Dus has this boy’s arm twisted behind his back and is grinding his cheek on the hot sidewalk. Dus’s sister Bea watches with satisfaction. Her hair hasn’t been combed in days. She had promised this boy that her brother would get him. Dus always makes good without asking why.
He’s going to twist until he feels that this boy has learned. Already, the boy’s body is stiff with the effort of not struggling. Not popping his own arm out of its socket.
The boy is bigger than Bea. Is he 11? 9? 15? Dus is lost in time. When he was 10, he’d looked 16. But he has failed a grade. Twice. So he’s 15 and can’t tell how old anyone else is. In class, he has a funny vertigo feeling each time he notices the faces around him slipping backwards.
Dus stops twisting and leans forward, pressing his knee in the boy’s back. He shares the burden of his body of granite with the boy. The boy scrapes. Bones bend. A little more now. A little more.
He feels how hot the sidewalk is through his jeans.
Dus looks at his hand on the boy’s arm and is surprised that they’re the exact same shade of brown. Like the sun could melt Dus’s hand and it would disappear into the boy. He’s not often surprised. Surprises make a little feeling like a popped soap bubble inside him. And for that small feeling of lightness, he lets the boy up.
Bea is squawking. By the time Dus gets back on his feet, the boy is far down the street. He’s calling Dus a punk ass bitch. Dus watches him, wondering how he makes his body move so fast, pumping through the pain. Is it fear?
He looks down on the uncombed hair of all the roiling children and it’s like being above storm clouds.
Dus hasn’t been afraid of something in years.
The crew is always staked out at the house with the most action and the least parental supervision. This day it’s Puerto Rican Angie’s front porch.
Angie is painting her nails a screaming orange. Teese sits next to her, running a finger over the short, sharp hair on her temple, looking through magazines with posters in them.
Martez is on his feet, watching all directions. Hoping that a watched pot will boil and excitement will come his way. His older brother Fluff used to be a hustler back in the day. He taught Martez that if he wasn’t always looking for his next hustle he was wasting that moment of his life.
Sick-Ski busts out of the house, shaking both a carton of orange juice and a thick, silver-cased marker. Dus has noticed that taggers are always shaking something.
The snaggletooth pattern of vacant lots on the block leave a clear line of sight over to next street where moving trucks unload outside a graystone. This is the morning’s entertainment.
Teese has a smirk of fresh knowledge for Sick. “They’n white. They black. She black.”
“Fo real? Wit all that fancy shit?”
“Wit all that fancy shit,” Teese’s ferocious gum chewing makes a sharp dimple in her chocolate-colored cheek. Dus watches it flash and retreat.
Teese’s body is so small that she confounds Dus. Made of so little. What could that feel like? He used to pick her up off the ground to see if that would tell him all her secrets. She felt like she had feathers floating inside.
Angie stands up and rubs her palms on her jeans. “Can’t have nothing for them coming and taking it.”
“Ain’t nobody gon be able to live here after while,” says Teese, not knowing exactly why, just knowing it to be true.
Dus watches the movers filling up the house.
Sick nods. “Man, white people crazy. They just like, ‘I’m stacking a lot of paper right now–lemme move right in the middle of a buncha niggas.'”
“She not white. She black, I said. Plus, your mama white. She move here,” says Teese.
Sick-ski is short for his mother’s real last name, one of those names where you had to gulp down half the letters and then sneeze them back up to say it right. “You know my daddy brought her ass over here. She ain’t even speak English. She thought he asked her if she wanted to go to the club, or some shit. These people know and they be coming anyway.”
Angie likes Sick, but she’s too light for him. He’s already white-looking, with green eyes. He likes the blackest girls he can find. Teese is number-one on his list.
“I’m going to the store to get me some chips. Y’all coming?” says Teese.
Sick is on his feet, but Teese is looking at Dus.
He slowly wags his head naw. He doesn’t say good-bye before disappearing between the buildings.
Dus can see that something is wrong by how Bea is moving, like someone has tied a thread to her ankle and she’s afraid to break it. She has made a puffy attempt to braid her own hair. She stands up off the curb and waits for him to walk an entire half block.
Bea’s hollow body seems only a casual stand for clothes. They’re always untied, sagging, or blowing about her like opposing flags.
“Police in there.”
Bea looks at the house for permission to tell him. “Nothin’ really. I mean, Terrence was drunk and crazy this morning and when mama came home she wasn’t trying to hear that noise so they got to fighting. But they’n really do nothing.”
“Then why the police here?”
Bea shrugs and her bony shoulder slips out of her neckline. “They was loud, I guess.”
Dus opens the apartment door. His mother sits wilted at the kitchen table with a dirty washcloth full of ice up to her head. A black man in an overcoat is bent over trying to look into her face. A white police officer is crossing the living room, pulling his long legs high out of the jumble of toys and clothes, like a wading bird. The black man takes Dus in.
“I know you,” he says.
“I don’t know your name though, which means you couldn’t have been in too much trouble.”
Dus wonders if this is a joke.
“What’s your name, son?”
Dus’s mother answers for him without looking up. She always speaks for him when he’s talking to anyone with any sort of power. She’s afraid that his slow answers will be taken wrong. Dus isn’t being aggressive. When the answers matter, he turns the question over in his head before he answers. He never does it fast enough.
Bea picks her way to the couch and sits down.
“Well, your mother is fine,” begins the black man. Dus knows she’s fine by looking at her. He drifts off.
The door to Bea’s small, dark bedroom is open. The weak yellow bulb she has left on makes a piss stain in the air. He suddenly smells the house. The grease from the Crisco can on the stove. Dirty clothes. Cigarette smoke. The trash is spilling over. There’s an abandoned plate on the floor in front of the TV. Gin? He looks around and finds an overturned glass on the floor.
Everything has been shaken to new, excited angles. But if nobody had called the police, he wonders if he would have noticed anything different.
Terrence has punched a hole in the wall by the door to his room. That’s new.
The black man in the overcoat is still talking, but now to Dus’s mother. The white police officer wants Dus to take a seat. Dus hasn’t moved since he came to a stop two feet in front of the door. He sits on the couch. He does not move again until late at night when Terrence comes quietly through the door.
Then he moves.
On Teese’s porch, Dus is nervous about what has happened. Everything is wrong. The realization of a bad idea is just now crawling up to his slow body. This he should have done for the first time with somebody else. Somewhere else.
He wants to go somewhere and think about it. See Teese later. But she comes into view through the gray of the screen door.
Fifteen minutes ago, he had been located inside her. She was not feathery the way she had seemed when he lifted her. On the inside, she was thrumming, warm efficiencies, sending clues deeply all the way up to the pit of his stomach.
Dus had used his penis as a divining rod, seeking more of the secrets of how other people inhabit their bodies. But the exploration quickly gave way to a creeping, heaving short-circuiting that lifted him clear . . . then let him plummet back into the cavern of his body.
“Dus, is you comin out later? Karnes and ‘nem is having a party,” says Teese with a voice softer than he had ever heard her use.
Dus thinks. “Iown know.”
“Duuuuuus?” She drags out a warning tone. He knows he should say something to head it off, but he doesn’t know what to say. “Dus look here, you can’t just git wit me. And you knew that, OK? So don’t be actin’ no fool now.”
Dus tries to remember what has been said. He can’t. It’s time to talk. “How am I actin’ a fool? All I said was that I didn’t know if I wanted to go to no party.”
“You actin’ a fool now that you done got wit me. Ooh.” She shoves the screen door like it’s the problem. She has put on clothes. Inside out. Wrinkled. The delicate seams are exposed.
Girls have such wispy thoughts. This is a problem. Dus is always plodding along, five things below the one thing he wants to know. He’s too tired for this. This afternoon, his body had almost shuddered itself into lightness.
Teese hits Dus in the chest with the flat of her hand, squeezing the air out of his down jacket.
“See? See?” She’s demanding up at him. “Err’ body told me not to get with you. They told me don’t get with no nothin’ nigga like you. Tole me. And I ain’ lissen.”
Teese gets faster and harder to catch. But, he’s glad for the attack. Even though he isn’t mad, only confused and sleepy. But he knows his lines. “Well whatchoo do it for then? Since I ain’t shit.”
“Don’t you worry about why I did it. What is you gon do now? Whassup with you?” Teese is angling for foreign territory again. Dus is not ready to go back.
“Whatchoo mean what’s up with me?”
“Dus, you full of shit,” says Teese.
“Naw, accordin’ to you, I’m full of nothin’.” Dus will not let her pull out of it.
“Fuck you, Dus. Fuck you.”
That is it. Dus has no more to say. He puts his hood over his head and takes a heavy, long step off the porch. He’s surprised to be shaky on his legs.
Dus is going home to inspect his body to see what has changed, like people inspect their homes after the guests leave. He takes all the alley shortcuts he knows.
He cuts back through brick and gray houses with delicate fire escapes drawn up delicately alongside.
The jelly-eyed men around one of the liquor stores yell his name, “Duuuuuuuuus! What up, mayne?”
The soul food restaurant, thick with flavored smoke and grease.
The dusty-aisled, lukewarm grocery store.
The entrance to the rattlesnake of a subway is peppered with Sick’s writings. The closer Dus gets to home, the bolder, more elaborate the Sick-Skis get.
Sick will be mad about Teese. But he won’t say anything. Dus pilots his body down the alley by the cell phone store and the liquor store and he’s back on his block. He’s steadier on his legs now.
And he has thought far enough to know that he wants to do it again.
If he can smooth it over with Teese, he will. The thought makes him stop his body right in the middle of the street.
Today the boys are watching the graystone from up high. Sick’s cousin Harvey sells weed and pills on the top floor of a three-flat behind it. Everybody else watches out of the corners of their eyes. Dus, used to the invisibility of stillness, aims himself right at her building, hanging his meaty legs off the porch like a butcher hangs slabs.
Kathleen Parker comes out. He learned her name from her mailbox. He watches her light wooden torches in her backyard, a rectangle of contained green. Everything else around it is brown and flecked with the primary colors of giant, abandoned children’s toys. Dus feels a flash of anger at her and that wooden fence. It looks like she’s hogging all the green and if only she’d get rid of that fence, it would spill into the other backyards.
“That bitch should have a party with that big-ass yard. We could go get our groove on,” says Harvey, grinding his pelvis hard into an imaginary freak. Sick says nothing, dice rattling in his hand.
It’s been weeks. Sick must know about Dus and Teese by now. Must have seen Teese wearing Dus’s favorite chain. Must have seen Teese screaming at kids on Bea’s behalf.
Suddenly, Harvey’s phone rings, and there are hard knocks on the door.
“This you? What? You mighta wasted a trip, fool. You shoulda called first.” Harvey is yelping into the phone. Martez is on his feet with his hand in his waistband. “Let them fools in, man. Let’s get this paper.”
Harvey holds up his hand to quiet him. He has done this forever.
“You ain’ following process–that’s right.”
The pounding gets louder.
Sick comes from Harvey’s bedroom with Harvey’s favorite handgun. They’ve all been playing with that gun since Dus was eight. Dus had thought that he would like the gun. But whenever he held it, he could feel himself turning to stone faster.
Harvey is on the back porch snatching himself from place to place, looking for clues to exactly what is going on in the front of the building. Still arguing into his hand.
Dus looks back at the graystone. Kathleen Parker is out on her deck. Her eyes have found him. Dus feels a tumbling sensation, like he has suddenly become too heavy for the porch. Dus can hear that Harvey is going to open the door.
Kathleen Parker’s arm, long and brown, sweeps into the air and waves, her fingers spread apart.
Dus feels the pinprick of surprise.
He does not wave back. He can’t return the buoyancy of the gesture. Instead, he begins the process of moving his body backwards. Kathleen Parker waits for a response. Sees there will be none. Then spins her body gracefully off to the side of the porch, where she plunges both arms deep into a pot of coffee brown dirt. Dus notes how quickly she finds a better use for her arms.
Two white dudes Dus has never seen before come in. They are sharp and sudden movers, but their bodies seem to forget what they were doing in the middle of going there. So they are continuously jerking back into their starting positions.
“Next time, you call? Or I’m gon’ assume you tryin’ to get killed.” Harvey tells them.
One of the white boys twitches around and sees Dus.
“Jesus fucking Christ you scared the shit out of me, man.”
Dus sees Sick and Martez’s chins go up too. Until now, no one had noticed that Dus had moved himself into the living room. He’s standing in the shadows like he’s waiting on a bus.
Teese, Angie, Sick, and Dus are in the alley behind Kathleen Parker’s house. They do not talk and Dus is fine with this. He’s staring through a crack in the fence.
In an instant, they are hooded and invading her patch of green. Martez is greeting them at her back door. “Welcome to my crib, niggas and fly bitches.”
Sick is laughing. “Nigga, you ’bout crafty and shit.”
“Iss natural. Run in my family.” says Martez, disappearing into the house, already surefooted.
Angie and Teese shove past Sick like he’s been trying to keep them on the porch.
Dus shuts the door.
“This why you niggas always in trouble,” says Angie.
“Angie, if you scared, go home,” snaps Teese.
“I ain’t scared.”
“Then shut up then. Ain’t nobody even doing nothing. We ain’t stealing. We just looking.”
Dus is a little surprised to hear they’re not stealing. They haven’t talked about why they’re going into the house.
He watches the others set sail through the house. They only touch with their voices so far–the girls loudly announce what is ugly and what is cute. Martez and Sick are gulping up the stairs two at a time.
Dus stands in the kitchen. He looks at the purple-and-white checkered dishtowels hanging soldierly off the stove handle. Cereal boxes all in line–boxes of flaky oaty things he has never heard of. No dishes in the sink.
Dus goes to the refrigerator. Milk. Funny-shaped cheese. Yogurt. Juice. Water. Eggs. Food Dus can’t figure out. Cloudy white balls floating in dusty white water.
He opens cabinets and looks at stacks of well-disciplined dishes. All matching. Below the sink, a bucket full of cleaning supplies. Bottles. Rags.
In his ears, Dus can hear the thunks and wobbles of the plastic bottles if he decided to swing his foot into them. The cracks and peals of the dishes. One sweep of his arm could reorder Kathleen Parker into a pattern he’s familiar with.
The refrigerator hums as he walks out into the living room.
He can hear the others laughing and running over his head. They’re not careful now.
Dus puts his hand on the wooden banister and places each foot on every stair, in case Kathleen Parker’s house suddenly wants to topple him over.
In one room upstairs there’s a desk. A computer. Boxes labeled in a fast scrawl. Half empty bookshelves. Books stacked on the floor with their spines cracked. This pile of books strikes Dus as funny. She has devoted this room to care for them. Once, he used to sleep in the hall between his mother’s room and the bathroom.
He sees his full name called in a thick announcement on one of them. First and middle.
He feels a thousand pinpricks. No one has ever told Dus where his name has been before him. This Kathleen Parker is holding the secret of him captive in a stack of books.
He lifts his arm and feels
his fingers stretch forward,
Then, he’s frozen. Angie has come in the room, clicking and cooing to a giant, white cat. It’s Kathleen Parker’s ghost, spiky with alarm but unable to cry out against what is happening. Dus watches the thick legs paddling wildly, occasionally getting a perch in Angie’s jeans. She patiently unhooks the claws and stares into the cat’s eyes, assuring him safety. Her nails are bright orange candies buried in his fur. The cat stares back, Angie’s inconvenienced superior.
It hits Dus. Aldous. Kathleen Parker is not angry. There’s no evidence that Kathleen Parker has ever known rage. She’s held in place by something different. She has found some secret force, gentler than gravity, to hold her on the earth.
He feels the bursting sensation of surprise, and he knows it’s true.
And then he’s angry. That this woman has escaped the force that holds them all. And she will not share the secret.
His body feels full of broken, scraping chunks of sidewalk. He heaves himself as quickly as he can, toward the laughing voices in Kathleen Parker’s bedroom.
The sight of Dus running makes everyone look for the nearest exit. Angie has let the cat down and is behind him screaming, “What? Dus? What?”
Teese is tugging her foot out of a high-heeled shoe, trying to grab her own tennis shoe, and coming to a stiff-legged stand, all at the same time.
Dus’s body wrenches loose from the floor easier than he
ever thought it would. He lands solidly on top of the bed. He
does a settling shuffle, while
tugging at his belt. His boots leave huge crumbling brown imprints on the white covers.
“Oh my god!” says Teese, staring at the first thing they would not be able to take back.
“Aw shit, Dus! You crazy motherfucker!” laugh Sick and Martez. Both are crowded into the doorframe.
The urine spatters, and then soaks into Kathleen Parker’s pillows. Dus walks backwards, dragging the stream and eventually pissing into the dirt his boots left, forming muddy riverbeds. The girls shriek their disgust and fear and awe.
Empty, Dus drops his body off the bed. He lets the siren song have his whole weight. He’s heavier than ever before.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Craig Latotonda/Revelation Studios.