Sometimes while there, everyone had to listen to the gunshots from gangs fighting at breakfast. The bullets ricocheted against the plastered ceilings and brick walls of homes as though they were dumptruck horns vibrating windows, or deep-voiced families conversing across porches about the day’s news. But for some reason, the piercing tone of the bullet everyone assumed to have killed Daniel Landon was never heard. It was as if he had been murdered by a handless felon or perhaps a dose of Chicagowind, taken by something so everyday it was unable to be pinpointed.
And on Saturday morning, April 25, 1987, his body was found on the playground, left arm bloody and wrapped around a yellow-painted steel pole. As the news of his death spread, a herd of people began surrounding him. He lay in the center of the area, crowd in awe as his eyes remained partially opened. His body was swallowed by burgeoning grass, a shiny black jacket which gave way to the trail of blood, empty candy wrappers, and hollowed bottles of beer. Daniel’s face didn’t look as peaceful as most would assume of a dead person. The brown skin of his cheeks was crumpled like a wet paper bag. He lay there still – not stiff – fully clothed in the jacket he wore daily, blue jeans, and a t-shirt. He did not have shoes. It was almost as if he were still alive. For a few moments as the crowd watched him they may have wondered if he planned to sprout to his feet, stand tall with that nearly six-foot frame, and grin as they held their breaths.
The red courtyard buildings and various homes in the neighborhood began to further empty as residents continued gathering on the playground. More and more police arrived. The people approached Daniel’s body slowly before he was covered with a sheet, fearful of what they may have seen. Most mothers were drenched with anxiety while walking toward him, dreading the thought that their son may be the one lying there lifeless. No one spoke nor made eye contact. At that moment, the block of 59th and Hermitage Avenue had been inhabited by a new breed of mammal, no longer by dark-skinned and naïve aliens with antennae, those who continued to persevere through the stressors of their lives as though nothing was wrong, or north-side thinking white folks, clueless to the fact there was a such thing as crime and hadn’t seen the dead body of a black teenager lying before them. Each person in the crowd had witnessed this before, at least mentally. The mothers had done so in their nightmares. They’d all definitely heard or known someone who’d experienced the circumstances. But, as the four-floored buildings in the neighborhood seemed to hover above them like skyscrapers, dimming the sunlight with roofs dripping the stale water from a previous night’s rain, each person’s ideas began to change. Those buildings began to move closer and closer, corralling the people, all the while reflecting the tattoos of their graffiti-filled walls.
Everyone standing there had an idea of what happened. Most believed they could have told the police verbatim what the scene entailed. However, as those officers continued questioning the crowd on that Saturday morning, not a word was exchanged. Heads began to nod and shake, young and old people wept, and those same police began carrying on as if Daniel Landon had never been alive. They made jokes about the circumstances of West Englewood, voiced their concerns on the Chicago Bears’ offensive struggles, asked each other about girlfriends they weren’t supposed to have, slapped hi-fives, and took their time in covering him until the ambulance arrived nearly an hour later. Therefore, each person standing obtained an uninhibited view of Daniel’s body in the playground.
Someone must have then traveled the two blocks downPaulina Streetto alert his mother. She was one of those women that kept her distance from the goings on in the area. The screeching sound of her voice made his mother no different than any other middle-aged woman standing around viewing the scene though. It could have easily been heard miles away. Within moments she was there in the playground, initially acting as a bystander within the crowd. Everyone assumed she’d be in shock. She then thrust her body, two-hundred and at least thirty-five pounds, to where he was. Daniel’s mother held him taut as she must have when he was a baby. She smiled ever so often then screamed further as the tears fell, and began rocking back and forth like he was in a cradle. The police proceeded in aggressively trying to pull his body from her grasp, glancing at one another as though her movements were foreign or foolish. The officers eventually had to peel her fingers one by one from him.
When the ambulance arrived the crowd began to disperse. People chattered and speculated and gossiped and maybe for the first time realized that where they lived, where their children played and husbands drank and dogs of every mixed breed barked and shit with no regard, was an ignored area of Chicago that upon any unlucky moment within the courtyard of a building, countless and senseless crimes could occur.
The black people of West Englewood during the 80’s had very little money; most had never been employed. Drugged out women had sex in halls to pay for habits. Teenaged boys no older than Daniel robbed and stole as often as they could in order to attain trendy items they deemed valuable. Babies were born into welfare in a method akin to the wealthy and their silver spoons. And most of the younger people stopped attending school around the ages of fourteen and fifteen because they felt it not lucrative. Their parents were too busy doing whatever furthered their drug influenced high to ever even notice.
Daniel Landon was slightly different. He was tall, healthy, average looking with small scars close to his ears, and the most easily observed teenager in the entire neighborhood because of his pigeon-toed walk. His circumstances were also a bit more favorable than those of the other teenagers in West Englewood, Chicago. He was unable to receive free lunch because his mother worked full-time in a hospital as a lab technician, and they received Veterans checks for an accident that left his father never sober and with hands glued to the wheels of a chair. Daniel Landon therefore was able to afford things that made other teens envious. And in the late 80’s, Air Jordan basketball shoes, floor model televisions, Starter Jackets, and Nintendo gaming systems were as valuable to young adults as a glossy Cadillac or a diamond solitaire to a newlywed woman.
Everyone was certain Daniel fought for those shoes and jacket before he died; maybe he even ran before they pulled the gun. He could have possibly been standing on his green-painted porch, white Starter emblem on the jacket’s left arm glowing in the night of Chicago spring when they saw him. Perhaps they waited for him to walk to the store, or to another block to see an innocent girl he’d been sweet on. But none of that mattered anymore.
Because from the day of Daniel’s death on, the neighborhood changed little. Things didn’t get better. Homes were incessantly vandalized, windows remained broken, televisions and electronics were sold afterward to pawn shops or in the streets. Cars were being stolen from theWest Englewood area and certainly from the more gracious regions of the city, only to be brought back and stripped. The gang shootings occurred as before, the drug trade as well. What altered were the expressions of the neighborhood’s people. Everyone began to accept the emptiness. The courtyard buildings and ranch-styled homes appeared to move further and further from the streets, seeming at times to be leaning away. People ceased conversation with their neighbors. There was no longer the sharing of sugar or clothing or rice or gossip, or the trading of Nintendo gaming cartridges with your friends.
And the playground where Daniel’s body was found never saw the laughter of another child as they enjoyed the wonderful ride of a rusty swing. Everyone remained afraid. Truly skeptical of traveling anywhere near the scene because surely there were reminders of his dried blood and the reality of their lives along the concrete.
-- Jasmon Drain is a 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee. She was a finalist in the inaugural Terrrain.org fiction contest and has been published in The Chariton Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Ginosko Magazine, Indian River Review, My Story Lives Magazine, New Purlieu Review, New Sound Magazine, The Quotable Magazine, Silver of Stone Magazine, Specter Literary Magazine, Tidal Basin Review, The Vermillion Literary Project, and the Wilderness House Literary Review.