The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey - By Walter Mosley


Dear Robyn,

You are away for two days with Beckford and I’m sitting here in this apartment waiting to finally be a man. I have the Devil’s medicine burning in my veins and Coydog McCann whispering in my left ear. I have you in my life. That was something I never suspected, expected, or even dreamed about. I love you and I couldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you taking care of me. And if you were twenty years older and I fifty years less I’d ask you to be my wife and not a soul on this earth would have ever had better.

I want you to know that everybody in my family is counting on you. They might not like you. They might be mad that I made you my heir. But in the end they will all be better for your strength, my guidance, and Coy’s righteous crime so many years ago.

I’m sitting here waiting on the man with two names to come and tell me the truth. That’s all I ask for. I need to know what happened and why. Because even though I can remember as far back as I have years, ninety-one years, I still don’t know what happened. And a man has to know the truth and act accordingly—that’s only right.

So if something should happen and I don’t make it past this afternoon I want you to know how much I love you and I am in love with you. You deserve the best I can offer up and that’s why I’m sitting here with a pistol under the cushion and a gold doubloon on the coffee table. You might not understand. You might think that it don’t have a thing to do with you and you don’t want me acting a fool like this. You might say why live a whole life being careful and then throw it all away at the last minute?

But baby girl I should have run into that tarpaper fire when I was a boy. I should have run down with a rock or stick when Coy was dancing on flames. I should have walked out on Sensia and stayed away even though it would have killed me.

I have to do this baby girl because you gave me the heart and the chance and because when I saw you I knew.

I love you always,

Ptolemy Usher Grey

Hello?” the very, very old black man said into the receiver.

The phone had not rung for more than a week and a half by his reckoning but really it had only been a little more than three days. Somebody had called, a woman. She seemed sad. He remembered that she’d called more than once.

Classical piano played softly from a radio in the background. A console television prattled away, set on a twenty-four-hour news station.

“Is somebody there?” the old man asked before his caller could speak.

“Papa Grey?” a male voice said. It was a young man’s voice, free from the strain and gravel of age.

“Is that you, Reggie? Where you been, boy? I been waitin’ for you to come by for a week. No, no, two weeks. I don’t know exactly but it’s been a long time.”

“No, Papa Grey, no, it’s me, Hilly.”

“Who? Where’s Reggie?”

Hilly went silent for two seconds and the old man said, “Is anybody there?”

“I’m here, Papa Grey,” the voice assured. “I’m here.”

He was certainly there, on the other end of the line, but who was it? the old man wondered. He looked around the room for a clue to his caller’s identity but all he saw were piles of newspapers, boxes of every size and shape, and furniture. There were at least a dozen chairs and a big bureau that was tilted over on a broken leg; two dining tables were flush up against the south and east walls. His tattered mattress under its thin army blanket lay beneath the southern table.

“That was Etude no. 2 in A-flat Major by Chopin,” the radio announcer was saying. “Now we’re going to hear from . . .”

“Papa Grey?” a voice said.

“. . . half a dozen bombs went off in and around Baghdad today. Sixty-four people were killed ...”

Was the voice coming from the radio or the TV? No. It was in his ear. The telephone—

“Who is this?” Ptolemy Grey asked, remembering that he was having a phone conversation.

“It’s Hilly, Papa. Your great-nephew. June’s daughter’s son.”


“Hilly,” the young man said, raising his voice slightly. “Your nephew.”

“Where’s Reggie?” Ptolemy asked. “Where’s my son?”