Semi-Permeable Membrane

You shouldn’t be here, but inside your head you’ve already escaped, that’s what you tell the other inmates, but they just snicker like they’ve heard that before, so you tell the concrete wall that the cops arrested the wrong girl and you just happened to be at the same party, a little fucked up but basically in control, dancing to Common in the living room while your two best friends made out with the Brezinsky twins from Saginaw who love no one, not even themselves, but you’re no gangbanger, you don’t even know how to shoot a gun, you don’t trust them because guns make efficient divorces, they kidnapped your papa and made a Christian lunatic out of your mama, in fact, if the police did their fucking research, they’d know you abhor guns and the idiots who use them to feel in control against the criminal world inside their own heads, if they’d done their fucking job they’d know that you created a club at Cass Tech called S.A.F.E. (Students Against Firearms Everywhere) for your papa and you’ve got forty-three members, including a secretary and a treasurer who always puts his milk money into the club safe, but rookie cops do nothing except knock innocent people of color to the ground because we’re the low-hanging fruit in a busted-up Eden, all they saw was the gun in your hands and a bullet hole in someone’s car, they assumed you were as brain-dead as they are because they like their rules and their hierarchies and their one-way violence and their pretext for dominating communities of color, and they don’t like nuance except when they’re on trial for shooting another black kid, but this indisputable fact doesn’t mean shit in your orange jumper now, they didn’t know (they didn’t care) that you actually yanked the gun out of Esteban’s hand, they didn’t care (they didn’t know) that he arrived at the party just to pistol-whip a skinny white scrapper (just another wannabe gangster), they didn’t notice the multiple fingerprints on the barrel or realize they’d scared away the witness testimony when they bum-rushed the house like cable detectives, fuck, they didn’t do a ballistics test or corroborate Esteban’s alibi or try to figure out the rest of the sawed-off serial number on the gun using probabilistic number theory, they didn’t figure out that the gun belonged to Esteban’s uncle, they didn’t do their job, so now you have to, all the cops saw at the party was you in the living room of another police-occupied neighborhood, the trouble child with a juvie record, the mixed-race, second-generation, hapa girl with a so-called attitude problem, a staggeringly high GPA, and a rap sheet of misdemeanors involving petty theft because you once got caught stealing some brown bananas, sushi rice, and week-old tortillas for my fam, but this was the optics more than anything, they found you holding someone else’s gun by the safety like you were afraid of getting contaminated by male violence, which you were, but when they saw the gun, they freaked the fuck out, they screamed at you like you were scaring them, the rage pulsating in their eyes, like they were thinking, how dare you have my power, how dare you threaten my existence the way I threaten you and yours every day, the poisonous irony of that moment almost killed you on several levels, so you gingerly placed the gun on the floor and then they were on top of you, slamming your head against the floor, kneeing you in the back, shouting into your ears not to resist, even though you weren’t moving, you were just trembling because you were fucking scared, you were whimpering into the grain of the hardwood floor, invoking your dead Peruvian papa to save you, praying to your Japanese mom to protect you, picturing your soul as it left your body and walked down the street and hopped on an intercity bus, that’s when the cops dragged you into the police cruiser, your frenemies, your part-time friends, all took their little videos on their phones from the sidewalk, posted that shit on Snapchat but didn’t say anything, didn’t even Tweet your injustice, they just left you to your fate, pretending a hashtag could save a mixed-race girl, that moment was real enough to take away the flame in your eyes and the fire in youry heart, which was sometimes all you had in your old working-class neighborhood where failure was a giant dome covering the sky, where moving up in the world was a symbol of class betrayal, as you lie in jail, waiting in your catpiss-scented cell to be arraigned, you imagine yourself passing through the thick window glass like the ghost of parallel lives, on the other side of the street you see free people idling in their office windows, drinking instant coffee with the push of a button, flirting by the copy machine, laughing at their phones alone, you see gorgeous Black women walking their toy dogs in front of the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility, chatting to each other and vaping, waiting for their Lyfts in the crisp autumn chill like Empire divas, you see a Latino dude running around the block in a red, white, and royal blue jogging suit and matching headband, you see white yuppies in busy sweaters and curlicue scarves, bouncing on the sidewalk like fresh tennis balls as gold, burgundy, and pewter leaves fall down from invisible trees that have no attachment to the world, but you do, and the sky shanks you every time you think about life on the other side of this window, you picture your spirit running through traffic to the shelter of the darkest alley, continuing to Esteban’s house in the faded part of Detroit, the exquisite sky stabbing you in the heart every time you gaze through plexiglass while your soul travels to the place where your destiny was overwritten by racial profiling, toxic masculinity, and police protocol, you see the yanked police tape slithering into the sewer gutter, the signature of sunflower shells, cherry pits, and blunt stains on the cracked sidewalk, you see the ghosts of every person you knew last night hovering around your little astral body now, whispering to the illuminated space where you’ve astral projected to, you sing along to the chapel organ inside your head for the funeral of your life, you see yourself there as a series of spectral bodies, replaying every decision you made last night, but also every thought you were too fucking scared to act on, your real, potential, unlived, and imagined plotlines flickering side by side, moving through the yard in parallel melody like a series of octaves on the existential keyboard, teleporting you back to the moment when there were so many different versions of yourself, which included being an ambitious hapa teenager who thought she could change the world, become a civil rights lawyer, and deconstruct the racist prison industrial complex you’re now a victim of, which included being a bright mixed-race girl who wanted to get her PhD in race and ethnicity studies partially because she understood racial hyphenation, social injustice, racial erasure, and racial illegibility, which included being an exotified person of color who lived the cultural conflict of being two irreconcilable things to the American binary, which included being a Latina and Asian who was too light-skinned for certain people of color and too ethnic but also too exotic for white spaces, there was once a time when you tried to fall so hard for this fucked-up world that kept on hating you for being alive, for stealing the electricity from the Detroit suburbs and bringing it back to your family and your neighborhood, and now you’re here, stuck and sentenced to live all your other lives in a feverish dream world of the damned and the dying.

Photo Credit: Erick Zajac via Unsplash

About the author

Jackson Bliss is the winner of the 2020 Noemi Press Award in Prose and the mixed-race/hapa author of Counterfactual Love Stories & Other Experiments (Noemi Press, 2021), which this flash fiction is excerpted from, Amnesia of June Bugs (7.13 Books, 2022), Dream Pop Origami (Unsolicited Press, 2022), and the speculative hypertext, "Dukkha, My Love" (2017). His short stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Tin House, Ploughshares, Guernica, Antioch Review, ZYZZYVA, Longreads, TriQuarterly, Kenyon Review, Witness, Fiction, Santa Monica Review, Boston Review, Joyland, Multiethnic Literature in the US, and Quarterly West, among others. He is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter: @jacksonbliss.

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