by Kyle Owens
CLOSEUP SCHOOL PHOTO:
First grader, OSCAR WILLIAMS, stares back at the camera, smiling in the full spirit of happiness. An American flag stands in the background. Soft brown eyes echo the tone of his skin. Black hair, cut close to the scalp, crowns his head.
INT. APARTMENT (KITCHEN)— DAY
WILMA WILLIAMS (forty, black female) sits at the kitchen table with the interviewer. She stares at the photo lovingly.
“This is his first grade picture. He wore his Detroit Lions shirt that day. He loved the Detroit Lions. It’s all he talked about back then. I have a larger photo of this one hanging up in the living room. That’s my favorite photo of him. Just look how happy he is here. He was always a happy child. Never had any problems with him until he got to be about eight years old.”
“What caused him to change?”
“His father was shot and killed.”
Her words go off like a grenade.
“That had to be a very traumatic thing for the whole family.”
“It was. Roger was a good man. He had a good job at the grocery store. It’s hard to find a good job in Troit so we knew we were blessed.”
“Do you know who killed him?”
Wilma is quiet. The clock on the wall chimes for the top of the hour. The voices from people walking by the apartment filter in through the bars across the open window.
“We ran out of milk and he went to pick some up for supper that evening down here on the corner at the Rite Shop. And he got shot and died on the sidewalk on his way back. The guy that shot him took his wallet, watch, and even took the jug of milk he bought.”
The silence slides by like razor bites.
“Did anyone see who did it?”
“No. Nobody gets caught in Troit.”
The interviewer is startled by her words said in such a calm and exact tone. She stares at the refrigerator covered in photos of her son held up by butterfly magnets.
“No one’s expendable.”
“That’s white man talk. We black folk have been expendable since they been making people.”
She gazes away and then her eyes softly reach up to his.
“How did losing his father change Oscar?”
“He was much more quiet. I could tell he was taking on demons.”
“What kind of demons?”
Boys become men
across the nation.
Do what’s best
for the family’s reputation.
But Troit is different
where fathers are none
so little boys
are on the run.
No guidance, no protection,
no hand to grab.
So the gun
becomes the Dad.
EXT. APARTMENT STEPS—DAY
A mist of rain falls against the sky. Drips of water fall into an old metal coffee can positioned beneath a leaking gutter. The interviewer is talking with FRO (black male, twenties) while they sit in white plastic chairs.
“Pick was a really good guy.”
“How did he get the name Pick?”
“He saw this cat murdered when he was nine. The guy that shot him ran off and Pick went over to where the dead guy was lying. Half his head was gone, man. Just blew it right off and blood, flesh, and bone spiderwebbed all over the wall. Pick saw the dead guy and the cat had a bag of cocaine at his side so he just picked it up and before morning came he done and sold it all and was a rich man. ”
Laughter spasms through the rain.
“Was that the first time he saw a man murdered?”
No fathers in the home,
mentors out of sight.
So they walk the streets
and learn that might makes right.
Mothers lie awake
hearing sirens and screaming.
Welcome to the life
where boys are raised by women.
JENNY BROCK (black female, nineteen years old) is sitting on the steps in front of her house with the interviewer. The street lights, those that still have their bulbs, begin to flicker to life.
“How did you meet Pick?”
“At the club.”
“Deuces. I’m a dancer there.”
“Did he come up to you after the—what do you call it—show?”
Jenny laughs as she buries her face in her open right hand.
“Call it what you want. No, he didn’t come up to me. I went over to him.”
“Was it an instant attraction?”
“What attracted you to him the most?”
“He had money.”
“Money? That’s not very romantic—you know—to just to be attracted to his money—is it?”
“I don’t live in a very romantic place. I’m just trying to survive. In Troit you don’t pick men you love. You pick men you need.”
stack of bones.
All our bloods
piled into a hole.
Tomorrow they’ll be endless ashes
these people we used to know.
EXT. PARKING LOT—NIGHT
SKIDS (twenties, black male) is sitting on the tailgate of a Chevy LUV pickup truck eating spicy potato chips from a bag. The interviewer is sitting beside him drinking a root beer from a can.
“How did you meet Pick?”
“We went to school together. We was tight.”
“Was it your idea to start a rap group?”
“No, it was his—well, I guess it was both of ours, but he had thought it out more. Anybody that listens to hip-hop always starts thinking about putting a group together or trying to lay some tracks down. That’s just the nature of it.”
“Why do you think rap music has such an impact around here?”
“To get out of Troit. Music could be the way. Ain’t but two ways out of here in most of our eyes. That’s in music or in a body bag.”
Skids smiles and his large white teeth brighten the dark.
“What were you going to call the group?”
“Death Riders? Why that?”
“Look around you. Spend a few nights in Troit and let’s see what name you come up with.”
Laughter spills forward from both men.
“Was Pick a good rapper?”
“Oh yeah. He could cut’cha with his rhymes. But Pick wanted to go to the next level in rap. Pick really thought that rap had stopped evolving. We was going to do it different. We weren’t going to sample anything. We was going to write our own hooks as well as the raps. We played our own instruments. He thought rap needed to get out of the sampling stuff and create its everything. Show the world we got talent that can create from the nothings of our lives into the something of yours. One thing that upset him more than anything was when they started sampling TV theme songs. That just made him insane. He thought that showed no creativity at all and we were going to change that. Then he got shot.”
Hope seems to rubble about his eyes.
“Did you see it happen?”
“No one sees it happen. It just happens.”
“Who shot him?”
“Probably one of the pimps he was robbing.”
“He robbed pimps?”
“Oh yeah. That’s the way to get good money. He wasn’t into cocaine or drugs himself, well—beer he liked—you know, Colt .45. He guzzled the stuff. But he’d rob the pimps for the money to get for the group or if his mother needed money for rent or groceries. He’d do anything for his mother. His goal was to get the group going and then when we got successful he’d move his mother to Beverly Hills.”
“Why Beverly Hills?”
“It just sounded safer to him. He’d get her a big house in a gated community and he wouldn’t have to worry about her anymore.”
“Was the group having any success?”
“Oh, yeah. We cut one song up in his girlfriend’s apartment and put it out here locally. Even got a radio station to play it some. It was hittin’ too. People liked it. Then he just got shot. Ended everything. When you’re robbing drug dealers you aren’t playing with fire. You’re in the fire thinking you can get back out. But he didn’t get back out that night.”
in silent moments.
Causing all to be gone
before the eye can notice.
Life becomes a broken garden
scattered gone by nature’s riots.
And all that’s reaped
are seeds of silence.
MALLARD RAYMOND (black male, forties) walks down the street with the interviewer with his pit bull, Mr. Pops, on a leash.
“You were Oscar’s uncle?”
“Yeah. I’m his mother’s brother. He was a great kid too. I really thought he was going to get big with his music. I work down at the radio station…”
“You a DJ?”
“No. I’m the janitor. But I’m in good with the night crew and I brought his music up to them on a cassette tape one night and told ’em that I have the next big thing outta Troit right here. They listened to it and they just loved it. Played it on the air that night. Everything was looking bright. I was going to be their manager. At least that’s what I was angling for. I thought since I got their music on the air then that would put me in good standing with ’em, you know. I got down an old road atlas and began circling places they could play at and thought about getting some shirts made and stuff like that. I was into it big time.”
Mallard laughs which highlights his missing front tooth and then his expression changes to a clot of regrets.
“But it just didn’t work out. That’s what a body gets for dreaming in Troit.”
They walk by an abandoned building with no windows or roof, with trees growing up out of its crumbling concrete floor and gang signs painted on its clay brick facade.
“There’s no hope around here. None at all. You just do what you can do to get by. You don’t live in Troit—you survive Troit. All of us here is here because we can’t get out. If we could get out we’d get out. We’re at the bottom of the world here. Move over Antarctica, Troit is taking your place.”
Mallard laughs as he stops to let Mr. Pops relieve himself against a metal post missing its sign.
“There has to be some hope here, doesn’t there? I mean, can’t you get government assistance or something to…”
“Government assistance? Man, how white are you? I’ll tell you what government assistance got us. It got us lead in our water. That’s what government assistance getcha’ in Troit. They took the wet out of our water and replaced it with lead. That’s all you gotta know about this place. We’re the bottom. We’re not forgotten—we’re worse than that. We’re ignored.”
Can’t drink the water.
Can’t walk the streets.
Any glimmer of hope
despair quickly defeats.
It’s just one million lives
without a point.
Welcome to the city
the dead call Troit.
Kyle Owens lives in the Appalachian Mountains. His work has appeared in Eastern Iowa Review, OdyssaMagazine, The Breakroom Stories, and The Arcanist, among others.