Not A Big Deal

an excerpt


Trey wiped his sweaty brow. His stomach growled, not satisfied with the single piece of stale bread his mother had given him. His father had been laid off from work again, and they'd been evicted. His father's friend had offered to let them squat in his recently deceased parents' house until the place was sold. There was no power, which meant no air conditioning to combat the record-breaking, hot summer temperatures. They had the front door open to let in a breeze, so the stuffy house would be tolerable.

At eight years old, Trey knew the harshness of poverty better than most grown men. He sat on the barren floor with his two older brothers. They had collected rocks from the alley and used them to make a modified version of the game jacks. They had one bouncy ball, bought from a coin machine for a quarter. They would bounce the ball and try to collect as many rocks as possible before the ball hit the ground.

His brothers, five years older than him and identical twins, were better at the game than Trey. His tiny hands couldn't hold as many rocks.

Darkness was the worst part of the day. Trey's eyes adjusted to it, but there still wasn't enough light to do much of anything. His mother divided up the last slices of bread between them. Trey ate and then drank from the kitchen sink, using his hands as a cup, until his belly felt full.

Trey was starting to nod off, mostly from boredom, when a man darted through the open doorway. All five of them were together in the living room, since it was the coolest part of the house. The man stood for a moment. A hoodie covered his head. Trey's father rose from the floor, towering a few inches above the intruder.

"You need to hide me. I gots coppers on my tail," the man said in a low voice.

"No," Trey's father said. "I have children here. You need to get going. You can't stay here."

The man's eyes had likely adjusted to the darkness by now, and he focused on Trey. The intruder groaned and darted into the back of the house. The back door banged shut as he left. His father sat next to Trey and ruffled his hair. "It's okay. He's gone now."

Blue and red lights flashed through the windows. A flashlight cut through the darkness of the room, and Trey closed his eyes against it.

The new visitor said nothing. Trey opened his eyes and noted the trademark silhouette of the hat the man wore. The beam of light angled across the room, and Trey was able to see his dark blue uniform and pale skin.

"Where is he?" the officer asked. Trey noticed the trace of fear in the man's voice. He was a white cop in the projects--even Trey knew that wasn't a good combination.

"Out the back," Trey's father said. The cop moved toward the back of the house. He paused just before he left the room and unclipped something from his belt.

He placed the object on the floor before he resumed his pursuit of the criminal. They didn't move for several moments. Since no one else seemed interested in what the officer had left, Trey decided to investigate. He crawled across the hard floor and grabbed the slender object in his hands. He ran his fingers up and down the smooth surface. When he reached the end of the cylinder object he pressed the button. A white beam of light came out the other end.

Trey smiled. Life suddenly didn't seem quite so dark.


Listening to his parents argue wasn't anything new. Clayton was well accustomed to it. Normally, he hid in his room until it was over, but tonight he'd awoke in a cold sweat. His body ached, and he couldn't remember ever being this thirsty. He needed water.

He walked down the steps, holding the railing as tightly as his trembling hands could. He was short for his age of twelve but fast and agile. He did not feel like that tonight. The room seemed to twist and bend around him. He closed his eyes and grabbed the railing with both hands until it passed.

He opened his eyes and stared at his white hands. He wondered how pale he looked. As white as a ghost, he figured. He finally reached the ground floor and headed to the kitchen, where the voices of his parents came from.

"You always say that," his father said, his voice edged with anger and slurred from alcohol. "I know you were out with them again. You prefer the company of those niggers more than you do your own family."

"You don't know what you're saying. You're drunk," his mother said.

"You let one of them fuck you, didn't you? I can smell them on you," his father growled.

"Let go of me," his mother said. Clayton peeked around the doorframe into the kitchen. His father held his mother by one arm. She wore a slim-fitting, blue dress. His father still wore his police uniform from the workday, even though it was midnight.

"You go out fucking them, but you always come back to me. I'm tired of putting up with it," his father said. "If you want to be with them so badly, go live in their shacks." He shoved her across the room. She crumpled to the floor. "You won't, though, will you? You don't love those niggers enough to give up everything I can offer you, do you? Do they know that? Do they know how materialistic you are?"

His mother sobbed, and as she wiped away her tears she met Clayton's eyes. She let out a startled gasp and covered her face. His father turned his head to see what had alarmed her. He let lose a chuckle.

"Oh, what? You're upset that your son knows your dirty secret? That's right, Clayton, your mother is a whore who likes to spread her legs for niggers. She'd rather spend time with them than us." His father grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her to her feet. "Stop your sobbing. It's about time he knew the truth. You think people don't know? People don't make fun of our son for having a nigger-loving mother?"

Clayton turned away from the scene. He moved too quickly, and the room spun frantically. He braced his back against the wall and waited for his bearings to return. He had heard the rumors, but he'd thought it was related to his mother's charity work in the projects. Not this.