Fiction | Short Story


I vividly remember reading the letter for the first time. As soon as I finished, my girlfriend Amanda came down the stairs of our townhouse fussing about something. It must have really mattered to her because she was visibly angry, her face was red, her tone was aggressive, and her voice was loud.  I glanced […]

I vividly remember reading the letter
for the first time. As soon as I finished, my girlfriend Amanda came down the
stairs of our townhouse fussing about something. It must have really mattered
to her because she was visibly angry, her face was red, her tone was
aggressive, and her voice was loud.  I
glanced at her long enough to notice her irritation, but I did not hear a word
that she was saying. I wasn’t purposely ignoring her. I would have engaged in
the commotion but I was not done digesting the contents of the letter. It
perplexed me, but Amanda was too angry to notice the confusion on my face. She
had been yelling non-stop for six minutes, I know because I had a habit of
checking my phone every few moments like somebody waiting for something.

 The letter was hopeful and scary, it was
joyful and sad, and it was terrific and oddly tragic. It made me feel heroic
but guilty in the same instant. It was straight forward and right to the point,
it included a list of instructions that were simple but hard to follow. I eventually
asked Amanda what the fuck she was yelling about, but that question aggravated
her further. I don’t know why I asked because I knew whatever the present
inconvenience was it wasn’t the source of her anger. Her frustrations ran deep
and they were rooted in every truth of her life up to that point.

Like everybody around me she grew up
in chaos. She never knew her father and her mother had a new boyfriend every
month. She was raised in a large four bedroom, three story brick house in what
used to be an affluent neighborhood until the local factory shut down and all
the white people left.  At least once a
year her mom would let a new guy move in and they were all assholes; a couple
of drug addicts, an abusive guy, a schizophrenic, a drug dealer etc… She
would witness her mom get hit a lot and she had heard her mother called bitch, whore,
liar, cheater and cunt so much that she did not think much of her mom after a

Several of the men tried to rape
Amanda. They would sneak into her bedroom while her mom was passed out drunk.
She learned how to become a light sleeper, so none of them could completely
catch her off guard again, like the first guy who stuck his fingers in her
vagina before he got scratched in the face and kicked in the groin. As soon as
she would hear her bedroom door creep open, she would jump to her feet and yell
“get out motherfucker, I will call the cops on your ass”.  But one of the men treated her like his own
daughter. He bought her things like shoes and clothes, costume jewelry and the
latest electronics. He took her and her mother to Hawaii for a week around
Christmas when she was twelve and that was the only time she had ever been out
of Ohio. Amanda felt safe with him and so when he came into her room late one
night, she was not as alarmed. He sat on the bed next to her and woke her up
with a kiss on the check. He convinced Amanda that it was OK for them to touch
and kiss because he loved her, like he loved her mother. He slid the hair off
her face, and gently kissed her on her bottom lip and then on her neck. He knew
how to touch her pubescent body and she liked the way his fingers felt rubbing
slightly against her figure, it made her feel good, like a real women. She
kissed him back before laying flat against her twin sized mattress so that he
could climb on top of her, but when he put his penis in her vagina, it hurt so
bad that it shocked her back into the reality of the situation. She asked him
to stop, but he didn’t. She did not scream because she felt like it was her
fault for enjoying the kiss and accepting all of the gifts that he gave her, she
wept silently instead and she continued to cry until the next morning. She
tried to tell her mom what had happened, but she was not willing to believe her.
The man stayed in the home for months and repeated the incident a few more times,
until he went to prison for trafficking heroine.

My upbringing was not as traumatic,
but chaotic in its own way.  I knew who
my father was; he was the founding Pastor of one of the largest churches in our
city. My mother was not his wife, and my little sister and I was his secret.  He wasn’t exactly an absent father or a
deadbeat, but we never really connected as father and son. Growing up, he was
more or less just a presence in our house when he came over. He would stop by
every Monday at 8:00pm like clockwork. He handed my mother a small envelope
full of cash, and my mom would offer him a glass of water or dinner if she had
cooked that night. He never refused and would always stay and sip on his water
or eat his food. They would talk in the kitchen for hours while my sister and I would play with action figures and Barbie dolls in the living room
pretending not to listen to their conversation. Every now and then he would try
to engage us in conversation, but even as a six year old I recognized that the
rapport between us was clumsy and awkward. I sometimes wondered to myself if I
got Amanda pregnant on purpose just to have a child to build a relationship with
my child that was better than the one that I had with my father.                         

In an effort to spite our upbringings,
Amanda and I endeavored to build a family like the Huxtables to amend the sins
of our fathers, but she was no Clair and I am no Cliff. She was fucked up and I
was fucked up too because I thought I could fix her crazy ass. She longed for
ordinary, and I thought I could give it to her, but I couldn’t because I was
extraordinarily stupid. My intentions were good but they were extremely misguided
by the ignorance of my youth. As a couple we were old enough to sign a lease
but too young to posses the wisdom to make decisions that was in our best
interest. Our juvenile judgment lead us to rent a two bedroom townhouse in a
neighborhood even more dangerous than the ones we grew up in and although the
space was rather large, neither one us knew how the share it. We could not
shrink our egos enough to comfortably fit within the perimeters of our home. We
were cramped and we were angry, all of the time.

After Amanda was done yelling at me,
after I responded and got kicked out of the apartment for the seventeenth time,
I put on my fall jacket and folded the letter and tucked it as deep as I could
in the interior left pocket of the jacket, in the same space as my Black &
Mild and white lighter, right above my ribs, opposite my heart. The timing was
convenient, so much so, Amanda probably thought I got kicked out purposely,
shit, I probably did. I was scheduled to pick up my best friend Malik from the
bus station that afternoon and I did not want to fight with her ass the whole

I drove to the Greyhound satiation
and waited in the lobby for an hour where I watched an episode of the talk show
Maury, I remember that the episode
had a title that was odd even for a show of that kind,  “A Donkey Kick Made Me Sterile, I am Not Your
Baby’s Dad.” A few minutes after the show had ended a hoard of bodies flooded
the lobby of the worn down bus station. I looked through the collage of faces,
hoping to find Malik’s. As soon as I did, I knew that all the talk of him
changing his life, getting out of the streets, getting a G.E.D and being
faithful to his baby’s mother was a bunch of bullshit.  He likely believed every word he wrote as he
was writing them behind the doors of his jail cell, but if that was the case,
the chemicals in the free air put the mischievous twinkle right back into his
dark brown eyes. The look on his face made it painfully obvious that he was
ready for the same shit he had been up to from the time we met as boys with no
front teeth and riding bikes with training wheels still attached.

Malik did whatever the fuck he wanted
to do with no regard to how anyone felt about what he was doing, or the
consequences it would have on him or anyone else. His attitude, that “I don’t
give a fuck” demeanor led him to multiple stents in juvenile detention, a short
period in a group home, very few real friends, and most recently a year in
prison, but some part of me admired that attitude. I consciously adopted it by
the time I was thirteen, and as a result I started to find myself in the back
of police cars, unable to keep a job and with a baby by the age of eighteen. However,
there was an obvious and distinct difference between Malik and I. For better or
worse his attitude was genuine and unrelenting. Me, I could not “give a fuck”
only long enough to do something stupid or selfish, but invariably I would
second guess my decision, my truer  nature would kick in at some point and I felt
the need to make things right. It seemed to be a fatal combination of
personality traits, two spirits not meant to share the same body, two entities
not quite right for a yin yang. Yet, they were ever present, not as an angel on
one shoulder and a demon on the other, just one being settled in my conscious.

Malik finally spotted me in the
crowd. A smile adorned his face, the stress of his short life was a little more
apparent from the lines under his eyes, he had a dark but a very even complexion,
and though smooth, his skin always seemed callus, like an extra layer of protection
from the elements of the universe and the world around him. Despite his tough
exterior, he was extremely animated, and he greeted me with a hug. Although we
had always been about the same height and weight, Malik seemed to be a little
sturdier than I; like if he was pushed he wouldn’t budge, like an oak tree
firmly planted wherever he stood. I was different, not completely uprooted, but
definitely movable when provoked.

We engaged in small talk as we were
leaving the bus station, all he had with him was a plastic bag that contained a
white tank top and some sneakers. He was wearing the state issued black
slippers with white socks on his feet, a baggy pair of jeans and a brown
t-shirt that was two-sizes too big for him. I asked him how was prison and he
all but ignored the question. He asked me about living with Amanda and I facetiously
responded “Probably no different than the prison you just came from.”  I was joking yet I was alarmed by the extent to
which that statement was true for me. Malik found the comment especially funny
he laughed hysterically at my expense, long enough for me to feel slightly
offended. He proceeded to give me a back hand compliment, stating that he
admired what I was trying to do, but continued to tell me that I was “dumb as
hell.”  I responded with the obligatory “fuck
you” and we laughed all the way to my 1995 Pontiac Bonneville with its tan
paint that was chipping in the front, parked on the street adjacent to the bus

 I thought about telling him about the letter,
but a part of me was embarrassed by it, so I asked him where he wanted to go instead.
He directed me to a house that was located around the corner from the street
that we grew up on. He told me to “Stay in the car and lookout for a minute”.
He didn’t specify what I was looking out for, but I knew. He returned about ten
minutes later and we drove around the corner to his grandmother’s house. This
was the house that he spent most of his life in, along with three generations
of aunts, uncles, cousins, a sister and a brother, but these days the house was
always empty. Uncles lost their lives to addictions, aunts found boyfriends,
cousins left with their mothers, his brother moved with his father and his
sister made it to college. The grandparents were often out of town, on the road,
enjoying their freedom. But, as far as I could tell, this was still the only
place Malik considered home, and presumably this is where he would be spending
the night. We walked up to the porch and Malik did not even bother knocking on
the door, he just took a seat on one of the steel fold up chairs and I followed
suit. He pulled out a twin pack of swisher sweets and two baggies from his
pocket, one containing about three grams of weed and the other containing two
fairly large crack rocks. He rolled some of the weed up into the swisher, we
smoked and reminisced about all the fights that we would get into with the
dudes from the next block up, all the bikes we stole from kids around the
corner, the girl we all shared our first kiss with, the first time he had sex
with her, all the games we played as kids, and we counted all the friends we
had lost to gun shots.  

After the swisher was gone I reached
into my jacket pocket for my Black & Mild, I felt the letter tightly
folded, and I thought about pulling the letter out and letting Malik read it,
but I thought if somebody else read it, it would make it real, and I wasn’t
sure if I wanted to be real yet. It was more comfortable an idea rather than a
reality. I left it there, pulled out the Black & Mild and lit it. Malik
looked at me crazy because we had a custom of taking the tobacco out of the
Black & Mild saving it in the cellophane that the Mini Cigar came in,
taking out the little piece of paper glued to the tip of the of the cigar and
then putting all the tobacco back into the now empty shell, we called the
process “freaking the Black.” We had this belief that somehow that little piece
of paper that was glued to the Black & Mild made the cigars more cancerous,
and only white people smoked Black & Milds without “freaking” them. I stopped
doing that about the same time Malik went to prison. I grew to find that idea to
be ridiculous and figured it was not worth the trouble to smoke a damn Black
& Mild, plus I really was never good at freaking them anyway. 

I asked Malik if he was going to put
his stuff in the house or at least put some shoes on, but he never did, he
assisted that we go get Gary from work, but he wanted to see his mom first. His
mother lived in the “Brook” which was what we called the Meadowbrook projects
on the east side of the city. It was a 20 minute drive that I probably would not
have made on any other day; I had less than a quarter tank of gas, no job and no
money to refill the tank. I knew if I came home with no gas in the car, it
would be just another thing for Amanda to get angry about. But, it was Malik’s
first day out of jail and I felt obligated to take him to see his mother.  When we arrived to the Brook, I parked in the
space right in front of his mother’s apartment, probably where she would have
parked if she had a car. We both got out the car, Malik knocked and and knocked again but he didn’t
get an answer. We proceeded to walk to the green area in the middle of the
complex that was supposed to be a miniature park, but it was just a big dirt
patch with a splintered wooden play castle for kids and an equally tattered
picnic table. There sat Malik’s mom smoking a cigarette with an extremely
skinny white lady with long oily blonde hair, a tie dye tank top and dingy
white shorts sitting across from her. I thought the white lady was under
dressed considering that it was dark October day with a cold breeze blowing the
leaves off the trees, but she seemed unfazed by the autumn air. Malik did not
have a jacket on, but the wind did not seem to bother him either. Malik’s mother
and the white lady were not talking, it was almost as though that she did not
know the white lady was sitting in front of her, she was staring in space
smoking cigarette in her hand with an ash on it that was a half inch long. She
did not see us either, I stopped walking at the castle, but Malik marched closer
as he called out “mom, mom, Momma!!” The rise in his voice startled her and
caused her to jump enough for the ash to fall off of the cigarette and into her
lap, she wiped the ash off of her dingy jeans. She turned in his direction but
she barely reacted to his presence. She stared at him for a second with a
confused look in her eyes, it seemed that her brain didn’t process who he was
right away, but she finally awoke out of her stupor with a sudden enthusiasm
and asked him where the hell he had been. Malik seemed annoyed by the question.

He responded, “I have been in jail

To which she replied “Again?! “Boy
you need to stop.”

Malik did not respond to her comment,
instead he asked her a few questions regarding her everyday activities and the
company that she kept. He was clearly worried that her heroine addiction was
finally getting the best of her and it was painfully obvious that it was.
Halfway through the conversation the skinny white lady got up and left without
saying a word. Malik took the seat where she was sitting. He stared at his
mother, unaffected by her appearance. Her hair was starting to grey, it was pulled
back into a stingy pony tail held in place by a dirty rubber band, she was
covered by an old hooded sweatshirt that was a faded black and as baggy as
Malik’s jeans. Her pants were too short, they exposed her ashy ankles and a
dirty pair of white sneakers that were falling apart at the seams. I took a seat
on the castle steps and smoked the rest of my Black & Mild. I did not hear
Malik and his mother conversing anymore, he was just sitting across from her as
they both puffed on cigarettes in their comfortable silence. 

After Malik finished the cigarette he
violently flicked the cigarette butt into the dry earth beneath his feet and
told her “I gotta go mom.” She replied by asking him if he had any money. He
pulled out a single five dollar bill from his pocket and said “This is all I
got mom, buy you something to eat and quit shooting the shit”. Her eye’s
watered, but no tears dropped down her high cheek bones. She extended her hands
to receive the money but did not say another word. Malik stood and stared at
her for a moment waiting for her to say something else but she never did, he
finally surrendered to the silence and said “Bye mom” before turning to walk
away. He put his hands in his pockets while simultaneously bringing his
shoulders up to his neck.

We walked back to the car in silence
and when we finally got in; I hesitantly asked him what was next. He said that
he wanted to go see Gary and ask him why he didn’t write him back when he was
in prison. I called Gary to see where he was, he answered his phone and told me
he was on the bus and that we should meet him at his mother’s house in ten

I knew Gary wouldn’t be home for at
least thirty minutes if he was telling me ten. It took us about fifteen minutes
to get to the bus stop closest to his mother’s house, there we sat as we smoked
another swisher filled with weed and talked about the women we wanted to have
sex with in the neighborhood. About Twelve minutes later, the bus, the number
four heading northbound, pulled up behind my car and Gary got off of it with an
anxious look out his face that made it clear that he was ready to unwind after a long day at work.
I honked my horn in case he didn’t notice the Bonneville with the foggy windows
in front of him. When he spotted us he walked to the car and opened the back
door, waiving some smoke out of his face before he got in. He immediately
greeted Malik and of course he was happy to see him. Although Gary was not as
animated as Malik, they were both loud enough to be heard from a mile away. I drove
the two blocks it took to get to Gary’s mother’s house. I remember the two
blocks feeling like two miles because I was exceptionally high. My tolerance
for weed was low because I never really smoked it unless I was with Malik.

We got out of the car and walked
through the tiny yard, into the small house and traveled through the
furniture-less living room to get to Gary’s lavish bedroom. The walls of the
room were covered by Nike and Air Jordan shoe boxes; his closet was filled with
four-hundred dollar jeans and two hundred dollar shirts and he had a couple of
gold linked chains that adorned his dresser along with a gold Rolex watch and a
bottle of Ralph Lauren cologne. One of the hood’s biggest mysteries was why
Gary did not own a car but me and Malik knew it was because he couldn’t drive.
Gary was a hustler and extremely street smart, but he lacked conventional
knowledge. He did not have a bank account because he did not know how to open
one or manage it, he did not have an apartment because he couldn’t handle the
stress of paying bills, he spoke terrible English and he could barely read.
Despite his flaws I envied him for his ability to buy stuff and one could not
help but to admire his work ethic.

Gary started working at Burger King
at sixteen so that he can buy the shoes that he wanted, but the need for money
became serious when his mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and she
had to quit her job. Gary’s dad left the home a few years prior and suddenly
Gary was the primary bread winner for the household. The Burger King check
wasn’t enough for the shoes and the bills, even when he dropped out of
high-school to work full time at the restaurant. He began selling weed through
the drive thru, he successfully gambled on dice games and sporting events and
he even got another full-time job working at small factory that made parts for
air conditioners. Gary had plenty of money to pay rent and utilities for their
tiny house, and more than enough for his shoes and clothes.

Gary’s flashy style and mild temper
caused him to get robbed at gun point a lot so he eventually bought a gun
himself even though anyone who really knew him certainly knew he would never
use it to actually shot anybody. He put the gun in his waistline after he got
dressed and ready for the evening. Gary gave Malik a pair of Timberland boots
to wear for the night and we sat in his room a bit longer while Malik rolled
yet another swisher and we discussed our plans for the night. We eventually
agreed on going to one of the local bars we knew we could get into despite the fact
that Gary was the only one old enough to drink legally. I felt inadequately
dressed especially since Gary put on a seven hundred dollar outfit, but I did
not want to go home and change because I knew it was a good chance that Amanda
would be there and she would have something to say about me going to bar
especially considering how high as I already was. More than that, I knew I did
not have anything much better to put on, even my best pair of sneakers was riddled
with creases and ragged shoe laces. I knew Gary would have let me wear some of
his clothes if I asked, but I was too proud to do so.           

Driving to the bar, I remember being
as happy as I had ever been for months before that moment in time on that cold
and dark October night. I had completely forgotten about the letter in my
pocket as I laughed and bullshitted with people who were closer to me than my
blood brothers, but I knew that that moment would soon fade as soon as Malik
asked Gary, “So why didn’t you write me back or send me any money when I was
locked up?”

Gary responded, “What?”

Malik said “You heard me! Why didn’t
you hold a nigga down when I was locked up?”

Annoyed Gary responded “Get out of
here bruh, shit don’t stop because you get locked up. Niggas got to eat, I got
mouths to feed.”

Agitated Malik remarked “Eat? Nigga
you eating! Look at that muthafuckin watch on your wrist! Fuck you nigga, you
just a stingy heartless muthafucka!

“Fuck me?” Gary asked. “Fuck me
nigga??” I was the only one putting your broke ass on when you was out here, I
gave you everything you needed to come up! You just ain’t a hustler nigga. I am
out here! I am out here getting money nigga, get you some!

Malik answered “Fuck you! Who the
fuck you talking too! Nigga you soft, you ain’t safe in these streets when I am
not around”.

Gary responded “Fuck you nigga, I
will beat your ass!”

Malik replied “What nigga?!? I will
take that gun from you and beat your ass with it.”

Gary pulled the gun from his waist
pointed it at Malik and said “Do it then nigga”.

That shit infuriated me, frustrated I yelled “Chill
the fuck out! What the fuck are you doing Gary? Put that muthafuckin gun up.”

Gary replied “Fuck that, this nigga
always talking shit!”

Suddenly a flash of light illuminated
the car from the outside and a siren rang loud in our ears.  Gary and Malik ceased conversation and Gary
put the gun back into his waistline. Almost immediately Malik directed me.

“Do not pull over!”

 I never once contemplated running from the
cops and so I tried to assure Malik that everything was going to be alright.

I stated “It’s cool, just be cool.”

Gary repeated

“Just be cool Bruh.”  

I pulled over to the side of the rode
and sat nervously waiting for the officer to get out of his car. I wasn’t sure
if it was apparent that I was high, but I did want to raise any suspicion
because I knew that if the interaction did not go without incident we could all
go to jail or get shot in the streets at no consequence to the police officer. In
an instant I realized that the car still smelled like weed.

 I rolled down the window, not fully, but low
enough to indicate to the chubby white man that was approaching my car that I
was willing to cooperate.

Once he got to my vehicle he demanded
my license, registration and proof of insurance and then asked, “Do you know
why I pulled you over young man?

I replied, “No sir I do not.”

He continued to tell me that the
light that illuminated my license plate was out and in Ohio that light must
work so that the incense plate is clearly displayed. I informed him that I
wasn’t aware of that law nor was I aware that the light was out.

Then he asked the dreaded question. “Have
you guys been smoking marijuana?

I replied, “No sir, I let my brother borrow my car a while ago and he may have
smoked in here”.

was not sure if he bought the story, but he proceeded by asking us all for our
IDs. We reluctantly surrendered them to the officer and he took them back to
his vehicle. Malik yelled “Fuck!”, as he punched the back of the passenger seat.

Gary yelled, “Chill bruh!”

responded “Fuck that bruh, I am not going back to jail, I just out that
muthafucka!” Malik was hysterical, “I am about to toss this crack.”

was almost as though they were not just arguing a minute ago, but Malik and
Gary have been like that since we seven years old. They would get in fist
fights in the middle of the street every other week and be best friends again
the very next day.

repeated,”Chill nigga! You just got out so you don’t got no warrant, don’t
bring no attention bruh, I got this strap!”

replied “We are going to jail!”

kept hitting the back of the passenger seat, and he rocked back and forth
anxiously contemplating his options.

tried to console him “Calm down bruh, its cool”

He did not respond, instead he got
out of the car and ran. I tried to get him to stop, I yelled, “Get back in the
car bruh!” But he didn’t listen, he had quickly hoped the guard rail along side
of the road and through the wooded hills below.

 The officer in the passenger side of the police
cruiser immediately got out of the car and chased him on the hill. The other
cop instantly jumped out of the driver’s seat, drew his gun and ran towards my
car while calling back up on his radio.

“Get the fuck out of the car!” is the
command he yelled at me and Gary as his partner was in hot pursuit Malik
through the woods.  Before we could move,
the officer yelled again, “Get the fuck out the car with your hands in the
motherfucking air!”  

Gary and I got out of the vehicle and
we were commanded to put our hands flat on the roof. He put his gun back into
the holster on the side of his hip and immediately started to pat Gary down for
weapons. He found the gun on Gary’s waistline and demanded him to the ground.
Gary complied with no resistance as the chubby white man put handcuffs on his
wrist, but not before pointing to me and commanding “Don’t you fucking move.”

I sat as still as I could, slightly
slanted forward, feet shoulder’s width apart with my hands firmly planted on
top of  the Bonneville. The cop searched
me aggressively starting at my ankles, feeling his way up to my groin before
searching my jacket. He felt the folded up piece of paper in my left pocket, he
took it out, unfolded it and read the letter.

I panicked “What the hell are you
doing man?” 

replied “Shut up!”

took my hands off the car and turned towards him “Come on man, get out of my
business, do what you gotta do”  

ignored me and kept reading the letter, a puzzled look invaded his face. He
handed me the letter and said “Put your hands back on the car and don’t you
fucking move”.

I replied, “What?”

repeated “Put your hands on the car and don’t move”.

filled my eyes as I put my hands back on the car as the officer picked Gary up
off of the ground and walked him to cruiser. My tears bathed the pavement as I
watched him from the corner of my eye stuff Gary into the back up of the police
car. Gary’s expression never did change from the time the officer pointed his
gun at us. With the stone look on his face Gary’s glance met mine and my silent
cry turned into a sob. My face turned to the ground and I stared at the black
street until I heard the officer told me to take my hands off the car. 

handed me my driver’s license and said to me “Go home young man.”

With a cracked and confused voice I
asked “What?”

He said “Get in your car and go

At that point I knew that he had
considered the contents of the letter. Suddenly it was clear to me that my life
would never be the same because of what that letter said. I followed his
instructions and I drove home feeling heroic and guilty in the same instant,
hopeful and scared at the same time, sad and joyful at the tragedy and triumph
that just occurred. It was clear that I had to follow the instruction that the
letter provided. 

When I got home to Amanda, I told her
what had happened and I told her about the letter. I told her what I thought
and meant for her and I and for the future of our son. By this time I had
embraced what the letter said and an excitement had raided my voice. I had
finally cracked a smile and waited for her to respond after a moment of
silence, she finally did and her  only response was “Fuck you.”