His Uptown Girl - By Liz Talley


Uptown New Orleans, September 1, 2005

LOOKING OVER HIS SHOULDER, Tre Jackson ducked between the buildings and then slid behind an abandoned car. For several seconds, he focused on gulping down the soggy air pressing in around him. Okay. Just breathe, Tre. In. Out.


His heart galloped, slamming hard against his ribs. Shadows enveloped him, but he worried his grubby white T-shirt stood out too much. He crouched to make himself smaller, peeking out from behind the grille of the Honda. The street before him looked empty, but Tre knew eyes were everywhere—eyes belonging to desperate people who could grab him, shake him down and leave him for dead.

Crazy white folks with guns.

Effed-up brothers with guns.

Police with guns.

Made an eleven-year-old kid holding shit he stole feel like he couldn’t breathe too good. After all, what was one more dead black kid?

Fear washed over Tre, hard and fast, but he beat it back with the baseball bat he kept in his head. No time for thinking too much. Had to act. His mama and brother, Devontay, counted on him to be cool.

He clutched the junk he’d taken tighter to his chest, wishing he’d been brave enough to break the window of the grocery store—the place had looked empty, but Tre knew some store owners sat inside with shotguns. So he’d passed it and rooted around in a store with windows already busted. Not much anyone would want left—bunch of junk—but he’d found a weird box filled with junk wrapped inside an old shirt. It had been hidden on a high shelf. He’d grabbed it, and climbed back out into darkness. Tre had no clue if any of the stuff would score food and water in a trade, but he’d find out.

Stepping softly, he crept around the side of the old Honda, its gaping windows reminding him of the man he’d seen several blocks back. Vacant. Abandoned. Dead.

A rat ran across his grave, but Tre ignored the shiver creeping up his back. He didn’t have time for no rats or dead men lying like trash in the gutter where black ribbons of sludge trailed into the clogged sewers. The water had gone down in some places, but that made it even more dangerous. Like a war zone he’d seen on TV once.

Yeah. Tre was livin’ in a war zone. But he always had. Magnolia Projects ain’t no cakewalk. He’d seen dudes shot. Seen bitches beat down. Kids ignored. Ain’t easy living in ’Nolia. But outside the projects, there had been order.

Until four days ago.

Tre searched around for something he could use to hit somebody...if they got the idea they could mess with him. He was afraid to look in the car. He’d seen other dead people. Old folks who thought they’d be all right, but found out quick the storm wasn’t like all the others.

He didn’t see anything he could use, but he had the kitchen knife in the back of his pants. He’d made his mama keep the gun. G-Slim hated his mama, and G-Slim was one mean brother, quick to anger. With no soul. Better Mama and Shorty D keep the gun.

Tre stuffed the stolen bundle down the front of his shirt, hiking up his pants and cinching tight his one school belt. Made him look kinda like a pregnant lady or one of those starving African kids, but it kept his hands free. He slid the knife from where it fit against the curve of his back and removed the cheap sheath, shoving it in the pocket of his jeans.

Time to go.

He listened hard before he moved, but the city was silent. Not like it normally sounded. No music. No laughter. No horns honking on the overpass. Like a whole ’nother place, a whole ’nother place that smelled of death...and fear.

Certain no one was about to grab him, Tre slipped out from behind the car, wishing for the third or fourth time he’d pulled on a dark T-shirt. He stepped over an old oil can and waded through muck and trash piled up on the sides of the street. Water still sat in some low areas, but he’d avoid them. He knew the way back to ’Nolia. He’d walked there from every direction.

Twenty minutes later, after ducking out of the beams of a few National Guard trucks and seeing a couple of boats with spotlights in some of the flooded streets, Tre waded through nasty water to reach the steps of his building in the Magnolia Housing Projects. He’d seen only one