by Starr Davis
On a dead night in March, my lover tells me a story that is not mine to tell. The other night the cops found a man’s body in a bando on the Westside. Said the man’s body had been sitting there for 20 days. Scents of skin and the spirit’s trash.
“He was my homeboy.” My lover says while twisting his joint into a perfect pen. His fingers are patient. His eyes are sharp like crystals.
The man was some hustler. People admired him. Knew him to be an honest and forthright man. He doesn’t go into the secrets of the deadman’s past. He will not tell me their history, too gory, too much maybe to reflect on at this time. His eyes and his hands tell me everything I need to know. These two men were close enough to slow down his fingers. Close enough to steady his eyes in the dimness of his Impala. Close enough for him to bring it up in the middle of his touching me, kissing me.
He lights the blunt. “He wasn’t supposed to die like that.”
No, I thought. No one should die in an abandoned building.
There are warmer places to die. On a blanket of concrete. In a nest of grass in some vacant lot. In bed. Somewhere someone might find you. The art of putting a body in a basement is a burial in and of itself. The cold confinement of loneliness. I wondered about his demise and all the places the bullets traveled to before he breathed his last breath. I waited for my lover to tell me more. But he continued to talk about how they found him, cold and decayed.
I skimmed my fingers around his knuckles. He only understands flesh. My lover was raised in a group home. When we are together, we smoke and talk about the dead because that’s all there was to talk about.
The Midwest is still a deep freezer for America’s grimmest crimes. He and I both knew this. In Ohio, tax season begins with a blizzard and ends with summer shootings. A trap for us poor: give us a lump sum of money and watch us gamble it away on a life we’ve been robbed of ever having. I figured the deadman got caught in the rain of praise and retreated in the safety net of some nigga’s hatred. The poor hate to see one of their own get too close to God. Men die all the time for having just enough money as the next man to sprinkle at the strip club, but never for real reasons like owning a house, or running a business. Or just for being loved. Love always feels like the real reason someone should die. But that must happen only in movies. The loveless die without reason.
“Fuck all that,” my lover says, taking a hit from the joint. “Imagine someone not looking for you for 20 days.”
I disappear with this.
There was nothing to imagine, I knew exactly how it felt to be missing without a single person looking for me. When I was 16, I was kidnapped while attending summer camp. I was gone for 8 hours when my abductor dropped me off a few miles from my house. Turning the key to my house, I yelled for help, but no one was there. I don’t know what hurt more, knowing I was alive and could have been killed, or knowing no one cared that I was gone. But I was alive. That is the feeling that keeps me awake at night. There are things worse than death. There is invisibility. Disappearing inside a night as a nobody. There’s the possibility of being no one’s baby, no one’s life. There’s that. The invalidity of being Black, alone, and gone. Like so many others.
“That’s not a story,” I tell my lover. Up until I say this, we are both too high to remember we are both strangers who don’t belong to this narrative. I find my lover’s eyes and wake him from the dead in the basement of his mind. “A story has a beginning, middle, and end,” I said.
I know my intellect humors him. We are on a fixed time, he, and I. The books I gave him are still in the backseat. But the shoes I bought him are on his feet. He just ended a 10-year relationship with an older woman. And I just resurfaced from a year-long abusive relationship, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. I escaped that relationship with a baby. He escaped his relationship with a car, the one we are sitting inside. We are both too dead, too empty to label ourselves. So, we fill the spaces with saliva, skin, and storytelling.
“All stories aren’t the same,” he starts, “this story was about… a man was shot in a bando and was left there for 20 days.”
“No, that’s the end of the story. You didn’t tell me why he was shot or what he was like or where he was going in life.”
“Because it’s not important.”
A silence passed between us.
“So that’s the story?”
“Yup, no beginning, no middle. Just an end.”
Starr Davis is a poet and essayist whose work has been featured in multiple literary venues such as The Kenyon Review, Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day, the Rumpus, and Catapult. She is a 2021–2022 PEN America Writing for Justice Fellow and the creative nonfiction editor for TriQuarterly. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York and a BA in journalism and creative writing from the University of Akron. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry and creative nonfiction, Best of the Net, and Best American Essays.
Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan