Lil Ray knew people in the neighborhood stared, just like he knew his family was different. He just couldn’t say why. His first inkling came when he compared the outside of people’s apartments to their insides. Lil Ray’s place had the same cramped little porch, with the same cracked street beside it. Everyone used the same creaking stairs with the same rusted handrails. Inside though, their place was different from others, and eventually he thought people were the same as project tenements. Lil Ray’s dad had suits in all different colors, shoes made from serpents. His mom had a box just for her jewelry, and it was made from wood, strong perfume that came in beautiful bottles. When he would visit his friends, the insides of their apartments lacked those things. And he was never allowed to bring anyone over, not even to eat dinner.
As he got older, dropped the Lil and drew the rest of his name out, Raymond started to test the night. Despite the darkness, even more things came to light. Dice’ pops worked for the city, went to work every morning, came back every evening. His mom worked at a hotel. He wore a tie and white, short-sleeved shirts; she wore the same uniform dress every day. Smoke’s dad was a janitor. His mom was a secretary, and they both had the same hours. In the morning, the projects emptied of adults, and it stayed that way until they all came home, just before the sun. It wasn’t that Raymond’s dad didn’t leave, it was just that his hours never seemed set. There was a certain authority in that flippant disregard for someone else’s clock.
“Who do you work for?” Raymond had wanted to know. Up until the answer, he thought everybody had to work for somebody else to live.
“I work for myself, son,” his father had replied. When he said it, he said it like he really wanted his son to know it. Not like when he left at night when he thought Raymond was asleep, not like when conversation between him and his mother would stop when he walked into the room.
That was when Raymond started noticing things, when he felt that people were trying to keep things from him on purpose. The way other men, older men, didn’t pat his back or smile at him, the way they steered their daughters clear. Once, just once, he had lashed out in misdirection at one of the boys who seemed to hang around on purpose.
“You mean you don’t know?” his name was Sean, but everybody called him by his last name, Means.
“Know what?” Raymond had asked.
“Man, your dad is made.” Made, like everyone else was just figments, imaginary, specters composed of hearsay and wind. In the same sense, Raymond didn’t know if what he most strongly desired was to be real, but he had marched directly to his father anyway. The man had been wearing a white undershirt adorned only with a slim gold chain. On the den table, he was cleaning a gun meticulously while sitting on a leather couch. A big screen television was projecting a comedy hour that his father wasn’t paying attention to. In the kitchen, Raymond could smell his mother cooking steak.
His father had looked up and stared, stared like he had when he had given Raymond the first clue.
It was his choice, to accept what he saw, or continue to ignore it, like the child of the days previous.
Raymond Bethel sat next to his father on their leather couch. He had to move a velvet cushion out of the way. He split time between the television, the biggest in the entire projects, and watching his father work.
In my fourth release, Where Shadows Lie: Campaign Trails, a major character is Raymond Bethel Sr., and a majority of the character’s motivation derives from the premature death of his son, Raymond Bethel Jr., who was somewhat of a minor character in the first book of the series. This was a bit about that character's upbringing, and how his father might have become to be such a sad, regretful man.