Everybody remembers the first time they had a gun pointed at them. Although it’s been months, sometimes I’ll be lying next to my woman and suddenly flashback to that black nine millimeter aimed at my skull.
It was the summer of ‘88 and I was still living uptown where shattered glass crunched underfoot and the bustling boulevards were electric with vice. To strangers unfamiliar with the wildness of Harlem, my decaying tenement on 145th might’ve looked dangerous.
Yet, no matter how many crack cowboys and toothless hookers sat on the stoop, I was never scared. My girlfriend Zoë was a different story. Every time she came to Harlem, she acted as though poverty was contagious.
Zoë and I were 22-years-old seniors at the School of Visual Arts. Wanting to be the next Robert Mapplethorpe, but without all the dicks and homo shit, I was a photography major. Zoë was an abstract painter with a loft on Gramercy Park.
Coming from Detroit, her rich mother paid the bills. Though she proudly talked about, “Da D,” it was obvious from her Goth make-up and all-black wardrobe that she was more of a Depeche Mode suburban chick than an inner city Motown girl. “I don’t know why you can’t just let it go, Andre. Your old neighborhood died years ago. There is no renaissance, only ghosts. You should just move downtown with me.”
“You don’t understand, I was raised up there. Uptown, that’s where my peoples at.”
“Your peoples?” Zoë laughed, shoveling the last piece of sushi in her mouth. “Why you always talk like you’re more street than you are? When we met, you were reading Kafka and talking about Wim Wenders. Now, you Mr. Ghetto? Mr. Keeping It Real.”
“I’m just saying, it’s going to take more than a few whores and dope boys to make me move.” After knocking back a few sakes, I stumbled to the A Train and nodded out until reaching 145th Street.
According to the subway station clock, it was almost midnight. Walking the two avenue blocks to my building, I was shocked when I ran into my old buddy Darryl Jenkins sitting on the steps of the abandoned school PS 186. Recently graduated from Syracuse University, Darryl was one of the few old friends not in jail or the graveyard.
“Man, so good seeing you,” I said.
“I just came down for a few days. Figured if I hung-out in front of this dump long enough, I’d run into you.”
Darryl pulled out a phat sack of weed and a few Phillie blunts. Like old times, we decided to go to my building and smoke.
Standing in front of the door, I realized I’d left my keys at Zoë’s and randomly pressed the intercom. Somebody buzzed us in and we ran up the back staircase; since I rarely wore sneakers, my hard-bottomed dress shoes click-clanked on the marble steps.
Sitting on the top stair rolling the blunt, I faintly heard something downstairs, but when I looked over the banister there was nothing. “Ain’t even smoked and already paranoid,” Darryl laughed.
Lighting the blunt, I thought I heard creeping footsteps, but before I could say jack, a midget murderer everybody called Inch was aiming his burner at my head. “Word Gotti, you got to stop ringing my bell! I thought you assholes were cops.”
We had all grown up together, but last I heard, Inch was serving a stretch in Rikers for blasting three drug dealers a few years back. Word on our street was he dragged the corpses into the closet and stole a suitcase of bloody money. How he got out so fast was beyond me.
“Yo, we’re sorry,” I stuttered. Darryl was silent. “Believe me, it was an accident.” From the way Inch’s left eye blinked, it was obvious he was doing everything in his power not to kill us. Blinking a few more times, Inch finally put the gun down.
Scrambling down the stairs, I ran to the payphone. Fishing a quarter out of my pocket, I dialed Zoë. “I changed my mind,” I yelled. “I’m moving downtown. Tonight.”
Copyright © 2010
Photo by Carl Davis.
Harlem native Michael A. Gonzales has published short fiction in Brown Sugar (Random House), Bronx Biannual (Akashic Books), Crimefactory and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. He lives in Brooklyn.