In at the Door Book Three : Inflation by Ed Pavlić (NOVEL EXCERPT)

guest-edited by Jeffery Renard Allen

Shine like diamond ice.

—Joyce Sims


    —erotic neighbor

541 E. 63rd Street. Inflation is a lounge. One of hundreds on the South Side. Lounge meant 50 customers in 2-and-a-half shifts. Regulars. 50 tops. Inflation opened at noon, stayed open until 2 am when the back room with a card table opened. Eight stools along the bar on the right of the space. Two tables for two placed in the middle and six booths for four on the left. A hall at the end of the bar leads to restrooms, a store room, and a back door to the alley behind the building. A relic from a bygone age, an upright piano sits, set diagonal to make room for a jukebox, at the back wall along the left. 

That’s where Junior Keith was headed when he left his two-bedroom condo at 73rd Street and South Shore Drive at 8. He blows a glow-blue kiss goodbye to Lexi, logs out of the chatroom, and grabs his coat. He glances back before the screensaver blinks to aquarium gold and angel fish threaten to spill out on the table. Alexis hasn’t moved. She stands behind the chair in a floor length emerald robe, ties hanging off two loops at the back, as if Junior’s still sitting in his chair. On the screen are the familiar colors of the Erotic Neighbor log-in page. 

Member Name : ______________    Password : ______________   .

He closes the front door, texts PW, who is surely circling nearby, and doubles back to the back of the building to wait for P.W. to show up and the Lexi buzz to wear off. 

Lexi is Junior’s on-line girl. Far as he knows, she lives in Miami. The perfect woman. They’ve never met. His woman. Bi-sexual. Confident. Outspoken and about business. He texts Alexis and Valerie upstairs, one message, that he’ll be back about 2. The night is quiet. He hears the “briiiing” of his text light up Val’s phone upstairs. 

The debate this evening in the E.N. chatroom was as to whether, no matter what, by its nature, sexual desire was androgynous. And, so, argued Junior, when you’re hot enough, you’re not really either a man or a woman. Pure person in a way so you can really feel the fork in the road between the sexes. Junior concluded that eroticism was really a matter of how far you could go back on the single road before the fork, that is, how long one could stand it, the road upward, until you pass over the top and return to the present, half-person that you’d been condemned to be in the world of the sleep-waking. Junior hit submit and waited, thinking, this should get a few out the woodpile. Right he was.

Strictly Soul : Not man or a woman?! You best stay in your lane. When I’m ready to go, the kid’s ALL MAN. 

Juniphyre : Touchy touchy now, S.S. Come to tell me that you never felt a woman’s shimmy shimmy staring at a man, another man in your brain. You must know that you’re never alone with the one you’re with. Never. Otherwise, you’d never know you were there.

Strictly Soul : Man, what?! 

Junior thinks, this is too easy. Types : Well, then. Do you like sex?

Strictly Soul : I gets mine.

Juniphyre : And, it feels good to you?

Strictly Soul : All night long.

Juniphyre : And, so, you want more for yourself?

Strictly Soul : Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Juniphyre : By what you’re saying, then, S.S., you’re, as you wrote, “All Man,” and you want more of what you feel when you’re with a woman (I’m guessing), think about this. You don’t just want her, you want you with her, you, in fact, at least in part, the closest part, want a man. Yourself. The experience of yourself; cause that’s what you feel. You never really feel her at all, if you think about it, all you really feel is a man, you, feeling her. 

Strictly Soul : You must be crazy. 

No Man’s Hand breaks in : Strictly Soul. I think he’s got you here. Worth a moment to think about it. What do you have to lose? Intellectual virginity?

Juniphyre : I suggest you re-read what I wrote above. Twice. And, then continue here : So, if you like sex, and you are a man (and exactly to the degree that you think you’re “all man”) the only way to stay heterosexual at all is to become, at least, part woman when you feel your own pleasure. Because, if you stay a man while feeling yourself, a man, I don’t care how many women you conjure up, I think you can see where this leads. In fact, the only way to retain any contact with the false myth of the strictly “heterosexual,” is to accept the basic androgyny of your desire. But, now heterosexual is exactly what it is, a flux, a plurality. Otherwise. Tisk tisk tisk, sir. You simply can’t be with anyone else as long as you’re repelled by yourself. May I ask how you feel when you see another man nude? 

Strictly Soul : If I see you in life, in the world, faggot, you’re dead -- 

Juniphyre : No Man’s Hand doesn’t mean any harm, S.S. Easy, now. Such words? May I ask, then, simply, seriously, what are the odds that out of all the men in the world, you, Mssr. S.S., are the only man you’re not repelled by? Long odds. Long odds, wild repressions, and murderous words. Not what our people died for! Think about it. Singing off. In sister-brotherhood.

Junior’s rehearsing the checkmate paradox in his evening’s discussion with the E.N. community. He hears the Range Rover enter the alley over the snow back at the end of the street. He pays the city’s plow driver to keep a bank at both entrances to the alley to minimize traffic behind his building. Text from Valerie : wait up. am dressed. coming with you. Junior Keith had two older sisters and one brother, younger. His sisters were in jail. Assault. Armed robbery. His little brother is in college in Evanston. He himself is in business: pharmaceutical heroine out of the U.K. sent through Nigeria. The tabs are wrapped in plaster casts and splints: arms, wrists, the occasional ankle. A full leg cast can be laced with enough doses to supply Junior’s clients for almost a year. Junior employs a set of wayward, suburban addicts themselves to bring the magic home. 

PW pulls thru the untouched carpet of snow in the alley leaving two ruts behind the Range Rover. Before the car reaches the back steps of the building, Junior can hear the bass and a long-held, high note from a female singer. He opens the door and a Joyce Sims’ “Come into my life I’ve got. . .” spills out into a bright triangle of light on the snow beneath the door. With a thumb on the left side of the wheel, P.W. turns the volume down. He knows how Junior feels about loud music. Junior climbs into the passenger seat, Hold up, Val said she’s coming. 

            What’ve you been into?

            Usual. Enlightening the masses. Taking it to them.

            Show you right.

            How about you?

            Same as you, a discussion with our neighbors to the south, Bliss 70s. No pressure.

            And, our line in the sand?

            Good for another day.

Without turning his head, Junior watches P.W.’s wide face under his crushed suede hat. A light from the building’s rooftop comes thru the windshield and sunroof. The music’s low enough so the two both track the intermittent pace of the wipers and the way the flakes dissolve into granular liquid spots as they hit the warmth of the glass. Each flake falls on the glass and boils itself clear. Junior watches P.W. watch the liquid from the separate flakes find each other. Just when there’s enough for a rumor to run down the slope, the shadow of the wiper sweeps across P.W.’s face. Ms. Sims fades out, the ipod shuffles and a snare drum and guitar are followed into the air by an organ. Junior leans back in his seat as a voice sings, “When I give my love, this time” and Valerie comes down the steps in black jeans, high brown boots and an open silver lynx coat almost long enough to touch the deepening snow she steps into.

            Where we going? 

            P.W. and Junior together : Inflation

            That old place? What for? 

Junior turns to her in the back seat. Her hair’s pulled back tightly into a pony tail, snowflakes glowing in the light from the sunroof as they disappear into the atmosphere. Looking past him at her reflection in the rearview mirror, Valerie’s doing that beautiful, getting-ready-to-go-near-my-eye-without-disturbing-mascara thing with her mouth. She removes a large, single flake from her eyelid with her left ring finger and looks back into Junior’s eyes, her smile flips her face open like a freshly polished pocket watch. 

            Junior : word is, the place is changed.

            Valerie : how so?

            P.W. : that’s what we’re going to find out.

            Junior : a little recon.

Valerie nods to her reflection in the side window, the distant star of a chrome .38 in each eye.




—at the lakefront, skipping tones

All of it, no matter. Junior’s romantic criminality made it possible. Sentimental psychopath. P.W. too. They’d met in detention. They’d lived there together for eight years until they were 18 and could no longer be tried, back then, for crimes of ten year-olds. Junior had attempted to play the piano in the recreation room their teacher, Miss Lisa, had set up in the Center. P.W. sang abstractedly to the radio. The piano never took with Junior. Now, P.W. was as much a DJ as he was a driver, as much confidant and metaphysician as he was a killer. P.W. : rare groove aficionado. Junior, connoisseur. 

The two found spots on the lake to park and strategize. Their arguments about business strategy were always masked conversations about lyrics in certain songs. P.W.’s choices of tunes a kind of divination chart. They smoked American Spirits and P.W. played the grooves on the custom system he’d had installed in the Range Rover. On one of these nights, Junior remembers P.W.’s observation : “You know, this “Summertime” is really a re-make of Gershwin, think about it. . . “Give me a soft subtle mix. . .” And Junior : “and if it ain’t broke. . .”.

             You know? 

             Nigger you right. You should write a book!



—tonal arithmetic : shore - sand = X

They’d both missed the social part of the music as boys. Underwater in their lives, in detention, the songs were beamed in from space. Communiqués to a gone bathysphere. Then, they’d debated the success of lyrical choices. They were prisoners of economic choices made by people they’d never see. Who’d never look at them and who use their image everyday. They used the music Ms. Lisa allowed onto the radio in the Center Room like mirrors. The mirrors stared back. As all prisoners do, they romanticized and exaggerated the freedom of the lyricists and singers. Fellow prisoners. A falsetto voice chimed in : “When you’re short on cash, I’ve got your length.” Junior thought that the metaphor was too literal, gratuitous and didn’t make sense. The metaphor strangled the line. Vern Gagne : “the sleeper hold.” P.W. :   

            You know he taught it to his son, right?

            Which son?

            Greg I think.


The next line in the song, countered P. W., paid back for excess in the first one. These boys are 12 at the time. Prisoners. P.W. : “’When you’re weak, I’ll be your strength. When you’re cold. . .’. It’s us, man. None of it even makes a song unless both length and strength rhyme with, say, how Ms. Lisa says what comes after ninth. Junior,


            And, everyone in here says you’re slow.

            And, I’ll be the fugitive “g.”

They still did that. Though, now, P.W. plays the songs as if it’s a kind of riddle. Riddle me this. And, part séance. Roll the shells. Where’s the pea? The bass line of Anita Baker’s “You Belong to Me” :

            Why’d you tell me this? Were you looking for my reaction?

Junior : 

            That’s why I didn’t even flinch. No nod. No sign. Just turned and walked out.
            Watch. They won’t do shit.

Further back, Loose Ends : 

            Baby, I feel it too, but what am I supposed to do?

And, Junior :

You think it’s that deep? I think it’s a bluff. 


The lines and lyrics wind out of the rhythm that’s wound out of how the world moves, how it doesn’t spin at the same speed in the same place for very long. Usually, when a key line goes by, the men don’t need to say anything. Their eyes meet and there’s a nod between them that, if you were watching, you’d never see happen. One song blooms out of another until the decades and voices merge into one song. Trussell : “Rock, is in the pocket, Rock, is in the love socket.” Janice McClain : “Give it up, give it up, give it on up.” Change : “Reach for the sky, I’ll be near by.” Man Friday, “Didn’t I show you love, show you love. . .”. Four possible combinations: Junior nods, P.W. shakes; they both nod; Junior shakes, P.W. nods; they both shake. Joyce Sims : “What price must I pay, to make you see things, my-y way-ay,” and the line scats out of view. Paris : “I choose you.” Floetry : “All you got to do is say ‘yes’.” 

All the revolutions are kaleidoscopes. Since they were boy prisoners, they turned phrases from brain to brain, from eye to eye. In the center, they did it for as long as Ms. Lisa would allow it. Now, they did it for as long as they wanted. “Nothing will come, nothing will come, nothing will come between us.” Sade always seems to have the last word. Junior sings along : “I’ll wash the sand of the shore.”

P.W. hits pause on the steering wheel. 

            You know it’s ‘. . .off the shore, right?’

            ‘Off the shore’ makes the line ordinary. If it’s “I’ll wash the sand of the shore” it
            opens the line into forever. 

            What, grain by grain? 

            Nigger-naw. Sand washed of the shore. . . the border, limitlessness. . . then you decide
            the shape, the shift. 

            Shape of what? 

            Naw nigger, “shape of if”. . . which is always the shift in shape. 

Junior leans forward and hits play. “. . . blow you right through my door.”

            See. Same as shore-washed sand. . .

            Shame ain’t it?

Junior staring at the tint in the passenger side window. Nods.  





Shame stands on the breakwater watching the blizzard disappear in waves. He’d walked all the way down 63rd St., thru Jackson Park and crossed under the Drive to the lakeshore. The Joycelan Steel job was coming to its beautiful end. All the jobs ended this way. The bricklayers leave and go wherever they go next. He’d find out soon enough. The last of the courses would go in by Friday. The scaffolds standing at the bottom of the final tank would come down and be hoisted out. They’d load them on the truck back to the yard. And he and Jay Brown would bring in the steam washer. The acid wash wing of the mill would be closed down for however long it took to wash down the end of the job. It’d be just them. 

These were waxed brick. One face of each brick covered in a thin sheet of wax. On small jobs, he and Jay Brown arrived early and waxed each brick themselves. They set them each on their sides to dry. A simple paint roller rigged on an axel drilled into a tin cake pan, they melted the wax in the pan with the torch then set the rig over candles to keep it liquid. Each brick goes, back and forth, once, over the roller. Zen. One by one, forth. Back. Again. Add squares of wax to keep the bottom of the roller in the liquid. The first brick nearly weightless. By eighty, Shame could barely lift his arm, couldn’t hold it steady. Time to switch. Jay could wax 400 hundred brick without a pause. But, he stopped after 150 or so. He and Jay, wordlessly, could wax five thousand brick this way in a day. The quiet of their work made Shame feel like a monk. They never talked. It was some kind of sin to talk while waxing brick. The candles burning down beneath the pan, replaced one by one themselves, the bottom of the pan turning black. Smoke spilling up the edges. Each of their wrists banded black from the spill of smoke by the end of the day. Any more than a few days worth of that, it was cheaper to buy the brick waxed at the factory.

For big jobs like Joycelan Steel, 25,000 brick per tank, six tanks, the bricks were factory waxed. The wax protected the brick in transit and during the job’s progress. A dropped hammer might chip the face. A crack could compromise the seal. Engineers would come to the job after the wash and place dimes on the joints. Any edge exposed more than the width of a dime would be marked, removed, and re-laid. Foreman said it was in the contracts. They’d leave each job clean enough for the dime test.

None of this mattered to Shame. It was pure beauty. And, rhythm. As he watched the blizzard come over the Drive orange from behind him, slowing traffic in gusts, and, in front of him, the undulating border between the waves and the white lung of chaos. Liquid. Apocalypse. His mind abstracted and extreme. Aperture dilated. Clear as smoke blown over frozen crystal. The lake gulps the spray, draws it down. When he blinks, he’s at work. Eyes closed, Shame sees the spray nozzle disappear in steam. Back and forth in three inch swipes. 30 seconds per brick, maybe 45. Concentration delegated to wrists, wound into the stance. Behind the steam and spray a new born brick. One more, pristine, as if never touched, each minute.

Thirty minutes of holding the nozzle down two inches from the ground. Aimed between the boots. That’s enough. Switch. He watches Jay Brown aim the gun and disappear into the steam. The urge to strip off the goggles, hard hat, coveralls. Union steward warning down the impulse. He stands at the drain and sweeps the waves of water and wax back on themselves, they meet, crest, and drop the wax into the beginnings of reefs. This must be done on angles that allow the water to drop the wax and wash past down the drain. The reefs cool and turn gray, he shovels them into resin buckets from the mortar materials. Foreman said it’s in the contracts, no unattached materials left at the site, that includes wax in the factory drains, we carry it in, put it in place, or we carry it out. Elegant work. Opera. 

Jay Brown like a bear in a steam bath; the broom handle invisibly light in Shame’s hand. A touch, a wrist-swipe causes a new ridge in the wax wash. Minutes later the violence of the nozzle gone silent, trying to blast out of his hands, the pressure a blind, white inch from the peeled face of the newborn brick. The first few minutes back to the broom it’s made of a condensed, pre-historic urge to float. The pressure of the nozzle an anti-weight, like holding down a rocket.





Word moved from place to place like dust around Juniorville. One spot swept clean, the nonsense just seemed to blow off somewhere nearby to settle in. Cass hadn’t asked. He never did. Had never needed to learn to ask, knew that whatever he needed to know would show up and become visible all by itself, knew that whatever one learned by asking was mostly besides the point at best. 

He was in the back room changing the sour line when shame came in looking like a polar explorer. He shook the snow off his coat and hung it up on a tangle of antlers screwed into the wall near the door. Cass made an intricate maneuver of checking his watch and went back to twisting the valve in place on the neck of a silver cylinder. 

            Don’t know whose drinking all this. I don’t serve college kids. Feels like I ain’t bent     down to the rail all night.

            Did you ask?

Shame knew the answer, truth is in asking he wasn’t even asking. Cass knew that, too; he answered by pausing with the valve for the space of a breath. 

            Place full? 

            Wouldn’t say that, now. 

Then, in a tone of voice suited to interrogating a prisoner of war, Cass asked

            Do you know what the fuck an apple martini is? 

            You know, this wasn’t my idea.

            You’d know. Should I put a jar on the piano piano man?


Shame paused for a breath of his own, bent down to knock the snow off his boots and out of the cuffs of his jeans. He turned and walked into the hall. Angie S., Cass’s long-time ex-wife, set a drink at the end of the bar before he’d entered the front room. Shame pushed the swing door out and walked into the room. Low in the corner of his eye he saw a thin, woven rug had been placed under the piano, both still set diagonally to the room. The top of the upright was propped open. He swept up the glass from the end of the bar and felt like he’d stepped on a frayed corner of why Cass and Angie S had been so long divorced and had stayed together, now, far longer than they’d been married. 

Angie appeared behind him at the end of the bar. 

            That you?

            You asking?

            Oh, that you. 

            Man, you all incessant tonight, you looked outside?

            I ain’t cessant-nothing. Why bother, look like it’s all coming in here tonight. What,     you had some trouble with the commute, piano man? 

He didn’t need to turn around. Angie had an old-time, Southern iron anvil swinging behind her face when she looked at you. Playing or not, the same. He didn’t need to look but he almost ducked, he could feel her eyes sweep over his shoulder into the crowded room when she’d pronounced all with her neck like he knew she had. 

            Reporter from the Reader was here early asking questions about the laborer piano     player.

Shame flicked his head to the side toward the piano.

            And, who put that under there, Snow White?

            Oh, I see, you want me to come around the bar and cease to being cessant?

Fighting back a smile, Shame turned back to the left and walked to the piano without looking any further into the room than the near end of the bar. He sat down and took a long, thin sip. He didn’t want to see the room that had Cass and Angie’s stitches in such playful, taunting snitches. He could feel her smile on him and he knew she wasn’t smiling no more. He thought, what a pair, short chain made of two missing links. 





Shame had been low on the keys all week. Pearlie’s nine-year-old twins had been at his place every night of this week. She’d been working in Siberia cleaning two houses, one for a wedding and one for a funeral. Both north of Evanston some place. He hadn’t been east of middle C since the twins had been there. LaTessa and VaNessa. Said they wanted to be a team of magician beauticians. They resolutely ignored all of Ndiya’s attempts at communication and spent their time braiding each other’s hair while they rolled pennies and dimes across the tops of their fingers with their eyes closed. 

To an increasingly eerie effect, they almost always spoke in perfect unison. After almost three full days of the silent treatment, on Wednesday afternoon, the ice broke for an instant. They asked Ndiya if she had any eyeliner and blue mascara. Ndiya gave it to them and then the ice froze back shut. They painted open eyes, bright cobalt blue eyes, on each other’s eyelids. Then, blue-eyed and unblinking, they’d resumed their training with the coins and the braids. 

On Thursday, Ndiya asked what they planned to do with their truly unique and finely honed skills. She thought she saw one eye blink brown as if to check if they were being patronized. Seemed not. Open eyes closed, in blue-eyed unison,

            We bout to get real good at this trick and then we bout to get to disappearing all kind     of stuff. 

Ndiya thought she heard one of them said ‘stuff’ and the other said ‘shit’ but she wasn’t sure. She figured it was Tessa who said ‘shit’ because one of her eyes blinked brown for an instant before it shut back to wide-open blue. 

When Shame had come home that week, Ndiya had gone out, said she needed some air. But, the weather was turning cold and she’d begun to stop into Inflation to warm up. Listening to Cass and Angie talk, with that upright piano in the corner of her eye, and at least less than sure about what she was doing in life, Ndiya had come up with the idea of Shame playing music on Friday and Saturdays. Cass and Angie’s response was that they didn’t much care who did what with that piano. It was Angie’s father’s piano. Stone Simpson hadn’t ever made a public name, but everyone with ears, that is, as it was said, everyone who had eyes, around the scene knew it; he had played stride piano all around Chicago at places like the Pershing and the El Grotto, just a few blocks from Inflation. When he died, they didn’t have room for it in their apartment and didn’t quite have the heart to give it away. 

Shame disappeared from Erlie’s and people seemed to notice not hearing what they hadn’t been listening to before. As a result, the migrations began setting off a subtle breeze on smoldering coals. 





Before she goes in, Ndiya stands and listens to the piano from outside the door. The front windows are blocked out up to seven or eight feet, the glass on the door is fogged over. She can tell the fog is freezing into a filigree clinging to the inside of the glass. The storm had almost ceased traffic in the street under the tracks. The block is nearly silent. 

The sound of the piano comes and goes, advancing at an angle and evaporating into a mirage. Ndiya remembers a stranger in Providence, an old black man in a beret, who’d told her in a quiet voice that it was always less lonely near a mirage? She’d asked him, playfully, what about near the whisper of a stranger? He’d laughed deep, 

            We’re not strangers, little girl. 

And he’d walked away with his brief case. It might have been the snow, but when Shame’s sound evaporated into the near-silent space behind her, into the snow beneath the tracks, it seemed to leave a feeling of isolation, an exile from sound. The effect so different, she thought, from Shame in person who played distance in a way that, when he left, say, for work, his presence seemed to surround her like sound underwater. Like it was in her bloodstream, as if her lungs could breathe the sound out of the air like gills took oxygen from water. She stood in the street as if in a dim valley between the conical chaos lit by two streetlights. The space between each of Shame’s phrases felt like cotton in her ears. She puts her hand on the door handle and stops. She walks away. Whatever’s going on in there, she thought, she’d come up on it through the backdoor. At least brush off the snow, clear her ears, and hang up her coat. 

The cars in the wide alley—an alley widened into a grand boulevard by the absence of two buildings that burned and whose remains were razed—were disappearing beneath a white surf of snow. There were no tracks back there at all. The snow reached the fur-rimmed tops of her boots. When she enters the back door the air feels like warm fluid against her face. Sculptural atmosphere. Breathing it in felt like swallowing a humid, human voice, exhaling it felt like blowing on a low, blue flame. 

She opens the backroom door on her right. A piece of paper is tacked to the door; written on the paper in wide, red marker: 

Stop! This is NOT the restroom

The restroom is behind you.


Cass must be on edge, she thinks. There he is, changing the sour line. Again. The three table tops from the front are legless and leaning against the wall. Six chairs stacked up behind them. Cass doesn’t check to see who’d opened the door. 

            This is the last bottle of sour. After this I’ll make the kids milkshakes or they’ll drink     their whiskey neat. 

Cass looks back and nods, openly, tips a hat he isn’t wearing. 

            Your right on time, Your Ms. Shamefulness.     

Cass turns back, resumes his task. Ndiya nods at his back. 

            How’s it in there? 

            Well, it ain’t Ramsey Lewis at The Starlight, but it’s mine. Or, was. 

            People come out?

            People? Let’s call it gumbo. 


The ice machine cancelled the music in the backroom, all Ndiya could hear in there, or feel in there, was a slow, walking rhythm of bass chords. She wondered if Cass had put a mic on the piano. He finished with the nozzle. Ndiya is knocking the snow from the rims of her boots and putting the cuffs of her jeans back inside when Cass, bowing in exaggerated formality:    

            Come on, let us show you to your seat, m’lady of Shame. 

            I’ll stand by the bar. 

           Not tonight, no room. There’s a perfect seat open, though. Come on. 

They step beyond the drone of the ice machine and into the sound of triplets over a minor chord each repeated with shifts in the accent which altered the tone in the air. It sounded like someone trying to spray paint wind. There’d be five cycles of triplets, a pause, a new chord answered with a first inversion of its mirror. The mirror then broke into arpeggios, another color-wheel of variations. Ndiya stands still a moment, thinking, if you could spray paint the air, a range of colors, and then you swung an old hammer through the painted space, that’d be about it, the look of that hammer after it’s path through the cloud of color. They both stood still for a minute, Cass staring at Ndiya’s profile, Ndiya facing the door to the front. Cass, 

           Could you wait here, Shame-bolina? I better wash my hands. 

           Ok, Cass, and could you rest the Shame-shit.

           Fair enough, turning to the door, Shame-o-nisha. 

Ndiya felt a strange lace of hope that she was joking with Cass. It blew through her, she noticed, and she was surprised. This was new. He liked to mess with her, of course, and, somewhere, she knew she knew she enjoyed it. She knew he did too. But, tonight, it felt different.  Was it in what he said? Or was it in what she heard? She didn’t know. There was a new edge somewhere in this hallway. Or, maybe a new space with no edge. 

Something was changed. She felt it in the heat collecting in and around her waist and around the back of her neck under her scarf. Something was thick in the voice of the air. Maybe it didn’t have to do with either of them. Maybe it’s just the crowd. She told herself this but she knew she knew she didn’t believe it. It felt heavy, and she recognized a weight, an isolation, that she’d felt standing out front, outside in the street. Cass comes back, motions this way, Ndiya follows. The empty weight of the future. How easy to step into it; how impossible to step back once it’s become the present. 




Contributor Notes

Professor of English and Creative Writing, ED PAVLIĆ’S most recent books are Visiting Hours at the Color Line (Milkweed Editions, 2013), But Here Are Small Clear Refractions (Achebe Center, 2009, Kwani?Trust, 2013) and Winners Have Yet to be Announced: A Song for Donny Hathaway (U Georgia P, 2008). Others include Paraph of Bone & Other Kinds of Blue (Copper Canyon, 2001), Crossroads Modernism: Descent and Emergence in African American Literary Culture (U Minnesota Press, 2002), and Labors Lost Left Unfinished (UPNE/Sheep Meadow Press, 2006). "In at the Door" is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. Ed Pavlić teaches at the University of Georgia and lives with his family in Athens, GA.