I never stopped having the images appear, even after drinking myself into unconsciousness.
It happened again, earlier today. I was walking towards Flatbush through the Fulton Mall, bobbing and weaving thru the crowd, G Unit blasting out of Max's discount Shoe Store. Max's was where Jerome and I got a pair of Pumas ten years ago.
I was looking in the window almost in a daze. How could I not be? The sun was beating down on my neck, my tongue was like sandpaper. I could feel the coolness of the hosed down sidewalk thru the gap in my sneaker under my big toe.
I needed new sneakers.
I looked in the window and I saw him staring at me.
Jaw hanging down.
Hands like brown purple tree trunks raising up to me.
His blood coated white gold teeth sparkling at me. The exclamation point of the gash that ran down his caved in eye. Just like the last time I saw him in good lighting. Ever taste your own heart? That’s what happened to me in that moment.
I turn around and run smack in to an old Rasta. He carries the scent of myrrh with him. Our eyes lock and I barely register the words "Peace Ras" flow from his tongue before he enters Max's. Then it’s just me, G-Unit, Max’s display window, the wet sidewalk, glaring sun and a few hundred black and brown living souls.
I didn't buy the shoes.
* * *
I'm not paranoid.
I don’t believe in ghosts.
What I saw was just the result of a lot of the shit that happened last week. The party, the fight. I now know where they got the "bullet time" effect in the Matrix from. I saw it when the hand holding the shovel came down and smashed in to Jerome’s face. Everything slowed down. I understood exactly what was happening, from every angle. And there was nothing else that I could do.
He was a big motherfucker.
Always was. And I guess that’s one of the reasons we became friends a dozen or so years ago. Him the bulky former elementary school bully and me the quiet unassuming mixtape enthusiast. I was playing a 60 minute TDK dub of a bunch of Tribe Called Quest remixes with some James Brown and Parlament Funkadelic thrown in. He stopped in front of my stoop and I thought he was going to kick my ass. Instead he said, "That’s the dope shit right there yo." and smiled.
In high school he got sent upstate for possession. I didn't see him again until maybe six months ago. He was still a big motherfucker. Although I had gotten my growth spurt and filled out a bit. Working out and boxing. I was never good in the ring and after being pummeled on the mat for a year I quit.
It was my Ife, my sister’s fault, I did it for her.
She was best friends with the coach’s daughter and talked me in to getting smacked around for a few months. But I loved the training, the focus. My coach said my form and technique was good, but "You can never think of the other guy as a piece of meat that needs to be taken down. You have too much heart."
He might as well have cut off my balls and dangled them in front of my face.
So then one day Jerome shows up again in Clinton Hill, three blocks from my home. He stepped out of a Chinese take out shop on Myrtle and hollered at me from across the street. I thought I could ignore him, but he crossed over to me and gave me a pound on the shoulder. He smiled, that white gold tooth sparkling at me. He didn’t say much as to where he had been, just that his parole had ended. He hinted that if I had any friends looking to score to give him a call. Apparently he had made some friends in his time upstate.
He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked side by side and I felt a chill running down my spine. He mentioned something about wanting to hang out, like old times.
I tried to avoid him for the next few weeks, but it was useless. Even more so once my Ife told him about her birthday party. Her man was in Iraq for the third time. So rather than waiting it out alone she decided to pack up her SUV and move in to the middle room of my railroad until Damon rotated back stateside.
She mentioned Jerome while I was down in the garden. In exchange for a cut on the rent I worked a few hours a week in my landlady’s backyard. It wasn’t much, a ten by ten square tacked on to the corner brownstone but with a few flowers and herbs it was coming along nicely. I had started getting ambitions and was digging a trench for a line of bamboo to add some privacy. Of course the half blind landlady took credit when showing it off to her church hat friends. But I didn’t care.
I did the work.
It was mine.
But I digress. My sister stuck her head out of the back window, my bedroom window.and yelled down at me as I dug out the trough for the bamboo. I hated it when she was in my room, but I smiled up at her anyway. She said she was talking to Jerome the night before and invited him over to her birthday party, no sorry her birthday soiree as she called it, and asked if he was seeing anyone.
I cursed under my breath.
Knocking the dirt off of my hands I stood up and smiled my best plastic smile and felt the dirt seeping in to the hole in my shoe. I yelled back up at her that I didn’t know but he has a soft spot for Old English. He hated Old E, said it tasted like day old warm piss, but I wasn’t about to let her off easy.
That was six days ago and I’ve lost count of how much Old E I’ve had since. Ife was a drinker. She kept the once dry kitchen well stocked. I wasn’t a fan of alcohol but she got me into it again. I think I drank more in the 2 months since she moved in than in my year at college.
And look at me now. I’m drinking chai liquor out of the bottle. The last leftover from the soiree. The cups and glasses and ice trays from the party still littering the living room and kitchen. I’m tired. And there is a smell coming from the back room that I can’t place. But I don’t want to look for the source now. My shoes are by the door, dirty and broken with holes in the soles. I should have brought new ones.
By the time I got home on Ife’s birthday there were already people in my apartment for the party. I could hear them from the other side of the door. There was music playing, a few girly laughs and manly boasts echoing in the hall. My key was in the lock when I felt the door creak slightly, some one leaning against the other side. And I heard a new voice, pretty but slightly slurred saying, “I didn’t know he was your brother. He’s kind of become the neighborhood weirdo.” Then another voice “I thought he was a crackhead for a while.”
Whatever, they didn’t know me. I began to turn the key but then another voice cut thru the scarred brown door. “Nawh crackheads have more personality.”
I know that last voice.
That last voice knows me.
It was Ife’s.
I pulled my key from the lock and went downstairs. The weight of my feet causing the rickety steps to groan under me, becoming louder and louder with each step. I didn’t see Jerome walking up the stairs until I was pressed between his bulk and the stairwell wall. Trapped. I could smell him just like before. Drakar Noir mixed with sweat and something fried and that cheap laundry detergent on his oversized blue button down that makes my skin itch. I must have mumbled something about leaving Ife’s present at work as I squeezed by his hulking frame. I do remember him smiling this big toothy grin showing off his white gold tooth. Getting down those last few steps nearly killed me. But I managed to make it to the door with out breaking any of the land ladies antique vases that lined the foyer.
I hated him.
I didn’t know it at the time, but yes I hated him.
I breathed in the night air and went out in to the garden.
Working at night in the garden is great. The air is cool. Much fresher than my apartment now. You don’t get sweat in your eyes as easily in the dark. People used to look at me strangely when they passed me at midnight and see me with a spade or a pickaxe. They just didn’t see the logic of it. Well there isn’t much to see in to the garden now. Not since I put the bamboo in. Between the darkness and the fast growing green stalks you would have to be standing right on the edge of the property to see me at work.
It’s a good thing Ife is respecting my room while she has her party, no, soiree. I couldn’t hear much of the noise going on upstairs as I struck my shovel in to the dirt making room for the acidic topsoil and fertilizer. I don’t know how long I was working back there. Must have been a few hours. I had heard the front door slam open and shut maybe a dozen times as I dug out a trench, much larger than I should have. I guess I was just in to the work. Every shovel full of dirt muffled the words that came thru the door. I was covered in grime and sweat. I wasn’t thinking about the pain any more, or the scent or of that night where he called me a bitch. I was thinking about how I was going to have to fill in half of this hole in order to plant the rest of the bamboo.
That’s when I heard the first scream.
I looked up and saw my back room light on. For a second I was angry. Then I heard another, and another piercing scream. Something about that sound that finger print of pain made me know it was Ife’s voice.
Something was wrong.
I ran in to the house tripping up the brown sandstone stairs. I entered the foyer and gripped the shovel like a rifle before rushing up the creaking steps. I must have collided with one of the antique tables because I remember the sound of something crashing behind me and a dull pain radiating up my thigh. I fumbled with my keys and managed to throw back the deadbolt.
The front room was empty, bottles and plastic cups were everywhere. I could smell the mix of alcohol and weed seeping in to my skin, mixing with my sweat.
I moved in to the empty kitchen. More of the same, except for a shirt on the floor. Buttons ripped off, one of them found its way thru the hole in my shoe.
My hands were shaking. My eyes were burning. My lungs felt like a hot hand was trying to claw it’s way out of my chest.
I crept, shovel at the ready, in to my sisters bedroom and almost tripped over a pair of her pants. I caught myself on the tiny Ikea twin bed she picked up from Craigslist. There was light seeping under the door that connects her bedroom to mine. I leaned up against it and listened.
I heard the bed squeaking.
A dozen thoughts flashed through my head in those quick seconds, but it came down to just seven words.
He is raping Ife in my room.
Without another thought I rammed shovel’s handle under the doorknob. I can still hear the sound of the impact of metal slamming into wood. There was my sister under Jerome. Naked, on my bed. His back was arched and her eyes were closed.
That’s when I had the bullet time moment. Everything slowed down. Like I was moving in water. As if God put his finger on the pause button with just enough force to slur the tape.
Between the door bouncing off of the wall and my first steps in to the room Jerome turned in to a pile of meat with gold teeth.
I could see everything.
My sister opening her eyes, the corners of her mouth turned up showing off her dimples.
The condom wrapper laying next to the gun on my oak nightstand.
A fly buzzing against the ceiling
A hand swinging a shovel into Jerome’s head.
I treated his body like meat.
I must have pounded his face and back two or three times before I heard my sister screaming. She must have been choked up, full of fear, unable to call out while he was violating her until I busted in to the room.
It’s going to be ok, she’s going to join in, she is going to take her revenge.
Jerome was spread out on his back now. One hand covering his half smashed in face while the other gropes blindly for the gun. I ran to the other side of the bed and sent the shovel down edge first on his outstretched wrist, smashing it on to the oak. I hit it again and again.
Then I felt a weight on my back. My sisters tiny fists beating on me. God he must have done something awful to her to turn her against me like this. She’s screaming at me to stop. I push her back and look at her long enough to see her head crack against the footboard. She passed out from the trauma that he put her through.
Jerome moaned one more time. I had to punish him even more now. I dragged his other hand on to the nightstand, raised the shovel high over my head and swung. I heard the crunch, felt the table give way under the blow and felt the warm spray of blood graze my face, shirt, pants and shoes.
And then it was over.
The bullet time ended.
And I had blood on my shoes.
It couldn’t have lasted for more than a minute. The pile of meat that was Jerome McGill was soiling my bed.
I still have bloodstains from the meat on my shoes, along with the holes. I take another swig of the liquor. I must look quite the sight. Clothes still dirty from digging. Meat blood on my shoes. Bottle of chai liquor in one hand. Jerome’s gun in the other. Staring at the dark creamy liquid in the bottle. I haven’t cleaned the house since the party. I’ve had to keep myself busy or else... or else....God I see him again. In the glass. His face bending in to form, then my sisters face. Ife’s face looking at me in those blank shell shocked eyes. They swell up, growing larger and larger morphing in to one another until they are all I can see. I drop the bottle. Ife/Jerome images shrink then shatter. The dozen fragments of glass and pools of dark fluid all have there fused together faces on them.
That’s why I have to keep myself busy.
The window overlooking the garden was open. I guess that’s how I heard her screams. I dragged the big motherfucker to it then pushed him out. It was surprisingly difficult to do. He fell down the half story with a dull thud in to the soon to be fertilized soil.
It was just a matter of rolling his fat ass in to the trench I had built the night before. In the back of my head I wondered if he would be good for the bamboo or not. I’m guessing he would be pretty acidic if he was drinking a lot tonight. So I covered him up. I was done before dawn.
When I came back in to the room my Ife was still passed out on my bed. Her head was at a crooked angle. She needed to sleep. I made her comfortable. I can’t begin to think what she has been through. When she wakes up we’ll talk and figure out what to do.
That was four days ago. She is still asleep. And there is this smell comming from somewhere in the back of the apartment, like something died.
She hit the floor four days ago and hasn’t woken up. Damn him for pushing her, for knocking her down for raping her. I should have done more to him, to make him pay. Yes, make him pay for throwing her off my back.
Her fists were pounding on my back.
I killed her.
I need another drink.