Short Stories 366:240 — “Navigation,” by Bryan Washington

coverWe’re back with the unnamed character we revisit in Lot: Stories with “Navigation,” and this story is like a short, sharp, shock to the system. In the last tale with him, what’s left of his family has fractured down to his mother and himself, with occasional visits from his sister, and now the restaurant is sold they’ve lost the last tenuous grip on the physical remnants of the father who is who-knows-where. The man is now working whatever jobs he can find, but has also met someone (the whiteboy) who wants to learn Spanish so he can work with undocumented and help them. It’s clear the whiteboy doesn’t have a knack for languages, and after lessons they always end up in bed, but the arrangement works, on a temporary, fragile level at least.

The story of the language instruction (and the relationship) parallels with the man’s cleaning job at a restaurant where it’s clear he knows more about the kitchen than the cooks. It’s clear he’d be the better chef. It’s clear he’d be the better translator. But it doesn’t matter, it isn’t going to change, and so he cleans, and teaches, and goes to bed, and the tension wraps a little higher, line by line.

Ultimately, the like many of Washington’s stories, the last lines are an abrupt (but perfect) edge. Razor-sharp, the last moments are a one-two cut, first as the story around the whiteboy comes to its end, and then as the final scene plays out in the restaurant and someone finally offers the man a better position, but only because it’s been revealed the others were stealing. And the man’s reaction felt like triumph, regardless of the realities of what it likely meant thereafter.

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