NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 59

At night, in the summer, she thought, the city gets its breath direct from the cold bottom of the lake, heats it in its lungs and breathes it out invisible as body heat blowing out the open window of a car speeding down South Shore Drive. She imagined the weight of the whole lake balanced on the head of a pin. She’d never been on the lake in a boat, but imagines it must actually move like that big old burgundy sedan her uncle Lucky had had. “My ninety-eight,” she remembers him saying, but realizes that she doesn’t even know what that phrase actually has to do with a car. Something chrome She reminds herself that this bus takes her to her third date with Shame. That name! Every siren is in the distance, fading away. These aren’t dates! she scolds herself as one siren catches her ear. A fire truck a long way off. Its bell bounces off the bus driver’s rear view mirror and comes straight down the aisle. It seems to cue a thought that she doesn’t, does she, anyway, know this man all that well. Doesn’t know his neighborhood at all. Shame? Is he serious? She’d heard more bizarre names, but this one seemed to sit on its owner a bit too much like the crushed rake of a loud velvet hat. Girlfriend-at-work’s BRN-FALL-2013.indb 57 face flashes into a question mark slashed diagonal with a do not enter stripe behind a gush of red birds when she tells her the address she’s going to and which buses she’ll have to take to get there. She’d been here (she doesn’t know whether to say there?) before; date number two. Simple command, one her to the other : mind off number two, nothing happened, never happened. But, even if it hadn’t happened, she had ridden over there with him on his cycle—a, ah! mind off that, never happened. So, it’s her first time coming to see him, here, by herself. Because if she thought about the last time, she wouldn’t even be coming here this time. She liked to think in that voice even though she knows better. The epic adrenaline; the idiom. Moving up the aisle, she holds the thought under her tongue in her mind; she can taste the difference. Here and its grace note silent “t.” The way the word “even” arches its eyebrows and appears in her face. Chicago, she thinks. Even the way you say “ee-ven” when the meaning pushes up from beneath the while the sound of the word holds both ends down. Ever since she’d been back, arms blink on their own, tones pulling words apart from the inside, words (or whatever they are) like this play through her body like a flashlight waving around underwater. Chicago. A place where you can taste words. Brows up, eyes closed. Call it even. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE and cursive. No matter, she remembers Lucky’s cut-eyed smile, the way he wore his hat pushed back on his wide forehead that made him look like he’d always just been surprised and was always, anyway, ready for more. Rusty-haired and freckled. And, she knows how that phrase floats on loose struts, “hair on fire” he’d call it (in his voice, it sounded like “hey-own-fie”); right arm laid across the top of the passenger’s seat so he could wave at people without looking at them, the left draped on the wheel to coax and nudge the loping chassy through the curves. She used to think he steered that car the way you do a friend with your shoulder and an elbow in the ribs when you pass a secret joke between the two of you. She felt both arms blink at the phrase. Ndiya looked at her face in the bus window, the two of you. And then some of it, the both of you : Ndiya and the girl under the lake disappeared under that suspended blanket of sound; Lucky and his falsetto “ninety-eight,” she thumbed the bassline on her thigh and heard it in her chest, boom-bomp, “Ridin’ High.” Faze-O, Lucky’s theme music. Ndiya blinks her whole body once, hard, back to the present. Split between plea and command: all you colors back in your places. 57 something she thought of as the depth, that is, the weight of the sound. Sound never lost, sound without a trace. Riding the 29 bus, Ndiya hears Denise Williams’s “Silly” as her 12-year-old finger catches the red glow from the digits in the clock face and finds its place at the blue-black center of the lake’s terraced canyon. She still thought of “Silly” as Chicago’s heaviest song, an impression she couldn’t shake or believe, find or lose, until she heard the song again and it was as plain as never is always plain. The way Nicey’s voice stood alone among those instruments. Float. The way the song was, on one level, so plainly put and the filigreed frailty of her self-awareness and her serious refusal to take any refuge in it, from it, or through it. Blue silk stitched around an ice cube. So clear the cold it held felt like a mouthful of high-altitude sky. The song’s a dare : Go ahead, melt. The sheer pleasure of knowing. The difference. She held that song in her mouth like a low moon eclipsed by a cherry gumdrop full of venom. Walking down the aisle of the bus, she tries and fails to remember ever hearing the song played in any other city. She wonders if it’s even possible to hear this song outside of Chicago and figures it is. Must be. For someone. 9/13/13 12:48 AM