Rion Amilcar Scott


Dearest Slumlord,

I watched a most disturbing video the other day. It was a rare moment when the internet worked (yes, I know, not your fault unlike our water which is here one moment and gone the next). Someone posted it on one of those wretched social media sites.

In it, a woman is standing with her boyfriend in line at a grocery store. It wasn’t one of those chains with the sparkling aisles and the antiseptic air. It was a ‘hood spot like we have all up and down the block. One of those places with eagle-pussy high prices and no fruit, except the diseased apples and bananas up front that all cost $2-$3 a pop. Might have been the same shop on the grounds of this very complex. Not the one with all that bulletproof glass up front, making the cashier resemble a caged animal. The other one. The one that just smells off, like wet cardboard and processed food slowly turning stale and inedible. The one that insists with patriotic red and blue letters that we call it Savs-A-Lot, but we never refer to it that way—of course we don’t!—to us, it’s Pays-A-Lot.

The woman is standing there looking like a woman. Perhaps she is contemplating her plans for the week: a doctor’s appointment, maybe; her thoughts then slide to whether this man next to her will stay by her side as she ages and is diagnosed with diabetes, HPV, Alzheimer’s. As she shrivels and rots like the bananas up front. As she loses that youthful part of her beauty. And she is indeed beautiful, though not overly so. A bit out of the man’s league, but she’ll stay as long as he’s loyal and caring. She and her man don’t speak in the video. They dwell in comfort, the sort of comfort that comes only with familiarity and passing time. His hat is pulled low. Neither of them are out to be bothered or looking for trouble, but there is always a troublemaker. To call the young man, the teenager behind her, a trickster would be to assign too much playfulness to his malevolence, his violence. Did I tell you of her ass? The world-crushing twin planets in those jeans and the power of their orbit?

That malevolent troublemaker behind her (I’m speaking of the teenager, but my words could also describe the disposition, the personality, of her ass) turns his hand into an errant comet come to do no good to those beautiful twin celestial bodies, slamming into one to cause a mass extinction event. The main species that is destroyed with his thoughtless slap is her sense of safety, momentarily her dignity, her personhood.

She turns to him, now a ragemonster. Rightfully so, I think. Do you have no respect? she yells over and over as she begins to slap him. Do you have no respect? Do you have no respect?

Her boyfriend, with his hat still pulled low, stands stunned. The poor fool. He gets into a sort of fighting stance, but does not raise his fists. That’s his mistake. Perhaps he’s the peaceful sort, unfamiliar with fights and fighting. Another man comes from the right. Out of nowhere, as they say, but he isn’t really from nowhere, he’s from the same planet of macho malevolence (male-violence) as his friend. Quickly, the second man punches the boyfriend and he drops to the hard, cold grocery floor.

Meanwhile, the woman keeps slapping her attacker, and he chuckles and giggles like a schoolgirl on fire. And that’s the end. Do you want to replay? Yes, my clicking-finger replies over and over. I could not believe all the brazenness on display. How many times had I seen that ass and how many times did I not smack it? Perhaps I deserve a medal, no? And have I, in certain situations, smacked that ass? What a rabbit hole to go down, baby.

Sometimes I watch as you walk and I admire your behind, how it’s so unable to hold steady as you step. Each time seeing you about the complex is as fresh as the first time I glimpsed you. That day I stepped from my apartment in a winter rage spurred on by a lack of heat blowing from my vents. We fingered the dial of our thermostat, turning it all the way to the right, and only cold air blew down upon us. I hated you and sought to give you not just a piece, but several pieces of my mind. That is until I saw you and I paused, bereft of breath. That’s the love that makes me forgive your every crime against me. Such personality in the shaking thickness that follows you. In any case, I would never treat you and the entirety of your beauty with the carelessness of those grocery boys, my beautiful slumlord. You can put that thing before me and I will admire, discreetly, but I will not touch unless, of course, that is what you would like me to do.

Anyway, I have to go to the store now; I hate it, but I can’t stay away.


Sir Pays-A-Lot


Rion Amilcar Scott’s short story collection, Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky, 2016), was awarded the 2017 PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. Presently, he teaches English at Bowie State University.

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