-a number and his number seven-
*by someone fighting himself
for the freedom to find her*
(frankie leone, just a man)
*our cigarettes burn but hope’s been in the butt can awhile. fear and distrust smolder even through torrential rain. no matter what burns and what doesn’t this place is dark on sunny days.
we don’t smoke here because it’s an option. we smoke because there isn’t another. we all have full packs of the same cheap brand of resignation.
the little clarity i’ll gain later will reveal i smoked it long before getting here. memories of this harsh brand will keep me coughing through too many brooklyn nights.
my green eyes take in too-familiar concrete, asphalt, and dirt. breathing deeply i inhale razor wire and chain-link through the marlboro in my long fingers.
i exhale the scent of a petrifying heart.
i stare at him with squelched curiosity and ingrained intensity. my cigarette’s taken in more dramatically, desperately. ineffective forgetfulness curls slowly from my nostrils.
i ask grayness loitering in still air, “why does that dude always hang by himself?”
“slow your roll playboy. i know you ain’t trying to parle with father time. you straight wildin’,” a fellow number with a face answers.
wiping droplets of sweat off my cheek i heel out my cigarette in the dirt and get up. i start walking to approach a man i’ll see later as a brother.
this man walks alone but is spared by jackals. he isn’t spared because of his clear ability to fight. he isn’t spared because he’s kin.
he’s spared because he’s locked in a scrap. he’s thrown down on himself believing he’s kin to none.
any jackal who’s seen enough knows a few important things. one of them is that if you don’t want to risk joining the loser don’t approach a man handling beef.*
*as i ease onto the ground next to him, against an unremarkable concrete wall, he chooses not to make eye contact.
i speak, “my man, can i get one of your newports? on my mother i’ll pay you back when i get my commissary.”
not changing his expression he stares straight into something, somewhere, or someone i can’t see. i’ve seen enough to know it’s there. i almost want to see it too.
he speaks in a calm tone, “didn’t the other young bucks school you to ease up off me baby boy? didn’t they drop on ya that i’ll make you smile with your neck like i was brushing my damn teeth?”
i should be afraid. this day i’m not.
i answer, “nah. they said you’re a prince. a regular mother hen around here.”
a smile disrupts his features. his teeth are rotted in a way i’ve never seen; mostly there but eroded to less than a quarter their original girth. rotten sawed-off toothpicks fill his mouth.
“you’s some kind of joker ain’t you little homie? even you gots to know it ain’t never christmas round here. i’m gone bless you. never again though. you heard?”
he even lights it for me.
while he strikes the match i see numbers one through seven tattooed on seven dark knuckles. all of them were done with a machine except one. number seven’s homemade. done here. on the back of his hand is a name in stylized cursive.
a woman’s name.
“what’re the numbers for?”
“you writing some kinda book?”
there’s silence. a long silence, before he speaks again.
“to let the devil know how many times to whoop my ass after the reaper hollers last call.”
he doesn’t need to explain. i understand. those numbers are men.
men not with us anymore.
“why’s seven a stick and poke?”
he surprises me by answering, and answering more quickly, “you seen’t any tattoo spots round here?”
i hesitate then continue, “but the captain said nobody’s dropped a body in the twenty years he’s run shit.”
“ain’t no guy. she was a woman. she was my woman. dead last year. i done kill’t her. shut the fuck up and puff your port. you getting on my last nerve white boy. i fucked with you too much already.”
i can’t say why i keep talking. it’s not because i don’t know better. i do. these moments help keep my fear forgotten.
“you’re doing twenty-five with no wake up. you’ve been here way more than a couple years.”
he looks at me.
no. he looks into me. he speaks into me. there’s no anger, hate, love, or hope in the tone of his voice.
“i’m gone spit some shit. best listen. i ain’t said this much in a good minute. you pop off shit after you in the morgue. feel me?
“i snatched my boo’s life.”
he points to the number seven and proceeds.
“she was finer than foxy brown until she weren’t no more. whole time ’til then she waited on my black ass.
“there’s plenty ways a nigga can murc a bitch. the way i deaded this one’s colder than a blade, burner, or louisville. i been contemplating how i done it. i ain’t mack diesel. i ain’t the first to kill a bitch behind a wall.
“mad niggas kill bitches on the street the same way. they even be sexing they shorty on the regular.
“ain’t no thing to the bitch though. she still waiting for the nigga in her to come home.
“just like she done.”
he points to the number seven and pauses again.
“we done white boy. dip and stay gone. keep them eyes off my face too.”
he stops for a few seconds before resuming. his voice never raises.
“don’t trip about the smoke. you gone get me back now.”
he kisses the number seven and presses it against my temple to collect.
a loosie can cost a half-hour of consciousness.*
(out of my norm- significant details modified.)