Please help me welcome Victor Yates! He’s brought an excerpt from his debut novel, which is also the debut for a small press, Hillmont Press.
Half Somali and Cuban, 17-year old Carsten Tynes, deals with the intricacies of race, Americanism, syncretism, migration, and sexuality under his dying father’s abusive hand in A Love Like Blood. Set in 1998, his family relocates to Beverly Hills, MI to expand their photography business. His father has lung disease and promises to give him the business if he marries his ex-girlfriend. Faced with an unwanted marriage and the slow death of his father, Carsten retreats behind his camera. His camera becomes the loose thread that slowly unravels his relationship with his father and reveals the unseen world of “men who move at night.” However, it is his infatuation with his neighbor, Brett that severs the symbolic umbilical cord between his father and him. When death pushes his father and Brett together, he makes a dangerous decision to protect them.
Our bodies, ready for the job at hand, float up from the cobwebs. The purple leaves shake as they scrape my arm. Glancing over my shoulder, I step inside the warm living room and look in front of me and fixate on Brett’s body. Muscle fibers in his arms fill up with blood, showing off his veins. His veins twist like politics on his skin. Blood rushes between my legs as we lower the stands to the floor. The lines of his jeans are swollen with puberty and milk. I ask in secret with my hands to show me what is underneath. Turning my back to Brett, I adjust myself through my khakis and move it up into a less noticeable position. His face is a face that I know and do not know. Athletic, hirsute, strong-featured, and with large feet, he is every combination of the men featured in my non-porn porn collection. The videotapes, which are exercise workouts, are in the last place my father would rummage through, a satchel with an angel’s face printed on the front and back.
With my back to Brett, I say, “It will probably take us all day to unload everything.”
“Can I ask you something? How do you deal with your dad’s cruelness?”
I start to respond, but the truth might frighten him. My second answer feels dishonest and borrowed. That is the difficulty with language, finding the purest way to describe emotions, without having the appearance of stealing rented words. But then again, he should be as terrified as I am. My father is capable of anything, even killing a child. Brett only knows his father, paint, hammers, wood, and the splinters in his hands.
In my silence, Brett says, “You need to stand up to him.”
I shake my head in agreement; however, I know the moment I fight my Father, will be the moment he pulverizes my body into a soupy pulp. Yes, I have wanted to say – curse word – you to him two hundred times today, but my brothers and I are not allowed to swear. Respectable Catholics cannot pollute God’s breath with disrespectful language, especially Black Cuban Catholics.
“You need to speak up for yourself.”
“It is not that simple. Your father is not Somali. If he were, you would understand.”
“You shouldn’t put up with his bullshit.”
A soft rattling like ice shaking in a plastic cup startles me. The pain in my face forces my feet to take a small step to the right away from Brett. I take another step. Junior, my older brother and Father’s favorite son, tugs the dolly into the living room. Brett whispers something, but the words sound like gibberish. White bungee cords secure four boxes down to the dolly by its handle. My younger brother speed walks around Junior huffing, carrying two black-framed posters.
“Here,” Ricky says, leaning the blown-up photographs forward for me to grab, and then he races up the stairs, pumping his arms up in the air.
“Who is this?” Brett asks, pointing to the woman posed in the first poster.
“Marian Anderson. Richard Avedon, my idol, shot this.”
The black and white image has a gypsy-like quality. Strings of multi-shaded beads are around Marian’s neck. Her long, jet-black hair streams across her high cheekbones. Her hair is wild and windswept and elegant. The first time I stumbled upon this picture at Whitney Museum, I had to reread the description five times. In every other picture of the opera singer I had seen, she had perfectly coiffed hair, was put together, sequined, furred, ready to sing a standing ovation worthy performance. This picture, shot from the neck up, is unflattering, makeup-less, focused on her voice. She is singing to Richard against a stark white background. Later that day, I bought every album of hers that I could find at a music store down the street from the museum.
Junior heaves, straining himself, setting one of the boxes on the ground. A noise follows that only a man designed like him can release in public – he breaks wind. Being pudgy and drab, he could tumble into a pool of pink glitter and sashay out wearing a tiara and tutu, and no one would question his manhood. That may be the reason Father wants to mold me into a younger version of Junior; being that Junior is a younger version of Father.
“If you’re free tomorrow,” I say to Brett. “We will be setting up our studio in downtown on Main.”
I regret saying it as it leaves my lips.
Brett rubs the back of his curly head in a slow, forward sweep to his forehead, down to his face and spreads his fingers open. The gesture is seductive and playful. He pinches his nose, cocks his head up saying, “downtown,” and shakes his head no.
And, I am grateful for that answer.
As we walk back outside, the scent of rosemary weighs down the warm air. Brett drapes his arm around my shoulder in a graceful movement. A quiet celebration is happening, but I want to continue away from the eyes of everyone else. This physical closeness, might appear vulgar to my father, and lead to punches. Natural excitement turns to terror as his arm remains in place. If I move out of his embrace, that might confuse him. Step, step, and I can almost catch a glimpse of the back of the truck, where my father is praying. I slow my pace, but my legs tremble. Father’s soaked back is facing us. The pressure of his hand lightens sliding down my body. I snatch my hand away as he squeezes it. Father spins around holding a box that he insisted I tape up earlier. A resealable bag, matchsticks, frankincense, two chunks of charcoal, an incense burner with one handle, and a bundle of dried sage (to bless the house) are inside it. Inside the resealable bag, there are spearmint leaves, black tea leaves, khat leaves, cardamom powder, and a smaller bag with pills.
“Young man, your father, said you needed to be somewhere right now,” Father says.
“I completely forgot,” Brett says and checks his sports watch. Pink flashes itself, a pig pink, like where babies come from, and a finger increases its size. The rubber band on his wrist is a rainbow: pink leads to purple, purple leads to soft blue and soft blue leads to pink.
“He already left. You should go,” Father says. “And thank your father for the cart. I’ll grab it. Junior,” Father yells as loud as he can toward the house. “Bring that cart back.”
“Keep it. You still have more to move,” Brett says. “Nice meeting you Mr. Tynes and Carsten.”
At the touch of his calloused hand, I transform into a boy disconnected from his prepubescent body. Blood engorges between my legs, and I become firmer and enlarged and it is impossible to disguise it with Brett shaking my hand. As his hand lowers, his eyes also lower. I dig my sweaty hands in my pocket to readjust myself. My body, having a built-in alarm clock between my legs, buzzes and vibrates when it finds a man attractive. I am not certain; however if I will be able to reveal to my Father that I am attracted to men.
With his right hand, Father taps his forehead, then his chest, his left shoulder, then his right shoulder and the boxes behind him become an altar.
“Carsten,” he says in a tone reserved for lessons on manhood. “Carsten,” he screams and kicks me in the shoulder. “Don’t hang out with that boy. He’s khaniis.”
Hearing that abrasive word forces me to remember every lie that I have torn from my tongue, and given to my Father in the past year.
Buy A Love Like Blood:
Also available on Kindle Unlimited.
Author Bio: Victor Yates was raised in Jacksonville, Florida and now lives in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Windy City Times, Edge, and The Voice. As a graduate of the Creative Writing program at Otis College, he is the recipient of an Ahmanson Foundation grant. He is the winner of the Elma Stuckey Writing Award (1st place in poetry) at Morehouse College. He received an Oprah Winfrey scholarship and appeared on Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular show. Two of his poems were included in the anthology, “For Colored Boys,” which was edited by Keith Boykin. The anthology won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award. Also, he has taught writing workshops at the University of Southern California, Job Corps, Whaley Middle School (Compton), Gindling Hilltop Camp (Malibu), and Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy (Inglewood). “A Love Like Blood” is his first novel.
Where to find Victor:
Twitter – http://twitter.com/writervicyates
Facebook Fan Page – https://www.facebook.com/Victor-Yates-209337985760934/