A sample of “Six Months,” debut fiction by Celeste Mohammed,
winner of a 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers.
When oil drop to 9US$ a barrel, man, you know you getting lay off. The only question is when. Like everybody else in the industry, you wait.
It come like the worst thing that could happen, when they announce people will have to go “in tranches” every month.
At first, every time you don’t get a envelope, you breathe a sigh of relief. After a while, though, you start feeling like a death-row inmate in a cell near the gallows; like these bitches want you to witness everybody else execution. Soon, the fact you still working come like a noose swinging in front your face, grazing your nose. You start to wish they just get it over with.
And when it happen, you rush home to Judith, your common-law wife, mother of your two children, and give her the news. She put her hand on her heart and say, “We could breathe easy now, Junior. We could move on.”
You and Judith cling to one another there in the kitchen. You feel your prick resurrecting like Lazarus. Is months since the last time. You know Judith feeling it too. She pulling away? No, she gripping on tighter.
You’s a trembling school-boy again, mouth watering over hers as you grab deep inside that house-dress like is a bran-tub. You find her panty-crotch and rake it aside. Right there on the counter, next to the toaster, it happen. Two jook and a tremble and everything done. But Judith don’t seem to mind. She patting your back, stroking your hair, till your breathing slow down. Then she whisper she going for the boys.
You swagger to the bedroom. Dive on the bed, hug the pillow, and smile. You not too worried. The severance pay was a good chunk—it’ll hold you for a while. Besides, you tell yourself, it don’t matter how low oil go; Trinidad need man like me. They can’t shut down every rig, every factory. Nah! METs will always find work.
But then April turn to May, May turn to June, and still nobody hiring Mechanical Engineering Technicians. The talk everywhere is recession, recession. Judith still have her receptionist job in the doctor-office and y’all could probably manage a li’l while longer. But what really starting to hurt is your pride. You’s a big, hard-stones man and watch you: every day, waking up with the house empty and a note from Judith on the table. Cook, clean, wash, iron—you do everything she say.
Until one night, when Judith squat over your face and say “suck it,” you shove her off and say, “Suck it your damn self. I’s not your bitch.”
You call your cousin Rufus, in New York. America have the most factories. Rufus name “citizen,” he must know somebody to offer you a li’l something under the table.
Three days later, he call back. Good news. If you organize your visa and ticket and get there by September month-end, they’ll squeeze you in at the S-Town Supermarket near his house, in Queens. “Engineering work?” you say. And the man say no, is the meat room. You hesitate when you tell Rufus, “Yeah,” but, same speed, you hang up and tell Judith, “He mad or what? I have education!”
You plan to wait couple weeks, then say you didn’t get the visa. Meantime, you drop your tail between your leg and call your eighteen-year-old baby sister, Gail.
“You think you could ask that old man something for me?”
“A job, nah?” Gail say, like she was waiting on the call.
“Yeah, girl. Things hard. You know I’s not the kind to ask Mr. H for favors. But them Syrians, they own everything. See what you could do, nah?”
Imagine you asking Gail for help. After you never do one ass for her. After you did move out and leave her with that drunk skunk, your father, Luther Sr.
When she first hook-up with Mr. H, that married asshole, it did make you feel to vomit: your li’l sister spreading her legs for him, for his money. You did tell Judith as much and she say, “Well, talk to Gail? You’s she big brother.”
But you did say, “Nah, is not my place.” And is true. Gail was fuckin’ for betterment. How you coulda ever face her and say “Don’t” when Mr. H was the one minding her: putting a roof over her head, food on her table, clothes on her back, making she feel classy, giving she a start in life. That’s more than you—Mr. Big Brother—or your waste-a-time father ever do for the li’l girl. Shame!
Next day, Gail call back: “Sorry, boy. Hard luck.”
You wonder if she even ask. . .