Authors: Amina Gautier
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Short Stories (Single Author), #Short Stories, #African American
STORIES BY AMINA GAUTIER
Lyrics from “God Bless the Church,” written by
Billie Holiday and Aurthur Herzog Jr., used by permission
of Edward B. Marks Music Company
Published by the University of Georgia Press
Athens, Georgia 30602
Â© 2011 by Amina Gautier
All rights reserved
Designed by Mindy Basinger Hill
Set in 10.5/14.5 Minion Pro
Printed and bound by [TK]
The paper in this book meets the guidelines for
permanence and durability of the Committee on
Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the
Council on Library Resources.
Printed in the United States of America
11 12 13 14 15 C 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gautier, Amina, 1977â
At-risk : stories / by Amina Gautier.
p. cm.â(Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction)
ISBN-13: 978-0-8203-3888-0 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-8203-3888-5 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. African American teenagersâFiction. I. Title.
813'.6âdc22 Â Â Â Â Â 2011010454
British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available
ISBN for this digital edition: 978-0-8203-4132-3
“The Ease of Living” first appeared in
and has been reprinted in
New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 2008
“Afternoon Tea” first appeared in
Notre Dame Review
and is reprinted in
Notre Dame Review: The First Ten Years
“Pan Is Dead” first appeared in the
“Push” first appeared in the
“Boogiemen” first appeared in
Notre Dame Review
“Dance for Me” first appeared in
and is reprinted in
Best African American Fiction 2009
“Girl of Wisdom” first appeared in
“Some Other Kind of Happiness” first appeared in
North American Review
“Held” first appeared in
Red Rock Review
“Yearn” first appeared in
African American Review
It was barely the summerâjust the end of Juneâand already two teenaged boys had been killed. Jason was turning sixteen in another month, and his mother worried that he might not make it. A week after the double funeral, she cashed in all of the Series
bonds she'd been saving since his birth and bought him a plane ticket to spend the summer with his grandfather. Distance, she believed, would keep him safe.
She waited until the day of his flight and told him over breakfast. “It's not forever,” she said, polishing off her coffee. “Besides, it's a done deal.” The ticket was paid for, and they both knew she couldn't afford it. He had no choice. She was taking off the afternoon to ride with him to the airport. She set the mug down and hurried out the door. She had neither finished her breakfast nor cleared the table. On the table she left a small plate holding the crusts from her toast, crumbs, and dollops of jelly clinging to chipped china.
She had ruined his morning.
Usually, he couldn't wait for his mother to leave so that he could
go outside and chill. His boys would appear a half hour after she'd gone, and they would have the day all to themselves. This was the time of day Jason loved. The short yellow bus had already come and taken the retarded people who lived in the middle of the block out for a day trip. The adults with jobs were at work; the others were in their homes watching talk shows and soaps. A few girls were scattered on the stoops up and down the block, braiding hair and giggling at nothing. All the boys dumb enough or lucky enough to get summer jobs were out somewhere, supervising kids running through sprays of water, price checking the produce and bagging the eggs separately, or flipping burgers and asking if you wanted fries with that. But not him. Not him and his boys. They had the whole summer to themselves. They could ride down to Coney Island if they wanted. They could go downtown to the movies and sit in the Metropolitan or the Duffield all day to make up for the lack of air-conditioning in their homes. They could each buy one ticket then sneak into as many different shows as they could manage until the evening brought cooler breezes and they could go home once more. Or they could go to the park and watch the girls run around the track in those tiny blue shorts with the white trim. Or they could go to the pool and jump in the deep end with their shorts and sneakers on, dunking all the girls who had slighted them and messing up their hair. They could do anything they wanted. They could even just sit out there on the stoop all day long smoking blunts and saying whatever came to mind. He liked that best of all, but now he had to leave it. He would miss it, the times that couldn't be pinpointed to a specific action, the times that were as numerous as the days of summer vacation, when he didn't have to think about school or listen to the things his mother said or accept that the deaths of his two friends meant that nothing would ever be the same again.
“Hey yo!” a voice called up to his window.
He pulled out his duffel bag and threw it on the bed. Then he
went to the window. He stuck his head out and called, “Be down in a minute!”
He didn't know anything about the South or its weather, so he didn't know what to take and what to leave. His Timberlands, of course, would go. He didn't need to pack them; they were already on his feet. His favorite baseball cap with the brim broken in half to shade his eyes. His basketball jerseysâJordan, Ewing, and Starks. His Walkman. His favorite mixed tapes. His clippers so that he could stay smooth. His wave cap and brush. His underwear, socks, and toiletries. The overalls he had gotten his name spray-painted on at the Albee Square Mall. A stack of T-shirts, another stack of jean shorts. A tiny vial of scented oil he'd bought off a Muslim in the street. Everything he needed fit into one bag.
They were crowded in on his stoopâfour boys with blunts and a forty. A dark stain of liquid made an uneven circle on the bottom step of the stoop, where they had already tipped the forty to Kiki's and Stephen's memories. Three weeks ago, they had all attended the double funeral. Now, they passed the forty, quickly demolishing it. Then they lit up.
“Took you long enough,” Howie said, rising slightly to give Jason a pound. Half of Howie's hair was braided into cornrows that followed the contour of his head and then ended in tails at the back of his neck; the other half of his head was wild, where he had picked the braids loose.
“I'm here now, right?” Jason said.
“What, you was sleeping or something?” Smalls asked.
“Nah,” Jason said.
“You wasn'tâI meanâyou know,” Dawud said, making obscene hand gestures.
“No,” Jason said, “I got your girl Tanya for that.” Then he told them he was leaving for Tallahassee in a few hours to spend the summer with his grandfather.
“Damn,” they all said at once, shrinking away from him as if he had a disease.
“Florida,” said Howie. “And not even Miami, where all the honeys are. That's the South for real.”
The package of E-Z Widers came out for those who didn't have blunts.
Smalls and Justice were seated on the same step. Justice laughed. “Man, you still rolling them little things?”
“Shut the fuck up, nigga. This shit is better than nothing like my man over here.” Smalls pointed at Jason.
Howie said, “That's all right. I got him. It's his last day and shit. He know I got him. Right, son?” Howie passed Jason the blunt. Jason took it and lost himself in it, focusing only on getting high one last time before he left.
Smalls said, “Damn! Come up for air. This nigga act like he on death row or some shit.”
“Damn near,” Jason replied, coughing.
“Leave him alone. This might be his last blunt for a while. Who know what the fuck they smoke down there? Trees and shit. Corn husks,” Dawud said.
“Nigga, you a fool,” Smalls and Justice told him.
Howie pushed Jason. “Damn, nigga, pass that fucking el. I know it's your last day and all, but you can't take all that shit!”
They all laughed at him sitting there, puffing like his life depended on getting high. Then Howie asked, “Why you ain't never tell us you had you no rich grandfather?”
“He ain't rich,” Jason said. Then he shrugged to show that he wasn't being defensive. That he could care less.
“Got enough money to just up and send for you,” Smalls said. “He something.”
“Just old,” Jason said. “Bored, I guess. Lonely.” His mother had paid for the ticket. He was being
, not sent
, which made all the difference. Being sent for was a privilege, a vacation, a luxury
that meant he could do what he wanted and enjoy himself. Being sent was a punishment and a threat. His mother was sending him to get him away from Howie, Dawud, Smalls, and Justice. Pure and simple, it was surveillance. A more motherly version of prison. But his boys didn't need to know that.
“You'd be lonely, too, if you was living in Hicksville, two towns over from the middle of nowhere!” Dawud said and laughed. A girl with braids roller-skated by and ignored them when they called to her.
“You gonna be down in one of them backwards towns like where all that Freddy Krueger stuff be going down. Little ass towns where people don't be locking they front doors and be knowing each other's name and be all up in your business,” Howie said. “Better you than me.”