The Other Side of Life
a short story by Rawn M. James, Jr.
About the Author
Rawn M. James, Jr. is a graduate of Yale University and Duke University School of Law. He writes and practices law in Washington, D.C.
The Double V
(Bloomsbury Press, 2013)
Root and Branch
(Bloomsbury Press, 2010)
“I enjoyed this short story very much. As a writer, I appreciate it when another writer can pull me into the mind of their characters, make me feel what they are, entice me to picture them in my mind. Great work,” — T. Babs
“The insight the character shows, the hope her lover oozes and the reality of her decision are beautifully constructed in this short format. I would love to see more of Rawn’s work on your site and others,” — P. Linfors
“Moving. Totally believable,”
— J. Cavrell
“People get ready. There’s a train a-comin.”
That’s what Reverend Huntington said last Sunday at services. Did I tell you that I been going to services for awhile now? Been going to Calvary Pentecostal, over in Richmond Heights. Last Sunday the sermon was about boarding the train that God sends your way.
“Don’t need no baggage. You just get on board.”
The choir sang long and hard, until you could see the sweat darken the white collars of their purple robes. They sang to me, and I could tell that they believed every word coming out their mouths. Sister Nansby was sitting next to me, and she caught the Spirit. Since she can’t sing none, she just collapsed to the floor crying for sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus to come for her, ’cause, Lord, she’s ready.
People get tired. More than anything else, I’m tired, exhausted, not from everything that’s happened, although you think that’d be enough to do it, but from everything that lies ahead.
They took away your life, not mine. I know that hurts, but it’s true. If I could change it, I would. If I could’ve talked to just one of them, one of them who never even met you and decided that you should live and die in prison, I would’ve told them whatever they needed to hear. But from the looks of their faces, it wouldn’t have made no difference, no way. They knew where they wanted you. But, baby, I can’t live and die there with you.
So this will be my last visit. The guards ain’t going through my purse no more. I can’t see your face behind that thick glass and hear your voice through that thick phone no more. To see your strong hands hold that phone when they should be holding me hurts like forever because it is forever. And I can send you all the letters and pictures you want, but forever don’t never get no shorter.
We should’ve left, gone to some place where they’d never find you, like New York where you always said you have family. I would’ve gone with you, baby, to wherever you felt safe. We should’ve left while we could, and before they came for you, cursing and kicking. But you said you weren’t ready.
The guard just handed me back my purse, after he spilled all of my cigarettes on the black table. I stuff them back into the box, probably break a couple of them, but I don’t care because I want to move on. Get away from his eyes, his badge, his itchy gun.
I want to see your face when you see mine. Watch your eyes dance to whatever song they see in me. But then, you’ll put your hand to the glass. And I’ll put mine up to yours. We’ll touch the glass and pretend not to. That’s when I’ll know I’m doing right by making this my last visit. This is no way to love a man.
I see you see me when you come to sit in front of the glass. Your face lights up, and you say my name. You pick up the phone. I feel my face light up, too, reflecting yours. You don’t know this is my last visit, and I won’t tell you that it is. I know that’s wrong, of me, but I also know you will understand. I hold the black plastic to my ear and hear you ask for the last time, “Miss me…?” And know that I already do.
“The Other Side of Life” Copyright ©2001 by Rawn M. James, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations for the purposes of critical reviews or articles. Educators who wish to print or photocopy in part or whole this story for classroom use, or publishers who wish to include this story in an anthology should send inquiries by email to the author.