By Alexis Dinkins -
“Did you hear? About the boy named Emmett?” Dolores asks Irene again, but Irene is feet ahead of her on the darkening street, practically running. “Rene!”
Irene stops and swivels sharply on her pink high heels. She dyed them herself a few months ago. They used to be her white Sunday shoes, and when her mom saw them she almost cried. Irene was always the rebellious one.
“What, Dolores? We’re going to be late!”
“The boy. Named Emmett.”
“Of course I heard.” Irene begins to click away again, but Dolores catches her arm.
“My mother doesn’t want me to be anywhere except home and church, Rene. This was a bad idea.” Irene laughs with a round, red mouth.
“Doloreees” she drags out Dolores’ name like a song. “Girl, this is church! I promise. And we’re 17, now. Your mama can’t hold you back all the time. There’s a whole world out here. Besides, if we stay out on this street there’s gonna be a lot more issues than if we make it to where we’re going.” Dolores rolls her eyes but follows Irene a few more blocks.
On the corner there’s a large abandoned warehouse, it seems ready to collapse. Music pours out of it. Good, new music, soulful, and warm like sunshine. Irene is already swaying in the hot night, banging on the door. It opens only a little, the chain lock holding it back, and a gruff voice yells over the music.
“You got the money?”
“Nope! We’re friends of Claude’s!” The man doesn’t hesitate to let them in, and Dolores’ eyes can’t take it all in at once.
The lights are low, but as she looks again for the lights, she realizes they aren’t low. They’re the stars. Only one area is lit industrially. Dolores looks at the people around her. Warm, sweaty, living people. They all swing and twitch around, but not bloody or beaten, or writhing in pain. Not tonight. The warehouse is filled to the top with joy, and blackness and the untouchable beauty of being alive. Dolores can’t hold in her giggle, which is drowned out by the jitterbugging around her. For the first time since Emmet, she is free again, her heart, which had been pinned up like a hunting trophy on a wall for weeks, has fluttered from its frame and landed here. Beating as erratically as the feet around her, but warmed. She feels Irene, dragging her toward a wall.
They begin to climb to the rafters, and that’s when Dolores sees him.
He’s also dressed in his Sunday best. He can’t be much older than she is. The “stage” he stands on only puts him a head above everyone else. His face is lit up by someone’s old, shadeless lamp. There is a perfect, even sheen of sweat glistening across his forehead. His voice is smooth, and even without music he commands the room. The beat of the dancers around him drives the song, but he owns it, slowing and speeding it up, letting the notes float and waver. Irene spots Claude and climbs down to meet him. They dance away into the crowd.
Dolores looks down at her used-to-be white shoes. They are now scuffed and dirty, but she doesn’t stop to think about what her mother will say, because the song is over. The silence of the crowd is hot, and Dolores feels the sticky wetness of sweat climbing her back. The singer scans the crowd, and then his eyes meet hers. She waves one hand, the other clinging tight to the scaffolding on the wall. He nods at her, as if urging her to say what she’s been wanting to all night.
“Can you sing a song for Emmett?” Her voice carries far in the warehouse, and the crowd looks over to her.
“Yeah, Sam. Sing a song for Emmett.” Someone from the crowd agrees, and Sam nods, letting the room fill with his clear, deep voice. A few people sway, but most stand still, in awe of this man with the world in his throat. Dolores watches from above, her once straight hair now puffed up around her face, and everything inside of her is warm and free and endless. She wonders if Emmett can hear it, the song that rings out in the rafters of the old warehouse for him, lifting all these people just a little bit higher off the ground. They all teeter on the precipice, each of them filled with the fleeting promise of sunrise.
Dolores floats. The sky is above her, and the stars dance in the black of night like pinholes in velvet. The sky is below her, and black eyes shine against even blacker skin, and Sam sings for the boy who could not be there to see it.
Alexis Dinkins grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. She received her Bachelor's degree from Clark University and is currently earning her Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at New England College. Her favorite book is Beloved by Toni Morrison and she has a pet chicken named Blanche! @dinkthinks