Read an excerpt from We Are A Haunting by Tyriek White

We Are A Haunting by Tyriek White is a poignant family drama that takes place over three decades. From a headstrong grandmother to a grieving grandson, the family at the center of White’s novel is haunted in many ways but they always have hope. Sometimes, however, hope is their own haunting. White’s lyrical prose and fully realized characters prove he is a writer firing on all cylinders. This ode to the hustle of the working class will leave readers breathless.

We Are A Haunting is out now. You can read an excerpt from the book below.


COLLY (2007) 

Don’t forget where you are, you would say. Getting lost in yourself can only lead you to trouble. Summer had been hot, all bleeding heart and no sky. Us kids played under a white, blinding ceiling, happy for days with no school and wet eyes. We slept under the music—pleading sirens and our parents who argued till morning. Soon enough, the smoke and asbestos would clear, Housing would pump stale heat into our apartments, and just like that school would begin. These days I haven’t seen myself in a while, standing out front the apartments, waiting for rain, snow, or someone. 

I’d see Zaire on the way to school before deciding if I’d go or not. We’d stop at the bodega on Stanley, the shelves stocked high with rows of canned goods and boxes of anything instant; an old head counting out change for a can of Modelo; Ms. Calloway buying two or three Take5s at a time. Merengue filled the dusty shop, the patron at the counter humming along with a cigarette behind his ear. Every morning, I’d get turkey on a roll, salt, pepper, vine- gar, yellowed lettuce, and tomato, chips and bright candies I could sneak off the shelves. I’d splurge on green and blue extra-sour Cry Babys that would last till lunch if you tucked them away in your cheek just right. 

We collected the flat plastic tops off milk gallons or quarter waters, filled them with candle wax—Zaire’s mom stockpiled them from the 99-cent store—sometimes mixing colors. We had a legion of skully tops between us, and we would spend hours in and out of school scrubbing the bottoms against the ground until they were smooth enough to glide across concrete like air hockey pucks. 

The boys played ball at Gersh Park and suicide on the handball courts until the streetlights came on. It was some twisted incarnation of Chinese handball, except you were out when you got hit with the ball. Our hands were red and calloused from the blue rubber ball we’d smack around for hours on end. 

We’d usually have a ball last a couple weeks. They’d split in half or get lost over the wall into alleys or weeds or some abandoned lot somewhere. My boy Jose kept his the longest—three months—until Ricky sent it across the boulevard. Fuck it, had a good run, we’d say. The corner store sold them for the price of a Charleston Chew, had different colors at the beauty sup- ply a block away, red and green, whatever you could think of. We’d tumble into the house, filthy, covered in welts, half listening to our mothers, picking at the dead, splitting skin on our open palms, calluses sprouting like they might take over our hands whole. 

Me and Zaire fought kids from the neighborhood every day after school, wiry boys with impatient gaits, with names that were still on all the attendance sheets but who had stopped attending, conceivably of disinterest. School couldn’t quite catch up with those kids. I don’t know much about Joshua, but I saw Tristan at the food-stamp building on Pitkin by P.S. 159. I was online with my mother, tried to nod at him, but he was with his mother and four other kids. And once I peeked inside Joshua’s crib and it seemed completely empty. 

One time Zaire took Joshua’s Braves fitted and hid it in the art cabinet. 

“If you boys interrupt my class again,” Mrs. Budhris would cut in, “I’ll beat the bricks off the both of you.” She wasn’t allowed to say that, so I took her word for it. Shit, we could’ve took that show on the road. After school, we’d stroll around Green Courts, or head to Lee’s Chinese restaurant up Linden. 

There weren’t any seats, save a bench up against the wall. The decorative tile from floor to wall a dingy marble, the most consistent thing in the shop. A tacky landscape of a waterfall. A wooden ceiling fan whirred over- head. The cashier spoke to us through a window, sat the food in a large slot that spun in exchange for cash. 

We’d buy a bunch of egg rolls, sometimes tender pork-fried rice with thick orange duck sauce in packets that they never gave enough of. We got large containers of iced tea we knew they made with the supermarket brand, but that was perfect every time. We joked around, banging on tables and walls, the woman at the counter peering through the bulletproof Plexiglas to make sure our rowdiness didn’t turn to sabotage.

One time it went too far.

Zaire and I had climbed the roof of the Parks building, a half-story unisex bathroom that lacked air in the summertime and always smelled like fresh urine, no matter when it was cleaned. It was in the school playground, between the jungle gym and the tall gate that led to the courts. We collected a bunch of beechnuts and started pelting Josh, Tristan, and the girls. 

“Come on with that shit,” Tristan groaned. He was visibly moody, more moody than usual. But you don’t show that. It’s a weak spot, a scent that draws grade-school kids to attack. You keep those emotions, those feelings close to you. Don’t let anyone see them. 

But we had seen and so had everyone else and we laughed. 

“You mad?” Zaire teased. Tristan wasted no time and started looking for a way up to where we were. I sat with my legs crossed and threw beechnuts at him down below. When he got to the top, he shoved Zaire and grabbed me by the collar of my coat. From there it all happened too fast. I don’t remember what I said but it was terrible and it came pouring out. Then he mentioned you. I was so angry I started to cry—then, my hands around his neck pushing him toward the ledge. He was reaching for my face as if to will it toward him when we tipped over the side; then me, windmilling my arms as if to fly away, a long-limbed bird-thing soaring over the projects in a goose- down coat. I landed hard, the wind knocked out of me. My left side was scraped and aching. A gash on the arm of my bubble coat bled feathers. A glint caught my eye, something hitting the ground, but everyone was running. It looked like a switchblade. I looked at Tristan, already scrambling to his feet, a splash of cool gravel hitting me in the face as he did. I pushed myself off the ground and was out, in a sort of limp-jog, feathers bouncing out of me, peppering the playground turf. 

I figured we’d all meet up afterward. But I never made it back for after- school and Josh and Tristan never made it to practice. I didn’t go to school the next day either. I left the house with my backpack like nothing had happened and hung out around Green Courts until my house was empty. The school called twice and I deleted both messages. By the time I went back the next day I was sent straight to the office. Apparently a member of faculty had seen the whole ordeal. A full-on investigation had me pinned for the entire thing. 

“Your peers seem to feel that you are a danger to their safety,” the principal was saying. She was an older white lady from Vermont or something who worked here, dead in the middle of the inner city. She couldn’t under- stand why parents would side with their kids. She once got a chair thrown at her in the gym, in the middle of an assembly. It hit the podium, but she never got over it. She had the police come in and restrain Bobby Ramirez and felt he had a grudge against her. His dad was all but happy about that. She wore starched collars and pleated suits every single day like it was the seventies and wore her hair like Rosalynn Carter. I didn’t open my mouth to respond. 

“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”

I said nothing.

“Where’d you get the knife from?” she asked.

“A knife?” I was confused, then remembered the long gash down my coat. She paused, considered me. I stared just to the left of her ear, at a fake ficus tree she had by her coffee machine. 

“Do you even want to know who ratted you out?” she asked, and I shook my head. I didn’t really care. Blame whomever you need to. Take me out back to the firing wall like Capone would’ve. Anything to get the fuck out of this ficus-filled office. 

“Well, you could very well be expelled for this behavior. I’m going to have to call your mother.” 

As my mother’s child, I dread the times she is proven right. This was something you had always warned about, verbatim. Don’t get caught up with the wrong kids, Colly, you’d say. You never know what could happen. If one person has something on them or gets in trouble, you all get in trouble. Except we weren’t all in trouble, of course. Just me. I hated to break it to her, but my mother would not be answering that phone. You had gone before the winter was over and I was left with nothing but the seasons. 

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