(Excerpt from Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale)
I am standing over myself: a runt-skinny kid lying flat on his stomach, right elbow hunched, the stubby pencil in his left hand ferociously scribbling on a piece of unlined white paper. The paper is set directly against pimply stone, so the kid’s handwriting comes out jaggedy and warbled, as if his left hand were stutteringly drunk.
It is August, early afternoon, and the heat is a thick fuzzy animal big enough to smother all of Brooklyn. A voice snaps from the top step of the stoop—Done. You wanna hear?
The voice belongs to Jimmy, age eleven, and he is wagging several white pages in his hand.
Of course I want to hear, I think, and nine-year-old-me sets down his pencil and shifts to an attentive seated position, angling his head toward Jimmy, who is poised on the top step of the stoop.
It’s called The Double Curse of Cross and Bones, Jimmy says, then smacks his lips together loudly several times before launching into the story, which begins: Two wasn’t always Miller’s unlucky number.
I am not only standing over but am also inside of nine-year-old-me, which means I can feel the zip and crackle that comes with being an audience to Jimmy’s stories. There is something in Jimmy’s voice, a buttery charge, and the way the words skate off his tongue in happy bunches and intimate clusters, which makes me yearn for my own special relationship with language. That is why I am out here, on Jimmy’s stoop, scribbling stories, part of our everyday summertime ritual, same as stoopball, firefly-hunting and playing war in the park.
When Jimmy is done reading he quickly begins talking about something else, before I have a chance to comment on his story. This too is part of the ritual. I can feel how awkward I am inside of myself, as if my body were a too-tight suit that causes me to fidget and squirm. That being said, Jimmy’s story has somewhat taken me out of myself in a way that my own stories do not, and I hear myself say—You’re a great writer Jimmy—to which Jimmy snappishly responds—Aw shaddap with that Salvo … ready for some stoopball—and he produces a pink Spalding and bounces it on the stoopstep, rubber pecking stone.
To say that the scene dissolved would be inaccurate. The scene between Jimmy and nine-year-old-me continued to play out, but I, as a witness, had gone. I was now back in my apartment in Bay Ridge, late morning, December, staring vacantly at the open notebook laid out on my desk.
My mind suddenly shifted to the realization that this was my third session with my ghost, Y., and unless I purchased another block, my last. I had planned to space out my sessions over an extended period of time, yet after the first session, and all that it had unlocked, I couldn’t help but use the other two right away.
I didn’t know what ghosting felt like for others, nor the ways in which it changed them, but for me it felt like a high-impact acid trip. I could spend what felt like hours looking inside of and behind a single word, and specific words had become things of felt beauty. Wisteria, octave, innuendo, scallion, solvent, calliope, adagio. Then there was Scandinavia. I had developed an exquisite crush on the word Scandinavia. To write it meant to enter a space of complex nostalgia. Nostalgia for what was and what was not, nostalgia for the future, nostalgia for your own death, nostalgia for the people you were and the people you were not. Scandinavia, more than any other of the charmed words, had become a lighted peephole through which I spied other lighted peepholes. I was on the inside looking out at the inside looking out.