This Sunday heat presses a reckless thumb against the bodies of wealthy and impoverished alike. Kids wrench open fire hydrants to prevent them from melting into the sidewalk like their defenseless popsicles and cones and sundaes. And parents and cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles, necks craned beneath the unity of an officer's bent knee perspiring through the uniform and the sizzling asphalt boiling their skin. Their cries melt into the sidewalk too and the streets, thinner and more fragile as the pressure compresses them into a flesh-toned silence. First the crackle of the bones, then the outcry; the glut of miscellaneous trash cans, spray cans, beer cans, ancient periodicals, and more launched through businesses of notorious neighborhood racists or apologists and citizens who claim they support and vote in favor of justice but clam up on the fringe of black injustice. For weeks on end.
I love Nathan and I live for his acerbic wit, unnerved dancing, penchant for quick and simple meals. But today, not of my own doing, a target is placed squarely on his back for being-
“-a milky-white man with an embryonic understanding of injustice against black people. I mean, I don't wanna be preachy because you're not awful.”
God knows I don't intend to trail off unless my train of thought derails- it is the only word that comes to mind when that phrase scrambles out of my mouth- but I draw a blank as long as I draw this frigid bath. I dip my finger in and surprise myself when it doesn't return frozen stiff. I surprise myself though when I, surrounded by a wonderful chill from an air conditioning unit in the city that works by some witchcraft, stumbles off track while cautiously sliding body part by precious body part into the claw-foot tub.
“Damn, this is freezing,” I leap out almost instantly but relent and bite my lip to stifle a blood-curdling scream. Probably the most guttural scream since the last time Nathan and I had sex except it was sticky, sweaty, and not flanked by rampant police brutality.
“David, can you elaborate on what you said?”
His response is mixed with a hearty knock, innocent curiosity, and a tinge of frustration. And a solid dose of confusion. All very much understandable under the magnifying glass. Understandable enough for me to invite him in to elaborate.
His yelp from the tub tickles a chuckle out of me yet my underlying fury with this outbreak of racially-targeted violence and murder swallows anything more. One ten-minute struggle later, he manages to join me and float into my body like something congealed, something confirmed in this coldness.
“Now that the worst is over,” he half-snickers, half-smirks, “tell me more about this not preachy talk about me not being awful.”
I want to peel myself off him for a decent face-slap but whether or not it should be emphasized with playfulness or the grim seriousness of this outside war evades me. Or I want it to evade me. One hand strips away from his chest and I caress his still-sticky cheekbones from a playful face-slap. His verdant eyes are trained on me and they can weaken whatever could spiral into preachy territory unless I divert my gaze. Fortunate for me (or not), my eyes shut and then flick toward the skylight right as blood sails through the air and clings to it.
“Was that blood?”
“Don't pivot, David. I know when you're pivoting.”
Nathan cannot shift anymore with our scrawny bodies attached in this position where we didn't pray to untether before but now, one of us silently pleads the other to wriggle loose first. Because neither of us aims to be branded as insensitive- me for avoiding his gaze and him for defaulting to an off-hand comment that begs for an apology when our tensions subside- neither of us detach.
“You- you want me to elaborate? Fine then. There are facets of injustice you don't and can't truly comprehend because you're not me,” I hurry through the sentence in a nearly unintelligible rush and my heart pounds against his in earnest.
“I won't ever experience them but I can sympathize, right? I can stand hand in hand beside you and support you.”
For this particular moment, I don’t theorize or scrounge around for a concrete rebuttal. That the two of us are secure from the immense heat in the righteous shouts and pushes of protestors against scores of riot police and vicious dogs and the sun that spits up on everyone is concrete enough. Rather than dignify his response with one of my own, half my face sinks into the water. And shame, embarrassment, gnawing worry, disappointment; they sink with me. Nathan hesitantly reaches for me but upon hearing a gunshot ring out, shudders which sloshes a bit of water out of the tub and redirects his attention to the bloodstain on the skylight.
“Oh my God. You weren’t lying about the blood.”
Now we’re detached. Now we’re separated in the way we want. Now I resurface for a generous gasp of air and a flimsy grasp of gravity lifting out of the tub.
“I wasn’t and then you can stand by me but don’t stand in silence.”
And with that, I shut off the air conditioning unit, wrap myself in a towel, and march out into our bedroom.
The bathroom door flings open with a confused Nathan sauntering for me when his nude, wrinkled body halts in the doorway. Dripping bath water into the hardwood. Standing in silence.
“Wrap a towel around you or clean up the water. Don’t stand there with your mouth gaping like a jackass,” I leave the bed with a forceful roll and brush past him.
“You’re dressed to do what, David? Protest and get tear-gassed or strangled or beaten to death?”
“I have to do something, Nathan. Not a lot is going on in here. If I don’t, every single body out there maced, curb stomped, brutalized in any kind of way fought for nothing. I may as well be pressing my knee against their neck by being complacent,” I declare expectantly in a defeated tone and posture as his hand coils around my wrist.
“Our vote isn’t complacent. That’s how we combat injustice, babe. That is far from silence.”
There is no condescension in his eyes or voice but as one watery, pruned hand transitions with another around the minor roundness of my belly, there is a dismissive force. There is a fraction of him that whispers “your concern is cute but unnecessary because chaos straightens itself out.” And whether or not that’s what is implied, his touch physically hinders me. That cannot be denied.
And I cannot be assuaged, not once my body twists away from his. Not once his “vote” took precedence over an action he clearly doesn’t perceive as paramount to change. At least as a stepping stone toward it.
“It’s not pragmatic or safe to head out there,” Nathan states in this tone wedged between patronizing and concerned. In his glistening nakedness.
But I bolt out into the discordance because any longer and I would feel compelled to choke him. Or muster any hysterical strength from my embittered body to choke him. Instead, I sprint forward and my chest catches a stray bullet. I wonder all of a sudden if Nathan witnesses this with an “I told you so” gaze or if he is miserably remorseful. Then there’s the high probability that he doesn’t witness this at all but maintains the same self-assured or frustrated perspective. There’s a chance he’s cleaning the water from the hallway.