An Excerpt from “In Picketville”

By Terell Robinson

Somewhere beneath the sound of the whirring bullet stream you could hear young men screaming “Picketville” at the top of their lungs in the middle of the night. When I was a child, I never questioned this. There were certain things that adults knew that I would and could never possibly understand. On John F. Kennedy Drive North there was a sign that reads “Swan Lake Estates”, but no one ever called the neighborhood this. It was simply known as Picketville. The sign was lined with big green stones and the image of a swan swimming in a pond softly as if waiting and welcoming each car that sped past it without properly calling attention to its beauty. After a while, the sign began to match the same dullness of the asphalt covering the road before it. Everyone ignored the imaged of the lofty swan, sitting at the entrance of the neighborhood like a sweet, silent god. Every day we passed by the swan I would wonder if it had a name, a family, a father, a religion. I could see myself as the swan, simply waiting in silence.

As a child, there were many things that I did. Objecting to the direction in which I was pulled was not on the list of things that I was allowed to do. I constantly moved in silence, from school to car, past the swan and the neighborhood children surfing their way through backyards, wire fences, and dips and holes in the yard playing basketball or creating their world. At my grandparents house I would simply sit in the living room or in my uncle’s old room to do homework. The world outside was an eruption of noise: screams, laughter, you never knew which was the sound of torture and which the sound of pleasure. My grandparent’s house was made of brick. To me it seemed like the brightest house in the neighborhood. When I was young, the sun would find ways to pool off of the roof in a curtain of brightness weaved with flecks of gold. It only made the house shine more red. In the past it looked like a fire truck standing on its hind wheels. Today, as an adult, it simply looks like bricks placed meticulously.

The house next door was dying. It was the one thing that had always scared me. My grandfather would tell me that things lived inside the forest growing around the house. A woman had died there. She never married, but she had a pool in her backyard when my mother was still a child and would always let the neighborhood children come and play during the summer. Now that she was dead I’m not sure where the pool had gone or if it was ever there to begin with. Everything was covered in grass that I swore came up above my head. I’d never truly seen the sea before but I assumed it was much like the dead house, slowly swaying in the wind and a great noise of green sprouting every which way until you couldn’t tell what was what. Sometimes dogs would roam through the grass, maybe cats, and maybe bugs of all kinds that I never had the imagination to recreate. At one point I thought someone lived there: an imaginary friend, a ghost, someone peering through the boarded up windows. One day when I came home the door was blown wide open. I thought my friend had finally escaped that ocean of grass or maybe it was just the wild wind that day. Instead, my grandfather said it was a drug bust in the most candid way possible in his deep, booming voice. The neighborhood swayed back and forth much like the sea of grass.