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Matt Nelson, 30 Jun '12

Tiffany slapped him across the face, then she burst out laughing.

"I'm trying to save your life!" she shouted through her snickers.

Akeem's cheek throbbed, and he stumbled sideways. She continued to lean against the bar, that half-cocked grin on her face. Green eyes as wild and sweet as dandelion greens — that's what he had told her on their first date. He couldn't remember why he'd said something as stupid as all that. His momma would have told him it was the romantic in him.

"Are you listening?" She asked. She laughed again, as much from exhaustion as exasperation.

For a second, the floor became the ceiling. Akeem's head rolled with the change in gravity. He could see a dollar bill pressed above his head in the space between his feet. Old George was giving him the evil eye, and Akeem imagined ripping him from his perch and shredding him into bits of faded emerald. He would chew them into his mouth, floss scraps of them from his teeth in the morning.

"Goddammit, Akeem," Tiffany said, and put her hand against her forehead. She began to cry. He was in no condition to comfort her, so he stood at the bar in silence, cupping his face with his hands, trying to understand.

When the world slipped back into focus, she was gone. There was only the mass of people dancing to the beat of a song he did not recognize. The floor and ceiling switched places again. Akeem desperately wanted to escape.

The bar lurched forward, and all the dozens of people shifted. The door loomed larger in his view, an oblong rectangle that burst outward as he pressed into it. He was outside, and vomiting into a trash can.

In his black out, he saw whiteness. A woman spit into a bleached cloth and wiped it against his grimy face.

"I'm go-inna clean you up," she said. He tried to pull away, but she dunked him into wetness. "You a-gonna get all clean now," she said.

"I'm a-gonna be a fireman," he shouted at the maternal spectre. "I'm a-gonna tell everyone what to do. They a-gonna do what I say to do!"

The woman's neck expanded until she towered above him. "Get to church, you child," she hissed. Then she hit him.

Akeem awoke. He was on the side of a corner, hanging onto a lamp post. He held an iPhone an inch away from his face. A purple alert message flickered on the screen: TIFFANY AARONS. 7 MISSED CALLS.

He swore, tried to swipe his finger across the phone and missed. He remembered the pain from the blackout, and the way the woman had raked a finger across his cheek to clean the dirt. He squinted and deliberately rubbed his finger along the stretch of the screen.

To his astonishment, the phone began to ring.

"Where are you?!" Tiffany cried out, in her tinny, metallic voice.

"I don't know," he said.

"I just left the bar," she said. "Let me come get you. Please. I'm scared."

He put his head against the cool metal of the lamppost. He could feel something deep beneath the earth vibrating against his skin. Don't get quiet now, he thought.

"Marsh Street," he said. "Tiffany, come get me. I'm so lonely."

She hung up, and he looked at the device in his hand. It was new, an ingrained white case with a single small black button. Akeem turned it around in his hands, put his nose up to the headphone jack, even bit into the back of the aluminum casing.

"You don't do me no good," he told the telephone.

He threw it as hard as he could into the darkness, and then he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Now they couldn't find him anymore. He could just get away.

"She's gonna save my life?" he said, and sat down on a street curb. "Ain't no one that can do that."

His breathing was labored. It was so hot outside. All he wanted was to stay in the moment, safe from Tiffany, safe from all the people who wanted him to do so much. He couldn't so much. He couldn't be part of something that wanted to make him an exception.

Akeem let his head roll from side to side. He should have stayed home and not gone to college. He could have been big there. He could have waved a big gun. There wasn't nothing anyone else could have done.

What was he saying?

"You got opportunity," his grandpa told him. "Something more than I ever had. Something more than your dad ever had. You know where he is? Your mom don't. I don't. No one does."

"I can't do so much!" Akeem shouted.

Tiffany was there. She was wrapping her arms around him and pulling his face into her chest. She wanted to bring him home and put him to bed in his freshman dorm room.

"I'm so tired," he sobbed.

He was there. Her head was on his chest.

"I'll take care of you," she said, before he drifted into sleep. "I'll do whatever it takes."

Akeem dreamed of his father's face that night, stoic and untouchable. Akeem asked him many questions and received no response other than the intensity of silence. Akeem fell to his knees and pleaded for solutions, but his father reflected none of Akeem's anguish.

When he awoke, Tiffany was by his side. He could feel her breath in the hair against his chest. He was dehydrated and hungover, but he didn't get up. Akeem wanted to stay there and feel her against him. He closed his eyes, and for a half hour, believed that everything would be alright.

Comments · 2

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  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Matt your stuff is so good it's intimidating - seriously.

    Since Burrst went live last Friday I've really looked forward to the hour or so a day I get to just sit down and read the bursts everyone is posting. There have been a few that I've enjoyed so much I've read them again the next day, your first included http://burrst.com/bursts/30/ - I will be reading this tomorrow to :)

    • Posted 5 years ago
  • Matt Nelson said...

    Thanks @Anthony Blackshaw! Glad to know I've got at least one reader, haha. These burrsts are such a refreshing change from my day job. I think I need to attempt to write something funny soon — this, as well as my other piece, became unexpectedly heavy stuff.

    I need to start reading around and following more people. Anyone have any recommendations?

    • Posted 5 years ago