Mr. Felix

Mariah K. YoungThis is the first story in Mariah K. Young’s debut Masha’allah and Other Stories, to be published this November by Heyday. Young’s short story collection is the first winner of the James D. Houston Award, which honors emerging writers on the West.

Thick February fog the day they put Mr. Felix to rest, but not so thick we couldn’t feel the sun through the haze. It was late on Saturday morning, and there were lots of folks out. No cars on the street. We never saw the street cleared out, and we didn’t know better, so we got a game of football going. I had a bright green NERF ball, brand new, no scuffs or foam chunks missing yet. My cousins and I and a few kids from the block split into teams, and we ran passes up and down the street, scoring touchdowns once you passed the broken fire hydrant at the corner. I was about to throw a spiral down the block when they shouted at us. They never talked to us kids unless they had to. But that day Enzo called my name. “Dylan, get your ass out the street!”

We ran to the curb. They lined us up against the bumper of Londell’s dark blue Monte Carlo. I dropped the ball and slid on top of the hood, just like all the block boys did when they’re posted. Enzo pointed his Fritos bag down toward our hands. Londell didn’t pay us mind except to say, “Don’t go jumping on the hood.” Marcus took my little cousin Edina and put her on his shoulders. She pulled at his dreads, but Marcus just bounced a little on the heels of his Chucks until she laughed, let go, and rested her hands on top of his head.

Funerals are ordinary. Processions happen all the time. But I’d never seen one where our street, which was always buzzing, was completely still. Up and down the block, people came out of front doors and off porches to stand at the curb. Even the old folks who never came out and the crackheads who could barely stand up were there. A horse-drawn carriage appeared at the mouth of East Fourteenth and turned. Two horses, both white with gray manes, clip-clopped down the concrete, pulling a glass box piled high with red and white roses. The casket was there for everyone to see, light brown with golden rails, like my ma’s hair, almost like mine.

Londell said, “There he goes. Mr. Felix.”

The carriage wheels turned, making this creaky little noise as the casket went by. The flowers shook when the casket crossed a crack or a pothole.

The hustlers bowed their heads. “Waste of talent,” Enzo said, cracking his knuckles. Marcus said the casket was lined with Italian silk and thousand-dollar bills. They stopped talking. Everyone did.

Behind the carriage came a stream of Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, all gold and creamy, shining like they just came off the lot. I stopped counting after twenty. Each car had bundles of red roses arranged along the front and back bumpers. In the cabs, women were in fur coats with little boys and girls on their laps, and men were in black suits. They stared at us behind dark sunglasses.

No more Mr. Felix. I was a small fry, and even I knew his name. It was the kind of thing you know without really knowing, how everyone got made or got paid through him. I’d seen him. He always wore clean suits with iron lines down the legs. The only Mister I knew about. Mama told me never to run around with anyone who talked about him too much, said there were other ways to live. Then she’d go to work. I kept the TV on all night. If it was off when I woke up in the morning, she was home.

Mr. Felix got caught up, sent to Leavenworth, and stabbed in his cell. The newspapers said he died over a five-dollar debt. Mama said good riddance when she heard the news, but she came out like everybody else and stood in front of our place. She’d wrapped up her hair in red, and her face was like the statue of the Mexican Virgin by our school, smooth and calm, her mouth hard.

For once there were no voices on a block that could never shut up. Some women were crying a little, but most people just watched. Some folks nodded, raised their arms, or flashed their signs. A woman yelled out, “The sword of Jesus is long and broad!” She was an old lady who had been on this block for always, since my ma was a kid. Mrs. Patterson. A group of people tried to send her into her house, and first she pushed one of them away, but soon she let them walk her to her porch. She appeared in her window. She watched the procession and held her hands tight.

Masha’allah and Other StoriesThe block was always loud with beat boxes and car engines and people jocking. But when Mr. Felix rolled through, even as a dead man, it was quiet. I could hear birds and traffic from far away. The wind even had a sound, a low whistle that hooked on the horse’s hair, picked the petals off the bouquets, and sent them on their way to the ground. I watched Marcus and Londell and Enzo follow that procession with their eyes, and I slid off the car hood. I looked at the neighborhood, everyone out, and my ma saw me standing with them. She reached out her hand for me to come to her, but she didn’t call out. Her arm stayed there.

I would have gone over, stood beside her, but Enzo rubbed the top of my head and told me to straighten up. I could smell his leather jacket. I hooked my thumb into the belt loop of my jeans. The Rolls kept rolling by, and I caught our reflection in a passing window.

Masha’allah is now available from Heyday in hardcover and paperback.