Bernard Grant


Reach over two stacks of books, switch on the desk lamp. Stand, step, stumble, and, catching sight of the cane leant against the wall, remember your legs only follow partial commands. It's been two weeks of this. This morning routing, groping every surface—the nightstand, wall, bookshelf—as you cross the room, concentrating on each step. Moving the mass of clothes and folders and books from the desk chair to the bed. Locating on iTunes whatever fits your mood. Mouthing lyrics—I seen the biggest niggas on the block get murdered and they deserved it, or so the beast said when they served it—go to the closet, mentally match sweaters and shirts to pants and socks. Dress. Sit down to write. Two hours to work until you leave for work.


Your boy pulls up shorts, pulls down a white tee, dons a red snapback on his way out to meet DJ. They walk to the Market and Liquor, where your boy idles at the counter as DJ paces behind him. Your boy reaches across the counter, grabs a box, hands back the box to DJ. Again, your boy reaches across the counter. This time, he grabs cigarillos, crouches a moment, then ambles toward the door. The clerk follows, racing ahead to block the door. Your boy strong arms him. The clerk tries again. Your boy stares him down. Down the street, DJ will later say, an officer pulls up to them, reaches through an open window, grabs your boy's hand. Pulls him into the cruiser, which blocks traffic, north and south lanes. With his free hand, your boy hands the cigarillos back to DJ. Hears, “I'll shoot.” Sees blood bloom on his shirt. Is released. Running past DJ, who's crouched behind a car, your boy tells his friend to keep running, and keeps running, stopping when his body jerks. He turns, raises his hands. Says he doesn't have a gun, stop shooting. But takes six more shots.


Checkout line. When a man turns, glances at your cane, and asks if he can ask a dumb question, let him ask his dumb question. Then say you don't know yet, you're scheduled for an MRI tomorrow, which will hopefully show what's wrong with you. When he smiles and asks if he can ask another dumb question, let him touch your shoulder. Let him pray for you. Ignore the stares of your fellow shoppers, nosey or annoyed as you hold up the line. As you leave, a different man holds the door open for you. He asks you if you work. Tell him you do, but you need a new job, one where you can sit most of the day. Start for your car, thinking the conversation has ended, but he follows you, tells you he had polio. He shakes his limp left arm and says that he had to switch jobs. He gives you the name and number of the woman who helped him. Nod. Write down this information on an old envelope. Though the label won't be one you feel applies to you, continue to nod—thank him—when he says, Disabled people are overlooked, we need to stick together.


Your man stands on the sidewalk. Says he did nothing, sold nothing, was minding his business. Asks to whom he sold cigarettes. Every time they see him they want to mess with him. He's tired of it. It stops today. He did nothing, sold nothing, was minding his business. He is touched. He recoils. His hands go up. An officer's arm wrap around his neck, drag him to the sidewalk. Three others swarm him, hold down his left arm. Your man is strangled, pulled to the ground. Held down, he gasps. He can't breathe. He can't breathe. He can't breathe. He can't breathe. He can't breathe. He can't—


Fill a mug with cold water, set it on your nightstand. Move the mass of clothes and folders and books from the bed to the desk chair. Navigate iTunes. What's the price for a black man's life? I check the toe tag, not one zero in sight. Sign in to Facebook. Watch your people march. All ages, all colors. Holding signs and chanting, Black lives matter. Not only in D.C., Oakland, New York, but also in your town, Olympia. Earlier, on your way home, as you drove past marchers holding signs—We stand in solidarity, Stop killing black people—you convinced yourself: You'd march, too. If you could march. If ticks didn't rock your body. If pain didn't creep through your arms, your fingers. Your tingling toes.

*Song lyrics by The Fugees and J. Cole

Bernard Grant is the author of Puzzle Pieces, which won the 2015 Paper Nautilus Press Debut Series chapbook contest. Fly Back at Me, his collection of flash fiction, placed as a finalist in the 2015 CutBank Chapbook Contest. Grant is a 2015 Jack Straw Writing Fellow, and his stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Fiction Southeast, and Compose, among others. He is a nonfiction reader for Pithead Chapel, an editorial assistant for The Review Review, and is currently enrolled in the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. After growing up in South Texas, Grant now lives in Washington.​

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