Everett’s mother sobbed loudly as he stepped onto his front porch and let the storm door crash against the house. He had to get out of that house, though. It was all full of church people and casseroles. The neighbors, too, were all patting him on the back, asking how he was doing. And Pastor Samuel had the nerve to ask him, right in front of his mother, if he was still trying to get into Kent State after high school. “No,” he said. How could he now?
He wandered over towards the railroad tracks to take a path he and Ty had traveled for years. The trail wound through a small patch of woods littered with old lumber and trash and then sloped downhill along a chain link fence. The fence appeared the summer after Ty and Everett’s father left. They spent entire weekends sitting at the fence looking through the metal mesh at the golf course being created on the other side. When it was finished, lush green hills rolled out in front of them, spotted by patches of gently swaying trees. By the end of the summer, a barb wire extension was added—like the kind that enclose prison yards—on the top of the fence to ensure no one from Everett’s neighborhood could break in. Everett never felt as though he was being kept out of somewhere as much as he felt as though he were being kept in. Years later, the golf course planted rows of tall evergreen trees along the chain link fence so that no one on the other side could even catch a glimpse of the place.
He couldn’t believe it was only yesterday when he stepped in the house after basketball practice and saw his mother sitting on the couch with her head in her hands. There were two cops standing in front of her just like cops usually did—with their hands right next to their guns. The sight of his mother made Everett freeze up.
One of the cops said, “Are you Everett?”
He couldn’t take his eyes off his mother.
“It’s your brother, Tyrell,” he said. “He’s been shot. He’s gone. I’m sorry.” After a slight pause, he continued, “Was he affiliated with any gangs around the neighborhood?”
“No!” Everett snapped. He wanted to go to his mother, but not then. Not with the cops there. The thought of his mom trying not to sob in front of the cops made Everett’s stomach cramp. She hadn’t been right since Daddy left, he thought. He was four and Ty was seven. Their father had said he was going out for cigarettes one night and never came back. Their mother took to the bed and didn’t get up for months. She lost her job. Their grandmother moved into the small utility room in the back of the house. She slept on a cot between the washing machine and the back door. Ty stuffed towels around the gaps of the door to keep the harsh winter air out.
Their grandmother never liked their father. She once told the boys that their mother’s soul was a lot like their house. When their father left, it was like he kicked the block foundation out from under her. She would need someone there to hold her up else she’d sink into the ground. After their grandmother died, the boys grew so close with their mother. Everett shuddered to think what his mother’s soul would feel like now without Ty. Ty, her first born. Ty, the foundation of her house.
With nowhere to go, Everett wandered, fists in pockets, to the railroad tracks. He first saw the dead turtle as he crested the embankment. He thought it was a piece of trash, but as he approached, however, he recognized that it was actually a turtle. It had been crushed by the train. It was an odd thing to come across in the middle of Detroit, but there it was, on its back, feet suspended in air, with two thrust forward and two thrust backward like it had been in mid-flight when the force of the train bore down on it. Tears streamed down his face when he saw it.
Everett thought of Ty’s girlfriend, Keisha. He wondered how Keisha would support their son now without Ty’s income. He wanted to go back—back to the morning before the cops showed up. He had awoken to the sound of the 6:20am southbound Amtrak train thundering through the middle of his neighborhood. It was a cold morning, but he pulled on his sweats and went down to the park to practice his jump shots. Despite his mother’s disapproval, he was determined to go to Kent State in the fall. He had to keep his game up if he was going to play well.
Until the news of his brother, Kent State was his only concern. He received the scholarship offer last fall. Ty was so excited it was like his own future depended on it. Ty had checked the mail himself that day. He told Everett he had been holding the letter for three hours, waiting. Ty opened it with Everett’s approval. At first, he pretended like Everett hadn’t gotten the scholarship, but then he started with that goofy grin of his and Everett knew he was kidding. They did not tell their mother the news.
It was no secret that Ty was a stronger basketball player than Everett, but Ty had not gone on to college. He was scouted by Ohio State as a sophomore—something almost unheard of—but had dropped out of school in his junior year after getting his girlfriend Keisha pregnant. Up to that year, Everett told Ty everything. It had occurred to him, although not seriously, that perhaps Ty had intentionally knocked Keisha up so he wouldn’t have to leave their mother. But he only thought this when he was mad at Ty for something. Eventually, the notion seemed ridiculous.
In the fall of his senior year of high school, just before the scholarship offer came, he had approached his mother about college. She was out of her room cooking for the boys when Everett arrived home. He was anxious to tell her that a scout from Kent State had shown up at his basketball game. His coach had been praising his efforts on the team for weeks. There was talk of a full scholarship.
“Mamma,” he said, “they say nobody’s come out of Detroit Public schools as good as me in 20 years!”
She stopped stirring her chili, but did not turn around. “Who says?”
“The scout from Kent State.”
She began stirring again.
“Mamma, they talkin’ pros already.”
“Of course they talkin’ pros!” she said. “How else you think they gonna get you down there? Your grades ain’t that good!”
He bit down on his thumbnail and looked at her shoes.
“They always talk pros,” she continued. “They did that with Ty! They don’t mean nothing by it. You need to go see Ray down at Jefferson North about getting you a job.”
“I told you I ain’t workin’ at no auto plant,” he answered.
“It’s good money, Everett.” She said as she walked out of the room.
Everett waited until all the casseroles were wrapped and the neighbors were gone before returning home to his mother. She was sitting up waiting with tear stained skin. He expected her to yell at him, but she didn’t. She got up, crossed the room, and put her arms around him.
“It’s just you and me now, Ev,” she said. “Just you and me.”
* * *
Everett jumped through the folding Plexiglas doors of the bus before they slammed shut. It was a Friday night. The bus was full. He grabbed onto an overhead bar and stood in the aisle. Outside the bus, the evening traffic pushed by as a frigid gray twilight coated the city. Everett’s mother visited Ty’s graveside, about a 17-minute walk away, every Sunday for the fifteen weeks her son had been in the ground. Some weeks she went more. Everett wondered what she did there. He had only been once since Ty died and that was because his mother asked him to. He could not, no matter how hard he tried, think of Ty being under his feet. He did not want to remember his brother lying in some cemetery surrounded by plastic flowers and gaudy wreaths with the noise from the boulevard barreling over the brick wall.
Although it had been close to four months since Ty had been shot, he was still very much alive in Everett’s thoughts. Keisha, Ty’s girlfriend, brought Ty’s son over to the house frequently now. Everett’s mother had grown to love the child and doted on him nonstop. Although the child strongly resembled his mother, he had Ty’s intense concentration and calm curiosity of the world around him. Everett’s mother began humming softly to herself again—mostly church hymns and gospel—as she went about her day, cleaning the house and cooking like she used to.
The bus entered the city housing section. Giant concrete buildings loomed bleakly against the sky. Everett leaned his head back on the metal bar which jutted up behind his seat and revisited the conversation he had had with Coach Roberts from Kent State, just eight days after Ty’s death. It was the day his mother had asked him to make the walk down to the cemetery—there was no talking, only the sound of their feet crunching on the snow. Ty’s grave, freshly disturbed, was the only spot of brown among the white landscape of the cemetery. His mother prayed, but Everett just stood, shifting from foot to foot, adjusting his black knit cap, staring down at the brown patch of earth.
When they returned home, a Silver Cadillac with Ohio state tags was sitting in front of their house. Everett’s throat tensed when he saw the basketball scout and Coach Roberts from Kent State climb out. Everett had never met the coach in person, but he had seen him on ESPN. He was a tall man with dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and a big gold ring on his right index finger with the Kent State insignia on it. He immediately approached Everett with a big grin, showing off his bright white teeth. He put a navy blue and gold scarf around Everett’s neck. Navy and gold—Kent State colors. His mother hurried inside ahead of them, letting the storm door crash behind her. She went straight to her bedroom and shut the door.
“I know you’ve had a loss in your family recently,” Coach Roberts said solemnly. “But we want to let you know that we’re willing to wait on you.”
“I ain’t going,” said Everett.
“Did you get another offer?”
The coach looked at his assistant and then back at Everett. “I don’t understand, Everett. You’re not going to school in the fall?”
“Everett, if this is about your brother, we’re more than willing to wait until you complete the grieving process.”
“It’s not about that,” Everett said. “I just ain’t going.”
Coach Roberts asked the scout to wait for him in the car.
“I don’t understand, Everett. The money’s there. You won’t have to pay a dime.”
“I know,” said Everett. “I just decided that school ain’t the way I wanna go.”
The coach looked at the floor. “Look, Everett, you have a talent—a talent that most people don’t have. Don’t waste that. School can open doors for you if you just give it a chance.”
Everett bit his thumbnail and looked out the front window.
“Everett, there are lots of guys hoping and praying for the chance you’re being given.”
“I just can’t go to school right now.”
The coach put his hands on his knees as if to get up, but stopped for a few moments. He stared at Everett as though he thought Everett might change his mind.
“Everett, I don’t think you understand—it’s a full scholarship.”
Everett stood. “Yea, I think I understand.”
The coach stood. “Why do you wanna stay here?”
Just then Everett’s mother called from the hallway, “Everett, I need you to go to the store.”
“In a minute Mama.”
The coach and Everett both looked at each other.
“Is it her?” said the coach. “You want me to speak to her?”
“I’ve seen this before,” continued the coach. “Some mothers, Everett, don’t want their sons to be disappointed. They think…well, they think their kids aren’t bright enough to complete the school curriculum—but there are tutors. The school will make certain you succeed.”
“You don’t know,” said Everett quietly. “You just don’t know man. She’s not right. She ain’t been right. Not in a long time. I can’t leave her now. I’m the only thing she got left.”
“Everett, you just don’t seem to get it.”
“No!” Everett said. “You don’t get it! You don’t know nothin’! You white, drivin’ around in a Cadillac, givin’ people scarves like you own ’em.”
“You think I don’t know nothing about suffering cause I’m white? Don’t be so cocksure kid. I got my own problems. Before you know it, you’ll be pushing 50, wondering where the hell your life went.”
The coach patted Everett on the back as he passed behind him for the door.
“Take care of yourself,” he said before the storm door crashed.
He hadn’t heard anything from Kent State since.
Everett got off the bus near Bryant Park and headed up the main avenue towards the basketball courts. His chest tensed as a fire truck with sirens blaring went flying past. He crossed over Rosa Parks Boulevard when he heard a voice behind him.
“Aye Ev! Aye!”
Shit, he thought. It was that brother O.T. from over in King’s Projects. Ty never liked him.
“What’s up?” said Everett.
“You goin’ to shoot hoops?”
“Nah,” he answered.
“You goin’ to Remo’s?”
“They shootin’ craps.”
Everett walked briskly. O.T. had trouble keeping up.
“That’s cool,” said Everett.
“Aye, you goin’ to Kent State this fall?”
“I thought you had that locked up!” he said.
“Nah,” said Everett.
“But you good,” O.T. pressed on. “They didn’t want you? Man, that’s some bullshit!”
“They wanted me,” said Everett, “I just ain’t going. So, they shootin’ craps at Remo’s?”
“Yea man. Wanna go?”
“Yea, all right.”
Everett’s face was damn near numb as he and O.T. stepped into Remo’s place. Remo’s was an old bar on 12th street; it had been there since before Everett was born. “I don’t ever wanna hear the two of you is in that place,” Everett’s mother used to say to her sons as they walked up 12th Street to her hair salon. Remo’s had gone downhill over the years. The owner, Big Remo, an old acquaintance of their father’s, had been sentenced to six years in federal prison the summer before last for racketeering. Everett had read about it in the newspaper.
Stepping into the bar from the crisp outside air, the smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer smothered Everett. As dark as a movie theater, the bar was deep and narrow like all the buildings on that block. Five men perched on top of barstools, each with a drink in front of him. One of them nodded as the boys walked by, but it was not a friendly nod. Everett kept his eyes on the back of O.T.’s jacket as they made their way to the rear of the bar. Everyone inside the close room turned and stared as Everett and O.T. walked in. Everett was afraid the crowd would think they were narcs, but O.T. was well known in that part of the city he assured Everett—well known as a hustler and a thug. There were no windows, only one door leading in, centered along a wall which was covered halfway up with fake wood paneling. Some guy in a far corner with black Nike wristbands held up a fist full of dollars and asked Everett if he wanted in the next round. Everett shook his head no. O.T. pushed through the crowd, handed the guy some money and returned to where Everett was standing.
“I’m in next,” he said with his eyes fixated on the action.
Everett noticed a couple of guys staring at him from across the room. He glanced back at the door to be sure he could make a quick exit if he had to. One of them walked over and nodded his head as he approached. He held out his hand for Everett to shake. Everett recognized him from school. He exhaled.
“Heard about Ty,” he said. “Sorry, Man.”
“What you know about it?”
“I heard it was a drive-by at Union Towers.”
Everett nodded; the police had told him and his mother as much. Union Towers—one block from Keisha’s building. Ty had started hanging with some guys there.
“Motherfucker from down in South Hill. Heard he just got out of the pen. He was tryin’ to get his own dudes for turning over on him. Guess Ty was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Everett knew Ty’s murderer had made a mistake. He knew that the bullet had not been meant for Ty—Ty had never gotten caught up in any of that gang bullshit—but to hear it confirmed on the street made his head burn. He suddenly did not want to be there anymore. His eyes teared up. He swallowed hard. A brother didn’t show weakness to another brother, especially in that neighborhood. In that neighborhood, a brother would snatch the shoes off your feet if they came untied.
Suddenly, another voice came from behind them. “What up?” A guy with a neck tattoo and cornrows stepped up to O.T. Everett recognized the guy from around the neighborhood. He was big, taller than Everett who was 6’1”. O.T. called him Flo. “You want in on a job?” he said to O.T.
“Yea,” said O.T.
“We gonna hit this house on Robinson—me and J-Man. We need somebody to help us carry it all out. We can get rid of it quick—we’ll cut you in.”
“Yea, let’s do this,” said O.T. His eyes glimmered.
“I think I’m gonna go,” said Everett.
“I need two more,” said Flo.
O.T. looked at Everett, “C’mon Man, let’s do this, I need the money! C’mon Man!”
“Nah Man,” said Everett. “I ain’t doin’ it.”
“What are you some kind of pussy?” said Flo.
“Then let’s do it!” said O.T.
“All right,” he said finally.
The three climbed into a Chevrolet Celebrity that had been stripped down to the primer. Inside the car, Vanill-o-rama air freshener collided with stale pot smoke. Everett hand-cranked the window down as the city whirred by.
They stopped at Washington Square where they picked up a dude who had a fro so big, Everett didn’t think he was going to fit it in the car. He talked real slow like he’d gotten high one too many times. They called him J-Man. Flo stopped next at Johnson Park—Johnson Park where all the east-siders hung out. There were always drug dealers and crackies down there, and there had been some gang fights too; the police didn’t even patrol down there anymore. On Friday nights it would get packed. All the east-side brothers and the Southeys would cruise through and show off their whips. If you had a really good system in your whip, you had better have a good alarm on it too, because brothers would take your shit if they knew where you parked at night. Sometime during the night, it occurred to Everett that Ty had been shot near there.
Flo pulled a joint from behind his ear, lit it up, and passed it around. Everett didn’t normally smoke weed, but he took a hit anyway and passed it to J-Man. They sat at Johnson Park just bullshitting until they heard gunshots. Everyone hauled ass.
Finally, they made off for Robinson. Everett’s right knee bounced up and down as they approached 12th Street and Remo’s Bar again. He wondered if it was too late to catch a rerun of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, his and Ty’s favorite television show. Ty had turned Everett on to it.
“Aye man,” Everett said as he eyed the yellow glow of Remo’s sign. “Stop right here and let me out.”
Flo slowed down and turned around. His face was scrunched up like he smelled shit. “Man, you said you’d do this thing,” he said.
“I know man, but it’s late. I need to get home,” he said.
“C’mon Man!” said O.T. “They cuttin’ us in!”
“I know Man, but I got to get home.”
“What are you a pussy or something?” said Flo. “Man, you gonna do this!” He reached into his pants and pulled out his gun.
“All right Man,” said Everett. “But I ain’t goin’ in.”
“What you mean you ain’t goin’ in?” said O.T. “You got to go in!”
“Somebody got to watch,” said J-Man. It was the first time he had spoken in fifteen minutes. His eyes had squinted up so tight after hitting that joint, Everett thought he had fallen asleep.
It was 3:40 a.m. by the time they pulled onto Robinson. Flo cut the lights off at the end of the block. They parked on the side of the street between some trashcans and an old Ford Pinto sitting up on blocks that looked like it hadn’t run since 1982.
Everybody climbed out of the car.
“Shit!” Flo said. “Ain’t nobody supposed to be in there!”
Everett looked at the house—it was dark except for the electric blue glow of a television seeping out from the window.
“Damn Man!” said O.T.
“Fuck, let’s go,” said J-Man.
“I ain’t leavin’,” said Flo. “I came to do this, now let’s do it.”
“Man, are you crazy?” said Everett.
“Man, what if they shoot at you?” said J-Man.
“I got a gun too!” Flo answered.
“Are we gonna do this or not?” said O.T.
“Man, I ain’t goin’ in,” Everett said again.
“It ain’t worth it,” said J-Man. “Let’s just go Flo.”
“Man, this is bullshit!” said Flo. “This is bullshit! Get in the car!”
They all piled back in the primer-coated Celebrity.
“Man, take me back home,” said J-Man. “My girl’s probly mad as hell by now. I told her I was just taking the trash downstairs.”
“Man, I needs some money. You got another job, Flo?” said O.T.
“No, I ain’t got no other job,” he said.
After they dropped J-Man off at Washington Square, they went back to Remo’s. Everett began walking for the bus stop.
“Aye Man, I’ll catch you later!” shouted O.T.
Everett didn’t turn around.
On an empty city bus, Everett’s body choked and shook with sobs for the first time since his brother disappeared from his life. As each tear fell, however, he felt himself becoming lighter and lighter. His body, like a sponge, had swelled with tension over the past four months, but even this now slowly drained from his body. By the time he stepped off the bus near his neighborhood, he felt as though he could suddenly breathe after years under water. He felt liberated. As he stepped on the porch stoop and reached for the storm door, he heard the 6:20am southbound Amtrak train rumbling down the track, and although his body was on his mother’s porch in Detroit, somehow, his mind had already boarded that train.
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