ISSUE #29: Michael Henson, Emily-Jane Robinson, Está Vivo

Posted: Monday, May 9, 2011 | | Labels:

Photograph by Emily-Jane Robinson

by Michael Henson

“Check this out, Sweet. I’m gonna show you how it’s done.”

The boy called Sweet winced at the nickname, but not enough to let it show. He was small for fifteen, but he did not seem small, for he carried himself gun barrel straight and his jaw was clenched and his eye was very somber. Like the other boys with their skateboards, he was compact and lean of build. His hair fell down across his face and, every few minutes, he flicked the hair out of his eye. Like the others, he wore loose blue jeans gone ragged at the cuffs, shoes worn down at the toes and blackened with asphalt along the soles, and a big, loose shirt that framed him like a cloak.

Issue #29 soundtrack: Está Vivo "Natural Blossom"

The boys were gathered under the floodlights of the parking lot of a bank. One by one, the boys took turns. One by one, they tried to leap a curb, coast across the sloping asphalt parking lot, leap again at a second curb, and grind down the concrete side of a set of stairs to the sidewalk below.

One by one, they failed. Either at the curb, or on a bit of gravel in the lot, or at the moment of the leap onto the side of the steps. Or, if the boy had made it so far, when a wheel caught on the edge of a step. So there was a great deal of laughing and cursing and bragging and high-fiving and punching at the shoulders.

The boy with the nickname Sweet stood apart from the others who joked and cursed and hooted and elbowed each other on the edge of the lot. He held his skateboard upright with the tail of it in the grass and the head of it in his hand and he leaned against it and he watched.

“Check this out,” the first boy called again. He was a tall boy with a white cast on his left arm. He kicked off, made the leap over the first curb, and cruised down the slope of the parking lot toward the steps. He grinned with confidence as he glided down the grade toward the second curb. But he lost his footing as he leaped and he pitched and scrambled to keep from falling. He did fall, with a curse; he landed on the uncasted hand, and rose, painfully, still cursing, to examine the red abrasions on his arm.

The boy with the nickname Sweet watched until it came his turn. He watched very carefully, for he was determined to master this track. He was determined that the other boys should see him nail this course. He watched each boy fail as he had failed minutes ago in his first try, and he learned from watching the others the site of each dip and patch of gravel that could upset his balance.

His turn came round and the other boys stepped aside for him.

“Do it, Sweet Pea,” called the boy with the cast.

The boy named Sweet flinched again at the nickname, but no one could have told for his face was somber as a stone. Without a word, he stepped to the sidewalk, dropped his board, toed it into line, then kicked off. He kicked three times for speed, then crouched for the leap across the first curb.

He made that easily and leveled himself to coast across the lot. He knew, by watching the others, and because his eye was good, that though the lot looked smooth as water on a pond, it was pocked with small craters and he knew that bits of pea gravel were strewn here and there. He knew that the lot ran downhill toward the steps in a slope that looked smooth as glass, but there were dips and warps and swerves that hid among the shadows and waited to overturn him.

And so, he kept his crouch and he kept his arms extended for balance so that he could handle the gravel and the potholes and the variations in the asphalt and he could feel them through he soles of his shoes and he could adjust in his ankles and his knees. He kept his torso low and his arms extended and made subtle alignments in his hips and knees and in the placement of his feet so he could master each impediment where he and the others had stumbled.

“Yes,” he whispered. “Yesss.”

He made a wide, sweeping S of his course through the lot, partly to miss the worst of the warps in the pavement, partly just to show he could do it, partly for the sheer joy of it, he felt so free and unbound in those moments when the board did not seem to be held to the earth at all and the sound of the wheels and the bearings vibrated up through the wood of the skateboard deck and into the soles of his shoes.

The boy finished the last sweep of his S, then lined up for the grind down the steps. He knew the others watched and he knew they silently admired the way he took the board aloft, turned his hips and torso and his legs and feet. He felt the board rise up with him as if it were a thing alive, so that, for that moment, he was weightless and in such perfect command that he forgot the other boys watching him and crouched into the grind.

Perfect, he thought. Perfect! He shifted for balance down the slide, careful not to tilt toward the point of the steps, and was on his way down to the bottom of the steps, where he would leap upward with the living board one more time and turn with the board in the air to land on the lower sidewalk. And it was in just that moment, just that hemi-second that called for all his concentration, that he was distracted by lights: Red and blue light. And sound: the electronic squawk of a police car bullhorn and a cop’s voice. And curses in the voices of his friends.

That was enough to tip his balance and bring him down all wrong. He came down hard with his knees on the sidewalk and his hands in the gutter. His board lay on its back with the wheels still spinning.

“Take it somewhere else, boys,” the bullhorn called.

Some of his friends ran and some of his friends cursed and walked. The hair had fallen down in his eyes and, for a moment, he could see nothing for the hair in his eyes but the blur of red and blue and white lights of the squad car.

“Fuck,” he cursed in a whisper. Then, “Fuck, it hurts.”

“Beat it, boys,” the bullhorn sounded again.

“All right. All right,” some boy called, though most had already taken off.

The bullhorn went off with a click and the red and blue lights went dark and the squad car pulled around in the lot and left.

* * * * *
His mother still called him Sweet Pea, her pet name for him when he was small. Sweet Pea, Sweetie. Sweet Thing. My Sweet. For years no other person called him such a name for she kept it very private and for years he thought nothing of it, for that was simply what his mother called him and she only called him these sweet names in private with no one else around and they remained her private names for him and belonged to no one else.

But then one day she was careless; she shared it with the world and then the world, it seemed, knew him only by the names that had once been secret.

Did she even know what she had done?

* * * * *
“What did she call you?”

“Nothin, man. She didn’t call me nothing.”

“I heard her, man. She called you Sweet something.”

“She called me by my name.”

“Sweet Pea! That’s what it was. Sweet Pea. She called you Sweet Pea.”

“She called me by my name.”

“Then your name is Sweet Pea. Cause I heard it. I was standin right here by the door.”

“Fuck you, man.”

“Sweet Pea! She called you Sweet Pea.”

“Fuck you.”

“She called you Sweet Pea? Man, wait til I tell Sean.”

“Fuck you and fuck Sean.”

“Awww, you’re my Sweet Pea.” He reached to pat the other boy on the head.

“And you’re a damn potato.”

“That’s okay, Sweet Pea. Don’t be mad.”

“Fuck yourself.”

He swore he would never answer to the name, but that was the name he became to the other boys.

Sweet. Sweet Pea. Sweetie Pie. Sweet.

* * * * *
He waited for nearly a full minute before he tried to move. Nothing broken, nothing sprained, but everything sore, so he pulled himself up to sit on the step.

“Hey, man, wassup?” The boy with the cast came down to the sidewalk. “You all right, man?”

“I’m all right.”

“You sure you’re all right?”

“I’m all right,”

“Cause you laid there for, like, a long time, man.”

“I said, I’m all right.”

“And I’m, like, thinking, man he’s done cashed in. I’m like, he’s all fucked up now. I’m, like, ready to dial up 9-1-1.”

“I’m all right.” He examined his hands. A bit of gravel had embedded itself in the meat of his right palm. He flicked it out, but it did not bleed. “What about you?”

“Now my right arm’s fucked up.” He raised it to show the red stripes.

“Did you break it?”

“No, I know what broke feels like.” He raised his cast. “This don’t feel broke. But it feels like it’s on fire. And I got blood all down it.”

“You better get it looked at, man.”

“It’s all right.”

“Looks all cut up to me.”

“I seen worse.”

“Yeah, you’re gonna see a whole lot worse when you get home.”

“They aint gonna say nothin.”

“I heard your mom say, no skating for six weeks. And that was, what, two days ago?”

“They aint gonna say nothin.”

“They’re gonna look at that raggedy arm and they’re gonna say something.”

“They aint gonna say nothing.”

“Whatever.” He looked again at his palms and the scrapes on his palms and said nothing until the other boy dropped his board into place and said, “Come on, Sweet.

Let’s go.”

“That’s not my name.”


“That’s not my name.”

“What? Sweet? Man, that’s what everybody calls you.”

“It’s not my name.”

“You want me to call you Wilbert or something?”

“Call me by my name.”

“Man, don’t be all like that.”

“Be like what?”

“It’s just a joke, man.”

“It’s not funny to me.”

“Man, don’t be all like that.”

“Just call me by my name.”

“All right, I will.” He turned his board into position. “It’s just a joke, man.” He planted his foot on the deck. “It’s late, man. We better go.”

“It’s not so late.”

The boy with the cast pulled a cell phone out of his pocket to check the time. “Man, it’s late. We gotta go.”

“That’s all right. You go on.”

“My old man’s gonna be all up in my grill.”

“So go on, man. I’m gonna hang out.”

“But didn’t your mom . . . ”

“I’m all right.”

“But she said . . . ”

“I’m all right.”

“Yeah, well I gotta go.”

“All right, man. I’m gonna hang out.”

“I’m already sort of halfways grounded.”

“So go on, man.”

“All right, man. Later on.”

The boy with the cast skated away. The boy on the step could have asked him for the time, but he had not. He could have checked the time by the clock on the front of the bank, but he did not. He sat in place and examined the scrapes in his palms and the rips in the knees of his jeans and touched the damp, abraded places on his knees, and winced a little at the touch. Then slowly, stiff like an old man, he rose. He looked around for his board, found it, and examined the nicks and scars on the nose and tail, the peeling at the edges of the grip tape on the deck, the scars on the axles, the tightness of the screws that held the axles to the deck, and the condition of the wheels. He spun each wheel and listened for any click or hesitation in the bearings. They hummed perfectly and he was satisfied.

The hair fell down in his eyes once more; once more he flicked it out with a toss of his head. He pulled himself taller.

He knew he risked being grounded himself. He knew it was almost certain. He knew almost exactly what he would hear, for his mother would tell him how she had fretted over him and didn’t know if he was hurt or arrested or what terrible thing could have happened and how she had called the mothers of the other boys and didn’t he know he had school tomorrow and hadn’t he promised, promised to be in at a decent hour? And she would look him in his eyes and smell his breath and smell his clothes to see did he get high, get drunk, or smoke cigarettes. And she would remind him she had enough to do with work and looking after his younger brother and sister and couldn’t he be a man and do the right thing for once in his life?

He knew all of that and he knew it all was true and he knew what he ought to do. He knew his mother had it hard and he did want to do what was right. He knew that if he left right now he could just barely make it home on time and that was what he ought to do. But he was not ready to head home. He bristled at the thought of going home. He had a desire, strong as the taste of salt on his tongue, to claim the hour for his own. He put his board under his arm and trekked up the steps and across the lot to the start of the course he and the other boys had been running. He wanted to beat that course. It would not take long. Just a few more minutes. Then he could head home. But he wanted to nail it, to have that moment, that half-heartbeat of a moment when everything was perfect, when everything pulled together, when everything was yes, when the board was alive and he was all concentration and everything was sweet.

Michael Henson is author of Ransack, a novel, and A Small Room With Trouble on My Mind, stories. He is a also author of three collections of poetry. He lives in Cincinnati.

Emily-Jane Robinson is a multi-disciplinary artist who lives and works in London. She received her BA in Design & Media Arts from UCLA in 2009 and is currently an MFA candidate at The Slade School of Fine Art. View more of her work at and

Está Vivo is essentially a one-man project by 19 year-old Chicagoan Ryan McMahon, who melds folk and tropical styles into pop tunes. For more information visit Está Vivo on Bandcamp or Facebook.