Louis Guidry, age 25, was dreaming about eating the perfect beignet while seated with a woman at the Café Du Monde in New Orleans. A loud voice and violent shake woke him. As he emerged from sleep into consciousness, he struggled to remember the face of the woman who was his companion. As the edges, he felt there was a sexual frisson, thus narrowing her identity to three women with whom he had enjoyed sexual relations or the three women for whom he still yearned.
“Louis! Louis!” he heard a loud voice exclaim. The closer he rose to the surface of consciousness, he realized that it was Duane who was doing the shouting and shaking. Duane Shelby from Memphis. Fellow law student. Roommate. Designated dinner cook.
“Louis, it’s Silver!” Duane shouted.
“Silver? Silver Lillie-Blanton? My Silver Lillie-Blanton?” Louis asked. “Is she OK? Did she get the COVID?”
“She’s OK,” Duane answered, “but she has gone and trashed you.” Duane had an iPad in his left hand. With his right index finger, he was pointing to a blog post entitled “Silver and Her Stimulus Check.” Duane started to scroll through the post. “There’s stuff about you in here. Stuff about me and Jeremiah, too.” Jeremiah Floyd-William was the third roommate. Also a law student. Designated lunch cook.
They were all third-year law students at George Washington University, not far from their sublet apartment at the Watergate. Five out of the six parents of Louis, Duane, and Jeremiah were very successful attorneys back home: they could afford to rent for their sons at the Watergate. With a view of the Potomac River. Louis was the designated common-room cleaner. They shared responsibility to do laundry. Duane and Jeremiah did the shopping. Since the stay-at-home order issued more than five months ago, they had spent a lot of time at the Watergate.
Those people closest to Louis would describe him as a calm person, not easily provoked. Silver called him “her gentleman” partly because of his demeanor, which she said contrasted to “the pervasive bro culture of twentysomething men in our nation’s capital.”
“Thank you for waking me to show me the blog post, Duane,” he said. “Please allow me another hour’s rest and breakfast before I give this my attention. I want to finish my dream.”
Louis returned to sleep, but not the dream of the beignets or the woman. When he finally awoke, he was in the middle of a dystopian vision of heavily armed police officers shooting unarmed white men without provocation. For the last month, since the passage of the PPE Act of 2020 in August, this vision had become a recurrent dream. He rose from his bed, changed into running clothes, and walked to the kitchen to eat a bowl of Raisin Nut Bran, his favorite cereal. While he ate, he read the blog post about Silver. Twice. Questions formed in his mind as he looked at his schedule for the day. Since the pandemic had spread to the East Coast, Louis, Duane, and Jeremiah had made a pact with each other.
“We talked about this scenario in one of my policy classes at Sewanee,” Louis said during their first group meeting back in March. Their group meetings, held every Sunday night, took the appearance of business meetings. “It looks like the federal government will force the states to take the lead.”
“The states don’t have the capability,” Jeremiah said.
“I agree,” said Duane.
“I can’t go home,” Louis said. “I just can’t.”
Duane and Jeremiah looked at each other. “Me, neither,” they both said.
“In my class, we discussed survival strategies,” Louis said. “One of the most important tactics is to create schedules and divide responsibilities. Pretend that we are living in wartime. It will help us at least create the illusion that we are in control.”
The three roommates agreed on the strategy. Within two days, their apartment was clean, and each roommate was assigned responsibilities, all coordinated with their class schedules. All of them had girlfriends. None of them were able to schedule goodbye dates. The three of them adhered to their schedules and they stayed healthy even as the District of Columbia became sicker and sicker. After the Fourth of July debacle, they all praised the discipline required to keep them alive. In a group meeting in August, Duane has proclaimed, “We are living in wartime, just without the bullets being aimed at us.”
Louis looked at his schedule. He had no free time to call Silver until 11:00 PM. They had agreed not to call each other after 10:00 PM unless it was an emergency. It would have to wait until tomorrow at 4:30 PM. He could send her a text to confirm her availability. Louis had a rule to never send electronic messages filled with emotion, excluding joy. He was not feeling joy this morning.
As Louis put on his two masks and goggles to leave the apartment for his daily run, Jeremiah, slouching on the sectional sofa in the living room, looked up from his “Law and Ethics of Business Practice” and remarked, “I read the blog with Silver in it. I always thought you were a gentleman, Louis,” he said, “but I have to be honest. The first time I met you, I thought you were gay, too, just like Silver thought.”
“Jeremiah,” Louis answered, “the first time I met you, I thought you were a roadie for a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band.”
“Brah will be just fine,” Louis responded. “Don’t waste the syllables.”
Per the Metropolitan Police Department citizen’s advisory issued last month for traveling outside the home, Louis had mapped out 20 different jogging routes along the Mall, Rock Creek Park, across Memorial Bridge into Virginia, numbered them, and posted them on their refrigerator. He mixed them up according to his class schedule; today he would be taking Route #9 to the Mall, which included two passes by the Lincoln Memorial and a loop around the Capitol. All the routes Louis had mapped also passed by one of the new police substations.
He started running along the Potomac River, under the Kennedy Center. Why did she say that I am not her boyfriend? Before the stay at home order took force, Silver and Louis had become inseparable. They had agreed to spend two nights a week apart, the other five split between sharing beds in his and her apartments. Mostly hers because no roommates. She told me that she loved me. He remembered. They were lying in her bed. They had just had sex. They were holding each other. She looked into his eyes and said, “I love you, Louis.” Where is the room for interpretation?
Louis shook his head silently as he passed the Lincoln Memorial. His monitor indicated that he was running at a steady six-minute mile pace. He had been all-Southern Athletic Association in cross country and 10,000 meters. In his first year of law school, he had finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 2:36. He still ran the occasional 5K race for fun, but before the pandemic he ran mostly out of habit. These days, running was part of a discipline to stay healthy and alert.
As he approached the Reflecting Pool, Louis told himself to stay positive. He decided to focus on an upcoming online concert he and his band would perform on Zoom next week. The band, named the Stockton Hall Jazz Band, was named after one of the buildings on the law school campus. Members of the band were GW law students or alumni. They played a Preservation Hall style of jazz. Louis played piano, like his childhood idol, Harry Connick. The working attorneys in the band were all at home in or around Washington. Three of the law students had decamped to family homes, all south of Virginia and east of the Mississippi River. Two other students, like Louis, were hunkered down in the District.
Prior to the Fourth of July, the law school had planned to return to modified in-person classes. All faculty, staff, and students would be required to wear masks and keep their distance. Asynchronous learning modules were being developed for online implementation. Facilities were being re-purposed and redesigned for study halls and work groups. The law school had hired additional janitorial staff to sanitize everything in sight. Third-year students, like Louis and his roommates, who would be spending time at their future employers, were encouraged to make appropriate accommodations for their own off-campus safety.
After Fourth of July, these plans were discarded. One-quarter of the faculty would be “unavailable” and presumably dead. One-third of the students would not be “returning to campus,” presumably dead or not willing to leave their hometowns. At the beginning of the semester, students were encouraged to communicate directly with faculty and employers and make their own arrangements. Two of Louis’ classes were meeting in person, weather permitting, outside in Edward R. Murrow park. Two campus security officers watched over the gathering. Over the course of six class sessions, no disruptions had occurred.
Louis planned to return to New Orleans to pursue his career in the law. He wanted to be a judge, and had been clerking for a federal judge. Most of the work he could handle by himself and in conference calls and Zooms, but his judge, sensing a unique opportunity in the history of American jurisprudence, advised her clerks to stay in Washington DC and, in her words, “breathe the twin attacks on our health and legal protections.” Louis had to admit to the judge’s prescience, following the expanded mandate handed to police forces under the PDE Act of 2020. His judge had concluded privately, “This law is the worst thing to ever happen in this country. Worse than Plessy v. Ferguson. Worse than Dred Scott v. Sanford. Worse than Citizens United. Giving cops the mandate to summarily execute people in public who are not wearing PPE? God help us if enough of us survive to see this stain on the law overturned or repealed.”
As Louis rounded the Capitol and began his return trek on southern walkway of the Mall, he picked up the pace to 5:45 per mile. He planned to speed up to a 4:55 mile once he passed the Lincoln Memorial again. In front of the Hirshhorn Museum, he spotted several police vehicles parked in a close formation, lights flashing. He heard shouting. He had not heard shouting in the out of doors in months, except for Professor Mary Cheh, who tended towards passionate exposition during her constitutional law class in Murrow Park.
Mostly out of curiosity, Louis slowed his pace. As he got closer to the scene, he stopped running and walked. He had heard about and seen videos of this kind of confrontation, but never witnessed one in person. In front of him stood a single man: white, skinny, about 30, with the kind of mustache a man should never grow because he cannot grow enough whiskers. He was wearing combat boots, camouflage cargo pants, and a t-shirt from a 1976 Ted Nugent concert at the Hammond Civic Center. The man wore no PPE. No mask, no goggles. He displayed no evidence that he possessed any PPE. He very clearly was in violation of the PPE Act of 2020. Louis speculated that this man was making a political statement. Louis speculated that the police viewed the man’s actions as suicide. Eight police officers circled the man, talking among themselves and most likely waiting for instructions from their sergeant.
Louis approached the officer who looked to be in charge. Beneath all her protective gear, he could discern that she was female, black, older than the other officers but not yet middle aged, tall, fit. Her movements showed that she could handle herself in a jam.
“What’s going on?” Louis asked.
“Back off, sir,” she responded. “This is not your business.”
Her tone of voice meant business. Serious business. Deadly business. Louis glanced at the name on her uniform. Sykes.
“Officer Sykes, I am a clerk for U.S District Judge Tanya Sue Chutkan,” Louis said, trying to match the officer’s tone.
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” she asked. “Sonny, you should move along. You don’t want to be here when what has to go down actually goes down.”
“You’re going to kill this unarmed man?”
“That’s right, Mr. Legal Scholar,” she answered. “You and Judge Chutkan know it’s the law of the land. No PPE in public, you pay the price.”
“What about the punishment matching the crime?”
“Sonny, what’s your name?”
“Louis. Louis Guidry.”
“Listen to me, Louis Guidry. My job is to enforce the law. Your boss is the one who deals with those questions. If the law changes, the punishment changes.”
Louis backed away from Officer Skykes, who turned away from him. She assumed that he was going to continue jogging away from the scene. Instead, Louis glanced around at each officer and then the man. The man in the Ted Nugent t-shirt was now sitting on the ground, head bowed. He had stopped shouting. Louis approached him and sat down next to him before any of the police officers could react.
“Louis, get away from the suspect,” Officer Sykes commanded.
“Has your sergeant given the order?” he asked. Getting no answer, he continued, “I am doing no harm and not interfering in your duties. You are waiting. Just waiting. So am I. Let’s all wait together.”
Officer Sykes was silent. Louis turned to the man. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Berry. Berry Johnson. My parents named me after Berry Oakley, who played bass for the Allman Brothers.”
“Glad to meet you, Berry. My name’s Louis. I love the Allmans. I’m a musician, too, from New Orleans. Where do you hail from?”
“Fuck! I’m from Shreveport.”
“Worst five-hour drive I ever made,” Louis said.
Berry Johnson laughed.
“What brought you to town, Berry?” Louis asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, I think you do.”
Berry Johnson raised his head up and looked Louis in the eye. “I’m tired of it all. Mad about the fuckers in charge. Mad about everything. No one’s trying to help me. But mostly I’m just tired.”
“So, you came here to rest?”
“Yeah, I guess. Something like that,” Berry said. His head dropped.
“Berry, you got anyone back in Shreveport?”
“Girl. That’s all.”
“What’s her name?”
“You want to see June again?”
“I wish I could.”
“Do you love June, Berry?”
“Yeah, I love her.”
“Does she love you?”
“You didn’t answer me, Berry,” Louis said. “Does she love you?”
Berry raised his head. He thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, she loves me.”
Officer Sykes shouted something. Louis did not understand what she was saying. She repeated her command. “Louis, we got the order from our sergeant. Get away from the suspect. You don’t want to get hurt.”
Instead of following the police command, Louis put his arms around Berry Johnson. “Officer Sykes, I am not leaving this man to be killed by you.”
“Stand down, Louis!” she shouted.
No one who knew Alexandra Sykes personally called her by any nickname like Alex or Lexie or Allie. She loved to hear the lilt of Alexandra fall off people’s tongues, especially in the plethora of accents she heard every day. She was an only child of teachers who raised her in a school district with good magnet schools, in which Alexandra thrived as a student and athlete. She walked on to the University of Maryland’s women’s basketball team and graduated with honors. She taught high school English for more than 10 years in Prince George’s County public schools.
Alexandra married a college classmate named Devon, who was originally from Jamaica. Devon went on to earn a doctorate from Johns Hopkins and worked as a systems engineer at NASA. They were raising two daughters. When she told Devon that teaching was wearing her out, Devon suggested she become a lawyer. Her parents suggested that, instead of taking on law school debt, she become a police officer. “Different sides of the same coin,” her father had said. “In both endeavors, you are helping people when they are at low points in their lives.” She, her husband, and their daughters lived in a nice house. They went to church every Sunday. They were saving for retirement. She allowed herself to think about the future beyond tomorrow.
“Officer Sykes, I told you about my boss,” Louis said calmly. “If you kill me along with Berry, you and your sergeant will be on national television tonight.”
“I repeat, stand down!”
“Officer Sykes, look over your right shoulder.”
All the police officers turned their attention away from Louis and Berry Johnson. They saw eight people – two white men, two black women, an Asian woman, and three white women – all wearing PPE and all recording the stand-off with their phones. Officer Sykes turned her back on Louis. He speculated that she was reporting on the situation to her sergeant. Louis held Berry close to him. The man surrendered to Louis’ embrace and did not say a word, except to repeat his girl’s name, “June.”
After about five minutes, Officer Sykes walked over to Louis and Berry Johnson. She awkwardly sat down next to them. “Louis Guidry, this is your day to be a hero,” she said. “And you, cracker, you get to breathe for another day.”
Louis remained quiet. She was the one talking. She was going to offer the path to Berry Johnson’s reprieve. Let her talk.
“Here’s the deal my sergeant offered,” she continued. “Berry, if I give you a mask and goggles, will you wear them?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.
“Do you promise to wear them all the way home to Louisiana?”
“Yes, ma’am. I promise.”
“Do you have any money?”
Berry Johnson may have been named for the bassist for the Allman Brothers Band, but he could not tell you the names of either of the Allman brothers, Duane and Gregg. He listened to rap. He could not tell you his favorite rapper; the beat and the lyrics just washed over him day in and day out. He experienced music as a visceral experience, not as a fan. He never went to concerts. Berry had been born and raised in Shreveport as the oldest of six siblings. His father had moved to Florida; they saw each other once or twice a year. His mother told him that she had sworn off of men after the youngest was born. Berry felt like he was brother to some of his siblings and more like an uncle to the youngest ones.
He dropped out of high school when he was 16, started out as a laborer at Haynesville Shale, and met June. He and June were doing well for a while. “Marriage was never a thing for me and June except a piece of paper,” Berry told his mother when she asked. “If she don’t love me, she can leave. If I don’t love her, I can leave. That’s the way we want it.” June worked as an aide at a nursing home. Two years ago, they found out that June could not have children. A year ago, Berry was hurt on the job, but when he got out of the hospital, there was no job for him. He and June started to quarrel. Small things at first, like spending or burnt dinner. Then larger things, like unemployment. Underneath the surface, though they did not want to admit it, was a feeling that things were not working out for them. At least not the way those things were currently arranged.
“You spent your last dime getting here?” Officer Sykes asked Berry Johnson.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered. “Weren’t planning on needing any money after today.”
“Well, Berry, you’re still here. We can still work things out,” Officer Sykes said. “Berry, if we take you to the bus stop and buy you a ticket home, and if you promise to wear the PPE the whole way home, will you follow our instructions?”
“Yes, ma’am. I promise.”
“Officer Sykes, pardon me for asking, but if you drive away from here with him in your car, how can I be sure you won’t execute him as soon as you round the corner?”
“How did I know you were going to ask that question?” she laughed. “You can ride along and see him off on the bus. Deal?”
Louis and Berry Johnson sat in the back of the squad car. Officer Sykes sat in the passenger seat in the front. She turned around and looked directly at Louis. “Louis, I can respect you for what you did back there,” she said. Berry Johnson just stared off into the streets that they were passing.
“But I have to ask. What is wrong with you white people?” she asked. “Louis, for centuries, you white people spend all your excess energy trying to kill black people, and now you are just lying in the road like him, daring black police officers to kill you.”
“What do you mean?” Louis asked.
“Almost all of these Death by Nugent episodes happen in large cities or towns where a lot of police officers aren’t white. These guys travel on purpose to these places,” she said. “How many white officers did you see back there?”
Louis tried to remember.
“I’ll help you, Louis. One. The answer is one white police officer. Four black officers. Two Asian officers. One Latino officer. My sergeant is black, Latino, and gay. This thing that he did,” she said, nodding at Berry Johnson, “is not going away anytime soon.”
Louis looked out the window for a moment, collecting his thoughts.
“I know your Judge Chutkan from her days as a public defender. Strong black woman,” Officer Sykes said. “Our country, she used to say outside the courthouse, is not a white country. The United States of America is a black country.”
“A black country…?” Louis responded.
“White folks may think that the hatred, fear, bigotry, prejudice, violence, and everyday injustice you’ve have been able to heap on us makes this a white country,” she said. “You may even think it’s a white country because most Americans are white.”
“The numbers would suggest…”
“Shut the fuck up, Louis!” Officer Sykes shouted. “I hope I am not wasting my breath on another run-of-the-mill white liberal who reduces everything to neat and tidy intellectual boxes, and who thinks that going to one of those protests for George Floyd back in June gives them some moral authority.”
“Continue, Officer Sykes,” Louis said.
“My parents taught me that opportunity in the country exists for black people. That I have more opportunity than they did, which was more than their parents. My husband and I have plans. We have hopes for our children. We’re living the so-called American dream, but it’s a dangerous thing for black Americans to have hope. Too many times we end up disappointed. Too many times we get distracted by our dreams to what’s going on in the world that will destroy our hope.”
For a moment, Louis thought about responding to Officer Sykes, but then he read the room.
“On the other hand, Louis, white people like your friend there believe that opportunity in our country is disappearing. They are afraid that they are losing their place at the table because my family is living the so-called American dream, not them. And some of them, like your friend there,” Officer Sykes continued, “have given up on the American dream. Your friend there has no hope, and it’s an even more dangerous thing for black Americans when white Americans give up hope because we become the easy target of their rage and frustration.”
“Louis, you went to college. You’re in law school. You have a bright, shiny future in front of you,” Officer Sykes said. “I am a black woman and a police officer. By definition, you and I are optimists. We believe in the future, even though we don’t know what the future holds for us.”
“Not exactly,” Louis said. “None of us knows, really knows, what the future holds. We could both be dead before Thanksgiving.”
“But that’s not stopping you from going to law school and me still showing up for work every day.”
“Maybe it’s paranoia,” Louis said. “My father said that a little bit of paranoia can be a healthy thing.”
“That’s such a white people thing to say, Louis. Let me share a secret with you,” Officer Sykes said. “I haven’t capped any of the crackers like him who’ve shown up in the District, but I feel that today was just a stay of execution – for me. Your white Congress is out of their minds passing a law like that. I don’t know if I could follow those orders.
“I feel sure that you aren’t the only police officer who feels that way,” Louis said.
“You’re sure?” she said, sarcasm dripping through both syllables. “Louis, you naïve white man, almost all the Death by Nugent shootings have been committed by white officers while the black officers turn their backs.”
“Huh. I did not know that,” Louis said.
“So at least you learned one thing today,” Officer Sykes responded.
“Officer Sykes, I have a question for you,” Louis said. “What did you do during the riots back in June?”
She thought for a moment. “My best,” she answered. “I tried my best, and I failed. And I have tried to learn from that failure.”
“I appreciate your answer,” Louis said. “We are living in an age of death and madness, and I just hope that you and I and Berry Johnson here survive.”
Officer Sykes turned her head back to the road. When they arrived at the bus station, without turning around, she said, “Get out. Ticket is waiting for him. Him getting out of the District alive is on you.”
Louis had heard that bus travel between states was dangerous. He also believed that the choices for Berry were certain death today in the nation’s capital or a 70/30 chance of seeing his girl June the day after tomorrow.
After Berry Johnson had gotten on the bus with a half-hearted wave, Louis ran back to his apartment, where he showered and changed for lunch. “You will not believe what happened,” he said to Duane and Jeremiah. “I need time to process it before I can speak about it.”
“Are you really that guy who stopped a police execution by the Hirshhorn?” Duane asked.
Louis, surprised, nodded. Jeremiah slapped him on the shoulder. “You already had a good day and you haven’t even had lunch yet,” he said.
“I’m behind schedule,” Louis responded.
By mid-afternoon, they found Louis. The world had decided that Louis Guidry, Officer Sykes, and Berry Johnson would be the stars of the next 24 hours of the news cycle. Judge Chutkan called him while he was still eating the tuna fish sandwich that Jeremiah had made for lunch.
“Three things,” she said. “First, prepare a statement for the media because you are going to have to make a statement to the media. There’s blood in the water, and they are the sharks in this scenario. Give them what they want, and they’ll go away to chase the next brand-new toy. Imagine what you would want to say to your parents.”
“OK, I think that I can do that,” he answered.
“Second, think about three questions your parents would ask you about what happened.”
“OK. First, they’d ask ‘what were you thinking?’”
“What were you thinking?” the judge asked.
“I wasn’t,” Louis answered. “I just reacted. It was a What Would Jesus Do kind of moment where my church youth group kicked in. Right and wrong flashed in front of my eyes. I wanted my parents to be proud of me.”
“Were you scared?”
“Yes,” Louis said. “I may have peed myself a little.”
“Nice touch,” the judge laughed. “Third question: what would you say to all the other Berry Johnson’s of the world?”
“I’d tell them…I don’t know,” Louis said. “I just feel like Ted Nugent is a piece of shit and doesn’t deserve all the attention…and that police officers should not be put in the position to enforce this horrific law.”
“I could not do better than that,” the judge remarked. “Last, do you have a place to go where you can disappear for a couple of weeks? If not, you might want to find one. The Watergate has its advantages, but they can’t protect you forever.”
“I have a place in mind,” Louis said.
By the time Louis called Silver the next day, the media firestorm had moved on to the search for Ted Nugent. The aging rock star had not responded to Louis’ name-calling, and none of Nugent’s family, friends, or his manager knew where he was or would admit to his location. The initial questions and speculation about Nugent quickly turned into a CNN/Fox News chyron: “Is Ted Nugent Dead?” President Voldemort had even tweeted: “I hope that @TedNugent is alive and well! #whitelivesmattertoo #MAGA.”
“So, Mr. Famous,” Silver said when she answered his call. “How are you holding up?”
“Do you know why I wear seersucker?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“I wear seersucker in DC to play against the rainbow of blues and grays you find in this town, which I would think that someone like you would appreciate,” Louis answered. “And, before I forget, am I your boyfriend or not your boyfriend?”
“Again, what are you talking about?”
Louis remembered their first date, which was arranged by a feature in the Washington Post, Date Lab, which acted as matchmaker based on information submitted by singles, their parents, or their friends. Silver’s mother has submitted her application, Louis had spent a long weekend on his application. He was an old-fashioned serial monogamist who never caught on with the hook-up culture. He wanted to go on dates like his parents, where two people meet in a place, share an experience, and talk about their past and their future. He, a good Southerner like William Faulkner, believed that the past is never dead, that it’s not even past.
Almost immediately, Louis took to Silver. He told her that she was a “hippie dippie,” someone who was not so tightly wound, had an artistic bent, and could change course in unpredictable ways. He was a fan of her mother’s movies, but he admitted that he had never read her novels. He liked the way Silver held herself, with an athlete’s confidence. He liked the way she was serious about her work as a marketing technologist with the Washington Post. He liked that she read poetry. He liked her dog, which was named after the singer Fiona Apple. He liked the way she looked at him when they were in bed. She saw him. He liked her desire for independence, along with her willingness to share with him. He saw a future with her.
“Silver, I read that blog post,” Louis said. “Did you think that I wouldn’t see it? Actually, Duane saw it first, but then I saw it. And Jeremiah, too.”
“Yes, that,” he said. “And I have a laundry list of questions.”
“Of course,” Silver said. The resignation was heavy in her voice. “Proceed, counselor.”
“First, granted, our apartment may have seemed dingy – just as you described — before all of this started,” he began. “But since you visited, we adopted a survival strategy that resulted in the apartment being cleaned on a regular basis. Sunlight bathes the apartment without all the dust suspended in the air. It doesn’t have that persistent man smell. You’d actually like it now.”
“I got no defense,” she said. “Continue with your list.”
“Second, last spring I advised you to spend your stimulus check on takeout because, one, you have to eat, two, local restaurants need customers to survive, and, three, people, actual people, rely on their jobs in the restaurants to get by. Twelve hundred dollars in takeout can help make sure that low-wage, so-called ‘essential workers’ can continue to get by even when the economy is in the crapper.”
“I understand your point, Louis, but I don’t need the stimulus check for takeout,” Silver responded. “I order plenty of takeout on my own, and I support the ‘essential workers’ in the grocery store and the farmers who supply those grocery stores.”
“Micro-economics. Macro-economics. I get it,” Louis said. “Third, calling me out on the white privilege thing.”
“Louis, you are the poster boy for white privilege,” Silver said. “The only reason those cops didn’t shoot you yesterday is because you are white. It’s like everything in your life.”
“So, what should I do with that privilege?” Louis said more than asked. “Should I quit law school? Give away all the money my parents use to support me? Donate all my clothes to the homeless? Yesterday, I played the white privilege card to prevent the killing of a man. Should I have just let him die? Do you think I would have responded differently if he was black?”
“If he was black, Louis, he would not have been in that situation, which is part of the point,” Silver said. “Although, I do think if he had been black, you would have done the same thing. I really have to hand it to you. That was one of best and bravest things I have ever seen.”
“So, fourth thing,” Louis said. “Actually, it’s not even a question. It’s more of an observation. It’s just that we clicked. That first date was spectacular. You even used that word. We clicked. We really clicked. You introduced me to your sister Oly and her boyfriend Huey. They are my buddies. And when you told me that you loved me, it’s like you jump-started something in me. I had never felt this way about a woman, and now I feel this way about you.”
“And, you know, I did ask to move in with you, but it wasn’t because of Duane and Jeremiah,” Louis said. “If I need to get away from those guys, I could have just moved out and found my own apartment. I have white privilege, remember? I wanted to move in with you because I love you and want to be with you. I didn’t think there was anything askew in wanting that.”
“Louis…,” Silver began, then stopped. “Before all this, I did love you. And all this happened. Everything changed. I realized that there is something wrong in the world. Seriously wrong. I felt this wrongness in my bones, in my heart, and in my soul. I did not believe that you shared this feeling because you are such an optimist. You will always be an optimist, but now I am thinking that maybe you came out of that experience understanding that there is something seriously wrong with the world. Maybe that’s something we can share.”
“Silver, that’s remarkably moving and also remarkably ambivalent,” Louis said. “I have no idea how to take that vis-à-vis you and me.”
“Oh, as in, do I still love you?”
“Yes, Louis, I still love you,” Silver said. “But.”
“But? There’s a ‘but?’”
“We can’t be together right now,” she said. “I’m going through some stuff. I’m 26 years old. I am trying to have my moment of independence. I am trying to get out from under the shadow of my parents. They are putting all kinds of pressure on me to get out of the city and move in with them and my siblings. One big, happy family protected in the wilds of northeastern Pennsylvania. On so many levels, they make sense, really good sense, but I don’t want to hide myself under the shadow of anyone else. I need to stand in the sunlight by myself for a while and feel what it’s like. I can have a boyfriend, Louis. But I cannot have a commitment to anyone other than myself.”
“Does that mean I am your boyfriend?” Louis asked.
“Yes, Louis, it means that I am your girlfriend,” Silver answered. “You’re still in the picture.”
“But?” she asked.
“But you want to continue to live alone with Fiona and date me on Zoom,” Louis said. “And you want me to stop singing to you and telling you dad jokes.”
“Yes, Louis. You can play the piano, but no singing and no dad jokes,” Silver said. “I would like to tell you what I think is wrong with the world. I want to hear what you think is wrong with the world. I want to survive this pandemic. I want to survive it with the hope that I can figure out how to stand on my own in the sunlight, so that if I ask you to marry me, it will be freely and not out of obligation or fear.”
“Wait, so if we both survive, you might ask me to marry you?”