The sound shot above the grumble of the elevator, a shrieking caw. For a second, as the doors parted, it was just that, a sound. But then it was his sound. His son. He sprinted towards their apartment, careening around the corner and slamming his knee into the handlebar of a pink tricycle, startling his neighbor’s six-year-old helmeted daughter Farah. Sorry, sorry, sorry. As he helped her up, he could hear the clumps of breath issuing from his throat, panicked sounds that scraped at the edge of his son’s cry. For a moment, they trembled together, joined in confusion and fear, until he righted her on the bike best he could and she pedaled away furiously, not looking back. Ge’Vonta ran on opposite her, jerky-limbed, nearly shimmying free of his jeans until he lifted the waist with both hands and performed a sort of broad jump, entering full stride again, his lungs stinging, his heart wanting out, the hallway receding into smeared fragments of dust and carpet, litter and mottled wall, drips of sunlight blotching the path before him like stepping stones, towards his son, towards his sound, the teapot long past boil.
The door was unlocked – the door was never unlocked. Michael was out of his crib and on the deflated mattress, teary-eyed and splay-legged in nothing but a diaper, wailing. He bent down and kissed the boy’s face and head and wiped away his tears and bobbed him up and down. Are you okay? What happened? What happened! The rest of the apartment snapped into existence. There was food on the stove: bacon, charred, curled into itself. The sink was running. A pot upside down on the floor, the corner chair not where it was supposed to be, pushed near the TV.
They just moved in a month back and kept to themselves mostly. What would anyone want with her? The man with the eyes leaning on the rusted car. Relax. Calm down.
The bathroom door was open, but of course she wasn’t there, not under the sheets, not in the closet. Nor was she inside the cardboard boxes that flapped when he kicked them again and again.
He tried her phone in a flash of inspiration then watched it buzz and spin on the kitchen floor. His only friend in the building was Antonio; but his phone went straight to voicemail.
Where’s your momma? Michael! Where’s momma! He shook the boy until they were both crying, then he scooped him into his chest, Michael's breath hot and the noise whistling between his teeth so close as to pierce Ge’Vonta’s skin. There was no blood on him. There were no bumps or bruises or blood. He whispered assurances into his baby’s ear.
The man leaning on the bumper of a rusted gray car outside the old post office some nights past. Leering. What was his name? Long face, tallish. Surprisingly white teeth. No words spoken, but those wild eyes: behind a puff of cigarette smoke, eyes that crawled up and down Tamia’s body like he wasn’t even there. What kind of car was it?
No, no, no. Relax. He was just another drunkard with no life of his own. Then where is she?
The elevator button didn’t light up yellow. It hadn’t for months, and it wouldn’t now, no matter how many times he jabbed it with his thumb. He waited, trying to comfort his child, his hand snug against Michael's diaper, whispering baby, baby, baby, it’s all right, it’s all right, but to no avail: the boy's screaming was now just a fact of the environment, intractable among many others.
Tamia! Tamia! He rapped on all the third floor doors. Where’s my wife? There was no answer save one anonymous voice behind one anonymous door down the hall which told him to shut the fuck up. Another time he might have found this person and beaten him with his bare hands until one of them were dead. The image flashed behind his closed eyes, a bloody carcass beneath him, his own boot caked in blood, a twisted smile on his face as he asked this mangled man what he had said. But he simply ran on.
Cobwebs and liquor bottles in the staircase and the harsh overhead lighting which hit the pieces of dust and made them jump like fleas. He marched up and down, and not sure what to do next he ran once around the block, calling his wife’s name, crossing the street, ignoring the flashing red hand. The noises of traffic were loud, and each blown horn traveled up his spine. The few people waiting at the bus looked at him and shook their heads or looked away: another trauma like a wisp of smoke from an endless flame, what was to be done about it? He ran on anyway, imploring those selling cigarettes and going for a walk and pushing shopping carts, imploring them for answers which the blankness of their faces revealed plain as day that they did not have.
He began to feel ridiculous: his arms spread wide, tears jumping out of his blinking eyes, describing his wife’s height and hairstyle, answering a gray-haired man’s evasive eyes with yet more questions, about a tall man with crazy eyes, a rusted car outside the post office. So he walked back, defeated, through the entrance, and up the steep flights of stairs until he was too tired, until his baby was too heavy against him, and he sat down on the dank landing.
When he lit a cigarette, his lungs tightened and resisted, but they tingled yet as the smoke crawled inside them. Michael's cries were drier now, little tinny whimpers, and Ge’Vonta sat there, blowing smoke, trying to outwit the horrors of the world.
That she was in the basement struck him as a premonition. After the fact he would recall that it came to him as if from God that she was down there, in need of help, but perhaps that was because he tended to forget all the times when feelings of clairvoyance led him down the wrong path and made him feel small, stupid and alone, remembering only those few Holy moments when he felt something and then watched the universe unfold to confirm its truth.
He ran down the steps two at a time, one hand on his baby’s bottom, the other moving back and forth, holding his waistband one moment and supporting the back of Michael's lolling head the next.
It was dark and damp. The smell was unspeakable. He screamed her name and felt his way along the wall until he found and yanked both of the pigtailed switches. The bulb overhead twitched and zapped and it was only a moment until bugs attacked it. The light gave form to the rotting bags of trash. All he could hear was the throbbing of the overworked machines powering the building.
He saw her hand first. Cuffed to the radiator, her arm raised nearly two feet off the ground. Michael squirmed and Ge’Vonta lowered him to the floor; he ran to her and the boy tottered behind. Her body lay twisted and the meat of her thighs spilled onto the floor. He asked if she was okay, but she did not answer. Her face held no expression. It was pale and slack and her bangs were sticky with blood. Her eyes were corpse’s eyes. He felt her wrist and waited for her chest to rise or fall. He put his mouth to hers and pounded her chest. He screamed at her, demanded that she be okay. Michael kept crying. He searched up and down her forearm for a pulse. He had no idea what he was doing. Who did this to you! She didn’t answer. I’ll kill him.
He saw himself torturing this man. Tamia was all better. She was smiling and beautiful, standing behind the seated figure, holding him down to the chair. Ge’Vonta was taking his time. Standing above him and watching his once-lecherous eyes as the pocketknife moved closer and closer and closer to a pupil that was growing like the sun.
He grabbed Michael and ran outside where there was better cell service.
Thank you for calling Detroit’s Department of Emergency Services. For quality or training purposes your call may be monitored or recorded. To help us best direct your call, please say or enter your five-digit zip code into the keypad and then press pound.
Ge’Vonta stammered the number and waited. Michael writhed against him and he wasn’t sure whether it was safe to let him down, so he pressed him tighter against his left shoulder, and the child’s drool smushed against his cheek.
You said 48214. Is that correct?
Yeah, yeah ... Yes!
Thank you. Please listen carefully to our menu of options, and select the one which best meets your needs. If this call is in regards to a medical emergency, please press or say one. If it is in regards to a home invasion, please-
Medical emergency. Thank you. Please wait just one moment while I direct your call... I’m sorry. All of our Emergency Representatives are currently busy with other callers. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line until one of our representatives is free to assist you. To better expedite your call, please have the following information ready for the next available representative: your birth certificate reference number, your social security number, and your health care insurance provider.
Resting on his shoulders, it was as if Michael's screams were coming through a set of headphones. He put the phone onto speaker, lowered the smooth jazz into his pocket, and held Michael above his head, parallel to the ground, and began spinning like a top, making buzzing noises and whispering, You’re flying, T. You’re flying. This was Michael's favorite. He waited for a giggle to interrupt the child’s whistling cry, and after many rotations, when it did, he lowered him between his legs and looked around for someone to implore. But there was nobody there, only a flock of pigeons that all decided at once to bail from the telephone pole wire.
All our representatives are currently busy. Please stay on the line.
He kicked the lock and sawed at the handcuff with his pocketknife. They would not break. He kissed her and moaned. The baby sat on the floor, staring at him, wailing. Michael, shut up! Shut up and let me think. He watched himself from above, a stupid, incompetent fool screaming at his baby and unable to do anything to help his woman. He ran back outside.
Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.
He felt the anger gathering again in his upper back. He felt its tug and pull. Michael clung to his right leg.
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He nearly let it slip bringing the phone from his pocket to his mouth. He held it like a walkie talkie.
Yes. Yes. My wife. Yes. She is ... She. She, she been, please. She is not breathing. In the basement – the basement – 147 Ackins St.
Okay, okay. Just try to remain calm for me, sir. Just hold on one second and I’ll be able to send some help your way. If you could please provide me with some information. Do you know the last four digits of your social security number?
No - naw - please, just. I don’t – it’s an emergency.
Okay… How about your birth certificate reference number. Now that’s two letters, followed by six numbers. You should be able to find it on the top left corner of your original...
Naw, naw, naw.
Sir, I just need you to first provide me with some basic information. Now you said Ackins st., is that – there were three beeps – We’re sorry. You are receiving this message because you have exceeded your monthly allotment of minutes. If you would like to add more minutes to your account, you can do so now by simpling saying or typing your sixteen digit credit-card number, and then pressing pound.
Naw, naw, naw!
I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize that. Please use your phone’s touch pad to–
He threw the phone against the brick wall. It didn’t break. He wanted it to break. And when he bent to pick it up and have another throw, a laugh jumped through his lips. Then another. He stared at the scratched phone in his palm and he laughed. His son was bawling. He took his child into his arms once more and stared up at the cloudless sky and felt they might just fly away.
And then he ran. Ran and ran and ran; and he watched himself run: a twenty-two year old man with a crying baby tucked under his right arm like a pigskin, running down the middle of a four lane street with a maniacal look on his face, the cars dodging and honking, flailing his left arm and ready to beg and ready to kill and ready to die and screaming all the way with what husk of a voice he had left.
//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.