The cosmos shifts in tides and waves, gravity pushing down on the Earth and pulling the oceans up in waves, swallowing up the shore and washing away the scars. Dizzee looks at the deep line of darker skin that runs up Shao’s cheekbone, wonders if some marks can never be erased. The water erodes.
They don’t climb up to the roofs of abandoned buildings no more. They stay by the shore instead, Shao silent more often than not, Dizzee sketching city skylines on his book. They pass the joint back and forth, fingers lingering on the contact just a second too long, no pretenses or shame in the purposefulness of the movement. Here, in the world after the end of the world, there is no shame at all.
Sometime during a summer of waves licking at his feet, Dizzee stops tracing Thor’s silhouette among the shadows in the scenery. They shift closer as the ocean rises up to lick their feet, sit a world apart when the tide washes away, but there is rarely any tension between them. They get each other, they fit together, and their silences never grow uncomfortable.
Summer ‘81, Shao helps him paint a huge mural on one of their walls. Brush on one hand and joint in the other, he throws one of those not-quite-happy smiles that have become the norm and says, “I think I’d forgotten I liked this shit.” The ‘ thank you ’ goes unsaid, Dizzee gets it.
Winter ‘82 he tags the whole city with messages of love. There’s a world where we’re meant to be, he writes. In another future, we ruled the world. Do you think souls are made to be together? The possibilities are endless. We will meet again. That January, Zeke’s song comes on the radio and Shao spends an entire night throwing paint at the walls. Dizzee wonders what it is to grieve for someone who’s still alive.
The world is too small for all this loss. No, the world is too small for all this love. We are alive and we cannot be contained. The next summer, Maya introduces him to a curator and his paintings hang in a gallery for the first time. Shao’s smile is still not-quite-happy but there’s no bitterness in his voice when he asks, looking at a colorful painting of Thor’s profile, “Do you think you’ll find that again?” Loss is too small for all this love, Dizzee writes.
The first piece he sells, the one that finally gets them out of the cave and into a nice comfortable studio where Shao can start spinning again, is called “ angel ”. It’s shades of blue, a comatose dream, a question like a prayer. Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been in love? Have you ever been in love?
“I don’t know nothing ‘bout love, Dizz,” Shao tells him one day. He sounds less angry than he used to, he doesn’t hide behind fake bravado anymore. He shrinks into himself, shoulders up against his ears and his back like a bow, like he’s bracing himself for a blow. Dizzee knows not to touch him, he holds up the joint and waits for Shao to reach for it. Shao’s finger brush against his. “You know --Books... “ he takes a drag, looks out of the window for a few seconds before letting the smoke out. “Zeke…” He taps his fingers against the window frame, anxious. Their feet hang over a dark alley, Dizzee wonders what it is that Shao sees in the shadows. “I think I loved him, y’know?”
“I knew.” Neither mocking nor comforting, just a fact: he’s always known. “Just like you knew about me.” Shao glances at him quickly, barely turning his head for a second, and then back out at the alley. He slowly unclenches his body, loosening up his neck and straightening up just a bit.
His voice is softer and less hesitant when he says, “I always knew he didn’t, though. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew that whatever it was --I wasn’t gon’ get it.” He takes another drag and offers the joint. His fingertips are cold against Dizzee’s. “None of it. The music, The Get Down Brothers, getting out of the Bronx, getting out . I couldn’t have none of it.”
Dizzee wants to say ‘you got out’, but his eyes catch the scar on Shao’s cheekbone. Shao has never quite shaken the weight of it all, and Dizzee understands that there are things that cannot be escaped. He thinks of Rumi, Rumi that would be killed for wanting what he couldn’t have. “But we still alive, Shao. You didn’t expect that, right?”
Shao snorts and smoke bursts out of his nose. Suddenly they’re both laughing, laughing so hard that Dizzee accidentally drops the joint out the window and neither of them can find it in themselves to care about it. Shao rolls another one.
Love is not a home where you can live. Love is not a place or a warm body or something you tell someone because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Love doesn’t cage you, it sets you free. Dizzee wonders if Zeke’s love helped Shao to freedom, he knows that Shao, to an extent, helped set them all free.
Shao puts the headphones on and spins and spins and spins, and Dizzee paints. Lights like the sun shining through the church’s colored glass on a Sunday morning, like blue and red lamps reflecting off a disco ball. Shadows like the tunnel before the train comes, night purple and deep green like the bruises that Shao took with him as Annie’s last parting gift. The needle scratches the bridge of a Prince song again and again and again.
Shao picks up a new needle sometime the next summer and Dizzee offers his arm for him to scribble on. These are better scars to have, they practice on each other’s skin until the ink flows like paint on canvas. Shao paints the Bronx’s fire-red silhouette warped around Dizzee’s bicep, there’s a scar on Shao’s thigh where the ink just won’t stick.
Dizzee stops to look at a wall that once shone bright with Thor’s traces and Shao stands silently at his side, listens to the beating heart of his grief. There is always, between them, a silent understanding that connects them like a thread, like a chain. They share a similar kind of loneliness (a similar kind of loss) that keeps them from drifting apart, even when the weight of it threatens to swallow them whole.
What connects them is maybe the experience of being changed by somebody, of being bettered by a person and then losing them forever. They were both, once, lonely and weird kids with too big dreams. There is no saying what they’d be now if ‘77 had happened differently.
There was Thor and there was Zeke and two years when the world felt like it was almost at their reach. The music and the art and themselves, abruptly becoming. Those were fated meetings, Shao thinks sometimes. And at the other end of the crossroad they found each other: And when the world fell apart and they were alone again but not the same, more scarred but also freer, they crashed into each other. Slow, like tectonic plates drifting together, like buildings crumbling under the weight of time.
Shao records a song off the radio and listens to it on his walkman over and over and over, until the inner edges of the reel are soft from how many times he’s jammed a pen into it to rewind it. Dizzee comes to sit at his side on the roof, never asks what song is it.
Dizzee turns twenty five and it feels surreal, everyone that’s gone and the magnitude of what’s left and the fact that they’re still here, alive, hearts beating. He celebrates to embrace all that they have or to make up for all the loss; baptism and christening and wake all in one. Maya’s smile and Boo’s fire-fast anecdotes fill up the space left by everyone who’s long gone and those too far away to travel back home. There are new faces and new friends that have sprouted in the last years but it still feels like there’s a handful of empty chairs in this crowded room.
Shao insists on picking the music and they are happy drunk and the studio fills up with smoke and Boo says “yo, can I paint on the walls?” and they paint and they laugh and Shao keeps a beat that they can sing over just so Boo can chant “we’re here forever” until everyone joins. Shao’s smile is big and bright and golden as his fingers dance over the vinyl, and Dizzee thinks it shines like the sun, think he hasn’t seen it in an eternity.
They have spent too long without celebrating, unable to truly rejoice in the middle of a never ending mourning. Joy should be boundless. After the last of them is gone or asleep on a couch and silence has fallen over the place, Dizzee kisses the smile off Shao’s lips. There’s no trace of bitterness in it.