“I’m a little short,” she said.
“Too bad,” he said
“I can make it worth your while.”
“I’m only thirteen.”
“And? I was too, my first time.”
“First time, what? This?” he held up the baggie of ice. “Or that?” He pointed at her blood-colored heels.
“I figured.” He pitched her the bag. “Take it. Consider it a gift.”
“Today’s a special day.”
She snatched the bag and ran.
His brother Cam came to relieve him. Two years older and two hours late, Cam could always be relied upon to be unreliable. A true soldier in the game. Cam always wore all black. Cam was why he always wore all black. Black was their life. Black skin. Black hopes. Black night sky was all he ever saw.
Cam emerged into the flickering, buzzing, sodium lights of the apartment hall, all liquid shadow, and menace, living darkness in the shape of a boy. Cam extinguished his joint on the wall. “What up, baby bro?”
“Same old same,” replied Lorenzo.
“Yup. Everybody love that ice.”
“You okay? You sound down.”
“It’s the anniversary, you know.”
“Shit. It is, ain’t it?” Cam shook his head.
“I miss her bad.”
“Me too. But you doin’ good in her place. Mom says the money is up.”
“Go to bed lil’ bro.”
“On my way.”
Instead of going to bed, Lorenzo went to the roof. The windy autumn chill brought the smell of booze and trash on the breeze. The city skyline glowed Christmas tree bright. The city lights called Lorenzo, seductive, like the sea to a sailor. What was in those lights? Who lived in those buildings? The streets below formed a grid of large squares filled with wan headlights going north and crimson taillights moving south. Horns blared in the distance. Night people cursed. Tires squealed. Sirens screamed.
Lorenzo craned his neck. Only three stars shone above. He recalled one night when the sky had been clear, and he’d seen a dozen. When he went online, he saw pictures of night skies pricked with a million little points of white surrounding the pale gibbous moon. Were such places real? He found it difficult to believe. But all good things were difficult to believe in when your day consisted of dope-heads whose relentless craving kept him trapped in the dark. He hated them all, especially the soccer moms and wealthy Wall Street guys. Well-dressed and well-spoken white people, who had everything but still succumbed to the hunger. They’re the ones who kept him off dope. Because if that shit made you leave the lights over there and seek the darkness here, it had to be some soul-sucking shit.
Lorenzo put on his headphones.
Angry, furious, mumbling rap pounded his eardrums. His father hated rap. Specifically, all rap music made after 2005. He said all new music was soulless shit that lacked good lyrics. But Lorenzo didn’t listen to the lyrics. He needed that beat. The hard-hitting, chest-pounding, blood-boiling beat. His favorite rappers hated life, and you could tell by their beats. They knew happiness was so far away it might as well have been the white light at the end of death’s tunnel.
He peered over the building’s ledge—a hundred-foot drop. Maybe more? He climbed onto the ledge and stood with his arms outstretched, swaying to the beat, head bobbing.
What would it be like to fly?
His sister Keesha had found out.
Two years ago today, a rival gang captured her. They beat her and dragged her to a roof a lot like this one. She didn’t fly. She fell. Now he worked the door in her place, and she would never know the light.
His Pop had raged and showed no mercy. He slew his daughter’s killers and their children and their pets. The streets celebrated the move, but for Lorenzo the victory proved hollow. That bloody week, he lost two people he loved.
His pops got a triple life bid doing federal time and would never know the light.
Lorenzo left the roof. He checked in on his brother. Cam was gone. Closed shop early. Cam would never know the light.
Lorenzo headed home.
The apartment smelled of sweat and unwashed dishes. Stacks of cups and plates appeared almost living things, as if they had grown in the kitchen, like plants. Grimy shoe prints traced the cracked linoleum. His three younger siblings watched television and ate ice cream from the container.
“Go to bed,” Lorenzo ordered.
Their chilly stares dead-eyed him. But he could outstare the hardest gangsters, so they went.
His mother’s door was ajar. He’d peeped in. Her naked supine form laid on the bed with the sheets only half-covering her. Some guy he didn’t know, a tattooed, well-muscled dude lay next to her, snoring with his bare leg draped over her. Two big crystals of ice methamphetamine were on the nightstand. How much of that shit had he sold? How many people lived in darkness due to his actions?
He shut the door and took out his phone.
This would be a betrayal of everything he had ever learned, everything his family stood for. He would be a snitch, a traitor. The room seemed to dim. To close in on him.
He had to risk it.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“Hurry! Children in danger at 1002 Colonial Park Apartments. Come quick! There’s a man with a gun. Help!” He hung up.
Lorenzo packed a few things and kissed his brothers and sisters. May they find the light. Then he tossed his gun in his mom’s room.
He wanted to see those lights.
Michael Pasley grew up in Southern Indiana and briefly attended Indiana University in Bloomington. His publications include “Vanishing” in the Virginia Normal, “You Just Don’t Get It” which was published in Germ Magazine and Dirty Girlz Magazine, and “Double Zeros” in The Avalon Literary Review. He also the winner of Causeway Lit’s 2019 summer fiction contest with his story “A Projects Tale.” As a young African American growing up in poverty, Michael often felt alone in his love of poetry, Sci-Fi, and fantasy. He began at the age of eleven to write poems and short stories. Michael now lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana where he spends most of his free time attending book club meetings, hiking, playing with his kids, and working on his upcoming Novella.