D. Nolan Jefferson
Lord, look at this ole knock-kneed boy walking up and down the block like he don’t know water’s wet. Shut his eyes tight, threw his head back to the sky and flat out hollered the moment he heard the news. I can’t remember a single instance when those boys weren’t joined at the hip getting into some kind of mischief. Or joy.
Boogie, that’s the boy that died, kept this one here, Percy, in check. And now he looks like he’s so sad he can’t even muster up the strength to pull himself together to join the others at the house. Course, he’s probably lost in the clouds on that reefer or that other shit. That’s what caused the rift between them in the first place.
I remember seeing them years ago when they really were just boys on Christmas morning. Percy’s legs pumping away on a new bike the color of emeralds, pulling Boogie down Euclid Ave. on jet black roller skates. They fastened a jump rope ‘round his waist and he was something else even then, swinging his hips in those cut-off shorts. Boy could dance like his life depended on it. Bless.
I fried up enough chicken to fill up a foil roasting pan and piled up another one just like it high with macaroni and cheese—dropped it all off while everyone was at the funeral. All except me and this one, anyway. Least I could do. Can’t say much about him, though. Poor Percy. There would be no more sipping Cokes on the curb for him and Boogie anymore.
Danny was the first to go. Saying it even now makes my throat tight like a fist, but he went first. Back in ‘89, riding high on a scholarship and a semester abroad, he got caught up with those high-stepping white boys, and by the time he got to Amsterdam, they say he couldn’t go an hour without a quick, discreet sniff or bathroom bump. One thing led to another, and by the time he come back to San Diego, he had wasted away to almost nothing.
“We went to Monaco, mama,” he whispered at the end. “The casinos. So many lights. It was magnificent.”
I cradled the back of his head the way only a mother can and helped him sip some water from a red plastic tumbler.
“They turned us away, though. Wouldn’t let us even get a peek. But the next time, when we go back,” he coughed then, a small, painful moment that led to me Vaselining the creases of the corners of his mouth, his thin face easing softly into a smile, “I’m going in.”
Who knows why these boys turn out the way they do, but mamas always know. How could we not? Every freckle, grown in crooked incisor, skint knee, knot of nappy hair, pigeon-toed sidewalk stutter step, we know; a speck of dust at the moment those molecules collide to all elbows and ankles, a foal stretching out our bodies in the span of nine months. We know you before you’re even born. Before Barbies or pink shirts, or watching you saunter, hand on hip – we know.
Percy ain’t never cared, ain’t never paid any mind to what these fools was saying; calling Boogie sugary because of how he was. So, when Boogie come around their senior year at Lincoln talking ‘bout how he in love with Marlon – Judy’s grandbaby Marlon, the one that played football – here he go trying to put the two together without so much as batting an eyelash.
That ain’t work out, but Boogie went on ‘bout his business anyway fooling around with God knows who – sailors probably, or truckers, the lonely or curious – doing God knows what. Hell, he might’ve even been with Danny for all I know, stunting with those track and field legs long as Route 66.
After Boogie got sick, it was like he went underwater, and even Percy couldn’t get him to come back up to the surface. That in turn got Percy smoking that mess, which is only going to get you one way or the other; hooked on it sucking down smoke and your life and dreams right along with it, or you get caught up slanging it, a street pharmacist looking over your shoulder, eyeballing your competition, a two bit twenty-two tucked in the small curve of your back like you’re some kind of made man, when you ain’t shit.
So now, here we are. And I don’t know if I’ll ever see them as anything other than the little boys sprinting up and down the block on Christmas morning. No, not really. Not even after the ghosts of their chalk outlines fade away leaving each of us something different but, nevertheless, broken in our hearts. There’s no salvation for those of us left behind. Just us; in grief; with love. Danny, Percy, Boogie; just boys, all of them.
D. Nolan Jefferson is a librarian and writer based in Washington, DC. A California native, he has earned an MFA in Film from Art Center College of Design and a MLIS from Louisiana State University. Pursuing an MFA in fiction at American University, he won the 2017 AWP Intro Journals Project Award, has been published in Tahoma Literary Review and Red Savina Reviewand enjoys tacos, records, and fellow introverts.