Waugh by Bryan Washington, 2018
The magic trick:
Taking a setting that under ideal circumstances is awful and adding conflict
This is a story that introduces us into the very troubling world of young men living on the margins in Houston, working in the sex trade at night just to make enough money to have food. So, even when everything is going well, that life is never going to be good or easy or pleasant.
It follows then that, as happens in this story, something goes wrong and conflict arises, what was previously bad becomes nearly intolerable.
For our protagonist, who we see searching for role models, father figures, and love, it’s an excruciatingly difficult journey from bad to intolerable.
And that’s quite a trick on Washington’s part.
Rod stretched in the parking lot, bending toward the high-rises, and the gleam from the street lamps made his shadow bloom in the night, and the reek of deli meat mingled with the tinge of gasoline, and Poke tightroped the curb alongside the cars congesting Westheimer. It was late. The roads were stuffed.
Rod said he was tired. They should start heading back.
Poke looked at his shoes, kicking at the concrete.
Sure, he said. But it was still only eleven. They had the whole night ahead of them, and when was the last time they’d taken one off?
Rod told Poke that was good and fine. But, really, his night was over.
You’re a big boy, though, Rod said. You go on and do your thing.
Just, y’know, Rod said, be safe, and he flashed a grin.
Poke watched Rod saunter away, and then he peeked through the diner’s windows. He felt in his pockets for the space where the thread thinned.
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What a well-written and heartbreaking story.