Avon Newbury had been a scourge in our neighborhood, an aberration we tolerated the way one tolerates cockroaches or rats. There were rumors about him for years, though nobody could ever substantiate them. We heard of stories that seemed to exist only in the past, about a girl, about charges made and charges dropped. They were only rumors, scary stories about which we spoke amongst ourselves to frighten us out of boredom.
In our imaginations, he became the ogre, the bogeyman, the thing of our nightmares. Every Halloween, some of the older kids would go up to the old, rambling house in which he lived, ring his doorbell, then run back down the steps and hide in the brush on the outlying edge of his yard, giggling with adolescent anticipation at getting a glimpse of the troll at his least guarded moment. He was a game and we made him harmless for it.
Avon Newbury lived down the street from us. He often sat on his front porch, holding a can of beer between his thighs and swatting at the flies that were always swarming around him. Mother said he must have lived in filth. Only filth collected filth and all filth collected flies, she said. That alone, the fact that he had no shame, was enough to condemn him in her eyes. We always walked past his house to and from school and he’d always be sitting in that old chair, drinking beer, swatting insects, and watching us with bloodshot eyes. He made my sister Rhonda, who was two years older than me, nervous. I didn’t care; I was a tomboy and wasn’t afraid of much. When Avon Newbury smiled at us from his front porch, Rhonda lowered her eyes in shame, but I stared right up at him, stuck out my tongue and shouted: “Dirty old man.” And he would laugh, like it was a game, like it was our little game.
Then one winter there were more stories about him; stories culled from the present, involving yet another girl, yet more charges. There was an investigation but nothing came of it. The police came, took him away in their squad car, then released him several hours later, claiming discrepancies, lack of evidence. Newbury returned to his old rambling house wearing his false innocence against our stiff and incredulous glares. He smiled that ever honey-slick smile, knowing how impenetrable he had become. There was nothing we could do but tolerate him.
The mothers in our neighborhood took precaution. They warned us, cajoled us, threatened us with beatings if we disobeyed. Our own mother told us to ignore him. Don’t talk to him, she said, don’t even look at him. But that was hard to do. In ignoring him he became even more unavoidable. When my sister and I turned the corner on our way home and crossed the street, he was there peeking at us out of the corner of our eyes refusing to be ignored. When we walked out the door he was there like a troll in a fairy tale, hiding beneath the wooden bridge we crossed daily into the world outside our neighborhood, eagerly waiting for the sound of our trampling feet. We couldn’t avoid him even if we tried.
After the arrest the topic of Avon Newbury became ever present, spoken in whispers among children and in that coded language adults used whenever we were nearby.
“Somebody ought to do something about him,” our mother said as she set the dining table. We glanced at her, knowing whom and about what she meant. It didn’t matter if we understood. She still spoke in that coded language, vague pronouns in place of the name no one dared speak of so openly in polite and innocent company.
“They said she changed her story twice,” said our aunt, raising her eyebrow as though to emphasize what we already knew. “Maybe he ain’t done it.”
“Oh, he did it,” said our mother, glancing at our father who sat at the head of the table, fingers interlocked, deep in thought. “Make no mistake about that.”
“I heard the stories myself,” said our aunt. “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Still can’t much be done if they changed their stories.”
“Well, it ain’t right. There’s children in this neighborhood. It just ain’t safe.”
“Ain’t nothing ever been safe around here,” our father said. He glanced at our mother, who lowered her eyes.
Nobody in our neighborhood could afford to labor under the illusion of safety. There was danger everywhere. Barnard Tilson, also known as Tookie, was shot and killed by the police when they came to his apartment to serve an arrest warrant and he resisted. Samuel Crosby, the old man who lived three doors down from us, choked on a chicken bone and keeled over dead right on his front porch. Adelle LaVette, whose boyfriend sold drugs, was found in her home, her throat slashed and her body covered with cigarette burns. Everybody knew who did it, but nobody was saying. She was twenty-five. Mrs. Wilson’s granddaughter was struck by a car while crossing a street. She survived, but now walked with a permanent limp. Folks in our neighborhood lobbied to put up speed bumps down that street, but nothing was ever done. The problems piled up like trash, threatening to drown us all in its refuse. In our neighborhood there were no dark forests, no evil castles, no witches or dragons to conquer, but the results were the same: danger lurked everywhere. We navigated its many obstacles just to survive.
"Our Father: Killer of Lions, Slayer of Dragons" is just one story of nine or more stories that will be a part of a collection titled Departing the Water. Departing the Water will be an exciting new collection that delves into the lives of people searching for love and redemption in a world complicated by race, gender, poverty, loneliness, death, and grief. Some of the stories that will be a part of this collection have already been written (some were written nearly a decade ago), while others are waiting to born.