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Astroworld -

Notes from the Road to Astroworld by Charles W. Harvey QUIET FIRE

Hello. My name is Shadrach Jesse Chesterfield. I'm twenty-four years old, lanky, but handsome. "Black Velvet" is what my girl calls me when she's rubbing her hand over my back. I don't carry my Father's first name. And I'm okay with that. Believe me, I am. Shadrach is right on time for a man who had danced through fire. I dance in New York. Judy James the Dance Critic calls me "Demon with feets." I'm no demon. That's what my daddy was. Despite him, I turned out all right. He left his marks. Yes he did. I got this quizzical look on my face because I have one eyebrow out of line. I look like I'm always trying to solve a puzzle. My Daddy was beating me one day and his strap struck me above my right eye. A doctor had to stitch me up. The scar tissue pushed my eyebrow out of line in this cock-eyed way. I'm glad it wasn't my eye. No I'm not a devil. I'm a pussycat . . . when I'm not dancing. My answers to Judy James, in her interview with me were true. She said when I dance the piece "Elijah Rock" that I choreographed, she knows I"m chasing demons out of my body. She says she wishes she could just fill up the Times with exclamation marks when she writes her critique of my performances. She said I'm not only dancing to the spiritual itself, I'm dancing to "other" music I'm hearing. She asked if I could describe that other music. I knew what she was talking about. I told Judy that "other music" was the whistle of the extension cord as my Father whirled it above my head. When I spin and leap in the same movement, it is my body remembering the wicked impressions the cord cut into my back. When you grow up ducking and dodging the lash, you learn movement. I was not the only creature my Father hurt. This girl, well she's a young woman now-just three years younger than I, is confined to an insane asylum in some woods not far from Houston. I went to visit her. The asylum is hunched down in the woods surrounded by ugly brown hills. I watched her sitting and staring at the hills. Her eyes absorbed the brown right out of those hills and reminded me of two brown pools in the middle of a serene face. Her body was

in that courtyard that was passing for a garden, but her soul wasn't. She was on a journey. I wanted to apologize to the young woman on behalf of my Father. I pulled off my shirt to show her my scars. It was a feeble try. I wanted her to see my scars and to see that I had overcome them. I wanted her to see that she did not have to be locked inside herself. I knew she had hurt her own child. But I wanted to show her that she didn't have to cause pain in order to live. Me, I don't even kill flies. I touched her shoulder and she froze. The calm brown washed out of her eyes. They turned black and she look agitated. She acted as if she knew who I was. She smelled my Father in my sweat. I left her and felt defeated. My Father's cruelty made me a dancer. Don't quote me on that. That's only half true. It was my Father's pain that made me a dancer. His meanness was him running from the soft side of himself. He committed suicide on the night he hurt the young woman. Years later when I was in college, I used his old desk. I tried to open a drawer one day and something was lodged in the tracks. I pulled and yanked and a tiny black book fell out. It was his diary. In it he had written sweet descriptions of young men and boys. Pages were filled with words like "chest of iron and honey," "I wanted to kiss his cinnamon colored legs," "I felt his arms muscular and dangerous around my throat," "I licked the sweet moss of his pubic hair . . ." My Father didn't really hate me. He was scared to love me. He was scared he would want me like he wanted other boys. I don't really know why he bothered the girl that day on his bus. Maybe she looked boyish or something. Or maybe he was trying to prove something to himself. Enough! Enough about my personal history. My next project is going to be an interpretation of Billy Holiday's "Strange Fruit." It's going to have lots of tiny movements like the leaves of fruit trees in an ever so slight wind. I will stand still for a few moments and let me breathing be a part of the dance. Yes, you can say that again. It will have lots of quiet fire.

(These are the working notes from the upcoming novel The Road to Astroworld They may or may not be a part of the finished novel.)

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