Sunday, November 25, 2007

Clear Nights of Fire

Redmond Wallace

Jay Miller sat on his front steps and pondered the early fall evening and the sounds of the empty street. He could sit in his space and relish the lack of sights and sounds assaulting his weary senses. A soft breeze shook the first leaves of the dying season and loose trembles of paper skittered down the asphalt.

He held his hands over his closed eyes and thought of the black behind them in an attempt to regain control of himself, if only for a minute. The blistering array running through his head began to drift into the darkness and be carried off by the breeze, flitting down the street, another overused bit of paper.

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” The shots were close enough to shake him to immediate considerations.

“We’ve got shots fired on the north side of campus.” Francis Strundle stated over the radio to the rest of the University Security. Francis pulled the Aggravated Assault and Injury Guidelines from the top drawer of her gray, metal desk and set them before her. She called the Med to get an ambulance on the scene. Her next call was to the police and then protocol reactions to the situation.

“Shots fired.” The words were stuck in her skull. In her fifteen years at the University, she refused to think of them. School was a place that worked to erase the ignorance of violence. She herself had spent five years getting a degree in Anthropolgy.

“What did you do with that?” Her high school son asked her when he told he wanted to drop out to be a pro skater.

“It doesn’t matter what I did with it. School is important. It is one of those things that you’ll find out. If you don’t go, you’ll regret it every day.”

“And if I do go, what is so damn special?”

“No matter what you do, you will grow into a man. What type of man do you want to be?”

She could not convey what it was to learn reason and decency, that they were the great traits of the evolved society. In her years since academia she had forgotten how to make epic statements of Truth but she lived by them.

“Officer Strundle, can you make a call to the President. Let her know that we have deceased student and it looks like a homicide.” The man’s voice sounded like steel about to tear.

“Dear Lord. Yes, I’ll get to her immediately and the police should be there now.”

She dialed the number to Dr. Jennings, the University President, and failed at hiding her emotions.

Marcus Steward was not scared shitless. He was lost in the immediate past; high on power, he pedaled through a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and roundabouts. He could not remember if he set out to kill the guy but he could still see the man’s body snap at the third shot and turn to get away and collapse around the lead in its chest.

He showed the dead man that he was no bitch. “I ain’t taking shit from no one. If they want to get into my game I’ll blow a hole in their head.” He said to himself as he pedaled through the well-manicured neighborhood. “This shit should be mine. These white folks don’t understand.” He figured his dad might be proud of him for the first time. He looked at the burn on his arm, staring at him with its agonized smile. His dad had put his forearm over the gas burner and made him hold it there until he could smell his own flesh cooking. “You’ve got to be strong to be man. You can’t let no one ever think you’re their bitch. If you do, then you are.” He handed the last of his quart of whiskey to his son who was trying to fight back the tears of pain.

Marcus’s mom ran the bastard off after that. Marcus, in his youth, figured that was just the way the world operated. He saw the kids at school play house or cops and robbers but could never play with them since they seemed wrong and boring. People did not take care of each other, they only worried about themselves. And that is all he was trying to do when he offered the college student four CDs for twenty dollars. The swolled up bastard looked offended at Marcus, “Damn, little man, shouldn’t you be at home studying or playing ball.”

“Are you trying to tell me what to do?” Marcus fired back.

It's too late out for a young buck, like you. I don't like it out here and I eat weights.”

“Man, I ain’t taking shit from you. I’m a grown motherfucker and I’ll show you why.”

It was the look on the man’s face that Marcus really got off on. The eyes were wide and the body was frozen in fearful confusion. He could see that look on anyone now. He knew the way to power and he was a man for it.

In his wandering, he found himself onto the streets he knew and began pedaling toward his refuge. No one would expect anything of him. No one on his block cared. His bike creaked under his steady movement forward.

Jay heard someone riding a bike down the street. Its moans were rhythmic and uncared for. He looked up from his perch on the steps to see a boy riding by. He wanted to tell the kid he should get home, that it wasn’t safe out for an adult, much less a child. He could see something in the kid’s face that kept him from speaking. The youthful body had the face of tormented ghost and it scared the breath out of Jay Miller.

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