Can't go nowhere, can't get nothin' done. That's all I think out of the daze. With the aches and shakes and the break of the day. Pulling on a crusted teal blanket coverin’. And Carl all balled up in the corner like crumbled paper. It's the two of us in the squatter's den with three others and of course that white witch is all gone away now and one of us gotta pawn something.
"Your turn baby," I say, kicking Carl awake as he rolls out of sleep.
I turn over onto the concrete floor, letting its cold cracked surface bring me out of sleep. I look for my clothes and plop them over me. I once wore Black clothes, black man-suits, big black shiny jewelry. That's what I lost last time. Now, these clothes feel like oily rags.
"What year?" I hear Carl mumble.
"Seventy two" I say.
"Niggers are still dead," Carl says, his voice cracking. Carl gets no looks from the dazed squatters nearby. Instead they turn to me, his lover from Jamaica. Been here so long, I guess, American too. Something went and changed.
Carl starts in his early fits, rolling around on the stained mattress: "They wanna fuck you or fuck me to get to you that's what these niggers always doing always fucking fucking around fucking me fucking you don't give a fuck about themselves." He calms down, hugging the plush purple pillow, stroking the fuzzed material as if it were my hair.
Sunlight barges through the barred windows, where outside I hear the day-walkers. The sunlight feels oppressive, yet my skin shakes in chills. I walk over discarded spoons, foil, rubber bands, needles, matches, books, and residue.
I take a piss and dig myself in the mirror; the wilted hair, the jewelry long gone. I remember the way my back used to curve when I wore pumps.
I'm gettin' dressed while watching Carl scrape something on the walls. He wants to record the days, fearing we might lose them too. Outside a police car parks at our corner, siren howling. As Carl writes his half-hard dick flops about like a used bandage. That black and white cat Mixi starts rubbing against my leg. I still shiver from the cold and realize we’re out of juice. "Fuck if you're hungry," I tell Mixi. "Shit. Carl, I be back."
He has written the word WRETCHED in big block letters. "Wretched," he says without turning.
I head to Ma’s.
Carl loves me so much, he loves only me, but I don't know what else he wants. When we first met on those long bus rides I thought he was my enemy—really, I didn't know he was really one of us. I just came from Kingston, he from Memphis, and we weren't at all what we were lookin' for. I was embarrassed to feel so lonely. And so we witnessed everything together. Even past the talks and the cheers. Then past the sadness and the solutions and the votes and the ugly-badness.
After that came the ghosts. Every face we knew. Adam got ten years for jackin' a watch. Ceasar got eight for holdin'. The rest held on B and E or A and B. Ash got married and gave him five kids. The rest were dead for real, their faces sticking like gum to the shoe soles of mankind.
Momma serves me black tea. She doesn't even give me those hard looks any more, though I can hear her in my mind. Not a hint about my smell (filthy), nothin' about me being a smartass or a dumbass (doped up and delirious). Nothin' about movin' me back to Kingston. Nothin' about my inbred and white trash boyfriend. She makes a show of prayer while we sit silent at the table.
"God please help my daughter," she says like I'm not there. Despite everything crashing down, she still holds to superstitions.
As she sweats over me, I don’t even bother riffin’ to let me be.
Before I leave I lift some of my brother's records. Sun Ra, McCoy and Davis should be enough, and some wine on top of it.
By the time I come back to Carl, the sun is already gone and we gotta use the streetlamp's light to inject. Mixi watches as we do it, sitting staring curious and bored. Carl rambles on before I hit him with it: "Either way you cut it baby this pearly white skin o' mine done ran out of favors; I been niggerfied head to toe man last time will be my last, that cat was watching. Baby. He was killin' all our niggers."
He goes blind, silent. We kiss. His lips move slowly; I taste tears in his mouth. When I let him go he crumbles.
I pray too, to the white witch, her careful touch. As she enters me I feel her colorful cascade of foam,
I feel blissfully nude,
I feel it, body and soul,
I fall on the mattress,
tracing my hand upon the cracked pavement floor,
seeing the marks on the wall that mark the days we've been here,
see the words WRETCHED in big blocks.
I feel the coldness of the concrete. My nails scrape across it. The cracks seem wider than before, wider, like rivers on a map. I place my finger on the crack and feel myself pulled into its stream. The flow gets heavy. The weight of the water compresses me, pushes me forward,
I hold my breath, for a moment out of the dream, back in the concrete and naked mattress. I see Carl's hand branching towards me; I grip it hard
hard as I can
before I exhale.