Layton Avenue
— Joseph Sexton

 

Jamarr had always been told he lived in New York City. He never quite understood how at the end of 9th there was a rip. As if someone had taken the city in its hand and tore so violent. A cliff remained in its wake.
 

He'd never seen in the movies or on TV or in any photographs this cliff. No one else in New York seemed to know of it, but it was real to Jamarr and everyone else who lived on Layton Avenue. It was steep. When Jamarr was four, he visited the cliff with his father, and he remembers still how low the water seemed below. How the sound of the roar and the crash of the waves was distant, as if from a dream. Jamarr remembers laying down on his stomach, peeking his head over the edge. He remembers searching for that black body in the blue. Remembers how long it takes for a body to finally fall. Five seconds, almost, for a man the size of Jamarr's father. He may have been counting slightly fast since he was scared.

The sound of skin meeting water is no different from the crack of the whip. Layton Avenue had its fair share of lashings, but only in echoes. Not quite clear enough for anyone to realize in the present moment, but those backs of wet fire, oozing ripe, still remained. Sometimes the whip could find itself in the snap of a pistol. Or even inside of those who lived on Layton, like a virus. Jamarr heard it early. Back when he was only floating, six months, he felt jolts. The acute belt of his mother's cough after visits to crack rock, the sound like lashes, would cause her stomach to contract. To Jamarr at six months those felt like hugs. In that forever fluid, where all was warm and glowing, even then he knew the whip. He would come out three months later craving something unknown. Hugs from Ma were rare.

The sun shined brighter on Layton, searing, light like liquid fire. Black skin had grown immune to the tongue of the sun. Its drip only sizzled atop white skin. Snow melted, disintegrated quick, peeled off in layers. The only thing white skin had to worry about. The sunlight. The only thing that caused them to self destruct. Yes, black skin was protected from the glory of daybreak, but the world found other ways to get a gun to the temple. Jamarr’s father found his hand holding one tight. And as the pistol met his black head, its muzzle disappeared, like a black cloak finding its night. Jamarr saw stars at the pull of the trigger, as the bullet met skull, as ricochet found its infinite. And falling down that far cliff his father flew.


Luckily, when Jamarr was 15 he found science. Something to explain the beat of his heart and the throb of Layton. At night he'd stay up reading deep into textbooks dated over twenty years old, the edges of the books stained brown. But they created a space for Jamarr. An abandoned pencil factory lived around the corner from Jamarr. It wasn't until Jamarr had gotten halfway through his Biology textbook that he noticed something on his walk back from school. Peeking from the second story, he noticed colors. They flowed outside of the second story window and called to him. Jamarr doesn't remember exactly, but he had climbed the fence and made his way to the second floor of the factory. All he can remember is putting his fingers, then arms, and eventually entire self, in it. "It," I won't begin to try and explain. But it was rich and all colors at once. But almost beyond colors Jamarr had known. It was hard for him to recall as this space was always trancelike, hypnotic, for Jamarr. But it was undoubtedly his space. He referred to it as sap, the closest "real" thing it resembled, and all he knew is that it seethed with each new chapter he'd read.

Jamarr survived. 68 years today. Turned last night. There is no cake and there never was. He instead took sips from the sap that morning on his way back from work.

But now we near the end of the month, and it is time once again for those who just couldn’t take it here on Layton to finally escape.

They are in herds. Walking towards the edge of the cliff, down Layton Avenue, steps in unison. Necrosis. Men and women and children. Even children. Jamarr watches from his window as those on Layton gather. A man in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs turns to look Jamarr in the eye. He grins. He does not smile. Others scratch their heads with the head of a pistol. Others walk wearing nothing but garbage bags and cardboard signs. And this time, Jamarr finds his hand reaching for his door.

It is beyond his command. No choice of his own. And he walks down the steps of his home, the same steps Ma would sit and watch as the lazy day turned over in bed. And he joins the procession, a memorial for the living.

Their feet line up across the edge of the cliff. A man next to Jamarr grabs his own head and cracks his neck, falling below. They watch. And soon, waves of bodies jump. All at once. Without choice. And they hold hands, in their last moments. And from afar, they look like a flock of birds, maybe, a murmuration of starlings, descending in slow motion. But they don’t all descend. Jamarr finds himself instead floating. The air below thick enough to walk on. And the lash of the whip sounds more distant than he could have ever imagined. And the roar of the waves only whispers, now. Black bodies here take five seconds to fall, or eternity.

 


 

Joseph Kim Sexton, a 17 year old Senior at McNair HS in JC, NJ, loves to tell stories. As a filmmaker, he has been awarded the RIIFF 1st Prize KidsEye International Film Award and the James Gandolfini Filmmaker of Tomorrow Award, and as a writer he's been recognized by Scholastic, the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center, and most recently a winner of The Blank National Young Playwrights Festival. Joseph also serves passionately as Class President, Mock Trial team Capt., and founder of the JC Humanitarian & Global Responsibility Fair. In his free time, Joseph enjoys learning about philosophy and biology, as well as listening to music while walking--and maybe dancing--through the streets of his city, picturing the world surrounding as scenes of a movie or play.