The Prince of Darkness selects a young woman from the Bronx as his chief lieutenant. Content warning for mature themes and graphic violence.
“Hello,” answered some whiteman. “Good morning! Could I speak with—?” He mispronounced her last name and didn’t abbreviate her first, as nobody who knew her would do.
“Who dis?” she repeated. “And what you calling about?”
“Young lady,” he said, “can you please tell me whether Miss Jean-Louis is there or not. Will you just do that for me?” His tone all floured with whitepeople siddity, pan-fried in condescension.
But she could sit here and act dumb too. “Mmm . . . it’s hard to say. She be in and out, you know? Tell me who calling and what for and I’ll go check.”
Apparently, the man was Mr Blah D. Blah from the city agency that cleaned out Section 8 apartments when the leaseholder dropped dead. Guess whose evil Aunt Esther had died of a heart attack last Thursday on the B15 bus? And guess who was the last living Jean-Louis anywhere?
“But how you calling me—it’s almost noon—to say I got ’til five, before your dudes come throw all her stuff in the dumpster?”
“Oh good,” exclaimed Blah D. “I was worried we weren’t communicating clearly.”
“She live out by Jamaica Bay! It’d take me two hours just to get there.”
“Miss Jean-Louis,” he said. (Public servants nearing retirement, who never got promoted high enough not to deal with poor people anymore, black people anymore, have this tone of voice, you ever notice? A certain tone.) “There’s no requirement for you to go. This is merely a courtesy our office extends to the next of kin. The keys will be available to you until five.” Blah hung up.
“Fuck you!” She was dressed for the house, a tank top and leggings, and so went to her room for some sneakers and a hoodie.
Mama was scared of Esther, said she was a witch. Both times they had went out there, Mama left her downstairs, waiting in the streets, rather than bring her baby up to that apartment. Now, she didn’t believe in that black magic bullshit, of course, but she also wasn’t trying to go way the hell out there by herself. Mama, though, wouldn’t want no parts of Esther, dead sister of the dead man who’d walked out on her some fifteen years ago. Naw, better leave Mama alone at work and call her later.
She’d get Anhell to go. They were suppose to had been broke up with each other at least till this weekend coming, but whatever. She could switch him back to “man” from “ex” a couple days early. Wouldn’t be the first time. I’m a be over there in twenty, she texted.
She put a scarf on her head and leff out.
how can I word this?
you ain’t been perfect
Damnit. Forgot the keys to his place back in her other purse! She texted again from the street, and then hit the buzzer downstairs for his apartment. That nigga was definitely up there parked on the couch, blazed out and playing videogames. She knew it, and leaned on the button, steady.
“Yo! What?! Who is this?”
“I leff Mama’s without the keys. Lemme up.”
“Yeah! Ain’t you get my texts? Buzz me in, nigga.”
“I was, uh . . . I been busy. Could you, like, uh, wait down there real fast for me, baby? Just one minute.”
With her thoughts on buried treasure in the far east of Brooklyn, not on boyfriends who step out the minute you turn your back, she wasn’t ready for the panicked fluttering that seized her heart and bowels, the icy flashes that turned sweaty hot—the anger, pure and simple.
Chick or dude. What would it be this time?
Dude. Not too long, and Anhell’s piece got off the elevator and crossed the vestibule toward the outer doors. Dude looked regular black, but was obviously Dominican from the loafers and tourniquet-tight clothes. He lived, you could tell, at the gym. Titties bigger than hers, a nasty V-neck putting his whole tattooed chest out on front street. MAS LÍBRANOS DEL MAL. Heading out, he politely held the door so she could go in. No words, they kept it moving.
The problem was, if you liked pretty boys, and she did like pretty boys, then Anhell was it. You couldn’t do no better. She looked okay—damn good, when she got all dressed up, her hair and makeup tight. But Anhell was pure Spanish butterscotch. Lightskin, gray eyes, cornrow hangtime to the middle of his back. He answered the door in a towel, naked and wet from a quick shower. Hickies on him she ain’t put there.
There’s rules to whooping your man’s ass. He tries to catch and hold your fists, dodge your knees and elbows and kicks, but accepts in his heart that every lick you land he deserves. You don’t go grabbing a knife, or yanking at his hair, either, as the instantaneous fear or pain those inspire will make him lash out with blind total force, turning this rough game real in a way nobody wants. Stay in bounds, babygirl, and you can whale on him till you’re so tired you ain’t mad no more, and his cheating bitch ass is all bruised up and crying. But fuckit. She wasn’t really feeling it today. After getting in a few solid hits, she let Anhell catch her wrists. They were on the floor by then and he hugged her in close and tight, starting up with them same old tears and kisses, same old promises and lies.
“’Nisha, what can I do? Whatever you need, just tell me what I can do. I’ll do it.”
Stop laying with them hoes! With them faggots! But this was just the little sin, the one convenient to throw back in his face. She might not even give a shit anymore, if she ever bothered to check. What couldn’t be fixed was his big sin. The one they’d cried about, fucked and fought about all the time with fists and screams, but not once ever just said the words out loud, plain and clear. Now that a couple years had slipped by it was obvious they were never going to say the words at all.
You know what you did, she said. You know what you did. And Anhell did know, and so for once shut up with all the bullshit. They lay for a while just breathing, just embraced, their exhausted resignation like a mysterious disease presenting the exact same way as tenderness. “My aunt died and left me all her shit.”
“Yeah. I need you to come out to Brooklyn with me, see if there’s anything worth something.”
“My case worker coming by tomorrow.” Anhell felt good, smelled good, left arm holding her, right hand stroking her shoulder, back and ass in a loop that made everywhere he touched gain value, feel loved. “You know I gotta be here.”
“We just going out there,” she said, “look around, and then come straight back. It ain’t no all night kinda thing.”
“Well, lemme get dressed and we’ll head out.” He let her go and sat up.
“Wait,” she said. “Hol’ up.” She hooked her thumbs under her panties and leggings. “Eat me out a little fowego?” She rolled em to her knees.
It’s gotta be hard, right, when they keep asking for what you can’t give, but so good, when they want exactly the thing you do best? Anhell grinned. “I got you, mami.” He pulled her leggings down further, rolled her knees out wide. “Lemme get in there right . . .”
Somebody suicide-jumped at Grand Central, so the 5 train was all fucked up. They were more than three hours getting out there.
Block after block of projects like brick canyons, a little city in the City, home to thousands and thousands and not one whiteface, except for cops from Long Island or Staten Island doubled up in cruisers or walking in posses. It was warm as late summer, the October rain falling hard enough to where you’d open your umbrella, but so soft you felt silly doing it. Anhell walked just behind, holding it over her, the four-dollar wingspan too paltry to share. Drop by drop his tight braids roughened.
Aunt Esther’s building was over a few blocks from the subway. Not one of the citysized ones, but big enough. The kind, you know, with the liquor store-style security booth at the entrance, somebody watching who comes and goes.
“Excuse me,” called the man behind the plastic. “Hey, yo, Braids—and you, Miss? Visitors gotta sign in.” Behind the partition, he held up the clipboard.
They went over to the window and scribbled their names. Though basketball-player-tall, up close you could see he wasn’t grown. Just some teenage dropout on his hood brand cell, Youtubing bootleg rappers.
She tapped the plastic. “It should be some keys in there, waiting for me,” she said. “So I can get into my aunt’s apartment.”
“Nobody tole me nuffen about that.”
“What’s that right there?” she said, pointing to the desk beside the boy’s elbow, where an envelope lay with her name written across it.
He gave this revelation several blinks and turned back. “Well, you gotta show some ID, then.”
She got out her EBT and pressed it to the partition. Squinting, the boy leaned forward and mouthed the name off the card, Tanisha Marie Jean-Louis, and then, slower than your slow cousin, compared this to what was written on the envelope, Tanisha M. Jean-Louis.
Although allowing, at last, that these two variations fell within tolerance, the boy still shook his head. “Naw, though . . . I don’t think I can give you this. You suppose to show a driver’s license.”
His stupidity flung her forward bodily against the partition. She smacked her palms on the plastic to lend the necessary words their due emphasis. “Nigga, this New York. Ain’t nobody out here got no fucking driver’s license. You better hand me that envelope!”
ain’t nobody gon’ sleep
To the left of the elevator the hall continued around the corner, but 6L, Aunt Esther’s apartment, was in the cul-de-sac to the right.
Stink rushed out as the front door swung in. Week-old kitchen trash. Years of cigarettes. Old ladies who piss theyself. Ole Esther had caught her heart attack on the bus, so at least there wasn’t that, not the funk of some bloated mice-nibbled corpse leaking slime.
On a corner table inside the door was a huge, nasty religious mess. Ugly dolls, rat bones, weird trash. If all Satan’s blue-black devils had wifed all God’s blue-blonde saints, then a gaudy likeness of their brats was painted on the clutter of seven-day glass candles. She went over to take a look. Breathing through some open window the moment after Anhell followed her in, a breeze slammed the front door shut. The sudden breathless dark had him slapping at the walls desperately until he found the lights. She sneered. “Come peep this. She was on some real hoodoo shit.”
“No, mami.” He came over reluctantly. “This ain’t Voodoo or Santería, ni nada parecido. Your Auntie ain’t bought nunna this at no botánica. Look at that.”
“Yeah? A cross—so what?”
“You don’t see nothing weird about it?”
Though fancy and heavy-looking as real silver, it was just cheap ass plastic junk when she thumped a finger against it. Rather than about-to-die, the face of Jesus looked more like a man nutting, but apart from the crucifix being upside down she couldn’t see what had Anhell all freaked out. She shrugged.
Anhell was superstitious. His grandma had wanted him to go to Miami for some expensive Catholic thing, accepting his saint or some shit like that. But his trifling ass had just bought tracksuits, Jordans, and smoked up all the money she’d left him. Now, he touched the bare skin of his neck as if there should’ve been beads hanging there, some guardian angel to call on today of all days. Her pretty babyboy, so full of regret! She saw how she could fuck with him.
There was a Poland Spring, label ripped off, in the middle of all that voodoo mess. She picked it up.
“You can’t drink that, ’Nisha!”
“It ain’t even been open yet.” She cracked the seal, untwisting the cap to show him. To fuck with him. “It’s clean.”
“It’s blessed water,” Anhell said. “Cursed—blessed, I don’t know what! But I swear to God, don’t drink it, ’Nisha.”
“Mmm,” she sighed, after gulping down half the bottle. “I was sooo thirsty, though . . . !”
He got quiet, but she could read these signs from being hugged up with him on the couch so many nights. Forcing him to watch the kind of movies she laughed at, but turned him into a motherless six-year-old, afraid of the dark. While she rummaged the apartment, pulling out drawers and dumping worthless old lady trash onto the floor, Anhell followed close, brushing up against her as if onna’ccident. He was scared as shit and wishing she’d change the channel. But, no, nigga. This is the show. This is what we’re watching.
Not under the mattress, not in the dresser, she didn’t find a fat stash of benjis anywhere. Ratty old bras, holey socks, musty dresses. She sorted highspeed through a folder labeled “important papers,” dropping a blizzard to the ground as her audit turned up nothing but Social Security and Con Ed stubs, obituaries clipped from newspapers, yellowing funeral programs. Her father’s. But the treasure had to be buried in here somewhere. Anhell came to sit by her on the edge of the coffee table. He jumped to his feet when it teetered up like a seesaw. There!
“Get that end,” she said.
They dumped over the coffee table top, its old school Ebonys and dish of peppermints scattering. Underneath was a trunk, a real pirate ass looking trunk. Now we’re talking!
No hinges or latches were visible on it, but when Anhell tried to pry up the lid, he fell back on his butt, saying, “Shit’s locked up tight.”
She said, “No, it ain’t,” and effortlessly lifted the lid herself. Folded up inside was a tall, tall man or woman, long-dead and withered black and dry as stale raisins, their longest bones broken to fit fetus-style in the confines of the chest. Anhell screamed all girly and jumped back onto the couch. She rolled her eyes at him. “Dead. And how many times I told you what dead means?” she said. “Can’t do nothing to you, Anhell. Nothing to worry about!” He started whining but she ignored him.
There were two things in there with the body (its skin cheap-feeling, just leatherish, like a hundred-dollar sofa from the ghetto furniture store, and the body weightless and unresisting as piled laundry). One was a shotgun that could have come from the Civil War, half made of wood. She set it aside. The other was her baby, a knife equal in length and width to her own arm, its handle protruding from a rawhide sheath.
You-know-who sidles up and offers . . . what? Change. Not for the better, not for the worse, just a change. But one so huge that you can’t even dream it from the miserable little spot, miserable little moment you’re at now. And don’t go expecting wishes granted, or that kind of boring shit, because transformation belongs to a whole ’nother category. But, oh, babygirl, this could be a wild hot ride. Are you down?
Anhell had slipped off the couch and knelt beside her. He was reaching toward the shotgun, but hesitating too . . . up until she did it. Until she pulled out the long knife, no, machète, from the leather sheath that flaked apart in her hands like ancient pages from an ancient book. Anhell picked up the gun.
Oh, fuck yeah!
It felt like being at the club, three, fo’ drinks in, every chick in the place hating, every nigga tryna holler—and then your song come on. The beat drop. She felt loose as a motherfucker. “Ooo, Anhell.” Groaning, she wedged the heel of a hand down between her thighs. “You feel that, too?”
Yeah, the nigga was feeling it! She oughta know that look on his face by now, about to bust a really good one.
She tested the machète’s edge with a fingertip and found it all the way dull, however sharp it looked. Even pressing down hard against the edge hardly dented the pad of her thumb.
Anhell, too, reached out wanting to test the edge of that weird machète. But then he sort of thought twice, stopped short, and shied his hand right on back again. Just like that, she got it. Understood all the possibilities for black magic murder. “Come on, papi,” she purred, cat-malicious. “Don’t you wanna see what kinda edge it got?” She nudged the machète out toward him—very recklessly. Woulda cut his ass, too, if he hadna jumped back so quick. “You ain’t skurt, is you?”
She was getting her hands all wet in somebody’s blood today. That was for damn sure.
“Whoa, ’Nisha! Why you playing, though? Back up with that!”
Keys rattled in the lock and the front door swung open.
Two dudes in Dickies and t-shirts came in talking whatever they do over there in Czechoslovakia or Ukraine. The workers were the right color to come to New York and get fat business loans or good union jobs right off the boat, buying a house on a tree-lined street, and all set up for the good life, before their kids even graduated high school. Perhaps for supernatural reasons they didn’t notice the shotgun and machète. For natural ones, she and Anhell weren’t invisible exactly, but seemed to the workers’ eyes only two vague black and brown shapes where they didn’t belong.
“You, Miss Jean-Louis? Boss said you gotta be outta here by five o’clock.” The law on his side, one of the Serbians held up some important piece of paper, typed, with signatures, etc. “Or we call the cops.”
It was instinct. It was thirst. Pivoting, she swung like a Cuban phenom at bat who’d better hit that fucking ball or take his damn ass back to the island. Best believe she hit. A red-hot knife would’ve had more trouble with butter, the Polack’s astonished trunk separated from his bottom two-thirds so easily. Blood and viscera went splashing by the bucketful but none, impossibly, hit the ground.
A thousand frog-tongues lashing out to snatch as many bugs from the air, every glob of gore vanished in the twinkling of an eye, slurped up by the thirsty machète. How long had this poor baby lain in that awful, awful chest?
Though drinking to the last drop was neither delicious nor easy as that first perfect pull, she kept going and swallowed the man down.
The Russian in two pieces desiccated, turning to a spoonful’s worth of blown dust between one breath and the next. What, maybe twenty seconds had passed since the door opened? Russkie number two, quick on the uptake and fast on his feet, had spun around and was booking up the hall.
She looked at Anhell and jerked her chin toward the runaway. “Pop ’im.”
“I ain’t never even shot a gun before.”
“Just pull the trigger, dumb ass.”
Hoisting it up to his shoulder, he aimed. “But what if it ain’t loaded?”
It was, though. The discharge, noiseless on earth, made no flash, either, resounding instead throughout hell. All the souls screaming in their lakes were startled into a moment of silence, so loud was that report, so bright. A burst watermelon of gore blew out the white back of the running man’s t-shirt. He was snatched forward—off his feet and several yards through the air—by the impact of the demonbullet, which smashed him facedown into the checkered tiles with such goofy, slapstick violence, she and Anhell turned open-mouthed to each other, dead. They died laughing, grabbing at one another and collapsing to the floor, it was that funny how dude had thought he was getting away, but psych!
“Okay, okay,” she said finally. “Let’s get serious.” She pointed to the problematic scene in the hallway. “Get out there and clean that shit up, fore somebody come out they apartment.”
Unlike firing a gun for the first time, she didn’t need to break it down for Anhell how the devil got his due. He walked up the hall, she with him, and put the thirsty muzzle of the gun down into that sucking wet wound.
In no time the juicy corpse was all bled out, the borschty color of a freshly dead whiteman depinking into gray. Anhell lifted the gun from the dry pit of torn lavender flesh, shattered pale bone. “I don’t want no more,” he whined, screwing up his face. “The sweet part’s gone.”
“Shut the fuck up,” she said, in zero mood for his finicky complaints. “Finish it.”
Anhell pooched his bottom lip like a four-year-old with just the broccoli left on his plate, but he put the muzzle back down in.
Soon he was gagging, and not faking, either. “All right, all right,” she conceded. “Carry the rest back to the apartment.” There was no splatter on the floor or walls, no more mess, only a shrunken dry thing like the historical Christ, if those skinny bones were pulled from a tomb in Sinai today. She stomped the old body down into the chest and it burst and crumpled like papier mâché, till there was room for Anhell to roll the new one on top. Fingerprints, wipe shit down, tidy up? Nah, fuck that. The devil got you. He looks after his own.
They bounced, Anhell following her out to the elevator.
“So we just kinda slide into the fires sideways, not far, and from there nobody can really see . . .”
“I get it,” Anhell said. “You always think I’m so stupid, ’Nisha, but I got it all the same time you did!”
“Well, don’t fuck it up, nigga. Cause we carrying this machète and shotgun right through the streets, onto the MT fucking A.”
Just newly knighted to this darkest order, they hardly dared more than a step into hell, and so their half-assed little cantrip that first night wouldn’t have worked at all, except in a place like New York, where everybody was already trying so hard not to notice strangers.
Night had fallen over Brooklyn, but you could still see a half inch of daylight glowing behind Manhattan’s fallen constellations. They didn’t slink from the building like street dogs after grubbing through some alley trash, their heads down, eyes slewing nervously left and right—oh no! They loped like winter wolves, thin yet, but bellies hanging full of fresh kill, and future tooth and scenting nose toward all these little lambs gamboling on every side. Nay, sweeter than lambs! For creatures so soft can yet scent the beast that will eat them, while men and women and children walking home under soft rain don’t know to fear the slavering jaws, the click of claws on concrete.
Shadow and flame licking in the corners of their eyes, machète and gun in hand, they strutted through the evening rush. When they descended to the subway, nine-to-fivers were trudging up and teenagers, just out of basketball practice, leaping stairs two at a time. Down in the station, patrolmen to bust fare-jumpers and dudes selling swipes, and more patrolmen posted at the terrorist table, didn’t even blink when two murderers fresh off the deed, weapons naked in hand, rolled past. Busker on the sax, You’ve Changed. Nobody tried to bogart, nobody jostled them on the crowded way back uptown. Where you woulda swore there was none, space opened up on the packed train. Coupla seats came free.
You can pray all day, babygirl, but God won’t answer. He ain’t thinking bout you. Now that other guy, though? Will treat you like a fucking rockstar. VIP. Perks.
when I say people
that’s what I mean
Anhell crawled across the bed, over her, flipped on the lights, crashed around the studio. He gathered up and threw out all the bottles, flushed the roaches and ashes, hid the tray, opened the windows and turned the fan on high. He came to the bed whispering. “You don’t wanna put on some clothes, mami?” Sleepy and cold from the fan, she just groaned and pulled the covers over her, his pillow over her head. His caseworker buzzed at 8:45, as always, as bimonthly, this middle-aged African bitch who hated her and thought she was the biggest slut on earth, but loved Anhell, no doubt to the point of hand-on-the-Bible swearing his shit smelled like patchouli and roses. Um, hello . . . ? That nigga gave it to me.
Mrs Okorie asked Anhell the same stupid social worker questions that had you like duh . . . ! the answers to which not only hadn’t changed since last time but couldn’t. Spotting in the heaped up blankets on the bed signs pointing to the presence of a certain fast ass American black girl, Mrs Okorie reminded Anhell that it was against the rules for “company to cohabitate.” There was, in fact, this scholarship program which Mrs Okorie thought Anhell (who wasn’t no fucking college material, not unless y’all got a PhD in PS4) could apply to, even earn his associate’s degree, if not for the influence of a certain fast ass American black girl.
Special for people who controlled his benefits, Anhell had this soft sweet voice, this lightskin innocent voice. Saying things like “just visiting” and “a couple days,” he almost had Mrs Okorie calmed down when she got up booty-nekkid from bed, crossed to the bathroom and, just half-closing the door, pissed loud for a mad ass long time, like some loose bitch who’d been up till four in the morning drinking with her man. Anhell had to work them gray eyes, that good hair, hard to get Mrs Okorie calmed down again.
They napped and woke up at noon. They fucked but that wasn’t it. Neither was a puff or two off Anhell’s first blunt of the day, nor coffee light and sweet, bagel egg and cheese from the corner. And, no, TV wasn’t it, and not a nap, and not fooling around again later in bed. Nor staring out the window while Anhell played his videogames. He that giveth thee all shall too expect somewhat in return.
O gluttons of murder, wherefore do ye fast? Bring down the red rain, for in hell we are greatly thirsting . . . !
Below, crossing the courtyard, were a Spanish girl, her nigga, and their little baby in a stroller. Smiling church ladies, fat and overdressed, stood by the intersection passing out tracts. On the benches, every cell phone out, a girl clique was holding conference. Boys on bikes, on scooters, on skateboards. She didn’t want the blood of these people, her people, but somebody had to die and pretty fucking soon. A whole lot of somebodies, and day in and day out. How to be evil without doing bad? There’s a problem for you, huh?
Around seven they ate take-out tins of chicken, yellow rice and beans from the joint around the corner, sharing a Corona 24 oz. between them—plenty of food and drink, you would’ve thought, except this fare only made them hungrier, thirstier, for another repast richer by far than this shit. She kept having to move the machète from here to there. Whether propped against the wall, or laid on the floor, table, or bed, its metal seemed to pick up some vibration and whine slightly, a rattle and hum that was setting her teeth on edge. Anhell said he couldn’t hear it, but then she couldn’t hear the weird crackling noise he said the old wood of the shotgun kept making. He stuffed it in the back of the closet, under laundry, but said that didn’t really help. He was on his cell a lot, restless. In and out the bathroom, texting hoes. In and out that closet.
“And where you call yourself going?”
“Nowhere,” Anhell said, giving his lips a little lick. “Just about to grab a couple phillies at the deli.”
“I see you got that gun.”
“It’s mine, ain’t it.”
“What, you just gon’ head up the block, pop whoever you see first. That’s ya plan?”
“Naw! I just, uh . . .”
“Leave it here, Anhell. Tomorrow, me and you will go fuck shit up real good, okay?” She knew what he was feeling, because she was fiending just as bad. But first she needed to figure this thing out, the how and who and all that. Cause the way you start is how you go on. “Us, together. At least one sweet kill each, I promise.”
“Look, I just need to step out real fast, baby.” Nigga wasn’t even trying to run game! Where was the smoothness at, the slick lies? “Just for a minute. I be right back.”
He turned his back on her like he was gonna just walk out that door still holding the shotgun. Right now she could care less about him fucking around, but she was the boss of murder up in this bitch, and it wasn’t gon’ be no extracurriculars on that front.
She threw a Timb at his head with intent to kill. Anhell’s ducking and dodging was some next level shit, so it missed. “You heard? I said, leave it here gotdamnit! Or I will chop yo ass up fast as I did that whitenigga yesterday. Try me.” She thought she’d left it across the room, under the bed, but no, the machète was right here in her hand, eager to make good the lady’s word.
There was a moment where you could see him wondering whether females with just a knife should really be coming out the side of they neck at niggas holding guns. She laughed and flicked beckoning fingers. “Play yourself, then. Come on. I wish to fuck you would.”
They fought a lot and they were both tired, both sick of it. Anhell’s litebrite eyes took on a glint far more sharp and steel-like than diamond-pretty.
“Oh yeah, daddy,” she moaned, as if muvver were wet from all the foreplay and good to go now. “You only gotta act like you wanna raise that gun at me, and I will pay you back every motherfucking thing. Let’s do this.” The gun trembled in his hand, his eyes hard, and the odds that his arm would come up went up—thirty, forty, fifty percent. Satan had her hype as fuck. “Do it, you bitch ass faggot ass PUNK!”
Mumbling under his breath, making faces with his eyes down, Anhell propped it with the umbrellas beside the door and leff out. She went and got the gun, laid it on the table in front of her.
Madison, Tiphanie, Arelys and nem sent a group text right then, tryna get the crew together to go to this new Harlem club, and at first . . . but then she thought of the narcotic bass, the tight-packed bodies writhing together to the music, and her just swinging the machète through all the niggas and her girls like some reaper in the corn . . . Nah, she texted back. I’m in for the night. Sorry. One of em called. “Yo, put ya nigga on, girl. I’m bout to tell Anhell we just going out dancing. Ladies’ night. Fuckit, he can come too. Ain’t nobody seen you in a minute—’Nisha! What is it . . . ?”
She was sobbing and she never cried. “He said, he said . . .” Anhell had muttered I hate you when going out the door, and it had hurt her feelings bad. You just don’t say shit like that!
“Oh my God, Anhell said that? Well, what led up to it?” Madison said. “Tell me everything that happen, exactly.”
She sketched a version of events that, mmm, skimmed the details of the Brooklyn adventure and double homicide, swearing fealty to infernal powers and the carnivorous griping of demonic weapons. Perhaps not every fact concerning her own foul-mouthed instigation made it into the story, either.
They talked a long time, until the girls were all in the taxi together on their way to the club. And because Madison was that ride-or-die friend, always one hundred percent team ’Nisha, she felt a lot better when they hung up.
It was very late, but Mama would still be winding down from the hospital, nodding on the couch in front of some documentary. She called.
“Oh, hey, baby.” Soft voice, sleepy. TV muttering in the background. “I guess you went back over there, huh?”
“You know you ain’t gotta stay with him, right? You could definitely get into nursing school. Girl, you smart, and that boy—”
“Let’s not do this tonight, Mommy, please. Okay?” Mama talked a tough game when Anhell wasn’t up in her face, but them gray eyes worked on her, too, getting her all oh-you-want-a-plate-baby? and tee-hee-hee in person. “I don’t feel like talking bout him. And is that gunshots I hear on your TV? I thought you hated them cop shows. What you watching?”
“Turn on channel thirteen,” Mama murmured. “Just for today, PBS is showing that new film DuVernay won Sundance with, BLM.”
“Oh, word?” She reached for the remote, but kept the TV muted, her eyes on her Sudoku book. “What’s it about?” She penciled in numbers while Mama sleepily ran on and on and on.
. . . of us gunned down six days out of every week by the police. Hoping that cell phone camera and video technology . . . to disrupt the historical impunity of police brutality and extrajudicial murder . . .
“Yeah?” she said, paying attention only to the cadences. Mama’s voice soothing, lovely, there since the beginning. 6. “Huh.”
. . . reinstituting Jim Crow and slavery through the carceral state and prison labor . . . felons, afterwards, barred from the franchise, employment, or even basic welfare benefits.
“That’s awful, dang.” 6.
. . . electing Trump . . . a direct consequence of Pence, for example, sending state police troopers to close down African American voter registration in Indiana.
“Wow, I ain’t even know that.” 6.
Mama fell asleep, so she hung up.
Anhell came in, eyes all droopy and red from smoking in the street. Mostly she just felt, as usual, glad to see his fine yellow ass home again, though she fronted like whatever, who cares? Smelling very clean, of coconut lime bodywash that wasn’t in the bathroom here, Anhell leaned in to kiss her. Ew!
Nice of him to take a shower, but his breath was giving funky receipts for all his recent activities.
She caught his face in the palm of a hand and pushed him off. “The way yo bref kicking, you just been down on some bad pussy for real, for real.”
He ran for the Listerine and then crept back, looking at her with dog’s eyes—a very bad dog. So handsome, though, so hot, he blessed the room just by being in it. And girl you know this dopey bloodshot gaze is full of the purest love you’ll ever get. She sighed, reached out a hand, ran fingers down his scalp between frizzy cornrows. “Ya head’s looking pretty rough. Hand me that comb and sit here. I’ma take these out.” Anhell sat on the floor between her knees. She turned up the volume a little, just to a friendly mutter. He pulled the table closer to pinch open a phillie and roll up his late-night .5 grams.
Ready for Iraq in combat armor, whitepolice in Missouri and Louisiana held machine guns, rode tanks. Natural hair sisters holding poster board signs. Baltimore niggas wilding like the cops won’t shoot. Close-up of a brother, his face fades out. Baby mama crying. Close-up of another brother, that face fades out. His muvver crying. Another face, another wife. Face, mother. Wife, mother. Faces. Crying.
“Know what I wanna see?” Anhell, with each words, scrawled cursives of smoke on the air. “Some crying whitebitches on this TV.”
Normally she had better things to do than ponder the reefer ramblings of a nigga fly as hell, yes, but oh so simple. Now, for whatever reason, her hands paused in the springtime flood of his hair. Fascinated, she said, “Yeah?”
“Yeah!” Anhell said, throwing out a preacherly hand at the TV. “Why’s it always us gotta have the sad story? Let me see some bad ass niggas who get away with nothing but stone cold murder. Then let me see whitemamas, whitewives, cameras all up in they face, weeping and wailing outside the church. Now that would be some funny shit!” His laughter caught on hooks of smoke, broke into helpless phlegmy barking.
The hair stood up on her neck, goosebumps chilling her arms. She slapped on his back, inspired to her soul. It came to her with a bright ten-story-high clarity, like the LED billboards at Times Square. True vocation. God’s work and the devil’s!
4.1 police massacre, October
4.2 state funeral, November
The sky at one AM hung low above the city, orange clouds damn near bright as day. Gypsies bumped the horn when slowing and sped back up. Draped in colored Christmas lights, almost, the curbside mountains of garbage bags, all beaded by spitting rain, winked under headlights, brake lights, sodium and neon. The piped corridors of all the scaffolding over the sidewalks, all the doorways, and all the stairwells going down breathed back at them parfum de piss. It was unseasonably warm in the Bronx, and a lovely night for an atrocity. There was the precinct house just ahead. Time to make the bacon, Mr Pig.
A sextet of cops were smoking on the precinct stairs. Three cigarette cherries flaring with the draw, three redder and dim hanging hipside. Who can say but that qualms might not have stirred the hearts of dark gods, who then might have brought down the storm elsewhere, on some other night, if all those cops out front hadn’t been white? But police have their own little clicks, too. Spanish tight with Spanish, black with black, whitecops keeping to their own kind.
Anhell laid down an enfilade that had him doing numbers before half a minute was out. The devil, if it ain’t been said, saw to questions of ammo and aim, chambering embers di l’Inferno just faster than Anhell could squeeze the trigger. Hellfire tracers went streaking through the dark and one, two, three, four, five whitecops turned explosively to redmeat. Number six, before losing the lungs to do so, gave a shout. She and Anhell ran—not away, toward the trouble. Just vibing on the slaughter at first, thrilled how babyboy had put em down like that, now she felt eager for a taste of her own. A bitch gotta post up, right—get her hands dirty, too?
Some cavalry came pouring out the precinct front doors to see about that shout, and chop, chop, chop were three who had been whole made all in twain. The machète went in and through without effort, but still she felt, somehow, a slow buttery drag across the blade, as if demonic steel were stiff meat belonging to her own body and sinking deep into a lover all wet, hot and open for her. No need, as it turned out, to drink down whole gallons from any one body when this much blood was flowing. The first cupful’s sweetest, anyway. Naw, a spoonful will do, given this abundance.
Stepping over the bestrewment, they went in.
4.1 police massacre, October
4.2 state funeral, November
4.3 police massacre, October
Lastly, twelve widows filed on camera. Whitewidows, all white, though their eyes sought reflexively for any who weren’t. Only one widow would be allowed to speak, and not an ugly one. They knew which one it would be the very instant she, blonde, stepped into view. The black lace she wore overlay a silk sheath that, iridescing under the lights between deep purple, reddish black, and . . . indigo? lent her gown the dark complexities of a raven’s wing seen in direct sun. Not the dress your granny would wear to the funeral, this number, and “gorgeous” only got you about halfway there. The camera lingered a bit over the distinctive red soles of her glossy black pumps.
“Eight outta them sixty-three we kilt weren’t even white,” Anhell complained. “How come they ain’t let nunna them widows on TV?”
“Optics, baby,” she said and swallowed deeply, in wisdom and resignation, from her tumbler. “They gotta keep shit looking a certain way for the message.”
45 hadn’t won the presidency for no damn reason: He quit reading off the ’prompter all wooden and halting and started ad-libbing for his base.
“Studies show, there’s a yuge amount of science, so many studies showing that our African Americans, the blacks, actually kill each other 99.9% of the time. Facts!”
Anhell sucked his teeth. “Ain’t nobody wanna hear this cheeto ass looking fool! When they putting the widows on?”
“President first,” she said, “then the mayor. Widows go last.” One more watery sip drained the ice in her glass, and she looked around with increasing consternation for the bottle. “Yo, my nigga—how you drank up all the Henny that quick?”
“Ain’t even that serious, ma.” Anhell leaned over the couch’s far side. “Got the bottle right here . . .” After pulling it up from where it sat (still one-third full) on the floor, he poured over her ice until, clinking, the cubes floated up.
“Oh,” she exclaimed. “Cause I was getting ready to say . . . !” She took a good, long swallow.
4.2 state funeral, November
4.3 police massacre, October
4.4 state funeral, November
With a step backward into the brimstone sirocco, they couldn’t be seen well from here, earth. And so from there, hell, the screams of the damned and heat blasting at their backs, they juked around wildly shooting cops and took the whiteones bang! to the head, swap! through the neck. It was less a trick of witchcraft than basic physics, time in hell running at a faster clip than our earthly clock, and so much so that, when they stood on the smoldering threshold, all these police, by contrast, were moving in slo-mo and clumsy as fuck.
Anhell dropped them as if this were some damn videogame. Kevlar, steel desks, security doors, ducking around the corner of cinder-block walls. All this could’ve just as well been cardboard, a wish and a prayer, because none of it was saving cover. Satan whispered a name to each bullet, and if that one which the boy shot had heard yours, well, baby game up. You was done. Every shot traveled on a rigorous and unbroken line to its target no matter what intervened.
Anhell had a do-not-kill option, the gun making in that case a strange bark and blowing no two-pound red mass off that brown or woman’s body. Indeed no wound at all appeared, though these lucky ones allowed to live, these few shown this presumptive mercy, all fell down writhing to the ground, their screams matching the damned for raw-throated abandon. Here in the police station, there was a little noise like that in hell.
Semiautomatic muzzle-flash all about her, a ricocheting glitter she batted away, the incoming slow as water balloons lobbed by a three-year-old. She hacked would-be heroes in half. Funny, how you think the first shift at the slaughterhouse will be so hard, really seeing how the sausage gets made, where pork chops come from. But it turns out, you’re about that life. You were made for this, babygirl! Don’t shit faze you. Flinging swatches of crimson over every surface surrounding her, she felt almost bad. It was too easy. (“At places, the blood in there so deep, your shoes stepped in, your socks got wet . . .”) Best of all she liked it when they tried to hide. Chopping in after them through the barricades, the doors, the little under-desk shelters. Then one pretty moment, when most cowered and begged, some rallied to squeeze off a last shot, and she finished that piggy and went for the next. You ever just start laughing, can’t stop? The party’s so good, you’re having such a nice time?
4.3 police massacre, October
4.4 state funeral, November
4.5 police massacre, October
Mrs Liam Conor O’Donnell, dec., stood and approached the pulpit. You could see she ate salads, worked out, no bread. A face for TV, makeup on point, and that gown fitting very well—but everything tasteful.
Addressing St. Patrick’s navy-clad pews: “I know that all of you join with me and the rest of America in grieving the loss of so many of—and truly they were—New York’s Finest.”
“That bitch ain’t crying.”
“The hoe will definitely cry. Now, shh.”
“But look at her makeup,” Anhell said. “How she tryna mess that up? Nope. Watch, not one tear.”
“Bet you some bomb head we getting some tears from her.” And you know she had to be damn sure, because she hated giving head! “Now, shush, so I can hear.”
“. . . our respects to the slain and honoring their sacrifice. Ladies, when our men fall, we must take up arms and the battle cry. To contribute to the cause and the future I’ve borne two beautiful daughters. I’ve been a good wife.” She smiled sadly and the camera flashed on two blonde cherubs in white blouses, black jumpers. “I still remember those last moments when Liam—Lieutenant O’Donnell—when he was going out to work . . . I wanted to tell him.” She lay a palm over the flatness of her immaculate belly. A murmur and stir convulsed the pews. “Yes. A new baby. This one, I know, will be the son Liam always wanted, a boy who will now never—”
“Lemme get a puff of that, yo.”
“Thought you wasn’t fucking with the weed like that? Damn, girl! Keep smoking like this, you bout to turn into a ’head like me.”
“Just pass the blunt, nigga.”
“All of us gathered here today know that a darkness is falling over this nation and over the earth itself. As demographics shift, the struggle for the continuance of Western Civilization has become existential. Diverse elements would see the blood and soil of this nation washed away in a dismal tide. But it is incumbent upon the Herrenvolk to secure the future for our children and for theirs. No, there can be no parley with evil; strength must be our answer. Before the Almighty, I swear to you that we will prevail over our enemies, and the perpetrators of this tragedy shall soon know our vengeance . . .”
4.4 state funeral, November
4.5 police massacre, October
4.6 state funeral, November
Knocking motherfuckers out really don’t work the way it do in movies. Sad to say, but not all the black cops she smashed upside the head with the flat or blunt of her demonic machète lived to tell the tale. And, to be honest, Satan was from jump like You can miss me with all this conscious killing, organic murder crap. Whenever she tried to spare the lives of too many women, black, Asian, Spanish in a row, buddy got fed up and made the machète spin in her grip from play side to business end. Oop! A couple of the wrong heads went flying too. Oh, shit, sorry! Bees that way sometime, though. The third or fourth time Satan decided enough with this woke ass bullshit, and caused the machète to spin from “knockout” position to “decap,” the unbreakable barrel of Anhell’s shotgun intervened, clangingly, before her always-fatal edge could claim this victim.
“I thought we was only killing the whitepeople, the men?” Anhell said, and jerked his chin at the policewoman kneeling between them. “She ain’t neither one.”
Brownskin. Not short, not tall. All right looking, although the uniform’s shapeless navy slacks and boxy polyester shirt were doing her thickness no favors. The policewoman was definitely a stranger, but seemed incredibly familiar at first glance . . . and then she realized why. “Get yo ass outta here,” she snarled, gesturing up with the machète. Go!
Commuted from slaughter, a fawn clambering to her feet between the lioness and leopard, the policewoman stood up warily.
“Go on,” Anhell said, smiling warmly. “We gotta finish up here.”
About to run, the policewoman did a double take. “Oh, you got some pretty eyes, though!”
“Well, thank you,” Anhell exclaimed, giving light skin, delighted surprise, a charming smile. “It’s so nice a you to say that!”
Oh see? We can’t have this. He got the broad ready to put the pussy on him right here!
“Bissh,” she slushed, hefting the machète in a manner that said I’m not the one. “You can run or you can die. How you playing it?”
Anhell peeped her face real quick for resolve, and said, “Yeah, sorry,” to the policewoman regretfully. “But you better run now, for real.”
Brownskin sister heard and took her leave in such haste, the peaked hat of her uniform was knocked off her head, the hair underneath all short, every which way, and toe up.
He liked exactly the kind of dudes you’d expect, elevens on the ten-point scale, this jet-black Senegalese model, that Colombian semipro futbolista, another “big dick country ass redbone nigga from down south,” quote unquote, overheard. Anhell only wanted the brown girls, though, and they had to look just like her.
4.5 police massacre, October
4.6 state funeral, November
4.7 police massacre, October
Eulogy done, the apostle widows came to surround, weeping, the beautiful one at the podium. They clutched one another’s fingers, their red-blotched wet faces becoming downright ugly with sobs. The cameras knew where and on whom to linger, blonde Jesus widow who, blinking her tear-jeweled black lashes, smiled bravely and freed up two or three telegenic drops for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for New York City, and for the United States of America. Did her mascara smudge or run? Fuck no! And, God, did the bitch look good!
“Aww . . . !” said Anhell, every gambler’s exclamation, when his bet goes bad.
Cracking up, she fell back on the couch. “Didn’t I say, nigga?” She rolled around on the pillows. “Told your ass!”
Anhell pointed at the recession of president, mayor, widows. “Shit came out just like you said, though. And we ain’t even done yet.” Tumbler in hand, he took the bottle in his other, liquoring up his meltwater and ice. “Copkillers? Godkillers! And we don’t stop.” As if, sitting down, he just couldn’t get the feeling out right, Anhell jumped to his feet shouting at the blue televised ranks filing from the church. “Fuck the poe lease! It’s on for life. We gunning for alla you motherfuckers!” His eyes came alight, red as the EXIT sign far down a dark hallway. In his wild hand, the bottle sloshing. “Fiddy shots shot, fiddy cops dropped!” His pretty lips sputtering, like a lighter that won’t catch, sparks, not spit. And though it was commercials by now, this nigga steady yelling. “. . . end up dying, staring at the roof the church, ya ladies crying . . . !”
She knelt up on the couch and smacked him in the face with a throw pillow.
Anhell woke up. “Oh, fuck, though, baby,” he said, shaking his head. “You seent that? Devil had me like tweaking!”
“Yeah, I saw,” she said. “Now gimme that fucking bottle. You spilling shit everywhere . . .”
4.6 state funeral, November
4.7 police massacre, October
She’d once seen his long curly hair blown out bone-straight, a black curtain hanging to his ass. Now, auburn, it sat heavily upon his shoulders—huge and soaking wet. She reached into his hair and wrung a handful like some sponge that had sopped deep spill off the slaughterhouse floor. The squishing mass gushed police blood. She pulled his salty mouth down to hers and they kissed.
Spots lit the night out front to anachronous noon, splashing blue ’n’ red emergency lights, a cordon of NYPD ESU with machine guns at every surrounding intersection, snipers on every overlooking rooftop. From “three” a SWAT team was counting down to storm the place. They made fools of the whole kingdom arrayed against them, and walked out through deep hell, across the burning floor of Gehenna.
To avoid the curfew they took the subway downtown at rush hour every three or four days. They’d walk in some other borough until happening upon today’s luckless whiteboys in blue. Afterwards, they’d come on back uptown. Once, they went all the way out to Staten Island on the ferry, and it was like a date, the sunlight on the water, Statue of Liberty, a whale breaching in the harbor. Incredibly romantic—though probably not for that pair of transit cops at the terminal, whose last vision of this world was of two shadows swaggering up through heat shimmer, a teenage lankiness and the width and curves and thickness of a woman, barely glimpsed against a whole continent of fire. But the City under martial law was boring as fuck, and so she called Mama and got her talking again on that BLM tip. Kind of slipped the question to her sideways. Hey, what’s the worst police department in America?
“Chicago,” Mama answered. “Or maybe the LAPD. Why you asking?”
“No reason,” she said. “Oh, by the way, me and Anhell been talking about getting outta town for awhile. Maybe just taking the bus somewhere, a road trip.”
“Cali?” he said, getting excited when she’d made up her mind. Nobody likes wintertime in New York. The same day their cash allowance came through, they packed some underwear, machète and gun, their pills. A backpack each, just the necessary.
“What we gonna do, though,” he asked, “when the prescriptions run out?”
“Walk up in any pharmacy,” she said, “and be like, I want another month’s worf, or every motherfucker up in here getting they head chopped off.”
“Oh, yup yup,” said Anhell, seeing the sense, nodding. “That’d work!”
And so down to Port Authority, and on a Greyhound going west.
“Lamentation of their Women” copyright © 2017 by Kai Ashante Wilson