Survivor File

Mitchell S. Jackson

You’re out one night at the weekend hotspot off too many straight shots to count and therefore the kind of faded you think manifolds your funny when you hear a guy you don’t know say Blood to cap a sentence. Damn, I didn’t know niggas was still gangbangin’, you say, and hunt the nearest faces for mirth. Don’t nobody smile nor laugh, and in fact dude smacks you upside your dome as if your joke was a cue. In an instant, the two of you take to tussling inside the club—while neighborhood dudes whose account could damage your rep bear witness—and you best him before being wrenched apart and bounced outside. He paces one way. You pace the other. And in the distance between you lies the tacit truth that the animosity is in no way squashed. The next day, your friend is hosting your brother’s moving-to-New-York barbecuefishfry and you show up hours prior, dump a shoe box carrying your Uzi and a 9mm on the living room table, and shout to the group of gathered men and God, I heard niggas was looking for me. Well, let niggas know, I ain’t hard to find. Somebody gone die! In your midthirties, you’ll bust one shot near, but just near, your father inside your crib, not to kill him, but to discourage him from discouraging you against prosecuting what might be your last ballistic beef, but on this day, you’re in your late twenties, which in this case, is plenty old enough to die. You stomp out of the house and slam yourself into a car driven by your ride-to-beyond-good-sense girlfriend. Your brother calls and cautions you against doing something you’ll regret and furthermore against returning to the barbecuefishfry. Hours after his call, you flout your disinvitation, which is to say you show up and stalk the yard with a waist-tucked 9mm bulging under your T-shirt, and a scowl that ain’t got no place near anything festive. You see a dude who witnessed your scuffle the night before, a dude who’s a friend of your new foe, and you flash your 9mm and threaten him into the basement. You lay your pistol in plain view and seethe, Nigga, we can scrap right here, right now, you say. Nah, bro, I don’t want no problems, he says, and warns your newest archest foe heard word of your whereabouts and is on his way to the barbecuefishfry for action. By now, almost everyone wants you to leave, including the father of the friend who’s hosting, and it’s the father’s wish you decide to heed. Oh—the timing, you stomp out of the yard, peer down the street, and in the distance, see your new arch foe among a circle of dudes. You pull the pistol from your waist and—men, women, and God’s only begotten son be damned—march into the middle of street. Once, you told a grade-school teacher of your plan to become a hit man, and though you haven’t considered that career choice in ages, today could be the day that delivers you to the threshold of that young hope. Before you shoot yourself into that fate, a girl you know from high school darts between you and your new foe. She calls your name, pleads, Please, don’t. Please! She announces your fast foe is her brother and beseeches once more against gunplay and you pause, seeing an escape out of what a breath before felt foreordained. Oh, that’s your brother? you say, and lower your pistol. The next week, you pull into the parking lot of the grocery store with your daughter in the passenger seat and out of someplace unseen your foe pulls up beside you. Neither hand touches the wheel and you’d bet blood on why they aren’t in view and what one holds. Decisions—of which the most fool would be to reach for what’s under your seat. Your daughter is a fifth grader, which is to say in this instance, plenty old enough to die. You curl over her and brace, and when you don’t hear a pistol bark, you raise your head, shake it, no, no, no, look your foe eye-to-assassin-black-eye, and mouth, Man, I don’t want no problems. It’s squashed. It’s squashed. He idles for what could be the rest of your and your first born’s life.

Mitchell S. Jackson’s debut novel, The Residue Years, won a Whiting Award and the Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence. He teaches at New York University.