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A New Day in America

An excerpt from

A New Day in America


Book One—NYC


Chapter 1

Things Past


The camera and the TV are hooked up to the generator. Won’t hurt much to let it run. At least that’s what Nos tells himself. He cuts out the lights so the living room flickers with home movies. Waste not.

Nos knows each episode by heart. Jay, his middle child, is holding the camera and the frame is shaky. Mike, his eldest, fills the screen, tall and lean, walking to the kitchen, ignoring Jay, as always.

“I totally love this, Mike,” Jay calls to him in a squeaky voice. The camera is Jay’s favorite new toy. Mike turns over his shoulder, too cool for the room. Mike, with his tight-end build—six-four by sixteen, wore a size fourteen sneaker when he was thirteen years old. Mike was graceful, had great hands. You could see in the video how he grabs the refrigerator door and backhand tosses a granola bar at Jay behind the camera.

Nos watches the TV with the face of a cadaver. The rifle lies across his lap. His fingers run a cloth along the barrel, and he thinks the gun is the only clean thing in the whole brownstone, even though it reeks of CSL lube.

Mike was his oldest—he would have been sixteen. About six years ago. He’d be finished with college by now. He glances to his own greasy hands and compares them to Mike’s hands. Mike’s were soft, could catch a football with just one from three feet over his head. Nos’ hands are rough and callused like the pigskin.

The next video is of Jay and his friends. Jay was thirteen. The makeshift credits roll—markers on pages reading Denzel Washington is Denzel Washington as Denzel Washington in ‘Denzel is Pissed.’ Opening scene—Jay as Denzel in a rolled-up button down with his partner, who is immediately killed by another of their friends in a ski mask with a plastic gun. Jay yells “Nooooo!” Scene two: Jay questions a bar full of thugs, and they each attack him. He beats them all up and snaps their arms (poles tucked under their sleeves). He accidentally punches his buddy in the face, and his buddy gets pissed. Jay apologizes, and the scene cuts off. Scene three: climactic battle between Jay and the arch villain: goes on way too long and they are constantly giggling.

Nos is the next cameraman. Makes him nervous every time Jay’s Denzel movie wraps up. He always considers turning off the TV. He is concerned about the dwindling power. He should check the street. He should check on Naomi. Video is suddenly unaffordable. Should shut it off right now.

But he never does. At least not right away. He always sees the shot of his own feet in red Adidas socks and hears Jay explain to him, “It’s on. See the red light?” He sees his home as he once saw it. The hallway he painted gray. The brown coverlet Yvette insisted they buy from Target instead of Macy’s. The bedroom walls he’d painted the green that Yvette chose and then always hated and yet refused to let Nos repaint, too ashamed of her poor choice. Naomi is on the bed, sinking just so into the memory foam mattress. The camera gets closer. She is barely a year old. Everything is so small. She has a few scant curls and still looks like a boy, so Yvette had her ears pierced, and she wears two tiny studs. She is in an OK mood. Nos says nothing to her, only watches. She stares back at him like she doesn’t quite recognize him.

Nos wonders if Naomi ever knew what was coming. Was there a night when she dreamed there would be nothing at all but the two of them?

The camera pans from Naomi to Yvette as she fusses in her closet. The bedroom closet was all hers, as was the bedroom bathroom. The south side of the second floor was no boys allowed. Nos slept there and not much else.

Yvette has her back to Nos. Supple slope, narrow waist, shoulders getting heavier, much to her frustration. “Any words for the camera?” he asks.

She glances over her shoulder. One dark eyelash flips to him.

Nos mouths the words. Hi camera.

“Hi camera.”

The power cuts. The screen clicks blank before she can ask, How did you get that thing away from Jay?

The room goes black.