Cuffy: Part 6
"Cuffy" is a novelette set in the year 2500 about a young black man who has earned a seat in an international sculpture competition. His sculpture, Black Power, has gained the interests of powerful people who seek to interpret it for themselves. All the while, his extracurricular activities reliving slave narratives in VR from the POV of the slave master have become increasingly dangerous for his future. "Cuffy" has been published weekly on Argot in six total installments along with a continuously evolving title illustration by Tiffani Gomez. This is the final chapter. Read from the beginning at Cuffy Part 1.
Tree to tree, he picked his route carefully, keeping just outside the lines of flashing cameras and crowds, glued to their phones, watching him vomit over and over again. He stopped under an oak tree on the far side of the park and watched the sun move across the sky and behind some clouds. The shadows glided along the green, making it difficult to tell where the shadows of his tree ended and the shadows of the clouds began. He took a nap and dreamed. His eyes fidgeted beneath his eyelids and he tossed and turned. At dusk, after hours of avoiding consciousness, Cuffy awoke and found himself beside the twentieth statue.
Not many people remained. Most had decided to go home after making their initial rounds within the first hour. The judges had already done their final aerials around the park and flew to a secret location to make their final deliberations. They would reveal the winner on a special broadcast later that evening.
When he approached the statue, a few people saw him, recognizable as he was, and glanced back and forth from their phones to him, whispering, smiling, sympathetic, then drifting away. With the exception of a few vague eyes, Cuffy was alone with it.
Floating lights illuminated the sculpture and made an artificial day of its form. Cuffy circled around it once, twice. Seemingly, unsure of what he was seeing, unsure what he had found. The lights flickered, brightened, and as the sun disappeared, Cuffy grabbed his own throat, not aggressively, but gently, gripping it, squeezing it, tenderly. He rubbed it, then stretched his finger out and penetrated a hole in the statue, a small letter “P” near the middle. He took his hand away and peered within, saw the nose, the eyes, looking back. More letters within, shapes, squiggles, colors. Form. He felt his phone vibrate. When he picked it up, he saw he had 100 missed calls.
“Hello?” he answered, still looking at the statue.
“Dewey, where are you?” It was his mother. “I had newsmen wanting to interview us all day, but I couldn’t find you anywhere. Weren’t you supposed to stay with your handler?”
Cuffy cursed. He hadn’t attended to any of the day’s protocols. He’d been up all night.
“Nah, I had to take care of something.”
“Well, I hope you have a ride, because I’m already home and you should be too, Dewey, they’re going to announce the winner in an hour. Hurry up!”
She hung up on him and a blue balloon with the words “AGGRESSION” floated up at him. He shook his head and the cologne advertisement dissolved.
“Cuffy! Hold up!”
He turned and saw the girl run up to him.
“You’re lucky my phone’s cheap.” he said, studying her. “You’re different without your apron.”
She smiled and regarded her outfit. “Thank you.”
“I’m about to go home.”
“Yeah, don’t go yet.”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“I like talking to you.”
“Nah, I gotta get-”
“Please,” she insisted.
Cuffy exhaled. The giant blob of letters stood beside them, listening. He pointed to it. “You see the man in there?” He asked.
“Look,” he pointed through the “P”.
“She’s not a man.”
“That’s a woman in there.”
Cuffy looked again. “How do you know?”
She pointed to the floating placard next to the statue. It read, “The Provocation.”
“So?” he asked.
“Wait for it,” she said.
After a few seconds, it changed and revealed a woman’s face, the name Jemmy Deslondes appeared below it.
Cuffy smiled. “Doesn’t mean it’s not a man.”
“I can just tell.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I told you. I was looking for you.”
She bit her lip and shrugged, “I don’t know. Why you ask so many questions?”
He didn’t know.
“Come on.” she said and took his hand.
They walked around the park and Cuffy listened to her discuss everything inside her: school, her ailing grandmother, her job, their boss. He listened to all of it without a word. The only thing that made Cuffy respond was when she told him statue 14 was her favorite. She apologized to him, but said she thought it was cool. He regarded it as they walked by: 75 feet of a woman’s hair, no face, thousands of individual strands curling around an invisible ear, draping across invisible shoulders. It’s interesting he admitted.
When they reached his statue, he told her he had to go, but she put a hand on his chest and told him to stay. He neared her, but she backed away.
He showed her his palms, but she ignored them.
“What is this about?” she asked.
“I don’t know, you tell me?”
“No, I mean, the statue,” she turned to it, “What’s it about?”
“I crafted my response for both possibilities.” he said.
“I don’t get it.”
Cuffy sighed. The floating lights merely slicked the surface of his statue, and the realism of each figure dimmed in the surrounding darkness. “I don’t know.” He saw his face in the floating placard before it returned to the title. “I don’t know,” he repeated.
“That boy up there, pulling on the pole, he trying to get away?”
“That a black hole?”
“They can’t escape?”
“No, they’re already inside, this is all we see,” he admitted, “All that’s left.”
“I figured,” she put a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t worry, Cuffy, they ain’t black, yet.”
He laughed, “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you know,” she smiled at him. He moved in to kiss her, but she backed away.
“What is goi-” He was about to say, but his phone buzzed.
“Hello?” He looked at the girl. She looked at him.
“Come home, Dewey.”
“Come home, Dewey.”
She hung up.
He ran a slow finger over the blank screen, hesitating, “I gotta get home.” he said finally, “My mom wants to watch the announcement with me.”
“You know my name, Cuffy?” He shook his head.
“Did you ask?”
“Look, I didn’t kno-”
“You smart, Cuffy?”
He shook his head and hit a button on his phone. “Wait.”
“I wanted to-”
A transport beam lifted him through the night and placed him in his kitchen.
“What is this?” his mother asked quietly. She was holding a small silver drive.
His mom grabbed his arm and pulled him next to her, “What is this, Dewey?”
He struggled against her arm, but she wouldn’t let go. “It’s nothing.” He leaned away, but she yanked him closer.
“What is this, Dewey?!”
“It’s something I was helping my friend Bill with.”
She let go of his arm. “Your friend, Bill?”
“How does this” She held up the drive. “help Bill?” She shoved it into his hand. “Explain it to me.”
“It’s for class.”
“For history class.”
She started breathing hard.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “Mom?” but she shook off his hand.
“Don’t touch me, Dewey! I know when you’re lying.” She sat down at the dining table. “Just tell me why.”
“I told you, it’s for class.”
Her shoulders heaved up and down. She searched his eyes, but he kept them steady.
“For class?” She asked again, quieter. Behind her, the TV showed Turner Dessaline standing before a podium, the judges seated behind him. Cuffy couldn’t hear the words. It was on mute.
“For class? Okay. For class.” She stood up and turned to him, stabilizing herself against the back of the kitchen chair. “I’ve never seen anything like that before, Dewey.”
“In my worst nightmares, I’ve never seen anything like that. Why would you want to look at that?” He took a step towards his room and looked at the TV.
“They’re about to announce the winner.”
She gripped his face in her hand and turned him towards her. “Why do you hate yourself, Dewey?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Jan Van Broucke’s giant white hands had won. He ripped himself from her hand.
“Pssh, I don’t fucking hate myself.”
She slapped him hard. “Don’t you curse at me, Dewey!” He glanced at the TV again. It showed an image of an 125 foot David standing on its head, paunch sagging. Second Place. “Why do you hate yourself?”
“It’s not like that!”
“Then, what’s it like?”
“It’s like nothing.”
“Then help me, Dewey?” She leaned into his eye line. “Just help me, okay? Tell me why.” He maneuvered to the side. He saw his statue. He’d come in third place. She stepped in front of him.
“I got 3rd place, Mom.”
She started sobbing, “I don’t even care, Dewey. Just tell me...give me something.”
“Mom.” He looked at the TV. It showed a picture of him vomiting, stuck in that pose, beside his statue, forever.
“It’s not me.” he said. His shoulders started to heave, but he closed his eyes and became still. “It’s not me.”
“What?” she barked.
“Do you enjoy it?”
“Yeah, sometimes, some of it...other parts, other times, I didn’t...I don’t know...enjoys the wrong word, the wrong question, the wrong everything. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do whatever I want?”
“Oh Dewey,” she shook her head.
“Why can’t I?”
“I just don’t know, do I?”
“Why can’t I.”
“Do I know you?” she asked quietly. “I thought I did, but this...For class?”
He straightened up, pulled back his shoulders, and nodded at her.
“Okay, Dewey. For class.” She walked past him. “We’ll talk about this later, I guess. Go to your room.”
That night, in front of his computer, he watched a recording of the announcement ceremony, listened to them say his name, show his face to the world. He watched every news report show him throwing up, listened to their speculation, and heard their disagreements on the ethics of showing the photo, their commentary on his statue, fell asleep.
The next morning his mom asked him why again, but he had nothing to say. When she left, he made himself some food in the tele-grower, ate it, and loaded the drive into the TV.
He watched, first person, as the master, speaking with Cuffy’s voice, did what he did. A time and a place. A time and a place. Bill hadn’t changed a thing. As it played, he began scribbling notes on a pad of yellow paper beside him. When he filled up the page, he immediately crumpled it up, and threw it away. He began writing on a new piece of paper and the video played again. And again. And again. And again. No where else for it to go, just looping forever on repeat. The boy got stabbed, the overseer wrestled with the mother, the hanging, the dance, and it would continue to do so, all of it, over and over, forever, if he wasn’t within it, choosing to deviate from the scripted path.
“What you want me to put this, boss?”
The master looked up at his overseer. The man asked a second time and bounced the body on his shoulder for emphasis.
“Just put him down.”
He grinned and let the body fall from his shoulders. “Let ‘em see if they know what’s good for them.”
Cuffy watched the point of view walk to the overseer and pat his cheek. The overseer grinned at the approval, turned and began dancing along with the invisible fiddle gibbering hope from the darkness. The man pounded his clumsy boots into the dirt, spewing clouds with each step, laughing. He circled the torch, kicking up his heels with happy abandon, mocking the function of the noise, the music, darkness itself, obscuring more than it possibly could. A pretend game, an illustration, a trick of the light, shorn of meaning.
The overseer seemed like he could dance forever and the master’s hands came into view, began clapping along and then it all looked up into the night sky as a comet passed far overhead and the video started again, returning to that single inescapable point.
Erik's Goldsmith's short stories have been featured in Metaphorosis, Hidden Menagerie, and Wavelengths Anthology. He also has a book of short stories called "Tinker's Pain Calculator" published by Scarlet Leaf Press. He teaches English in Texas.