This was written October 13th, 2014, two months and four days after the shooting of Michael Brown in a part of my home state I spent considerable time in while growing up. I was frustrated and deeply upset by the event, but unable to participate in the political responses because by then I’d already been living abroad for some years. I was further frustrated by what I saw of the media coverage: the blithe continuation of a longstanding local effort to distort the impacts of racist police brutality, coupled with a national effort to downplay and misrepresent the community’s response.
My initial note on the piece reads “a flash fiction story I don’t think I will clean up and send anywhere bc possibly too appropriative”, but I later changed my mind because I didn’t think the BLM movement was being sufficiently seen and understood, and I wanted to generate awareness and empathy. I also hoped to donate any proceeds from a sale to activists back home, because I had very little money to give at the time. BLM’s momentum grew, and I stopped submitting the piece accordingly, once again convinced it wasn’t appropriate to try and occupy public platform space with a story that wasn’t mine to tell. My politics have evolved in the last three years, and if this story, which I don’t expect I would write in the same way now, strikes the wrong note, then I am sorry for that. I offer it here now, in this semi-private setting, largely because it did come from a moment of honest rage and hope, and because I can’t disclaim those emotions or their product.
She came to the spot where he’d fallen where they let him lie for three hours without help and she pushed her way through the crowd that had gathered, touched the blood-splatter on the asphalt. She did not doubt for a moment that it would work. Missouri is still warm in October strangely warm and the asphalt has warmth the suggestion of give and she pushed her hand down into it, to the knuckles, to the wrist, to the elbow. People were clay to start with and they can be clay again. Dust to dust to dust again.
She began to pull her hand out and she saw the way the asphalt gaped, yonic around her arm, her palm, she thought of having given birth to him. What she got hold of was a handful of clay, still stretching, connected, to the ground. She kept pulling there might as well have been nobody there. She pulled up and up, slow-spooling. There might have been some noises some screams she didn’t hear them. The head bulged up and the great wedge of his powerful, young man’s shoulders and his arms his torso his pelvis his long legs his great clomping feet that were always too loud and would be loud again now. He would make a noise and there would be too much of him in the world. Good. Good.
She was not a tall woman and she asked help me up and two old women she knew from church, bird small and ox strong, gave her a lift, they knew what she was up to, they knew what a miracle looked like, and she whispered her son’s name into his clay ear, and they did scream for sure now she did hear them and she didn’t know whether it was what she’d done what god had done or the fact that this was a boy they could not kill, they were so afraid that there was something they could not kill and they did not know what else to do with anything. She stood back as he walked out of the drawn-back knot of people and she flinched as they shot and shot at him and he just stood there and lived, and he did not wreak a vengeance greater than change and this:
he lived, and he lived. Until he died old. He just slapped more clay onto himself when he got taller, when he got fat in middle age, when it was time for him to get wrinkles. He and another clay boy got together and his daddy got over it in time. Consign him to the ground not fresh and wet with life but dry, age-cracked, with the stillness that comes of the draining of the water, like the river bank in June, ready. Let us all be taken ready.
His mamma died before him and that was what she wanted that was right.