Jefferson and McClellan
He waits. By the austere bus stop, benchless by city ordinance, his view of the gray sky framed by vulgar despair scrawled across the cloudy glass, the sun shirking its springtime responsibilities, his neck uncraned and his body unexpectant: he stands. You waiting for that Jefferson? You gon’ keep on waiting. His love to his side, her eyes closed, something kicking inside her, something he made, bulging and screaming, declaring his readiness for the world. There are others. Two denim-decked teens with a deflated basketball between them; a sexless face hiding inside a black hoodie; a man in a clay-colored fedora that comes down to his eyebrows, studying his watch for signs of hope, as if it was anything but a dispassionate bearer of bad news.
Hidden by a mess of graffiti, the bus schedule says 8:30. The man’s watch beeps and flashes nine o’clock. But it is nowhere to be seen. Behind those bars all he did was wait, and now, free, he waits still. A leafless wind gusts from the south with a collective trembling about them, as if they were all, together, a vibrating phone waiting to be answered.
His fiancé, his love, his savior: her face is sweaty and serious. Pain humming below the surface that she's doing her best not to show. A silent pride about her. She squeezes his hand; he squeezes it back. It’s cold. He brings her hand to his mouth, gives it a kiss. It will come. The people around him: they are impatient. They look down the road, they look at each other, they slump their shoulders. He pays them no mind. It is out of their hands. The pigeons talk strategy above him; he watches them until they become a flock of moths swallowed into oblivion. The way bus headlights loom differently than the rest, he can tell it is nowhere close.
Cars, cars, cars. Fucking cars. The group watches with a kind of vindictive spirit as their drivers unknowingly speed towards the knee-deep pothole in the right lane just north of the bus stop.
Another man joins. Shaved gray hair and the face of a hairless rodent. They let him know in grunts that it isn’t here. Baseball caps and bare arms and a couple sweatshirts, but not one heavy jacket between them. Nobody was prepared for this wind. The man’s watch beeps. Ten o’clock. It seems to be much later than that. No one speaks except for the two teens who talk trash and dribble the deflated ball between them. It is cold and the world seems drained of all color. He could’ve run back to the apartment and gotten her a coat by now. Twice. Three times. Ten times. No matter. It will come. They wait and wait and wait, and his son is the least patient of all; he can tell from the way his fiancé holds her stomach and bites her lower lip.
He lights a Newport on his third flick and blows with the wind. A man walks by with a cart of DVDs and they wordlessly decline his offer. The river to Canada is boatless and angry. It is the size of the cuticle on his flexed forefinger held against the sky, a sky which at this moment looks like God's very own ashtray. His fiancé’s feet dance below her and he slobbers on her cheek. A sigh escapes the depths of her body. And then a laugh. The cars heed the red light even though there is no street bisecting Jefferson there, not for several years.
His fiancé leans towards him and says, “Love you, boo.” His childhood flashes in his head like a shot of tequila. His mom had called him “boo” when he was a kid growing up in Detroit. Where was she? His foster mom. The way she would steal the toys his mom and grandma sent him and give them to her own kids instead. His brothers sent somewhere down south. His first crime. How good it felt to be feared, to make them feel his pain. And then all that time behind bars without having seen any of them. They stole his childhood. He gave it to them. Something now feels lodged in his spine. His fiancé to his left. She’d taught him how pointless it was to be angry about the past. Instead, she’d given him a future.
His son. He kicks. The bus. It’s not coming. His son is strong like his daddy. Some things, he can just tell. The people around him turn and look down Jefferson and roll their eyes. It will come. His stained face prepared for an absent sun. The sky is not so far away, the clouds something he could jump and touch. His phone vibrates but nobody has called. Everything sways and slows down then speeds up violently. A swell of cars race past; he jumps back. He stands, watching, shooting cigarette smoke down his nostrils.
The man’s watch gives it’s little shrill beep and everyone stares at him like it’s his fault. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning and it’s still dark. The sun is late. The bus is late. Everything is late. A black squirrel scurries past and spasms up the maple. His fiance is a rock. His son is ready. Another cigarette. She takes a drag of this one. Then another. She isn’t supposed to, but she does. Little man is gonna have to deal with a lot more shit than that. The sound of the squirrel against the branch is like a claw on a chalkboard. Her hands are cold and wet. Winter refuses to go away. He hugs her and waits for a kick from his son that doesn’t come.
The first pole of light against the dirty glass. The sky like something being turned on. He lets the slightest twist of a smile emerge. He is going to do everything. Be there for her. Be there for him. Be everywhere for them. Not her first child, but his. Theirs. Everything is changing. The room is ready. The apartment swept. No balloons: helium shortage, the dollar stores told him. That’s all right. He’ll understand. Especially when he sees the Spiderman outfits they’ve got for him.
The boy dribbles the ball off his shoe and it flops into the street’s right lane. She squeezes harder. They had held him behind their bars for what seemed like forever, but now he is out. She is his mountaintop. His angel. His love. She is not pretty, because prettiness is the first thing that life hacks away at. No, she is not pretty. But she is not ugly either. She is beautiful. She's the most beautiful thing in the world. She, too, has been through her own version of hell: the list of men who’d violated her, who’d taught her she was nothing, worse than nothing, who’d treated her like a piñata, then had left when only babies came out. She bore it all like the queen that she was.
You'd never know it by looking at her - unless you knew where to look. He knew where to look. Her pain sags in the bottom of her eyes. Eyes that now look at him, asking him a million questions. Questions he is ready to answer. Eyes that trust him, eyes that implore him, eyes that crawl all over him like the hands of a masseuse and make the hollow in his stomach feel a mile long. He looks at her, and, for a second, the world stops: the only movement is his heart beating to the rhythm of the bouncing basketball. Her eyes ask him, Are you ready? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes! he wants to scream it. He takes her hand. He is different than the others. She can count on him. He's gonna take care of her. He loves her. He loves her. And she loves him, and he feels something like happiness wash over him as another gust of wind sweeps down the street.
Look at her. Look! Have you ever seen something so beautiful? The mother of his baby. Everything is changing. The block: his jurisdiction. Nobody makes it out. Well, he's gonna make it out. He’s gonna see the world. He’s gonna show her the world. His son is gonna rule the world.
Two dusty circles of light to his left. He doesn’t even have to turn his head to look. A stirring about him. The lights grow bigger and bigger and bigger until he looks up and they are the size of his head, and it is big and white and ugly and the same heavily made-up lawyer and her phone number on the side panel stare him in the face. It is here. The bus groans and sighs and its doors open and nobody gets off and they all get on. They pave a way for her and she sits, and he stands above her. The hospital, his life, twelve stops away.
//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.