Author Walter Mosley recently joined Jeffrey Brown for a conversation on the PBS NewsHour about his latest novel, “Little Green.” Now you can read a passage from that new book.
An excerpt from “Little Green”
By Walter Mosley
The first nine steps were a real pleasure. I was up on my feet and walking just as if I was a living man in the real world who knew about gravity but didn’t worry about it bringing him down.
That got me to the concrete path at the side of the front apartment building. The concrete used to lay the path had been tinted a blue color that was meant to match with the turquoise plaster of the buildings – instead it clashed. When I noticed the discord of coloration my step began, ever so slightly, to falter.
All that means is that I’m still a little weak, I said to myself.
I was walking just as well as any other man; one step after another, evenly, in a forward motion.
But when I got to the little raised patio that served as a buffer between the two buildings I stopped before taking the step up. I was like a sentient gas engine that suspected that the fuel gauge was past empty. I was going just fine but at any moment the flow might begin to sputter.
I took the step up to the brick courtyard and strode in six paces to the bottom of the stairs. I estimated twenty-one white stone-like steps to the upper landing. Twenty-one.
Those stairs might have been one of the seven trials of Hercules. Between the pain in my ankle, the dizziness, and the unfamiliar strain on the muscles pulling my bodyweight upward I felt like a juggler forced to ply his trade just a few seconds after being shaken out of a deep sleep.
I also had the almost hallucinatory impression of leaving an image of myself on each passing stair. Every progressive Easy was a few years older and weaker than the last. When I made it to the small white-stone landing it felt like I had reached the century mark.
My lungs were working harder than a blacksmith’s bellows against white fire. I was sweating like a long distance runner on the last leg of a losing race.
The turquoise door was open but the gray screen was closed. I put my hand against the doorjamb and counted out four deep breaths before pressing the ivory colored plastic button next to my hand.
The ensuing bell was the two-tone economy brand, the kind of bell that a builder bought in bulk expecting to be asked to erect another building like the last and the one before that.
bq. When there was no immediate answer my mind began making up things again. I imagined that I was almost a dead man and the bell was my request for eternal sleep. The reason for no answer was that my application had to be reviewed. I was being forced to hold on to the pain and exhaustion of life until the powers that be could make a judgment on the long list of things I’d done wrong.
The notion was ridiculous enough to get me to smile.
“Can I help you?” a woman asked.
She was dark-skinned and short with hair cut closer than a Marine recruit’s. Her build, in the simple, short-sleeved olive-colored dress, was slender and yet brawny like many a sharecropper I’d known in my days in the South. I noted that the dress had one big pocket on the left thigh. I knew she was in her mid-thirties but she could have passed for fifty easily. Her brutal face was softened by the roundness of her features and also by the slightly fearful tone under the anger in her voice.
She wasn’t in any way pretty but this woman was what the black sons of cotton-pickers dreamed about when they had women in mind.
“My name is Easy Rawlins.” Just saying these words dispelled the greater part of my exhaustion and banished pain to the outer regions of awareness. “I’m here because Ray Alexander asked me to come. He told me that your son Evander has gone missing and you might need someone to root him out.”
The permanent scowl on Timbale’s face hid any reaction she might have had to these words. But I didn’t care. I was still tickled at the magic quality of speaking my name.
“You a preacher, Mr. Rawlins?”
“No, ma’am, a private detective.”
“I never met a Negro detective before.”
“We’re a rare breed,” I acknowledged. “But you know a black man has to be twice as good if he claims to be equal with a white.”
The hardscrabble woman nodded against her will. When the truth is spoken among women and men like us there had to be an amen, had to be.
“You don’t look like you could root out a radish from sandy soil,” she said, thick Mississippi in her words.
“If you’re saying that I look tired you’re right,” I said. “I wouldn’t refuse a chair and some lemonade.”
Asking a southern woman for plain hospitality was like winking at a Leprechaun: she had to give up her pot of gold no matter what.
“Come on in then,” she said.
She unlatched the screen door, pulled it open, and, after a stutter of hesitation, moved to the side.
I entered the small and bare foyer. The floor was waxed pine and the wallpaper was light lime paper decorated with tiny cherry branches that were set in slanting lines. Timbale walked through to a slip of a room that ended, after only fifteen feet or so, at a glass door that opened up a plant-filled terrace. It was a small verandah with just room for two iron chairs, painted white, and a low glass-topped cast-iron table on the small balcony.
We didn’t go outside however. Timbale had me sit on a backless couch in the den then she went off to see to my refreshment.
“Excuse me a minute, Mr. Rawlins,” she said as she went.
Copyright Walter Mosley 2013. Reprinted with permission from Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc.
Hear more of “Little Green” plus additional commentary from Walter Mosley about his writing process in this extended conversation with Jeffrey Brown.