An Event in the Stairwell
May 2, 2012 | by Clancy Martin
The Milan Review—or, to give it its proper title, The Milan Review of the Universe—is an egregiously handsome literary magazine published in English, in Milan, under the editorship of the improbably named Tim Small. The second issue includes work by some of our own favorites, among them Amie Barrodale, Chiara Barzini, Francesco Pacifico, Lynne Tillman, and, not least, Clancy Martin, whose story the Milanese have kindly let us reprint below, in a spirit of international fraternità, and in light of the patchy trans-Atlantic distribution that our two journals have in common. Auguri! —Lorin Stein
Randy knocked on my door and when I opened it I expected he would attack me with the tennis racket in his hand. I had only bought pot from him before. He had no reason to hate me. But in his mind I am a rich white person.
“Emily’s not home,” I said. Emily is my girlfriend and I suspect, though do not know, that she has had sex with Randy at least once, or perhaps lots of times. He is younger and lither than I am. Probably better hung.
“She’s not home?”
“Right.” I kept my eyes on the racket. Also on his eyes, because you can anticipate a blow that way. Everyone narrows his eyes and looks where he’s going to hit you before he strikes. This is the first lesson of boxing.
“She promised she’d buy this racket from me. I got this racket special. From my daughter.”
Randy, Emily had told me, had a high school–age daughter who was expected by many people to be the next Serena Williams. She lived with her mother in the Bronx and was sponsored by Puma. I noticed the tennis racket had a broken string. Emily was hiding in the bedroom all this time and had instructed me to tell Randy that she was out. I could not decide whether that was reassuring or suspicious.
Emily had had her infidelities.
“How much does she owe you for the racket?”
I took the racket from his hand which he gave me without hesitation, although he looked down and away from me when he said, “Thirty dollars,” which meant he was lying. Probably he had told her he would give her the racket for free. But who knew what more tangible price she had promised to pay. Perhaps eagerly.
I briefly considered beating Randy on the face, head and shoulders with the very light and surely durable racket. We have tile in our stairwell and blood would mop up easily without staining. Randy was not the type to come back with a gun. That would be the last we’d ever see of him. I should have done it.
“I’ll write you a check. Wait here.”
I started to close the door when he inserted his foot, which had a Puma tennis shoe on it, between me and my door-closing and said, “I can’t take no check, man.”
“That’s all I have.”
“Shit. You know better than that.”
It’s true that it would never have occurred to me to buy drugs from Randy with a check.
The door swung open again. Then, I can’t say why, I curled the best forehand of my life straight into Randy’s close-shaven head. Sort of like a smash at the net, Because Randy was five foot ten or so. He fell backward down the stairs. He bumped all the way down on his shoulders and neck, with his legs and arms in the air, and I don’t think he would have shown a bruise anywhere else on his body. It was a sight. He looked me straight in the face all the way down. I could see he was astonished. It was as though your dog whom you had trusted for years suddenly bit you. He looked as betrayed as surprised. It was beyond the pale, he was thinking.
I kept my foot in the door as I stepped out into the stairwell and waved the racket with extra menace. He stopped on the landing. We’re five floors up. He let his feet rest on the stairs.
“Come back here one more time and I’ll finish the job,” I yelled. I was yelling very loudly and our next door neighbor, Mrs. Frankel, an elderly Jew, opened her door, looked at me with my new tennis racket in my hand raised in the air like a club and the man sprawled on the flight of stairs below, frowned at me deliberately and then closed her door again. I heard her put on the chain. Emily had brought Mrs. Frankel cupcakes for the anniversary of her husband’s death a few weeks before, so I wasn’t worried.
“You’re crazy, motherfucker,” Randy said, still lying there with his tennis shoes resting on the stairs a few feet above his head. I could see he was hopefully unharmed.
Behind me I could hear Emily calling in an alarmed voice. I thought, Good, and, with the racket in my hand, went to see if she was still in bed.
Outside, on the street in our neighborhood in Spanish Harlem, I could already hear Randy’s friends mocking him loudly. I couldn’t imagine how they already knew about his humiliation. A teenage boy had been shot four times on the corner while we watched from the fire escape a few days before. It was a calm neighborhood, but we had these unexpected moments of excitement.