The Kid Is Hot Tonight

By Bryan Alston Patrick

Part 1

He hadn’t been diagnosed with anything at that point. According to his pediatrician, Donnie was a “spirited child.” He was only five so no one expected him to pack or move anything but he couldn’t be still or quiet. Most of that afternoon he spent dancing and chanting around the U-Haul as the rest of his family glumly sweated the loss of their home of three years in Bedford Stuyvesant.

“Child, you are on my last nerve.” Lanisha was typically patient with her youngest offspring but leaving Brooklyn on a sweltering day in late June had sapped her of tolerance. “You really need to sit that down over there until we ready.”

Donnie kept insisting that his 17-year-old, bi-polar half-brother, Antwon, stack the mattresses on the floor of the truck instead of filing them on end against one wall. Spatial efficiency wasn’t a priority for Donnie. “But if you lay ’em down all the other stuff can bounce all the way there and be having fun the whole time.”

“Nah, D.” Antwon was glaring at his small half-sibling. “That don’t make sense, yo. All our shit ‘ll just break. You seriously need to chill and let me do this so we can be out.”

Antwon had his own room in the Kingston crib. That had been a first. It made a big difference. Not that it made him happier as much as it gave him a semi-private area in which to be unhappy, which made him slightly less unhappy part of the time. Moving in with Aunt Corinne, who wasn’t actually Lanisha’s aunt, but everybody called her “Aunt,” meant sharing a room with either Donnie or someone else or sleeping on the couch in the den, which would mean waking up with other people milling about and talking and brewing coffee.

“Nooo,” Donnie persisted. “Our things will be much safer with padding, Antwon. It’s padding.”

“Son, you buggin’. There is something seriously messed up in your head.” Antwon’s tone had lost any trace of kindness. His face had gone tight and dark.

Lanisha saw it from the stoop as she schlepped down another garbage bag of clothing and it frightened her. On that hot, depressing day, no amount of medication could guarantee mood stabilization.

“You hear me?” Antwon continued and darkened. “You fucked up in your head, son. You came out a white man dick and did something real wrong in mamma pussy.”

Lanisha waited until reaching the truck to say anything, only because her legs lacked the strength to stop moving and start again. “Antwon, stop that!”

“What? I’m tryin’a tell this kid how to act, ’cause you don’t.”

“You projecting right now.” Lanisha reminded Antwon what his therapist had taught him. Her voice was forcefully hushed as neighbors walked past them, bracing for another freaky outburst from A-Jax. “It’s so obvious, Antwon. Remember your awareness like Doctor Joe say.”

Dr. Joseph Cassel had been a blessing for Lanisha’s family. Moving away from him was her biggest problem with moving. Otherwise, going to Maryland didn’t seem like a bad thing at all, from her POV. Brooklyn, especially on hot summer days, was loud as a war zone, she thought. Power saws whirring and screaming all day everyday on myriad construction sites, air-breaks hissing every ten minutes, subway cars screeching up through sidewalk grills, more people than ever walking, driving, shouting, and “knuckleheads whilin’ out and blastin’ they radios.” And the air quality was shit. Lanisha felt like she was suffocating on the hottest days. Exhaust from the relentless stream of cars, trucks and buses aggregated, rose on the heat and added to it, intensifying the stench of garbage and urine. Lanisha had grown up in Brooklyn and grown to hate it.

Doctor Joe was literally the only thing about Brooklyn she viewed as beneficial to her family. He was a real doctor with an MD who took insurance and did talk therapy. He was the only person who had ever really helped Antwon. Had he worked with children, she would have taken Donnie to Joe as well. His office was right over on 6th Ave in Prospect Heights so it was never a problem to get there. She had remained in Brooklyn because of Doctor Joe until she simply could no longer afford it.


“Damn, D. That noise is cracking my skull!” Antwon shouted from the kitchen. “I’m a come in there and smash that fiddle, son.”

He had threatened it multiple times and never delivered. Plus, Donnie couldn’t have stopped playing by then if he had tried to force himself to put down the bow and set the violin back on its stand. He had picked it up the very first day they all got to Corinne’s place. She had it out on display like a plant or an African mask. It represented something to her but she never played it. “You want to play that fiddle, honey, you go ‘head,” Corinne told him. The fiddle belonged to her late father. Her chest got all warm when she saw Donnie touching it, with the curiosity in his eyes. “Nobody play that anymore.”

The sound he made with it on his initial attempts had been crazy but that had changed. Weeks later, he was playing melodies, some of which he had down while other licks were more challenging and still came out sounding off, sometimes to the extent that Donnie wanted to give up but he never could. He would put it down for the day, not think about it again but by the next afternoon his fingers would almost be yelling at him to pick up the instrument, like they had a powerful appetite to eat up those strings.

Corinne’s “best friend,” Fran, who was actually her lover, played piano fairly well and read music, which she taught Donnie to do as well. Sometimes they even played a little something together, working out simple duets from a yellowed antique songbook that had also belonged to Corinne’s daddy. Once he got the hang of reading that book and playing from it, he took off learning all the time and getting better fast.

After he and Antoine started school again that fall, Donnie showed an obvious interest in music class. On parent teacher night, his music teacher, Mr. Robbins, mentioned Donnie’s flare for tunes to Lanisha. According to Robbins, Donnie knew all these old songs that none of the other first graders knew. By ear, he had named “ABC” by the Jackson 5, “Don’t Stop” by Michael Jackson, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye and “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie, after Robbins had played them for the class.

“Oh, I know,” Lanisha replied, “he love music. Always has. Soon as he could stand, he be up in his crib, holdin’ on to the bars while he dance. I don’t know how he know all them songs. Must have heard ’em on the radio.”
“I’d like Donnie to join our music memory program. I think he would be great at it and it would also introduce him to more and more kinds of music.”

“Oh, yes, that is so great!” Lanisha touched Robbins’ hand. He was a handsome dude, right around her age, maybe a bit younger, she couldn’t tell. “He love all kinds of music, for real! He even like classical now since he started messin’ with the fiddle.”
Robbins’ brow arched with intrigue. “Really? Donnie plays the violin?”

“Yeah, I mean, he still just learnin’ but he already play some songs real nice.”

“Wow. I’d love to hear him play some time. I actually,” Robbins cleared his throat, “I play some fiddle myself. How old is Donnie?”

“He just had his sixth birthday last weekend, August twenty-seventh. One of my two favorite days of the year.”

“Man, that is very young for such a sophisticated instrument. What kind of stuff is he playing? Do you know some of the songs?”

“Um. Not really. A couple I know I’ve heard before,” Lanisha caught herself trying to tighten up the grammar in front of Robbins, “but not like, the names. One song I knew he play real nice is called like, something like, boo-ray, or boo-lay, in e-minor, I think like?”

Robbins’ head snapped back like he was dodging something. “He’s playing Bach!?”


Although they had become friends over the years, Antwon still had trouble empathizing with his little half bro. While he was herding bright-red cart–snakes around the parking lot of an uber-Target in White Marsh, Donnie was rehearsing for a show with two sexy, ripster girls who were both fucking him. Antwon was banging a white girl too but she was thirty-seven and into huffing the furniture polish she used while cleaning rooms at a motel off the interstate. Last time they did it, homegirl was buzzed from sucking on alcohol swabs some guest forgot in a bathroom. Her mouth tasted like a first aid kit. Antwon liked to get high too but it made him too crazy. The older he got, the more he was trying to keep it simple, rock steady on his meds and stay out of trouble.

Sometimes he felt jealous watching Donnie blaze up that chronic before his shows even though he saw how it affected him too. That made him wonder what is was inside of him and his brother. They were so different yet so alike. People didn’t treat Antwon like an artist the way they treated Donnie. For that reason, Antwon had come to think of himself as less than by comparison to his brother. But when he was young, heads had given him mad props around the hood for his rhymes. They had called him “A-Jax” (he had the last name Jackson from his father while Donnie had taken Lanisha’s last name, Wright). The more he thought about it, the more he saw sameness with Donnie. That had to come from their mom since they had different dads. Doctor Joe had told him way back that his problems paying attention and getting upset were probably genetic, that they weren’t his fault so he should just work on “learning to manage” things to make his own life better. Doctor Joe helped Antwon understand that it didn’t matter much what other people thought.

Nona Jade had the same advice except that he knew she really cared too much about what other people thought. She just thought so little of herself she pretended not to care. Antwon figured if she really didn’t give a shit like she said then she wouldn’t be huffing all the time. They were supposed to see Donnie’s show together later that night. After they would probably hang for a bit backstage or at somebody’s crib where Donnie was crashing while he was in town. Nona Jade would probably get real high with Donnie and his friends and then say some stupid shit in front of everybody. He could still hear Doctor Joe’s voice reminding him not to sweat it but there was something missing. He would be embarrassed by Nona Jade. And he would be embarrassed going without her. He was thirty-four years old working at Target in Nowhere, MD. Donnie was twenty-two and everybody back in New York City thought he was going to be a superstar. Antwon didn’t even want to go but he had to go and he didn’t want to not go. An hour before the show he was descending.

Nona Jade turned it all around by showing up in a really nice top—kind of loose and fancy without revealing too much—and a pair of just-tight-enough designer jeans. Instead of the usual black or pink All Stars, she had on a pair of strappy leather sandals Antwon had never seen on her feet that had obviously enjoyed a pedicure that day. Her hair was slicked back in a ponytail, blonde streaks interwoven with darker roots in a way that was stylish and elegant.

“You look like, damn.” Antwon said, after his eyes had already paid her the compliment.

“Thanks, baby.” She scoped him out in the threads he had worn to work. “You ’bout ready?”

Antwon shrugged. “Um. Shit. I sort a got like.”

Her face softened tenderly. “Don’t feel down, baby. Tonight’s gonna be fun. Come on, hon’, we never go out and I really want to hear your baby bro play that fiddle.”

“Yeah, yeah. F’sho. I’m just like.”

“Don’t sweat it, babe. We’ll get you lookin’ pretty. You can wear that nice shirt you bought at Macy’s that you never wear. The one with the lil’ things on the shoulders?”

Antwon nodded.

“And I can tighten up your braids real quick.”

The place was packed, mainly with white college students, and Donnie was running late as usual. As long as he took the stage within 45 minutes of the advertised start time, he felt like he was holding up his end of the deal. Antwon and Nona Jade had come very early to see him before the show but realized it wasn’t going to happen and grabbed a table while there was still one to grab.

They watched all the skinny hipsters in numbered shirts, abstract tattoos and ear gauges talking about songs and movies and artists they didn’t know except for Donnie, who was the subject of several simultaneously occurring micro-exchanges. Dudes amped about how they knew him from the university before he dropped out or through friends of friends in Williamsburg.

Nona Jade ordered a white wine and drank it slowly. Antwon had never seen her drink anything other than beer or whiskey fast. He ordered a cappuccino that was pretty good so he ordered another one. Nona Jade didn’t want to order another glass of wine until Donnie was on stage. Each glass was more than three times the most she had ever paid for a bottle. She used the price tag as a moderating technique to pace herself and avoid getting trashed before meeting Antwon’s brother after the show.

They overheard some people two tables away apologizing for Donnie’s tardiness. “He’s super-picky about the sound and stuff,” one girl said. “Like he won’t even play if the mix isn’t like perfect.”

“Same with the lighting,” said a guy with a blue Mohawk in hyper-preppy attire who might have been the previous girl’s boyfriend. “Everything has to be spot-on. Donnie’s not just a musician and songwriter, he’s a true performance artist.”

“He’s like Prince, almost,” said another woman in cover-girl makeup juxtaposed with a bright green wig sculpted 54-style.