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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 407-415
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With Myth and Fire
It was after midnight, and Nathan and Daimon were south of town in a cotton field, fighting mosquitoes and fear. They were eight miles outside of Shreveport—well past the glare of city lights and the earshot of good Samaritans. But being out that far was supposed to be a good thing because it put the cover of darkness on their side. At least that's what Colette, their big sister—home from college—had argued the night before.
The two thirteen year olds were sitting on the hood of their mother's Delta 88. Nathan was nervously bouncing the back of his heel against the wall of the passenger side tire. Daimon, his twin brother, was sitting next to him, scanning the night sky. Their mother's car was parked, along with all the others, in a makeshift parking lot, several yards beyond the illuminated area of the stellar observatory they had come to visit. The observatory was in the middle of the cotton field, which sprawled out for miles along both sides of the blacktop highway that cut through it. A large and disorderly crowd had already gathered at the observatory. They were there for the "star party," there to see the meteor shower—the Perseids—rain down on earth. The observatory was humming with activity. Kids were running around out of control. The grown-ups were drinking beer and laughing. It really was like a party, a party Nathan felt he and his siblings were crashing because, as far as he could tell, they were the only black people out there. Everyone else was white, and it was this nebulous white crowd that Colette had disappeared into, leaving Nathan alone with Daimon in the parking lot.
The cars in the lot—the hatchbacks, sedans, mini-vans, and SUVs—were parked in two uneven rows, one on each side of the dirt road leading up to the observatory. Colette had parked their mother's car at the end of the row on the right. At the head of the opposite row was a black Suburban. It had a Confederate Flag decal on the left-hand corner of the bumper. Nathan wouldn't notice it until later, when he was leaving.
A mosquito stung Nathan on his wrist. He swatted it, letting out a weak, grunt-like sigh as he brushed it away. He wondered if Colette were ok. He wanted her to hurry up and return, but he didn't want her to catch him sitting on the hood of his mother's car like he didn't know any better. Nathan would rather be caught sitting on the Bible. His mother's car was her baby. She didn't want people within two feet of it unless they had to be. Colette, being the tattletale that she was, would surely tell his mother how he'd perched himself on it. At the moment, though, being ratted out by his sister was the least of Nathan's concerns. The rhythm of his heel against the wall of the tire became more erratic. He wondered what was taking her so long. All she had to do was [End Page 407] find out if they had arrived too late, if the observatory were about to close. Nathan hoped it was. He wanted to be at home safe in his bed. He wished now that he would have put up a bigger fuss the night before when he had gotten into it with Colette about how stupid it was to come out there in the first place.
The argument had started at dinner. Nathan was sitting at the kitchen table eating the mashed potatoes, coleslaw, biscuits, and fried chicken that came with the twelve-piece value meal his mother had picked up on her way from work.
"Stupid?" Colette asked. "What do you mean it's stupid?"
"He mean it ain't cool," Daimon said, scooping another helping of coleslaw onto his plate.
"The sky'll be dark, the meteors bright. It'll be like an...