Keepin' 'em Down (September 1996)
by Matthew Taub, from Death the Dying City, a novel forthcoming

“Who’s my father?” young Kenneth Johnson said.
     “We don’t know,” his mother said.
          “Juvenile diabetes,” a worried doctor said.
               “Epileptic,” yet another said.
                    “Take them pills every day,” his mother said.
                         “It’s a white man’s world,” an uncle said.
                              “Help Wanted,” the construction sign read.
                                   “You’re hired,” a grisly man said.
                                        “Like this,” a co-worker said.
                                             “Hi,” Shanada said.
                                                  “Hi,” he said.
                                             “Marry me,” she said.
                                        “Someday,” he said.
                                   “Thas some bird you got there!”
                              “Ey man,” Kenneth said. “She get love.”
                         “One twenty fifth,” a friend testified, “she get love.”
                    “Pssh. Today its love— other times, like...”
          “Other times— I could get ridda the body, I would!
     “My man!” Young bucks shouted over laughter. “Thas my nigga right
“Leave those hoodlums behind,” an old man said. “Be good to her.”
     “Keep it real in Bed-Stuy,” a neighbor said.
          “Keep it real on Marcus Garvey,” from another.
               “I know, I know,” Kenneth said.
                    “When you gonna settle down?” the Pastor said.
                         “When it’s my time,” Kenneth said.
                              “Got some livin’ to do,” Kenneth said.
                                   “Got some sinnin’ to do,” Pastor said.
                                        “All bets!” the OTB clerk said.
                                             “C’mon baby,” he pled.
                                                  “Big Winner!” a degenerate said.
                                             “Take the money and run!” they said.
                                        “Tripps,” the dice man said.
                                   “He shot the moon!” the street toughs said.
                              “Money’s yours,” a now-angry host said.
                         “Thas it— you out, huh?” a man in And1 shorts said.
                    “I’m out,” Kenneth said, grinning.
               “Big winner,” he said, to himself, alone behind the wheel.
          “Oh shit,” he said, jerking, twitching, crashing, collapsing.
               “Nigga passed out!” a young girl said.
                    “Hit dem parked cars!!” another said.
                         “Shoulda taken them meds,” he said, before blacking out.
                              “License and registration,” the officer said.
                                   “He’s wacked out,” his partner said.
                                        “You’re drunk,” the first officer said.
                                             “No,” he slurred more than said.
                                                  “What?” the officer said.
                                                       “Diabetic,” he said.
                                                            “Need my meds.”
                                                       “Shutup,” they said.
                                                  “Get in the back,” they said.
                                             “One phone call,” the sergeant said.
                                        “I messed up,” to Shanada, he said.
                                   “I told you not to drive,” she said.
                              “Get my insulin and rush over,” he said.
                         “I will,” through tears, she said.
                    “Sorry m’am,” a clerk said. “Nothing can be brought inside.”
               “Gotta wait ‘till after arraignment,” a burly man said.
          “But he needs it,” she pled.
               “Go home,” they said. “We’ll call you when the judge is ready.”
                    “‘The judge is ready,’” were words they never said.
                         “Moved him to the Detention Center,” they said instead.
                              “Won’t be ‘till Monday,” the Court officers said.
                                   “Released on recognizance,” a Judge finally said.
                                        “Let me call an ambulance,” Shanada said.
                                             “Just gimme the meds,” he said.
                                                  “Two weeks,” the Judge said.
                                                       “I’ll get better,” he said.
                                                  “You need rest,” she said.
                                             “I know,” he said.
                                        “Let me take you to the hospital!” she said.
                                   “Not until it’s over,” he said.
                              “They won’t believe me if I miss the return date,” he
                         “Okay,” she reluctantly said.
                    “Case dismissed,” the Judge said, two weeks later.
              “Shoulda never gone to that dice game,” Kenneth said, then fell
          Wee-ooh, wee-ooh, the ambulance siren blared. Ears bled.
     “What?” she said, barely able to make out his words.
“Didn’t even keep the winnings,” was the last thing he ever said.

Keepin' 'em Down (September 1996)is an excerpt from Death of the Dying City, a novel forthcoming by Matthew Taub

Matthew A. Taub is a writer and lawyer living in Brooklyn, NY. His work has appeared in Absinthe Revival, The Weekenders, Red Ochre LiT's BLACK&WHITE Magazine and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He is currently working on his first novel, Death of the Dying City, a panorama of New York City's rapid gentrification and multiple ethnic enclaves through rotating character-driven vignettes, all of which are connected by an imperiled lawyer-protagonist. Excerpts appear at