Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 5

Moony's World

The boys sat silent. A car passed on the street every few minutes and the house made sounds around them, but neither boy spoke, until Terry had a thought he wanted to share.

"The class of the city's sprinters, for the first few weeks of the season, is right here, in this room, if you can wrap your mind around that."

"We were something to see," Levi said, watching Moony's face.

"Now, I'm just hoping to walk again."

"You're Terry Brown?" Levi asked. "Should I call you Terry?

"Terrance Mann Brown. Ain't that a moniker. They began calling me Moony when I was 12," he began to explain.

"Why Moony? That's an odd name."

There was some clicking noise, that turned out to be coming from his braces and before Levi knew it, Moony stood up, used one hand to pivot, until his back was turned and Levi found himself looking at a perfectly shaped brown butt.

Levi laughed and Moony was already hysterical over the move he made.

"Now you've been mooned by Moony Brown," he said.

"I get it. Moony. You moon people?" Levi asked.

"Do it once and you live with it for the rest of your life," he said, no longer thinking it was all that funny.

"Yes, and he mooned a Southside cop, the one time he pulled that stunt. Luckily his father is a Southside cop and after they took him into custody for indecency in public, they released him to my husband, once they realized they had his son. He had to promise to keep his pants on before they'd release him. He's damn lucky he don't have a criminal record. I bet, if I saw him do that, I'd turn that little brown butt red," Mrs. Brown said from the doorway.

Terry laughed.

"Lighten up, Mama. I had bad timing is all," Terry said. "I've been Moony Brown ever since that night," he said. "It was all over the neighborhood by the next day. The guys I was with that day, bet me a buck, I wouldn't moon the next car that drove by," he said. "I won the bet and got hauled in by the cops. My old man was fit to be tied."

"I bet," Levi said.

"I don't bet any more. When I heard a car. I turned my butt to the street and I dropped my pants onto the ground. It was a cop car of course and they didn't see the humor in it," he said. "Just poor timing, on my part."

"How did you get yourself shot?" Levi asked.

He wanted to take the question back, as soon as he asked it.

Terry sat expressionless for a couple of minutes. Levi wasn't sure he'd get an answer to his impertinent question. Then he began talking.

"Mama, I can smell that tuna sandwich you were going to bring me an hour ago. What do we pay you for, anyway," Terry said.

"You usually let it sit a half a day before you eat it. You've got company. You don't want to be eating in front of your company," she explained.

"I'm sure he's got a mother. She'll get him a tuna sandwich, after he gets home. I am home," Terry said and Mrs. Brown was gone again.

"She gets upset if I talk about it in front of her. She carries me to the doctors. It's not like it's a secret, but it still upsets her," Terry said.

"You're her son. I'm sure the thought of you being shot, would be upsetting," Levi said. "It was a stupid question to ask you."

"No, it wasn't. I was late getting home from track practice. I stayed late to practice my starts. How's that for poor timing? It had been raining, not hard, just a drizzle, but enough to be annoying. I generally run home. It's about a half mile and after practice, a light jog helps me to cool down. My ears got cold. As you can see, that can be a major discomfort for guys with ears like mine. I put my hoodie up, just as I was about to turn right on 2nd Street, down at the corner. I'd left my gear at school, or the guy would have recognized me. He'd have known, just Moony coming home from practice, but I had cold ears and I knew better than to put my hoodie up, but I wasn't thinking, as I turned onto Monroe, to come down to 2nd Street, I heard a single shot. I knew what it was," Terry said.

"Next thing I know, I'm on my back, staring up at a streetlight, it had this neat little aura around it. I wondered what I was doing down there, looking up at a streetlight. It wasn't dark, but the sky was black and I tried to get up. I couldn't get up. I couldn't move at first. I remembered hearing the shot. Didn't feel a thing. Next thing I know, I'm staring up at that light. It took a few minutes to hear the sirens," he said, going silent for a minute.

"When you hear a random shot like that, everyone looks out to see who is doing the shooting. Someone saw me in the street. They called 9-1-1 a minute after they heard the shot. The hospitals four blocks across the main street you came in on. Otherwise, I might not be here talking to you right now, Cordoba."

" It was that bad?"

"At first, they had to put the bag over my mouth, squeezing air into my lungs. I didn't feel anything, but the bullet is right next to my spine. I was in the ER in five minutes and on the way to the operating room, as they scrambled to get a team together to operate on me," Terry said.

"I didn't know any of that. You look fine, except for those braces. You don't look like you've lost that much weight," Levi said.

"I didn't know what to expect. It was touch and go after I came out of surgery. They couldn't say if I'd live."

"What a waste, Terry. I can't even imagine being in your position," Levi said.

"What made you come here? I still don't get that. Your life is good. I'm out of it now. I won't do any more racing," he said.

"That's why I'm here. Your not racing bothers me. Winning the hundred isn't much fun, because I'm not racing the fastest guy. I'm winning the races you'd be winning, if you weren't...," Levi's voice tailed off.

"But I am. It's an ill wind that doesn't do someone some good," Terry said something he'd heard somewhere.

"Doesn't set right with me. I plan to win, when I get into the blocks, but my heart isn't in it. My times aren't even close to your times," Levi said sadly. "I wanted you to know I think about it. I think about you. I didn't know what happened, until two days ago. Once I found out, I decided to come see you. Tell you that I admire you and there is no joy in winning the hundred."

"You are doing what sprinters do. You get in the blocks, when that gun sounds, you run your ass off, until you hit the finish line. You've got no reason to feel bad about winning, Levi. You're the fastest hundred man now," Terry said. "And, I always knew where you were on the track. You were the one man that came close to me and I knew where you were. I know who Levi Cordoba is. You are beautiful in the two-hundred. Those long legs and powerful strides. It's easy to see how you put so much distance between you and your competition."

"Thanks. I'm glad you knew I was there. I know you aren't there," Levi said. "I knew when you were there and you were totally cool about being faster than anyone else on the track. You didn't strut. You never looked down your nose at the rest of us, even knowing you were going to win, you were cool. I admired that. I am anything but cool. I acknowledge no one. I'm there for one reason."

"You're there to win and that's what you do," Terry said. "Don't be thinking about me. I'm out of it now. I won't be running any more hundreds."

"We heard the shot. I was putting dinner on the table," Mrs. Brown said.

" His father heard it. He stood at the front door, looking out at the street. Terry was running late. That's nothing new. We knew where he was. It's a half mile between the school and here. What could happen in a half mile? His father could see the ambulance flashing lights, a few houses down. 'I'm going to walk down and see if there's anything I can do. I might need to call something in.'"

"They didn't waste any time. I guess they took my vitals, got me in the back of the emergency squad and I was at the hospital a minute later. It's two blocks over and three blocks. I was having trouble breathing."

"The ambulance was leaving, by the time Al got to the scene. He looked at it driving toward the hospital and Mrs. Paul, she lives on the corner, told Al, "It's Terry, Al. Someone shot Terry. He ran back to get his car and me and we sat in the emergency room, waiting for someone to say something. He'd gone to the operating room by the time we got there. Surgeons were running around, trying to get a team to work on Terry," Mrs. Brown said. "Longest night of my life. Worst night of my life. No one could tell us anything. He was in the operating room until five the next morning and the doctor finally came to tell us that he was out of danger, for the time being, but there would be more surgery and he wouldn't be out of the woods, until they'd done all they could do."

"It sounds horrible. How can people do that to each other?" Levi asked, having heard of a dozen kids being shot to death in Southside.

"Nothing for them here. Some get jobs. Some go on to school, but the ones that don't get angrier and angrier that there's is nothing for them. Some join the military, which is a little better, I suppose, but others join gangs and gangs are about turf and anyone who comes on their turf, they feel justified in shooting. Makes no sense, but that's how it is. My husband tries to get them out of gangs, but it doesn't work for all of them and the anger over not having a way off these streets, just builds and builds and a kid like Terry pays for that anger. My beautiful baby has to live with being a cripple."

"I'll walk again, Mama," Terry said. "Don't you ever think I won't."

"I know you will, Baby," she said, not as certain as Terry was.

His mother listened to the doctors, but Terry listened to his heart, Levi thought, as the entire story filtered out.

"The guy didn't recognize me, Mama. It was a mistake, is all," Terry said.

"It doesn't matter. He was going to put a bullet in somebody's kid and this time, it was my kid and I don't like it. I wish they'd take all the guns away. If no one had guns, there wouldn't be any more shootings. No more mothers would need to watch their kid suffer," Mrs. Brown said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. You go on and talk. I'll shut up now."

His mother once again left the doorway of his room.

"She's more worked up over it than I am," Terry said.

"You're her son. You had hopes and dreams and a way to make them come true," Levi said. "That was taken away from you. I understand why she's so angry."

"Yeah, Yeah, it's an old story. What's done is done. I got what I got and I'll make the most of it," Terry said. "We live in a violent world. It would be nice if every grudge wasn't settled with a gun, but that's how it's done here. Lots of folks get shot every day in this country. Hundreds and that's how it's done."

"So now you've heard the whole gruesome tale," Terry said.

"You haven't lost your muscle tone. You look as hard as a rock. You've got buns of steel," Levi said.

"You don't think I'd have showed you my ass, if it was all shriveled up, do you? I do have some pride."

Levi laughed. He needed to laugh. He felt awful for Terry and he was glad he came to see him. He seemed to want to talk, even if it meant talking to the competition.

"My legs are jello. They don't hold me up. The braces let me stand on my own. The doctors say that I'm in such peak physical condition, it might take up to a year to lose my musculature. It doesn't simply deteriorate right away. I lost fifteen pounds. I look at my legs and the muscles are is still there. They just won't hold me up. Some days, I just want to cry, but those days don't come as often now. I've begun to accept that this is how it is."

Another silence set in. Levi wanted to cry.

Terry sat behind the desk in a desk chair. His wheelchair was within easy reach. He hated the wheelchair and he refused to stay in it, unless he had to leave the study for one thing or another, but he was content to stay put. He no longer had anywhere to go.

A few minutes later, his mother was back.

"Here," Mrs. Brown said, thrusting a plate, with a tuna sandwich on it, in front of Terry and turning to hand Levi a similar sandwich.

"Don't want no one saying I let no white boy starve at my house," she sang, as she went back out of the room.

Levi laughed. He was sure she was putting him on. He hadn't known what to expect and Mrs. Brown knew what a lot of white folks expected and she was happy to give it to them.

"Don't mind her. She watched too many episodes of the Jeffersons," Terry said.

"I heard that," Mrs. Brown said. "I bet I'll let you fix your own sandwich tomorrow."

"You really want to be cleaning up after me?" Terry asked.

"Never mind. I forget I raised a mess of a son," she said.

"I'm having trouble swallowing this, Mama," Terry said.

"Hold your horses. I only got two hands. I was making you lemonade. Lemons don't grow on no trees, you know," she quipped.

Mrs. Brown handed a glass to Terry and she turned to hand a glass to Levi.

As she turned to leave, Levi said, "I know. You don't want no white boys dehydrating at your house."

Mrs. Brown walked toward the doorway to leave Terry's room. Just as her brightly flowered dress passed out of sight, she let go with a very big laugh. Her laughter continued as she made her way back to the kitchen.

"Mama likes you," Terry said. "I don't think she's noticed you're a white boy."

Levi laughed.

"You've got a nice mother," Levi said. "I wasn't too sure, after I first got here, though."

"She is a real put on. She doesn't take anything off of anyone, but she'll kid along with you, if she thinks she can get away with it. We don't get many white folks around here. Pop brings a cop home, once in a while, if he likes the guy, but believe it or not, white cops and black cops work together just fine, but they don't socialize as much as you might think, according to Pop."

"I believe it, but I don't know why that would be true. We're all just people, when you get down to it," Levi said.

"True, but your kind of people and our kind of people, have never spent that much time getting acquainted. Everyone has learned to say nice things, but that's not always how they feel," Terry said.

Levi had never given it much thought. There were black students at his school. Not many, but there were black guys on the track team. He saw them the same way he saw the rest of his team, but he knew nothing about them, where they lived, or what their lives were like.

He knew everything about his friends, but they were all white and weren't much different than he was. Most lived in nice houses, had nice cars and dressed according to what they could afford and when you came right down to it, all of them were similar. Their families were similar. Their lives were similar.

"You still haven't told me what really brought you over here. I'm sure this isn't on your paper route," Terry said.

"No one could tell me what happened to you. You just stopped coming to the track meets. It bothered me. I finally decided to find out what happened to you," Levi said. "When I did, I didn't know what to do. I finally decided I had to come here to let you know I thought about you and I needed to tell you how I felt about our interactions."

"Black man shot in Southside isn't exactly breaking news," Terry said. "How'd you figure out it was me?"

"I take journalism. My journalism teacher sent me to one of his old students, who worked at City News. I knew you as Moony Brown, but he looked for anything on a Brown, from around the time you stopped coming to track meets. He found the story about you being shot and your address and real name was in the article."

"You had to work to find that out. I just don't know why it matters to you. I don't know it would matter to me," he said.

"I needed to find out how you were. I wanted to know what happened," Levi said.

"I must admit, I haven't had a lot of visitors. Some of the guys from my team stopped by, but who wants to look at cripple guy? They know what happened to me could happen to them. Who needs a reminder like that and they stopped coming. No one has come to see me for a month. I remember you from our races. I knew you were the man in the two-hundred. That made you somebody in my mind, but if you asked me, who'd be the last guy who would come to check on me, I'd pick you. I was the only guy standing in between you and your sweeping the sprints in every track meet. Why would you give a damn about some black kid, from the other side of town?"

"Strange how we get to where we are, isn't it," Levi said, not sure he knew why it was so important to see Terry.

Terry looked at him, looked him in the eye. Levi looked him right back in the eye. They were birds of a feather. Not many people knew what getting into a starting block was like. Fewer people yet, knew what it was like to sprint as fast as your body could take you, for one-hundred, or two-hundred meters. It was exhilarating and there was nothing like it in the world.

Almost everyone could run, but sprinting was entirely different.

"You anchor your teams four by two hundred relay?"

"Yeah, that's the other event I run," Levi said.

"I started on our four by one-hundred relay. Starting is the best part of my race. I'm quick out of the blocks, you know," Terry said.

"I know," Levi said, sounding like a guy who knew only too well how quick he was.

That brought a broad smile to Terry's face.

"I miss it," Terry said. "It's who I am or was. I got a lot more worked up, before I started the four by one-hundred relay. I had to get as big a lead as I could, because the other three guys weren't as dedicated as I was and if I got them far enough out front, they'd be embarrassed if they lost. I stood at the finish line, waiting for the anchor leg to finish. I couldn't sit down until then. We didn't always win, but I gave it everything I had."

"I remember," Levi said. "I always went to stand across from the starter, just before the four by one-hundred relay ran. I watched you start every time. Your starts are amazing, Terry. I tried to figure out how you got out of the blocks so damn fast. No one had a better start."

"You think so?" Terry asked.

"I do. I also think you'll walk again. Once you walk, they'll play hell keeping you off the track and you'll begin to run," Levi said.

"I'd like to believe that, but the longer I have no feeling in my legs, the less I believe that," he said.

"You'll walk again. You're Moony Brown, the sprinter," Levi said.

They locked eyes again. Terry thought Levi believed what he said. He just didn't know if he believed it any longer.

"You're OK, for a white boy," Terry said.

"I have my moments," Levi said. "I thought the same thing about you, being black and all."

They both laughed. neither gave much thought to race. You had one and then you got on with your life. It wasn't complicated. It wasn't easy either.

Levi didn't know what he would become if he could no longer sprint. It was the activity that set him free. For ten or twenty seconds, depending on which race he ran in competition, he broke free of earthly constraints. He soared in a way that he wouldn't know about otherwise.

Levi had it all and he knew it. His future was golden and now there was nothing standing in the way of him and his sprint championships that were almost assured. Without Moony Brown to lay claim to another city record in the hundred-meters, Levi was in the driver's seat.

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