I have another of my ‘Shorts’ coming out in the next few days, so I thought I might take a minute to explain again what they are. In the interim, between writing longer books (say 275-425 pages) I sometimes get story ideas that I’m not sure I want to develop into full-length novels. Or, I get inspiration to develop characters that just won’t leave me alone. So, I write them. Sometimes these characters come to me in first person, sometimes in third. Sometimes they are wordy and introspective, sometimes they’re whimsical and not that deep. Either way, I’ve started putting them to the page, with no expectations about how they might be received. If received well, and if I still have something to say, I may continue the story in yet another ‘short’ like I did with the ‘Coffee Date’ book. Or, a single story may be all there is.
The ‘Shorts’ are generally under 200 pages in length, but I hope, not short on detail and characterization. They’re my way of freestyling–a riff committed to the page, that might work well, or not at all. They’re essentially my way of letting you into my mind. At the end of last year I decided that if I think of a story, I’ll write it. I won’t agonize, ruminate, or marinate … I’ll just write it. The ‘Shorts’ will always be priced between 99 cents and $2.99 because, well, they’re short. And I am not sure yet whether I will release them in print, because who wants to buy a pamphlet for $8.99, right?
This one, ‘The Wanderer’ came to me as I was writing something else, and rather than shove it aside, I decided to complete it. It’s different in theme, and a little bit in tone from what I generally write but was kind of a cool bridge for me, from one project to another, and helped me renew my ‘write every day’ pledge to myself. So … I hope you enjoy.
Here’s an excerpt from ‘The Wanderer’:
I am messing around with one of Rain’s computers when the doorbell rings. For a few moments, I have no idea what it is, because it peals like a musical note. I pause, thinking it’s a phone ringing somewhere in the house, or that Rain is back and playing an instrument. I finally realize what it is and go down to answer the door.
Outside, a FedEx guy is holding a package. He looks surprised when he sees me.
“Hey,” he says. Then he hands me a box and asks me to sign for it.
As I am scratching out my signature he asks after my brother by name. I look up.
“You know Rain personally?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “I deliver here all the time. This is my regular route.”
“Oh.” I hand him the tablet I’d signed on.
He pauses, like he wants to say something more, so I lift my eyebrows, prompting him to speak.
“You must be his sister,” he says.
“Yeah. He told you about me?”
That possibility pleases me. I have been invisible in Rain’s life for so long, it would be cool to think that at least I was on his mind, and that he talked about me.
“No,” the FedEx guy says. “But you look alike.”
“Oh,” I say again. “Well … I’ll be sure to give him his …”
“Yeah,” the guy says. “Yeah. You have a good day.”
He turns to leave, and I watch his firm calves, and his muscular ass, visible in the shapeless shorts.
Before Jamaica, I was in Italy, where Black guys were fairly scarce. The only ones I ran into—with a few exceptions—were young Africans, who were hungry strivers, refugees, or menial workers who had left desperate circumstances and were unable to consider women, or relationships as anything more than a possible leg up in a society that still viewed them with suspicion. I didn’t object to their circumstances or even their desperation, but I knew that on some level they didn’t even see me. They were too preoccupied, most of them, with the more basic things on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—food, shelter, safety—to even think about esoteric matters like emotional wellbeing, or love. But I fucked a couple of them anyway, because in my own way, I was unable to think about emotional wellbeing or love either.
I watch the FedEx guy not because he is especially attractive, but because I am starved for the company of American men. Black American men, especially, with whom I don’t have to constantly explain myself, and who understand ‘where I’m coming from’ both literally and figuratively.
I take Rain’s box inside and set it on the foyer table, and then I remember Bryan. Even though I lost his number, it would be easy enough to find him, since I know where he works. I head back to the computer and look up Chaplin.
On the school’s website, in the ‘About’ section, I find pictures of faculty. And there is Bryan. He is one of only two Black members of the teaching staff. The second one is also male, and he is—no surprise here—the gym teacher.
In his picture, Bryan looks young, and hip. I can tell from the picture that some of the girls probably have crushes on him, and that some of the boys probably try to quote Jay-Z or Drake lyrics to impress him. I smile at the thought. Bryan would love that. He would encourage it.
And then he will later stand at a bar with his friends—all Black men themselves—and say things like, ‘I’m probably the only brother those kids will ever have an actual complete conversation with in all their lily-White lives.’
When we were in college, Bryan was the Black guy all the white guys wanted to befriend. Because he has a neutral, affable, ‘not-carrying-the-anger-of-my-race’ demeanor, that white people find approachable, and refreshing. He made them feel like they needn’t worry about their latent bias, because after all, they thought Bryan was cool, weren’t even slightly uncomfortable around him, and he seemed comfortable around them as well. So, that must mean they’re not racist, right?
Bryan is like Barack Obama was when he was on his first campaign for President. Unaffected and even affectionate around whites, but only letting his inner Black guy loose when he was with the fam. Otherwise, you might have thought him race-neutral.
I used to like that about Bryan; the ease with which he code-switched, and the almost shockingly racially-charged things he would say, in that nice, Northeastern accent of his when he was in a room where everyone was Black.
I find a phone number and dial it on Rain’s landline, asking the nice lady on the other end if she can connect me with Mr. Banks. She tells me he is in class, but that she will leave him a message. I ask her if she can see the number I called from, because I don’t know it by heart. She tells me she can.
“Great!” I say, my voice chirpy. “Could you ask him to call me back at that number please?”
“Certainly,” she says, equally chirpy.
“Oh,” I say. “And one more thing. What is the number I called you from?”
She laughs and gives it to me and I write it down.
I was only able to get to Rain’s from the airport because I took Uber and had his address in an email he’d sent me before I left Jamaica. I gave him the date and time of my arrival and asked him to be home in time to greet me. He had responded, asking no questions—as though I hadn’t last seen him almost three years earlier—in one brief word: sure.
That was my brother—a man of few words, unless he was singing.
Having gotten out of my way the whole issue of Bryan having a way to get in touch, I go back upstairs to take a late-morning nap, shoving aside the large duffle that I still hadn’t completely unpacked.
A picture falls from it. I turn it over onto its face, so I won’t have to look at the image. Then I curl up on my side and go to sleep.
The next sound I hear is the ringing of the phone. There is drool on my chin and I have that dazed, brain-numb feeling that often comes from sleeping too deeply in the middle of the day. I find and answer the phone in Rain’s messy master-bedroom and am not surprised when I hear Bryan’s voice on the other end.
“C’mon out and have a drink, or a coffee, or something with me,” he says. “I’m free for the afternoon.”