We All Do What We Can


Original charcoal on canvas by Michael Willett 

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This track was launched with the literary journal, jmww. Read the accompanying essay for “We All Do What We Can” here.

“We All Do What We Can”

Alison stops on the stairs.

Anger’s inside her, and her gun’s hidden behind her. She tries seeing into the crowd of dancing bodies, but the club only shows itself in flashes.

Alison sees that red shirt again then it vanishes. She rushes down the last few steps, knows it’s hopeless but she has to see if its Chris. She still can’t fully picture him, his face is hidden by pain and hurt. All Alison remembers is his red shirt, how it draped down as he held down her wrists.

It’s the sixth night Alison’s come here and the twelfth since it happened. She hasn’t told anyone; the secret’s both buried in her, and burying her. It took days for Alison just to step outside, the sunlight a surprise. So was her anger, the rage that pushed through her. Not that she likes holding the gun she finally bought, or should; Alison knows now that nothing powerful can be completely good.

But she can’t stop coming back to this club, and searching for Chris.

Alison weaves into the crowd, lets the bodies push her through, their souls driven by that Alkimist rhythm, their minds lost in the dancing and drugs and darkness and drums. A woman’s long hair, wet with sweat, brushes her shoulder. Alison stumbles past her, past the smells of alcohol, pot, cologne, men. She finally reaches the other end, sees people crowding a bar, pressed tight together.

The red shirt is right in front of her.

It’s not who she’s looking for.

It’s a woman she doesn’t know, has never seen.

It’s suddenly hard to breathe. Tears come to Alison’s eyes, and they’re blinding.

She won’t find him.

Chris won’t keep coming back here, the way she does.

Chris won’t keep coming back here, the way she has.

The way she always will. Alison hates that it’s inescapable, that what he did and who she became are binding.

She walks away from the bar, disoriented, dizzy. Stops in a small hall and rubs her eyes, wonders where Chris could be.

Alison looks up and sees a couple across from her, half-hidden against the wall, the girl’s arms wrapped around his waist, his hand running up her side. The girl’s eyes are closed and her mouth is open, like a long sweet sigh, as he kisses her neck and her chest.

Alison’s hand is shaking.

The man steps back, whispers in the girl’s ear. She nods, but Alison thinks something is off. The man starts to leads her away and Alison reaches for the girl, touches her shoulder, asks if she’s okay.

The girl turns to her, angry, and shoves Alison hard.

They leave and laugh as Alison falls back. She’s breathing fast, wonders why she was so afraid.

This fear seems like it’ll never end.

Alison pushes off the wall to leave, knows she’s destined to come back again.

And that’s when she sees Chris, walking in.

There’s no mistake. Alison remembers him now. Narrow eyes, shaved head, stocky build, thin face.

Chris sees her. She can tell by the expression he makes, the way his confidence breaks.

He turns and runs, and she gives chase.

People jump away, shout. Alison hadn’t realized her gun is already out.

Barely anyone’s outside, just a few drunks staggering through the night. Alison follows Chris to the side of the building, the same alley where he attacked her. She shouts and he stops running.

Chris turns, hands high. He tells her:

It’s not my fault, it was because of my race, my sex, porn, stress, it was alcohol, drugs, it was hate, love, the loose outfit you wore, the way you dressed like a whore, it was the absence of God. It’s just the way men are made, its how we were wired.

Chris stops talking, covers his face.

Alison aims her gun, but someone’s shouting behind her.

She looks quick, sees a cop, turns back toward Chris.

He’s still standing there, but his hands are now down.

And the cop is telling Alison to get on the ground.

She nods, breathes.

And fires a round. Her bullet shatters Chris’s knee.

And then Alison lowers her gun, and waits for the cop’s bullets to come. Waits as Chris rolls on the ground, crying and clutching his knee. Alison waits until, one way or the other, she finally leaves.


Michael Willett is a Richmond-based artist.