Originally published in Wraparound South Summer/Fall 2020 issue.
Read the rest of the issue here.
Under the weight of the sun, the skin of Black boys don’t even rust. There are no more field whips to crack us open down to the weathered bone. Only the heat and humidity to wrestle through, but we were made to win that war. At least that’s what Granddaddy Browdy on Momma’s side always says. And Pops tends to agree with him, so my brother and I grew up picking oranges with Pops and his farmhands after school from the family grove that surrounds our backyard in Polk County, Florida.
But since I’d returned from my great stab at the American Dream—on scholarship for the first year at Georgia Tech and then fumes for the mere months that followed—my skin doesn’t just rust. The base of my neck routinely cracks open into expanding fault lines until it sheds thick pepper flakes of dead skin. And in their wake, a series of scars stretch across my shoulder blades, spreading faster than the markings of citrus greening disease that I found in one of our trees last week.
Tugging off my glove with my teeth, I watch another root lean over and collapse into the same stock I’d just re-secured. Weighed down by fatigue and frustration, I make the mistake of wiping the perspiration off my neck with the back of my hand. I’m not even supposed to be in this section of the grove today. My days are normally spent among the more mature trees, but I agreed to take over my baby brother’s shift in return for him using his nimble fingers to run an errand for me.
My shoulder blades retract as the flames from the burn migrate down my neck, but the expletive heard ‘round the grove comes from further down the aisle. I dust sand from my knees and rise to see my punk-ass little brother Jeremiah, half-naked and sucking on his left hand while carrying a sack full of Hamlin oranges nicked from the grove in the other.
“You got bit by one of those snakes again, didn’t you?” I sigh as he drops his sack.