full story

23 min readNov 6, 2022

1. World Under

Joseph Frank

Up in the city, there’s a place where people go to get flipped over on their heads. There below hangs a shadow turned solid in the shape of a living person, a description only suiting for a man named Sussex. The chill of a pending first date teases his future like a dancing monkey inside of a gypsy’s crystal ball. She might as well be an angel in his eyes. But how angelic could she really be, though? She is from the city!

Sussex wakes up, maybe from a dream about cyber sex. A painful burst light-sabers right through his chest. He’s found himself below layers of concrete, something like a basement, and he listens as drops of water sweat from the thick pipes around his head. He tries to kick but notices his feet are chained to one of them, swinging like a hangman in reverse. His arms dangle and his nerves would swear there’s an army of invisible ants marching up to his hands. He sleeps for an amount of time known only by the sewer creatures below; this as he wakes and faints in intermittent blinks.

Where are we? he whispers. A good question, really … Where are we, exactly? You could be in a lawn chair on your lawn, I don’t know. But Sussex is busy getting snapped at by rats and amphibious insects cheering for his savory sweat to fall into their mouths. Or mandibles. Most of it freezes before dripping from his chin. “Whe- where’s my date at, my — ?” Oh, now he really sounds faded.

Soon after some distant crackling wakes him up, he’s sleeping again, dreaming of getting high or of a misty projection — likely both — somewhere magical with rainbow dew and pixies buzzing around their heads. His only warmth comes from the wet crust of earth surrounding him. When he awakes again, he sees someone moving about in the dark. It reminds him of being a child, when he would look out the windows and watch wild things moving around in deep blackness. How can it see? he wonders as much now as back then.

A massive figure approaches, winds up its arms, and tries to split Sussex across his middle with a baseball bat. CRACK. Sudden inspiration sparks the being, and he changes his aim to Sussex’s knee.

WUDDAH, WUDDAH — And the hits keep coming.

Eventually the knee dislocates and, upon sight of this, the man seems to suddenly realize he’s not at a home run derby. The girl, the muse that has brought him this far, injects into his mind now. He recalls giddily their conversations over months of FaceTime. She told him once about a time she (not asked) told her professor she wasn’t going to take an exam. The little fireball then said that he’d be better off balling the paper up so he could attach it to his “retarded tie” and gag himself to death. Funny enough, she said something similar to a census surveyor — or maybe a door-to-door evangelist, I don’t quite remember. This fiery attitude is apparently what floats Sussex’s boat. He likes his women like his mysterious mobsters.

Our boy then watches a new hench guy appear, this time without a bat. The grim silhouette cuts him down from his chains. His teeth promptly bite the floor. A few roaches come to welcome him with kisses and sniffs. He licks his wounds, then notices the ice around his mouth tastes vaguely of piss. His leg has gone numb, having given up on signaling any more pain to him, but he lifts himself aglow with a new passion.

“Hey, man, lookit. You pass the test,” the gangster, now a sharp image, says to him.

“Is ‘at all? I — I can just go?”

“By all means. Welcome to town. Don’t come here new again.” Whatever that means.

He does the broken-leg shuffle past a netherworld market, through rummaging heaps of cattle and mules, sick beggars and rich merchants, getting his first glimpse of the slimy sewer world that bustles under the massive city. Sussex ventures until he reaches a storm drain where he catches a faceful of greasy slush. A piece of frozen urine slides off his mustache due to impact. He elects to toss it down to treat one lucky rat. Reaching out of the drain like a hangry clown, he awkwardly pulls himself up, trembling in his weak frozen core, onto the biggest commercial street known in the heart of the metropolis.

2. Missing Trains

Melvin Bertelkamp

Sussex erects his dark, slim form and looks around, shivering a primeval dance to summon the sun as opposed to rain. There are shoppers, vendors and news criers all in awe, certain that they are watching a dream. Oddly, they mostly appear like one another. They mind their business again once they realize Sussex is not the weirdest thing they’ve seen all morning. He believes he’s an optimist, and so he smiles at them with pee still frozen on his mouthpiece. He attempts a sprint across the street, but …

Ahh! His hand whips down to caress his now massacred knee. In pain, Sussex settles on sitting in the middle of the avenue like a pile of bricks while being engulfed by whirlwinds of snow. I should’ve stayed home — He imagines himself on a palmy beach on his sunny home island. We never get so much as a snowflake down there. But this … Well, you know by now. This is in the city.

A sound like factory workers testing some new machine pounds in the air; screeches arise mimicking an army of startled teen witches. A whole world flushes past him. Kids come and laugh at Sussex’s mangled appearance. Businesspeople on the sidewalk pinch their noses and grimace as they glide by. “These damn bums,” he thinks he hears one of them mumble. A jolt of shame within creates a dull chain reaction.

“Why did you do this to me, dawg? What’d I do to deserve this?” He curses the heavens or whatever he thinks he believes in. At that instant, an unexpected radiance from a sleek, ferret-like creature hits him from the south tracking perfumes and lotions bartered for in the city’s high-end boutiques.

“Why is everything so bad? You know, forget this. I’m going back home.”

“You should know that in my city, everyone is broken-hearted … All of them, but not you and me.” There she is with a smile and finger twirl. “Boy!!!”

So in the city — and this is the reason I’ve brought you here — lives a strange young woman named Riette. Sorry, “strange” is my opinion. Right now, she looks like one of those young actresses-gone-wild, a scruffy chick with hair like lava, short and tied back. She has a single stud piercing below the left of her lip, and she walks always wobbling, probably because she doesn’t have much weight to carry.

Riette flashes three smiles and hops three times straight on the spot, slushing the snow with her boots. She runs to grab on Sussex, sniffs over his face like a ginger greyhound, but her expression scrunches into itself in utter disgust.

“Boy, have you been giving head? I mean that bad kinda head where the guy finishes and then pisses sloppily all over your face? Is that what you been doing?”

Sussex laughs from the embarrassment. “So, my lady from the faraway land of, wherever-the-hell … What’s up?”

What is up? I’ve been looking for ya, dummy.”

“Ye — I mean, sorry.” He scratches his earlobe.

Riette watches for a while, then says, “Oh, goddamn. I knew there was something you was hiding. People, he’s a werewolf!”

“I have this really {he plays with his ear} painful pimple right on my ear. Not the right one. I mean, the left one,” Sussex confesses. Why did I start off like that?

“Oh, pimples are nasty. I mean, I get ’em too. Wish I could pop ’em, but they only make a mess of your skin and tissues and all that.”

“Where’d you learn how to like — you know — us dark-skinneds? Isn’t it a taboo in this place? All I see is white folks walking around. Or you must, no, have to be from somewhere else.”

“Well,” she admits, “I’ve been lying to you for two whole years. I’m really from the islands where they’re as black as burnt bull crap.”

“Okay, that makes more sense, see. I knew you were — ”

“You gullible, you, you … Uhh! Of course I’m from the city. I told you I was, didn’t I? Where’n the hell else would I be from?”

“No one knows whatchu coulda been making up about yourself,” Sussex starts, but he can tell from her face that he might be (most definitely is) in trouble. This damn mouth…

“I showed you my pics, no? Don’t I look like the girl in the photos?”

“No. Your teeth are more yellow.”

“Ha! That’s the Sussy I know. And the color you’re thinking of is ‘golden’. Come here!”

“For what?” he says in the most innocent tone.

“What the hell you think? For a kiss. A little pee smell never hurt nobody.” Sighs of relief depress the air above them in the shape of curly smoke. By now, Sussex sits reclining in a crouched position on the glacial curb. He listens to a creek of toxic mixtures flow in a torrent below. I mean, anyone nearby could have heard it, but he’s the closest, so he hears it.

“So are you gonna make me get up?”

“Yeah,” she replies. “Get the hell up, be-yatch.” A jittery lady steers cautiously past them. She watches this petite woman help a large smelly man off the ground.

“What a disgrace.”

Riette gives a quick one-eighty and nods like a thug at the lady while reaching for her pocket. The lady instinctively grabs her Mace. She blurts, “See? That’s what they do to ya!” pointing at Sussex, and runs off shakier than ever, leaving the couple in the unbearable cold where they are free to act wild as nuts. Riette kisses his stalagmite-ammonia mouth without regret. Sussex’s tummy grumbles.

“What you think of our, umm, situation? I’d say we’re having tons of fun.” He grunts at her sarcasm. “Woah, tummy, I hear ya. Let’s find you something to eat, eh?”

“Does ‘at place look open to you?” He gestures at a small café-type joint.

“I dunno. The lights look out. Wanna see?” and they grab hands. Once at the entrance, Sussex habitually grabs a menu. A waiter, big in the eyes, suddenly appears from inside. His hands are tensely clenched.

“How y’all doing today?” he asks.

“Fine, I — ”

“Forgive me. Y’all look like a nice couple {he coughs} couple, but, ah … I don’t think we have any food to serve your fella here.”

Sussex’s eyebrows curve. Riette’s jaw nearly hits the slush on the ground. She says, “What does that mean? You don’t have what?

“For your boyfriend here. I mean, we don’t serve neckbones or cheese grits till Sunday, in the least. Isn’t that what they prefer?”

Riette observes the waiter for any signal of condescension, even a hint of sarcasm. After some seconds, she sees that he is being totally sincere. Sussex stands by.

“Is that wrong? I mean, I saw on TikTok one time…”

“Oh, hell no.”

“Come on, ba — uh, Riette. Let’s just go.”

“Yeah, and I hope you gag on some grits and die, ya ignorant piece of shit!” See what I mean? Sussex chuckles as they help each other walk away.

“I wish I knew a place to take you,” he says. “Man, but those grits do sound good right about now.”

“Yo, whose city are we in again? It’s a bunch of white people here, so it’s not a hard guess.”

“Yours.” It’s not actually Riette’s city. That’s a common mistake though.

“There-fore, {she rapid-flicks her eyelashes} don’t worry about it, bro. I’ll show you ‘round on the train. We’ll find something to do.”

“Sounds fair.” She reaches in for more kisses on his cheek, but she’s stopped mid-action. He says, “Come on. Let me take you somewhere warm so we can be alone.”

“Ooh!” She chuckles at his attempted sensuality. “What’re you gonna do to me there? — wherever the hell there is.”

“Maybe I’ll get you to kiss me. You owe me a real one, ya’know?”

“Ha! I owe you a kiss? I might owe you a sloppy discharge in the face with a piss aftershock!”

“That red hair suits you perfect … little demon child.”

The wind steers their stride towards a nearby metro station. As they move, their bodies conduct warmth rubbing on one another. Onlookers cringe, kids point and laugh, but at least Sussex has his chick this time. Once they’ve come down in the station, the icy mask over Sussex’s mug melts off. His face returns to its old cactus-hide texture.

“So that’s your face? I thought those were the icicles.”

“Well, your face is — ” he thinks, “ — pale!”

“Hey, I am white, not pale. There’s a difference. I’ve been pale before. I ain’t pale now. And what are you supposed to be, an Indian? Pale face, bad. Off, my land.” She then reclines herself onto a bench just below one of those industrial heaters. It hums a steady monotonous rhythm to balance out their chirping. “So, how you liking the city, my nigga?”

“Funny, these girls out here don’t even know that they’re — ”

“I’m not pale!”

“ — Pale, so you better off kissing me now before you ‘accidentally’ fall into some pothole where no one can find you.” She sneers at him. He tells her, “I’mma let that one slide ‘cuz y’all obviously have no reference to ‘color’ out here. Just one word for you: Pale.”

“Whatever.” Riette warms herself under the heater and her boy, sneaking some admiration at Sussex before he notices. The thought is funny to her, but this could be what she’s always wanted. “My insides are all steamy for you,” she says, now able to recognize a kind of beauty in him. “Or maybe I’m just horny. After all, I ain’t touched a man since we met online.”

“So I’m all you got, huh? Still that same lousy bum you dm’d a couple years back.”

“Hey, you’re right. I should get away now, walk right upstairs and ski-daddle back into my rabbit hole.”


She clicks her tongue, thinking his dramatic reaction was to her insult. “Aw, don’t be a punk…”

“Nah, it’s my knee. You didn’t tell me they was gonna torture me for being a visitor.” Right then, the bench begins to rattle. They look up. “Ey, isn’t that the train we s’posed to catch?”

3. The Underground

𝗔𝗹𝗲𝘅 𝘙𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘳

“Yep. There goes.”

The two watch as the train zips by. Sussex notices Riette’s lack of motion, sees the train, looks back at his companion. “Do you wanna catch it, or…” he suggests, but it’s confirmed.

“What couple sounds more interesting to you? The one who gets caught in the snow or who rides a train off into the sun?”

“What’re you talking about, ‘couple’? You’ve done nothing but take cracks at my face and my smell all day. I got my kneecap busted just to sit here in the cold and watch the metro pass our asses up. This ain’t some Rom-Com movie … The hell.” Sussex grabs his belly, immediately regretting his dumb (but true, let’s face it) outburst. Riette stares at her feet for a while, not sure whether she wants to throw a fit all up and over her date or simply leave him there and walk home. His voice then breaks the silence. “I think it must be the damn Ice Age revived or something. Must be snowing down to the tropics right now. Hey, it might even be snowing on my island.”

“If we could go to your island, that’d be, like, superb.”

“True. But we’d be warm, so we wouldn’t be an interesting couple anymore,” Sussex says. He takes some cautionary scoots backward.

“You’d probably like that since you aren’t interesting in the first place. You couldn’t make it two minutes in this city without complaining, or freezing your balls off … Jerk.”

“How’m I a jerk in any sense? ‘Cuz if I lived in this ice hole, I would freeze?”

“That’s right!” she wails. Her tone rings with an I’m done with you, boy kind of rhythm. Patting her hair, she reaches into her small purse and augments her bubble with a bit more flowery perfume. He opens his mouth but doesn’t make a squeak before she says, “Oh! Do you see that man?”

“What man?” Sussex searches frantically over his shoulders and under his legs trying to find the so-called “man.”

“Lookit, lil’ baby … There. Look at that man! He is just am-A-zing. What’s he doing?”

“Where? Wha — What did you just call me?”

“Huh? Oh, nothing, blockhead. Just my lit-t-tle baby. Nothing special.”

“Finally! A pet name I can work with. I been called many names … today. Now I’m finally a baby!” Maybe he hasn’t traveled this far and been tortured upside down in vain after all.

“Well, don’t just sit there with your head between your pantyhose. You need to find this crazy-man! Quick, before he leaves. He’s got the biggest lips in humanity, just like a chimp or something.” Her face bursts into a smile.

Sussex stands up straight and raises his voice. “Where on the Earth is this man? If he’s so crazy, why can’t I find him? Is he a tiny man, or hiding or … What, babe?” The pet names, they’ve been unleashed! True, they come in the flash of a torched arrow, but they are there, irrevocable. Sussex then looks at her, accusingly, realizing the subject of her cruel joke. So gullible! “God, what is wrong with me?”

“Nothing. But, gotcha back!” She grabs his chin and resurrects him from misery toward some higher place, though where, he can’t tell. Puzzled faces and their whispers prey on the couple’s showings of affection, nose-rubbing, and whatnot. Their awkward PDA aside, something buzzes strangely about, a vibe, as if there was a party that everyone might be late to. That bum and Poor girl sputter through the station halls. But nothing comes of it yet.

As time passes, they remain on a bench that would be better suited for butt torture, and little by little, their private concrete hive starts to fill with hundreds of creepy-crawlers. The night erupts with a tick as crowds of people bombard each other on their routes into the subway. The world moves busily around them in a rapid flow, but none of it stirs the couple an inch. Elbows bump eyelids and heels crush feet. A small red object gets kicked into view near the only two tranquil persons in sight.

“Hey, love. What’s that on the ground?” Riette asks. “It looks like a ladybug, but dead. I can’t imagine this stampede of bozos even cares about the poor thing. Well, I mean, it feels good to me anyway. All this — being in a big crowd. It’s better ‘cuz nobody can really see us.”

“Wha’do you mean? Of course they see us. You can’t hide where there’s a crowd.”

“Like this: if we’re the only two here then anybody can spot us. When there’s tons of people around is when we’re really alone.” The concept causes her to grin. Her shoulders nudge into Sussex as she curls into his side.

“Well, hey, if it makes you feel intimate, that’s cool with me. I was thinking ‘bout stopping at one of those little hotels we saw on the way. That reminds me, one time I fell into this phone call with a girl I used to date, right? She managed a hotel back then.” He pauses for her reaction.

Riette doesn’t budge a muscle, just sighs a quick laugh. “I’d like to see how you ‘fall’ into a phone. I’d pay to see that.”

He strokes her lip stud and thinks aloud. “I knew you liked piercings since you showed me your secret one on cam. Remember that? Who knows, now you could show me the real deal.” She grunts. “I love that little one under your lip, though. That thing is crisp. It’s, like, the best stud I ever seen, so — Riette? You sleep? Damn, you fall fast.”

“What? Who fell in the phone?” She comes out of her three-second dream, holding the expression of someone who’s just jugged a pint of hard liquor.

“You were knocked out, girl. I’m glad I put you to sleep so quick.”

“Don’t hang your head, silly. I sleep all around. At least I won’t miss any sleep with — ”

“Hold up — ‘Sleep all around’? With who?!” He nearly implodes. Riette bounces up with the enthusiasm of a rubber ball. She takes some steps back just to be safe.

“Are you mad, bro?”

“Nah, not mad. I’m concerned. Who are you sleeping ‘all around’ with?”

“Aha! Look at ya, all jelly. Didn’t know you were such a buster. Come on, boy. Really? The only ones I sleep around are the grass and the ants at the park.”

“You lie,” he says. His tone turns playful, having noticed some suspicious eyes coming from the train. “Let me back away from you before your pants start flaming.”

“Ooh, fire! That really would be nice right now.” He agrees with an Mm-hmm, and some hot, cheesy… “Sleeping around, sheesh. I didn’t know it bothered you so much.” Riette pulls out her vape pen. Sussex snarls.

“Real men smoke cigarettes. You know my grand-daddy smoked cigs. I think you’d ought’a smoke a cig, too. He was in the War, you know. He was tough. Smoking is tough. I love to smoke, but I don’t {Riette is nodding halfway to sleep again} care if it gives you cancer. I do it out of choice. Everyone respects guys who smoke tobacco. Movie stars do it. If I smoked right now, you’d pro’ly respect me more for it, too.”

“Well, I’m not a ‘real man’, so what gives? I vape, or is that unholy?”

“Blasphemy,” he says looking to the ground with the same defeat as before. “This date ain’t really gone how we thought, huh?” Riette shrugs. “It was a lot safer dating on the computer. I didn’t know I’d be pissed on and beaten by some bigot morons, embarrassed in front of a diner, and have people stare at us like zoo apes all day.”

“You do look kinda like a gorilla. Ooh!” Sussex stays silent. Riette reconsiders his point, then takes his hand. “Hey, I’ve got an idea to save this date. Let’s run across the tracks.”

4. Slow Ascension


“What? Why?” Sussex’s voice reveals his disposition to do anything related to running is about none.

“Come on. I bet we can make it across before the next train comes … or you afraid to get hit?”

“Mmm. I don’t think so.” He buzzkills again! But Riette’s prepared a hot fuel to bond inside his belly, firing up his heart. She goes for the tracks first.

“Come on down, ya sissy!” she screams at Sussex as he remains stuck on the platform. He stares around him, utterly mortified. While pulling herself down on the railway, Riette suddenly spots the little red object from earlier now encroaching on her hand. “Look, babe! It’s the ladybug.”

“Girl, people starting to look at us. Hurry up. Ah, let’s just go back …”

“What people, lil’ baby?”

“I’o’know. Your people!” Frustrated, Riette performs a massive flick on the little red bug and sends it flying splat onto Sussex’s jacket. Nosey people watch them, unsettled. Sussex grabs hold of the little red victim; his loud gulps can be heard over the ambient chatter.

“What is it?” says Riette. He raises it between his fingers for her to see. Its violent color appears on one side as scarlet nail polish — the other is crusted with a woman’s blood.

It’s — it’s a fucking nail!

Startled by her yells, Sussex tosses the object off into the breeze. Through a chain reaction of instinct, he accidentally smacks some woman beside the ear, making her fall.

“What the hell are you doing?!” A man, maybe the woman’s son or nephew, runs up in her defense.

“Nothing, sir. I’m so sorry. Ma’am…”

“This man just hit me!”

“Hey, you’re with that nice young lady over there, aren’t ya? I been watching you. Seems like you ain’t been properly introduced to my town, son.” Saying this, the son/nephew launches a fist at Sussex’s face. He is struck again by the memory of hanging upside down with piss drizzling down his cheeks. Not this shit again! he goes. To ignite the matter, their squabble instantly calls the attention of a bunch of spectators. “Get that boy!” they instigate together, chanting like it’s a pep rally. Soon the whole train-station of people is grabbing furiously at our out-of-towner.

After being slapped up and kicked around, Sussex eventually gets a final boot onto the train tracks next to his girl. A robot voice announces: The train is now arriving. The angry mobsters closest to the edge of the platform stare pitifully down at them, creating a barrier so they can’t climb up. Riette, though, is already climbing up the other side.

“Come on, lil’ baby, time to cross. Train’s coming.” He picks out his lady’s voice calling over the hammering shouts. Sussex turns from their seething mouths to find her safe and well, standing high on the opposite platform.

“I don’t know why you call me ‘lil’ baby,’ ‘cuz I ain’t little. Once we get to the hotel you’ll see it’s quite the opposite.”

“Hotel? With you?!” she yells over the noise. “Never. I couldn’t sleep with a baboon from Whoville.”

“Really? I think you’re running out of primates now. And what in the world is Whoville?”

“Oh, never mind, lemur. I forgot you people don’t read.” Suddenly, a rumble lifts from deep within the earth. A monster is on its way, and it’s coming straight for him.

“So, you trying to make out before or after this train runs us over?” Headlights beam into Sussex’s face. He looks back at the angry crowd two inches from ripping his face apart. In a sudden Tarzan-y cry, he beats his chest, grimaces in pain (or constipation, who knows), and lunges aside to the vacant tracks.

“Come to me if you wanna live, gibbon!”

“Okay, that does — ”


Before he can say another word, the train screams past him, sucking the air right from his mouth. He stops long enough on the adjacent set of tracks to catch the headlights of another train beaming at him, rumbling from the other direction. Sussex suddenly grabs his knee in agony and thinks; All of this for a girl? I knew my ass woulda been better off on Tinder.

His system pumps his every vein with flight signals and adrenaline. In one last gargantuan effort, he hauls himself onto Riette’s reigning ground upon the platform. His chest undulating with the rush of excitement, he breathes, finally able to calm his senses. A strange maniacal laughter then ensues from Riette’s mouth. Sussex hadn’t noticed, but he looks up to find himself clinging to her arms for dear life.

“Goddamnit, you did it! See, I’m not racist. I was just trying to motivate you!” Her voice is full of pride.

“Yeah, you’re so inspiring. Anyway, that’s exactly what the racists say.”

“You are my man, yes you are!”

“And you’re a hoe, you know that?” he says, rubbing his knee. Riette twitches her neck, quick.

“Oh! I take it back. You’re a hoe too. Equal rights.”

Sussex crouches over, gasping with his tongue rolled out. The crowd across from them is struck by their glowing existence in society. The couple peck on the lips just before getting pummeled by more passersby. The city lives on.

“God. Lord. We made it.”

“I’m just glad that horrible pee smell finally dissipated off your face. I might actually be able to give you a real smooch.” Sussex coughs sarcastically, almost at ease.

“Hey, let’s get him! You ain’t escaped yet, new boy!”

“What’s with these fools?” says Sussex. The angry group of city folk comes now more broiled up than ever. They direct themselves towards an overpass to cross above the tracks. Riette is then touched by a vicious idea.

“Let’s go to the top. You know, of the station. Come on, I know a secret way. They won’t catch us.”

“Us? Who do you think they’re after?”

Riette extends her hand and neck way out. “You coming or not? Those guys look like a freaking lynch mob, I’m just saying.” Her face shines with a reflective mix of bodily oils and artificial lights. The one lip stud casts a shadow over her pink chin. No one, not even Sussex, can deny such a level of spontaneity.

“Sure, I’ll go with you … Just real slowly.” They stumble past two curves in the main hall into a side door then up, Riette before her “lil’ baby.” Sussex drags along, lightheaded, sucking his lips and trying not to cry. On their steady rise, the walls of the stairwell start to glimmer with specks of starlight. The air is stuffed and hot, giving the place the effect of a jewel mine dug miles below the ground. They could pick each gem from the walls, green ones, red and silver, whispering voiceless lyrics of some earthy song. The power of these lights gives the moment a solemn spirituality. A wind flowing inside the vents pulls them upward one floor after another.

“I see it,” Sussex says now, relieved as they reach the roof. He prepares for total collapse, yet before he can touch the floor, Sussex receives a sudden blast in the face by the iciest gust of air he’ll ever feel. He inhales so quickly that it aches in his lungs and in between his ribs. He tip-toes back towards the door but gets caught.

“Come over here, Sussy. Stay and gaze with me.” Riette’s words drip from her tongue like little wet dreams. Okay, maybe not those, but you get it. Her voice is interrupted by the noise of hard exhales. “Your knee okay?”

“My knee’s fine, sh — Girl. Just gonna need a surgery and some life support tomorrow.” He then notices the skyline. “Man, it is nice up here. Kinda like, peaceful, am I right?” At this point, Riette begins to pace restlessly back and forth. “Chill, bro. What’s up with you?”

“Those bastards! I can’t believe they would do something like that. And they know you‘re not from out here.”

“Ah, it’s fine, babe. Don’t sweat. I figured things’d be different from home since I was coming to your city.” It’s not her city, though he means … Whatever.

“No, you don’t get it. That’s … Just, it’s … It’s not the way you hope your family will treat your new boyfriend. Those fucking idiots!” Sussex’s face morphs into a big oozing Oooh of understanding. “Let’s just say they don’t see many ‘island boys’ around here. They ignorant, like me, I guess {she laughs}. But they can’t help it.”

“Well, it’s gonna be an adjustment for us all. Your family’s pretty f’d up, though.”

Riette slides behind her consort slowly, stepping carefully over some loose cables and equipment. She walks like a sacrifice to the edge of the station roof, maybe five stories above the pavement. Fidgeting and stark anger transform before Sussex’s eyes. She squints and all the world’s secrets become apparent. She takes in all the fumes and noise, the sex, the violence, and all the grimy sanctity — all of it! — of that ghetto she calls a home.

“Sussy,” she says with no real emotional thread. “I’m going to jump.”

Sussex’s arms shoot straight into the air, nearly dislocating the shoulders from the sockets. “I knew she was gonna kill herself when she met me. Goddamn, man! Why’s this hafta — ? Shit, I might as well jump myself right along with you.”

“Baby!” He pauses his sulking and holds on for her next words. “You can’t take everything so serious … Gotcha!” She catches him with the dumbest look known to man (so lucky to have witnessed it!) spread over his dark face. “How many is that? I lost count.”

He chuckles, embarrassed once again. “Yeah, that’s halfway fair. Guess I’m the dummy again.”

“Nah … To be honest, I like that you blindly trust what I say. It’s good to be with someone who cares.”

“Is, isn’t it?” She gives a wink, then peers over her dangling shoes down at the distant street, feeling like some powerless version of a Superwoman.

“You know … What if I was to jump, lil’ baby? Would I just fall fast on my ass? Or, would you catch me?”

Sussex can’t conjure any worthy answer to such questions. Instead, he brushes up to Riette, considers for a second, and nudges her off the roof. Riette slides and her feet slip, but at the point of falling to her demise, he yanks her strongly, confidently into his arms for the first time since they’d met. He grabs her, making sure she’s secured, and they kiss, finally, for real. No one is watching. No eyes are judging. No one’s offering them food they don’t even like. Neck bones? What?! They just kiss like they want to, and that’s all. She gasps, hardly, but lets out a blissful moan as Sussex’s tongue eases her jaw. His conquering flag is now set, and he can relax. Almost.

A thousand flashes of paradise smear across the neon night. He finds joy in believing it’s a moment neither will forget in their lives.

A sense of peace relieves them of the thoughts of angry crowds tomorrow, of tourist-hunting gangs and ignorant storekeepers — family members. Tonight, only four sparkling eyes stare off into the yellow, blue and black windows. She peeks over her shoulder at him and the two visible stars. One might be an airplane.

“Yo Riette. You good?” he asks.

“Huh? … Yeah, lil’ baby. Good as grits.”

I really want to thank you for reading! If you liked this story, check out other writing by NEBOH, including poems, stories, and more. Catch you next time…




No Expert But Of Himself—Just writing what I know, a bit of what I think I know, hopefully I help others know a bit more than they knew.