A Tipping Point In The ‘Hood


Of all the moments you dread, this is the big one.  We’re about to have some serious violence here.  The kind that makes the papers.  The kind no one chuckles about later, over beers.

          It’s strange how it always starts routinely.  “Hey man, the Fielders is goin’ again,” the kid says, shaking his head, 12-years-old and already so-over the neighborhood show.  “He up there, th’owing all her stuff down the stairs.”

          Plodding through a desperate lobby, then into the (even at midday) gothic gloom of the stairwell, there’s a commotion from somewhere above; echoes, banging and shouts, an insane ghost trapped in an attic.

          Four.  The Fielders live way up on four.  I start the slow, dutiful ascent, a step at a time.  Why do these chronic couples never live on the first floor?

At the second-floor landing, where the stairs turn around, it goes from ghostly to ugly-real.

“…think I’m playin’, girl?  That’s it.  I ain’t about to play no games witchoo!”  Punctuated by a female shriek, strangled, cutting off sharply.

“…gonna kill you, girl!”

This is new.

I take the steps fast now, three at a time, up to the fourth floor landing, and pull up short.  Breathe.  I turn this corner, he sees me.

“I ain’t playin’ withchoo!”

Lucas Fielder: squat, massive, vaguely Samoan; like a neckless locomotive when he’s moving quickly.  Substance abuser, recidivist.  We’ve hit the tipping point, legally and otherwise.  Out it comes.

The universe shifts, the air leadens.  Crouched behind the wall, double-gripping it down low, I’m impressed as ever by its heft, its solidity.  I cling to it.  Out in the air like this, showing silver in the dirty-butter light, all its implications suddenly seem to concretize: Grand juries.  Judges.  Prosecutors.  Two-hundred years of frontier-inspired case law.  Headlines, union lawyers, the race card.  My future.  My family.

Damn thing should be heavy.  You pull it out, the whole System comes with it.

And dwarfs you.

I’m feeling every movement now, every second.  This is the rest of my life here, in this skanky stairwell.  And this chunk of metal in my hand is miniaturizing me, shoving me under the microscope, while the Big City fish-eyes me for results.



Another shriek; got to go.  My heart trips, a roar begins in my ears.  I punch it out, two-handed, eye-level.  Now is when it works for you.  Those clean, clean lines.  The curve of the butt, sexy in your palm.  Its brute symmetry.  My ally, cool and undefeatable.  Lead on, baby.  I gather and jump.


They don’t; instead, they stare.  The wife, sitting, her back to the wall, eyes wide, scared yes, but of me, not him.  Not a mark on her.  Him standing, clothes and empty dresser drawers at his feet.  Something unseen passes between them; they glare at me now, allies.

But he’s holding something….


He does; a portable hair dryer clattering to the cracked-cement floor.  His flattened expression asks me if I thought he was about to attack with bursts of hot air.

I was wrong, this isn’t new, none of it is.  The air lightens and I breathe again.  The Fielders won’t be making me famous today.

But it’s still hanging there, along my sight-line, humming with consequence, indifferent as the weather.  I force it back down onto my hip.

          Over the evening beers, faces flushed and eyes shining, we do chuckle: “… and now the two of them are pissed at me!” is my punchline.  I slap a bottle down in emphasis, have a couple more than usual.  After all, I’m celebrating; three lives, spared.  Plus, no longer feeling microscopic.  For the time being, I’m back in charge.


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