PART ONE. LUCKY
1. A Year Is A Long Time.
The moon hangs in the sky like a corpse. Pale, pockmarked, swollen. It sucks the light from the starless night. The moon bloats like a tic.
- A year is a long time, Lucky thinks.
The prison behind him, he waits for his brothers.
Everyone calls him Lucky. Even now, he don’t know if they’re sarcastic. He’s been lucky for a man born with dark skin. But that ain’t lucky in and of itself.
He had buckets full of good luck and bad.
He flips a coin, for a moment. Heads, tails, tails, heads, tails. Satisfied that it is random, he slips the coin away. He looks at his pocketwatch. It is still hours until he is set to meet Elijah and Jeremiah. He needs this time to taste his freedom alone, before it is shared. And as Lucky waits for his brothers, there ain’t nothing else to do but think about that night a year ago, when fate had took him by the hand and marched him straight into that prison.
The three brothers played grand concert halls, taverns, bars, stately homes, country clubs, workers offices, mines, prisons.
Lucky hung unperceivable behind Jeremiah, the strutting whirlwind seeking alcohol, women and a card game, a lightning rod for his brother’s Elijah’s shuddering anxiety.
Elijah asked, repeated, reiterated, interrogated, intimidated and ingratiated anyone in sight for dimensions of the stage, the venue, busying himself moving the instruments incremental and indifferent, straightening his ever-straight, everpresent bowler hat, thumbing an invisible stain from its beaver felt.
- I want a fucking beer or some sorta rye, Jeremiah purred, and then growled.
The tavern owner stared at Jeremiah, taking in his appearance; the clothes were expensive, but they were in bad shape, threadbare and torn from very hard living. They hung off his tall, thin frame in flowing layers, a bohemian mishmash of different cultures and their trinkets. The tavern owner gives himself a moment to work out if Jeremiah is scum on the way up, or aristocracy hurtling down. The other brother, Elijah, dressed so button down, it looks as though his bow tie would strangle him. The tavern owner scans Lucky and gives up on trying to work out what this beautifully dressed black man is doing hiding in the shadows with these two white boys. People could never believe that Jeremiah and Elijah were his brothers – after all, they were white. But no one is perfect.
The tavern owner turns back to Jeremiah.
- We are a vineyard. We serve wine.
- Give me a bottle.
Jeremiah took a swig. The tavern owner spluttered, fat jowls quivering.
- Drink from a glass or you have to leave.
- The bottle’s made of glass.
It was hard for Lucky to hear what Jeremiah was saying over the thumping of Elijah’s neurotic heart and throbbing veins.
Even Elijah’s pulse raced, Jeremiah’s pace was glacial.
Everything else about him was hot, wild, chaotic, but he wouldn’t speed up for a runaway pram. And yet, Jeremiah reappeared on stage, gripping the guitar in one hand, the wine in the other…
And his fingers fell like rain.
Slowly the guitar built, so that when the violin joins, it is as natural as drips turn to puddle, from trickle to ripple, from river to surging torrent, to ocean so deep, so overwhelming, it was without inlet; no egress, no coastline.
And at first, it seemed that Elijah’s drumsticks gently guide the flow, direct its ebb, that the tidal rhythm is the bed, the rapids, the falls and the shore, but it is more than that, it is the foreboding undertow, the seabirds born from foam, torn from the tips of wavecrests, misty summer storms, the glassy calm.
And so it went.
And Lucky’s fingers danced wild around the fiddle’s neck. He was vaguely aware of the huffing and puffing in the darkness. Elijah hated when Lucky departed their rehearsed routine.
Lucky was infatuated by the girl with the candlelight dancing in her pale blue eyes. And Lucky didn’t often allow himself to feel anything. There was something about this girl, perhaps her red hair, that reminded him of Clarissa, the one and only girl he had let himself love.
She moved her body soft to the music, his fingers darted across the instrument, tightening around its neck, in and around her legs, licking at her flesh. The applause died away and Lucky and the girl slunk under the night and she linked her arm through his and she led him through the pines.
And the moon pulled the darkness around her, like blankets to a selfish lover.
Behind him in the saloon, Lucky left Elijah to argue with his brother over how much of their earnings they would save and how much Jeremiah would whore, drink, drug and gamble away. While the music faded to echoes, this brief moment would ring out in Lucky’s memory. He remembers it fond and deliberate, blocking out how much his brothers would nag, argue and harangue each other.
Lucky and the girl stumbled across a black river at the feet of the pines. They perched on a log, in uneasy silence, broken by easy quiet.
They shared a bottle, shared spit, and then a kiss.
It feels like yesterday, but a year is a long time.
That strange girl, that stranger.
The river was a canyon that had drowned years ago and the silhouettes of its ruins were black on black against the starless sky. However, whenever Lucky remembers that night, the nightsky swarmed with stars that drifted between the canopy above and the inky water below. They shed their clothes and slipped into the warm summer darkness and it felt to him like he was cradled between two infinite skies.
That night, he blinked the water from his eyes and the first waves of nostalgia clouded his vision. He remembered something of a collapsed coliseum, too old for a country so young. Wait long enough and the implausible becomes inevitable.
And then the men came through the silent pines.
Is a mob a lynch mob if they just ain’t had the chance yet?
They flung him onto dirt. His clothes clung to him, dripping quarry water and blood.
Their bodies blocked out the moon, the room as dark as skin.
A black man and a white girl? They told him he was lucky they didn’t string him up.
He has seen too much evil to believe in God.
He has seen too much evil to doubt the Devil.
- I ain’t gonna string you up for who you are and being with a white woman, boy.
Lucky is impassive.
- I’m gonna lock you up for being who you are, plain, plain and simple. But I’m been nice. You’re lucky.
He walked to the prison in chains with some magic dancing underneath his skin, a feeling that only came when he flirted with fate.