Excerpt from A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Lucky Man

Stories

by Jamel Brinkley

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley X
A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 264 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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I HAPPY AM

When Freddy became a robot, a special map appeared in his mind. It alerted him to obstacles and told him the fastest way from here to there. One morning, instead of waiting for the elevator, he flew down the dozen flights of stairs, careful to leap over a big puddle of urine on the landing of the fourth floor. Outside, he ducked through the hole in the busted playground's fence. In the alley behind the liquor store, a homeless woman with a shopping cart shuffled into his path. He closed his eyes and clenched his metal fists as he crashed into her. The woman's stink exploded like a bomb, but it couldn't harm him. As he sped past, she yelled a lot of bad words, an enemy wailing in defeat. St. Rita's Day Camp was only a few blocks away, but by the time he arrived it was already past nine o'clock.

The other kids in his group had boarded the van. Sister Pamela stood in front of the day camp, her back pressed against the gate of the squat building. Her habit, made of plain white cotton trimmed in blue stripes, fit perfectly around her pale sweating face. She narrowed her eyes at Freddy and bared her brownish teeth. She'd been making this face at him throughout the summer, whenever he was late, but as usual it wasn't his fault. His mother had forgotten to sign her name. It had taken a long time to wake her up so she could do it.

"Where's your permission slip?" Sister Pamela said.

For a moment he didn't know. He couldn't answer her.

She glanced down. "Just give it to me."

It was right there in his hand, folded in half and crumpled, see-through in one spot from the moisture of his palm. She pinched the slip by a dry corner, tugged at it until his fingers understood and stiffly opened. Previously Freddy had been a wizard, an angel, and a knight. Lately, whenever he felt nervous, it seemed best to imagine he was a robot. He liked the ones he watched on TV best.

Sister Pamela held the permission slip away from her and examined it for a long time. Earlier, at the apartment, Freddy's mother had gripped the pen in her trembling fist like a toddler with a crayon. She'd gazed up at him from the couch with her one awakened eye, disappointed again, it seemed, that he wasn't the person she dreamed about, whose name she murmured in her sleep. Her signature was worse than the one he'd begged her to make on the camp registration form months earlier, little more than a thick wandering line dragged off the edge of the page. The tip of the pen punctured the couch's plastic covering, near the other holes and burn marks from cigarettes. His mother asked him then to call her job, to say she wasn't feeling well and would be late again. But he hated her boss's grouchy voice asking all those questions, and there was no time to waste, so he didn't call. In such lonely moments Freddy wished he had a sibling, a younger brother he could conspire with or boss around, forcing on him every unpleasant task. He felt now as if Sister Pamela could see everything from earlier that morning, including his thoughts and feelings, right there on the permission slip.

"Well?" she said finally. "Get in the van."

There was an open seat next to Santos, because the other kids avoided him. They said he had bad breath, that the little rattail on his otherwise shorn head made him look dirty, but Freddy didn't agree. He liked the fuzzy nub of braided hair and even wanted one himself. And he thought Santos's breath smelled good. It was richly sweet like the bruised peaches his mother sometimes got for free at C-Town, from the old man who said he was in love with her. Those peaches were so overripe they were almost liquid, syrupy in their skins. Freddy was nine. He couldn't make sense of the way opinions suddenly changed about some kids. The opinions about Santos hadn't shifted—not yet at least—so there was no danger of losing his friend to other boys.

Excerpt from "I Happy Am" from A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley. Copyright © 2018 by Jamel Brinkley. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

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