“Straight To My Heart” strikes like a fleet of live arrows. Its pulse is jagged and it leaves an unerringly lucid imprint; not a word is out of place. From the first sentence to the last, the narrative voice combines subtle craft and raw sensation in proportions that shimmer and pierce. — Guest Judge Helen Oyeyemi.
My brother’s turning blue and they just leave him there, in the back of the Dunkin Donuts. They take his shoes, his brand-new Jordan XIs, right off his feet. They don’t even call 911. An hour later, the place is closing down, they’re putting up the chairs and wiping down the floors, and a worker finds him back there, cold.
The only ID he has is a fake ID. By the time they get a hold of us he’s already in a drawer. It’s the middle of the night. The receptionist is drinking coffee from a paper cup and eating pastry off a napkin. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life: she’s got acrylic nails, she’s holding the pastry on the insides of her fingers, to protect the acrylics. The doctor double-checks his clipboard and says, I am very sorry. His eyes are bloodshot and his jawline is flexed. His face does not say sorry.
My mother’s gotta heart like a fist and a face carved out the cliffs of Moher, but she’s never been stoic. She doesn’t even wait until we’re out in the parking lot. She just starts crying right there. She starts tearing at my chest and arms. It’s your fault, she says. It’s your fault he’s dead. I just put out my arms and hold her, until she stops screaming and starts breathing and the tears soak, through my Springsteen shirt and three inches of chest, straight to my heart.
Why is it my fault? Because of the person I was? Because of the track scars down my arm? They read like braille. Touch them and you’ll know where I’ve been.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes. Ask anybody, and they’ll tell you that I’m the most modest person they’ve ever met. Yes, I did drugs. I could shoot half a point, straight to the vein, and ride it. But I started getting careless. I started bringing drugs around the house, and my brother, he was a saint, god rest his soul, but he was a follower.
I come home, after three months in rehab, I walk in the door, and the first thing my mother says to me is, you gotta job?
I say, mom, I’m working on the greatest job of all: myself.
We take an Uber from Elmhurst. The sky’s black but the birds are chirping. My mother goes to bed. I make a protein shake and drink it in front of the TV, lifting weights and watching PBS. I’ve always been intellectually curious. Some British guy says they know what Jesus looked like, they have a digital reconstruction of exactly what he looked like, but I don’t believe it. I’ll be honest, I do not believe it for a single second.
What can I say of my brother? He was nineteen. He had my blood, my mouth, my hair. What he didn’t have was my tolerance. Or my hands. Look at his hands, and you’d know the kid never worked a day in his life. They could have sold rings they were so perfect.
And so we lay him down in Calvary, under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and a big blue sky, with his arms at his sides, his shoes pointed up, his blond hair slicked back and shining. He wears his favorite Rangers Jersey, number two, Leech across his back. He doesn’t wear a suit.
My mother’s in black to her feet. She’s sucking on cigarettes, touching her crucifix, crying. Her lips stain the filters red. The smoke gets in my eyes. The priest’s lips are moving, blessing the living and the dead. He picks up some dirt and it makes a hollow sound when it hits the casket.
No mother has ever had a son like him, she tells the driver in the Uber home. No mother will ever have a son like him.
I start going around. Looking around, checking people out. Dell’s, Murphy’s, Dunkin Donuts. In Dell’s, everybody’s my best friend for about five minutes. They’ve heard about Charlie. They ask what I’m drinking and I tell them it’s ginger ale. Night after night I drink it for free. The men shake my hand and slap my back, the women leave lipstick on my cheek, and if I didn’t know why I’d think I was being congratulated. Then they walk away, they go drink and laugh, while I sit there, watching faces, checking sneakers.
One Saturday night, it’s getting late, I’m sitting at the end of the bar. Ronnie The Whale comes in. We call him The Whale because he’s fat. He comes in with his girl Nicky under his arm, and his whole face working on a pack of gum. His pupils look like exit wounds in his head. He sees me, comes over. He starts talking, starts saying, you’re a brother to me, I love you, I love you like a brother, etc., etc. He’s got these big sad black eyes. Liquid eyes. And he’s talking to me, he’s gotta teardrop on one cheek and a cross on the other, but those eyes are walking away.
I look down, and I swear to God, the adrenaline just goes straight to my hands. The ginger ale in my glass, it starts trembling. The ice cubes start clinking. I raise the drink to my lips, and it spills on my shirt. I say, yeah.
He goes across the bar. I finish my ginger ale. Then I go up to his big flat back and ask, what’s your shoe size?
He tells me ten and a half—and I hit him so hard his teeth will forever brand my knuckles.
Afterwards, they had to wipe his blood off the ground with a bucket and a mop. I just tattoo him into the floor. His face is getting all over my fists, all over my arms, all over my shirt. You shoot someone, that’s impersonal. There’s no intimacy there. But you beat someone like I was beating him, you get to know the person. You get to see them open up. Nicky’s hysterical, scratching at my back, screaming, but I stay there right on top of him, just long enough to take off the Jordans.
After this they ask me to leave. I tell them I wanna pay for my ginger ale, I drank it, I wanna pay for it, but they won’t let me. Dell’s a friend. He tells me: walk away. Just walk away. I say, why? I’ll wait. The Whale’s lying there on the floor, beached, his bitch leaned over him, crying. She’s trying to give him water from a little cup. And I’ll be honest, I could not help but look away.
So I wait there on the curb, with my knuckles bleeding and my t-shirt on my knees. My pulse is the only thing in my ears. An ambulance comes, a cop car. I respect the blue. I don’t resist. When the cops come up, I put out my wrists and declare, I’ve been practicing this, I declare, in a voice that resounds:
My name is Patrick Scully, and I am the man you are looking for.
They read me my rights. They cuff me, and put me in the back of the squad car, very nice, very polite. They hold my head down so I don’t bang it. When they drop me in booking, I say, thank you, officers so-and-so. Thank you for your service. I’d shake their hands but mine are still in cuffs.
In lock-up there’s hair on the wall, tallies struck in with fingernails, names and tags scratched in the cinderblock. The overheads are bright, humming. One guy, he’s rocking, with his arms over his chest. A white girl’s pacing between the bench and the bars, saying, they took him, my baby, they took my baby boy. Her mascara’s getting in her mouth. I don’t rock. I don’t cry. I just sit there, looking at the cinderblock, until the morning burns it yellow.
They hit me with assault and battery, reckless endangerment. According to court documents, I’m a “public menace.” At the arraignment, I want to stand up and say, no, your honor, I’m a human being. But the public defender, he’s chewing Nicorette and drinking coffee, he won’t let me do it.
The judge lifts the gavel and his hand trembles. The gavel lands and it’s the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.
I spend a weekend in Rikers, watching PBS. Everyone wants to watch things like NCIS and Law & Order. Complete trash. I tell them your body will never be imprisoned as long as your mind is free.
You wanna know where Jesus would be today? I’ll tell you: on the corner of 42nd and 8th, between Port Authority and the curb, with dirt on his robes and band-aids on his feet and a Big Gulp in his hands, jangling change. No-one would even care enough to crucify him.
The Whale wouldn’t talk, my mother made a GoFundMe, and they sprang me on a Monday morning, with the sun singing and the sky so clear you could see to heaven. I gotta coffee and a roll. Then I found the N train, and rode it all the way home.
Dean Jamieson is from New York City. He is currently studying Written Arts at Bard College. His work has appeared in The Coachella Review and Heavy Traffic Magazine.