FICTION: Listen by Brandon White

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Grab that rail. Pull with that entire right arm. Left leg limp, protesting, whispering across the frayed carpet. Pause. Count that money. Feel the paper, damp from sweat, sticky with blood. Place the money in your shorts pocket and pull at that stair rail with both arms. Too much weight on that left ankle, and you fall. Blood from bitten tongue paints stairwell with quiet spit.

There is silence. No bed squeaking from the mother having sex with the man. No muffled scream with the man’s hand over the mother’s mouth. And your heart hurts. Feel the nerves tingle down that left arm as the top of basement steps is reached. Sink yourself down into a gentle crawl. Palms stick to kitchen floor tiles. Dropped blood from nose and lips, wet paint on the floor. The left leg, dragged, serves as the broad brush.

Have to reach the kitchen counter, scale the cabinet doors, claw up the half-open drawers. Putting weight on that right foot, sliding slowly against that counter, past the sink with bits of beef dotting dirty plates, half-filled glasses of water, and cigarette ashes creating a different paint. A smell of foulness.

Look into that living room. Remembering dreams of the devil, a man in old brown Bible robes grabbing you; you clawed at the carpet, screaming for help. Stop remembering and listen.


Cicadas are out there, calling to each other in the trees. She forgot to pull the shades; lightning bugs flicker out there, in between the trees. Metronomes to the weeping. The house vibrates; the air conditioner echoes and begins to cover all other sounds.

Back against the hallway wall. Poke at the soft, swollen flesh of that left ankle. Like a spoiling apple. Press down harder until your head gets light, and the heat of the ankle goes cold. Air conditioner goes away. Deep snoring comes from her room, its sound blanketing your limping through the hallway.

Mother’s bedroom door is open. Light from dead-end street lamp sneaks through the window blinds. See her body covered by the man’s. His arm across her neck, leg draped over the curve of her hip, curling in front of her stomach. Push aside empty liquor bottles and velvety purple bags that had held them. Man’s snoring is heavy, wet with alcohol, allows closeness to mother’s body. Shift up onto your right knee. Touch her face between the nose and the cheek. Trace where bruises used to be, and where flecks of blood are now.

She breathes sour, open-can-of-beer, out-all-night sour.

Lift the man’s thick arm from the mother’s body slowly. Wait and see if movements wake the man up. Tug at the mother’s body. Small frame, like a supermodel. Dig into the mother’s flesh; her closed eyelids squeeze tighter, but she doesn’t wake up. Grab her by her shoulders, push your right knee against the bed frame, and slide her across the mattress onto the bedroom floor.

One arm across the mother’s chest, your strong leg and free arm dig and push against the floor. Man stops snoring, but his body doesn’t move, even as two liquor bottles click together. As you slide along the floor, the mother’s knees bend around the hallway corner. Like a broken snake. Wood floors shift with the extra weight. Holding your breath and praying for God to bring sound. And the air conditioner answers; hallway vents begin to blow. Cigarette smells rise from the mother’s hair.

Pull the mother across the kitchen floor, rake through the drying blood. Stop at back-door steps. Lay the mother’s head down, turn her face to the side without the scar. She breathes easier. Leave her. Balance yourself down the three back-door steps.

Open that door. Outside wind pushes in. Screen door bangs against the frame. Pause. Crawl up back door steps, reach for the mother and pull her. Screen door closes on her legs. Pull harder, down the steps. Stumble onto the concrete driveway. Cry out at sharpness in left foot as mother’s body lands on your rotten ankle. Tears fall. Her bare feet scrape across the ground. Keep pulling. Place mother’s body in grandmother’s dead garden. Rest mother’s head across beds of weeds, where tomato vines and mustard greens used to grow. Wave off excited mosquitoes that hiss, hover, and kiss her on her forehead.

Now, limp on right foot and heel of left foot, back into house, up the same steps, with sweat streaking past your eyebrows. Hunch over, down onto the kitchen floor; breathe hard on your back as you look up at the ceiling. Lay head down on floor, keep staring.

Traces of smoke and spots of grease. Connect those shapes, and see yourself earlier that day whispering to the mother that there was enough money for you to catch a bus to Grandma’s house. The mother smiled. Her hands touched your temples. Your eyelids dipped low to her singing the church song that she sang at your little brother’s funeral. The man came in the room, cussing, telling her to stop singing. Your mother took her hands away from your scalp and tried to rub the man’s back, telling him that the song helped heal. The man grabbed your mother’s hand and squeezed. She tried to pull away. The man smiled and squeezed harder. She jerked her hand. He pulled her and flung her against the kitchen table.

You ran at the man, kicking at his kneecaps. Man’s knuckles crossed your face. You watched as the mother slapped the man. The man palmed your mother’s face and slammed her head against the kitchen wall. Her eyes closed, and the man whammed her head again. She fell to the floor. You ran at the man, jumped at his face. He caught you in midair with one arm, a fist against your chest, and swung you into the wall next to the basement steps. He lifted your body with both hands and released you onto the basement stair rail. You fell down the stairs, your head bounced against a step, and your memory stopped.

Turn away from the ceiling with grinding teeth. Listen. There are his snores again. Underneath the kitchen sink: oils, cleaners. Spread them on the stove and the countertop, spread them on the microwave, smear them into the small kitchen-window curtains, drip them into the living-room carpet. Open the kitchen cupboard. Reach past bathroom tissue, paper towels, and cans of food dropped off by your grandmother’s old church. Grab Lysol cans. Set the cans in that oven and that microwave. Turn that microwave on.

Turn the gas stove’s heaters on, too. Balance the knobs until the clicking sound goes away but the sound of the gas is still there. Eyes itch and nostrils burn. Microwave hums. Take lighter from kitchen drawer; slide down back door steps and ignite pool of oil there.

Outside, collapse near mother, hand in pocket on the money. Wait. Heat comes back into your ankle, now a lump the size of a tennis ball. You poke at it until the two kitchen windows begin to look like jack’-o-lantern eyes. Shadows of the flames turn the weeping willows into moving beasts. Drag the mother off the bed of weeds. Move her body away from house, across the clay-dirt road and into the high end of the canal. Sit her up against your chest; her weight keeps pressure on the numbness. Feel her breathe. Lift her face towards the house. Force open one of her eyes to the flames.

Pray that the fire burns that man; ask God that he wakes up in sheets of flame and that his feet step on melting glass. Tell the devil that you don’t fear him anymore, tell him if he sends his demons chasing after you and they come to your grandmother’s house and knock on the door, you will kill them.


Brandon White

Brandon White received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston. (2011) He has had short fiction published in the Brooklyner (The Race) and The Journal of Hip Hop Studies (Chocolate Star). Brandon has freelanced for Cite magazine—a magazine based out of Rice University in Houston and served as a librettist for the Houston Grand Opera—Sounds of Houston.

You can find and follow Brandon:


If you enjoyed ‘Listen’ leave a comment and let Brandon know.

You can read more of Brandon’s fiction below:

Journal of Hip Hop Studies‘Chocolate Star’


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