Monday, June 1, 2020

"AFFLICTED SUN" by Kierra Watson - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

This work depicts actual events in the life of the author as truthfully as recollection permits and/or can be verified by research. Occasionally, dialogue consistent with the character or nature of the person speaking has been supplemented. All persons within are actual individuals; there are no composite characters. The names of individuals have been changed to respect privacy.


By: Kierra Watson

“Last stop! Last stop! Coney Island! Stillwell Avenue!” I can hear boots clomping toward me but I’m too weak to open my eye lids, move my feet, or even pretend to be alive. “Just leave me here to die, Sir.” I don’t think he heard me. Hell, I’m not sure if I even said this out loud or not. I don’t care, I just need sleep. He’ll go away. I hear keys jingling and slowly feel the temperature rising. Did they cut the air off? “Last stop! Last stop! Coney Island! Stillwell Avenue!” I can feel the vomit making its way up for an encore as the voice gets closer. “Miss, you’ve got to get up and off the train. You can wait for the next train if you’re headed the other way.” He walks closer to me and I finally find the strength to hold up my palm as a warning. “No! Miss, no! Not on here!” It’s too late. My breakfast comes flying out along with the tub of vodka I rinsed it down with a few hours ago. I take off my shirt to wipe my mouth. The conductor stares at my neon bra while taking a few steps back. I lift my legs and my feet feel like mini anchors. Jeffrey Campbell didn’t think of drunk college girls who make poor decisions. “Ma’am, you’re going to have to get off or I’ll have to call you an ambulance.” Oh great, another bill I’d have to pay. “It’s okay. I feel better now.” I stand up and gravity pulls me back down with a vengeance. “Where’s my wallet?” I shuffle through my bag and can’t find it. Oh no. “Ma’am!” He grabs his walkie talkie and I gain some composure. “I hear you. I hear you. I’m going.” I take a deep breath and grab onto the pole in front of me. I pull myself up and the train spins. “Make it to the beach for sleep. Just make it to the beach for sleep.” I feel like a toddler holding onto the edge of the couch while they master their balance. I finally make it off the train and I give myself an invisible high-five. The stale air hits my face and I feel another wave of vodka begging to be let loose. It’s six in the morning and it feels like I’m stuck in the devil’s ass crack. That’s August in New York for you.

I’m not sure how I made it to the beach, but I did. I wake up sunken in the hot sand and smell cotton candy in the near distance. The skin on my back burns. My scalp itches and my curls feel dry. My heels lay close to my head next to a half-eaten loaf of bread and an empty bottle of water. My bag is gone. I quickly reach into the back pocket of my jeans and thank God as I pull out my license and my phone. Twenty-two missed calls pop up on the notifications screen. I swipe and call the most recent. “Kady?” I roll my eyes. Don’t we all have caller-ID? “Yeah, it’s me.” My mouth feels like cotton and my jaw hurts. “Where the fuck have you been all day?” I look at the time on the screen and it reads 4: 41pm. “Oh my God!” The brunch is probably over by now. My heart races and I remember I have no shirt on. My green bra almost looks yellow in the bright sun against my new, crisp tan. My necklace is gone. I reach for my ears. My earrings are gone too. “Oh my God!” Bryan breathes heavily into my ear. “Where are you?” I can hear him tapping his fingers impatiently against a table. I’m not sure what it feels like to have a father, but I imagine this would be it. I really must let him go this summer. It’s just not working anymore. “Hello?!” He slams his palm down and it echoes into the receiver. “I’m here. I’m at the beach.” “How did you end up at the beach? Weren’t you in SoHo last night?” “Yeah.”My phone beeps. It’s on one percent. “Look, I’ll call you back when I get home.” “What?! Who are you with?!” Click. My phone goes black and now I must figure out a way home with no wallet, no phone to use, and clearly no dignity to spare.

I grab my shoes and start walking toward the steps. I can feel everyone staring at me and I pretend not to care. I shake the sand out of my hair and off my burnt torso. This is as good as it’s going to get. I take a seat on the steps and strap my little anchors back onto my feet. I stumble onto the boardwalk and head for the electronics store on Neptune Avenue. I hear some shells bang together as I open the door. “Hey there, what can we do for you today?” I look around for a mirror and I’m out of luck. “Do you guys buy phones?” He nods slowly. “What you got?” I pull out my dead Samsung and hand it over. He examines it and tries to turn the screen on. “I’ll need to charge it. It looks brand new.” I head over to the water jug and help myself to a few cups. “I’ll give you $120 for it.” I throw the cup into the trash and cut my eyes at him. “Do you realize this is a $600 phone? I’ve only had it for 2 months.” He folds his arms and plants a smug smile onto his face. “$250 and nothing more.” I’ll just file an insurance claim when I get back to the Bronx. Seriously, I’ve got to make better decisions with my life. This is becoming expensive.“I’ll take it.” He chuckles. “ID, please.”

I walk to Nathan’s and the line is outside of the door and around the corner. I continue to walk down Surf Avenue until I run into a broken-down bar. I enter the bar and there’s a couple far off into the corner practically humping each other. I sit directly in front of the bartender and wait for her to get off the phone. “What are ya havin’, my dear?” I look at the menu board and decide on a ginger ale and tonic. I slide her my ID. “Good choice! What brings you in here? Nathan’s too busy?” I laugh. “Yes, actually.” “I figured. Nobody really comes in here anymore.” She hands me my drink and I go to work. “How do you stay open then?” “Debt.” “I see.” I finish my drink and she quickly refills it. “Happy 21st birthday by the way.” I look around and cut my eyes at her in confusion. “Your ID shows your date of birth.” We laugh and I pretend to watch the soccer game on the flat screen. “Do you have any special plans today?” I down my second drink and hand her the glass. “Well, I’ve already missed my brunch. I’m pretty sure everyone is pissed with me now. Way to start off a new year, huh?” She hands me a cup of cherries and sprays whipped cream on the top of it. “For you, princess. How did you miss your brunch?” “I fell asleep on the beach. I don’t even know how I got here. I always seem to end up here when I’m due someplace else.” I eat my cherries and she observes me from the corner of my eye. “Maybe you missed it on purpose then. Maybe you needed to stick to your own tradition.” I nod carefully. “Maybe you’re right.” 

I remember the night after my sweet sixteen. My mother allowed me to stay out all night. I told her I would be with a group of my friends from the party at a new dessert bar in the Lower East Side. It wasn’t necessarily a lie because we did have reservations to go there. However, when the D train’s conductor made the announcement, “Broadway-Lafayette! Next stop, Grand Street!” I stayed on the train. I imagined what Coney Island would look like in the twilight. It has to be the most romantic thing in the world. I just have to see it. I want to walk on the boardwalk and look out at the beach. I’d only been there during the hot summer days when your skin feels like it’ll just melt off your bones. I took off my heels and replaced them with my vans. I kicked up my feet and enjoyed the ride. I sat on a warm bench in front of the Cyclone and pulled out a ginger beer with a beef patty from the small bag I retrieved on my journey to Luna Park. Couples kiss on the sand as distant screams from the rides drive by in waves. I wished Bryan were here. I pull out my sidekick and scroll to his name. I hit the call button and hold my breath. He answers quickly. “Kady?” I roll my eyes and smile. “Who else would it be?” He laughs and we share a moment of silence. “I’m in Coney Island. Have you ever been here at night?” I can hear him sit up. It sounds like he’s putting his shoes on. “No, I haven’t. I’ve only been with you that day we ate those bad frog legs.” I laugh loudly and he sighs. “They taste like chicken!” He scoffs. “Sure, they do.”I hear a door slam and the sound of an engine starting. We go silent and he answers my unheard question. “I’ll be there in about half an hour, okay?” I smile. “I’m right in front of the Cyclone.” Somehow, I doze off to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. “Beautiful sight, isn’t it?” Bryan asks as he approaches me. I jump up and relax when I see his brown eyes in front of mine. “Yeah, I love it here.” He sits beside me and plants a kiss on my cheek. “I was talking about you.” He smiles and pulls out a bottle of champagne, a bag of gummy bears, and a box of chocolate-covered strawberries. This must be what took him so long. “Happy 16th Birthday, Kady.” I hug him and snuggle against him. He smells like leather and love. I lost my virginity that night, under a blanket Bryan had tucked away in his bookbag. The one passerby may have thought we were hugging too fiercely but this was New York and they were too wrapped up in their own drama to look for too long. The truth is, I hiked up my skirt, sat on his lap, and released his girth from his basketball shorts with ease. I was ready for him. I didn’t want anyone else. He kissed my neck as he clung onto the blanket for dear life. He was gentle each time I had him that night. We woke up on the beach to have pancakes and soda in his car before we made our way back to Harlem.

The bartender places another ginger ale and tonic under my nose. “What’s your goal for this year? You have to make a goal for each birthday now that you’re officially an adult.” An irresponsible one, I thought silently. “To get my shit together.” We laugh and the couple slams the bathroom door behind them. The bartender leans in closely and begins to whisper, “They’re in here every Sunday. I think they’re both married… to other people.” I raise my eyebrows.“Isn’t it sad?” “What hon?” I think about the ring Bryan shoved in my face last night at dinner. I think about the hospital bed I woke up in last week. “You go through your entire life listening to people tell you that your purpose is to find true love, get married, and start a family. Then you wake up and realize the person you’re married to is nothing but a stranger that you share body fluids with. You go through all of this shit with someone just to end up back at square one.”I drink some of the water from the glass that’s been sitting in front of me since I arrived.  “It’s more complicated than that.” The bartender removes the empty glasses from in front of me. She makes her way over to the table where the couple sat and collects the damp bills sitting under the two glasses. “How? I don’t think I ever want to get married. I don’t think I want to spend my life looking at the same face each day.” She laughs wildly as she runs a wet cloth across the empty tables. “I said the same thing when I was your age. I felt a bit different after I had my first son, though.” “Did you get married afterwards?” “No, he didn’t want to. He left.” “Where did he go?” “Last I heard, he returned back to his family in Italy.” “Wow. I think I just want to be alone for a long time.” Bryan’s ring flashes through my head again. “True love will come along for you eventually and it will change your mind. It may not be wrapped up in a pretty package. It may not be when you go searching for it. It will happen though, and you’ve got to be able to let down your guard in order to receive it.” I nod my head and think of Bryan. Is he my true love? Am I taking him for granted? “I’ve got to get going.” I pull out some twenties and she pushes my hand away. “Don’t worry. It’s on the house. Just make sure you come back again, okay?”I peel myself out of my seat. “Of course. Thank you.”

The D train has got to be the worst train to be on on a Sunday night. I’ve had men lecture me, beg me for money, and I’m sure I’m on somebody’s Instagram or Facebook page by now. I wish I had my phone. I feel naked and exposed now.“125th Street!Next stop, 145th!” I think about going straight to Fordham and getting in bed, but something pulls me off the train and up the stairs. I walk out onto the corner of 125th street and St. Nicholas Avenue. Women stare at me and pull their men in a little closer. I make my way uptown to 132nd street. I cross the avenues until I reach 7th. I walk up to Bryan’s building and push his buzzer. “Who?” I hesitate a little, “It’s me. It’s Kady.” He doesn’t let me in. He doesn’t say anything. I look around in shock. I guess I can’t be too surprised. I start to walk away when I hear a buzzing sound. I push the door open and make my way up the narrow flight of stairs. I finally reach the fourth floor and he’s standing there with a fresh, folded towel and washcloth in his hands. Maybe we should talk about the baby first? Maybe we should just pretend it never happened? “Hey,” he pulls me in close and hugs me tightly. I pull away slightly and kiss his lips. I wrap my arms around him and begin to wail. He pulls me inside and closes the door. “It’s okay, babe. It’s going to be okay. I love you, always.”

No comments:

Post a Comment