The black figure has always been a subject of entertainment in popular culture, as well as an image to sell things. In some ways, that’s how people relate to us—because they’ve seen us on television.
During his twelve years in New York City, Bosun, who went by Bo, got into some bad business with an import-export company in Queens. It turned out the company was dealing in stolen goods, and Bo, who drove a truck for them, was eventually caught one winter on the bridge between Manhattan and New Jersey.
He would have very little memory of that moment other than the lights and falling snow. He would later be told that he leapt out of the truck and ran straight toward the bridge’s railing. Perhaps he was disoriented by fear and didn’t know where he was going. Perhaps in his disorientation and fear he thought of surviving a jump and swimming down the Hudson. In any case, a policeman tackled him before he could make it to the edge.
This was in the early 1990s. Bo lived alone in an apartment in a brick building in Jackson Heights. He took the bus every morning to the warehouse where he was assigned a truck and a schedule of deliveries to shops and restaurants all over the tri-state area. He got home before dark and what social life he had revolved around the kitchen staff of a nearby bar where he liked to play cards and where they gave him free food. He liked baseball—the Mets—and hot dogs, owned a single pair of work boots and a few days’ worth of clothes that took up less than half of a closet. He washed his clothes once a week at the laundromat down the street where the old woman behind the counter happened to be from the same town where he had been born. Some days, he helped out for a free wash, slipping a flathead into the crevices between machines and picking out dust and lint.
He was thirty-one years old.
He couldn’t afford a good lawyer, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They were all caught, everyone at the warehouse, then charged and sentenced quickly.
The drive up to the correctional facility was a wonder. He had never left the tri-state area before. He almost forgot where he was going. For six hours, through caged windows, he watched the land turn from a river valley to a vast flatness. Then mountains. They passed other smaller cities. Other rivers. Endless billboards for radio stations, cars, casinos, and good lawyers.
There was no one else from the warehouse on the bus, and in the ten months to come in that upstate facility, not far from the Canadian border, Bo would never run into anyone he recognized. For all he knew he was the only one. In a way that seemed both strange and not strange at all he began to forget their faces—the faces of his boss and other drivers he crossed paths with every morning and evening. Then he forgot the faces of the card-playing kitchen staff and of the old woman at the laundromat.
In his cell at night he shut his eyes and tried to focus on the face of someone, anyone, but none came. It was as though he had always lived here in the prison. Even his dreams were of the place, most often of wandering its brightly lit corridors, dining hall, or library as if they were all his, as though the facility was only there for him. What startled him awake every time was that in the dream the weather came inside through the walls and roof—sudden rainfall, a flood, snow.
There were days when Bo admitted to himself that his time in the correctional facility wasn’t so bad. The food wasn’t so bad. He liked the tater tots and pot pies, and of course the hot dogs. He got to watch the Mets and run laps in the yard. He didn’t have to worry about washing his clothes, missing the bus, or being too early or late for anything. He got used to all the lights, pretending he was at a ballgame.
He got along with his cellmate. His name was Roger, who introduced himself as “part Mohawk, part nothing good.” Roger laughed at his own joke, then they asked each other what they were in for.
Roger had gotten into some money misunderstandings, as he put it, in the nearby casino where he used to be a croupier. He admitted there were other things too but left it at that, waving his hand as though swatting away a fly.
Roger had the top bunk. He was tall and heavy, and every time he shifted the mattress sagged a little. The fabric was sand-colored. At night Bo imagined he was looking down at an ever-shifting desert.
In the daytime they took walks together in the yard. Roger introduced Bo to some of the other Mohawks and then to the Chinese and Vietnamese, who asked where he was from, saying that he didn’t really look Korean. In the yard they said the Koreans in Queens were vicious, and they promised Bo they wouldn’t mess with him because they knew he was vicious. Bo couldn’t tell if they were joking. They exchanged stories about what they were in for, then they played soccer together, calling it the World Cup.
It was Roger who first asked if Bo played cards. The weather was getting colder and there was less to do. He had a few shiny decks and in the evening after dinner, in their cell, they played—mostly blackjack, because that was Roger’s game and something Bo didn’t know all that well. Roger was the dealer and advised Bo on when to hit, stay, and split, then flipped over his hole card.
They did this over and over and then switched roles. They played so much Bo could feel the sleek cards on his fingers even when he wasn’t holding them, a ghostly set that always wanted to be played wherever he was during whatever he was assigned to be doing.
If he ever wanted to play, Roger said, when he got out, the casino was near a town called Calais. It began as an old French-Canadian community, Roger said, that came down across the border and bought up land to farm. He said it was named after the real Calais in France. Bo didn’t know where that was but pretended he did.
Roger said there were pockets like that everywhere, small old towns with nothing in between. He said some town names out loud: “Westville, Moira, Fort Covington, Bombay,” and Bo thought these strange.
He thought he would eventually miss Queens or perhaps even South Korea, where he spent the first eighteen years of his life, but as the months went on, they were like the faces he tried to recall: far away, as though where he once lived had happened to someone else.
Roger asked him to referee the soccer matches. This terrified him. Almost everyone who played was larger and stronger than he was, and he would find himself shutting his eyes as he slipped between two bodies coming at each other, not realizing he was screaming for them to break it up. Sometimes they listened. Other times they fought him instead, and he would curl into a ball as quickly as he could, taking punches and kicks, covering his ears to try to hide the sounds of it all as he waited for the whistle or a guard to rush over.
One day, in the middle of a game, he saw Roger in the small dirt yard, unmoving while other players ran up and down. Bo limped across. When Roger saw him, he began to shake.
“I can’t be here anymore,” he said, and buried his face against Bo’s arm.
Roger didn’t speak to him for a few days after that. Not in the cell or the yard or at mealtimes. They ate with the others and lay down on their beds when they were supposed to sleep, but they didn’t talk to each other.
From the bottom bunk, Bo watched the mattress shift. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe it didn’t look like the desert. It was like he had discovered something, but it had slipped away. He tried to recall the last time he had felt a longing.
He avoided touching the wall and said the old town names to himself: “Westville, Bombay, Fort Covington, Calais.”
He thought of French Canadians coming down over the Saint Lawrence, of ancient settlers meeting the Mohawk.
“You forgot Moira,” Roger said in the dark.
Spring came, then Bo’s last day. He said goodbye to Roger, who gave him a brand-new deck of cards. He said goodbye to his soccer teammates, who pretended they had never laid a hand on him. Led outside, past the walls, Bo walked down the driveway to a bus stop. He didn’t feel like sitting. He looked up at the distant prison walls on the ridge and at a tree he never noticed from inside. A bus came. Visitors were dropped off. He watched them climb the hill.
Another bus arrived. It wasn’t the one that would take him back down to the city. It was a local bus, the one Roger told him to take, and Bo stepped in.
In Calais, he found a laundromat. Inside, on a corkboard on the wall, was an advertisement for a furnished house for rent. It was half of what he had paid a month in Jackson Heights. Behind the counter a man was chewing gum loudly and folding the wrapper into a neat square. Bo asked where the house was and the man looked at him hard, then pointed down a road: “Between here and the casino.” Bo told him a flathead was good for picking lint and returned outside.
Calais was the smallest town, a street of three blocks and not much else. People looked at him from the sidewalk, from behind windows, in the sporting goods store where he bought packages of socks, underwear, and a shirt, using up almost all his cash. He wondered if they stared because of his skin color or because it was somehow obvious he had been at the prison. Probably both. He kept touching his belt because he was unused to wearing one.
Bo walked for an hour. He followed fields and more fields. A greenhouse. He came to a hay farm with a long driveway that led up a slope, not unlike the prison, and saw an enormous house on the ridge with a porch. He almost walked by, realizing slowly that this was the address on the advertisement.
So he went up. He passed trees, distant hay bales, and a pickup, climbed the porch steps, and was answered by a dog barking when he knocked. He stepped back. Through a window he could see a small couch and shelves filled with books. A rifle.
The door opened. An old man with bushy gray eyebrows was standing in front of him. Bo handed him the advertisement. The man held the ad close to his eyes and said, “I wasn’t aware she did that,” and handed it back to him.
Bo thought he was going to shut the door, but instead he reached for a vest on a coatrack and walked outside. The dog followed. It was a brown dog that seemed to know where they were going; it went on ahead, following a faint path in the sloping field, its grass slightly shorter, leading to a small cottage on the edge of the property.
The door was ajar. “The wind does that,” the old man said. He pushed the door open some more, afternoon light arcing across the floor, and the three of them went in. The dog jumped onto the dusty couch by a fireplace.
There were only two rooms—a bedroom off to the side and a living space at the center that opened out to a kitchenette. There was the couch, a coffee table, and a small round wooden table with two chairs. A bookshelf and sun-faded landscape paintings that could have depicted here or Europe.
“You aren’t a killer or a pedophile, right?”
“Right,” Bo said.
“You Chinese? Mohawk?”
“Sure,” Bo said, hesitating.
He took out the rest of his money. The man counted the bills and then looked at him again, his expression not unlike the man at the laundromat. He could hear his breath. Then Bo said that was all of it, everything he had, that he would need to look for work to get more, but he would do so right away. The dog rested its head over the back of the couch and watched.
“You like dogs?”
“Yes,” Bo said, which was true. He had three growing up, what his mother used to call outside dogs. They kept guard, kept getting into the rat poison, one after the other, and suffocated, but he had loved them.
The old man spit on his shirt sleeve and wiped grime from the front window, then pointed at the bales. He said it was just him and his daughter here, and the migrants who baled the hay.
Bo knew nothing about hay.
“My name is Philippe,” the man said. He was about to leave when Bo asked where the casino was. Philippe said to just keep going down the road. “You have a car?”
Bo shook his head.
“There’s a bicycle,” Philippe said. “Side of the house, near the kitchen entrance. Don’t steal my food.”
Philippe left, leaving the door ajar. Bo didn’t realize how hungry he was until the old man said the word food. He was also very thirsty. He turned on the kitchen tap. He let the water run for half a minute, staring at patterned tiles on the wall, then leaned over and drank. Bo kept drinking as the dog, still watching, made room for him on the couch.
Not everyone at the casino thought unkindly of Roger. The next morning, when Bo bicycled over, a man named Charlie met him on the floor and said, “Roger called yesterday. He said you’re vicious.”
Charlie looked him up and down and extended his hand. The handshake felt like a test, so Bo shook firmly, which Charlie seemed to approve of. He stood by Bo and together they scanned the main floor. The slot machines were on the right and the tables were on the left. It was morning, and more crowded than Bo expected it to be.
Charlie said they got busier during the summers because families come to hike the Adirondacks and then get bored of nature, so mostly the fathers slip away and visit the casino. Bo nodded, still unsure whether he was going to get a job. Charlie was perhaps Bo’s father’s age, or around that, though Bo had forgotten how old his father was.
The hotel was stacked above, four stories tall, each level with a railing so you could look down and watch the games. Some people were doing that now as Charlie led him through the floor and oriented him. A waiter passed by, lifting a single highball with a red straw off his tray. Bo wasn’t sure why, but it made him wonder what Roger was doing at this moment, whether he was reading or playing some solitaire. Then he realized Roger would have another cellmate by now, and he wondered who that was.
Charlie took him downstairs, showed him the monitor room with the cc televisions, the laundry room where a worker was throwing large bundles of bed sheets into the washing machines, and the lockers.
Charlie placed a foot on a wooden bench. He said Bo was to be paired with Harry, and he could start right now if he wanted. That he would be given a week’s advance and from then on every two weeks he would get paid. That it was going to be in cash, and Charlie hoped he was all right with that.
Bo still didn’t know what he was doing.
“Security,” Charlie said, and selected a uniform off the rack.
Harry was a large man with tattoos all along his arms. He had finished two tours in the Persian Gulf—“most uneventful and boring war I’ve ever witnessed”—and come home to make a little money and “bust some heads.” He made a fist with his hand and punched the palm of the other. He was a few years younger than Bo.
They put on their earpieces and staked out a corner of the floor for half an hour, then moved to another. They watched the tables and slots, and occasionally Harry pointed at a man or woman who seemed suspicious to him for reasons Bo wasn’t entirely sure about. They either followed, if the person was moving, or hovered, though nothing ever happened.
Unlike the prison the casino was dimly lit, but like the prison there were no windows. There were also no clocks, so Bo wasn’t ever sure what time it was. He thought he would get used to the sounds of slots and the perpetual hum of voices, but he hadn’t yet. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. In the prison, if he was standing it meant he was moving. It was odd to stand but not move.
Bo looked up and spotted a child running fast along the third-floor balcony railing.
“Shit,” Harry said, and hurried through a service door. Bo followed. He found Harry with the boy, who was around five, at the top of the stairwell. Harry was quietly but sternly chastising him and shaking him slightly. When Harry saw Bo, he said, “Meet my kid,” and the kid tried to wave but Harry was still gripping him.
He learned that Harry was recently divorced but that he had custody of the child for a few weeks while his ex-wife was on vacation in Florida. He said vacation like it was his ex-wife’s fault for going on one. He couldn’t afford a sitter, so he had brought the boy here. He made Bo promise not to tell anyone. And then he sent his son back downstairs, where he was supposed to be hanging out with the laundry workers and kitchen staff. He shouted that the good ice cream was in the left freezer. His voice boomed in the stairwell.
As the child headed down, Harry sat on a step, punching his palm. He rubbed his face and breathed loudly. He had not told Bo the child’s name. The boy had brown hair that was neatly combed, and he had been holding a paper airplane.
“He looks like a good kid,” Bo said, not knowing what else to say. He was remembering how he used to get in trouble as a child because he liked to wander all over. He was always sneaking off into the alleys or to the gi base to spot the Americans. If he danced in front of them or sang an American song, they gave him a chocolate bar or chewing gum or, even better, some money. They stabbed his shoulders with their fingers to keep him dancing, sometimes causing him to fall, and they picked him back up and poked him again. He called those men the vilest things but with a grin, and they didn’t understand his words. “You’re a good kid,” they always said before heading back into buildings where the lights were always on, flat as a wire on the horizon seen from Bo’s house.
When he and Harry returned to the floor, a drunk man collided with a waiter, who then dropped his tray. The drunk began to curse and flail, and his elbow hit a woman who had been playing blackjack. She screamed. Harry ran over, grabbed the man by his jacket lapel, and brought him outside. Again, Bo followed.
The man continued to be loud and belligerent outside. Harry lifted him up and pushed him away as though he were a grocery cart, off toward a parking lot around the side. It was then that the man swung, hitting Harry on the side of his face.
It was a solid, hard punch that brought Harry to his knees. Bo thought Harry would get up immediately and strike back, and maybe he would have, but Bo stepped in. He was aware of what he was doing, yet it felt like a memory, like an action from the far past. He held the man’s shirt collar, looked into his face, which was like a dried-up sponge, and kept hitting him. Bo felt the skin along his knuckles tear, he thought he even heard it, like fabric tearing.
When the man collapsed Bo hit the wall with his bloody fists, staining the concrete, and he felt Harry gripping him like he had held his kid. Harry whispered into Bo’s ear, but Bo didn’t hear. Harry knelt to check on the drunk, who began to cry, saying that he had lost too much today, lost too much.
Harry wiped the blood off the man’s face with a handkerchief. Most of it was from Bo’s knuckles. Then Harry turned to Bo and examined his torn-up hands, almost tenderly, under the sun—it was not yet noon, cars sped down the main road, and the casino sign blinked high and tall.
Bo bicycled back to the hay farm in the late afternoon. It felt good to ride. He pedaled hard and let his feet go, letting momentum take him down the road. He stopped at a roadside shack to buy bottles of water and strawberries. He placed a carton of strawberries in a plastic bag hanging from the handlebars as he pedaled the rest of the way.
After the fight, Harry had brought him to the lockers and taped up his hands. He made a joke about the drunk’s face being dense as a tree. Bo could hardly move his fingers. He wondered about broken bones but didn’t say anything. He could still feel the throb of it now as he left the strawberries, along with what remained of his advance, by the front door of the main house.
He wanted to keep thinking of the bike ride, but that was gone. He thought about what had made him do such a thing, how quickly, and how he kept at it. He thought he wouldn’t be invited back to the casino, but Charlie had been impressed by what Harry had told him—that they had found a winner “better than a soldier.” By chance it had happened where there were no cameras and no witnesses had come forward, so it was just Harry’s word.
“Bad men out and the good ones in,” Charlie said, adding, “Keep that bandage on for as long as you can, it looks great.”
Bo was about to leave the porch when he spotted Philippe through a window, sitting by a fireplace with the dog beside him on the floor. There was no fire, too hot for that, but Philippe was listening to the radio, or what Bo thought was the radio until he looked farther in and saw a young woman, perhaps Bo’s age, playing an upright piano.
The dog saw him through the window but didn’t move. It was as if the dog were keeping Bo a secret. Bo stayed where he was, listening to the music come faintly through the window. The piano player had her back to him. He watched her hands. Or her fingers. They moved like a current of water. Above her was a framed photo of a person in a long coat and a child standing on the bank of a river where there was an island.
On the porch, the wind came up from behind, and he was suddenly very tired.
He left as quietly as he could and headed down the path to the guest house. Near and far and around him were giant hay bales. They seemed not to belong on Earth—or from so long ago there was no place for them anymore.
A bird flew overhead.
The door was ajar. He went straight to the couch, cradling his bandaged hands. He must have drifted off because when he opened his eyes again there was a person leaving the cabin, a silhouette caught briefly in the doorframe. She turned; she must have heard him. It was the piano player.
“I brought over some food,” she said.
“What time is it?”
“In the evening?”
She laughed. “No. You’ve been out all afternoon and night. Just like yesterday. You sleep a lot. What are you, a boxer or something?”
She was referring to his hands. He smiled. She said her name was Caro and that she could take a look at it if he wanted, but Bo refused.
She was still by the door. She had a small mouth and a little darkness under her eyes. On the table was a plate of cold meats, cheese, bread, and some of the strawberries he had left on the porch, halved.
“That was a kind thing. The strawberries.”
He broke off a heel of bread and folded some meat and cheese into it, then ate. “It’s good, thank you” he said, and ate some more.
“Do you have a phone I could use?”
He walked outside with her. It was cold. He wasn’t expecting that. The dim sky had streaks of light and clouds. He tried to recall when he had seen such a big sky before. It almost made him stop. He breathed. It was cold enough that his breath was visible as it came out. He saw the dog trot over from the distance and bent down to pet it as it left a trail of dew across his jeans.
“He goes on adventures,” Caro said. “And he won’t ever tell me where.”
Bo asked how long they had been here for.
“Me?” she said. “Off and on. My second life didn’t work out so well, so I came back to my first.”
She brought him into the kitchen using the side door. The phone was on the wall, with a long cord that could extend across the entire room, but he stayed nearby as he dialed and heard the rings.
He didn’t recognize the voice of the guard that picked up, but he said it was Bo and asked whether it was possible to leave Roger a message.
“Who and who?” the guard said, and Bo repeated himself.
“Is this a joke?” the guard said and hung up.
He kept the phone by his ear a moment longer, thinking of the yard and the library, then put it back in the cradle. Caro was pretending not to listen, wiping down a counter. She had put on an apron. She said her father liked his eggs scrambled because he was a bit scrambled. She spun her finger over the side of her head and then cracked some eggs into a bowl.
He felt like he shouldn’t be looking around the room, so he kept his eyes outside. He wanted to say he saw her playing the piano but wasn’t sure how she would respond.
“There’s a party tonight,” she said. “At the hangar. Well, there’s always a party at the hanger. But you can come if you want.”
He didn’t know what the hangar was. He thanked her and told her he had to work tonight.
“My money’s on you,” she said, and shook her fist at him.
Bo worked shifts all that week. He met Harry at the lockers and snuck in some of his laundry to run loads the way the other workers did. Harry’s boy ran around.
Every day, they rotated stations every half an hour. The bartenders began to recognize Bo and slid him a Coke or a water. He and Harry looked for cheats, though oftentimes Bo ended up just watching the game. At the blackjack table the players hit and stayed and split. Most times, they lost, but sometimes, rarely, he watched somebody beat the dealer and a feeling came over him as he stood there behind the other players. He clapped softly and hurried to keep up with Harry.
They never spoke about the first day. His hands grew better, but they still hurt, faint but persistent, reminding him.
One day toward the end of the week a paper airplane flew down from the fourth-floor balcony. It flew slowly and spun near them, so Bo caught it. Harry didn’t see because Bo was walking behind. Bo folded it flat and tucked it into his jacket pocket. He didn’t look up again.
Harry lived in an apartment building nearby. After their shift, he wanted to know if Bo would have a drink, watch some baseball. “Another time,” Bo said.
They were smoking outside against the wall where Bo had hit the man. Someone had painted over his blood stain. Harry was carrying his child, who had fallen asleep on his shoulder. Harry swayed his hips a little and blew the smoke away from the boy’s face, slipping in and out of the light of the parking lot lamps. He kept bobbing and swaying, keeping that rhythm up so the boy didn’t wake as they headed to the car.
All that week Caro kept leaving food for Bo. He bicycled back to find a tray on the table, the meat half gone and the dog snoring on the couch. He had yet to open Roger’s deck of cards. He watched the dog’s hind leg flutter, watched the moon through the window and the old paintings on the walls. An immense quiet.
He placed his hand on the side of the dog’s belly, feeling the rise and fall.
He dreamed of snow.
The phone in the main house rang. From across the field, he heard Philippe calling to him. He went up the slope, following the path in the dark, Philippe small in the doorframe. He wondered where Caro was. When he walked in, Philippe said not to steal his food and asked if Bo knew how to play the piano. A plate of unfinished scrambled eggs was in the sink.
He held the phone, thinking it must be Roger, that he must have tracked Bo down, but it wasn’t. It was Harry.
His boy had vanished, Harry said. He was gone.
That night, Bo joined the search. Harry got some of his apartment neighbors to go looking, and the police were called. They all split up. Harry knew the boy couldn’t have gone far because he had seen him only ten minutes before he noticed he was gone. Harry had been washing dishes.
They wandered the apartment halls and knocked on doors. Some walked down the main road with flashlights, and still others got into cars and drove around. Harry made Bo promise to go looking within the triangle of the hay farm, casino, and apartment building.
Bo borrowed a flashlight from Philippe, crossed the road, and entered the hay fields. He walked from one field to the next. He met a road he hadn’t yet been on and kept in the high grass, making himself small when a police car drove by. When the road was empty, he crossed and kept walking. That immense quiet again. He passed a farm in the distance, came upon a stream, jumped over it, and entered another stretch of woods.
He had no idea where he was. He knew it was silly, but as he kept walking he grew afraid. He thought of Harry’s boy. He tried to imagine where a boy would go in Calais. He was surrounded by the trees and, he knew, identical fields on all sides. An identical horizon, as though all directions were the same.
It was then that he heard music. It was faint, but he heard it and followed, hurrying now through the woods until he came out on the other side, facing a chain-link fence. Beyond it was an airfield. Someone had slashed the fence, so he crawled through and hurried across the runway. Already he could see a crowd inside an open hangar, the dim light. It was like the mouth of an extinct creature, or a half-finished building in Manhattan. He paused at the edge, in a border of light.
The music was loud but pleasant. People drank from plastic cups and danced close together. He went up to the first group and asked if a boy about five years of age had come through, and they shook their heads. He moved to a couple kissing on a torn, stained velvet couch and interrupted them. He recognized some casino workers, the laundry crew and kitchen staff, out of uniform, wearing T-shirts and jeans. From somewhere farther in, glass shattered and a bird flew up toward the high rafters.
“How’s the hand, Boxer?”
He turned to see Caro passing him the joint she was smoking. He took a drag and told her over the music that there was a boy missing. Harry’s boy. Harry from casino security. That if he wasn’t here, Bo should hurry and keep searching. He didn’t realize he was talking very fast until she took his bandaged hand.
She asked if the police knew and he said, “Yes.”
Caro led him through the crowd to the back, where a young man sat on a beach chair, tapping his feet and listening to a police scanner. She said he made sure they didn’t get found out. The dj was asked to turn down the music, and they huddled together—the man, the dj, Caro, and Bo, listening to the scanner. The partygoers became curious and gathered around too.
They waited a long time in silence until a voice came, saying the boy had been found. Someone in the crowd clapped. The dj turned up the music and everyone started to dance.
“See?” Caro said. “Nothing to worry about. Who are they again?”
She tried to dance with him, but Bo didn’t want to. He was still thinking of Harry and his son. His heart was beating fast. It was like she knew this because she stopped and said, “Let’s go.”
They took Caro’s pickup to Harry’s apartment building, where they found him and his boy sitting on the stoop out front. The child has been found by the shed where water and strawberries were sold, not far at all. He had wandered off, wanting to find his paper airplane. It turned out his mother had made it for him before she left for Florida.
Harry called himself a crummy father and cried a little.
Bo’s chest went hollow and he blushed. He knew the paper airplane was in the guest house, in the pocket of his uniform, but he didn’t tell them just yet. He listened as Caro mentioned to Harry that she had a son, too, who lived with his father up north in Montreal. That she didn’t see him often anymore. Eventually, Harry’s boy fell asleep on Caro’s lap, as if he had known her all his life.
“All that for a paper airplane,” Harry said.
She didn’t bring up her son again that night. It got very late. Late enough where it seemed the events of the day had happened a long time ago. Caro thought maybe they had an hour left before it got bright. She walked Bo down the path toward the guest house, saying she liked this time best. They stopped midway, looking up at different corners of the sky.
“It was meant for a Canadian airline,” Caro said. “The hangar. For airplane repairs. I remember when they were building it. I would bicycle over and watch it go up. It looked like the future. A spaceship or a city. But they lost funding, so no one owns it now. It’s ours. You’re using my bike, you know.”
He said she could have the bike back if she wanted.
She laughed. She was a little stoned and drunk.
In the main house, on the ridge, a light was on. A perfect square in the dark.
“He falls asleep by the fireplace,” Caro said, still looking up. “I worry about him all the time. Is that healthy? I don’t know. What’s your full name?”
He told her.
“Like the officer on a ship?” she said, and he didn’t know what she was talking about.
Caro explained that in English his name meant an officer on a ship who was responsible for the crew and equipment onboard.
In his twelve years in New York and ten months in prison, he had never heard that.
She said she knew because her grandfather had been a bosun. There was a photo of him above the piano in their dining room. She said the funny thing was that her father’s side of the family was from the other Calais, in France.
“The real one?” Bo said.
“Why is that one more real than this one?” Caro said.
He said he would like to go one day, just to see what it was like. She said it was a city by the water, and just then the field appeared aqueous to him. He could see its current. Wind and tide, like they were far out at sea. Everything silver and hay bales like ships.
“My grandfather taught me this,” Caro said, and lifted Bo’s bandaged hands, briefly tapping each. She stepped back off the path, raised her fists by her cheeks and hopped a little on the balls of her feet. In the moonlight, she bounced and lightly jabbed his left and right. She asked if it hurt and when he shook his head, she did it again, quickly and directly striking.
“Here,” Caro said. “You try.”
He didn’t want to, but she approached and said it again.
“Left foot and shoulder angled at your opponent. Right foot at two o’clock. Back heels light, knees bent, right hand on cheek. You’ll use that for the two. Think of it like a pulley system. One is the left, the jab, then two, the right. One, two. Step into it and step back. Eyes up.”
He hit her hands. One, two. He stepped in and out and felt the grass skimming his ankles. He breathed and ignored the pain. The sound of his hits seemed to float up into the night. It was like an emptying. One, two. From somewhere distant, a car sped and faded. Caro smiled. He did it one more time, then spotted the dog in a far field.
“There he is,” Bo said.
“Going on a new adventure,” Caro said. “Or the same old one.”
As the dog headed farther away, Bo began to unwrap the bandages.
“Do you think I look vicious?” he said.
“Extraordinarily,” Caro said, and circled him once, jabbing the air.
“Moira,” he said. “Westville. Bombay. Fort Covington.”
Another wind came. He draped the bandages like a scarf over his neck and held onto the ends. He pictured Caro returning here, leaving her second life, her boy somewhere in Montreal. He thought of the old woman who ran the laundromat in Jackson Heights. He tried to remember her face again. The old woman had known those gis, too. She used to ask, as he cleaned the machines, how Bo’s parents were. She never remembered his answer, or pretended not to, so that every time he had to say he had lost touch with them a long time ago, that they were probably somewhere in that town in South Korea that could feel small at times and vast at others.
Like this field, which was beside other fields.
Bo kept thinking of more questions he wanted to ask Caro. And as he stood there in the moonlight beside her, light on his heels, the air sweet-smelling, the wind, he suddenly felt that he had come a long way and that something great was going to happen to him, maybe not tonight or tomorrow, but soon. And he concentrated on it, wanting to make the feeling last as they talked through the last hour of the night.
Paul Yoon lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the author of The Mountain (Simon & Schuster, 2017), Snow Hunters, and Once the Shore. His new novel, Run Me to Earth, will be published in January.
The black figure has always been a subject of entertainment in popular culture, as well as an image to sell things. In some ways, that’s how people relate to us—because they’ve seen us on television.