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Then I kept in constant touch with him and I sent him whatever I could and I went to meet him when he came back to New York. When I saw him many things I thought I had forgotten came flooding back to me. This was because I had begun, finally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny lived inside. This life, whatever it was, had made him older and thinner and it had deepened the distant stillness in which he had always moved. He looked very unlike my baby brother. Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to

be coaxed into the light. “How you been keeping?” he asked me. “All right. And you? ” “Just fine.” He was smiling all over his face. “It’s good to see you

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again.” “It’s good to see you.” The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm:

I wondered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge. I was remembering, and it made it hard to catch my breath, that I had been there when he was born; and I had heard the first words he had ever spoken. When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him just before he fell when he took the first steps he ever

took in this world. “How’s Isabel?” “Just fine. She’s dying to see you ” “And the boys?”




“They’re fine, too. They’re anxious to see their uncle.” “Oh, come on. You know they don’t remember me.” “Are you kidding? Of course they remember you.” He grinned again. We got into a taxi. We had a lot to say to each

other, far too much to know how to begin.

As the taxi began to move, I asked, “You still want to go to India?” He laughed. “You still remember that. Hell, no. This place is Indian

enough for me.” “It used to belong to them,” I said. And he laughed again. “They damn sure knewwhat they were doing

when they got rid of it.”

Years ago, when he was around fourteen, he’d been all hipped on the idea of going to India. He read books about people sitting on rocks, naked, in all kinds of weather, but mostly bad, naturally, and walking barefoot through hot coals and arriving at wisdom. I used to say that it sounded to me as though they were getting away from wisdom as fast as they could. I think he sort of looked down on me for that.

“Do you mind,” he asked, “if we have the driver drive alongside the park? On the west side—I haven’t seen the city in so long.”

“O f course not,” I said. I was afraid that I might sound as though I were humoring him, but I hoped he wouldn’t take it that way.

So we drove along, between the green of the park and the stony, lifeless elegance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets of our childhood. These streets hadn’t changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea. Most of the houses in which we had grown up had vanished, as had the stores from which we had stolen, the basements in which we had first tried sex, the rooftops from which we had hurled tin cans and bricks. But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found them­ selves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn’t. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped, after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn’t lived in Harlem for years. Yet, as the cab moved uptown through streets which seemed, with a rush, to darken


with dark people, and as I covertly studied Sonny’s face, it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind. It’s always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.

We hit noth Street and started rolling up Lenox Avenue. And I’d known this avenue all my life, but it seemed to me again, as it had seemed on the day I’d first heard about Sonny’s trouble, filled with a hidden menace which was its very breath of life.

“We almost there,” said Sonny. “Almost.” We were both too nervous to say anything more. We live in a housing project. It hasn’t been up long. A few days af­

ter it was up it seemed uninhabitably new, now, of course, it’s already rundown. It looks like a parody of the good, clean, faceless life— God knows the people who live in it do their best to make it a parody. The beat-looking grass lying around isn’t enough to make their lives green, the hedges will never hold out the streets, and they know it. The big windows fool no one, they aren’t big enough to make space out of no space. They don’t bother with the windows, they watch the TV screen instead. The playground is most popular with the children who don’t play at jacks, or skip rope, or roller skate, or swing, and they can be found in it after dark. We moved in partly because it’s not too far from where I teach, and partly for the kids; but it’s really just like the houses in which Sonny and I grew up. The same things happen, they’ll have the same things to remember. The moment Sonny and I started into the house I had the feeling that I was simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape.

Sonny has never been talkative. So I don’t know why I was sure he’d be dying to talk to me when supper was over the first night. Everything went fine, the oldest boy remembered him, and the youngest boy liked him, and Sonny had remembered to bring something for each of them; and Isabel, who is really much nicer than I am, more open and giving, had gone to a lot of trouble about dinner and was genuinely glad to see him. And she’s always been able to tease Sonny in a way that I haven’t. It was nice to see her face so vivid again and to hear her laugh and watch her make Sonny laugh. She wasn’t, or, anyway, she didn’t seem to be, at all uneasy or embarrassed. She chatted as though there were no subject which had to be avoided and she got Sonny past his first, faint stiffness.




And thank God she was there, for I was filled with that icy dread again. Everything I did seemed awkward to me, and everything I said sounded freighted with hidden meaning. I was trying to remember everything I’d heard about dope addiction and I couldn’t help watching Sonny for signs. I wasn’t doing it out of malice. I was trying to find out something about my brother. I was dying to hear him tell me he was safe.

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