Noble Things

Fiction Roxane Gay

Parker Coles Johnson VI was tired. He missed the way things were. He missed fast food, the way he bit into a French fry and steam filled his mouth, grease coated his tongue, and for hours, he could feel the grit of salt in his teeth. All the fast food restaurants were empty now, boarded up or abandoned because of the Austerity Articles. There was no place for such fancy, not anymore. It was unseemly buying food at a restaurant that one could prepare at home. It was more than a decade into the second secession of the South and the rise in tensions that led to the New Civil War. The world had changed. Parker Coles Johnson had changed.

Sometimes, driving through town at night, Parker could see the flicker of a low fire—vagrants or discontents making their way north, squatting for the night in dark alleys, trying to stay warm. Parker was kind-hearted despite the things he had done, and he wondered how those folks survived. He admired what they were willing to endure for a different life. He tried not to take his good fortune, or what looked like good fortune in the New South, for granted. He had a sturdy home and a warm bed. Most nights, his wife Anna lay next to him, sleeping soundly or, he suspected, pretending to sleep soundly so he wouldn’t paw at her when he couldn’t sleep.

Anna wasn’t a cold woman, nothing of the sort. When they first met, at a town meeting ten years earlier, just after the war began, Anna was bold, making such eyes at him there could be no misunderstanding her intentions. Those eyes, dark brown, intense, they were the first thing Parker noticed, and she only got bolder after one of the elders told her to quiet down. She was objecting to a motion that only men and married women should be able to hold the floor in town meetings. Such motions were often raised though they rarely went anywhere. Women had sacrificed too much and they weren’t going to stand on the sidelines, never again.

During that meeting, Parker stood, and everyone turned to look at him, The General’s youngest son, the one who bore The General’s name. Parker looked at every member of the town council and said, “A woman has the same right to speak as any man here, no matter how she is attached or not. There are some things we cannot nor should not change.” With that he nodded, straightened his jacket, and sat back down, his heart beating so fast he could hardly breathe.

Later that night, Anna scratched at Parker’s door with those long nails of hers, and when he answered, she slipped past him so softly, so silently, he wasn’t quite sure she was really there until he was in bed, on his back, holding her hips in the palms of his hands.

Anna was not so soft in his hands anymore. Turning on his side, Parker studied the gentle slope of her bare shoulder. He slowly moved his hand toward her, but she said, “Don’t,” her voice clipped and thin. Anna was angry, and there wasn’t much Parker was able to do about that anger, which had been finding its current shape for some time.

The men in the Johnson family were southerners through and through. His great great great one or another granddaddy fought in the first Civil War as did lots of other kin. After the South fell, they persevered, prospered in tobacco farming, and would have kept on prospering were it not for the changes no one saw coming. Anna came from a long line of southerners too but she did not hold the same charity toward her ancestry. After the border fence was erected along the Mason-Dixon, most of Anna’s family fled north. Too many of them loved people with brown skin and had borne children with brown skin to abide the changes coming. Anna’s family left in the months after Anna and Parker met and now, more than a decade past that, she missed the people whose blood she shared, the roundness of their voices, her mother’s hands.

The argument keeping Parker awake and his wife’s back turned to him ended with Anna saying, “It’s not really fair, the price of loving you, and I don’t know how much longer I’m willing to pay.” Her voice was so quiet it made Parker shiver.

He wasn’t opposed to following Anna anywhere, and he hated what the South had become. The price of rising again had been steep, steeper than anyone could have imagined or was willing to consider amidst the bluster and bravado of forming a new union. When he was at the bar with his friends, alcohol, unlike most things, deemed a necessity, Parker listened to all the angry talk. He gritted his teeth and wished his friends wouldn’t assume he felt the same way. “You’re still here, “ Anna liked to say, “Why wouldn’t people assume you agree?” and Parker would walk away because he also hated the sharpness of her tongue when his wife was right.

The real problem was his father, General Parker Coles Johnson V, who commanded the Army of the Federated States of the South, cobbled together from the military bases below the Mason-Dixon and not much else. The General, as the family had always called him, with very little affection, some fear, and grudging respect, expected the people in his bloodline to mind their place, standing tall, albeit behind him. Sometimes, at Sunday dinner, Parker could feel The General staring, like his father somehow knew that love and something far more trivial, like French fries, was pulling Parker’s heart north.

In the morning, Parker opened his eyes and shivered, the bed cold and empty. The house was quiet, the air stale. He rose out of bed slowly, his body full of familiar aches, and found Anna in the bathroom, applying eyeliner to the sensitive membrane of her lower eyelid. Women in the South didn’t have much need for makeup anymore, face painting deemed overly expensive when money needed to be directed to rebuilding efforts, but Anna wasn’t going to stop making her face pretty and by the grace of her husband’s name, no one was going to say a word about it.

Parker stood behind his wife, rubbing her shoulders, kissing the back of her neck through her hair, which smelled clean and sweet. She studied him in the bathroom mirror. “I’m not thrilled about dinner at your father’s tonight. All this ceremony, and for what?”

He sighed, nodded. Parker gently rubbed at the thick scar on the left side of his chest, an ugly circle of dead tissue. “But you’ll come?”

Anna set her eyeliner pencil, contraband from her family in the North, on the lip of the sink. “Have I ever not stood by you?” She scowled, shook her head at his reflection and stalked out of the bathroom.

There was the boy, Parker Coles Johnson VII. When the boy was seven, Parker sat with him, studying a map for a geography project. There were the Western Territories, dry land full of people who didn’t realize their water came from Michigan and now paid exorbitant prices to quench their thirst, and the Republic of Texas, soon to be annexed by Mexico. The Federated States of the North included pretty much every state that didn’t secede, stretched across much of the country, skipping most of the west and including California and Hawaii. And then there was Florida, now a colony of Cuba, where those who could afford it went for sunny vacations and fruity cocktails and spicy food. The boy pointed at the various territories that used to be the United States, his face screwed with concentration. “Why aren’t all these states together?” he asked. Parker felt a flush of pride quickly followed by shame.

“They used to be,” Parker said, squeezing his son’s shoulder. “They ought to be.”

Parker explained that once, there was an election and then there was anger and then there were petitions and then terrible decisions were made. It all happened so fast, it hardly seemed real until the war began and it was too real and then the war ended and nothing had been saved, which was always the case when foolish men made foolish, prideful decisions.

The boy nodded, tracing along the Colorado border. “The states should be together again. We should ask grandpa to do that,” he said with the conviction only children can have for the people they trust most.

Soon after that Parker and Anna sent the boy away. The borders had re-opened after the war even though the fences stayed. For a price, anyone could go north or come south though generally, people only went in one direction. The boy was with Anna’s parents, gone now a year because Anna wasn’t going to have any child of hers learning the kind of nonsense they were teaching in the South. He was too smart for that, too good, and on this point, she and Parker agreed. They spoke to their son on the videophone once a week, saw how he was growing into his body—long and lanky—but still very much a boy. He carried both his mother’s and his father’s looks in him and he was smart, smarter than most people knew what to do with. Like Parker himself, their son often made people uncomfortable when he spoke, so many questions, all incisive, well considered. Each week, Anna promised their son they would see him soon and Parker nodded silently, looking away because he didn’t dare look in his son’s eyes.

The only room in their home with pictures of the boy was his bedroom, which was a shrine to the child, all his belongings waiting patiently for his return. Parker found Anna in their son’s bed, on her side, holding the boy’s pillow to her face. Without looking up she said, “This still smells like him. Leave me alone, please.” There was no anger in her voice, only weariness.

Parker wanted to say something but couldn’t. His mouth was dry and sour. His chest ached. And then he was angry because none of this was his fault and he couldn’t do a damn thing about any of it. He slammed his fist against their son’s dresser. “I won’t live like this, my woman hating me in my own house.”

Anna pulled the pillow from her face. “Then don’t,” she said.

Hers was a mostly empty threat. From the beginning, they had shared something strong, something beyond anything they had previously known. Anna appreciated Parker’s quiet nature, the clean calm of what he believed. Parker loved her edge, how she could never be tamed. He’d had his fill of seeing what happened when women lowered their necks too much to the men they loved—his mother, the women his brothers married, how each year, they seemed to grow smaller and smaller. He didn’t want a small woman, not like that. During those early months, when Anna slipped through the dark to his house every night, when they tore at each other like their bodies were more than flesh and bone, he told her, “Don’t ever become small,” and she said, “I never could.”

Husband and wife avoided each other for the rest of the morning. They were both in the house but it felt empty, silent, as if Anna wouldn’t even grant Parker the small pleasure of hearing her move and hum through their home. As he considered his wife’s mood, Parker thought, with no small amount of pride, that she was bigger than ever—small in stature, but she knew how to take up room.

He walked to church alone, thinking about Anna and all the room she took up in every part of his life. During the service, Parker sat up front with his family—mother, father, brothers, their wives and children. He sat so rigidly his back throbbed by the time the preacher finished his sermon on liberty and faith and the goodness of war. After, when he stood next to his parents, Parker ignored questions about Anna and her whereabouts. There weren’t many. People in town didn’t understand Anna and largely believed her to be godless, a designation she rather enjoyed because she understood that in their community, to be godless was to be have a mind of one’s own. Back at the family estate, Parker changed into jeans and a flannel shirt and took his nephews fishing, though they caught nothing. He tried not to think of fishing with his boy, how his son stared intently at the water as if he might will fish toward his line.

At six, sharp, Anna was at his parents’ home, wearing a blue dress, her hair piled on top of her head, her lips thickly covered in the bright red lipstick her mother-in-law hated. As he greeted her at the door, Parker held his hand against the small of her back and whispered, “Thank you for coming.” She looked at him, held his gaze, but didn’t smile.

Dinner was a solemn affair, The General droning on and on about the Austerity Articles and how they weren’t austere enough and how people were getting lax, soft really, how if something didn’t give, the South would be overrun by Northern trash once more because the border fence was falling apart. Parker poked at his food. Anna didn’t bother to hide her disdain. When she said, “The South needs to be overrun so things can be set right again,” Parker stared at his plate, cleared his throat softly, wondered when he became the kind of man who looked down instead of standing up. Everyone stopped eating and stared at Anna and she stared right back. The General started to respond but then didn’t. He took a sip of wine, red, staining his lips and teeth and tongue.

Back home, in bed alone, Parker sighed. Anna was in their son’s room but maybe, tonight, she would relent and come back to him. His chest ached. His leg ached. That nagging discomfort had been there for years. The frag still lurked beneath the skin covering his thigh, embedded just above the muscles. When he walked, he felt the splinters of metal and wished he could cut himself open and tear them out. He had learned to live with the ache but lately, in a cold bed without a warm woman, the pain was too much, too fresh, a burden he was forced to carry because of the decisions of other men.

Parker was a dutiful son. That was the way of the men in their family, though such duty was nothing he would want for his own boy. On the day he left with his father and brothers, Anna stood on their porch, her hair wild, her eyes wild, her voice wild. She would not be contained. She stared at The General. She addressed him by his full name. She said, “Parker Coles Johnson V, you bring this man back to me of sound body and mind.” The General blinked. No one called him anything but General or Sir, and certainly not a woman. The General was so unnerved he removed his hat, held it to his chest. He said, “Yes, Ma’am, I will.” As they walked to the waiting Humvee, The General turned to his son and said, “Don’t you make a liar out of me, son.”

It was a long tour—mostly border protection in Maryland. Parker was never sure if they were supposed to be keeping people in or out or what the point of it all was. Parker bunked with his brothers in the tent next to their father’s. He was constantly surrounded by the stink of men, their coarse voices. He could hardly bear to think of the home Anna kept, little soaps he didn’t understand but that smelled of lavender and linen, and her food—such strange flavors like curry, jerk, ginger and lemongrass.

Everyday, the Coles Boys as they were called, went on patrol. They were a general’s sons. They did useful work and did that useful work well, but their service involved nothing that would keep them from going home to the women who were waiting. What Parker mostly remembered from those three long years was the boredom, riding around in rusty jeeps, sitting quiet while his brothers jawed about nothing he gave one damn about. It was rare they ever fired their weapons for anything but target practice and hunting deer. Parker thought about Anna, and the yeasty smell of her neck in the morning. He thought about the lines of her body, the letters she wrote—short, almost terse, but letting him know she was waiting, she still loved him. In one Anna said, “Don’t make me undone by loving you.”

The soldiers slept with their rifles on the ground right next to their cots. When he couldn’t sleep, Parker lay on his back, holding his rifle against his chest beneath the thick wool blanket, whispering, “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” He would say those words and he would laugh because the words made no sense, no sense at all. The rifle was just a hunk of metal, a heavy thing, a killing thing.

Parker could shoot true and straight. He wasn’t afraid of guns. He had been hunting with his father and brothers since he was knee high, The General beaming as his boys took down all manner of wildlife, slapping their shoulders with his meaty, calloused hands. Parker knew how to hold the butt of the rifle against his shoulder just so, how to exhale slowly when depressing the trigger, how to understand the wind and the crispness of air to better gauge how a bullet might fly through it. He understood how a bullet could tear through a body, and leave a man blown open and bleeding. He had seen it. He had done it, and so when it was done to him while he and his brothers were doing a sweep near the Potomac River, he wasn’t angry.

He never saw the Northern soldiers as they emerged from the brush. He was too far in his head and then he was all the way in his body, on the ground, clutching at his leg, screaming. He screamed so much he spit blood. There was a bullet somewhere in his shoulder, he could feel it burning him from the inside out, and one somewhere in his chest, and two, maybe, in his thigh. His brothers were hunched over him, frantically trying to staunch the bleeding, stabbing him with a shot of morphine. Thom, the eldest, muttered, “The General is going to kill us.” William, the second eldest, kept firing his rifle into the empty distance, the enemy soldiers nowhere to be seen, gone just like that. While the Coles Boys waited for help, Parker turned his head to the side. He hurt everywhere but was all screamed out, the morphine finally doing its work, dulling everything. He stared at the water of the Potomac, mostly muddy, trash bobbing gently along the surface. He thought of his wife’s words—don’t make me undone.

The General brought Parker home himself, took a week of leave to do it and see to his own wife who, after being married to a military man all her life, was just about waited out. As they rode in the ambulance, The General talked about why he gave his youngest son his name. “I looked at you,” The General said, “And you were so damn little, but you reached out and grabbed my finger and you held on real strong. I thought to myself, ‘this boy will be able to carry the weight of my name.’ I was right about that.” The General’s voice cracked and he held onto Parker’s arm. “I was right,” he said, again, softly.

As they pulled into the driveway, Anna ran down the stairs of their porch to the ambulance. She clutched her chest. She looked very young. Parker tried to sit up, tried to speak, but he was so tired, his mouth dry and thick with his tongue. Anna was gentle with her husband. She smoothed his sweaty hair from his forehead. She pressed her lips against his even though they were dry and cracked. She whispered, “I love you,” in his ear, her breath tickling him everywhere. Anna looked him up and down and when she was satisfied that she could live with the man The General had returned to her, she directed the medics to bring Parker inside.

When The General tried to follow, Anna stopped him, her small hand planted against the older man’s chest, her fingers curled into claws. “You are not welcome in my home,” she said. “You broke your promise.” The General didn’t protest, just tipped the brim of his hat and stared after Anna, marveling that his quietest boy ended up with such a woman. Anna followed her husband’s stretcher into their home, and Parker smiled wanly.

Before he was shot up, Parker had not known Anna to have any fragility about her but that first night home, his wife sitting in bed next to him, Parker thought she might shatter if he touched her. She was solemn. She held her hand against his ribcage, near one of his bandages and said, “You are done serving your father.” Parker covered her hand with his and nodded. The worst of the war ended soon after and then Parker and Anna’s son was conceived and born and life went on but most men in the South kept walking around feeling like they should be fighting something without knowing quite what.

In the morning, Anna stood in the doorway of their bedroom. “It’s time,” she said and Parker slowly sat up, wiped his eyes, longed for a glass of cold water but knew better than to ask for one. He followed Anna into the study, his limp more pronounced after a bad night’s sleep, and they sat side by side. They put on the faces they knew their son would want to see. When the video call came through and they saw the boy on the screen, his bright eyes, his hair growing long over his face, Anna bit at her lower lip and grabbed Parker’s thigh, the wrong one, and he winced as he felt the frag shift and pierce his muscle anew. Parker forced himself to smile wider. They listened as their son chattered about everything he had learned in school, how three of his teachers were quite boring, his new friend he really liked even though she was a girl, an experiment he was doing in the refrigerator, the park his grandparents took him to.

“When will I see you again?” Seven, as they called him, asked.

Parker reached out to touch the video monitor but looked away. “Soon, kid. Soon.”

Seven nodded, temporarily satisfied with the answer that wasn’t really an answer. When the call ended, Anna and Parker sat where they were; they did not move.

“Our son looks more like you everyday,” Anna said. “I am glad for it. You are a fine looking man even though you are an infuriating one.”

Parker didn’t know what to say though he felt a stirring of vanity and smiled. He stretched his legs and cracked his knuckles.

Anna poked Parker’s ribcage. “Remember when Seven was born? He was such a strange little creature, so squirmy and red, absolutely unknowable. I was terrified. I don’t know that any child has ever been looked at for so long while doing so little.”

Parker laughed. “He fit in my hand when we brought him home. I couldn’t believe we made him. I do miss him, too, Anna. I miss him more than I can say.”

Anna crossed her legs and turned to look at her husband. “We made him and it’s time to be with him. You, me, Seven, we don’t make sense without each other. Spending the rest of this life without him… that would make me small. You have to choose.”

There was a loud ringing from somewhere, he wasn’t quite sure where. Parker rubbed his chin, the stubble making a raspy sound beneath his fingers. “I love the way the people talk down in Florida. I miss that. I miss the sun.”

Their wedding was held on his father’s land, a big affair, everyone dressed in their finery, lots of food, lots of drink. They even danced. For one night there was no austerity. Beneath a canopy of tiny white lights, the world felt like it once was. The General toasted the young couple, even toasted his own wife and their many solid years together, which was as demonstrative as he was ever going to get. Parker’s mother blushed beneath her husband’s attention and for the rest of the night her laughter filled the air as if it were her own wedding.

The newlyweds went to Florida for their honeymoon, Miami. It was hot, which Anna loved. Lots of people spoke Spanish, which Anna loved because she did too. Parker felt lost but Anna was always there, showing him how little he knew of the world without making him feel lesser for it. They sat by a glittering ocean of blue water during the day, Anna in a tiny bathing suit revealing a lot of skin, Parker in board shorts and a bare chest. Enjoying the heat was decadent and they were decadent and there was no regretting it. They ran in the sand and dove into the surf. They drank rum, lots of rum, and ate rum soaked fruit and spicy food. At night, they danced to music Parker could barely remember now. He loved it, how the bass thrummed in his chest, how he and his wife sweated together and moved together. Back in their hotel room, after the third night of dancing, Parker lay with his head against the flat of Anna’s stomach as she massaged his scalp. She said, “We could stay here, you know. We could never leave.” Years later, Parker realized he should have said yes, but that night, in the middle of so much happiness, he kissed the palm of his wife’s hand; he said nothing.

In the study, in the quiet of their nearly empty home holding tightly to the memory of their son, Parker reached for his wife and pulled her to the floor. She resisted at first, slapped his hands away, twisting her body beyond his reach, but he said, “Don’t refuse me,” and she stilled. Anna gently held Parker’s face between her hands, rubbing her thumbs along his cheekbones. “I could say the same to you,” she said. He undressed her slowly, pulling at each exposed instance of her skin with his teeth, making a claim, leaving a mark. Anna was punishing as she rose to meet her husband, their hipbones crashing together. They wanted to hurt each other as much as they loved each other. That’s what they did.

Later, they sat on the porch swing, wrapped in blankets, drinking whiskey from canning jars. The night was cold and clear, the moon high, the street empty, their bodies tender.

Parker took a slow sip, the whiskey burning his throat. “I never thought it would come to this. I never thought it would go this long.”

Anna leaned into Parker’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “Pride does things to time,” she said.

“Am I foolish in my pride?”

Anna pulled away. “We will not fall asleep tonight listening to the breathing of our son. You are not a foolish man but you are proud.”

Parker reached for his wife’s hand, and Anna let him show her this small affection. He traced her knuckles in slow circles. “When I was a boy, my father, I didn’t understand that man, but he was always there, standing so tall over my brothers and I, putting the fear of God in us. He always told us ‘a man stays close to home, close to his blood because that’s where he’s at his best.’”

A cold gust swept through the porch, the swing rocking lightly. Anna moved back into Parker’s arms. “I’m not saying your father is wrong but I’m not saying he’s right and if what your father says is true, we have to consider our blood, our son, my blood, our family.”

“When I first saw you.”

“Don’t,” Anna said, sharply, pressing two fingers against Parker’s lips. “Memories aren’t going to do us any good. We are here, now.”

Parker grunted, took another sip of whiskey. Anna did too and they continued sitting, silent.

The next morning, Parker woke up before the sun rose, put on his running clothes and jogged to his parents’ home. He was a sweaty mess as he stood in the foyer, his hair clinging damply to his forehead, his neckline. The General hated it when anyone was unkempt and Parker hated his familiarity with everything The General hated. He found his father in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a cup of weak coffee, staring into the distance. The General looked up as his youngest son entered the room.

“I cannot say much for your attire, but at least you’re staying in shape. Military discipline has its benefits, wouldn’t you say?”

There was a small pool of coffee in the bottom of the carafe on the counter, and Parker poured it into a mug before sitting across from his father. “We need to talk, Daddy.”

The General looked up, his features as hard as they ever were. War does things to a man, they said, and many wars do many things to a man. The General was a man to whom many things had been done in this land he called home. It was terrible, having to spill blood in the ground that held your roots, but there was no choice when the alternative was surrendering to those who could not respect history and place, legacy. This is what The General told himself now that the war was over and so little had changed.

“I’m not interested in any conversation you want to have at this time of the day, skulking over here in the dark.”

“I’m not skulking,” Parker said, evenly. “Anna.”

The General pounded his fist on the table, sending the lid off the sugar jar followed by a thin trail of sugar Parker began tracing, enjoying the grit beneath his fingers. “Don’t you come to me with that woman’s name the first thing out of your mouth. Speak for yourself. She can certainly speak for herself.”

“We cannot stay. I am a son but I am also a father and a year apart from my boy is a year too long.”

“Bring the boy back. He belongs here, with us. This land here, this is his land. His history is in this earth.”

“I won’t have my boy spending the rest of his life in this, living a lie I don’t believe in.”

“As if you’ve had it so bad? Our family has been defending and working this land since before we had a name for it. You do not walk away from that. I did not give you my name so you could run away with it.”

Parker ran his fingers through his hair and stood. “I am not running away.”

As he ran home, Parker kept repeating, “I am not running away.” He said it until the insides of his mouth were dry and his teeth were dry and it hurt to say the words.

Each morning when Anna awoke, she remembered the day she and Parker sent their son away. She remembered setting out his clothes—a button down shirt, white with narrow gray stripes, and a worn pair of jeans she had recently mended. She remembered packing the last of his suitcase, trying to put some necessary part of herself alongside the clothes and books, an old action figure, a map of this new world because the boy loved maps, understanding the geography of things. Seven had not wanted to leave but his sorrow was dignified in the way of a child who understood the complexity of what his parents were deciding for him. They stood on the train platform, Parker gripping Seven’s shoulder so firmly the boy winced but remained quiet.

Anna kept brushing Seven’s hair out of his face, adjusting the collar of his shirt. She tucked his passport in his shirt pocket and put his coat around his shoulders. She kissed his forehead and told him, “You be good for your grandparents. Don’t you forget us. Don’t forget me.” And then she went to the car to wait, telling Parker, “I’ll leave this to you now.” He was never sure if it was a punishment or a blessing because alone with his son as the train tracks hummed with electricity, he cried and hugged his son and inhaled deeply trying to breathe in the smell of the boy. Parker watched as the train pulled away, Seven staring out the small window at his father, his hand pressed against the glass. Long after the train had departed, Parker stayed on the platform, his legs locked stiffly. He didn’t know how to stop crying, didn’t want his woman to see how broken down he was. She did, eventually, because she came and found him. She said, “My poor, poor love.” She wrapped her arms around him beneath his coat. She said, “This had to be done.”

Waiting for Parker to return from his run, Anna stared at the ceiling and said, “I have been apart from my son for three hundred and eighty-nine days.” It was the refrain she offered up every morning as she thought of the last moment she had her child near her hands. She was going to leave soon. She did not want to leave Parker but she would. She prayed it would not come to that but she had been planning and she was ready. All she needed to do was make peace with her heart. “That’s all I need to do,” she whispered into her pillow. Anna rolled onto her side, pulled her knees into her chest. She thought of the suitcases, hidden in the back of her closet, filled with the things she had convinced herself she needed. Anna kept repeating, “I am not running away.” She said it until the insides of her mouth were dry and her teeth were dry and it hurt to say the words.

Later that night, they lay together, as much of their bodies touching as possible. Decisions had been made. There was no need, no wanting to sleep apart. They tried to remember the shape of their lives before the war, before everything fell apart, when they were younger and there was only one place to call home, indivisible until it wasn’t, how quickly it all came apart.

“Each new issue feels like a public report from many individual private spheres.” —Antoine Wilson

Back to Top
Issue 21



Summer 2014


Roxane Gay is the author of the novel An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic) and the essay collection Bad Feminist, which Harper Perennial will publish in August of 2014. The co-editor of PANK and the essays editor for The Rumpus, she teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University.


A Public Space is an independent magazine of literature and culture. It was founded in 2006. You can read more about the magazine’s history and mission - click here.


A subscription to A Public Space now includes home delivery of the print magazine as well as access to the digital editions (epub, mobi, and pdf files) and the online archive.

For Just


Subscribe Today

A Public Space 323 Dean Street Brooklyn, NY 11217 t: 718.858.8067     General Information     Subscription Help