell was his blood.

“I think about him. I didn’t then but I do now. I’m sorry. I hope his way wasn’t hard.”

She doesn’t respond. That isn’t her way. She is only there to listen. It is his turn to speak.

These are their roles and they do not change. Not here. Not now.

“I think I’ll be ready to meet her. My mom.”

She understands what he is telling her.

“Where are you,” she asks him. She always asks this at the end.

“Just beyond. And close. So close.”

“Tell me again.”

“There is only light. Endless light. There is peace and joy.

“But first there is penance.”

She feels tears blistering her cheeks. They are always here at the end. She stares at him, memorizing his timeless face.

“We miss you here on earth.”

***

In the dark her husband rubs a calloused finger under her eyes.

She cries in her sleep.

With a shaking hand he takes her tea and pours it down the drain, placing the cookies back in the jar.

He brings the empty cup and saucer and places both on her night stand.

He lays gingerly in the bed, arms open expectantly, awaiting her return.

Wash Day

A young man from the old neighborhood has died, her mother tells her. She enters her house in her modern, diverse neighborhood with a yawn, kicking the door shut behind her. Everything is in its place, and she takes a moment to breathe in the sweet magnolia scent of her spacious, dazzlingly white home.

“Oh? Who?” she is uninterested, but her mother and father perusing the obituary and reporting faithfully the names of the departed is a tradition she does not wish to wrest from them.

Her mother gives the name, but she is distracted by her young daughter proudly shoving a jagged hand turkey composed of dull red construction paper into her stomach. She retrieves the turkey with an exaggerated smile and kisses the girl on her silky ringlets. The girl’s cherub cheeks redden and she beams.

Her own hair is thick and coarse and it is wash day. She gazes at herself in the mirror in the parlor, proud of her high cheekbones and deep brown skin. She’ll need to hang up soon. Washing her hair is a ritual that requires singular focus.

“I’m sorry, who did you say again?” She asks her mother respectfully. Her mother repeats the name and her own heart skips several beats.

“Oh, wow. What happened?” She knows that the obituary will not say. Her mother clicks her tongue.

“It’s a shame, all of these young black boys dying.” She gives an obligatory nod, no longer listening. 

She scrolls through her newsfeed until she happens upon her high school best friend’s page. Her friend has posted a photo of the newly deceased with the caption, “gone too soon,” beneath.

His skin is dark, so dark he is hard to see in the blurry photo her friend has chosen. He smiles so brightly she can’t imagine that the light in him is already out. 

She feels a pang in her chest and tells her mother goodbye.

She moves into the airy kitchen where her husband is making dinner with their oldest child. Freckles spatter her husband’s face and his reddish brown beard has turned to white in spaces. She watches her husband with their children for a few moments before making her presence known.

He greets her with a kiss and she tells him, abruptly, of the young man’s death. He does not know the young man, nor any of the stories. Not the ones set in deep, scabbed over but raw beneath. 

“I’m sorry, honey,” her husband responds, an automaton.

She nods but does not speak.

She bites her lip and goes through the ritual of washing her hair, detangling her hair, conditioning her hair rinsing her hair combing her hair conditioning her hair, twisting her hair, and covering it. Her fingers are withered and numb when she finishes. When she last saw the young man who died her own hair was fried and covered with an ill-fitting sew in. She smiles mournfully and her husband catches it.

He apologizes again, thinking that she is upset. She shakes off his offered grief and they tumble into bed together.

She cannot sleep. 

She thinks she should send something to the family.

She pulls out her stationary and sits with her pen poised above the paper, remembering.

She was the dirt that they gleefully trod upon.

It begins with one boy, the one who is the dead young man now. 

They are in the cafeteria before school begins, sitting as a group in the Black Kids’ Section. The white kids do not eat breakfast in the cafeteria, but the black kids do, and even if you eat breakfast at home you sit in the cafeteria lest you are caught loitering around the building.

A semicircle seems to break around the boy as he directs his gaze at her and she meets his eyes over her book. 

“Why you look like a monkey?” he asks her, all teeth. Her heart hammers in her chest so loudly she is certain they all hear. 

“Ooh ooh ah ah,” he taunts her. The crowd around erupts into laughter and she tries to laugh, too. 

“What you laughing for, monkey?” another boy pierces her. Again, they laugh.

This is the opening that she remembers. 

At lunch one of the white boys joins in. “Hey, gorilla,” he sneers. “ooh ooh ah ah.” She pauses for a moment. Her town is small and southern and segregated. She imagines for a moment that they, the boys who look like her, the ones who began this, will protect her.

Here, though, a bridge is made. They all erupt into laughter again and she hates them.

She is small for her age and wears cheap round glasses with thick lenses. Her legs are scarred and her hair is fried. Her nose is wide and her skin is dark. She over enunciates every word and she is accused of liking white boys. She hates her face. She hates her flat chest and her scarred legs. She hates her nose and her dark skin and her nappy hair. The bridge of her nose is deep, her forehead wide.

She thinks she looks like a monkey, too, feels it deep within her bones, and she despairs.

For six years more it continues. Everyone knows that she is the monkey. They walk down the hall making hooting noises and, when particularly emboldened, offer bananas to her. 

             Once she walks the halls with her crush, her heart fluttering wildly. They move past a group who whisper hoots. She pretends not to hear them, afraid her crush will hear. Their taunts dig deep into her skin and scar even her bones. 

Years later she wants to accuse them, all of them, for all of the world—even white people—to see. She knows that to air your dirty laundry is an offense that will send you to hell, but to air it so that white people can pick through and claim it? That will send you to hell here on earth. 

A girl whose name she does not know tells her, rather abruptly, that everyone experienced the same trauma. That it isn’t an excuse for hating herself. Childhood trauma should be left in childhood. She wonders if this burgeoning physician will heal herself; bitterly she resigns herself to the knowledge that some trauma is to be buried deep. 

In some part of her she knows the girl is right. Boys who looked like her weren’t the only people to put her beneath their feet. She cannot reach the others, though, and so she hates the ones with skin as dark as hers, noses just as wide. The ones she constructed herself against. 

She thinks she rids herself of this later, when she exchanges her desire for straight hair for a desire for the hair that grows from her scalp like a crown. Though her husband has skin as fair as milk she considers that she chose him in spite of this. She works as an activist and though she does not live in their neighborhood, works with underprivileged youth encouraging them to see their black as beautiful and to write their path from darkness. She loves her skin in its sable smoothness. 

And yet.

Her pen is poised above the page where she should indicate shared grief. 

Years of fury boil up over her in a rage. He has moved beyond the veil and she thought she had rid herself of her hatred but she wants to scribble it on the page and send it to those whom he has left behind.

I hated myself because of him. She wants to accuse him, though she knows it would be a lie. She aches with knowing.

She throws the stationary away and settles for, “I’m sorry for your loss,” on her friend’s page. 

She avoids her bedroom mirror and moves through her white, gleaming house, in the dark. 

Occurrence on King Drive

I.

A man kneeled on cracked cement on King Drive in the South Side of Chicago, staring down the barrel of a .40. The man’s wrists were not bound, but hung limply by his sides, weighed down only by the heaviness of his coat. On either side of the man stood faceless, nameless men in uniform. They stared ahead, unseeing, performing their sightless speechless duties as required—no more, no less. 

Beyond the uniformed, nameless figures was no-one. The business conducted in that alley was publicly private, and not even the brilliant flashes of blue and white could draw forth witnesses. Just one block from the alley lay another world entire: suits and dresses and the rhythmic staccato of the world beyond. Later these would be spectators and later still carrion, but the wall between the alley and that world had not yet been sold. 

All were silent and still in the alley. The captain stood stiff and red-faced, breathing heavily. He knew what would happen next—what must happen. His lieutenants awaited his sign, and he would not rush it. He had read somewhere that “death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.” He wasn’t sure where he’d heard it, but he had known death and thus, he gave deference to him, death, when he came. 

The kneeling man was no more than twenty-seven. He was a man whose being was formed almost assuredly by “The Hood;” an oft referenced but rarely sighted section of Blackness, more prescient than his own name. Even if he were not raised there (he was not), he was a part of them, The Streets, and they a part of the construction of him. He had familiar features—wide nose, dark skin, thick lips, coarse hair, and muscles rippling naturally from beneath his oversized hoodie. His eyes were large and dark brown, and his expression was defiant and accusatory. He had not been here before, but all was familiar. He had seen the scene before, if not with his own eyes. Being wrestled to the ground and staring down the barrel of a Glock for the crime of not passing the paper bag test was genetic memory now. Those whose ghosts kneeled before were gentlemen, girl, and goon alike—when the moment came for sacrifice (and the moment was moments, now, one right after the next) all blood fell even.

Now was his moment. The lieutenants stepped aside—their part here was finished for now. It came to the captain; he had not had his turn in awhile, and the use of the captain was simple and effective. The story would always be clean, but this helped ease the stomachs of the lieutenants. They would quickly become accustomed to such methods, but too much of this justice would sour them. 

Should they go before the world to be judged it would come out in their favor. The performance of this type of justice, here, in the streets, was for the people, and the people did not damn those who enacted their will. Certainly all parts would be played as what is right and proper, but they would extinguish him and hang him by the invisible noose of justice and after the appropriate time would receive commendations for their part in assuaging the burden. 

The kneeling man licked his lips and let his eyes wander for a moment. How curious that they would wander now; a gun pointed toward the center of his face, and steel cuffs now chilled his wrists from behind. He noted a silver glint in the corner of his eye and he followed it. The strain was too much though and hurt his eyes, and he lost the glint just beyond his field of vision. Perhaps it belonged to the cavalry, all of those whose face his represented now. Perhaps a gun pointed at his accuser, its barrel caught by the light. Perhaps a small puddle reflected the sun peering at them from behind a slow moving cloud. 

The kneeling man closed his eyes and thought of his parents and his siblings. Beyond his thoughts he could hear the bustle of people moving unaware of his ending. He could discern the city swell and a coming rain, but beneath those a new sound. The toll of a bell—how poignant! Were he not in the kneeling position as the condemned man he wouldn’t believe it, a bell sounding the hour of his death—though more likely it sounded noon. They must move soon if their story was to hold. The sound of the bell drawing him closer to an end cut through him like a knife, and he thought he might be sick with the thought. 

He closed his eyes and saw the glint again. “If I could loosen the cuffs,” he thought, “I might distract them enough to run out of the alley. Run down __th and 1st, reach the boulevard, take the train and make my way home. They won’t come down there, thank God. My mom and the others are still beyond their reach.” 

As these thoughts came upon him the captain nodded at the sergeant, and he did not hesitate.

II.

Adwin Frost was a man unmoored, a drifter hailing from generations of drifters. They worked—one could not eat if one did not work was an early lesson Adwin’s mother taught him—moving from odd job to odd job. The drifting was in desire more than station. His generation was unafraid of moving and desiring, they seemed to be inspired by an insipid notion of self-worth and happiness. Adwin’s mother had hoped he would let go of foolish notions of happiness and instead “make something” of himself. She never revealed what making something of one’s self meant, so Adwin supposed that sleeping somewhere that wasn’t outside—though the somewhere was not always better than sleeping outside—was making more of himself than others, but less, admittedly, than most. Adwin had envisioned himself an artist, and though he performed his civic duty and, impossibly, pulled himself up by his bootstrap, attended college, paid student loans when he couldn’t afford to pay rent, opportunity and luck passed him by. While his mother did not state that being an artist wasn’t the same as being, Adwin could feel the impression of her mild disapproval whenever he spoke of his choice. 

To be an artist was to feign freedom, to move about the world in a daze, seeing things for what they were and what they could be. There was a curse in this kind of knowledge: room for any concepts of freedom when there was work to be done—and there was always work to do. Adwin’s mother did not disapprove of the type of art—Adwin wanted to be an architecture, and saw only beauty in the structures—but the way in which Adwin’s eyes were always drawn above where she felt they should be. Adwin would not be safe staring above when the threats below were ever shifting but prescient.

Though he was “well spoken” (people who knew told Adwin this enough for him to believe it himself; somehow well spoken meant acceptable other), he could not turn this into a career. In spite of his intentions, Adwin left college with a degree and contacts who were little better off than he, and no real insight into The Way The World Worked. For all of his scholarly knowledge, Adwin was wordly dim, and he could not seem to ease his way into the circles that would grant him passage into the elusive Middle Class. Adwin was pleasant to hear but not pleasant to see; a bit too dark with a voice a bit too deep. And his eyes. They were soul searching eyes: they suggested all manner of thought and purpose and rebellion.

While searching for a career after graduation Adwin took in menial jobs. He could not be satisfied in any one place; he had to be moving somewhere, towards something. A name for himself. For now he did what he had to do to make an (honest) living for himself and his mother and father, his siblings all grown up and moved away. His mother would have killed him herself if she so much as dreamed that Adwin did anything untoward. She had “raised him right.” He would respect authority. He would not clip the ends of his words. He would “make it out.”

Armed with a degree more than an education and connections only useful in the three block radius surrounding his childhood home, Adwin spent time doing what he could—yard work, carpentry, and construction work, when available. He would do this work for his parents, and eventually he would do something for himself. 

Though his mother desired—she had, at a low point, begged—that Adwin turn to architectural design, Adwin insisted that through visual art he would find his voice, and through his voice he would be fulfilled.

He did not anticipate the years of silence.

Adwin’s circumstances made him pauper, but his imagining named him king. As a king he donned himself in the type of naivete that sees its wearer conned: of what, only time would tell.

One morning Adwin, his mother, and his white friend Cain were seated in their small kitchen, feasting silently on a breakfast casserole. The table and chairs were built by the elder Frost himself, of strong oak, the eye of the tree rugged and searching in the center of the table. Adwin’s father took his coffee on the back porch while reading the paper, his only sound the occasional rustling of the turned page. He always began with the obituaries, sucking his teeth when he spied unreasonable ages. Adwin’s father rested comfortably in his wife’s shadow, and though he could hear the breakfast conversation and engage if he wished to, he preferred not to speak, as she had words enough for them both.

Adwin’s mother turned to him and said, “Adwin, George Willington is coming through town again. Did you hear?” 

George Willington was a large part of the reason that rent had skyrocketed in Adwin’s neighborhood. He called himself a “revitalizer,” raging through communities like a fire. He burned the tenants and their savings and took what was left, sanitized it, and sold it. The people who were ravaged were cluttered in the only place they could afford, just south of the city, right inside the last train stop. Adwin and his mother still lived in the neighborhood of his youth, but only just. All of the others were gone. Cain came after the Williams’, the Frosts’ neighbors for more than twenty years, were asked to leave in thirty days, fourteen if they could please. 

Cain lived in an apartment purchased by his parents, in cash. They were the “pick yourself up by your bootstrap” type, though the boots were patched and passed down, like new. Cain had not introduced Adwin to his family. They felt guilty about the imagined eyes pressing into their living room, the displaced children playing in the community garden. This guilt quickly gave way to a more comfortable, righteous indignation that said proudly, “we belong here” and, quieter, “I’d like to report suspicious activity.” Cain wasn’t like his parents, of course. He preferred to stay away from the drama. He knew that if both sides just listened they would come to a consensus. There was blame to be spared. On both sides.

At his mother’s announcement Adwin felt a creeping heat at his collar. If George Willington was back that meant his eyes were set on their dwelling. They were the only ones left.

“You know, I’m tired of seeing everyone we know stuck in a small space with no way out while interlopers come and take everything.” Cain was silent here, his chest burning. 

Interlopers? This idea of belonging—of people like Cain not belonging, rather—kept certain ideas alive, of that Cain was certain. Cain could feel a palpable rage roiling from Adwin’s skin. 

Adwin was unaware of this rage, as he was always in it. He was born into it. It was passed from parent to child, a shared trauma written into his dan, a shield against the type of naivete that made one think they could write down a badge number or call a commissioner or complain. This was the way of the world. The Frosts were pressed into this small pocket of their own paradise and they created a home from it. The community was vibrant and rich and safe. The “Chiraq” that sold ads and stopped dissent was unfamiliar to them. The new coffee shop and yoga in the park was also unfamiliar. Cops who were previously too afraid to move into the area that paid just as much of their salaries as Hyde Park now found themselves being called by hipster elites to check on suspicious men taking out the trash from their own kitchens. 

“How would you, you know, protest?” Cain asked this carefully, staring deeply into his plate. Adwin’s mother thought a moment before responding for her son. She did not trust Cain. He spoke too freely and wanted too much.

“Well, they’ll have a town hall next week. They could use a voice like yours,” she nodded at Adwin. Adwin scoffed.

“What can a voice like mine accomplish? They won’t hear me. They’ll see me, but they won’t hear me.” Cain relaxed a bit. Adwin’s mother felt a tightening in her chest, but she swallowed it back. She chose her words carefully; Cain was nice enough, but he was new. He had a look about him. It said “economics is the real problem” and “I don’t see race” and, working for free on behalf of the devil, “I can see both sides.”

“They’ll hear you if you make them hear,” Mrs. Frost assured Adwin. He nodded slowly.

“They don’t want your voice, son.” Mr. Frost said this while rustling his paper, flipping the page thoughtfully. All heads turned to the door which hid Mr. Frost from view. Mr. Frost paused a long moment before continuing.

“They want your blood.” 

All in the kitchen were silent then. Adwin shook his head furiously.

“No, Dad. You’re wrong. There’s a movement growing. People are different now. They listen and if someone can get them together. . .I could. . .I could form a silent protest. Get a couple of guys. Meet George Willington right there in the middle of it.” Even the thought made Adwin’s heart quicken. Cain’s heart beat fast, too. Mr. Frost’s sank, like a rock, to his feet. He sat stone still, his paper clutched to him.

“We can’t let them take what’s ours,” Adwin stated assuredly. “Not without fighting.” 

“We can’t let them take what’s ours,” Adwin stated assuredly. “Not without fighting.” 

After a few moments more Cain thanked Mrs. Frost for a lovely breakfast. He was barely past the front door before he pulled his phone from his pocket, warning his old friend of a troublemaker and his riot, all notion of the power of both sides gone from him; his only concern his property and its value.

III. 

Adwin Frost jerked backwards as something searing hot moved through him. He landed on the ground as one already dead, a sticky wet warmth enveloping him. He blinked rapidly, resisting the overwhelming urge to sleep. Excruciating pain radiated through his temples and throughout his body. His very sinew was aflame, and each pulse of his heart seemed to carry with it lightning designed to strike him at every nerve’s core. His mouth felt full and he thought he might vomit. He was panicked and could only succumb to this panic; from afar he heard voices screaming. Were they for him?

At once he felt a coolness and the earth beneath him; without thinking he ran. He drew a painful breath into his lungs; it burned and ached and the light around him was blinding. He dared not look back, and indeed could feel the whizzing of bullets as though they were jolting through his body. Perhaps they were, but he could not chance the glance downward. 

“I will not go down like a dog in the street,” Adwin swore to himself. “I will not.” 

Adwin was conscious of an ache in his shoulders, and remembered at once that he was still cuffed. The keys were tucked into the cuffs, presumably to be removed later as his murderers would have likely positioned him in an offensive position complete with a gun. Still, the strength to turn the key seemed just beyond him. The cuffs cut into his wrists like razor blades, and with great strength Adwin turned the key and wrenched his wrists apart. His arms felt heavy and not his own, but on their own they grappled at the warmth on his face. The hot pain that burned through him had subsided now, and a rapid cooling was taking its place. He knew he must continue if he were to make it home.

Gasping for air Adwin stumbled blindly into the street; he had an awareness of cars whizzing past but he could not see them. He could only see home. He could feel his mother’s warmth and her terror as she took him in. She would be grateful that he had survived, but angry that he had confronted George Willington alone. Shouts behind him caused Adwin to start, and he could hear the whiz of a bullet move close to his ear. He wanted to turn and look back, but the pain in his head made moving any direction but forward impossible. 

Adwin closed his heavy eyes for a moment, and was immediately disoriented. He had thought that he was on MLK Drive when the initial shot missed him, but now he was near the train tracks. He supposed his adrenaline made the passage of time finite and infinite. Still, Adwin thought he might be sick, and he swallowed back the bile in his throat. The lights from the oncoming trains were blinding, and Adwin wanted to rest and reorient himself to the city for a moment. He focused on a singular light just before him—he supposed it was from the station. It seemed for a moment to grow larger in the dim around him; somehow the presence gave him peace. From behind he could hear the rustling of the officers and he knew that he would not find rest until he returned home.

He imagined that George Willington was among the officers, pointing at Adwin as the rabblerouser who confronted him. Adwin wasn’t armed—of course he wasn’t armed—but George Willington exclaimed as though Adwin had threatened him. In the commotion Adwin lost his cool. He had been taught to remain calm, of course, but he was angry and he was frightened and before he had even walked through the door it was clear he had lost. 

He shouted in George Willington’s face. Shouted at George Willington’s friends. Threw up his hands in a rage. Pleaded for understanding.

His audience was impassive and unmoved. 

Every face was white but his and his friends, who were detained immediately. Adwin was led away, uncuffed. He searched the white faces for friendliness, but all were impassive. 

He did not want to think about the circumstances that led him to running for his life, but he could not contain himself. 

He did not recall being quite so far from the meeting hall before, but perhaps the unquenchable thirst made it seem so much further away, home. He thought of his mother and his father, and the thought of their pride in him urged him forward. They would be upset that he had spoken at all, but they would only be upset with him because they had no access to Them. Once they saw what he had accomplished—he was certain something would be accomplished—they would understand. He would get home and explain everything.

There before him was the road to his house, wide and inviting, a pale smattering of stars pointing him home. The pain in his head threatened again to overwhelm him, and a sticky heat trickled slowly down his forehead. He reached for his face—only to find he could no longer control his hand. Indeed, he seemed to be rapidly losing control of all of his functions. His legs, so strong and powerful, were empty space beneath him. 

At once Adwin was before his own house, and his heart fluttered rapidly in his chest. He did not remember walking, yet there he was. The door was flung open as though just inside his parents were already waiting for him. Sun enveloped the house and the warmth that always awaited him in youth was there now. His parents step through the door, smiling down at him, his mother softer than he has ever known her. Even his father appears pleased. 

Adwin reaches forward, and at once he feels a blow to his face and a sound like a shot—then darkness, and silence.

Adwin Frost was dead on King Drive in the South Side of Chicago with a single bullet to the brain, all that he once was and everything that he would never be leaking out silently into the unforgivingly cracked, hard street. 

A Round The Way Girl

“You aren’t fast like her,” my mother tells me.

My throat burns as Tashae swings her hips. I hope she doesn’t speak. If she speaks my mother will respond and later I’ll hear about inviting her in.

“Heyyyyy Amber,” Tashae calls. I smile weakly.

My mother sucks her teeth loudly before responding for me,

“Good morning, Tashae. You coming in?”

She does. My mother will say, later, that it’s tacky for Tashae to enter when my mother was so clearly being polite with her invitation.

Good girls understand this.

While we walk to school Tashae entertains me with stories. They usually center around her Uncle Jimmy, a violent drunk. His violence is almost singularly directed towards Tashae’s brother, Malcolm. According to Uncle Jimmy Malcolm is a pussy and a nigger with a hard er. Malcolm will knock Uncle Jimmy “the hell out” when he leaves elementary school. He swears this. Tashae laughs when she tells Uncle Jimmy tales.

I wonder if Malcolm ever laughs.

“Last night he didn’t even make it up the stairs. He tried. He kept taking the step but his foot missed. He swore if he made it up the stairs he was going to “whip that pussy ass nigger’s ass for making him look like a fool.” She doesn’t say it exactly like this and I have to wonder if Uncle Jimmy really used “ass” that many times in a row, but I discern Tashae’s meaning.

“He fell asleep on the stairs. Vomited first. Then fell asleep. Malcolm made sure he was good and passed out before taking his foot and kicking Uncle Jimmy right in his nuts.”

I’m not sure which part is funny, so I chuckle every time Tashae takes a breath.

We get to the corner before Tashae’s first cat call.

Mr. Warner leans out of his truck, teeth gleaming. His foot is on the brake, but only slightly, so his truck creeps by as he grins at Tashae.

She grins back. I stare at the ground, hoping it will swallow us.

“Hey baby girl,” Mr. Warner coos.

“Heyyyyyy,” Tashae calls back.

“Come over here,” Mr. Warner demands. Tashae smiles, her eyes meeting the ground.

“Nah, I can’t. I gotta go to school.”

Mr. Warner scoffs. “I can teach you everything you need.”

Tashae laughs lightly, but doesn’t respond.

“When I need that kind of learning you’re the first person I’ll call,” Tashae promises. Mr. Warner hits the steering wheel, laughing.

“Do that. Amber tell your momma and daddy I said hello.” I swallow hard and nod, meeting his eyes once before looking away.

Good girls don’t give off the wrong impression.

Still, his gaze lingers awhile before he drives off, slowly.

“Is he gone,” I ask, my eyes still on the ground. Tashae laughs.

“Amber, why are you so scary?” I shrug.

“I don’t like that.” I mutter. Tashae shrugs and begins walking.

“Do you?” I sound like a baby when I ask this. Tashae offers me an incredulous stare, but I don’t catch its meaning. Does that stare mean, “of course not,” which is the only answer a good girl can give. Or does it mean, “why wouldn’t I?”

Some girls like boys calling and staring while their hips sway. Those girls twist their necks and laugh so loudly their own throats hurt, especially when boys walk by. Those girls have flickers of smiles when boys offer the world for three minutes, and they don’t mind fighting after school for a boy who was already gone. Those girls don’t wait and they give but they never receive. Around the way girls, my mother calls them. Tashae’s mother was a ‘round the way girl, and Tashae will be, too. She has never met her father, but she supposes he lives on the west coast. He was going to be an actor and he wasn’t from around here. Just passing through.

Tashae has been my best friend for three years now, since Brandon Duke and his friends began making monkey noises when I walked by. Tashae was bigger than the other girls and all of the boys were crazy for her. She could get them to do anything. When she told them to shut the hell up and leave me alone, they did.

The first time I brought her home my mother sucked her teeth and let her eyes roam Tashae in a swift rebuke.

“Mom—“ (my mother is a “mom,” not a mama. She said mamas are only good for spoiling and raising reprobates. Moms or better yet, Mothers, know how to maintain proper distance and command respect. They raise men and women worthy of the world.) “—this is Tashae. She—“ mom never found out what Tashae did. She held up a hand and stopped my words.

“I know who she is,” mom said coldly. Tashae’s face fell and my cheeks burned. Tashae left about ten minutes later and my mother rounded on me.

“I know I’ve told you about whom you associate with. You bring a girl like that around here and it sends the wrong message.” I never told Tashae what my mother said and she didn’t ask.

After school Tashae convinces me to go with her to the mall. She saved a few dollars babysitting to buy cherry lipgloss. We enter the store together, chattering and laughing. I don’t notice the awkward presence of the cashier over our shoulders until we’ve been in the store perusing the makeup aisles for about ten minutes.

“Why is he staring at us,” I whisper to Tashae. She cranes her neck, but doesn’t have to work hard. The cashier is so close he can probably hear what we are thinking.

“Can I help you?” Tashae demands.

The cashier flushes. “Just wanted to see if I could assist you with anything.” Tashae rolls her eyes. I don’t speak.

“We’re good, thanks,” Tashae dismisses him. The cashier stalks away.

“Let’s get out of here,” I suggest. Tashae thrusts her lipgloss back into the bin and we walk out. We head towards the book store. I like it because it’s quiet and has nice couches that you can use to read or study. The people milling about seem classy and smart, and I like that they meet my eyes with smiles.

I’ve saved my allowance for the next book in my favorite series. Tashae reads them after I’m finished, so I know she won’t complain about going in.

We are greeted as we enter the store by a white woman with graying hair and thin lips.

Tashae and I are chatting over the cover of the book when a shadow looms over us. The man is huge and pink, a thick mustache covering his upper lip.

“Yes?” I inquire. There is no timidity in my voice, which shocks me.

“You girls just left the cosmetic store?” I shrug and nod.

“A few minutes ago, why?”

“Cashier said there was a disturbance. Cashier here said you two have been loitering.”

I stare. “We went in there and the cashier was rude. So we came here to get a book.”

“This isn’t a library. Get your books and get home.” Tashae opens her mouth to speak, but I stop her.

“Sir, we’re just looking for a book. I’m not sure—”

“Are we having a problem?” The man shifts, and his hand moves to his waist. There is no gun there, only a walkie talkie.

I swallow hard. There are a number of things I want to say and do. I would like to say yes, sir, there is a problem. I would like to smack him in the face, hard. I would like to spit on him.

Instead I shake my head. I can feel heat radiating off of Tashae. This is not how she wants to handle it.

She says as much as we leave the mall.

“Couldn’t be me,” she keeps saying. She directs this at me, as though I failed by not showing the rentacop my power. Finally I turn on her.

“It was you,” I spit. Tashae’s eyes widen.

“If it weren’t for you they wouldn’t have treated us like criminals.” Tashae scoffs.

“Me? Please. You are just as black as me.” I shake my head at this.

“I’m not going places like I own them. I’m not walking into stores looking like I’m going to steal. I don’t have boys chasing me thinking they’re next in my line.” Tashae’s face falls.

“That’s what you think? I have a line of boys chasing me? Guess that’s easy to see when the line next to you is empty.” Tashae smirks at me.

“You’ve wanted to talk trash about me since we met. You think you’re better than me. You think you’re smarter. You aren’t. We’re the same.”

She walks ahead of me and doesn’t wait for me to catch the bus. On the bus she sits next to the aisle so that I can’t sit next to her. I want to apologize but I don’t.

I move my lips to form the words but they don’t come out.

We get off of the bus and fall into step together. I play with different ways to say “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t think I’m better than you,” I begin, but she stops me.

“Yes you do. You think that and your mom thinks that.” I swallow hard, but I don’t correct her.

Tashae shrugs. “I’m used to it. Your mama prepared you for me. My mama prepared me for the world and people like you. I feel sorry for you. And your mama. You think there’s a difference between good girls and everyone else. You think you can talk your way out of being black. You think boys aren’t going to make up stories about you. You think other girls aren’t going to say you’re loose. They won’t call you a ‘round the way girl. You think you can press your legs closed tight enough that no secrets can get out. But you’re just as black as me. No matter how proper you are. How many books you read. How far down you put your head. You can go into stores and pretend you’re different, but you’re not. You’re a black girl, same as me. If I’m a round the way girl, you are, too.”

Tashae gives me a quick nod and makes her way past my house and up the street. She swings her hips and offers shy smiles to her admirers, but she keeps walking. Her head is high and her back is rod straight.

My mother greets me at the door, sucking her teeth and shaking her head, staring after Tashae.

“You don’t need to keep hanging around that girl. You’re a good girl,” my mother says. “Nothing good can come from hanging with a round the way girl.”

the deep

So I pulled you from my chest and I buried you still beating, deep in the blackened earth. Weak with hunger and trembling, my sun-parched lips cracked and bled as my fingers, drenched with blood, covered you in the cold, damp deep. I let no tears fall—besides, there were none. Long ago they were spent, wasted on nothings and no ones. The only part of me with room enough for you was aching and dying alone smothered in the earth.

You were not alone, though, not really. We made a graveyard of ourselves and cast our own bleeding bits into it. We did not speak of the graveyard, but it called us by name and we knew to bury there, and we knew what stones to overstep and which pieces belonged to whom. We did all of the burying ourselves. We did not prepare, and it was always quick and under the cover of night, while our souls slumbered, before we lost our nerve.

We let the earth tear our flesh and chew our sinew as offerings for accepting our endless trail of ruined burden.

Tattered remnants of muscle survive, though. Like a chord around our necks that tightens now and again as what we cast away breathes a slow staggering breath and demands reckoning. When they come alive we wrest power again away from them, each time slower to move. We beat them back until they lie stone still. They are not dead, they simply wait until our guards are down and we think enough time has passed and perhaps they are truly void and then they lurch and pull us back again. 

Or else we are carrion or carrion birds, rooting out the flesh of our own unmaking, a grotesque dance of being and unbeing.

How I have suffered long, keeping you from me, and me together without you. 

To give you over—to be free of you—I have bound myself. Hollow and unmade I wander the earth as a ruined thing, blood dripping slow in my wake. 

I won the battle, but you have won the war. I will stagger to you eventually, my white flag clutched to me in sad surrender. I will join us again, stuff you back into me and we will drown together, broken and bleeding, in the deep. 

Occurrence on King Drive

A man kneeled on cracked cement on King Drive in the south side of Chicago, staring down the barrel of a .45. The man’s wrists were not bound, but hung limply by his sides, weighed down only by the heaviness of his coat. On either side of the man stood faceless, nameless men in uniform. They stared ahead, unseeing, performing their sightless speechless duties as required—no more, no less.

Beyond the uniformed, nameless figures was no-one. The business conducted in that alley was publicly private, and not even the brilliant flashes of blue and white could draw forth witnesses. Just one block from the alley lay another world entire; suits and dresses and the rhythmic staccato of the world beyond. Later these would be spectators, but the wall between the alley and that world had not yet been sold.

All were silent and still in the alley. The captain stood stiff and red-faced, breathing heavily. He knew what would happen next—what must happen. His lieutenants awaited his sign, and he would not rush it. He had read somewhere that “death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.” He wasn’t sure where he’d heard it, but he had known death and thus, he gave deference to him when he came.

The kneeling man was no more than twenty-seven. He was a man not educated by “The Streets;” even though he was not raised there, he was a part of them and they a part of the construction of him. He had familiar features—wide nose, dark skin, thick lips, coarse hair, and muscles rippling naturally from beneath his oversized hoodie. His eyes were large and dark brown, and his expression was accusatory. He had not been here before, but all was familiar. He had seen the scene before, if not with his own eyes. Those before were gentlemen, girl, and goon alike—when the moment came for sacrifice (and the moment was moments, now, one right after the next) all blood fell even.

Now was his moment. The lieutenants stepped aside—their part here was finished for now. It came to the captain; he had not had his turn in awhile, and the use of the captain was simple and effective. The story would always be clean, but this helped ease the stomachs of the lieutenants. They would quickly become accustomed to such methods, but too much of this justice would sour them.

Should they go before to be judged it would come out in their favor. The justice performed was for the people, and the people did not damn those who enacted their will.

The kneeling man licked his lips and let his eyes wander for a moment. How curious that they would wander now; a gun pointed toward the center of his face, and steel cuffs now chilled his wrists from behind. He noted a silver glint in the corner of his eye and he followed it. The strain was too much though and hurt his eyes, and he lost the glint just beyond his field of vision. Perhaps it belonged to the cavalry, all of those whose face his represented now. Perhaps a gun pointed at his accuser, its barrel caught by the light. Perhaps a small puddle reflected the sun peering at them from behind a slow moving cloud.

The kneeling man closed his eyes and thought of his parents and his siblings. Beyond his thoughts he could hear the bustle of people moving unaware of his ending. He could discern the city swell and a coming rain, but beneath those a new sound. The toll of a bell—how poignant! Were he not in the kneeling position as the condemned man he wouldn’t believe it, a bell sounding the hour of his death—though more likely it sounded noon. They must move soon if their story was to hold. The sound of the bell drawing him closer to an end cut through him like a knife, and he thought he might be sick with the thought.

He closed his eyes and saw the glint again. “If I could loosen the cuffs,” he thought, “I might distract them enough to run out of the alley. Run down __th and 1st, reach the boulevard, take the train and make my way home. They won’t come down there, thank God. My mom and the others are still beyond their reach.”

As these thoughts came upon him the captain nodded at the sergeant, and he did not hesitate.

II.

Adwin Frost was unmoored, a drifter hailing from a generation of drifters. They worked—one could not eat if one did not work was an early lesson Adwin’s mother taught him—moving from odd job to odd job. Adwin, like his peers, was well-versed in the manner of the Self Made Man. To be made was to be content, and so Adwin sought constantly, contentment. His mother, Mrs. Frost, hailed from a different generation, and she hoped that, in spite of the toxic effulgence of his peers and their ambitions, Adwin would “make something” of himself. Mrs. Frost never revealed what making something of one’s self meant, so Adwin supposed that sleeping somewhere that belonged to him, somewhere that wasn’t outside—though the somewhere was not always better than sleeping outside—was making more of himself than others, but less, admittedly, than most.

Adwin’s father rested comfortably in his wife’s shadow, and preferred not to speak.

Adwin had envisioned himself an artist, but opportunity and luck passed him by. There was room for only one artist in the graduating class in which he matriculated, and that space was taken by a nameless, faceless other—someone other than Adwin. Though he was “well spoken” (people who knew told Adwin this enough for him to believe it himself; somehow well spoken meant acceptable other), he could not turn this into a career. In spite of his intentions, Adwin left college with a degree and contacts who were little better off than he, and no real insight into The Way The World Worked. For all of his scholarly knowledge, Adwin was wordly dim, and he could not seem to ease his way into the circles that would grant him passage into the elusive Middle Class. Adwin was pleasant to hear but not pleasant to see; a bit too dark with a voice a bit too deep. And his eyes. They were soul searching eyes; they suggested all manner of independent thought and rebellion.

Adwin did not give up on doing something more than shuffling from job to job, but he believed that his time would come. For now he did what he had to do to make an (honest) living for himself and his parents, his siblings all grown up and moved away. His mother would have killed him herself if she so much as supposed Adwin did anything untoward. Armed with a liberal arts education and connections only useful in the three block radius surrounding his childhood home, Adwin spent time doing what he could—yard work, carpentry, and construction work, when available. He would do this work for his aging parents, and eventually he would do something for himself.

Adwin would have been a great architect, of that he was certain. He could see in space buildings higher and grander than any he had ever seen in life. He excelled in math; indeed, he had an opportunity to prove it once. At a build the contractor asked for a number and Adwin gave it to him instantly. The man thanked him as Edwin and did not turn Adwin’s way again. Though his mother desired—she had, at a low point, begged—that Adwin turn to architectural design, Adwin insisted that through art he would find his voice, and through his voice he would be fulfilled.

He did not anticipate the years of silence.

Adwin’s circumstances made him pauper, but his imagining named him king. As a king he exuded the type of naivete that sees the wearer conned; of what, only time could tell.

One morning Adwin, his mother, his father, and his white friend Cain were seated in the Frost’s small kitchen, feasting silently on a breakfast casserole. The table and chairs were built by Adwin himself, of strong oak, the eye of the tree rugged in the center of the table. The knotted eye faced the ceiling, facing God. Adwin’s mother often stared at the knot in the center of her table, proud of her son, and dismayed. Mrs. Frost turned to her youngest son and said, “Adwin, George Willington is coming through town again. Did you hear?”

George Willington was a large part of the reason that rent had skyrocketed in Adwin’s neighborhood. He called himself a “revitalizer,” raging through communities like a fire. He burned the tenants and their savings and took what was left, sanitized it, and sold it. The people who were ravaged were cluttered in the only place they could afford, just south of the city, right inside the last train stop. Adwin and his parents still lived in the neighborhood of his youth, but only just. All of the others were gone. Cain came after the Williams’, the Frosts’ neighbors for more than twenty years, were asked to leave in thirty days, fourteen if they could please.

At his mother’s words Adwin felt a creeping heat at his collar. If George Willington was back that meant his eyes were set on their dwelling.

“You know, I’m tired of seeing everyone we know stuck in a small space with no way out.” Adwin’s baritone made the words sound more musical and softer than they were. Cain was silent. Adwin was his first black friend, but they hadn’t ventured to discuss his race, as Cain was committed to not seeing Adwin as black.

“How would you, you know, protest?” Cain asked this carefully, staring deeply into his plate. Adwin’s mother thought a moment before responding for her son.

“Well, they’ll have a town hall next week. They could use a voice like yours,” she nodded at Adwin. Adwin scoffed.

“What can a voice like mine accomplish? They won’t hear me. They’ll see me, but they won’t hear me.” Cain relaxed a bit. Adwin’s mother felt a tightening in her chest, but she swallowed it back. She chose her words carefully; Cain was nice enough, but he was new.

“They’ll hear you if you make them hear,” she assured him. Adwin nodded slowly. Mr. Frost stared at his son for a long moment.

“They don’t want your voice, son. They want your blood.” All in the kitchen were silent then. Adwin shook his head furiously.

“No, Dad. You’re wrong. There’s a movement growing. People are different now. They listen and if someone can get them together. . .I could. . .I could form a silent protest. Get a couple of guys. Meet George Willington right there in the middle of it.” Even the thought made Adwin’s heart quicken. Cain’s heart beat fast, too. Mr. Frost’s sank, like a rock, to his feet.

“We can’t let them take what’s ours,” Adwin stated assuredly. “Not without fighting.”

After a few moments more Cain thanked Mrs. Frost for a lovely breakfast. He nodded to Mr. Frost, who did not meet his eyes. He was barely past the front door before he pulled his phone from his pocket, warning his father’s old friend of a troublemaker and his riot.

III.

Adwin Frost jerked backwards as something searing hot moved through him. He landed on the ground as one already dead, a sticky wet warmth enveloping him. He blinked rapidly, resisting the overwhelming urge to sleep. Excruciating pain radiated through his temples and throughout his body. His very sinew was aflame, and each pulse of his heart seemed to carry with it lightning designed to strike him at every nerve’s core. His mouth felt full and he thought he might vomit. He was panicked and could only succumb to this panic; from afar he heard voices screaming. Were they for him?

At once he felt a coolness and the earth beneath him; without thinking he ran. He drew a painful breath into his lungs; it burned and ached and the light around him was blinding. He dared not look back, and indeed could feel the whizzing of bullets as though they were jolting through his body. Perhaps they were, but he could not chance the glance downward.

“I will not go down like a dog in the street,” Adwin swore to himself. “I will not.”

Adwin was conscious of an ache in his shoulders, and remembered at once that he was still cuffed. The keys were tucked into the cuffs, presumably to be removed later as his murderers would have likely positioned him in an offensive position complete with a gun. Still, the strength to turn the key seemed just beyond him. The cuffs cut into his wrists like razor blades, and with great strength Adwin turned the key and wrenched his wrists apart. His arms felt heavy and not his own, but on their own they grappled at the warmth on his face. The hot pain that burned through him had subsided now, and a rapid cooling was taking its place. He knew he must continue if he were to make it home.

Gasping for air Adwin stumbled blindly into the street; he had an awareness of cars whizzing past but he could not see them. He could only see home. He could feel his mother’s warmth and her terror as she took him in. She would be grateful that he had survived, but angry that he had confronted George Willington alone. Shouts behind him caused Adwin to start, and he could hear the whiz of a bullet move close to his ear. He wanted to turn and look back, but the pain in his head made moving any direction but forward impossible.

Adwin closed his heavy eyes for a moment, and was immediately disoriented. He had thought that he was on ____th street when the initial shot missed him, but now he was near the train tracks. He supposed his adrenaline made the passage of time finite and infinite. Still, Adwin thought he might be sick, and he swallowed back the bile in his throat. The lights from the oncoming trains were blinding, and Adwin wanted to rest and reorient himself to the city for a moment. He focused on a singular light just before him—he supposed it was from the station. It seemed for a moment to grow larger in the dim around him; somehow the presence gave him peace. From behind he could hear the rustling of the officers and he knew that he would not find rest until he returned home.

He imagined that George Willington was among the officers, pointing at Adwin as the rabblerouser who confronted him. Adwin wasn’t armed—of course he wasn’t armed—but George Willington exclaimed as though Adwin had threatened him. In the commotion Adwin lost his cool. He had been taught to remain calm, of course, but he was angry and he was frightened and before he had even walked through the door it was clear he had lost.

Every face was white but his and his friends, who were detained immediately. Adwin was led away, uncuffed. He searched the white faces for friendliness, but all were impassive.

He did not want to think about the circumstances that led him to running for his life, but he could not contain himself.

He did not recall being quite so far from the meeting hall before, but perhaps the unquenchable thirst made it seem so much further away, home. He thought of his mother and his father, and the thought of their pride in him urged him forward. They would be upset that he had spoken at all, but they would only be upset with him because they had no access to Them. Once they saw what he had accomplished—he was certain something would be accomplished—they would understand. He would get home and explain everything.

There before him was the road to his house, wide and inviting, a pale smattering of stars pointing him home. The pain in his head threatened again to overwhelm him, and a sticky heat trickled slowly down his forehead. He reached for his face—only to find he could no longer control his hand. Indeed, he seemed to be rapidly losing control of all of his functions. His legs, so strong and powerful, were empty space beneath him.

At once Adwin was before his own house, and his heart fluttered rapidly in his chest. He did not remember walking, yet there he was. The door was flung open as though just inside his parents were already waiting for him. Sun enveloped the house and the warmth that always awaited him in youth was there now. His parents step through the door, smiling down at him, his mother softer than he has ever known her. Even his father appears pleased.

Adwin reaches forward, and at once he feels a blow to his face and a sound like a shot—then darkness, and silence.

Adwin Frost was dead on King Drive in the south side of Chicago with a single bullet to the brain, all that he once was leaking out softly into the cracked, hard street.

Infinite: A Letter for William, Beyond the Veil

I suppose I am accustomed to a finite never. That hangover was so spectacular that I will never drink again.

She actually turned out to be quite the bitch, I will never speak to her again.

Now that we make more money we will never make beans and cornbread again.

Never is tenuous and comes with limitations. Maybe I’ll drink if the setting is appropriate. If she apologizes I will consider deigning to grace her with my presence. Perhaps beans aren’t really that bad.

I don’t attend funerals. They are for the living. There seems to be no way to erase the image of an empty vessel from the mind. I went to yours for your mother. Somehow I imagined, naively, that if we were all there we could buffer her from the absence of her own heart. I wasn’t yet thirty and therefore wisdom had not yet settled.

But I went to your viewing. I was late and everyone else had gone. I had to view you alone.

George was with me. He allowed me to clutch his arm. The girls were in the parlor. I didn’t want them to see. Even then I believed–I could hide them from death.

The breath was pulled from my body without warning, but I stayed in my feet. I wanted to touch you but I didn’t. You were darker than you were in life and this bothered me. I wanted you to look exactly the same. I wanted to feel you could have been sleeping.

The music was horrendous. Were I not crying for you I would have been crying for that. It was truly awful. Exactly what you’d expect from a funeral home.

You were surrounded by photographs. You were unmoving. Your chest did not rise and fall with breath.

You were not in there.

I cried aching tears, the kind that seem to bleed when they out. I contemplated my own mortality.

I didn’t eat at your repast. Some years ago Grammy called that sin eating and it has stayed with me. I couldn’t let a single morsel pass my lips.

So here I am months later. In the Catholic Church (yes I am agnostic and yes I do attend church…it’s a long story) the period following Halloween is reserved for contemplation of those we have lost. I wrote your name as one to be remembered on the cloth this morning, and I felt the aching pain again. I was surprised.

You will not come this way again. This surprises me. The fact that this surprises me surprises me also.

It is the infinite never that I do not comprehend. This state without you is not temporary. You will never greet us with your mischievous smile again. We will never hear the tinkling innocence that your laughter never seemed to shed again.

I keep asking George if he remembered standing beside me looking down at you. He does, so it was not a dream. You have crossed the veil, and you do not come back this way in our lives a way that is familiar. We must do life, always, without you.

I placed these words here carelessly. I understand them in theory.

I am snagged by the “never.” Never. I turn again to my phone, waiting for the message that you have been found. Even now I wait for it.

I do not comprehend an infinite never.