This story is by Trish Saemann and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As the evening chorus of insects begins, the sky takes on shades of orange and red. Speckles of crimson peek through the dogwoods and oak trees. The tops sway in the breeze above, teasing the stagnant air below.
Patrick is lying on his back, his leg swinging off the side of the back porch. Mama took away his Fortnight and sent him outside to play. Lying still was the most he could muster in the oppressive heat. Singing to himself, he swats away the mosquitos that are all too common this time of year. Penny-colored strands of hair stick to the sides of his face as his bangs fall into his stark blue eyes.
Thanks to the low din of the locusts, Patrick doesn’t notice when Jamel climbs onto the porch.
“Whoa,” gasps Patrick. “I didn’t even hear you.”
Jamel plops down. Wearing a Hornets jersey with “Walker” emblazoned on the back, the bright teal a stark contrast to the brown planks of the porch. Fresh tears paint thin trails down his smooth brown skin as he drapes his legs over the edge of the porch. He sighs and fumbles with the skin of an orange.
Patrick sits up and scooches over to sit next to him. Jamel tosses the peel to the ground and hands a piece of his orange to Patrick.
“Was today bad?” asks Patrick.
“How’s your mama?”
Jamel lets out another sigh and pulls at the pith.
“She hugs me hard and cries a lot.”
As they suck on the pieces of orange and watch the sky turn darker, the locusts continue to intrude.
“My grampa says that if you do what you’re supposta do, the po-lice won’t bother you a’tall.”
“Was he doing what he’s supposta? The po-lice won’t bother you if you’re doing what you’re supposta.”
Jamel shrugs again. “I’m not sure what else he was supposta do?”
A bead of sweat collects at his hairline and rolls past his ear.
Patrick puts his hand around Jamel and yawns. “I’m so tired. The heat makes me heavy and sleepy.” Patrick’s leg leans into Jamel’s and their legs swing in unison.
“I can’t never sleep in this heat.” Jamel replies as he wipes his chin. “There’s gonna be a meeting at his school tonight, you know. I’m gonna be up late.”
“At his school? School ain’t even started yet.”
“I guess that don’t matter. The meeting is important, and my mama said it’s gonna be tonight and that things need to change.”
“Are you gonna go?”
Jamel nods. “Mama said it’s important.”
“Is my mama going?”
Jamel turns and looks at Patrick. “I don’t think so.”
“Maybe she don’t know about it.”
“Well, my mama says it’s important and that I hafta go.”
Patrick looks down at the orange peels on the ground. His hair flops into his face. “I can’t hear anything with those bugs. They’re so loud.” Shoving himself off the porch ledge, he claps his hands over his ears.
“Jamel!” a woman’s voice beckons in the distance, “Jamel!”
“I gotta go.” Patrick, with his back to Jamel, doesn’t respond. Jamel shoves off the ledge and taps Patrick’s shoulder. Patrick turns, hands still on his ears.
“I gotta go. My mama is calling me.” Jamel runs off.
“Where are you going?”
“My mama’s calling, I gotta go.”
“Can I come too?”
Jamel turns and starts running backward.
“Mama said white folks won’t go.”
“Can I come anyway?” Patrick starts running after Jamel.
“You really wanna come?” Jamel stops.
“I think so.”
Jamel’s face contorts. “How you gonna get there?”
Patrick shrugs. “Dunno. I’ll just go with you, I guess.”
“Jamel!” The same woman’s voice, more urgent.
“I’ll ask my mama.”
Jamel watches his friend run back to the house. The porch lights are on and the flickering television splashes shadows against the walls of the sitting room. He turns away and starts walking toward his mama’s voice.
Patrick bursts into his house. “Mama!”
Patrick’s mother is in the kitchen, watching TV while loading the dishwasher. “Yes, Patrick. What is it?”
“Mama, Jamel hasta go to a meeting tonight. Can we go too?” Patrick’s mother, distracted by the news, closes the dishwasher and dries her hands on a dish towel.
“Grampa’s on TV, baby.”
“Our officers arrived on the scene and believed the minor to be armed. They acted swiftly and in accordance with their training. Our thoughts and prayers go out the young man’s family, but we’re confident our officers acted appropriately and within the confines of Mecklenburg County Law.”
“No baby, we can’t go.”
“Why not? Jamel is going.”
“I’ve got too much to do tonight and besides, it’s not our business.”
“But mama, Jamel is going and it’s about-”
“I know what it’s about, Patrick.” cutting him off. “Now I’m very upset about what’s happened. It’s a damn shame. I’m sure Jamel is very upset, bless his heart, and I can’t imagine what his mama must be feeling, but it’s not our business, baby.”
“Mama, he’s my friend and he said his mama said it’s too important. Can I ask Jamel’s mama if I can go with them?”
“No baby. It’s not our business.”
Patrick stares incredulously. “Jamel said that no white folks would come.”
His mother’s head whips around. “Not the white folks in this house. Not when your grandpa works for the po-lice. Now you know I like Jamel and his family. They are good people and probably didn’t deserve what happened. Quincy was always a nice kid, but we don’t know what happened and we’re not getting caught up in that mess.”
Patrick’s chin starts to quiver. “… but he’s still my friend, mama.”
She softens. “I know he’s your friend and I know you’re sad for him.” She pulls him close and he smooshes into her. “The world is unfair sometimes.”
Patrick pulls back and looks up at her. “This is more unfair.”
“Baby, I know it seems that way, but if he was doing what he was supposed to, this probably would not have happened.”
“What was he supposta do?” Patrick is indignant.
“I know you don’t understand, but that’s the way it is. If the police said he was doing something, then he was doing something. End of story.” Patrick turned and stamped his way to the door.
“You better be out there collecting your Nerf guns and your bike and puttin’ em up.” Patrick pushes the screen door open and it snaps back with loud clap.
Patrick collects his spongy bullets and high-powered Nerf guns from the yard and driveway. He loads one up and fires into his garage.
“Patrick, are you doing what you’re supposed to do?”
Patrick rolls his eyes. “Yes, Mama.” He calls back as he lumbers along with his plastic armory.
Patrick’s bike, complete with a white Hornets flag flying from the back of his seat, lay flat on the ground where he last tossed it. Light and lots of activity are visible through Jamel’s front window.
Mounting his bike and watching for his mama in the window, Patrick glides down the road to Jamel’s house.
Through the screen, Patrick could see Jamel’s mama and several others standing around.
“…this is a plague on our community… we cannot stand by while…hot as blazes out there … just a tank top…he couldn’t conceal a thing…”
Jamel’s mama comes to the door. Her hair is pulled back, but loose. She looks tired and her eyes are puffy and swollen. Jamel walks up behind his mother.
“We leaving in a minute, Jamel.”
“My mama says she can’t go tonight and that she feels real bad.”
“I know. She sent food over to my house and my mama said that was nice.” Both boys look down at their shoes.
“Whatcha gonna do?”
“I dunno. I wanna come, but I don’t know how to.”
Jamel shrugs. “I can’t help you with that.”
A voice from inside the house cuts through the air.
“We need to go, Jamel. Say ‘goodbye’ to ya friend.” There’s an unsettling edge to the voice.
Patrick looks up at Jamel and puts out his fist. Jamel gives him a pound, turns and taps Patrick’s fist on top, then bottom and they both jump up and bump chests. People start coming out of the side door and gathering on the driveway. They load up into a series of cars parked on the street. Jamel hops into the truck bed of a pickup.
As the caravan makes its way down the street, a white Hornets flag can be seen flopping back and forth in the air. Patrick’s hair flies back out of his eyes.
From the truck bed, Jamel shouts, “Patrick! What are you doin?”
“I’m comin, Jamel! I don’t know the way, but I’m comin’. I’m gonna follow you.”
The sky expands ahead of them in hues of cerulean blue. Panting and pedaling, Patrick’s heart throbs in his ears. He could barely hear the locusts anymore.