But Wright was dead
Below is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, The Somerville Light. Robinson is one of my protagonists, who sprung fully formed in the first few pages of a NaNoWriMo project a few years back and made me go oh shit, I guess I have a black protagonist. My solution to this so far is to keep going, and to consult experts for pay once I get anywhere near publication. As it is, though, I’m hoping folks will check out my work and give me a growing sense that it’s something a lot of people want to see. To that end, here’s a taste of Robinson, dealing with his best friend’s death, sometime in the late ’90s. For the full piece, please become a patron . It only takes as little as 50 cents. Thank you!
Robinson remembers when he stopped believing in God. Or at least, he remembers when he realized he didn’t. Believing in something, he keeps learning, is not a thing with an immediate beginning and end: belief tends to grow over time, beginning with a spark that may or may not be fanned into a flame. Once that flame is strong enough, though, it can’t just be blown out, like a candle on a birthday cake. It may wane over time, like a when a grill has gone down to coals, but coals can stay hot, even glowing, for a long long time after the flames go out. In drier parts of the country, or when there’s a drought, Robinson knows, a coal from a days-old fire can still be capable of starting a conflagration that consumes hundreds of square miles of forest. And so it’s hard to know, really, the exact moment when a belief goes from a bank of once-warm coals that might still be stoked to a thing fully extinguished, dead.
Dead, though. That was the real point. Wright was dead, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. And with that, the last hints of heat went out of that particular fire, and Robinson sat in the church, numbed, watching Wright’s mother wail while his own mother sat, her poised and stoic self, by his side, holding his hand. At fifteen, he had thought himself far too old to allow his mother to hold his hand in church. At seventeen, with his best friend dead when escape from high school had been so close they could taste it, he allowed it, even welcomed it. She had taken her gloves off and placed them with her matching bag on the pew; it was July, and even his mother made allowances for the kind of heat they were having that summer. Too, he thought, maybe she wanted him to feel the skin of her hand, the caring in her touch, without anything between them. He had had his hands on his lap, absently rubbing the thin gray fabric of his pants, staring at his hands, with their new class ring, their ashy knuckles. His right thumbnail wasn’t as clean as the others; his mother would be upset. Then he saw her little hand come into his peripheral vision, breaking the line, crossing over. For what seemed like forever she paused just above his right hand, as if considering; and so he stared at it, instead, its softly curving, buffed nails, pale against dark skin worn darker by time and use. He saw it shake, just a little, as if she had just drawn a slightly shuddering breath. Then she rested it briefly on top of his hand, patting, once, twice, and wrapped her fingers around his, squeezing. He squeezed back, squeezed his eyes shut, squeezed the sight of Wright falling to the street out of his mind. Wright’s mother, near the front of the church, went on wailing. There was not, could not possibly be, a God.