Walk into my room and come to find one of my Jordan Air Max 360s floating about five foot off the ground. Soon as I see it, my heart kinda go pie-yow! and my neck get hot. Then I smile at my foolish, foolish dumb-ass ass, and I say to myself my brother Ricky had done strung it up from the ceiling. I grab the thing, but it don’t budge. It’s like it’s glued up there in the air, and much as I tug and pull on it, that bad boy ain’t coming down. It ain’t hanging from nothing I can see, just up there where it don’t belong. Feel my neck start to warm up again, and my hands tremble a little. I tug, a couple more times, then give up. Turn back to my door like I’m fenda go ask somebody to come have a look, but I don’t know who in this house gonna explain this. I can hear Mama banging pots and pans in the kitchen, and Maury on the TV, meaning Daiziah home from school. She got that bad boy up loud, too, so I can hear people talking about, “Now hold on, Wayne, if she’s the mother of your son, the least you can do . . .” and “Face facts, Dontrell, DNA doesn’t lie,” and, “McDonald’s DOUBLE filet of Fish, when you want one, you gotta have one.”
Girl been supposed to be doing her homework—just like me. But hear me on this—every day’s a new day. Some days TV and floating shoes trumps homework. You don’t be studying no studying, if you see what I mean.
I grab on to the shoe, and pull hard, my breath chugging. Forehead so tight it got to be shining like a eight ball. Pretty soon I’m hanging from the damn thing. Hanging basically in midair.
I know what you thinking. That I’m too young and too dumb to see I was like a reverse Michael Jordan up there, floating, and all that so-and-so. Sheee-it. So, like, after I had done pulled and yanked on that damn shoe for two, three minutes, I sit down on Ricky’s bed, and think till my forehead get hot, and my skinny-ass arms stop trembling. Who’m I gonna tell? Daiziah’s a kid and Mama’ll just say she ain’t got the time for practical jokes and childish bullshit. Ricky ain’t gonna be home for a couple hours and, well, the boy ain’t stupid but he ain’t into “seeing” shit. What he’ d do is put a M-80 in that shoe, and blow it the fuck out the sky. Ricky one pragmatic Negro. He get pissed at things that don’t make sense. He’ll quote Papa every Friday before the rest of us head off to mosque, talking ’bout, “If you believe in things you don’t understand, you suffer.” And he’ll look at the old man like he saying, “What you got say, Sergeant Cooper?”
You ask me, I think Papa’s proud of him. If he wanted to say something back, he would.
Papa’s out in the yard, right now, working on that purple Fiesta belong to Mr. Hearn. He got at least ten more lined up, which means he three days behind on them repairs. Papa cain’t fix electric, but too proud to say so. “We’ll get that old son to work, Mr. Hearn. Ain’t a broke thing cain’t be fixed, you keep digging at it.” I done already said “Hey” to him, like I always do when I get home, and like always, he didn’t say boo back. The old man say even though he basically around here 24/7, to treat him like he on the other side of town till dinner, and that’s three hours away. Funny thing is, if I don’t say hi to him when I get home, I’m gonna hear about it at dinner.
So I sit down right under that shoe, and I just stop thinking for a minute or two. What else I’m gonna do?
Take my homework outta my pack, and read four pages of social studies. It’s usually my favorite subject, but I cain’t focus on nothing ’cause the shoe ’bout as hot as the sun up there, staring down at me. I put my stuff away, and smooth my ass marks off Ricky’s bed. Go into the kitchen and tell Mama I’m going to the library for a minute. All she say is “Mm hm,” and don’t even turn to look at me. Before I leave the house, I roll on back to the bedroom for one more good look at the shoe. Perfect black sole, perfect gray sides, perfect yellow laces. Ain’t a damn thing not right about that shoe, except what it’s doing. I take some paper and a pen out my backpack, and write Ricky a note. All I can think to say is, “How you do this, man?”
Papa walk into the room. The grease rag in his hands, cold cigar between them hard yellow teeth of his. Mama don’t let him smoke indoors, but he can still reekify the whole house with them cold stogies. He finish wiping his big hands, and bunch the rag in his back pocket. He tip his Ravens cap up off his brow and say, “You left my crescent wrench next to your bike again, boy. Whad I tell you about that? Whad I say I’ d do if you left my tools out?” He looking right at me, but for a split second I see his eyes glance at the Air Jordan, then his eyes click right back on me, then he reach up and slide the stogie out his teeth and take a step deeper into the room.
“Whadn’t me,” I told him, said, “I mean . . . I did leave it out there, but it ain’t your wrench, Papa.”
Old Man standing right next to the shoe, and he glance at the thing and rest his elbow on it like that’s what it’s there for. I feel sweat spring out of my forehead quick as tears. “Whose is it then?” he say back.
His brow folds up. “Yours.”
“Yeah, I bought my own ’cause I got tired a having to give up my iPod every time I messed up.”
“So what you done learned is that instead of tearing up my possessions, you can mess up your own.” He smiling at me now, but it ain’t no smile. “Look like to me you ain’t learning too good.”
“I guess not.”
“You guess not? Boy—”
“You want my ’Pod?”
“Well, you too big to beat.”
I mean, he just got his arm all crooked up on that 360, and I feel like I got to say something, but I ain’t got idea-the-first how to start. I wanna say, “Hey, Papa, how you think that shoe got up there?” or maybe, “Uh, do you notice anything strange?” or, “I spy something floating in the air that shouldn’t be.” But Papa got his elbow up on the thing like it ain’t nothing. All he do is switch the cigar from the right side of his mouth to the left side, and say, “My hands is all greasy, just leave the thing on the dresser in my bedroom,” and he turn and leave. I sit there, head all hot, and like to cry. Godmothafuckindammit, I’m going, Godmothafuckindammit. Must be, I’m thinking, that I’m seeing it all wrong. It ain’t my shoe, it’s something else and my mind insist on seeing it all wrong, like it is when your belt look like a corn snake, or a piece a ravel is a spider until your mind turn around and you see what a thing really is. Papa say he heard about people who taste sound and hear colors. They wires is all switched around. And they tend to stay that way.
All right, so I’m at the library, now. I read all this stuff online and from the stacks on unexplained phenomena. The kind of shit you ain’t supposed to talk about at school or mosque. At school they call you crazy and at mosque they say you courting the devil. But if that’s the case, well, they ain’t gonna be enough room in Hell on Judgment Day, and way too many crazy people walking around free and naked-brained as they wanna be. Must be three hundred books on them shelves, and they too many websites to count. Some of the books good, and the online stuff, too, but only thing I learn from the online stuff is a whole lotta people cain’t spell no better than me. Grown people. White people. Motherfuckers from England.
You got your stories about ghosts, UFOs, weird animals, and whatnot, but I’m looking for things like a floating Air Jordan. A whole buncha online people get too excited about shit that don’t matter, like people who know what time it is without looking at clocks and watches, and people who take a picture and see little blue balls floating around after they develop it, and people who hear soft music coming out a turned off radio, and more stories than you can count about people who went on long trips that should have taken like five hours, but ended up being two hours. Please.
But there is some pretty tight stuff like this lady who grows feathers out her arms, and another lady who seen a little girl and her daddy who had cats’ eyes, and two dudes who tore some linoleum off a kitchen floor and seen this silver liquid that was under it that moved on its own through cracks in the wood floor beneath, and a lady who gave a cab ride to some cat who breathed fire. Lotta weird things going on in this world, but it look like I’m on my own with this shoe bidness. I think about getting a book or two about people with brain damage, but to tell you the truth, I cain’t deal with that. Plain and simple, don’t want this to be about my disconnect.
Get back home just about an hour after dinner. Mama done left me a plate wrapped in foil in the oven. I’m hungry, but cain’t eat till I get back to my room for another look-see. When I get there I see a damp towel hanging off the shoe, and Ricky’s school clothes dropped on the floor like some kinda maid supposed to come by and clean up behind him. I go to the living room, and Mama and Papa sitting watching American Idol.
“Ricky gone?” I ask Mama, ’cause Papa wouldn’t know or care half the time.
Mama say, “Um hm,” but she don’t look at me.
“Mama, you been in my room today?”
“Put your laundry away ’bout three. Whycome?”
“You see anything weird?”
“Them mice back?”
“No’m. Ain’t seen no mice.”
Papa say, “I tell you what I ain’t seen. Ain’t seen no iPod on my dresser.”
“No, no mice. You know when Ricky be back?”
Mama don’t say nothing. Papa say, “On my dresser, son.”
I tell Papa, “Yes sir,” and turn away, and then turn back. I think to myself, Mama been in my room, Papa been in there and looked right at the shoe, Ricky come, used the shoe for a towel rack, and gone. And ain’t nobody said nothing about the shoe, which mean either they playing me, or I done lost my mind. I stand there for about a minute, looking at some fat white cat on the tube tear up a Wilson Pickett song. He sing good, but he need to shave that fat face of his. That leather coat he got on make him look more like a bouncer than a singer.
Mama say, “You finish your homework?” but she ain’t looking at me, just at the white boy singing “Knock on Wood.” I’m looking at him, too. He singing like it ain’t no yesterday, today, or tomorrow. I stand there, and it’s like I cain’t move. “Yes’m, I done my homework.” And then I turn to go, but I turn back, and I say, “Naw, I ain’t done no homework ’cause there’s a gotdamn Air Jordan 360 floating in my room, and ya’ll don’t seem to notice.”
“I tell you what,” Mama says, and she still ain’t took her eyes off the TV. “You don’t get that homework done, I’ll take them shoes right on back to the store. Them things cost me a week’s pay.”
And Papa nods, “And I’ll tell you something else, boy: you leave any more tools—yours or mines—out to rust and ruin? Next time you see that iPod? You’ll need a hearing aid to listen to that ungodly noise you call music.”
I go back to my room, and first thing I see is the other shoe up in the air just about six inches below the first one. Feel like both them shoes done kicked me in the chest. I walk round both shoes, and fall facedown on my bed. I fall asleep for what seem like a second or two and feel Ricky shaking me to get up, talking ’bout it’s morning. It cain’t be.
“Yo, ’Trey, man, get up. Showtime, man.”
“Time is it?”
“Six-forty. Mama said you ain’t up in five seconds, you get a Power Bar and box-juice for breakfast.”
“She making waffles, grits, and turkey bacon, nigger.”
“Waffles. What the fuck I care ’bout waffles? You have seen them shoes, I reckon.”
The big negro jump onto my bed and start tap-tapping my head like bongos, till I’m up on my knees with my, “Shit nigro, get off me,” and naturally he clamp a headlock on me, pull me out the bed, and smack me with my pillow one hard time. When my brother play, he’s never playing. When he let go, feels like a waffle iron had done hit my face and neck. Used to it.
“Ricardo. What about them shoes?”
“You got about five minutes to knock out them kinks, wash the funk off your neck and dress. If not, them waffles belongs to yours truly.”
So I eat my Power Bar on the walk to school, walked to school ’cause I missed the bus, missed first period, too, and in second period got a F for the homework I didn’t do. In third forgot to bring my workbook out my locker, and got licks from Mr. Salib, who tole me, “It’s either me or Allah, and he hits a whole lot harder than I do, son.” Had me some double detention at 2:15, which meant I prob’ly wouldn’t see my ’Pod for a couple more weeks on top of the month I was sure to get for forgetting to put the damn thing on Papa’s dresser last night. When I get off the bus, I walk by the Ancient One without saying a word. Trying to draw me some fire, you see.
“I know you ain’t trying to step past me without my respect, boy.”
“iPod on my dresser?”
He put down his sprayer, and shut off the valve. Mr. Hearn deathtrap still sitting there, off to the side, where Papa ain’t got to think about it. He ain’t wearing no gloves, so his fingers are purple like that pointless car he trying to patch up. Dude got some big-ass hands. Knuckles like wood. He crook a finger at me, “ ‘M’ over here, little spook.”
He ain’t called me that word in so long, I’m like to bust a spring in my gut, hearing it now.
“Mr. Salib called me today.”
“Figured he would.”
“Well.” He wasn’t asking no question. I breathe deep before I answer. I figure that if my voice start to tremble, I’ll just walk the fuck away.
“I was late.”
“Maybe that iPod don’t mean nothing to you, like your tools and mines, like your bike and whatnot.”
I swear I’m like to bust open if I just don’t say what I worked out in detention. Ain’t nothing else to do up in that bad boy but think, and that’s all I did, for three straight hours. So blah-dee-blah, I go, “Oh, I left you the ’Pod. Left it up in one of them shoes floating in my room.”
At first his nod’s all natural, like he hearing what he expecting to hear, but then the nod break for just a nanoblip, and his eyes widget so fast from left to right you can almost hear them niggers click.
Old Man is back to smooth so fast ain’t nothing but dust behind him, and all he say back is, “I ast you to put it on my dresser.”
Go on into the house, and on my way to the kitchen, drop the ’Pod on the old man’s dresser. I find Daiziah at the kitchen table, reading a book with a white boy in a black leather jacket on the cover. The boy got one hand in his jean pockets, and one hanging like ape knuckles below his hip. He leaning on a invisible wall, Old son looked like he could handle things. “Yo, Dee Dee,” I say, “hold up on the gang-related activities, I need to ast you something.” She squint at me and say, “Nigro, did you dime on me?”
“Could have. About what?”
“I’m serious.” And so when she look up at me, I see she got a purple mark on her neck, couple inches below her ear. About the size of a quarter. It ain’t ink. It ain’t paint. It ain’t cancer. “Dag, Smurf, what you do to yourself?”
She stand up and fold the book to her chest like she all grow up. And she do look grown up, kinda. She all long and smooth. Move more like Mama do than something on four uneven legs like she used to do. She used to be fat, used to chunk around this house like a fat pony. Now she straight as a sunbeam, like Granmamma used to say. Skin bright and tight as new change, them lashes. You cain’t be hitting something so pretty. Or choking or whatever the fuck happened.
“Please, ’Trey, don’t even front.”
“All right, okay—‘What you done did?’ is the question.”
She do what Old Man done, froze up then thawed back so quick it’s like it didn’t happen and then, well, shit, it came to me maybe it didn’t happen. My thing, not hers, I mean. Maybe the fact I’m nosing around without being straight up about the shoe is why people ain’t acting right. Or let’s say they is up there. Maybe they thinking, ’Trey’s room, ’Trey’s shoes. Why ain’t he said nothing? Or maybe they just plain scared. My shoes, see, must mean God is talking to me. Or some ghost. Or Darth Vader, or whatever. Either I’m seeing things, or I’m the one got some explaining to do.
Excuse me, a cab fare breathing fire? Come again?—People with what kinda eyes? Now what’s all this? Floating shoes, and feathered women? I see. Well, next time you come by, Mr. ’Trey S. Porter, help your self to the Doritos and shit, but just stay the fuck away from me.
I reach over and touch her bruise with my finger. Gentle. “Papa do it?”
“What you do?”
She look at me and look at the book. She put the book down, say, “Forgot to close the window in my room.” She sat back down, opened the book. “You can go now.”
Now, when she said that she looked down—at the book—but she was all eyebrows up and looking bored like she twenty-three and I’m in diapers.
“What you mean I can ‘go now’? Who you, Cleo-gotdamn-patra?”
“I got homework, Dontrell.”
I spin on one foot, and throw a shoulder. “You wanna study something? Come to my room, Cleo-gotdamn-patra. Got a book you ain’t read yet. Genius.”
“Ricky told me to stay out y’all’s room . . .”
Way she say it make me jerk my head back to her. Her voice kinda broke, kinda made ice-tea all down her own chest.
So, you know what? I turn and I look at her. Give her one of them Muslim school looks: one part God, three parts hitman.
“You been already seen them shoes, ain’t you, girl?”
Cocks her head. “I seen em.”
I look at her eyes, and then at that neck. Like some kinda ugly grape, that thing on there. Thumb couldn’t do that. Rolling pin? Poker? Knuckle sweeping by? Sheee-it, you tell me.
I say. “Daddy know, too. Act like they there, but ain’t no big deal. Looked right at one. Dropped his elbow on it like that’s what it was there for.”
“Ricky hung his towel on one.”
“Don’t know if it mean he actually seen it or not.”
“Still . . .”
“You see what I’m saying?”
“Oh, yes, I see all right.”
“But they there, all right.”
“Yeah, they up there.”
I don’t and she don’t say nothing for, like, a whole minute. Then she say, “You know I cain’t say nothing about it, right?”
“Oh, I know that.”
“No, no, I know.”
“You see what I’m saying.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I see. I see.”
And that’s about it. Smurf sat down, opened her book.
Went on down the hallway toward my room, but stopped in front the doorway to Mama’s and Papa’s room. Stood there for a second, but then just went on in, grabbed my iPod, put the headphones on and cranked that bad boy up, and before I got into my room and on my bed, High Priest was testifying “They Will Never See,” which is my least favorite track on Born Identity. But I put it on repeat, and played it over and over until my room got dark, and I could barely see them shoes, but if you looked hard, you could see em. They was still up there.