Short Stories 366:170 — “610 North, 610 West,” by Bryan Washington

coverThroughout the tales in Lot: Stories, Bryan Washington circles back to a particular family, though the eyes of a mixed race son, and those particular tales take on the relationship between this son—the gay kid slowly realizing he’s gay—and his family, usually throwing one person onto the main stage. It’s an incredibly effective narrative progression, and whenever the son’s tales popped up, I was all the more immediately invested in the already engrossing collection.

This time we get a glimpse of the son’s home life living above the restaurant the family runs, his Black mother, his brother and sister, but most of the focus here is squarely on his Latino father, who begins an affair at the start of the tale, and eventually makes the completely unexplained choice to take his son with him on one visit to his mistress. Before this, the two brothers have been trying to guess what this woman would be like—his brother assumes she’ll be white, he’s not so sure—but the ultimate revelation of her being much like his own mother, only “plainer than plain” and smelling like cinnamon adds this emotional punch to the moment: you can feel the boy face-to-face with no easy answer to the question of why.

Like all the stories in the collection, the characters and locations aren’t those we often get to read about, and the sharp divides in place and people blur throughout the story (the Black mother’s trip to a market usually full of Latinx shoppers; the son himself noting that apart from his hair, he can pass). These glimpses of the different neighbourhoods of Houston are as much characters as the people, and the whole is all the stronger for it. And while there is an ongoing sense of collapse around this boy’s family—not just in his father leaving, but the wanderings of his sister, and the sliding of his brother into a toxic take of masculinity—the boy himself has this kind of held-breath of hope in him.

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