Come listen all you galls and boys
I’se jist from Tuckyhoe,
Im goin to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow
Fist on de heel tap,
Den on the toe,
Ebry time I weel about
I jump Jim Crow
Weel about and turn about,
En do jus so
And every time I weel about,
I jump Jim Crow
KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 sprints over the freshly trimmed grass of the lawn, vaults over the white picket fence, and lurches to a stop behind a jeep parked in front of the asphalt driveway. He hunches behind the passenger’s side door as he hears the RAT-TAT-TAT of bullets splintering pieces of wood and metal through the air. He tightens his grip on the MP-60 in his hands.
The enemy must be inside the house somewhere. He crawls to his left to the rear bumper of the car. From there he pokes the muzzle of his gun and lets out a burst of rounds aimed towards the direction of the house, hoping to keep whoever is chasing him at bay. He scurries back over to the hood of the car. He heaves his body up and makes his move.
He tosses the smoke grenade in the direction of the house. The landscape is quickly covered in a haze that blurs his vision, and hopefully his attackers. He gets to his feet and charges toward the house before——- ZIP, ZIP, ZIP three bullets pass right through his chest cavity and he falls to the ground dead.
The camera zooms out, and he sees that the shooter had been up in the 2nd-floor window the whole time. Fucking campers.
“Aight guys, that was my last one, I’m out for tonight,” KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 speaks into the air.
“Okay, fucking pussy, way to lose us that last one,” JAYBEATZ02 yells back.“Yea okay, fuckin loser, how many kills did you get for us?” KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 retorts, ready to hang up his mic and go to sleep.
“Yea stop cappin bro, you got like 10 kills,” XxPLAINPAT0o0xX voice calls out over the group chat.
“Yea, whatever that’s because I was fucking your mom while playing,” JAYBEATZ02 chides back, and a back and forth ensues.
Samuel turns off the PS4 without saying goodbye. With JB and Pat, this kind of stuff could go on for hours. He takes off his headset gingerly, making sure to not disturb the pink silky or the fresh braids underneath.
He checks his phone. The iPhone screen reads 2:37 AM. His Mom would be back soon once she got off her shift cleaning the facilities at the hospital. He could still get a couple of hours of sleep before school started. He goes on Youtube and searches for ASMR videos. He scrolls through the first couple of pages. He finds the one he’s looking for. It’s a girl he knows from school. In school her name is Sally. Online she goes by ASMRChewChewTrain. She’s his go-to for this kind of stuff. He starts the video. Opening shot and there she is, a big half watermelon in front of her. She has on deep red lipstick and matching nails.
She whispers into the microphone: “Good evening guys, thank you for tuning in. Tonight I have this beautiful, juicy, scrumptious watermelon that I’m going to be enjoying just for you.”
Her voice is hushed and he can barely make out the words she’s saying, but he can hear the loud rustle of her blown-out hair brushing up against the microphone. She takes out a container of Morton’s Kosher Salt and taps the top of the lid with her fingernails. They are long and when they hit the hollow head it reverberates like a snare drum. She then sprinkles the salt over the flesh of the watermelon and as the container rattles, he imagines the rustle of leaves in the wind. As she slices into the watermelon, it makes an initial snap, followed by a crunching sound he can feel in his spine. When he closes his eyes, it sounds like wood crackling over a campfire. As she bites in, a simultaneous slurping and crunching sound laps against the microphone.
He closes his eyes and imagines he is at the beach: feet walking over sand and small pebbles, watermelon waves splashing up against the shore. It’s Labor Day Weekend and the water is warm from the heat of August. Fireworks are going off on the shore, bursting splotches of red across the powder blue sky and the white clouds. He lets the salt of the water bite through his skin. He imagines it dissolving away at the top layer down to the fleshy pink underneath. The images swirl together in his consciousness as he slips into sleep.
“Sleep well sweeties, and share my videos,” ASMRChewChewTrain whispers somewhere off in the distance.
He wakes up two minutes before his alarm. He throws on some fresh boxers and picks out a pair of Nike joggers. Black with a small Nike swoosh label on the left-hand side by the pocket. Pairs them with a t-shirt and matching hoodie, straps on his shoes: Black Nike High Top AF-1’s with the white swoosh logo and the white soles. They say that people who wear Black AF-1’s know how to fight. Of course, Samuel has never been in a fight before. His friend’s are more about the virtual violence than any of the IRL stuff, but he hopes that the new braids will give him more of an edge. He unwraps the knot tucked in the back underneath the overhanging flap of his silkie, to reveal his braids. They rise up from a fresh lineup and weave in five adjacent rows: two crescents on either side, one larger one down the middle, culminating in a crowning top knot at the back of his head. A hair tie cradles them together and holds them in place.
It takes him fifteen minutes to drive to school from home. The suburbs zip by in flashes of green lawns, ranch houses, pine trees. Everything around here is a fifteen-minute drive away, he thinks to himself. Fifteen minutes and you can get to New Jersey, you can get across the bridge to the other side of the Hudson River, you can get to the Palisades Mall. First period starts at 7:14 AM, but Ms. Washington is always five minutes late, so as long as he is there before 7: 20 AM, there is no issue. He rolls up to the senior parking lot, the tennis courts to the right, the baseball field to the left. He joins the herd of heads and backpacks wading into the front side of the school, a brown brick building with pillars signaling the entrance. Yellow gray halls, rusted teal lockers, sneakers squeaking on linoleum. He wanders in a daze into Ms. Washington’s class at 7:18 am and sits at a cluster of desks with JB and Pat.
“Yo, how late did you guys stay on last night?” he asks, staring blankly into the air.
“Not gonna lie, I chugged some Monster and slept for like an hour. Imma be sleep in 10 minutes,” chimed in Pat, eyes closed, barely lifting his cheek off the top of the desk. Pat is the only other Black kid in AP Gov. Track star, tall, doctor parents, popular, Prom King. He lives on the other side of town past the Shop Rite where the houses start to have gates on their lawns instead of fences, finished basements, and pools built into the ground.
“Facts. Wake me up when Ms. Washington gets here.” JB pipes in. He has on this all-white ensemble. White ripped jeans and a crisp white t-shirt. He brushes his bleach blonde hair forward, tiny ripples resembling waves just barely visible, then carefully wraps a highlighter yellow silkie on his head. He leans back in his chair, feet on the desk.
“Are those the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Triple White sneakers?” Samuel questions.
“Yea bro, my mom bought me them for passing all my classes last quarter.” JB answers back.
“Didn’t you fail gym?” Pat mumbles, his mouth barely opening, the words loosely falling out into the air.
“Yea, but gym doesn’t count,” JB responds and laughs.
Their friendship was like this: since middle school, he did the work, they cheated off, they paid him with money their parents gave them, and he used it on video games and clothes which he bought from the mall. He was a straight-A student, and school had never been hard for him. He tuned in when he needed to, tuned out when he didn’t. Never disrespectful, no drama, he waited for most of the day until Music Production when he got to be in the studio.
Ms. Washington crashes into the classroom with a Dunkin’ cup in one hand and a stack of freshly printed handouts in the other.
“Sorry kids, the copy machine was acting up again this morning.”
Samuel stares at the ceiling, at the holes from pens, pencils, thrown pointed edges first into the tile. The splotches in the panel look like a constellation of stars in a night sky except in negative, with the sky white and the stars black.
Fourth period he walks with Sally to Music Production.
“So how much do you get paid for that ASMR stuff?”
Sally looks at him and scowls. She punches him in the shoulder, protecting her nails from getting scuffed.“Wouldn’t you like to know? You’re probably one of the creeps that watches it!”
He laughs nervously before pressing on, “Nah seriously, do you, like, make money doing that?”
“Actually yeah, depending on the streams I can get maybe a couple thousand a month.”
“Oh, that’s pretty sick,” He wonders if he could ever sell his stuff for money, be brave enough to put his work out there.
“Yea, beats folding clothes at one of the stores at The Coffin like everyone else around here.” Sally mimics folding clothes as they walk through the halls, tongue out, head bobbing exaggeratedly from side to side like a bobblehead. That’s what they called the Palisades Mall because it was built on an African American cemetery. They had forgotten it was there, or maybe nobody cared. Either way they had almost bulldozed the whole thing when the mall was being built, but some folks in the town protested and now there’s a small crag of rocks, some scattered graves, an unreadable plaque, all tucked in next to a 4 story parking garage. That’s why the air inside always smells like death, that and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. Or maybe it smells that way because every year a new person jumps from the railings of the fourth floor. Most of them live, but not all of them.
“Hey, you know I work at Hollister!”
“They still got you in the back folding clothes like the help?”
“You know it.”
“Sounds like you gotta step up your other entrepreneurial endeavors.”
Sally takes her seat in front of him in Music Production, the rows of Mac computers and audio equipment installed last year because their suburban school had more money than its board knew what to do with. She gets to work, her afro puff jutting out underneath the headphones. He stares at it bobbing up and down to whatever she is listening to, as he opens his project and plays back the sounds in his own headphones in forward, reverse, playing with the pitch and frequency. He had this Memphis, Tay Keith-type transition going on that he was trying to work out. He was currently fascinated by the scene over there. You can hear the legacy of artists from decades ago like Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. He was actually working on an Isaac Hayes sample. He plays and replays the opening of “Never Can Say Goodbye.” This sauntering bass and drum line opens the track, coming into this slick guitar lick, and then the lilting voice of Hayes crooning “I never cannnn, say goodbye”. He’s been playing and making music since he was 3 years old. He could play 15 instruments, and producing came naturally to him. He used to remake and cover songs on the piano by ear. His grandmother was a self-taught pianist. In Trinidad, her family could only afford to send her to cooking classes or piano lessons, and her father said a woman was more useful in the kitchen. So she taught herself, and eventually, she trained him classically so that he was playing Bach, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff by the time he was in middle school. He liked music because the instruments had a voice already. All he had to do was hit a key, strum a string.
Producing was just the next step. To him it was painting a picture, then splashing a coat of new paint over it, then going on and painting something new on top, and pretending like nothing ever happened. Like a musical veil that he could pull back and forth at whim. The best was going back through sounds, flipping a certain sound or clip of music into something completely new. A real screw you kind of moment. He wanted this record-scratch-in-your-face feel for the break. Then, he could transition into this dark, melodic brass sound bombasting over the punchy bass, add some trap-type Hi-hats at the top loud and clear, pitch up the vocals, and it would be set.
Something comes whirling by his face and breaks his concentration. He ducks instinctively. It is a pencil sent flying through the air, which sticks straight in Sally’s hair. Samuel twitches and loses his focus. Sally turns around at the same time as him. They both turn towards JB, who waves. Sally glares and gives them both the finger before she pulls the pencil out of her curls.
“I love how it just gets stuck in there,” JB slides over to Samuel’s console, grinning on one side of his face.
“Stop harassing her every day and just tell her you like her”, Samuel says, pausing his work.
“Yoooo, whatever. I got great news. So you remember my cousin Dylan, right? The one who lives in the mansion in Grandview? Anyway, I saw him at my family’s Thanksgiving event and he said he would get me in on a Friday night ticket to help with the music stuff. Some place called the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Capacity is like 100 people.”
Of course. Things like this always seem to happen for JB, so Samuel isn’t surprised. Some days he wants to punch him in the face.
“So yea, let’s use that gig to drop my new track. You could DJ, and we could crash at his spot on Friday. You got the lyrics for your verse yet?”
Samuel takes out his iPhone reluctantly and opens up the notes section where he kept all his poems. “Yea man, here check this out.” He hands it over to JB.
JB scrolls through them, teeth shining. “Yea these are sick, but I bet you could write something better. I actually haven’t come up with anything yet. Why don’t I use these verses and you write a dope hook or something.” It always seems to go this way. Samuel clenches his jaw, tongue to tooth.
“Sounds good.” It would be his first real performance, and he isn’t going to let this idiot ruin it.
That night he can’t sleep. He searches up “River Sounds” to help him sleep. Instead, he finds himself down a hole, looking up the most important rivers in the country. He is currently researching the Mississippi River, which he learns is the second-longest river in the country. Of course, from there he has to research Mississippi, a state he knows absolutely nothing about. IT is only about 2:00 am tonight, so he has time. On the Wikipedia page, he finds all of the movies and references to Mississippi. The movie Mississippi features his grandma’s favorites, Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett. Definitely something old and boring enough to fall asleep to. He searches Google to see if he can find a copy of the full movie.He can’t, but he does stumble on a clip. Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett are at a party with a bunch of white people. They are dressed like Victorian paintings, the men in formalwear, dress hats, neckties. The women in frivolous gowns, flowing fabric bound by tight corsets cinching their waists. Bennett has her hair in curls, with a dress that unfurls like a garden of white roses. They are in a grand entertaining room, on what seems to be a southern plantation post-slavery. A man wearing a captain’s hat introduces five children. They look nervous, but happy to be on camera. “These are my five little pickaninnies, they work for me on the showboat.” Samuel has never heard that word before and winces when he looks it up. Fascinated, he continues watching. The man continues: “the boy has a head like a rocky ford cantaloupe” about one of the children. The audience laughs. A small ensemble then starts to sing a song about “Little David”.
After the first song, the two smallest of the children step forward. These two children are positioned in the middle of a camera in a grand hall. It is a boy and a girl. The boy is dressed in formal clothing, like a Union soldier. He has on a two-button jacket that at first glance could be mistaken for a straight jacket and plaid trousers. He is missing almost all of his front teeth. He can’t be older than four years old. The little girl has on a plaid dress with a bow that sits right under the chest, with another bow wrapped around her white collar. The dress has little fringes at the shoulder. She must be only a year or two older. They both are standing stiff, proper as can be, wearing white gloves.
The boy starts to belt out the song “Swanee River”. He holds the “errrr” part for a fermata that seems to last an eternity. Something about the luminescence of that note causes him to almost break the cinematic wall and he glances toward the camera right at Samuel. For a moment he feels caught, seen. Finally, the other children jump in and harmonize. The camera cuts to a scene of a group of mysteriously appearing black field hands standing just outside what must be the main house where the party is taking place. They are a chorus and continue the song as this lilting string track plays over their voices. Samuel feels warm tears start to form in his eyes.
“Why don’t you join them?” A woman turns to Bing Crosby and asks.
Crosby responds, “Why spoil it?” to which the woman replies, “won’t you, for me?”
At this point, he jumps in, the other voices fading into the background, not to be heard again. A black maid glances down at Crosby from the bannister in wonder and the track goes on from there. The five children and the fieldhands are never seen again in the film.
It strikes Samuel then. Where did they go? What happened to those kids? What was their story? He continues down his rabbit hole of the internet and finds them. The Cabin Kids. They popped up as singing black children in a few movies in the mid 1930’s. In one movie, they are the children of an African chief dressed in nothing but fronds covering their bodies, in another the children of a kitchen maid dressed in rags, but mostly, they play the same role–singing black children. He can’t find anything about them after that. They probably got too old. Samuel drifts off to sleep and dreams he is one of The Cabin Kids, singing to an audience underneath the pillars of his school. The audience smiles and claps and as they clap he begins to disappear.
Samuel opens up his phone during lunch on Friday to a text from JB. He is sitting alone in the cafeteria listening to music and writing lyrics on his phone. On the wall there is a painting of the Hudson River which wraps around the whole cafeteria.
JB: I got these two girls who are down to come through tomorrow night. You know the vibes.
Samuel: Word, who?
JB: You know Sally, and her friend Maura.
I think Sally is def about this white chocolate.
Samuel looks at his phone disgusted. There was no way Sally would ever want to see JB out of school willingly. He shoots her a text.
Samuel: You coming through tonight??
Sally: Yea!! JB sucks but you’re really good!!
Samuel: What’s the real reason?
Sally: TBH, I’m trying to get this on video to hold over him in 10 years when he’s a coked-out stock trader on Wall Street. Maybe I’ll be able to bribe him. LOL.
Samuel laughs and takes a bite of his school pizza, which tastes like cardboard.
That night Samuel is lurking online on Omegle FaceTiming JB and PAT, playing COD. Most of it is dudes with their dicks out or fake pornbot videos. A man flashes on-screen with a Confederate flag hanging on his wall in the background. He turns his attention away from the game as XxPLAINPAT0o0xX and JAYBEATZ02 scream about this enemy and that location. KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 immediately starts recording his screen.
“I’m here to campaign with the world to stop the unjust destruction of monuments of Southern Pride in the United States. It is our history, our identity, and you will not replace us.” The man starts drawling on. There are crumbs around his lips and a case of Monster Energy drinks on his dresser.
“We have reached a point in this country where there must be a reckoning. We of the Confederacy will rise up and take back what is rightfully ours.” The man smiles and for the first time, KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 realizes that this is a person. Not a game, not a recording, not some document from a history class. The man starts breathing heavily before shouting, spit flying into the camera and his face red. “AND YOU, ALL OF YOU FUCKING SAVAGES, ARE RUINING THIS COUNTRY. YOU AND ALL YOU DIRTY MONKEY NIGG–” KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 switches the screen as quickly as he can. It is now just a person fumbling with a flacid dick. He exits OMEGLE and returns his attention to the game, where JAYBEATZ02 and XxPLAINPAT0o0xX are squatting up and down humping on his dead body.
“Where did you go?” XxPLAINPAT0o0xX asks.
“Did you guys hear that shit?”
Samuel tries to catch his breath as he plays the video for them.
“You don’t think that was fucked up?”
JAYBEATZ02 and XxPLAINPAT0o0xX are still playing the game. He can hear the sound of bullets, grenades, fake men panting. Someone calls in an airstrike.
“Nah yea, it’s messed up, but everyone gets freedom of speech and stuff. Who cares?” XxPLAINPAT0o0xX says dejectedly. The flicking of fingers on controllers is louder than his words.
“I mean, he has a point about the statues,” JAYBEATZ02 says.
“What?” KILLAHSAM_I_AM003 shouts in disbelief. Over the headset someone calls in an airstrike.
“Like, they are a part of our country’s history. My family’s from the South and we have a lot of Southern pride. Like all the other stuff is racist of course but I’m just saying he has a point.” JAYBEATZ02 says between letting off a round of fake bullets.
Dust floats up on KILLAHSAM_I_AM003’s screen and there is a flash. The camera zooms out and replays the descent of the missile that plummetted to the ground and killed him. Samuel angrily signs off and throws his Xbox controller at the television. The screen goes white, then black, a thin crack of rainbow color trickles down from the top to the bottom like a river bisecting a country.
Samuel tries to go to sleep, watches Sally’s latest ASMRChewChewTrain video. He sends her a text before finally nodding off.
Samuel: Okay, so actually I have this plan for tomorrow night. You down?
“Okay, so the plan is you’re gonna start off with that track we were working on the other day. Then we can do some stuff off my mixtape. Since you’re the sound guy, you can go out, make sure everything’s set up.” JB dictates their plan for the performance as they wait at the venue. It is smaller than Samuel had imagined, but packed, with non-descript exposed brick walls covered in art for sale. They had taken the Metro-North into Grand Central, caught the subway from there, and walked up the Brooklyn sidewalk, JB already drunk before entering the venue.
“We can have all the set lights off, and you can go up and play the master. Once the beat drops, we’ll have the lighting guys flash the lights, I’ll run up on stage, and then we can just get lit. Sound good?” JB’s eyes are wild, and he is doing his best Travis Scott impression.
“Yea man, sounds good.”
JB saunters off, swigging from a bottle of Smirnoff stolen from his parent’s liquor cabinet. Samuel sits in the staging room and stares into the mirror as he does it. It feels good to put the face on. His whole life he’d been performing, so might as well give them a show. He smears the white makeup over his cheeks, his nose, his jawline, his forehead, and over his lips until they disappear. He pats it down until it is caked on. He takes the red blush and jabs it over the whites of his cheeks. He loosens and picks out his braids dry, strands and strands ripping off the scalp, afro hair picked out wildly like Frederick Douglass. He changes into his costume, straps his acoustic guitar over his shoulder, and leaves the dressing room for the stage.
JB is drunk over by the bar, chatting up Maura, even though their set starts in a couple of minutes. Samuel’s audio equipment is hooked up and ready to go. He signals to the lighting technician and the sound guy. They both look confused, but he flags them hurriedly. In response, the lights turn off and the buzz of the crowd reverberates across the room like audio feedback. There he is, in the dark, with all these people in front of him, but nobody can see him, just the music. He knows when that beat hits, the lights will flash on, the bass will kick in, and JB will prance onto the stage like he’s owed it. But now it is his show.
He looks out into the sea of heads cast in hues of purple from the blacklit room, bobbing and shuffling, faces nondescript, voices marbling into an aural collage in the background. At the front, Sally is there, dressed in her outfit. He has maybe 15 seconds before the beat drops. He runs to the front of the stage and grasps her hand. She should have been scared but she looks at him like she has been waiting for this moment.
“Here you go.” He passes her the microphone. He knows what song to play. Just before the beat drops, he pauses the song on his laptop. The lights come blazing on anyway. She dazzles in the light wearing this sparkling red, white, and blue dress and scarlet lip gloss. Her face is painted white and she wears white gloves. Samuel has on a red and white pinstriped suit, white gloves, and a matching top hat. His face is powdered white with oversized red lips drawn on as well. The two black children stand in the spotlight together.
JB stands there frozen and looks on from the sidelines, face in disbelief, but he doesn’t matter in this story anymore. Samuel picks up the acoustic guitar and starts to strum idly, picking around on a C chord, then moving to an F, before returning to a C, then settling on a G. All major chords. He continues to strum on the guitar, and looks at Sally, not at the crowd. She lets out her refrain. “Waaaaay down upon the Swaaaa Neeeeee River”. Her voice lilts up the octave stretch and back down as she sings, water effortlessly rolling down a stream. The spotlight shines on them, and the crowd hushes. The two of them strum and sing, and for the first time they are not performing, they are just making music. They are able to perform the whole song, nobody else dares to steal the spotlight. Once they are done, they walk out of the haze, out of the concrete cell of the club. The pale street lights cover their bodies until they evaporate, feet trampling over the cement and into the black of the Brooklyn night.
Except it is not Brooklyn, and it is not night, and it is not black. It is a white page. It is here. I am Samuel, and I am looking at you now. You know who I am, who we are. “Come listen all you galls and boys,” yes, did you forget about me? Been singing the same song. Who did you think was telling this story? It is us, all of us. All we know to say is that we are here, voices, strung together into one instrument to play this tune. We have no other characters for you. Just you, just us. We dance and we sing and jump and we put on our makeup like masks. Our skin is caked with the gray and white powder that you keep stuffing our faces with. It is in our mouths and we are choking. We can’t breathe and our cries are muffled but not silenced. This page might be white but these words been Black. We are still here, and damn are we still beautiful.
Lyndon Nicholas is an emerging writer out of Brooklyn, NY. He has an MFA from the City College of New York, and a BA in English from Northeastern University. His work has been published in the Stonecoast Review and is forthcoming in Hungry Shadow Press. He is currently working on a collection of stories that reimagines Trinidadian carnival, mythological, and folklore characters.