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[3 of 5] Long Division, Book One, pages 91-120, Book Two, pages 199-254, by Kiese Laymon (2013)

Author: Kiese Laymon

Laymon, Kiese. “Book One, Pages 91-120, Book Two, Pages 199-254.” Long Division, Scribner Book Company, 2013, 2021.



(BOOK ONE, pages 91 – 102)

After all that weirdness with Grandma earlier, I just wanted to run down Old Morton Road and never stop until I was back in our garage in Jackson. Since I didn’t have either the wind or the guts to do that, I called my friend Shay and asked her to come over.

Shay was the junior queen of Melahatchie and raiser of way more hell than a little bit. She walked in Grandma’s yard wearing a pea-green muscle shirt and some Memphis Grizzlies shorts. Usually her Afro puffs were the same size, but today the left one was way bigger than the right.

“I don’t know what you was thinking,” she said, with a voice that came directly from her nose. “Nasal” actually isn’t the word for Shay’s voice. Shay’s nose was damn near wider than her lips, and it stayed clogged up so she only breathed through her mouth. Shay spoke fast, too, but it wasn’t like she said certain words fast. It was more that she moved from word to word fast. “I knew you was crazy,” she said, “but I ain’t know you was that crazy.”

“What you mean?”

“Wow!” she said. “On national TV, too? In front of all them dubs?” Shay called white folks “dubs.” which was short for “W’s.”

“Listen,” I tried to change subjects. “Have you ever heard of this book called Long Division? It’s about Melahatchie.”

“Quit changing subjects, boy,” she said. “If there was a book about Melahatchie, don’t you think I would have heard of it? Is it a book for dubs or a book for us?”

“Us, mostly,” I told her. “But it’s complicated. It’s a book for us and a few dubs, I guess. There’s this one boy and he’s in love with this girl named Shalaya Crump, and they travel through time and find this girl who lives in Melahatchie. The girl’s name is Baize.” Shay looked up at me. “Baize Shephard. You heard of it?”

Shay rolled her eyes at me and told me to shut my lying ass up without even opening her mouth. Every time I saw Shay, it was like seeing someone you haven’t seen in forever, and it was like seeing a star of a good show and it was like seeing someone you wanted to see every day. Shay never acted too excited to see me ever since I told her this secret when we were playing The Secret Game. The first time I had a wet dream, she was there–in the dream, I mean–and I told her that, and I also told her what we were doing with our hands and mouths.

We jumped the creek and went into this little path leading into the Magic Woods. After stomping through the woods and trying to dodge sticker bushes, we ended up in this dusty opening between pine trees and tree stumps. We were about fifty feet from the Melahatchie Community Center.

Shay walked deeper in the woods. “Keep talking,” she said. “I’m listening.” She wasn’t really listen-ing. I heard all kinds of sticks and leaves breaking before she came out with this huge stick. Right in the same spot where Shay found hers, I found the perfect stick. Not really perfect, but perfect if I was gonna be fighting her with the stick she had.

I was always scared to hit Shay’s stick hard unless she hit my hand or my stomach with her stick. Sometimes you could hold your stick out and the person you were playing against would swing wildly at yours and theirs would get stuck in the dusty-ass ground, or the soft mud if it had been raining. It would be stuck just long enough so you had the perfect angle to smash that joker. If you did that technique to Shay, she got so mad that she’d quit or catch fade with her praying-mantis technique.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” I told her.


“At that contest.” I told her. “I swear I wanted to win it for all these people. Like vou and Kincaid and fat boys with waves like me, too.” She started laughing. “You laughing, but I’m serious. I wanted to win it for all of us.”

“You messed up before beginning, then,” she said. “You should’ve been trying to win it for you. We wanted you to win, but if you ain’t win, we would’ve been happy just ’cause you were in it. You didn’t have to shout out Melahatchie like that either. You made us look like scrubs.” She paused and looked like she was thinking of what to say. “I just feel as though you should’ve just sat down when you got it wrong. But whatever. That’s you. Come on and play, City,” she said. Shay hated if you held your stick away from hers. “Play, boy!”

“I am a playboy, ain’t I?”

“More like a gay boy,” she said and started laughing.

“Why you call me a gay boy? I ain’t gay.”

I swung my stick and tagged the mess out of hers, but it didn’t break.

My hand bones were vibrating. “Dang, I hit that mug hard, too.”

We were both happy as hell to see a stick that hard. It’s hard to explain. The stick was a monument in itself and we just stood there smiling in the stick’s direction for about fourteen seconds. Then, guess what I started thinking about? I started thinking about my mother. I wondered if she was in our garage missing me and if she had any clue what was happening in Melahatchie.

“Does this feel like dejà vu to you?”

Shay sucked on her teeth. “Boy,” she said, “Quit trying to switch subjects, talking about déjà vu. Naw, this don’t feel like déià vu.”

Shay started laughing and walked deeper behind some baby sticker bushes. “Come over here.”

“For what?”

Time slowed down, I swear it did. When Shay walked her Afro-puffed self over in front of me, the sun coming through the woods hit her face perfectly. She had the color and the shine of a brand-new genuine leather football. Shay rarely sweated, so the Vaseline all over her face and shoulders never dripped. It just stuck to her and made whatever was surrounding her look dull and blurry.

Shay took the pointing finger of her left hand, and joined it with her thumb, making the symbol that white folks on dumb television commercials used to say that everything is okay. Then she took her middle finger and her index finger of her right hand and pushed them in and out of the hole made by her left-hand fingers.

I wasn’t as scared as you probably think I was. I just didn’t know what to do. Shay walked over to me and grabbed my hips. “Stand right there and just put your back against the tree.”

“I can’t.” I told her. “My grandma ain’t in the mood for me to come back smelling like outside. I ain’t lying.” Shay just stood in front of me with her hands on her hips.

“Alright, City. Stop talking. Just put your arms behind your back and hold your body off from the tree. Okay?”

It was weird. My fatness wouldn’t let me hold myself up like I wanted to. Plus, my lower back and arms started aching, too. All I was thinking about was if Shay was gonna think my belly button was deformed. I had a regular innie-style belly button that she’d never seen, but from what I’d seen, all the kids in Melahatchie had walnut sized belly buttons.

Shay told me to take my pants off. I did it and let my pants hang around my ankles.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her as she was looking at my stuff.

“Nothing,” she said. “Nothing at all. Close your eyes.”

Sounded like a weird thing to say to someone, but I did it anyway.

“They closed?” she asked. “Don’t be peeking, boy. You a virgin?”

“I ain’t no virgin,” I told her with my eyes closed and my penis getting harder and harder. “I did it once with this girl named Octavia. We recorded it on her stepdaddy’s iPad. But look, I think we should probably get a condom from my uncle Relle if we really trying to get nice. You feel me? You don’t want to be pregnant in high school and I don’t even know how child support works if I have a baby mama before I’m technically even allowed to work. Maybe we should think about this.”

“I can pay my own bills,” I heard Shay say before I heard the sound of a camera phone and..


The pain in my testicles moved through my lower body and into my chest and head. I couldn’t talk. I was on my hands and knees, just fiending for air. I looked up to see what had happened. A blurry Shay had grabbed her broken-off piece of tree and recorded herself whipping me in my naked testicles.

I just crouched over the leaves, damn near choking as Shay took pictures of me. She was dying laughing, too.

I got off my knees, pulled my pants up, grabbed Shay’s shoulders, threw her to the pine-needled ground, and jumped on her. Her phone fell out of her hands. I felt crazy being on top of her like that. I mean, I thought about how no one had probably ever had the nerve or the skills to push Shay down like that.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked her. “You can’t just go around whupping people in they sack whenever you get ready.” I was still all in her eyes. “You know how tender the testicles be? That stuff hurt.” | felt goofy saying “testicles” and “tender” to her.

“It’s called ‘skin-sacks,'” Shay told me. “And it’s all one word, with a hyphen.”

“Wait.” | started laughing. “What? That’s the dumbest thing I heard in a long time. ‘Skin-sacks’? Who said it’s called ‘skin-sacks,’ with a hyphen?”

“My brother, Alcee. He said it’s two sacks and it’s covered in skin, so it’s skin-sacks.”

“But the skin is the sack,” I told her. “And there ain’t two sacks. There’s two nuts in one sack.”

“My brother said it’s called ‘skin-sacks,’ so it’s called ‘skin-sacks.'

“Well, first of all,” I told her, “Alcee Mayes is my uncle Relle’s weed man and my uncle said he’s steady overcharging him for an ounce, so I don’t believe nothing Alcee Mayes say.”

When I had her down on the ground and was yelling at her, that was the first time I noticed that Shay had on that little pea-green muscle shirt, so I could see the little hairs under her arms. I had negative hair under my arms, not even minor hair bumps. I was looking in her big eyes and squeezing on her shoulders softly, and I’ll be damned if my penis didn’t start getting harder and harder. It made me too embarrassed, so I gave her one more good push in the shoulders and I got off her.

“My bad, City.”

“What?” I asked.

“My bad. I wasn’t trying to hurt you. Me and Baize made a bet about who could make a boy do that first. I won’t show the pictures to no one but her,” she said. “I promise.”

“Where you think she went? Baize, I’m talking about. The newspaper said they got a lead in the investigation.”

Shay picked up some pine needles and walked toward the road. “The paper don’t know shit!” she yelled and came back toward me.

“Maybe something else happened to her.”

“You met Baize before, City.” Shay looked me right in the face. “Whoever took Baize either hurt her or killed her before they took her. Or maybe they knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Never mind. You think that girl would let somebody just take her? We would’ve heard about it.”

“Wait,” I told her. The craziest thought in the world entered my head. “You think that white man knew whatever it is you talking about? You think he took Baize?”

“You mean the one in your grandma’s shed?” Shay asked me. “Probably. Or you know what? That girl could be around here just trying to get her mind right.”

“Ain’t no white man in my grandma shed,” I told her. “How you know about a white man in my grandma shed?”

“Wow.” she said. “You worse than Rick James. Is it a white man off in there or not? Folks say they saw Baize walk off in these woods one day a few weeks ago with a computer.”

“A computer?”

“That laptop computer she always be messing with.”

“Did anyone find the computer?”

“The white man in your shed.” Shay changed the subject. “Didn’t he kick you in your back yesterday?”

“Wait. Can we talk more about Baize?”

I was expecting a little more quality heartfelt sharing between us, but Shay walked off toward the bushes again. “Where you going?” I asked.

“Kincaid told me that your grandma’s preacher, Reverend Cherry, got a carload of pictures of skanks from Waveland doing it.”


“So, that’s where I’m going. He hid the pictures in his beat-up car, the one he always letting Deacon Big Shank drive,” Shay said.

I thought for a second about what would be the point of stealing naked pictures that belonged to my grandma’s preacher, especially with a girl who had just hit me in my skin-sacks with a stick.

Then it clicked.

If I stole the pictures and showed them to Grandma, there would be no way she’d let me get baptized by a preacher who kept that kind of nastiness in one of his cars.

“Can we take a picture of the pictures in the car with your phone?” | asked her.

“Yeah,” she said, and came back from around the bushes. “Don’t ask a whole lotta questions, though. You coming or not?”

Shay started texting someone as we walked toward Reverend Cherry’s house.

Reverend Cherry lived about three minutes from Grandma’s, on the other side of the woods. He lived right next to my friend Kincaid.

“Hey, scown,” Kincaid said to me as we walked in the yard. “What you doing?” Kincaid was fourteen, but his deep voice made him sound a good four or five years older. “Heard you went crazy yesterday.”

“I did, kinda.”

“They say it’s on WorldStar and everything. Heard you had fools calling you master, and the Shogun of Jackson.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I told him. “Sometimes you gotta let fools know, you feel me?”

Shay looked at me and shook her head. She was being strange and quiet but Kincaid was steady nodding and chewing on a toothpick. The best thing about Kincaid was that even if he heard you did something huge like embarrass yourself on national TV and the internet, he’d focus on the fighting you did instead. He loved saying the word “titties” and he loved anything that had to do with fighting. He’d been telling people he was going to be a professional UFC fighter ever since he was six. It was funny at first, but most folks in Melahatchie would be surprised if he didn’t end up fighting for money. He’d beaten almost every boy’s ass I knew in Melahatchie. Everybody he beat claimed that they lost ’cause they didn’t want to “get close to no real-life f-word.”

Kincaid’s grandma put him in a kung fu class downtown for his twelfth birthday present. Coach Stroud taught that kung fu class for a while until parents complained that he was too touchy. Soon as Coach Stroud quit, Kincaid quit, too. He said he quit because he wanted to chop people in the throat and throw ninja stars, but the new white teacher from Biloxi wanted folks to stretch their legs in yoga poses and work on soft punches to the solar plexus. Behind Kincaid’s back, everyone said he quit because his boyfriend, Coach Stroud, didn’t want him learning from a new teacher.

Before he quit, though, Coach Stroud gave Kincaid one of those white karate suits. And Kincaid wore that suit with his own black leather belt at least three times a week during the summer.

“Y’all came to get them titties, scown?” Kincaid asked, like he was ready for nakedness. “The car right over here.”

We walked about twenty yards down the road and we were right next to the car. Kincaid was looking funny, like he was laughing or something.

“What you laughing at, Kincaid?” I asked him.

“You know I always be laughing, scown,” Kincaid said. “Go ahead and get them Waveland titties.”

“Y’all ain’t coming with me?” I asked them.

“Naw, that’s your preacher’s car, scown,” Kincaid said. “Plus, ain’t no room for three people up in there.”

I went up to the car and looked around to make sure that no one was coming down the road then. “Close the door behind you, scown,” I heard Kincaid say.

Soon as I got in, I saw a picture hanging out of the glove compartment. Shay didn’t tell me that there were pictures in the glove compartment. I figured that if what was under the seat was anything like what I saw in the glove compartment, we were in for the freakiest naked pictures we’d ever seen.

Dangling there was a shiny, slick picture with a creased breast down the middle of it. I unfolded it and saw this whole dark breast that was full and hanging. The picture cut the woman off at the neck and the waist but the breast hung just right, midway down her stomach, and the dark part around the nipple-I didn’t really know what that part was called- was damn near bigger than my cheeks. It was the first time I’d seen just breasts cut off from a woman’s face and even though the breasts were nice, it was wack to just see breasts and no face. But that was the first time I realized that seeing breasts of any kind was like eating pancakes. Even the nastiest pancake in the world was always better than the best stack of toast you could imagine. Still, I hoped the woman who owned the breasts wanted her head cut off from the picture. If not, it was one of the meanest things I could imagine doing to someone.

“I see titties,” I yelled. “Waveland titties ain’t no joke.”

“Go ahead and bring them Waveland titties out then, scown,” Kincaid yelled from way across the street. “Check the glove compartment and under all the seats too. Get all the titties you can.”

I reached under the seat to see if there were any other pictures under there. There were about five issues of King magazine.

“Shay,” I yelled and peeked over the dashboard. “Bring me your phone.”

“Oh. Shay said she gon’ be right back,” Kincaid yelled from way across the street. “She gone! Go ahead and get all them titties, scown.”

“I told you I’m getting the titties, man. Damn,” I yelled back. “I don’t know why you faking like you love some titties anyway,” I said under my breath.

I was about to raise up when I heard a weird noise coming from the glove compartment. I hadn’t looked all the way in the compartment, but I hoped there would be at least ten more naked pictures up in there. I stretched out and pulled the compartment open with my right hand. All I saw was a map of Melahatchie. I pushed the map to the side to see what else was in there.

Wasps. Big wasps.

I jumped out the window of the passenger side of the car and the wasps stung me all upside the head.

Kincaid was across the street just laughing his ass off, recording it on Shay’s cell phone.

I did it for y’all, I thought as I ran home. I did it all for y’all.


(BOOK ONE, pages 103 – 106)

When I made it home, Grandma wasn’t there. I was swelling from the stings, but I realized this was my chance to see if that white man was really in the work shed. Grandma kept the key to the shed on her key chain that was on the dresser under her old wigs. The key chain had a million keys on it. Plus, she had this heavy pocket blade connected to her keys. She never let me hold the blade, but you could tell from just looking at it that it could slice many necks if need be.

I took the knife and Grandma’s keys and slowly made my way out to the work shed. The shed was covered in off-white vinyl siding and, like Grandma’s house, it was raised off the ground by cinder blocks. There were two words written on the shed but they had been scratched out with a black marker. Every kid who ever saw the shed said it looked like the color of a second-grade writing tablet. You couldn’t tell how much of the off-whiteness was bought and how much of it came from just being dirty. There were no windows, just four baseball-sized holes in the back, way up at the top. Every Tuesday, from sunup to sundown, my granddaddy used to sweat up a storm in that shed. Tuesdays and Sundays were my granddaddy’s only off days. Tuesdays, he’d make tables, chairs, and cabinets out of wood. Sundays, he’d drink until he couldn’t see straight enough to use anything he’d made. Grandma took all the saws out of the shed when my granddaddy drowned, but she left all the sawdust, wood chips, and cinder blocks on the floor. I liked to mess around in there, knowing I was walking on the same sawdust my granddaddy walked on.

After my granddaddy drowned, Grandma put a deep freezer in the shed filled with ice cream and animal parts. On the walls were these wooden shelves stocked with jars of pickles, preserves, pigs’ feet, and just about anything else Grandma could think of to can. If you ever got hungry, there was always something in that shed to eat, and it was probably going to be something super country like pickled pigs’ feet or raccoon. Or ice cream sandwiches.

Two little steps led up to the door of the shed. When I stepped on the second one, I heard some rattling and then four slow thumps. I looked back at Grandma’s house. The back door and all the windows were open.

The shed key turned and I was in.

On the floor of the shed, lying in the fetal position, was Sooo Sad, covered in dried blood, sweat, and sawdust. He smelled like rotten butt hole and piss, too. All he had on were white underwear and mismatched church socks. His legs were chained together from the knee to the ankle and his hands were handcuffed behind him. His hairy back had these softball-sized blue splotches on it.

“Aw, man,” I said to myself and closed the door behind me. I could see his back and belly heaving in and out so I knew he wasn’t dead. I touched his belly with my index finger and he started scooching away from me.

“Why you in my granddaddy’s shed?” I asked him. “And why your belly so hard like you pregnant, man?”

He didn’t respond, so I kicked him in the back really gently. “I said, why is your belly so hard? I’ll kick a hole in your kidneys if you don’t turn around and answer me.”

Quick as a match, the man turned as best he could. His mouth was stuffed with a grimy sky-blue-and-white rag. Sooo Sad looked different in the fetal position, with chains wrapped around his legs. He looked a lot smaller, and I don’t just mean smaller in size; I mean smaller in everything.

I got on my knees and got closer to his face. Up close like that, I saw that his thin lips were long. They reached out farther than Grandma’s lips and connected with these frown lines that didn’t really frown. And his eyebrows looked like some hyper five-year-old girl had gone HAM on him with one of those jumbo red crayons.

Without thinking, I grabbed a few hairs from his eyebrows and yanked as hard as I could. I figured he’d try to scream, but he just looked me right in the eye and started blinking slowly.

“What you do to my grandmother?” I asked him. “She wouldn’t have done this to you if you didn’t do something to her. You try to kick her in her back and call her a nigger, too?” | started flexing like I wanted to hit him in his mouth. “If I take that out of your mouth, what’s gonna happen?” I asked him. “Will you yell?”

He shook his head side to side.

“My name ain’t ‘nigger,’ you know, like you said it was. Nobody’s name is ‘nigger.’ My name is City. Really, it’s Citoyen. Folks down here call me City.” He still didn’t say anything. “But you probably knew that if you saw the contest, which I’m guessing you did since you made all those jokes and kicked me in my back. You know that if you had known my name is City in the first place, you wouldn’t be bleeding and stinking up this shed.” I took my pointy finger and pushed him right in the middle of his head.

It was so hard to look at his eyes ’cause neither one of them looked like it was looking at me.

He started using his eyes to direct me to his left side.

“What?” I asked. “What you want?”

He kept looking down toward his side. I pushed him over and looked beneath him. “What? Where’d this come from?”

There was a book beneath him with the cover facing down. I picked it up and turned it over. “Is this a joke?” I asked him. “How’d this get in here?” It was Long Division. “Is this my book? Or are there two copies?”

He looked at me and nodded his head up and down.

“Something about this ain’t right,” I said to him, and myself. I thumbed through the book to see if it was the same one I was reading in Grandma’s house. “You know where Baize Shephard is?”

He shook his head side to side, then rested it back on the sawdust.

I sat a few feet from Sooo Sad and decided I’d read a few chapters of Long Division before I left. It seemed like the right thing to do to a white man who had just been tortured by at least one person I loved.



(BOOK TWO, pages 199 – 220)

After Mama Lara disappeared down the road for her morning walk, I went back and brought my new computer and book out onto the porch. I knew Mama Lara would know I’d stolen the computer if she saw it, and she’d think Long Division was something kids shouldn’t be reading since the word “nigga” was on the very first page. As cool as the book was, it still wasn’t as cool as the computer, and I wanted everybody who walked or rode down Old Ryle Road to see that I had something they could never have.

I’d been typing on the computer and waiting on the porch for Shalaya Crump for thirty minutes when I saw a person out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head toward the Night Time Woods and saw the person jump back into the woods. I was never scared of those woods, or of the Shephard Witch, to tell you the truth. I kinda didn’t believe in witches or magic. I figured it was just Shalaya Crump trying to play me for a fool.

When I got all the way into the woods, it felt like one of those dark dreams where you watch yourself get eaten by a bucktoothed ghoul before waking up. I pulled my sweat rag out from my back pocket, closed the laptop computer, threw the book on the ground, and got ready to pop a buck-toothed ghoul in the forehead if one stepped to me.

Anyway, as soon as I took about three steps into the woods, I had to pee. One of the best things about coming down to Melahatchie for spring break was that I got to pee outside. I found a dusty area near the Shephard house where I could try to spell my name.

“Hey, boy,” I heard a deep froggy voice say from behind me. “What you got in your hands?” The voice sounded like it was coming from behind a box fan. I didn’t even plan on turning around, but I did just to see the face that was carrying a voice like that.

The only white boy I’d ever seen with a fro was this old dude on PBS who made vou fall asleep and dream about floating while he painted the finest in bushes and clouds. But this white boy had the same kind of fro. He wore a puffy blooded sweatshirt with bleach stains on it and “Fresh” across the front in green letters. The sweatshirt was way too big for him but he had it tucked in these nice sky-blue pants that were a mix of jeans and slacks.

I angled myself so he wouldn’t see my privacy while I was crossing the Tin my name.

“Ain’t trying to see your johnson,” the boy said. “Relax.” I shot my eyes down to his feet and these glowing green fat laces in his All Stars. “What you looking at?” he asked me. “You some kind of queer kid? If you are, you are. Just like to know what kind of man I’m talking to.”

“Um, I like booties,” I told him. “I like girl booties.”


“Naw. Booties,” I told him. “I like booties. Big ol’ girl booties, and boobies too, I guess. But mainly booties. You wouldn’t know nothing about that.”

“You like big ol’ girl booties?” He knelt down, tried to stop himself from laughing, and brushed his shoes off. “Where you from, buddy?”

“Chicago, man. I’m down here for spring break because folks stay shooting folks too much in Chicago. I’m in a gang, though.” | was so nervous and I was being so raggedy with my lies and I had no idea why. “What about you, with that fro? White boys ain’t supposed to have fros like that.”

“Ain’t white. From a little bit of everywhere, though,” the boulderhead boy said. He started coughing and eyeing my laptop computer. “Where’d you get that contraption in your grip anyway?” He wiped his mouth.

The white boy’s bottom teeth were so crooked that they zigzagged, and he had the chappiest top lip I’d ever seen in my life. It looked like frozen vanilla frosting was just sleeping on that thing. And his nose was closer to his top lip than it should have been, so it looked like he was constantly smelling his own chappy frosting. The skin on his face was so Saran wrap-tight, too, that the head and jawbones damn near burst right through his skin. And I hate to gross you out, but there were a few scabbed-up scars on the top-right side of his face that jutted out like raisins. To tell you the truth, I kinda wished I had some scabs like that on my face so I could pick them off before I went to bed.

“This is a laptop computer,” I told him. “What’s your name?”

“Evan,” he told me. “That’s what they tell me.”

“They? What’s your last name?”

“Altshuler. What’s the date?”

“Like aw shucks?” I asked him. “Man, your name, it don’t make a lick of sense. It’s 1985. March. You from the future? 2013?”

“Naw, I ain’t from no future.” He pointed past the Shephard house, toward Belhaven Street. “I’m Jewish.”

Evan’s eyes opened up big after he said that, like he expected me to say something mean. I was kinda surprised, because I never met a person who said they were Jewish before, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t have a clue what it really meant. Since we moved to Chicago from Jackson last year, I heard the word a lot more, but people used the shorter version, “Jew,” and sometimes it was a noun and sometimes it was a verb. In elementary school, I heard about Adolf Hitler torturing Jewish people and how some of them got hanged and drowned in Mississippi back in the 1960s for trying to help Black folks get the right to vote, read, and pee in the same bathroom as white folks, but that was it. I didn’t know what to do with this boy saying he was Jewish when he just looked like any slightly deformed white boy to me.

“Can I ask you a question?” I tried to change subiects and come back with a question that might make him stop looking at me so hard. “Is it okay if I ask you why you look so sick? And not even just sick. I’m saying you look crazy dusty. How old are you?”

He looked at the ground and mumbled, “Fifteen. Just told you that I ain’t white.”

“My name is Voltron,” I told him. “Folks call me T-Ron.”

“No it ain’t,” he said. “Citoyen is the name they give you. Folks call you City.”

“What did you just say?” I asked him.

“I know who you are,” he said and stepped closer to me. “Your name is Citoyen Coldson. You was born in Jackson and moved to Chicago two years ago. Your mama dropped you off at your Ma-Maw’s house yesterday. And you lost your granddaddy, your Ma-Maw’s husband, in these woods. Right over yonder.” He pointed toward the Shephard house.

“I gotta go, man,” I told him. “Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s not that you’re Jewish. It’s just that I don’t like the look in your eyes. You can understand that, right?”

“You need my help, City,” the boy said. “Let me show you something.”


“The past.”

“The past what?”

“I need to show you the past,” he said. “Listen to me. We can change it.”

I couldn’t figure out how Jewish Evan Altshuler knew anything about my mama, my Mama Lara, or my granddaddy disappearing. It was something that only the truly craziest of white characters on a crazy show like Fantasy Island would say. Shalaya Crump always said that truly-crazy-white-folks talk always came before truly-crazy-white-folks action. And Mama, Mama Lara, and Shalaya Crump always told me that if you popped someone in the head who was white and crazy, you could go to jail for life. So l had to be careful with this dusty white boy.

“Oh really,” I said. “The past, huh? I hear that. That’s nice to hear. So nice. And um, I want you to show me that past, but I’m finna go home first and eat me a bologna sandwich. You want me to bring you one?”

I started walking backward toward Old Ryle Road, but Evan walked toward me. “I’m serious, City. You need to see this. We can stop it. Come back with me. That house,” he pointed to the Shephard house. “It used to be a Freedom School. You know what a Freedom School is?”

“Yeah,” | lied. “I know. It’s a school where they teach freedom.”

“They burned that school down to the ground with our families in it. Yours and mine. They took their bodies over to the–“

“So,” I interrupted him, “you want some Sandwich Spread and mustard on your bologna sandwich, right?” And with that, I turned toward the road and sprinted like Carl Lewis until I was all the way out of the Night Time Woods, away from the craziest white boy I’d ever seen in my life, and back on the porch of my Mama Lara’s house.

I wasn’t on the porch longer than two minutes, wondering how much of what Jewish Evan Altshuler said was true, before Shalaya Crump opened the door to her trailer. She had an unwrapped package of saltines in one hand and a cold drank in the other.

Shalaya Crump walked to the middle of Old Ryle Road and stood across from my porch, sipping on a cold drank. I thought she’d come over to my porch immediately. Instead, she took a big gulp of cold drank, gobbled up three saltines at once, then walked down the road and hopped in the woods.

I figured Shalaya Crump was gonna go in the woods and wait five minutes for me to follow her. When she saw that I didn’t come after her, she’d shamefully walk up to my porch and we’d talk about my new laptop computer, my new book, and how she was jealous of the girl with the greasy forehead. Or, I figured she’d come out screaming after seeing Jewish Evan Altshuler’s ugly face.

I waited and waited and waited for her to come back to my porch. After twenty minutes, I don’t know why, but I was sure that Shalaya Crump was never coming back out of those woods.

I stood up and got ready to go find Shalaya Crump when the worst thought in the history of thoughts just smacked me in the back of the head: What if Jewish Evan Altshuler and Shalaya Crump travel through time together like superheroes and have lots of babies the color of cheap graham crackers?

That thought stretched out for two minutes and some seconds until I remembered that I’d never ever heard Shalaya Crump say anything sexy about white boys in the seven years I’d known her. Even when this one white boy named Parker Vincent, who looked like a pudgy Michael J. Fox, moved to Melahatchie from Memphis and all the other girls said they’d never mess with a white boy but if they did, they’d mess with Parker Vincent, Shalaya Crump told me, “I wouldn’t mess with Parker Vincent or any white boy on earth, not even if I was white and white boys were the only boys left on earth. I’m serious. I’d start liking girls before I did that.”

I walked back in the woods twenty minutes later with my computer and Long Division to find Shalaya Crump sitting on the ground with her legs crossed. She and Jewish Evan Altshuler were messing around with that calculator-looking thing I’d stolen from Baize.

“That’s a phone,” Shalaya Crump told me as she started pushing more buttons. “I figured it out last night but I can’t get no reception.” She put it up to her ear and kept saying “hello,” but no one an-swered. “I know it’s a phone,” she said to both of us like we all knew each other.

“That ain’t all that cool,” I told her.

“Better than it is now,” she said. “I’m tired of sneaking to use the phone all the time. You know how big of a deal it is if you have your own phone in your room? Imagine if you had your own phone that you could take with you everywhere you went. I wonder if you gotta pay for long distance with it?”

“Hell yeah! Why wouldn’t you? And who you talking to on the phone long-distance anyway, other than me?” I asked her. “I thought–“

Jewish Evan Altshuler interrupted my question and started talking to Shalaya Crump about something called a “bell boy” and “area-to-area calling.” Shalaya Crump tried to explain to the white boy what the buttons were for on a phone, because he’d only used the slow-mo rotary kind. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make him understand how long distance, beepers, buttons, and answering machines worked.

“Show it to me one more time if you don’t mind,” he said. “Just the part about how you can tell someone you ain’t home when you ain’t home. They can leave a message that you can hear on your phone?”

I would’ve been laughing at Jewish Evan Altshuler’s dumb ass, but I wasn’t thinking about him being a country white asshole. I was thinking of how I had never seen Shalaya Crump sit like she was sitting. She was leaning back on her hands and when she wasn’t talking about phones, she was just listening to him. Kneeling right next to her on one knee was that sick-looking Evan. I couldn’t figure out how they ended up in that position, with him kneeling and her sitting, in only thirty minutes.

“I reckon I need to see the answering machine working to understand it,” he told Shalaya Crump. “But listen, we can save all three of the folks I told you about. Just gonna need your help for one day. Y’all can make it back before the sun goes down.” As I walked closer to them with my computer in my arms, Jewish Evan Altshuler looked up at me. “We need you too, City,” Evan said.

“You know that hole we went in yesterday?” Shalaya Crump asked me. “It’s not just a time tunnel to the future, City. He thinks–“

“My name’s Evan,” he interrupted.

“Evan thinks there’s one in 1985, and that there’s one we went to in 2013, and there’s one that we ain’t even seen to 1964.”

“This white boy is lying to you,” I told her.

I was getting tired of Jewish Evan Altshuler. It messed with me that he knew my name and that my granddaddy disappeared in those woods, but that I didn’t know nothing about his life. That’s not even what messed with me most, though. When I looked in Evan’s face and eyes, I couldn’t see fifteen years old. His face was timeless in a terrible way. It looked like a face in a book that I would never read.

When I looked at Shalaya Crump’s face and eyes, I could see how I thought she looked during every year of her life. I swear that I could look at Shalaya Crump and see her as a four-year-old girl straight running all the kids in Head Start. And thinking about it right there, and watching her, I understood that it was Shalaya Crump’s eyes that showed me her age more than her face. Sometimes, Shalaya Crump’s eyes stayed big as dirty silver dollars and they didn’t blink for minutes. When they finally blinked, you would think you were in a tiny bathtub with a ton of hummingbirds ’cause they blinked so fast. Other times, Shalaya Crump’s eyes looked right at me, blinked slow, and made me feel like I was jumping off a space mountain onto a trampoline of clouds drawn by the baddest artist in the world. It’s hard to explain, but I swear a lot of it had something to do with Shalaya Crump’s eyes and how slow and fast they blinked at the same time.

If I could see all that in Shalaya Crump’s eyes, you’d think it would be pretty easy to see something like that in Jewish Evan Altshuler’s eyes, too. But this dude’s eyes were so tired, so droopy, and so blue that it was hard for me to believe that he was fifteen ever. I mean, he looked thirteen or maybe even ten in the body, but his face looked like it had died a long, long time ago. Jewish Evan Altshuler looked like he had spent all of his years getting punched in the eyes by bucktoothed ghouls with the boniest fists you’d ever seen in your life.

And I just couldn’t figure out how a white boy who looked like that could get the attention of someone as magical as Shalaya Crump.

“Ain’t lying,” Jewish Evan Altshuler said. “And I ain’t white. I told you, I’m Jewish. I’m a Jew. Born right here in Melahatchie in 1948. My uncle Zachariah and his family live right next to us.” He looked at me. “You from Chicago, you said. My cousins go to temple every now and again ’round over at Beth Israel on the West Side. You know where that is?”

“Can you hold on?” Shalaya Crump asked him. “That would make you thirty-seven years old?”

“Fifteen years old. Be sixteen next month,” he said.

Jewish Evan kept talking. He explained that in 1964, his family was one of a few Jewish families from the area who wanted Black folks to have the right to vote and go to schools with decent books. He claimed that our granddaddies and his uncle and brother didn’t just disappear. He said that all four of them were run up on in a Freedom School, and they were hanged and burned by “people acting like they were the Klan.”

“Wait,” I said. “What do you mean by ‘acting like’ they were in the Klan?”

“Folks who got them were dressed like they were in the Klan, but it wasn’t really the Klan,” he said.

“Why?” Shalaya Crump asked him.

“I don’t mean no disrespect. It’s just that in my life, I seen clear as day that there ain’t really no ‘why’ when you dealing with the Ku Klux Klan,” he said.

“Yeah, but you just said we ain’t really dealing with the Klan,” she said.

“Get your lies straight, man,” I told him. “You said we were dealing with folks who dressed up like the Klan.”

“What I know is–“

Shalaya Crump interrupted him again. “There’s always a ‘why’ Evan, and what you saying don’t make no sense at all.”

“Exactly. I know it sounds crazy as a four-eyed dog,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet. But it’s supposed to happen tomorrow.”

I just stood there waiting and wondering if there was more to his crazy story. “Okay,” I said, “but I still don’t get why we should go back and risk our lives to save folks who we think are dead anyway.” I looked over at Shalaya Crump. “What you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I don’t wanna wake up in the future and wish we would have done it.”

“But do you want to do it?”

“I mean, City, we’d want someone to come save us today if we knew we were gonna be dead tomor-row. Shoot, that’s a fact, right?”

“But would they?” I asked her. “Would your grandma even do that for you if some white boy who called her a ‘Negro’ was the one telling her to do it?” Shalaya Crump was looking all in my eyes and I was so focused on what I was saying that I couldn’t even try to spit game in front of her. “We don’t know nothing about them old dudes, and nothing about no Freedom Schools and nothing about no Klan. All we know is the Klan ain’t nothing to mess with. You told me that!”

“It’s not the real Klan,” Evan said.

“Does it matter if they kill Black folks the same way the real Klan does?” Shalaya Crump asked him.

“The Klan killed Jews, too.”

We waited for Evan to say more, but he just held his mouth open, kept both hands on his hips, and kept swallowing his own spit. I grabbed Shalaya Crump by the hand. “Shalaya Crump, we lived our whole life this far with no granddaddies. Think about it. I don’t know if we somehow got stuck in a dumb book or movie. Right now, I feel like we supposed to say, ‘Golly, let’s go save the grandfathers we never knew.’ But like you always say, life ain’t no book. This is real life. In real life, do we really need our granddaddies?”

Shalaya Crump laughed and actually looked at me like she thought I had a point. Then she looked over at Evan and flicked her gum at his feet and started doing these weird toe raises. “City’s right,” she said. “We don’t know a thing about having granddaddies. Even if we did, I mean, what happens if we change our future by changing the past? It’s impossible to not change the future if you change the past, right? More would change than just us having granddaddies.”

Shalaya Crump was always taking the best thing you ever said and then adding something even better to it to make the best thing you ever said sound pretty bootleg. I understood what she was say-ing. Even if we saved our granddaddies and Evan’s folks, what if it changed everything and we ended up not being born?

“Listen,” Evan said, “you’re both right, but I know the future.”

“So what!” we both said. “We do, too.”

“Then you know that the future has to be changed? Look.” He looked at Shalaya Crump. “I know what happens to both of you.”

“You do?” Shalava Crump jumped in.

“He’s lying, ‘Laya.” It was the first time I had ever shortened her name to Laya. “How can this goofy white boy know what happens to us or even know the future if he can’t even understand how an answering machine works?”

Jewish Evan Altshuler ignored my question and got right in Shalaya’s face. She kinda backed up. “| promise if you come back and help me, I’ll tell you what happens to you in the future. Not only that, I can change what happens to you. I know what happens to your parents in the past, too.”

“You lying?” Shalaya Crump asked him.

Jewish Evan Altshuler cut his eyes to me before focusing on Shalaya Crump. “Ain’t much to look at. I know that. Can you listen to me?” He actually grabbed Shalaya Crump’s pinky. “I know so much more than you think I do. I give you my word, Shalayer Crump. Both of you.”

“Oh God,” Shalaya Crump said and took her pinky back. “Just promise. Don’t say you give your word.’ That’s so Ronald Reagan.”

“Hell yeah,” I said and fake laughed. “And it’s Shalaya, not Shalayer.”

I wanted to fight Jewish Evan Altshuler so bad right there, but I could tell by the way Shalaya Crump’s eyes didn’t blink and by the way she was looking at his crusty lip and feeling sorry for it that we were headed to 1964. Shalaya Crump was gonna go back whether I went or not. That was a given as soon as the dude said he could help her find her parents in the past and find herself in the future. And if I didn’t go, I was pretty much admitting that it was okay for her and Jewish Evan Altshuler to start loving each other til the end of time. You think I’m crazy, right? Well, I know that you can’t travel through time with a girl and save folks from the Klan and not kiss them unless you’re slightly deformed or unless you smell like death. And even then, there’s still gonna be some serious grinding going on. Serious grinding.

Shalaya Crump got in the hole first. Jewish Evan Altshuler followed her. I followed him. Before I closed the door, I looked around at the woods and zeroed in on the Shephard house. “Wait,” I said. “Who is that?”

I wanted to tell Shalaya Crump that there was a dark outline of someone watching us from the Shephard house window, but she wouldn’t have believed me, since she knew I was the only one of us three that didn’t want to go to 1964.

“Never mind,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” | lowered myself under the ground with the laptop computer in my left hand and Long Division in my right hand and closed my eyes.

When we pushed open the door to 1964, the air was thin and you couldn’t even see Old Ryle Road because everything was so thick and green. Right in front of us, where the Shephard house used to be, was a building that was only half-painted yellow. Evan told Shalaya Crump that we were looking at a Freedom School.

“Should we go over there?” Shalaya Crump asked him. “What’s the plan?”

“I reckon our plan is to make sure the Klan in Melahatchie don’t ever kill again,” Jewish Evan Alt-shuler said. “I can get us some rifles.”

I looked at Shalaya Crump. “I told you that this white boy is crazy and he gonna get us killed. Didn’t I tell you? You see how he changed up his whole style now that he got us where he want us?”

“Wait,” Shalaya Crump said. “Hold up. Why didn’t you say something about killing white folks before you got us here?”

“I didn’t think of it until now.”

“White folks are the sneakiest people on earth,” Shalaya Crump said in a whispery voice, but loud enough so Evan could hear.

“I’m not white.”

“So you’re sneaky because you’re Jewish, then?”

Jewish Evan Altshuler just started huffing and puffing before finally saying, “Thought you were different, Shalayer Crump.”

“Different than what? And don’t say my name if you can’t say it right.”

“Different than anti-Semitic,” he said.

“Antiseptic?” I asked.

“Anti-Semitic. Your li’l girlfriend right here hates her some Jews.”

“I’m too big to be any boy’s little girlfriend. That’s the first thing,” Shalaya Crump said. “I’m a Black woman.”

“Top to bottom,” I said. “Top to bottom.”

“You’re a fifteen-year-old girl,” Evan told her. “Ain’t no woman. Trying to tell me that I’m white when I know I’m Jewish, ain’t you? Reckon I can tell you you’re a girl when you think you’re a woman.”

Jewish Evan Altshuler kinda had a point there, but I couldn’t agree with him.

“All I did was ask you if you were sneaky because you’re Jewish,” Shalaya Crump told him. “Anyway, a question can’t be wrong, especially if I ask it.”

“Is your head on right?” Evan asked. “That’s ’bout the dumbest thing I ever heard. Y’all don’t know nothing about Jews, do you?”

I expected Shalaya Crump to give him an A-plus speech about Jewish people, since she always seemed like she knew at least a little bit about everything. But she didn’t say a word.

“Evan,” I told him. “You ain’t gotta get so sensitive, homeboy. There’s more stuff to talk about than ‘Jewish’ stuff.” I looked at Shalaya Crump to see if that’s what she wanted me to say. “Right? It’s shade tree to bring us here and expect us to take out white folks for you. It just is. You know what would happen to us if we killed white folks?”

“Exactly,” she said.

Evan closed his eyes for damn near fifteen seconds and shook his head side to side. That was the first thing he’d done since we’d been together that really made him seem a lot older than us. “First of all, you got some colored Jews out there, too. Y’all know what these white folks do to Jews, no matter our color, if they find us out over ‘cross Highway 49 after dark?” he asked.

Shalaya Crump and I were quiet.

“They slaughter us,” he said. “Y’all don’t know a gotdamn thing.”

“Wait. What did y’all do to get slaughtered?” Shalaya Crump asked him. “And who slaughtered y’all?

Ain’t the word ‘slaughtered’ kinda so Chicken Plant?”

“Six million of us. And one million children. That’s not so Chicken Plant. That’s exactly what happened to my people, Shalaya.”

“But what else?” she asked him. “Why would white people slaughter other white people for no reason if there was colored folks around for them to slaughter?”

“Why you saying ‘colored’ now like him?” I asked her. “You know we don’t talk like that.”

“Because I don’t just mean Black. I’m saying that if there was Black people and Indian people and Chinese people and Mexican people around to slaughter, why would white people pick other white people?”

“Yeah, fool, obviously it’s more than being Jewish,” I told him. “You claim Jewish, right? And look at you. You ain’t slaughtered.”

“City, you’re really ’bout the most ignorant bastard I ever met.”

I stepped to him then, but Shalaya Crump grabbed me. “Step out that hole and let me show you how ignorant I can get,” |told him. “I know Jews are white. How about that?”

“If we was just white, how come…”

“I don’t know,” | interrupted. “I don’t know what you were gonna say and I don’t know why white folks do half of what y’all do. All we know is that whether you Jewish or not, y’all get off for whatever y’all do to us.” | looked at Shalaya Crump, who looked really proud of me. “That’s all we know. Shit.”

“I’m trying to tell y’all best I can that y’all are wrong,” he said. “Once they know who we are, we never get off. They killed six million of us and they’re killing us now over here if we don’t act right.”

“But that’s the point,” Shalaya Crump said. “We ain’t white like you. You can be Jewish and white or you can just be Jewish or you can just be white. Either way, you said it yourself. You gotta not act right to get killed. What do we have to do?”

“I’m not acting right now,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying.”

“No matter what, we can’t be killing no white folks,” I told him. “That’s all /’m saying. This is the stupidest conversation I ever heard of. I don’t even know why we talking to you.”

“Y’all are sorry as hell,” Evan said and looked at both of us. “I’m trying to help you.”

“That’s something else I don’t understand,” Shalaya Crump said to him. “If six million of your people got slaughtered and you know how time works, why not go back and help them?”

“If I could, I would, Shalaya.” I really hated hearing him say her name. “I can go travel to three places, the same three as you can. Somebody out there can travel back and help my people, though. Just not me. Or maybe they already did. Maybe it woulda been worse.”

I looked back and saw Shalaya Crump looking right in Evan’s face again. I figured she was going to say something sweet to him after that heartfelt end of his speech. “You were so right, City,” she said in the most calm, loving, and empty voice I’d ever heard her use. “This is a waste of time. Let’s just go home.”

After a while, as much as I wanted to hear Shalaya Crump slap the nasty taste out of Evan’s mouth, I started to get lightweight bored. They kept going back and forth even though Shalaya Crump said it was time to go. You can only listen to people call each other sorry and antiseptic for so long before it makes you wanna cut your ears off.

I hopped all the way out of the hole and started walking toward Old Ryle Road with my laptop computer under my arm and Long Division in my hand. It was weird, because even before you really completely saw Old Ryle Road, you could tell that it wasn’t a road. It was all dirt and rocks, and it was a lot thinner than the road in 1985.

When I reached the edge of the woods, I peeked through at what should have been my grandmother’s house. The house wasn’t there. In its place was a little country-looking store with two cold drank machines and a gas pump. The store had these red letters taped on the door that spelled THE COUNTY CO-OP.

“City,” I heard Shalaya Crump say behind me, “don’t say nothing to no one out there. This ain’t how I wanted to change the future. When you come back, we’re going back home.”

I ignored Shalaya Crump and stepped all the way into the road. Down the road, all those clean and organized houses and yards made me think of how the future wasn’t gonna do them too many favors. There were probably half the houses and trailers that were there in 1984. Mama Lara’s house wasn’t there but Shalaya Crump’s trailer already was.

I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I went across the street to the Co-op to ask people if they’d heard of the Coldsons. If our house wasn’t there, I just wanted to know where we lived. Plus, I had my own plan.

Evan was stupid to think that we had to kill people. I knew I wasn’t supposed to talk to anyone, but my plan was basic. It was to convince my granddaddy to watch out for the Klan if I got a chance.

That’s it.

It was that simple. Either my granddaddy would believe me or he wouldn’t, but at least he’d know. All my time coming up with plans in my GAME book helped me know how to get from point A to point B with the least amount of stress.

While I was peeking in the dusty window of that Co-op, a sorry-sounding “meow” scared the mess outta me. I looked around and there was this skinny black cat with a fat head looking right at me. It had a thick collar around its neck with the words RED NAVAL on it. You know what’s crazy? I had never ever seen a cat in Melahatchie in my entire life. Never. And I never thought anything about it. There were more limping Dobermans than there were people, but you never saw a cat.

Anyway, the cat came closer to me and just kept meowing. “I ain’t got no food for you. Is your name ‘Red Naval,’ or is that like the name of your owner? What?”


The cat came closer and I backed up.


I put the computer down facing the cat. The cat just walked right around the computer and got even closer to me.


“Oh, you talking noise? Don’t be mad because you don’t understand how to use it.” As I was talking, the cat walked off toward the side of the building. Before it turned the corner it meowed louder.

I looked toward the woods and into the Co-op, then walked toward the edge of the building, following the cat. I turned the corner of the Co-op and didn’t see the cat anymore. But there were two doors on the side of the Co-op. The first door was closed and it said WHITES ONLY-KEY IN FRONT. Scratched under the word “front” was the sentence “Nigger-loving Jews ain’t wanted here.” I tried to open it but it was locked. The second door, which was cracked open, said COLORED. I walked toward the door and was about to poke my head in when the cat came out and meowed again.

“I wish somebody would try and tell me I couldn’t do number two in that white bathroom,” I told the cat. “I don’t play that.”


“I’m serious. If that white folks’ bathroom was open, I swear to God I’d go in there and get to dooky-ing right in that sink.”


“I don’t care if it is a white folks’ sink. I would be smearing dookie all on the mirror and everything! I ain’t from here. I’m from 1985. I don’t play that mess.”

I stood there waiting for the cat to meow again, but it didn’t. It just stood there looking at me. I realized when I stopped talking all big and bad that a heavy whiff of sad like I’d never felt before was getting closer and closer to my neck. Reading about my family and other Black folks not being able to pee in a good bathroom was different than seeing a white folks’ bathroom locked and a colored bathroom just open for anything that wanted to come in. It said “colored” on the door, but it might as well have said cats, spiders, possums, coons, and roaches, ’cause it was open to them just like it was open to us.

The cat took me all the way to back of the Co-op, where there was this rusty clothesline with white sheets hanging on it. Right there in the middle was this one scraggly Doberman doing the do to this other fatter Doberman. They weren’t making no barks or no moans. They were just doing it like they were the last dogs on Earth.

The cat walked up about a foot from the Dobermans and sat on its hind legs. Then it started looking back and forth between the Dobermans and me. I can’t really blame the cat. I’d seen dogs doing it be-fore, but this was different. I would have bet my new computer and book that they wouldn’t be doing it like that if they were doing it with any other dogs. You never think of dogs being in love, but those dogs were. They really were.

While I was watching those dogs, as crazy as it sounds, my body started to feel like I was watching Porky’s. The Dobermans weren’t even that cute as far as dogs go, either. I didn’t like how the dogs were making me feel, so I started stomping and yelling, but they kept doing it like no one was screaming. All around the back of the Co-op were these little jagged gray rocks. They were too little to really throw far or hard, but they were good enough to hit a dog in the head if you threw a handful of them.

I cocked my arm back and dotted the heads of those Dobermans with gray rocks. The scraggly top Doberman got off the bottom Doberman real slow and they both just looked at me, along with the cat.

And I swear the cat licked its paws and actually said in the smoothest voice I’d ever heard in my life,

“Wow. You a real fat asshole for that right there. You don’t know better than to throw rocks at love?”

“You talk?” I asked the cat. Right then, I wondered if everything I’d experienced in the last day and a half was a dream, or if somehow, some way, I’d gotten trapped in someone else’s story.

“Don’t even worry about what I do,” the cat said. “You should probably get your fat ass to running, though.”

I slowly turned the corner and headed back toward the woods to find Shalaya Crump and Jewish Evan Altshuler. When I looked over my shoulder, all three beasts were sprinting at me, led by the cat, whose head looked less fat when he was sprinting.

I took off.

They were getting closer, but I jumped the ditch and landed in the woods. I scratched up my face, my legs, and the computer, but I didn’t even care. When I got closer to the hole, I wanted to tell Sha-lava Crump about the Dobermans and the talking Red Naval cat and the colored bathroom. As I got closer, though, I didn’t hear Shalaya Crump and Evan arguing at all. I figured I’d look in the hole and they’d be right there, wrestling or playing Mercy or Thump in a way that would make me wanna throw up.

I walked all the way up to the hole and peeked down in it. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I was in 1964 all by myself.



(BOOK ONE, pages 107 – 115)

On Sunday morning, Grandma and I got in the Bonneville and headed to Concord Baptist Church at a little past eleven in the morning.

Nothing made sense.

I had found out that there were actually two Long Division books, the one I kept in the house and the one I decided to leave in the work shed with Sooo Sad. But the existence of at least two books was less confusing than the words in the books.

Maybe the book wasn’t a book at all, I thought. Maybe the book was the truth. If it was the truth, I had to figure out what it had to do with me. And if Baize wasn’t actually missing, but maybe just time traveling, that meant that Sooo Sad hadn’t really hurt her at all.

“City,” Grandma interrupted my thoughts while turning down the radio, “when you get saved, act like you got some sense. You hear me? Whole lotta folks get saved and it take them an entire life before they start living by God’s word. That’s them ol’ deathbed conversioners, them ol’ heathens trying to get to heaven a lifetime too late.”

I told Grandma that the car smelled like something died in the back seat and asked her who she was talking about. She ignored the comment about the smell and said that she wasn’t talking about anyone in particular.

When we made it to the dirt parking lot of Concord Baptist Church, the Bonneville stopped and Grandma swiveled her neck toward me. With her eyes a-twitching and mouth a-moving, almost in slow motion, Grandma said, “Okay now, City. It’s eleven forty-five. We still got time to send you up for altar call. Don’t act a fool up in here.”

Grandma and I walked into the church hand in hand. “Your hand’s wet as a wash rag, City,” she said.

“Don’t be scared.”

“I ain’t scared,” I told her.

I wasn’t lying. I stood there looking through the window at the congregation. Scared was in my mind, but it was way in the back closet. In the front of it was this excited feeling of walking into church and having all those folks treat me like the celebrity I was. Right beneath that feeling was another kind of wonder. I didn’t wonder about what was going to happen as much as I wondered about what the white Jesus above the pulpit was thinking.

I wasn’t sure if the white Jesus who my grandma had been praying to all this time was the same one above the pulpit, but even if he wasn’t, I still wondered what he thought about Concord. I wondered if white Jesus felt jealous about the way the men marched in like penguins, sweaty thighs and armpits wrapped in these black suits shining like armor. Even better were the girls who had their dresses dipping and diving like new fluorescent kites.

Deacon Big Shank, the dude in charge of all the ushers, opened the door to the sanctuary. He always kept one arm behind his back. He one-arm-hugged Grandma and shook my hand. Deacon Shank whis-pered, “We seen you on TV the other night, Little Citizen.”

He couldn’t pronounce my real name, so he called me “Little Citizen.” He had called me that ever since I was like seven years old. “Your granddaddy smiling, son.”

I stood in the back, looking around the church, feeling crazy lost. Uncle Relle was already in the church, filming it all on one of his cell phones. Part of me was still lost in thoughts of Sooo Sad while another part of me was lost in the way Mama Troll was playing that organ when a little chirpy black bird flew right past my face.

It looked like there was a whole family of chirpy black birds in a nest up in the top of the church. They’d take turns swooping down during the service. It was cool because they never pecked or shitted on anyone’s head or clothes. They just swooped and chirped throughout the whole service. The only time those birds would stop and chill was when Lily Mae did that Holy Spirit Shake or near the end of Cherry’s sermon when Troll brought back that damp funk on the organ.

Reverend Cherry stood up and said, “Thank ya, choir.” He paused and looked at the congregation and said, “We are blessed.” Then he breathed all heavy in the microphone, like he was about to stop breathing.

Reverend Cherry’s whole style was thick cane syrup mixed with lightning and lard. It really was. He had that sleepy, slow, dripping voice. Sounded like burning Bubble Wrap was up in his throat. His voice matched his sleepy left eye. You know how people with one sleepy eye look stupid, but smooth and in control at the same time, especially when they blink? That’s how Cherry’s left eye and voice were. Both looked and sounded real different and stupid at first, but you never felt sorry for him, and after hearing and seeing his face a lot of times, you wanted to have a voice and a sleepy eye like his.

His voice wasn’t all slow so that you thought his bread wasn’t done. It was slow on purpose, the slow where he was always in control of the next word that oozed out of his mouth. The thing that really made Cherry so special, and so damn strange, was that the old joker never said “uhhmm” or “Uhh” or “I mean” or anything like that. Never. Not even when he was sweating and grabbing his sacks and spitting on folk and doing the death breaths during his sermon.

I was sitting there fanning Grandma when Reverend Cherry made eye contact with me.

“Sister Coldson, could you send your grandbaby, City, up here to read the gospels for the church?Everybody in here already knows that City let them folks get him into a niggardly predicament a few days ago.” The congregation clapped and amen’ed. “When you seen the video, didn’t it remind you how we been missing him at Sunday school? Didn’t it, church?”

Cherry tucked his chins into his neck, held the Bible under his arm like a football, and inched toward me. He didn’t blink one time and he didn’t look at anyone in the whole church but me. I tried looking down but Grandma elbowed me in my rib cage.

I damn sure didn’t want to, but I stepped to the cone-looking microphone and read anyway.

The congregation wasn’t smiling like I wished they would’ve, so I kept reading. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man;”–I never really knew how you were supposed to pause at those semicolons. I always thought I read through them too fast, but Mama wasn’t there to correct me, so it was okay. “But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to hear it.”

Cherry took the Bible from me and closed it. Then, even though he was talking to me, he walked over by the microphone, looked at the congregation again, and said, all slow, “Thank you, City.”

I hated when people said thank you just so people other than the person being thanked could hear it. I stood there beside Cherry. He had his paw on my shoulder. I glanced at Grandma. She was looking so proud.

“Awright. Amen. Little City’ll be entering God’s army soon, ain’t you?” I just looked at him. Didn’t nod or nothing. “Thank you, City. Go ahead and sit your smart self down.” He pushed me in my back.

“I hope y’all listen to what City just read,” Cherry said. “The Lord say that you ain’t run up on no temptation no different from nobody else. Listen to what he sayeth. He sayeth it’s a million different folks in this world. Black. White. Asians. Indian. Jews. Women. Mexicans. Whatevers. Mens. Gays peo-ples. Whatever you is, you got the same temptations as the next man and as all men that done come before you. But ain’t but one way to escape them temptation, is it?”

Everybody started saying “Yeah” and “Only one way, chile.”

Cherry kept going. I was into it, I think, because I had read it. “And the same voice, that Lord’s voice, makes the escape possible if you what?”

Silence. Pews started squeaking and wrists were popping from all the fanning.

When folk didn’t know what to say, they said, “W’hell.” When he asked questions–I’m not even lying–Grandma was the only one in the church who could answer his dumb questions right every time.

“Hear it, Cherry,” Grandma said. “Lord say you got to hear it.”

“That’s right, Sista Coldson. Y’all hear what Sista Coldson said? You got to hear it, church. You ready? I don’t thank y’all ready to hear it. Y’all ready to listen? Y’all ready to hear it, not just for yourself but for our baby, Baize Shephard? We gotta hear it for the babies who ain’t here to hear it for themselves. Y’all ready?”

The church roared “Yeah” and “We ready, Rev.”

“Church, somebody in here, if it wasn’t today, maybe it was last Sunday or the Sunday ‘fore last or maybe even a Sunday last year sometime, but whenever it was, you woke up and said to yourself, ‘Self, I sho’ do want to do the right thing.’

“Naw, lemme tell y’all another way,” he said. “You woke up and said to yourself, ‘Self, I need to go to church.’ Then you thought about that comfortable bed, that box fan blowing that good air on your face. You wanted to come to church. You say you wanted to come to church. Then, that voice crept up in that right ear and said, ‘You need to go to church. It will help you. It will help the community of God. Go ahead and get your wretched tail on up.’ But temptation was already up in that left ear and it made that head get real heavy, didn’t it?”

People were laughing their asses off now. I wanted to elbow myself in the head for laughing, too.

“All that temptation made that head so heavy,” he said, “like a watermelon, or a sack of sweet potatoes. Heavy. So so heavy. Then it fell back on that pillow. Bam! And you said, ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I’m sick. Uhh. I’mo come next week. Next week.’ Only thing is…” Reverend Cherry slowed down a bit. “… next week wasn’t promised. Next week ain’t never promised. All we got is the moment and yesterday. Tomorrow ain’t guaranteed. We know that better than any of these folks.”

Reverend Cherry sped up again. “But you wanted to come to church, you claim. You knew what was right and you wanted to do that. Church, Lord don’t deal in no wants. Lord coulda carried you to church that day, but that ain’t his way. Lord give us the power to make sense of all this noise around us. Lord give us a way to slow down the noise and see everything that’s in it. Lord give us a way to recollect this chaos. And the Lord deal in what is. Lord give you the ability to do the right thing. Lord tell you what to do when you standing in front of a sea of white folks and they want you to act a fool. Ain’t that right, Li’l City?”

He looked right at me and started yelling.

“Open up your ears! ‘Lot of us got our arms open and stretched out to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit because that’s the pose we thank He want to see, but our ears ain’t open. We are steady posing, but who we thank we faking out? You can’t fake out Jesus. He unfakable, City! Them folks got you joking and jiving, acting like you ain’t got good sense, but the Lord ain’t going nowhere.

“Jesus speaketh in many tongues, but he always speaketh so you can understand. Always find you, no matter where you at. I say always! You might hear it in a deep voice. Somebody else might hear it in a little light voice. He might sang to you. He might throw it at you in sign language or maybe even one of them ol’ rap songs.”

The church was loud as hell, half laughs, half amens. Lots of claps. Then silence, no squeaks in the benches, no wrist-popping, just Cherry’s voice and Troll’s wet quilt.

“Or his voice might sound like mines do right here, right now.” Cherry slowed down. “Whatever it is, open up your ears. It’s there. He tried to tell us where our baby, Baize Shephard, was. But we ain’t listen. We ain’t wanna seem crazy!”

“I ain’t crazy,” a voice shouted.

“Who out there ready to open they ears to the right voice? Who out there ain’t crazy? Who ready to save our babies so that Baize and the rest of our children won’t be lost in vain?”

“Right here, Rev. I hear it,” another voice shouted. “Right here, praise Jesus!”

“Come on up here, if you ready to open your ears,” Rev said. “Can’t open them ears without opening them heavy heads and hearts. This ain’t no sometimes thang. Sho ain’t. This a life thang. This here is a Lord thang! Come on up here if you ready to be part of this Lord thang. Come up here if you tired of faking out the Lord.”

“I’m ready for this Lord thing,” my voice shouted. I was standing up, clapping like a seal. I swear I didn’t remember telling my voice, my hands, or my legs to move. “I love your sentence style, Rev,” my voice yelled again. “I knew better.”

“Come up here then, City,” Reverend told me. “If you really ready to give that life and soul to Jesus, come on up here. This ain’t no sometimes thang, City.”

Grandma pushed me up there, but she didn’t have to. I hoped that four or five folks who Grandma called heathens would come up to the front of the church with me.

“Wait, Reverend Cherry.” I didn’t know if Cherry could hear me but I spoke to him anyway. “I just said you had smoove sentence styles. I’m really not trying to be all about that Lord life, though.”

No one could hear me on top of all that mess. Finally, Ren and Raygord, the two grandsons of Deacon Harper known for having good hair, came up there with me.

Reverend Cherry looked at the deacons on the right and the ushers in the back and said, “Raise your right hand, sons. Tomorrow, at our First Monday Baptism, do you give yourself to the Lord? Are you ready to be saved by right? Tomorrow in the holy waters of heaven, do you..

I looked at Grandma before glaring up at white Jesus again. I wondered if any folks in the church knew about the cross-eyed white man in Grandma’s work shed. I wondered what they would think about my grandma’s relationship with the Lord and with right if they really knew. If they ever found out, maybe two of them would talk smack about my grandma, but I figured that everyone in the church had been treated like a visitor on their own road, in their own town, in their own state, in their own country. It wasn’t really complicated at all, but I’d never understood it until right then in that church. When you and everyone you like and everyone who really likes you is treated like a pitiful nigger, or like a disposable nigger, or like some terrorizing nigger, over and over again, in your own home, in your own state, in your own country, and the folks who treat you like a nigger are pretty much left alone, of course you start having fantasies about doing whatever you can not just to get back at white folks, and not just to stop the pain, but to do something that i didn’t understand yet, something a million times worse than acting a fool in front of millions at a contest.

One sentence.

That one sentence had the potential to be the greatest sentence I’d ever thought of, and I wished LaVander Peeler was there to hear it and help me figure out what the last part actually meant.


Everyone dropped hands and we made our way out of the church. I walked out feeling that my First Monday Baptism might be the last thing I ever experienced. Whether it was because I was going to die during the baptism or because I was going to be some wack holy dude I never imagined being, I didn’t know how I could live another day as myself after that baptism. Either way, I figured I needed to go home and write a will in the blank pages in Long Division. If I did die, I wanted to give something to all the folks I was leaving behind.


(BOOK ONE, pages 116 – 120)

  1. I leave my Pine wave brush to LaVander Peeler.
  2. I leave my XL mesh shorts to Shay.
  3. I leave my grown-folks books to Shay and Kincaid and a few of my illiterate kids’ books to MyMy.
  4. I leave my cell phone to my grandma because she needs one even though they don’t ever get decent reception down here.
  5. I leave my essays to Mama.
  6. I leave my vintage Walter Payton jerseys to LaVander Peeler.
  7. I leave my new book to Grandma because she taught me how to read.
  8. I leave my Obama Loves the South T-shirt to Shay.
  9. I want to leave my spot on that TV show to Grandma, too. She’d be better than I ever would be. And if Grandma won’t do it, I leave it to that Mexican girl from Arizona, the one who I should not have dissed.
  10. I leave my password to my email, Twitter, and Facebook to my Uncle Relle. It’s W-H-0-S-T-A-N-K

In the middle of my will in Long Division, I smelled Sooo Sad and got that feeling that someone was looking at me. I turned around and there was Uncle Relle filming me with one of his cell phones.

“Oh hey, Uncle Relle. You smell funny.”

“Funny how?” he said, and he put one of his hands in his pockets. “Don’t worry about how I smell, City. Keep doing you, like I ain’t even here.”

“It’s hard to do me when I know you’re trying to record me doing me,” I told him.

“Well, you better get good at acting like you’re doing you in the future. The reality TV shit, it’s about acting like the camera ain’t there. You can’t be looking all in the camera and making faces.” Uncle Relle turned his phone camera off and put it in some leather case he kept on his belt. “It’s a few basics that I think you haven’t really ingratiated yourself to.”

“You mean gravitated to?”

“Just listen, City. Close that gotdamn book.”

I closed my book and braced myself for another one of Uncle Relle’s speeches.

“This writing thing, it ain’t like that hip-hop shit, City. For li’l niggas like you,” he told me, “this writing thing is like a gotdamn porta potty. It’s one li’l nigga at a time, shitting in the toilet, funking up the little space he get. And you shit a regular shit or a classic shit. Either way,” he said. “City, you gotta shit classic, then get your Black ass on off the pot.” He actually grabbed my hand. “You probably think I’m hyping you just for the money. It ain’t just about the money. It’s really not. It’s about doing whatever it takes for you to have your voice heard. So I don’t know what you’re writing in that book you always carrying around, but it better be classic because you ain’t gonna get no two times to get it right, you hear me?”

“I hear vou.”

Uncle Relle put Grandma’s keys on the stove next to all this German chocolate cake she’d made. He told me he had some phone calls to make so he was about to walk down the road and try to find a sig-nal. That was his way of saying he was going to buy some more weed from Alcee Mayes.

When Uncle Relle walked down the road, I decided to go look in the work shed again. Before I went out to the work shed, I found this little battery-operated CD player that Grandma took outside with her whenever she hung up the clothes out on the clothesline. The only song Grandma listened to while she was hanging up clothes was this Halona King song called “Monsters in the Night.” I had no idea what other songs were on that CD because “Monsters in the Night” was the only song Grandma ever listened to or liked that wasn’t gospel. She’d play it on repeat over and over and over. Sooo Sad didn’t seem like the kind of white dude who would like Halona King, but I figured he might want to hear something other than squeaky mice and bullfrogs since he was chained up in that work shed all by himself.

Sooo Sad was lying facedown in the sawdust of the work shed. He had these bloody welts up and down the tops of his butt cheeks. Lying next to him was a half-empty bottle of pepper sauce.

“My uncle came in here and beat you down?” I asked him as I turned on the CD player. “I thought maybe you’d wanna listen to something. You like Halona King?”

Sooo Sad’s chest was heaving in and out. “You okay? Look, I might decide to save you tomorrow. For real. I mean, if I don’t die at my baptism. I’m serious. You want anything?”

He started trying to turn over. To the left of his hips, on the floor of the work shed, were the words “So sad…” written in the sawdust on the floor. It looked like he’d used his finger to write those two words and three dots.

“Damn man, you wrote that? Why did you add the dot-dot-dot? They use that a lot in that book. I can’t even lie to you, that’s one of the saddest things I ever seen in my life. I guess I’m sorry my uncle beat you, but you shouldn’t have called me names and kicked me. At least not in the back.”

He started trying to talk but you couldn’t hear anything but muffle since his mouth was filled with that rag. “Shut up and listen,” I told him. “If it helps, I’ve seen him be mean to folks who wasn’t even white. For real. Well, don’t think I’m gay, but I’ma pull your pants up and leave. It’s too sad up in here.” I turned my head so I wouldn’t smell him too much. “Kindly pause,” I said and pulled his underwear up all the way on his butt with the tips of my fingers.

“Look, man.” I picked up the copy of Long Division that was still right where I’d left it on the floor. “I know you gotta be bored as shit up in here. I’d be bored and sad, too, if all I had to look forward to every day was sweating and breathing in sawdust and having someone like my uncle beating my ass.”

I thought about those two words: “So sad “

“You know that I never told anyone on earth that l’m so sad?” I told him. “I’m serious. Even after all that stuff happened on TV the other day, I never thought to tell someone that it all made me feel so sad. But that’s the truth. That’s what I felt.” For the first time since I’d been in the work shed, I thought about Baize Shephard and whether she was chained up in someone else’s work shed. I didn’t think she was, but you just never could tell. “I wonder how sad Baize Shephard is right now.”

He actually turned his eyes toward me when I said that.

“This book is crazy,” I told him. “You want me to read you a little of it? It might help you feel less sad. Is it wack for me to read to vou while that music is playing?”

Sooo Sad didn’t move.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I told him. “Remember that. Sometimes the glass is full as hell, white bov. You better drink. I’m trving to help vou out.”

It might sound weird to you, but even though I hoped that I would never do anthing that could lead to my being chained up in a work shed, if I was chained up in a work shed, feeling so sad, I would have wanted someone to read a chapter of a book like Long Division to me with Halona King playing in the background.

So that’s what I did.



(BOOK TWO, pages 221 – 254)

In the movies or a dumb book, I knew that I could look down at the ground and follow footprints to see where Shalaya Crump and Jewish Evan Altshuler had gone to, but the problem was that I’d never seen a real footprint. There wasn’t much sand or even dirt in Chicago or Jackson, and when there was, I can’t say that I spent even a second looking for somebody’s footprints.

I walked over to what Evan called the Freedom School. To the left of the door was a tilted black cardboard sign with white letters, a dot-dot-dot, and an exclamation point.

Be a FIRST-CLASS Citizen


I peeked in the window at three people covered in sheets. They were walking around the inside of what looked like an old-fashioned classroom. There were three desks in the middle of the room. The ceiling was super high and you could see birds’ nests all at the top. The floor was part carpet, part wood, part tile, and all around the corners of the room were wooden sculptures and saws and pictures. The men in sheets weren’t wrecking the room or trying to set anything on fire. They were just walking around, looking at the walls, talking to each other. I was zoning out when all of a sudden, I felt a shot to the back of my knees.

I turned around and another man in a white sheet was poking me in the kidney with a T-ball bat. I still didn’t drop the laptop computer or the book. I’d seen plenty of movies about people in the Klan. In the movies, they always talked in those rough country voices that are only ever used by Northern white men actors playing Southern white men. But in real life, the men weren’t saying a word. They didn’t even grunt. They didn’t even breathe loud. I never really understood before that Klan sheets didn’t have mouth holes. You would think that they had to breathe heavv unless they wanted to suffocate under those sheets.

When they pulled me into the school. they sat me in an old-fashioned desk I could barelv fit in. The men walked around and circled me. One of them reached down for the computer, but I didn’t let it go.

“I ain’t letting this go,” I told him. “I’ll give you this book, but I can’t give you this computer, man.” He pulled his sheet up and showed me the barrel of his rifle. “Oh, but you know what? I’ma show you how to turn it on,” I told him. “Did any of y’all see this pretty Black girl and this other white boy with a fro who looked… he looked… um, not good. His name was Evan. He was your color and…”

Before I could finish, one of the men slapped me right across my mouth and looked me right in the eyes. I couldn’t see his eyes because he had on glasses. I looked at all the men’s eyes for the first time and realized that they all had on glasses under their sheets.

“Just so you know,” I told them, “that’s the first time I ever let someone hit me in my mouth. I’m serious. And if you didn’t have that gun, I’d probably pop that old ass right in the jaw. I’m serious.”

Another man slapped me right across the mouth after I said my piece. My problem was that I’d seen so many pictures of Klansmen. The pictures made you know that the men under the sheets were real men with real stinky breath, real rotten teeth, real potbellies. I figured it was like football. As soon as you put on your helmet and shoulder pads and your jersey, you were like everyone else on your team, especially to people watching. Our football coach, Coach Foots, wouldn’t even let us have our names on the backs of our ierseys because he said the team is more important than the player.

But even dressed in the same uniform and with no name on the back of your jersey, the GAME was filled with seconds where it was up to you to make a play. Not your teammate.


I knew that each of the Klansmen was feeling fear and trying to figure out a way to seem less afraid than he was to the other teammates on his Klan squad. But when you’re getting the taste slapped out of your mouth for no reason, it doesn’t matter if the person doing the taste-slapping is probably just as scared as you. And it makes you feel weird that no matter what, the taste-slappers never talk… they just breathe like new asthmatics and watch you. It made it easier to believe they lived their whole lives behind those white sheets, slapping Black kids up and never breathing right.

“I wanna be honest with you,” I told them.

One of the men was looking at the laptop computer and playing with the keys. He tapped the shoulder of the one who was standing over me and he bent down and started looking at the laptop computer, too.

“Look, I wanna be honest. You know what that is? That’s a computer.”

They didn’t say a word. “A laptop. I can get you three of them, but first, you gotta let me go and you gotta let me take that one with me.”

One of the men stood up after I said my speech and stood over me. “I’m serious. I can get you whatever you want. I’m good at stealing. Computers, telephones, color televisions, tape players, penny loafers, Bibles, tickets to Fresh Fest. I know y’all lackin’ in 1964. Just tell me what you need.”

I held my hand out. “Look, let’s go ahead and shake on it. I’m serious. This book… how about I give you this book, and you let me go?”

The Klansman who slapped me in the mouth a second earlier looked at the book and actually reached for it. I pulled it away from him and, without hesitating at all, he reared back and hit me in my head so hard that the blood in my mouth tasted like canned spinach. I was on that floor tasting all kinds of spinach when I heard, “Nigger, you talk too damn much…” I couldn’t hear anything except the crunch of his work boots stomping my legs to mush and the echo of nigger.

Everybody I knew, at one point or another, had called someone “nigger,” but I never heard the “er” when we said it to each other. It was just something that all of us said. We didn’t mean it to hurt each other and we didn’t mean it to make someone feel lucky. It was like the only word that meant lucky, cool, and cursed at the same time. But when that white man behind that sheet called me “nigger,” I heard all the “er” and I knew when he said it, he thought I was not just less than him, but less than a human. Or at least, he was trying to really convince himself.

In 1985, every little thing we did in front of white folks had to be perfect, according to Mama Lara. And if I acted like I wasn’t perfect around them, Mama Lara would tell me to go get her switch and she’d give me twelve licks. I didn’t know if Mama Lara had ever been beaten by a white man in a sheet. I did know she had walked by the locked white folks’ bathroom, though. She had seen and felt what I was feeling in that Freedom School, whether she’d had her legs stomped to rubber bands or not. I wondered if Jewish Evan Altshuler’s people knew the same feeling.

I was trying so hard not to scream when the door to the school busted open and Jewish Evan Altshuler and Shalaya Crump rushed in. One of the men who had been looking at the computer ran toward Evan. And you know what that boy did? Evan pulled out this long wooden BB gun and just started shooting at the chests of the whole Klan. I figured that the Klansman with the real rifle was gonna shoot us all in the head, but he didn’t reach for it at all.

Shalaya Crump came over near me and helped drag me out of the school. She let me rest a lot of weight on her, but I didn’t wanna put too much weight on her because she’d know how heavy I really was.

“I’m okay,” I told her. “But they got Baize’s computer.”

“We’ll get it later. We gotta get outta here.”

Shalaya Crump didn’t say a word until we got to the hole. I tried to let her get in first but she didn’t want to. “City,” she said, “let me help you.”

I got in the hole and she looked back toward the school. I peeked my head out of the hole and all three of the men had their hoods off, and one of the men was whupping Jewish Evan Altshuler like he was his grandma or something.

“That’s his uncle,” Shalaya Crump said.

“What?” I backed away from the mouth of the hole to give her room to get in. “Just come in the hole and tell it to me more when we get home.”

“We can’t leave him, City.”

“Listen to me. I saw a talking cat, Shalaya. For real! And I saw this colored bathroom. We don’t belong in a place like this. We ain’t built for this.” Shalava Crump looked back toward the school. “Please let’s just go home. Please! I went to 2013 for you just like you asked me. Please.”

I couldn’t see what was happening but I heard Evan screaming and I heard what sounded like wet open palms slamming down on someone’s back. “You’re right,” Shalaya Crump said. “Scoot back and give me room to get in.”

I crouched and made more room for Shalaya Crump. It was the first time I’d been in the hole by myself and I’m not sure why, but it seemed bigger and colder than before. I was crouched for a good ten seconds, but Shalaya Crump didn’t get in, so I stood up. “Come on, Shalaya. Let’s go.”

She looked me right in the face. “I’m sorry, City,” she said. “It’s for the best.” Shalaya Crump slammed the door to the hole shut.

I pushed open the door of the hole slowly. Before my eyes could adjust to the light, a pine cone bounced right off my forehead. “I knew you’d be back. Gimme my damn computer, and my book!”

It was Baize.

“Where am I?”

“You know where you are.” She snatched Long Division from my hands. “I want my computer, too! And my damn phone.”

“Oh, I didn’t take a phone. I only borrowed your computer.” Baize was wearing the same outfit she’d had on when I saw her before, but with different shoes. She had on these red, black, green, and yellow high-top Nikes.

“Where they at, Voltron? I’m serious.”

“Umm.” I was trying to decide whether to lie or not. “One of my friends has the phone and someone else has the computer.” I looked at her face and, more than anything, I just wanted her to hug me. Sounds crazy, but after getting your legs stomped to dust by white dudes in sheets, you kinda want someone Black to touch you in a way that’s soft. “Okay, look, I’m gonna tell you everything.”

Baize picked up another pine cone and threw it right at my head. “I don’t want to know everything,” she told me. “I don’t even want to know anything from you. I just want my computer back.” She picked up another pine cone and stared at it. “When was the last time knowing everything about something ended up good for you?”

I didn’t know how to answer her question, so I got out of the hole and told Baize how my friend had showed me the hole a few days earlier and taken me from 1985 to 2013. I told her about meeting a white boy who said he could take us back to 1964. And I told her that I needed to go back and help my friend get home alive.

You know what she said after I explained it to her?

“I believe you.”


“I believe you,” she said, “but I still really need my computer back, though. All my rhymes are in there. And I need it for the Spell-Off.”

“You do?” I stood up and tried stretching out my knees. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are all your rhymes in there?”

“Because it’s my computer.”

“Oh. I’m saying, why do you need a computer for a Spell-Off?”

“Because I wanna look at some Spell-Off clips on YouTube. I got this perfect introduction and I wanna make sure they let us introduce ourselves. It’s so dope.”

“Oh.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. “One more question? Well… uh, why do you believe me?”

“Because I know people can disappear.”

“Wait. What?”

“Never mind. Let’s go.”

Baize said that I could come stay at her house until the morning, when her great-grandmother got off work. I told her that I didn’t need to stay that long. Before I limped into her house, she told me to sit down on her porch. My legs were killing me. I just wanted to eat something and come up with a plan to save Shalaya Crump.

“Just tell me,” she said. “Is it us or is it the hole that sends us back in time?”

“You know about the hole?”

“I saw you jump in that hole after you stole my computer,” she told me. “And I got in the hole myself the next day.”

Part of me thought it was just Evan and Shalaya Crump who could time travel. But if Shalaya Crump could time travel and Evan could time travel and I could time travel, and now Baize could time travel, I figured it must be the hole.

“I ain’t gonna lie to you,” I told her. “I think it’s the hole. Can we go inside? I’m hungry.”

Baize’s house and porch were so raggedy that I didn’t really wanna walk in. Super nasty houses always made me itch, even if nothing was crawling on me. The TV in their living room looked like it belonged in Richie Rich’s house, though. It was nearly as tall as me.

“Why your TV so big and nice but your house is kinda, you know…’

“Tore up from the floor up?” she said, and started grinning.

“Yeah, how do you…” I paused to try to get my words right. “How much is a TV like that? Like $2,000?”

“More like $35 a month.”

Baize sat in the one chair in the living room and I sat on the floor. She turned on the TV with one of the three remotes.

Before the TV came on, all these lights went from red to green, then a new version of Soul Train was on, and it was the sound as much as the screen that I couldn’t understand. Soul Train on that TV sounded like life. You know how in life, there’s hardly ever just that one sound you’re listening for? Like even when I imagined Shalaya Crump telling me she loved me, I imagined hearing the wind whistling and a few different car horns behind us and maybe a freight train miles away and definitely some barking dogs. That’s how the sound was on that TV. You could hear people moving their feet and snapping their fingers, and it sounded like the Soul Train line was happening in your room. If everything you saw in real life had the best light behind it, and was polished super shiny, that’s how Soul Train looked on that TV.

Baize gave me the remote and told me that she was gonna make something to eat. “Even if we had a lot of money, we wouldn’t waste it on the outside of our house. That could be gone in a second if another storm came. You want chicken ramen with your french fries and butter beans?”

Baize walked through the other room into the kitchen.

The first thing I did with the remote was check how many channels the TV had. When I pushed below 1, the TV went to channel 1,975. Back in my time, we’d watch TV and say “Ain’t nothing on.” I didn’t know how anyone could ever say “Ain’t nothing on” in 2013. The Flintstones was on. Basketball was on. Soap operas were on. Andy Griffith was on. The Cosby Show and Good Times were on. And PBS shows that looked exactly the same as they looked in 1985 were on.

And on more channels than you could imagine, there were Black women with real JET-centerfold booties yelling and righting each other.

Baize came back in the room and sat on the floor next to me.

“What?” I asked her.

“What, what?” she asked me. “Don’t ‘what’ me in my house.”

“Why you sitting next to me so close?” She didn’t answer, but her hip was touching my left hand. So I moved it and asked, “Is the ramen ready?”

“Almost. I warmed up the biscuits to go with the butter beans and french fries.”

“Okay.” | kept changing the channels. “What happened to real actors and comedians? On all these stations you see people you would see at the mall fighting. And when did McDonald’s start using Black folks on their commercials?”

“I don’t even know, Voltron,” she said. “That’s a good question.” I could tell she wasn’t really listening to me. “Um, do vou wanna smoke?”

“Smoke what? Aren’t you like twelve?” I asked her. “I’m good. You ain’t never heard of ‘Just Say No?'

“Wow,” she said. “I’m thirteen. You should have your own reality show. Keep doing you, Voltron. I’m smoking before I eat.”

Baize walked back toward the kitchen and I just sat there in front of that TV. I hated Baize for smoking without me even though I didn’t want to smoke. After a few minutes I got really curious, though.

I had seen plenty of folks smoke weed and cigarettes, but I’d never seen a girl younger than me smoke.

I walked toward the kitchen and saw that there was a screen door. Sitting on the step on the other side of the screen was Baize. And she had a square in her mouth. Right in front of her was the area where I had seen those two Dobermans doing it. And next to that was a huge, grimy work shed.

“You ever wonder what happened before you in the same place you’re standing now?” I asked her. “Like, I saw this talking cat right around the corner.”

I looked at her and waited for her to ask me to explain myself. “Look,” she said, “let’s talk, but don’t be coming out here messing up my high. Don’t say nothing to me about how I shouldn’t smoke, either. I’m thick and I’m extra and I smoke. Leave me alone.”

“You’re extra what?”

“Just extra.” She took a puff and exhaled it.

“If you ask any girl in Melahatchie about me, they’ll be like, ‘Baize, that b- is extra,’ especially after my song blew up on YouTube. It’s a compliment. I know myself.”

“That’s nice,” I said. “You don’t mind people calling you that name, though?”

“What name? ‘B—-?’ Yeah,” she said. “I mind hating-ass b—–es calling me ‘b—–‘ But my girls, they could call me ‘b—-‘ and I could call them ‘b—–‘ and it wouldn’t be a big deal.”

I just looked at her.

“If you called me ‘b—-,’ I’d get you,” she told me. “I’m just keeping it one hundred. Somehow, some way, I’d have to get you, ’cause it’s hard for boys to really love girls anyway, so I can’t really see letting a boy get away with calling nobody a b—-. Mama taught me that a long time ago. And if a boy did love me, knowing how much it hurt…” She started trailing off. “I don’t know what to say. A nigga who loved me wouldn’t call nobody a b—–. But I don’t even like boys like that anyway.”

“Oh,” I said. All I could think about was how Shalaya Crump whupped this boy, Damon Frazier, to his knees for calling me a “yap-mouth b—-” the summer before last. The whole time she was whupping him, she kept saying, “You gonna respect me.” I thought it was weird she would say that after I was the one that Damon was calling a “yap-mouth b—–,” but it was all making a little more sense now.

“Seem like you thought a lot about that word,” I told Baize. “Can I switch subiects? You ever wonder why people smoke with their hands so close to their lips?”

“Look Voltron,” she said, “no offense but you messing up my smoke, though, for real.”

“Oh. My bad. People still say ‘for real’ around here? You know, you talk like you’re way older than thirteen. Sometimes you call me ‘mayne’ and sometimes you call me ‘boy’ and sometimes you call me ‘Voltron.' ” Baize inhaled more but actually took her fingers away from her lips a bit. “You know why I think you sound so old to me? Because your TV has every age on it. Every age! Like my TV back home, we get four channels including PBS, and you gotta watch all the commercials because you can’t be flipping a lot or your mama and them claim that’ll break the TV.”

Baize looked like she was listening, but she wasn’t. “Whatever,” she said. “You know what was weird when I went back to the past? I was on this same road in my same hood, but no one cared.”

“Why do you just switch subjects like that? I bet when you watch TV, every time a commercial come on, you get to flipping, don’t you?”

“Shut up.”

“Wait. You walked around back in 1985?”

“Hell yeah, I walked around.”

“Girl, that was dumb. Why would anyone back there care? You ain’t even born where I’m from.”

“That’s what I’m saying.” She lit another cigarette. “It’s hard to go back because you see that there was a time when people in the same space where you are ain’t even care or think nothing about you. But somehow, I’m still related to those folks. When I went back, I wanted to see what the music was like and to see if I could find my parents.”

“Did you find them?”

“I was scared to look.”

“Where they at now?”

“Dead,” she said. “I mean, I think.”

“Both of them?”


I had never had someone tell me that both of their parents were dead, and I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to say something to ruin her high, but since I’d never ruined someone’s high before, I wasn’t sure what kind of stuff could ruin your high.

“Man, having dead parents must be like, um…’


“Kinda like having to eat dessert first for the rest of your life and having that dessert be something like, um, pears when everyone around you is eating greasy fried catfish platters and hot peach cobbler, huh?”

That’s all I could come up with.

Baize didn’t say anything. She just kept smoking. “Naw,” she finally said. “Having dead parents ain’t nothing like eating pears.” She blew smoke right in my face. “I only half-knew them. They had me when they were young and they died when they were young. But they loved me.”

“You’re still young,” I told her. She just looked at me and didn’t say a word. “They died together?”

“Yep. We had come back from the swings over there at Gaddis Park. And everyone knew that the storm was coming. So me and my little brother was gonna go stay with my cousins and my grandma and them up in Jackson. So they dropped me off, and went back because… shit, I don’t know why they went back. Never made much sense to me.”

“Then what?”

“Then nothing. I never saw them again.” Baize threw what was left of the square on the grass and mashed it into the ground with her Nikes. “They got swallowed up by the water, I think. Or the wind.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“I know.”

“How do vou know?”

“Because they wouldn’t have left us.” Baize got up, looked down at me, and walked inside the screen door. I followed her. “If I had my computer, I could play one of the songs I made for them after that white man caught me slippin.”

I figured I’d read the words to Baize’s song, but I didn’t want to hear her rap it. It would have embarrassed me too much if she couldn’t rap a lick. I knew I should have been thinking more about her dead parents and what kind of storm could just make people disappear, but I wasn’t. I was thinking of that talking cat and those two Dobermans who just earlier in the day were right where I was looking now, and I was thinking about what Shalaya Crump and Evan were doing. I didn’t think they were kissing anymore. I knew that they were trying to stay alive or fighting to not disappear together, which was even worse.



“What happened to your brother?”

“He disappeared, too.”

“Oh. Wait. Can I ask vou one more question?”


“That wasn’t a real cigarette, was it?”

Baize liked to control the remote, and she never left it on one channel for longer than five minutes. “I usually don’t watch this much TV, but since you stole my computer and my phone, I don’t have a choice.”

“You could read that book.”

Long Division?”

“Yeah, you could read Long Division since you were so pressed about getting it back,” I told her. “Have you read that book? All of it?”

“I read some of it and it made me feel weird.”

“Me too. I like that part where they all got together and listened to that boy talk about that kid LaVander Peeler’s fade. Who wrote it?”

“I don’t know. I told you that I just found it in the woods.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird that there’s no author’s name on it? Is that how they do books in 2013?”

She just looked at me. “That’s what I’m saying, Voltron. There’s something painful in that book. Real painful. And I just don’t feel like reading to the end and finding out what it is.”

“Then why’d you want it back so bad if you weren’t gonna read it?”

“Because it’s mine,” she said. “Whatever is wrong with that book, I wanna be the one to find out before anyone else does. It’s mine.”

“Do kids read a lot in 2013?” I asked her. “Like, in my time, I read a lot because if I don’t, I get my ass whupped. I usually hate whatever I have to read, but when I finish something, I feel so happy. I can’t even lie, though. I probably only finished two books in my whole life.”

Baize was laughing at me. “Nobody around here really reads unless it’s something on a computer, but nobody writes to folks around here, either. But that’s the thing about that book. If I gave it to the most illiterate ass nigga in my grade, I bet he’d at least get through the first chapter, you know?”

“Yeah, I do know,” I told her. “I got through the first chapter.”

“No comment.”

“Why no comment?” I asked her. “I would have read even more of it if I didn’t have your computer to mess with. It’s hard for us in 1985 to finish books, and we don’t even have a thousand channels or phones that look like calculators or laptop computers.” I waited for her to ask me something, but she didn’t. “You know what else? I never typed on a typewriter before. But when I typed on your computer, I felt like what I was typing was famous. It just looked so famous on the screen, like I could have written that Long Division book.”

“Voltron, you dumb. I bet vou only wrote a few sentences. That’s a big-ass book. I ain’t trying to hate, but you couldn’t write something like that. You have to have gone through a lot and then have a lot of time on your hands to do something like that. I don’t even think I could do it.”

“I’m not that dumb,” | told her. “Look. We could turn the TV off and you could just write in a tablet, or we could watch a movie,” I said. When I started talking about watching a movie, Baize muted the TV. I don’t know why, but when she turned down the TV to listen to me, it took my like for Baize from twenty miles per hour to around fifty miles per hour. I tried to keep talking and not look as thankful as I was.

“Are you one of those people?” she asked me. “My father used to be like that. I remember he was always telling my mother to turn the TV off so he could watch a movie or tell some ol’ silly story.”

“Were they good stories?”

She started smiling. “Yeah, they were. You would have liked them.” I knew I was supposed to ask why, but I didn’t really want to. Didn’t matter, though, because she kept talking anyway. “He said a lot in his stories, kinda like you do.”

Right after she said that, there was this white woman on the television with stringy black hair and big eyes and a nose that reminded me of a tiny paper boat.

“Who is that lady sanging all good? Turn it up.”

“That’s Michael Jackson.”

I got closer to the TV and watched different scenes with this person dancing and sounding like Michael Jackson. But nothing about the person looked like the Michael Jackson I knew.


“Yeah,” she said. “He died four or five years ago.” She started scratching her head. “Sorry.”

I slumped on the ground away from the TV and just watched the first part of the show about the life and sound and death of Michael Jackson with my head resting on my shoulder. I thought about Shalaya Crump telling me to just be myself. What did that even mean if years in the future, you could look like a totally different person and be dead? There was no way to be yourself and be the same way you were. And even if you did manage to be yourself, one day you were going to die and regret it all any-way. That’s what I realized while watching the show about Michael Jackson.

“This is real, Baize. This shit is real.” | stood there not caring what I looked like. I understood that if Michael Jackson was really dead, it meant that people I knew were dead, too. “I gotta find my ma and my Mama Lara. What if they disappeared in some flood just like your parents?”

“Tomorrow, okay? Look,” she stood up and took the remote controls from me, “you gotta rest so your legs feel better. Then tomorrow, well…” She paused.


“You gotta decide if you go back and help your friend or if you stay and look for your family. I don’t care what you do. When the morning comes, I’m jumping back in that hole and getting my computer and my phone back somehow.”

“But what if all my family is dead?”

“What if they are?”

“Well,” I said, and thought about her question. “I guess if they’re dead, I’d want to know and maybe when I go back to my time I can do what I can to stop them from dying.”

“But what if you’re dead?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if you go looking for your people and you find out that they’re alive, but you ain’t?”

“Then, well, I guess…” I just didn’t know what to say. “Where am I sleeping tonight?”

“On the floor in my room, I guess.”

I followed her into the bedroom and then I stopped. “Baize?”

“What?” She turned around and looked me right in the eye.

“Is all of New Edition dead, too?”

“New who?”

Baize made a nice little area to sleep on the floor next to her bed. I should have asked to take a shower, but I’d seen when I went in their bathroom earlier that there wasn’t a shower. Couldn’t understand how they had all the technology to get over one thousand channels and make the TV sound like life, but they didn’t have technology to make their tub go from the brown of a double-yolk egg to a somewhat regular white.

I sat there on the floor of Baize’s room and pulled up the sheet to look under her bed. There were maybe twenty green notebooks piled there, and all kinds of raggedy keyboards, drumsticks, and broken turntables. Surrounding all that stuff were these tiny fingernails.

I grabbed one of the green notebooks and opened it. There were all these sketches of connected circles, and surrounding the circles were these long winding lines of the numbers 201319851964 that looked like they were coming out of the circles. I opened another notebook and it was the same thing. Different-shaped circles and long lines of winding numbers surrounding a question in Baize’s handwriting:

How do you get good at love when your family disappeared and every day it feels like you and your friends are getting written off the face of the earth?

While I was trying to figure out if Baize was doing some kind of long division in the notebooks, Baize leaned her head over toward me. “If things start to crawl on you, you can just get in the bed with me, long as you stay on your side.”

“Wait, what’s gonna crawl on me? Fingernails?”

“No, asshole. Roaches.”

“Can I ask you something?”


“Why are these notebooks filled with circles and numbers?”

“They’re not circles,” she told me and took the notebook from my hand. “They’re holes.”

“Holes to where?”

“I don’t know. Never mind, Voltron,” she said. “Just watch out for the roaches down there.”

“Well then, can I just… you know… get up there with you?”

“Don’t get it twisted, okay?” she said and moved over. “I’m really not about that acting ho-ish life.”

“Whatever that means.” I told her and got in the bed. “I been wanting to tell you that the slang y’all use is kinda stale in the future.”

Baize put four of her green tablets between us. She told me that I couldn’t cross over the tablets without getting punched in the gizzard, and I told her not to worry. It’s not hard to explain what I felt about Baize. She had the perfect mix of funk and perfume. And even though she had a Mr. T-style hair-cut, she was cuter than a cute girl. And she was finer than a fine girl. And she was way smarter than a smart girl. And she was even weirder than the weirdest girls. But she wasn’t as good-smelling, as cute, as smart, or as weird as the girl I loved. And even if she was, which she wasn’t, I really told myself that if I didn’t touch Baize, then maybe, just maybe, Evan and Shalaya Crump weren’t touching, either.

I wanted to stay up and ask Baize more questions about life in 2013, but the day had beaten me down. A few minutes after my head hit that crappy pillow, I turned away from Baize and was cold knocked out.

Sometime during the night, I had one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming. Everything in the woods was a different shade of lavender. Shalaya Crump had my hand in hers and she was pulling me through the woods toward the Freedom School. When we got to the door, everything turned black-and-white.

“Why you talking weird,” I asked her, “like this is a stupid book?”

We walked all the way to the center of the room, into the smell of burning hair and pancakes. When we stood in the room, the sound of one of those TV shows I watched on Baize’s TV was surrounding us.

“He’s different than you think he is, City.”


“This guy.” Shalaya Crump pulled out a picture of a white boy I’d seen before on TV. He looked like Ricky’s friend on Silver Spoons. “Evan.”

“That’s not Evan. That boy is way cuter than Evan. Why you using words like ‘guy,’ too? You kissed him, didn’t you?”

“No, I didn’t, but I want to.”

“Wait. This is a dream. I know it’s a dream, but you can’t really think Evan looks like that? For real. ‘Laya, he don’t look like that at all. Why couldn’t you pull a picture out that looked all sick and gangly and like he’s smelling something? You know he’s raggedy as a roach, right?”

Shalaya Crump put the picture in her front pocket and put her hands on my shoulder. I’d practiced kissing her enough to know that I was supposed to put my hands on her hips and come in with my eyes closed and my nostrils kinda flared.

“Open your eyes,” she said, and kissed me on the left side of my lips, then on my cheek, then on my neck. Everywhere she kissed felt like a trail of rubbing alcohol and smelled like butterscotch.

Shalaya Crump was coming back toward my lips. “Do I keep my eyes open?” I asked her. “I ate a banana Laffy Taffy before we got in here. You smell it?”

“Shush.” she told me. “Let’s just do what we want.”

“What if Evan finds out?” I asked her.

“I’m gonna tell my guy,” she said.

“Me, too,” I said.

Shalaya Crump pulled me even closer and took my bottom lip between her lips. Every feeling in my body sprinted between my wide hips. And for just about ten seconds, all those feelings screamed and tried to blow out these candles I didn’t even know were lit. After ten seconds of blowing hard as they could, the feelings ran from my hips back to my feet, my toes, my knees, my eyeballs, and wherever else they came…

When I woke up, Baize was standing up looking at me like I was straight crazy.

“What?” I asked her.

“Nothing, Voltron,” she said. “I just read more of that book while you were sleeping this morning.”


“So nothing,” she said. “Let’s just go.”

We had to get up early enough that Baize’s great-grandma wouldn’t see that I was in the house. She said her great-grandma got off work at eight and went to her second job from nine to two. The plan was to head back to 1964, get Baize’s stuff, save Shalaya Crump, and never ever jump back in the hole again.

Baize was running around the house getting everything ready, so she really didn’t have time to talk to me about what had happened the night before. I waited out on the porch. When she finally came through the door, she had on a backpack and had a little carry case and a brush in her hand.

“What you doing with all the mess? This ain’t no vacation. We gotta go!”

“It’s a diva thing, Voltron. You wouldn’t understand.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Means that you should mind your stanky business, and let this brush touch your beady beads.” She handed me the wave brush. “If I wanna go outta town looking fresh, that’s on me. If you wanna go outta town looking like the number-one driver on the nappy-head truck, that’s on you. Niggas from the ’80s gotta do what niggas from the ’80s do.”

“It’s just that we ain’t going out of town,” I told her. “I bet you brought money, too, didn’t you?”

“Like I said, you wouldn’t understand. If I had some money, I would’ve brought all of it.” | stood there shaking my head. “Wanna be useful and carry my book for me?” She handed me Long Division.

We walked across the road into the woods and headed toward what used to be the Shephard house–what Evan had called the Freedom School. It now had a sign that read “Melahatchie Community Center.” Baize introduced me to a Mexican-looking man named Oscar who had a mullet and a yellow short-sleeve shirt. Oscar held out his hands and gave me some dap. Baize said he worked security at her school, and that he was deaf.

I whispered in her ear, “You know deaf Mexicans?”

Baize ignored me and started throwing sign language with the dude.

After a while, we walked down the hall. “What did you just say to that Mexican dude?” I asked her.

“Don’t call him ‘that Mexican dude.’ His name is Oscar. Please don’t tell me that you’re one of those niggas who stay hating on Mexicans.”

“I don’t know any Mexicans,” I told her. “They seem like they work hard.”

She shook her head. “Dude, just be quiet for a few minutes, okay? I didn’t ask you if they worked hard. Hell, some of them don’t work hard, just like some of us don’t work hard. Don’t you get tired of being such a hater?”

I ignored her question and looked around the center. “So is anyone you know gonna be in the contest with you? This reminds me of that first chapter in Long Division, where the main character.

“Say his name.”

” think his name was City.”

“If you read the first chapter, you know his name was City.”

“Yeah, well I only read the first chapter, so I don’t know what happens, but City and that other dude compete in some kind of contest, right?”

“Right. But that was a crazy contest. This is just a basic real-life county spelling bee. I hope you know how to act around white folks.”

“Girl, I lived in Jackson my whole life until we moved.”

“So what,” she said. “Jackson is way Blacker than Melahatchie, dummy. You stay catching L’s, don’t you?”



“I feel like I’ve done all this before,” I told Baize. I wasn’t lying. Something about the words, the tem-perature, and the sound of what I thought was about to happen felt like it had all happened before.

“You haven’t done this before,” she told me. “You just read something like it before, or maybe you had a dream about it.”

While we walked down the hall, we had to shake hands with people. Well, Baize did. I had Long Division in one hand and brushed my hair with the other. Soon as someone put their hand out for a shake, woman or man, girl or boy, I’d make a fist while gripping my book. I’d never seen that many white people on Old Ryle Road before, and I was surprised that all the white folks we passed knew to give me a pound. I knew it was the future, but white folks in 2013 acted way more familiar with you than white folks in 1985.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Baize,” said this white lady named Cynthia. “Who is your friend?” She took both of our books and said that there were no aids allowed beyond this point. Baize said hold on, looked up two more words, and gave it to her.

“This is my friend, Voltron.”

“Voltron what?” the lady asked. “Did you compete in the prelims? I don’t remember seeing your name.”

“Voltron Bailey,” I told the lady. “I was out of town during prelims.”

“He’s from Jackson,” Baize told the lady. “West side.’

“Well, bless your heart.”

“Yes ma’am. Well, he was born and raised in Melahatchie, but he went up to Jackson after the storm. He’s just back here visiting for the week because of all that gang violence up there. You know how it is.”

“Why’d he say he was outta town, then?” she asked Baize. “Is his mind right, Baize?”

“Yes ma’am. His mind is fine. He’s one of the best spellers in Jackson. He won eighth place in the Jackson Spell-Off last year, didn’t you, Voltron?”

“Yeah, I umm, I made that Spell-Off tap out.”

Baize put her hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Go ‘head and chill with the ad-libs, Voltron. I’m working something here.”

The lady took off down the hall. She kept looking back, though, saying, “Don’t leave. I’ll be right back.”

“Why you lie to that lady?” I asked Baize while we walked into the room.

“Because now I know she’ll let you spell.”

“Why? I don’t even want to spell.”

“Because these folks think Jackson is a shark tank and you’re a Black boy and they want to save you before vou turn into a shark.”

“Wait ” I said. “Who is a shark?”

“Wow! I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in the ’80s,” she said.

The room we walked into was the only place I’d been in since I’d been in 2013 that felt like home. Everything else, from the shiny hubcaps to the six-foot TVs to the music to how folks wanted me to compete in a Spell-Off seemed different. I guess I should describe the room or something since it felt like home, but there ain’t really nothing to say about it except it felt like home. Looking back on a room, you can make up all kinds of flowery stuff about it if you want to, but this room had four dirty walls, a high ceiling, and a dusty floor, and it was empty just like most of the rooms in 1985.

“Let’s do this,” Baize said, and we walked toward the stage.

Even though Baize and I were there together, I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed, I understood on that stage, was just another way of saying I felt alone. It was the first time I’d felt alone since I’d been in 2013 and that was mostly because of Baize.

Right there, though, I remembered that I’d forgotten about Shalaya Crump. Even though I’d dreamed about her, I’d forgotten how I needed her. If Shalaya Crump would have been there, we could have dealt with the cameras and the crowd together. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do on that stage in front of those people. And even more than that, I couldn’t believe I was on some raggedy stage in 2013 when the girl I loved was fifty years away from me, probably doing something fun and nasty with the ugliest boy I’d ever seen in my life.

I couldn’t see anybody in the crowd because the lights were shining so bright. I sat on the left side, third seat from the aisle, and Baize was in the same seat on the other side.

The judge made us stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance. While everyone stood, I walked over to Baize, who stayed sitting. “Look,” I whispered in her ear. “I’m gonna go, okay? Shalaya Crump needs me. Thanks for everything. If I find your computer, I’ll bring it back to you, okay?”

“You can’t leave yet,” she said.

I started walking away from Baize when I heard, “Baize Shephard is our first contestant. I’m sure most of vou know that Baize tied for fifth place in last ear’s Spell-Off. Baize lost her parents and brother in Katrina eight years ago and she actually lives right down the road. In addition to doing her homework, Baize is an aspiring hip-hop performer and entrepreneur. Sounds fantastic. She writes in her bio, ‘If you get it twisted, please tighten it back up, Boo Boo. My name is Baize Shephard, aka the Baddest Baize in Mississippi. I do not need to win the Spell-Off to know I’m special. This is Baize Against the World, not that Akeelah and the Bee life. Hashtag Baize killed swag hashtag my hood to your hood.'

I looked over at Baize and she was frowning.

“Baize, your first word is ‘abnegations.'

Baize stepped to the microphone with her fist clenched, looking down at her red, black, green, and yellow high-top Nikes.

“Um, I don’t know how to spell it,” she said. “I thought we were supposed to introduce ourselves.” Baize walked right back to her seat, still frowning. The crowd and the spellers started clapping in spurts. I was clapping loud and hard as hell for her until they called my name.

“Voltron Bailey, from Jackson, Mississippi, we’d like to welcome you. Voltron has been added as an alternate. He is a special wild-card competitor in our Spell-Off. Voltron was born in Melahatchie but moved to Jackson after the storm hit. As a result of all that gang violence, he is back in Melahatchie, where people know how to act. We expect great things from him. Since you didn’t provide us with a bio, Voltron, would you like to say something about yourself?”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “Back home, we… uh, we say that reading, it’s… umm… it’s fun-da-mental. You know, like, it’s fun and mental, duh. There’s a lot of violence in Jackson but it ain’t a shark tank. I’m serious. If kids had more programs and our parents had more money, I don’t think it would be that violent at all.” Everyone was quiet. I guess they expected more, but I was done playing a role in this dumb Spell-Off. I needed to go find Shalaya Crump. “I’m sorry, but, um, I have to go home. My stomach hurts. I feel like I’m about to lose my manners, to tell you the truth. Listen though,” I said into the mic. “Be nice to Baize, okay? Let her do her bio like you let me do mine.”

No one said a word, so I looked down at my feet as they slid off that stage, and tried not to imagine the looks on folks’ faces as I headed out the door of what used to be a Freedom School.

I wanted it all to be a dream.

I wasn’t out the door more than twenty seconds before Baize came running after me. When she caught me, we didn’t say a word. We just walked toward the hole. During the first minute of our walk, Baize was quiet and I watched my feet miss most of the thin branches that had fallen in the woods. Every time I stepped an inch from a branch, I thought about how I couldn’t wait to tell Shalaya Crump that I had been on a stage in 2013 talking about stuff I knew nothing about.

During the second minute of our walk, every time we passed an ant bed, I thought of all the folks in 1985 who would have been ashamed if they had seen how I represented them. I had looked like a complete fool in front of folks I didn’t even know. I could feel Baize looking at my face too hard while I was thinking. “Don’t worry about it, Voltron,” she said. “How you feel?”

“Why you even asking me that?” I asked her. “I’m fine.”

“I mean, you caught an L,” she said. “No doubt about that. That was a fail and a half back there, but you had your heart in the right place.” She put her hand on my shoulder as we walked. “We should have never come anyway. It was more important to go back and save your friend.”

“You didn’t have to come, though. You should have stayed.”

“Naw, I’m good. I just really wanted to say that ‘This is Baize Against the World, not Akeelah and the Bee’ line onstage. I thought they were gonna let me say it in my own voice. I think it could have gone viral.”

It was weird, because up until that point, I hated any folks who were skinnier than me and taller than me and smarter than me and funnier than me and sweated less than me. And I hated folks from different states and folks who had shinier penny loafers and folks who had rounder heads than me, and folks who didn’t like as much tartar sauce and hot sauce on their catfish as me. But right then, I didn’t even hate those folks. I did, however, hate this future I mean, Klan-hate. After I saved Shalaya Crump, I wanted to do everything I could to come back to the future and make it suffer for helping me embarrass myself.

With all my hate bubbling, we walked to the hole. Out of nowhere, Baize fell to her knees right outside the hole and told me to hold on a second.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“What’s it look like?”

“Looks like vou praying. But why?”

“The question is, why ain’t you praying?” she said. “My parents and great-grandma told me that every knee must bend, especially when you have no idea what’s gonna happen next. You should probably pray with me.”

I looked down at her. “I pray before I go to bed like two times a week.”

“That’s on you,” she said. “Just give me a minute.”

And with that, Baize brought her hands together, closed her eyes, and actually started praying right outside the hole. After a minute or so, I started breathing heavy wondering how much longer this prayer was going to take. Near the end, she touched my calf and said, “Amen.”

Baize got in the hole first and I followed her. While we were in the hole, deep in the dark, Baize grabbed both of my wrists and made her way down to the palms of my hands.

“Baize.” It was the first time I’d called her by her name. “Your eyes open?”

“Yeah, Voltron. My eyes open. Are you scared right now?”

That was the new best question anyone had ever asked me. The thing is, I was never scared of what I should have been scared of. For example, I wasn’t scared of people finding out I stole those Bibles for Shalaya Crump. I wasn’t really even scared of the Klan. I was only scared of knowing that Shalaya Crump could love someone else. Nothing else scared me. And if nothing really scared me, I wondered if anything else really even mattered. Everything else just made me mad or made me embarrassed or made me nervous. But all of those feelings had to do with Shalaya Crump in some way or another.

“Ain’t no reason to be scared,” I told her and took my hands back. “What can people do to you, really?”

“They can make you disappear,” she said.

“Yeah, but then you’re gone. I ain’t afraid of disappearing. I bet disappearing doesn’t even hurt, to tell you the truth.”

“People can mash your heart in your chest, Voltron, while you’re still alive. They can take people from you. That’s something to be afraid of. Stop fronting like you’re ’bout that life, boy.”

I said okay, but I knew people could hurt people way more than Baize would ever know. Shalaya Crump and I had this friend named Rozier. I liked to think about big ol’ JET-centerfold booties for as long as Rozier knew me, and Rozier liked to think about big ol’ boy booties for as long as I knew him. That’s just how he was. The thing about Rozier was that he was the kind of guy who you met and twenty-nine minutes later, you knew he would be better than Eddie Murphy when he grew up. Rozier invented farting out loud in homeroom. He also invented calling people “ol’ blank-blank-blank-ass nigga.” Like if you ate an apple too fast, Rozier would call you an “ol’ eating-apples-like-they-plums-ass nigga,” or if you failed a test, he’d call you an “ol’ watching-Three’s Company-when-you-shoulda-been-studyinq-ass nigga.”

If you called Rozier a name he didn’t like, Rozier could slap you in the face better than any kid in Melahatchie, except for maybe Shalaya Crump. The summer of ’84, Rozier got jumped by some dudes from Waveland. Rozier had embarrassed one of the dudes in front of his family earlier at the arcade. After the boy called Rozier an f-word, Rozier said he’d never met a boy who smelled like sack and dookie through his church clothes. He called him an “ol’ wiping-your-ass-forward-instead-of-back-ward-so-the-dookie-get-caked-up-under-your-sack-assnigga.” He said the boy needed Mr. Miyagi to teach him to correctly “wipe on, wipe off.” Even his friends started laughing, and when the dude got in Rozier’s face, Rozier slapped the boy across his mouth twice with both hands. That’s four slaps right in front of his family. Then he ran.

The boy who got slapped four times got three of his older cock-strong friends to help find Rozier when he was by himself in the Night Time Woods the next day. Rozier slapped the best he could, but they ended up calling him an f-word and beating him down with T-ball bats. They didn’t ever hit him directly in the head, but they crushed his larynx. He was in the woods by himself for a whole day before we found him beaten damn near to death. Rozier ended up in a coma, and one week later, he was dead. Shalaya Crump and I didn’t speak a word about revenge until the night after the funeral.

That night we planned how we were going to kill the boys, and we planned for the whole rest of the summer. I came up with a good plan, too. But that’s the strange thing about planning to kill boys from Waveland with someone like Shalaya Crump. She had the worst temper of anyone I knew, and she hated how grown folks thought that young people were so basic when they were the most basic invention ever, but Shalaya Crump was also the smartest person I knew. At some point, Shalaya Crump realized that we didn’t really want to kill the boys from Waveland.

“We just want them to hurt like we hurt,” she said. Shalaya Crump claimed that in order to hurt the boys, we’d have to “kill some little boy they loved, but not kill them.” And neither of us really had it in us to kill some little Waveland boy we didn’t know. By the end of the summer, all four of the boys involved got sent to juvenile detention centers for five years.

Anyway, I didn’t feel like explaining to Baize how I’d seen Rozier disappear, too, so I just said, “I hear you. You’re right. I should be afraid.” I pushed the door to the hole slowly so we wouldn’t be slapped across the face by the 1964 Klan. By the smell of the air, I knew we were where we needed to be.

“It’s so dark,” Baize said. She was bent over coughing under a magnolia tree. “Everything is so green here, too.” | was busy looking around for the Klan. She kept coughing.

“Look,” I told her, “we can’t play in this place the way we could in 2013. We gotta be quiet and we gotta always keep our head up, you hear me?” I was trying to make my nostrils flare and make lines form in my forehead. “You got folks around here who will slap the taste out of your little mouth if they think you did something small, like farted in a way that don’t smell right.”

“You got people like that back in 2013,” she said and kept coughing. “I’m talking about straight goons.” Baize’s nose was bleeding. She wiped it on her shirt.

“You okay?” I asked her.

“Yeah, I just feel a little weird.”

I was starting to feel a little weird, too, but not in my body. It was more in my head. I guess there were all kinds of ways to say it, but the easiest way was that I liked Baize more and more the longer we were together. And she liked me, too. It didn’t hit me until we got out of the hole that instead of just wanting to get her computer back, maybe she really just wanted to come back with me. I didn’t want to like her too much, though, because of Shalaya Crump. I could never like her as much as I liked Sha-laya Crump, but still, if I liked Baize too much, I knew Shalaya Crump would be able to tell, and then everything would be ruined.

“Get all that sickness out of you,” I told her. “They got these Red Naval cats around here. And those things will come after you and start talking if you don’t watch it. And these folks here, they don’t even dress like real people.” I picked up a few acorns and tossed them at the base of the tree. “All you can see is their eyes, and if you joke with them, they love to make you suffer.”

“That’s better than it is back home, where them goons look just like you. I’m serious. Female goons get to hating on you, too. The most basic of b—-es wanna fight you for being glamorous and focused.”

“Did you really just say that?” I asked her. “Hard head makes a soft glamorous ass. You gonna be begging to get stomped out by a female goon after the Klan gets ahold of you and throws you up in that colored bathroom with one of them Red Naval cats.” | threw an acorn at her forehead. “You laughing now, but when they start choking you out, don’t say I didn’t tell you.”

“Damn, Voltron,” she said, “can you not hate for like the next five minutes? Damn!”

We walked toward the Freedom School and peeked in the window. There was this slim, light-skinned lady talking to a tired, greasy-looking Black man. The lady was walking around pointing and yelling and holding some paper with her back to us. The man was facing her, sitting at a desk and laughing.

“Who are those people?” Baize asked me.

“I don’t know. Be quiet.” I looked harder. “Is something wrong with that lady’s face? I can’t tell. Just stay behind me”

“Whose babies y’all is?” the lady turned around and asked when we opened the door.

“We ain’t babies,” I told her. I looked at Baize and she looked back at me.

“I’m City and Shalaya’s baby,” Baize said, stepping forward. “But I stay with my great-grandmama.”

DMU Timestamp: March 30, 2023 18:12