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i'm ready to die now

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Come on, I know the way.

Where? 

To the opera. 

Is it safe? 

Safer than here. 

*

They were gonna play Hotel Diplomat in Times Square on Friday night. Everything they ever wanted. The Get Down Brothers were gonna be big - bigger than Yankee Stadium, bigger than the Bronx, bigger than the whole world

Instead Boo gets handed down five to twenty-five years for a Class B. Makes no difference to a judge and jury, whether the sixteen-year-old Bronx kid on the stand is a kingpin or some stupid mule. Possession with intent to sell felony quantities of PCP and in a snap of Lady Justice’s slender fingers, their brother is gone. 

Afterward, things between Zeke and Shao break into so many pieces it seems like it can’t ever be fixed. Zeke flees to Connecticut to get the future his mama always wanted for him, leaves behind Shao, burnt-out and discarded, flipping for Fat Annie again. 

It seems like Dizzee’s world is imploding; the destructive momentum of a dying star, burning everything out and leaving derelict buildings and ash. Nothing like faraway magic or cosmic wonder, this is cold and merciless and confronting, it’s his mom sobbing in the courtroom to the sound of the gavel and his dad’s hand clutching on his shoulder as they watch Boo twist around, looking so young, to mouth a goodbye when they haul him out in handcuffs. 

Yolanda’s gone already, faraway in Hollywood with a bright, glittering future ahead of her. Her phone calls are always tearful, and the money she sends keeps them above water but doesn’t bring Boo back home.

Dizzee goes too; that’s what he’s always done, bunked off school to bomb trains and colour in the rubbleyards and subway stations, fled from the commotion and the chaos in search of places to hide. He loves his parents, but he’s never gonna be their perfect son. That’s Ra now, Ra, blindsided, hurt, who’s doing his best, who’s working in the salon and going to community college and dreaming of Tanya. 

Dizzee runs away. That’s not what he wants and it never was. He had plenty of girls, they all did, back when they were brothers unfolding their own myth. Pretty ones with shiny lipsticked mouths and nice asses who laughed and blew smoke rings and were greedy for angel dust. 

He didn’t want them then. He met a boy with long hair and thunderous eyes on a hot summer night in ‘77, back when he was still immersed in a world of superheroes and fantasy. He doesn’t want them now. The old world has been destroyed, but that’s just the South Bronx; a paint-soaked room in Pier 34 has been safeguarded, untouched by imploding stars.

Wordlessly, Thor steps back to let him in. It’s dim, patches of floor lit by the fluorescent flood of work lights, the air thick with Krylon. It’s good to see him, a relief to feel him tangible, warm and alive under Dizzee’s fingertips. Somebody’s still here. Somebody remembers him.

Paint, of course. Thor smells of paint, and Dizzee is inundated with it. Sweat and sawdust and cheap bar soap and . . . storms, Dizzee supposes. The scent in the air before a summer storm comes to wash the streets clean. The haze afterward, when the earth is damp and green things are growing out of cracks in the pavement.

They lock the door behind them. Thor must be thinking of the last time.

“So . . . the fuck is going on here man?”

He’d let Thor wash the paint off, painstakingly gentle. Let Rumi rinse down the drain. Was unwilling to leave, and afraid to show it. Or afraid to leave, and unwilling to show it. 

Afraid of Shao? 

Yes, he was, at that moment. 

“He’s not coming back ‘round here,” Dizzee says quietly as the lock slides into place. “Not anymore.”

“Diz . . .”

He stretches out a tentative, questioning hand and is met at the halfway point. Dizzee falters.

“Not . . . I need . . .”

It’s been a while since that night - but they’re still two psychic boys, and Thor seems to read his mind. 

Coat, scarf, mittens discarded. Then the rest of it, all of it, shivering in the chill. Winter is descending upon the city in brisk mornings and frosty nights. The heat of Dizzee’s breath clouds the cool air, intermingling, coming quick and then quicker and quicker again. He is undisguised. He is freed.

Thor’s hand goes around his wrist, rough thumb sliding along the raised line of vein under the thin skin of Dizzee’s forearm, and brings it up between them. Dizzee looks because Thor’s looking, sees the brilliant jewel-green nailpolish he took from Yolanda’s drawer in the bathroom. It’s untidy on his right hand and chipping already, but it makes him feel renewed; like an alien’s green scaled skin is slowly being exposed on his own, normal body.

“It’s Yolanda’s,” Dizzee whispers, watching Thor examine it. He gently disengages himself, turns to the pocket of his abandoned coat. Brings out the small bottle inside.

“What about that?”

His face feels hot, even in the cold. They both know what it is. “Yours. If you want it.”

Thor grins, a gleam of white teeth, bright-eyed, and kisses him. His fingers draw the electricity up to the very surface, and every nerve ending seems to send off a shower of sparks. 

Dizzee lurches forward uncontrolled to prolong it, and he wants, like nothing else he’s ever wanted - not the oceans nor the cosmos. He might never quit trying to get to an opera where nobody will understand. But he thinks he’d rather ditch the top hat and tails in favour of spending his life underground, in the land where birds and gods and aliens belong.

One day, they’ll see. Until then, feast in my name.

The night is caving in around them, black velvet blanketing. Dizzee sinks deep down into the mattress, and Thor follows after. 

Golden hair threads through his trembling hands. Holding on tight. Arching up, bearing down. Open-mouthed and inhaling sharply, lips smiling into his.

He listens for an admission, a confession in the sound of his name. The light glances off of naked skin, which gleams pearlescent in the shadows. Illuminating. He aches for every inch.

Thor’s eyes are dancing. He never looks away. This must be old territory for him, but his hands are still so awed, his mouth so reverent. Dizzee yields everything, lets himself be led toward revelation, and wonders where it has been all his life.

The universe is shrinking closer, verging toward a collision. He’s shaking, head to foot, clutching, hungering. More. Chest tightening, throat burning, gut twisting sharply, fingers stuttering over heat. Sighing into the ice of the air. 

They do not have the usual coherence. They form their own rhythms and languages, and speak them with fluency. Breath catching, then stumbling. Tautening, tensing, and then coming apart at every edge. Dizzee submerges into the shaking, gasping truths and glories in it. 

In the aftermath they stay all night long, wakeful and immersed in the other. Dizzee feels the reverberation of heart pressed against heart. Stripped bare, weighed up at afterlife’s gates. As light as feathers. They’ll be together on the other side. 

When the sun begins to peek flaming over the windowsill, Thor speaks.

“What happened to you? Thought something must’ve gone wrong -  pigs caught up in the tunnel after all -”

“Didn’t catch me,” Dizzee doesn’t rage or cry, not like Yolanda, not like Boo. He is silent, and around him the star goes on destroying. “Caught my brother.”

Thor rolls over, closer, and drops a heavy arm over his chest. Dizzee curls up toward it, seeking shelter. Their eyes meet, blue to brown.

“How bad?”

“Shao had him flipping dust.”

Jesus.”

“What’s it like?” Dizzee asks. “In prison?”

Thor would never lie to him. 

“Not good,” he says softly. “Not for him.”

Dizzee puts a hand over his eyes. “It’s my fault,” he says. “Should’ve - should’ve noticed - he’s only sixteen -”

 “Diz . . .”

“They’re gone,” Dizzee murmurs. “All gone. Just me now.”

“And me.”

*

The flat above the salon is empty now, more often than not. Dizzee sits in the hallway with cigarette and sketchbook, and listens to the muted chatter of Ra and some client below.

The telephone on the hook gives a shrill ring.

Dizzee!” Ra hollers up the stairs. “Can you get that?”

Dizzee blinks, startled out of daydreams. Their mom hasn’t let anybody else touch that phone in months - she stays close by in anxious anticipation, always listening, always watching, waiting for one of her lost children to pick it up.

“Mom? Mom. Can you hear me?”

“Yolanda. It’s Dizzee.”

“Diz?” The sound of Yolanda’s voice comes through over two thousand miles of telephone wire with an odd, underwater quality. “Oh shit. What’s wrong? Did something happen to Mom?”

“She’s OK,” Dizzee answers, taking a drag of his cigarette. “She and Dad went to visit Boo.”

“Oh! You gave me a fright.”

“Sorry.”

“Well, how is he?”

“Good - he’s good.”

Dizzee has been to see him. Once. 

I used to know all your friends, Boo had once said, half-reminiscent and half-accusing. So Dizzee had gone to see him, and looked him in the eye through the pane of glass because he deserved that at least, and started off with “you remember that white boy?”

“Great,” Yolanda says eagerly on the other end. “That’s great. Do you need more money?”

“I’m good -”

“I can send something for Boo’s commissary? Or Ra, does he want any textbooks for college? We’re booked for six months straight, seriously, promotion for the film and then we’ll . . .”

Dizzee listens to her talk. Yeah, he’s been to see the film (with Thor, at the very back of the cinema), and Mom and Dad go at least once a week. No, he doesn’t need money, but Ra’s got some booklist he needs for next semester. Yeah, he’s still seeing Tanya. Is Dizzee seeing anybody?

Well. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. He stabs out the cigarette in the ashtray.

“Yeah.”

Yolanda gives a little shriek of excitement. “Oh seriously, no shit? Who is she? Do I know her?”

“No,” Dizzee says. “Boo does.”

“Shit,” Boo had said succinctly on the other side of the glass. 

He had been uncharacteristically quiet for the last fifteen seconds. Dizzee didn’t think he’d breathed during that time either.

But Boo’s face split into a familiar impertinent grin. “Lucky I’m the one in prison and not you, huh?”

“Well, what’s her name?” Yolanda presses. “God, I have to pry stuff out of you, I swear.”

“Thor. His name’s Thor.”

Thor?” Yolanda repeats, caught on the name before she registers the rest.

“He paints,” Dizzee forces out. He’s not used to this, sharing the whole thought and not half of it. “He bombs trains.” I’m in love with him, but that’s between him and Thor.

“You’re -”

Yolanda’s like Boo, really. That’s how he knew he could tell her. She splutters, silences, and then -

“That’s great, Diz,” she says weakly into the receiver. 

He doesn’t answer.

“I’m happy for you.”

“Really?”

“‘Course,” she says, and her voice becomes decided. “‘Course I am. Are you happy?”

“Yeah. I am.”

If you’re an alien, you gotta not apologise for being an alien.

He lets her talk a whole lot more, but doesn’t mind. She doesn’t prod any more, even though he can tell she’s dying to; she starts in on Hollywood again, half talking to him and half to somebody that sounds like Regina in the background, promising to send money, asking him if he’s seen Zeke lately - apparently Mylene spends every spare second on the phone with him. She finally says, regretfully, that she’s going to have to go.

“And -” she hesitates. They’re not much for sentimentality. “Thanks for telling me. Seriously.”

Dizzee shrugs uncomfortably, though she can’t see it. “S’good to hear your voice.”

He can practically hear her rolling her eyes. “Love you.”

“You too.”

“And tell Mom I’ll call on Friday. Or Saturday - no wait, not Saturday. Monday, all right?” 

“Monday,” he repeats dutifully.

The phone clicks as she hangs up, and he spends an extra moment with it pressed to his ear. He’s smiling.

*