A Land of a Loss
At night, bells adorn a white gate to a patio--everything is in first person. No sound. No warning. She. Come out of the blackness, black girl. Porch lights illuminate her. She’s a grown-up girl. She wears black jeans, a black hoodie, her hair’s pinned up. She’s wearing the night. She’s come at night. Night. If she asks you your favorite color – if she does what you would do—say night is your favorite color. Fuck time-- color. The door stands open. She’s grinning. What at? Grinning at your bodiless eyes. Floating. You don’t know what skin is, or means, until she touches you. You are the hollow surrounding darkness. You are the unseen only watching. She palms your face. Your now face. Come out of the blackness, black boy.
What is the essence of a room? The light, piss colored is on, son. In her clothes her breasts and hips protrude, staring you down, making your iris watery, blocking the tear ducts, draining out the whiteness before it drains her. What is the essence of a room? She looks like a high school girl. And man, wouldn’t you love to have a high school girl? You’d know everything. Then you’d be cool as hell like Michael Jordan and Bruce Lee. Cool. I want you to know everything, Peter because that’s the only way you’re going to survive her. Control her. Go head and focus, man, focus. Her body summons you like a spirit, from a lost and forgotten land. A land that will take you years to explore. Will take you years to know. But you’ll never live there. You’ll never live there if you only have eyes and no mouth--no arms or hands--no legs nor feet. Ghost boy. Peter is such a ghost boy.
On the bed, underneath you, all grins, touching you into existence. Her jeans shed like lizard’s skin; your thighs are born in hers, your arms form muscles to hold her; and then—water-- cool, everlasting, quenching. Brings you back to your first day of swimming lessons. All you could think about was what 8 feet deep really meant. How long would it take you to sink? How long, if the woman helping you float let you go, would it take for you to reach the bottom? How long would it take for you to die? How long would it take you to be alone forever? But it didn’t happen. You floated. And damn that water felt good. A blessing. A pool of anointed water all over you, Peter. What is the essence of a room? She offers a smile and moves you in the water. Teaching. Her fingernails dive into your skin, creating blood. Forming you. Bringing you into fruition. You are here now. Finally. What is the essence of a room? You are here now, she says. I am looking down on you, Peter. I don’t see her anymore, Peter. She’s gone. Your favorite color gone and now, you’re here with this piss yellow light. Turn it off. Turn it off for me, Peter. For her.
Saturday morning Peter woke and turned on cartoons. His room, dark, except for a bit of light seeping through blue steel blinds. Peter liked it that way, felt untouchable. Hidden-- until his Granny called. Peter shuffled out into the hall, and looked right toward his mother’s room. The door was shut. He heard his name again. Peter hurried into the den area, saw no one there and kept on to the kitchen where he saw Granny over the stove. The smell of sausages, pancakes, and eggs filled the space. A smell that got his mouth wet like the English bulldog in the backyard when it saw Grandpa holding leftover ribs. The smell brought him warmth. Comfort in the fact that somebody cooked for him and made it good. Right then, he thought of Antoinette, a girl from school, the girl he wanted. He leaned on the wall, shoulders slump and head down, his eyes scanning the floor for dirt that wasn’t there.
“Good morning… What’s wrong with you?”
What is the essence of a room?
“How many pancakes you want?”
“You ain’t hungry or something?”
“Is mom here?”
“She at work. You oughta know that by now.” He said nothing, and looked inside the kitchen at the tile, at the food and Tupperware covered counter, at the window dressings designed with clucking roosters.
“All right that was all. Be ready in about 10 minutes.”
Peter backed peddled out of the kitchen, his head turned toward the TV in the den. Some show. He walked back to his room.
Day was bulging behind Peter’s blinds but he kept them closed. These were days he was okay with being unnoticed. You are the hollow surrounding darkness. An image of he and Antoinette embracing in front of the classroom the day before, sustained for a moment in his thoughts.
Peter lowered his head. The hug was welcoming. He didn’t have to prove himself; he didn’t have to slickly pursue her for it. He tried to shake the image away. No use.
Friday before science class, Peter and Mitchell stood outside the classroom by habit. They hoped a fire alarm was pulled or a bomb threat announced so they had an excuse not to have to sit through science class with their teacher’s shit breath. Mrs. Parker always drank black coffee and their assigned seats were in front. Some days Tatiana and Antoinette would be in the hall talking to them-- mostly to Mitchell--before History class. People said that Tatiana and Mitchell would make a good couple on account of how much they flirted and their popularity. Tatiana was light skinned, possessed a big butt and natural red hair.
She claimed she was Irish whenever she could. Mitchell, the color of the black top, had waves in his hair and big light brown eyes; a stocky build, and he talked fast and in a dismissive way. Antoinette was the tallest girl Peter had seen. Cinnamon toned, curvy, her white blouse and blue jean capris fit tight. A lost and forgotten land. She never got in trouble with the uniform police. Nobody knew how, but damn sure, the boys didn’t complain. The true delight was her face-- the cheeks as a matter of fact. A bit round and high like a cartoon chipmunk and sprinkled with freckles. Her skin had a red glow. Peter wondered if she had Native Indian in her, like people say of most black folks. Like his mom told him he had. He, dark and lanky, with a futile Afro pushed center right, on the days he cared. He wanted to know everything about Antoinette. Mesmerizing, even with her raspy voice and her country-sounding drawl. Peter’s way of talking to her was to co-sign on either Mitchell or another friend, Lamar’s comments or jokes; or come up with some of his own which only got him courtesy laughs—or silence.
“Look at Ron over there thinking somebody scared of him because he rolls around in a golf cart and got a walkie-talkie,” Mitchell would say.
“You know if he came over here right now, you’d be hella scared, Tatiana shot back.”
“Scared of what? His old-ass think he got me shook because he knows my grandma? With his dumb-ass gold tooth and finger waves.” They would stand posted in the shade of the hall or congregate by the gates next to the school’s office.
“Lookin like a broke black pirate,” Lamar would say.
“Yeah, he does. All he needs is a peg leg and it’d be way worse,” Peter said.
Occasionally Peter got courtesy hugs. And on this day, his arms wrapped around Antoinette’s waist, her breasts pressed into his chest-- felt like pillows. Five minutes until class started. Mitchell and Tatiana were bumping, and touching, and laughing a few feet away. Mitchell went for a hug, which he got, but then placed his nose on Tatiana’s neck. He got her all excited and she ran off down the hall and Mitchell chased after her. Peter and Antoinette laughed. It was time for her to go. She hugged Peter tight. She smelled like soap. A surprise, because most of the girls wore perfume. You don’t know what skin is, means. Go on. His heart pounded fast and a shock rose in his stomach, and he grew erect. Peter had seen Mitchell, Lamar, and other guys in this position with other girls-- and with Antoinette. Their way into position to grab the girl’s butt. An everyday mission if she had butt. Or at least tap it. The only girl Peter had ever done it to was Candice, a less pretty girl who hung with them at lunch. The Tatiana to his Mitchell. Whenever Peter touched her, she giggled, but that was easy. She liked him. But Antoinette was something different-- special almost. But she couldn’t have liked him. No way. He wasn’t witty or funny like his friends.
Mitchell grabbed her before and she laughed which amazed him, and made him jealous. She held on now, onto Peter. Come out of the blackness. Peter reached behind her and pinched her behind. Antoinette backed up and sucked her teeth, smirked and rolled her neck. “Nasty-ass,” she said. She pushed him, turned and jogged away down the hall. Peter giggled to himself and watched her. Felt proud all the way through class and when she and Tatiana walked the quad on the way to the lunchroom, he gazed at her, wondering if he could do it again. Wondering if he was accepted.
Now, in his room staring at the tube, he felt different. Peter imagined her face on that day. The face he couldn’t see as she jogged away. He imagined it to be twisted in a way that showed two sides: delight and terror. Was that the way he wanted to be noticed? Why couldn’t it be like Candice? Just out of nowhere. Something he knew to be true but unsaid. Was it like that with Antoinette now? Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd appeared on the screen. He pivoted his head away. By noon Peter was bored. Homework needed to get done but that’s what Sunday was for. Church. TV. Homework. TV, then sleep. He thought about hopping on his bike and riding around. But where? He didn’t want to see anybody from school, especially not Antoinette but she plagued his mind. If he waited to see her at school, whatever he felt would be worse and he knew it. Probably wouldn’t even say anything to her or wait for her to say something but that wasn’t her style. She didn’t talk as much as Tatiana or Candice and that was one of the many things he liked. Peter looked at the TV. Cartoons had turned to sitcoms. The room was cold, dark—and the only activity he heard was noise from the TV in the den, and the murmur of sound from his own. He heard the fan cut on. All of a sudden his skin grew worn, choppy—the house became a capsule. Peter sat looking at the blinds, still as a quilt draped over a sofa. For some reason Peter remembered the street name: Tangerine. Her house number, 79 or 78 something, blinked in his mind like a broken liquor store sign. Antoinette lived somewhere on Tangerine. Not even far from Granny’s house. If he found her at her house at least he could have her alone like he did yesterday. Swear her to secrecy. The day was passing. Soon he’d smell the smell of hot water cornbread and pork chops, and dinner would be ready. Soon his mother would be home, exhausted, not ready to talk, but maybe ready to go out. Soon Samson the English bulldog would want to play and afterward the both of them would be cuddled up on his bed, while Peter watched the Simpsons. Soon he would be out of time, and Antoinette would no longer let him hug her, or worse, no longer be warm with him. He could not let that happen. But if people knew he went over there he’d be a creep. Lord willing, she wouldn’t think him a creep if he got the chance to see her. And what else were you going to do on a Saturday? Work?
Peter groomed, dressed, and told Granny he was going for a ride. Center Parkway was a long street that stretched back toward the community college and the movie theaters and forward up to where Home Depot and Hometown Buffet were. Rows of houses stacked on either side-- the nice looking ones with unworn paint were surrounded by fences. The street was dry and cracked, wherever and was laden with bumps and potholes harsh enough to pop a car tire. When the cars passed Peter he took his bike into the street, zigzagging in a coast, listening to the bike’s pawl, until he came up on a bump and tried to jump it like a BMX rider. He reached the corner, then crossed over to Mack road, and peddled alongside a high brown fence, gating in an apartment complex. A sign told him there was a special on one and two bedroom units. Peter wondered what it would be like to live on his own. Come out of the blackness. He looked forward down the long strip of sidewalk. The day grew warmer. No clouds in the pale blue sky. Peter peddled slow and scanned the area. He saw nothing but more road and more stores and fast food places, and a busy street coming into view. A mirror image across the way.
He passed more apartments and ended up at the corner of Tangerine and peered down the street. He started down the street like some bicyclist on TV, working the pedals, huffing, puffing, and on a mission. Peter came to the corner—an elementary school sat across from him. Something told him to go right, but that would lead him back to Center Parkway. Tangerine. No doubt. He had heard it when Antoinette revealed it during a seven-way phone call that included Mitchell, Lamar, Javon, Tatiana, Antoinette, Candice and Peter. During the phone call Lamar, a short, rhombus- shaped brown kid, with braces, convinced Antoinette to give up her address, by having everyone on the line do the same to see how far or close everyone was from each other. Now he wished he remembered all of the addresses. He stood and inched off of his bike, twiddling his fingers on the handlebars, bobbing anxiously in his basketball shorts and LA Dodgers t-shirt.
He looked left. Didn’t feel like the right way. He felt the same when he looked forward. It was Saturday, so he had all day. Peter turned his bike right and coasted while standing, down the street, a baseball field at his left. He saw some kids playing a game with no bases, no uniforms, and no crowd. From what he could tell they only had one bat. Didn’t have a catcher. Nobody around but the players and what their take on what baseball was supposed to be. Peter didn’t like it as much as basketball. But as the bike coasted, he stared. He was the only fan of them. He kept peddling and looked on. He came up to the corner and saw something that made him clutch the handle bar breaks. Peter scrunched his face, lowered his bottom lip. It was a church and school. He remembered, instantly, the huge hill in the front from when he attended years ago, and reminisced for a moment, of field trips when he’d stare at the hill through the school bus windows. For him the playground and field in the back were useless compared to the hill. Designated areas with fun planned out for you. Peter rode the bike across the street gazing at it. He laid the bike down on the sidewalk and stepped up, watching his shoes press into the grass, and listened to the sound it made and to the sound of the cars passing, and the clanging of the wind chimes hung above the church door. The sun returned his shadow to this ground. This place. Sacred. Forgotten. What is the essence of a room?
Peter plopped down, bumping his butt on the ground, giggling at the pain. He scanned over the neighborhood. Everything came back. He remembered being walked across the street from his mom’s car when she dropped him off or doing cartwheels and handstands on the hill. Tumbling down it, if he had time before his mom came to get him. Right then, he thought to ask her when he saw her, why they never moved to that area? Why couldn’t he have gone to school over there? Why had they kept moving ever since then? Would things be different if he hadn’t gone to a private school? Would he fit in better? He’d be able to talk the talk Mitchell and Lamar, Javon and the other boys talked. He’d be able to talk to girls like Antoinette. He could tell her she was beautiful. That's all he wanted to do was walk side by side with her everywhere, listen to her. Be silly with her and sit on hills like this one. He would be ten times cooler than he was right now—and she would like him. It would be perfect.
But they left and he went to a different school. Now: this new school, these new kids, so different. It was like they had everything figured out and under control and he was playing catch up. Peter stayed up on the hill for a little while before sliding down, nearly falling into his bike. He looked around some--just trees, houses, roads, but no one around, save for the kids at the baseball field or in the cars zooming past.
Antoinette wasn’t around and it wasn’t like she’d magically appear just because he wanted. He couldn’t tell if the house-number in his head, a thing he imagined; or fantasized, or if it was real. He would have to wait until school where she looked gorgeous. Gorgeous and timeless. He would apologize; it would be different between them. Maybe he would tell her he liked her. Possibly. Peter took up the bike and looked back down the long street; and then back at the hill. Back at the church and back at the school. He hopped on the bike, steadying himself with one foot on the ground.
He peered down Tangerine, down the way he came, and then looked around as if he wandered where he just put his flashlight. Peter turned, faced his bike forward, and started to peddle home.
Jordon Briggs was born in Los Angeles and raised in Sacramento, CA. He has lived in New York where he also calls home, and currently lives in the Bay Area. He graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary's College and holds a BA in Film from CSU-Sacramento. Jordon is a writer, filmmaker, and a radio show host. His writing has been published in Afro Lit Magazine, Non Plus Lit, Framelight.org, and others. Jordon thanks you for reading his writing.