“When They Are Done with Us” by Patricia Smith was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 , edited by Otto Penzler and Lisa Scottoline
Brand-new stories by: Bill Loehfelm, S.J. Rozan, Ted Anthony, Todd Craig, Ashley Dawson, Bruce DeSilva, Louisa Ermelino, Binnie Kirshenbaum, Michael Largo, Mike Penncavage, Linda Nieves-Powell, Patricia Smith, Shay Youngblood, and Edward Joyce.
"Staten Island, the last of New York City's five boroughs to enter Akashic's noir series, severs as the setting for this exceptionally strong anthology."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Smith’s introduction is a revelation. She knows the Island I have in my head. It was like finding a literary sibling, separated since birth."
"It’s not enough for noir to be dark. It’s got to be bad-ass. Its words, its decaying and horrible beauty have got to hit you like a spiked heel dragged from your guts to your gullet. It’s got to twist the hot knife of passion in that soft space right below your belly while pumping bullets into your heart. It’s got to make you bleed. Akashic Books’ latest in their noir series, Staten Island Noir features some dusky and drop-dead gorgeous gems (emphasis on the dead) that do just that."
Grub Street Daily
"Staten Island is the forgotten borough, lacking a subway system, left out of Jay-Z's songs, known for organized crime, bad accents, fake tans, and garbagewhich makes it a rich setting for Akashic's noir series...In a thrilling tilt-a-whirl of crime and drama, editor Patricia Smith has carefully chosen writers concerned with the true nature of the small suburban borough."
Electric Literature's "The Outlet"
"Each story in this enjoyable collection has its own charms, if the words 'enjoyable' or 'charms' can be used with these dark tales, and each can stand-alone. However, if, like me, you had always looked at Staten Island as banal and benign, by the book's end your ideas will be forever changed."
Patricia Smith, editor of Staten Island Noir , has won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for her short story included in the anthology, “When They Are Done with Us.”
About the Author
Patricia Smith is the author of six acclaimed poetry volumes, including Blood Dazzler , a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, and Teahouse of the Almighty , a National Poetry Series selection. Her work has been published in the 2011 editions of both Best American Poetry and Best American Essays. In addition to her poetic works, Smith is also the author of Africans in America , a companion volume to the groundbreaking PBS documentary. She is currently a professor at the City University of New York's College of Staten Island, and serves on the faculties of Cave Canem and the MFA programs at Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine and Sierra Nevada College.
Read an Excerpt
SNAKE HILL BY BILL LOEHFELMEltingville
We came over the top of Snake Hill too fast, and started our drop down the other side at the same speed. My father's giant old station wagon slalomed deep into the snaky curves like a fat skier in wet snow. The tires didn't screech, but they squeaked now and again. Streetlamps were few and far between. The trees were black shadows on both sides, the foliage dense and dark, close to the roadside. I tried to keep the headlights focused on the winding double yellow lines in front of me, keep those lines centered in the crossed beams of light. I hoped to hell that no one was coming up the hill in the opposite lane.
My brother snored over on the passenger side of the wagon's big bench seat, having passed out sometime in the first three minutes after we left the Haunted Café back on Bay Street. I hadn't seen him put back more than two or three drinks, less than half of what I'd had, and I got that sick, nervous feeling in my stomach that had been coming on more and more lately, the feeling that he was messing with more powerful stuff than booze. Pills, maybe. Powders. He hadn't, I noticed with a quick glance, despite my insistence and his assurances, fastened his seat belt. Couldn't even do that for me. I wanted to slam on the brakes and bounce his head off the dashboard, just to make a point. But I didn't do it. I kept riding the sharp, blind curves in the road. He shifted in his seat with the back-and-forth motion of the car.
Why, I wondered again, tightening my grip on the steering wheel, was I driving like a maniac to get us home by curfew when there was so much more to worry about? Because, I reminded myself, curfew was what our folks cared about. Curfew and the car. They wouldn't ask what Danny was getting into, because they didn't want to know, and I sure wouldn't tell. Wouldn't say anything about a seventeen-year-old with a grown-up hangover. They never did anymore, not after the past two years in our house. We'd had all the bad news we could handle.
I looked over at my brother again. His forehead was pressed against his window. I couldn't see his face, but I knew he always smiled in his sleep — the benefits of an empty conscience. Another quick check of the road and I glanced at the dashboard clock. One fifteen in the a.m. Well, we'd blown curfew. That was a lost cause. Seemed I was losing causes by the minute. More important now was the matter of getting down the hill. If I couldn't deliver us home on time, I could at least deliver us home in one piece. That plan hit the skids, literally, barely a moment after I had that thought.
I don't know if it was oil, or gravel, or the greasy entrails of something dead and left to rot, but coming out of an especially sharp turn, the back end of the station wagon fishtailed hard left, as if God had flicked the ass-end of the car with his finger. I didn't panic. I didn't overcorrect. I didn't make a sound. I held steady and hit the brakes.
The back left corner of the station wagon slammed into the guardrail, the back tires sliding and scratching on some roadside gravel. A deep thump pulsed through the car on impact, as if someone had whacked an empty pot with a spoon and we were inside the pot. It wasn't that loud, considering, but it lingered in my ears for an extra second nonetheless. The chassis bounced once or twice and the car settled, still, on the side of the road like the collision had knocked the wind out of it. My brother groaned beside me. He touched his fingertips to his forehead. One eye was open, the other still closed. I guess he wanted to make sure the incident was worth the effort of opening both. I was glad he seemed okay. I grimaced in sympathy at the goose egg already rising over his right eye. Maybe that's why that left one had stayed closed.
"What the fuck, Kev?" he said. "We dead?"
"No," I said. "We're fine."
At least he knew we'd had an accident. He couldn't be that far gone.
He nodded as if I'd given him a lot of information to process. He squinted through the windshield with his one open eye then turned and did the same out the back window. He was looking, I realized, for the other car.
"Just us," I said. I turned around too. A cloud of thin gray dust hung suspended in the ruby-red glow of the brake lights. I realized I still had the brake pedal pinned. "I tagged the guardrail coming out of a curve. Too much of a rush, I guess."
"I don't know why you give a fuck about curfew anymore," he said, turning to me, both eyes open now, bewilderment all over his face. He sniffed. "You're the only one who does."
"Who do you hang out with?" I asked.
"And who else?"
"No one, really," my brother said.
"And how do we get around?"
"In Dad's car."
"Ask me again why I care about curfew."
My brother scoffed: "Dad'll let you have the car whenever we hang out, especially because we hang out, whatever the fuck time we come home. What're you, dense?"
"And you're so wise on this how?"
Danny shrugged like the answer was so obvious he could barely speak it. "Dad thinks you look out for me. He thinks I'm safer when we're together. He wouldn't run the risk of separating us. Mom wouldn't let him."
"You saying you're not safer with me than you would be alone?" I swallowed hard. "Doing what you do these days?"
Danny turned one way in his seat, and then the other, glancing around us. "Didn't you just wreck the car?"
"I didn't wreck it," I said. I didn't know what part of my commentary his crack about the car had been meant to criticize. "Just dinged it up at most."
I decided I should get a look at how bad before I tried continuing the drive home, or continuing my attempt at a conversation with my younger brother about his growing drug problem. Just in case it was worse than I thought, worse than it had sounded. The car, I mean.
I opened the door, cool night air rushing into the car. I realized I'd been sweating, the breeze running up the sleeves of my T-shirt. I took a deep breath. When I turned to hang out the door and look, the seat belt caught. Danny stifled a giggle. I popped the belt free and leaned out of the car.
"You smell gas?" Danny asked.
"No." So far, so good. I hadn't even thought of that. Gas tank was on that side too. I heard the flick of a lighter and smelled cigarette smoke. Glad he was so confident. But things seemed okay. The back tire wasn't flat. I could see the hubcap. No dents that I could see in the back quarter panel, at least in the faint wash of the dome light from inside the car.
"Light me one," I told Danny. Without turning, I reached my arm across the car for the cigarette. The lack of obvious damage had me feeling better, more and more confident that nothing was wrong that we couldn't play off as a parking lot accident and pin on some other idiot driver. Dad would grumble, but he'd forgive. And small dents he could pound out himself in the driveway. He was handy like that.
Danny slipped the cigarette into my fingers. I brought the smoke to my lips, tapped the brake pedal. The taillights ignited, a red burst off the back of the car washing over the wild green bushes and trunks of the trees. Still working, that was good. None of the telltale bright white gave away broken glass back there. Amazing, I thought, how bright those lights actually are. I tapped them again. And then I saw it. My throat went dry.
A shoe. One shoe.
A sneaker, really. A blue Ked, adult sized. The cheap kind you see lined up in flimsy cardboard boxes along those long rows of shelves at the K-Mart or the Korvettes. Like old people wore. No big deal, I told myself, a shoe by the side of the road. Except this shoe stood on its heel, tilted a little to the left. I could see a bony, hairless, blue-veined ankle, the cuff of a pajama leg. An old person. Some poor, senile, old bastard who'd probably wandered away from one of the estates on the hill.
My throat closed and my heart stopped, a fist reaching into my chest and squeezing my heart down to the size of a grape, strangling it.
Fuck me. I'd killed someone.
I heard Danny getting out of the car. Air exploded out of my chest and my heart started again. I lunged for Danny, locking onto his forearm. He glanced down at my hand, not looking all that surprised I'd grabbed ahold of him.
"Get back in the car," I said.
"Lemme go," he said. "I gotta take a piss. Since we're apparently camping out here for the night."
"Get in the car."
I did not want him seeing that body. And I didn't want anybody seeing us anywhere near it. I'd decided to run from the scene. I couldn't even remember making the decision. But I was totally sure of what I wanted to do.
"Dude, I gotta go," Danny said. "One sec."
"Wait till we get home."
"Who're you? Fucking Mom?"
"Someone could see us."
"I'll go back in the woods." He chuckled. "You already took care of the guardrail. Easy-peasy."
He tried to tug his arm free, half an effort because he expected me to let go. I didn't. He bristled, and for the first time since we'd stopped he looked a little angry.
"There's gotta be a car coming," I said, "either from ahead or behind us."
We'd settled to a stop on the wrong side of the road, facing into oncoming traffic, our headlights burning bright down the side of the hill. It was mid-spring, the trees had only half their leaves. Our car was blatantly visible from every direction. Our voices probably carried far in the quiet night. The sound of the station wagon slamming the guardrail certainly had. People did live up here. They lived nearby over on Todt Hill, and on Lighthouse Road too. The Hill people. Rich people. Rich people who didn't tolerate late-night, side-of-the-road bullshit, people who didn't come to see if you were all right, if there was anything they could do to help. They just called the cops and went back to bed and let the paid help deal with it. That could've happened already. The cops could be on their way up the hill as we sat there bickering like one of us had gotten more chocolate milk than the other at breakfast.
I didn't want to be dealt with. I wanted my brother back in the fucking car. And I wanted both of us home.
Danny settled on the edge of the front seat, one leg in and one leg out of the car, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. He had his outside leg in the middle of the road. "What the fuck?" He reached under his seat, moving his hand around under it. "We don't have any beers left in here?"
I thought I saw headlights break through the trees below.
"We're in a hurry," I said, trying to keep my voice light, and failing. "Remember?"
I watched my brother for a reaction to my bullshit. Could I have made it any more obvious that there was something at the back of the car I didn't want him to see? I hoped my guilt and horror, not only over what I had done by accident but what I was now doing on purpose, amplified my fears, like that remorse-ridden lunatic in "The Tell-Tale Heart." I realized gratefully that Danny had most likely never read the story. I also realized I was glad and relieved he was high and therefore if not easily led at least leadable.
That thought made me feel like shit. It made me sick.
"We're going," I said, my voice a croak. "Now."
I braked as I put the car in drive, using the sideview mirror to look into the cloud of red light and exhaust behind us. I saw the second foot as we inched away from the shoulder. Though it tilted away from the first foot at the toes, the heels were nearly touching, the feet therefore making a V shape, like feet did when their owner was flat on their back. On the soles I could see the Rice Krispies patterns in the waxy, honey-colored rubber. Or maybe I was imagining that last part. Our grandfather had worn those same shoes in the last years of his life. Before he died after two long, long years of stomach cancer, calling out for morphine till the bitter end.
* * *
Back in brightly lit Eltingville, streetlights and porch lights everywhere, I parked the car a few houses down from ours. It annoyed the neighbors to no end, seeing my father's beat-to-hell, twelve-year-old, 1977 gray behemoth of an Impala wagon parked in "their" parking spot.
Back in the day, long before us, before he'd even met our mother, our father had been a brawler, and Danny and I desperately wanted, just once, to see him throw down on the neighbors we liked least. Like the 'roided-out dude from my high school who washed his Monte Carlo SS twice a week, shirtless and cranking shitty club music, like the whole island was his personal health club/coke den/dancehall. Or the old guy who lived alone on mental disability checks and never drove and so sat behind his living room curtains all day, even when the kids on the block were at school, the guy waiting for some Wiffle ball or street hockey ball to bounce onto his pristine lawn so he could crank the window and threaten to call the cops. Or, more specifically, his son, the cop, who we never saw, not once. But it never happened. Dad didn't fight anymore. At least not over parking spaces, and certainly not over the wiseassery of his silly sons.
After I turned off the engine, I sat behind the wheel for a few moments, a few breaths, willing myself to leave what I'd seen and done on the hill up there. I silently swore to never take that short cut again, curfew be damned. I had a brief, ridiculous thought that if we did get busted for hitting someone back on the hill, that we, that I, could somehow blame my father. If he hadn't been so anal about the curfew, I would never have been in such a hurry. That particular bizarre assemblage of necessary moments that led to me killing someone would never have coalesced and I would never have hit that person now lying there dead by the side of the road. My face got hot. Of all the rotten fucking luck. How many things had to go wrong for that person to be in that spot at that moment when the rear end of the Impala came smashing into them? If I'd tried to hit that person I never, ever could have done it. Not even head-on. What was that goddamn idiot doing wandering along a pitch-black road in the middle of the night? It had never entered my mind that there might be someone even more careless than me on that road. Certainly not someone I couldn't see coming. My head started to hurt. I had to stop thinking about it. Why was it so hot inside the car? I opened the door and stepped out into the street. Danny was already around the back of the car.
"Holy shit," I heard him say. It was an observation, not a weary summation of the night's adventures. That scared me. "Damn," he said.
A dent, probably. Maybe some torn-away piece of clothing. Blood, most likely. Worse, possibly. Body parts. I continued around the back of the car and saw what had arrested Danny's attention. The entire back bumper of the station wagon was missing. Gone. Shorn clean off when I'd fishtailed the Impala into the guardrail. And now lying by the side of the road at the scene of the accident. Could you trace a bumper back to the car from which it came? You could certainly get make and model and year. You could go around to body shops asking who'd come in for a replacement bumper for a '77 Impala station wagon. You could tell all your cop friends to keep an eye out for cars missing their rear bumpers. And then I realized no cop would even have to do that much work to find out what car had hit that dead person. Because, I realized, that bumper was lying there with the license plate still attached. I almost laughed. I'd killed someone, fled the accident, and left the license plate at the scene. I was too dumb to be a character in a Poe story. What had Danny said about our dad trusting me to look out for him? Talk about misplaced trust. I thought for a moment about walking into the house, waking him, and spilling everything, putting everything in his hands. But I didn't want this on him, and I didn't really want him to handle it. I just wanted it to go away. Getting him involved wouldn't make that happen. Now was not the time for wishful thinking.
Danny had a fistful of hair at the top of his head. He was staring at the back of the station wagon. "Wow. I betcha that's hard to do. Dad's gonna fucking freak."
"We gotta go back," I said.
"Yes, we," I said. "I'm gonna need your help."
"Dude, I'm tired. How heavy can a bumper be, right? Toss it in the back. We'll hit the body shop in the morning. I'm still suspended. I've got the time. I'll take it in."
"You don't have a license," I said. "You're not allowed to drive."
Danny laughed. "That's your best argument?"
"I need you to look for the bumper," I said. "I'm gonna be driving in the dark."
"Wait till morning."
"Dad's gonna walk right past here on his way to the train. He's gonna see it."
"Then let's move the car around the corner."
"Then how do we explain getting home without it?"
"Fuck! Danny! C'mon!" I kicked at the space where the bumper had been. "Help me out here."
Danny started laughing. I could've strangled him right there in the gutter. He'd played me right into a temper tantrum. He'd been doing it since we were little kids. I had a flash of us as eighty-year-old men, standing in this same street, me screaming at him, and him laughing. It would never end. He'd been willing to go back to Snake Hill from the moment I'd first asked. I should've known better. As if there had ever been a time when he'd rather go home and go to bed than traipse off on another adventure, no matter how minor. Well, this one wasn't as minor as he thought, but I saw no need to make him the wiser.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Staten Island Noir"
Copyright © 2012 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Part I: Family Affair
“Snake Hill” by Bill Loehfelm (Eltingville)
“Sister-in-Law” by Louisa Ermelino (Great Kills)
“When They Are Done with Us” by Patricia Smith (Port Richmond)
“A User’s Guide to Keeping Your Kills Fresh” by Ted Anthony (Fresh Kills)
“Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by Shay Youngblood (South Beach)
Part II: Fight or Flight
“Mistakes” by Michael Penncavage (The Ferry)
“Abating a Nuisance” by Bruce DeSilva (Tompkinsville)
“Paying the Tab” by Michael Largo (Four Corners)
“Assistant Professor Lodge” by Binnie Kirshenbaum (Grymes Hill)
Part III: Borough of Broken Dreams
“. . . spy verse spy . . .” by Todd Craig (Park Hill)
“Before It Hardens” by Eddie Joyce (Annadale)
“The Fly-Ass Puerto Girl from the Stapleton Projects” by Linda Nieves-Powell (Stapleton)
“Teenage Wasteland” by Ashley Dawson (Tottenville)
“Lighthouse” by S.J. Rozan (St. George)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Is depressing and as soon as i see noir in a title i hurry pass and no city or country seems ti have been missed so far