frankie rollins


Excerpt from A Boy in History (previously published in Conjunctions Issue 53 as: First Intifada)


            He skitters to his left, leaps cobblestones, crates, carts, old women and their heaps of fabric.  The boy is carrying a pot.  The lid clatters slightly on the pot, a soft clanking that accompanies his running steps.  He ducks down the narrow passages, glances blankly at the metal doors, the shimmering copper jugs and thickly woven rugs.  The alleys are jammed on all sides with flat cakes, long tubes of sesame bread, oils, and bearded coffee sellers.   The boy doesn’t look at the food, he doesn’t look at the aged and shining cobbles under his feet.  He carries the pot always before him, eyes flashing black, and runs.

            Once in a while, a tourist with soft skin like an apricot will hold up a hand to stop him, smile kindly, ask him to wait, to slow, could she buy him a meal?  He stops, shirt open to his skinny chest heaving breath, and he holds the pot as neither invitation nor warning, just stands, his expression unchanged by the stopping.  The soft woman will lift the pot lid, she insists on it, smiling as if to imply that she is willing to bear his burden too, to be his witness, but when she looks inside she shakes her head in confusion, her smile becomes uncertain.

            When this happens, the boy replaces the lid with the utmost delicacy and care, as if there were a snake inside, waiting to uncoil and strike.

            He does not stay to hear the woman murmur to her friend, but it was empty! 

He turns and runs again.


            A story like this begins in the silence of a kitchen.  Where the mother of this boy rarely speaks, and when she does, it is with the plucked strings of a bickering harp.  Where the father sits, deadly dulled, thick and red and mute.  Where the mother murmurs to herself the faults of the man, until the man’s glowering eyes pin her mouth shut.

            Or does it begin before the father ever set eyes on the mother, does it begin in his ignorance, his youth, his willingness?

            Or does it begin before the father ever met the mother, before he ever set foot in her father’s house?

            Or does it begin in the coiling flame of hope that is dead inside her and not replaced by anything?

            The loam of the place where they live is bloody.  It is soiled with hate and burned bare by sun.  No one there has the fat of kindness to lend.  Or this is what they tell themselves.  This is how they behave.

            The mother is of a hundred generations of the malevolent place.  It began before she was born.

            It began before the father was born.

            It began again in them.

            And what of their son?

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