Things That Scatter


A party when a gun shows up, or police, same thing.

Pellets from a shotgun shell. They increase the likelihood of hitting a target, spread more the further from the gun they get, a desperate act effective up to a point. I’ve never shot one, never even held one, but I did have one pulled on me once, at my own house a few years into college. My white roommate. It was late at night, and I was locked out. He wasn’t answering his phone. I took the spare key from under the mat in the back, and when I opened the door there was a shotgun in my face. We laughed about it over a beer not ten minutes later. I didn’t know he had the shotgun. He told me he used it for pigeons. Slew over a hundred of them in one day. We should go sometime, he said. I nodded and sank a little further into the couch, my heart still fluttering.

Glass when it’s dropped hard enough, thrown. I was nine. Every shard on the floor was a reminder of what I’d just done, a promise of what was to come. It was my white grandma’s glass. She wasn’t poor, but I hadn’t realized that yet. I stepped on one of the shards on purpose, so she wouldn’t be as angry with me. It must have cut a nerve, because I didn’t feel it at first just saw the blood slowly start to pool. The pain came later. I can still feel a tingle if I think about it now, when I picked my foot up and looked at it, the way my heel separated into two chunks. I went to the ER. Fourteen stitches, and it worked. Grandma wasn’t angry with me. I wonder what it feels like to not step on the glass after you’ve broken it, to toss aside your nerves without ever having to cut them. And what comes later if not pain.

A brain with too much to do.

A brain after a bullet’s passed through it.

Carcasses in the middle of a clearing, after the crows have gotten to them. And the crows. The clearing isn’t required, but it helps. There’s something revelatory about it. That’s what I remember feeling first—that could be me. I got close enough to see that it was a turkey. There was much less blood than I expected, but the feathers were everywhere. And the bones. There was still meat on them. And then it hit me that I might have scared something bigger than crows away. And then I was running. Fast as I could through a field in New Mexico, not thirteen years old. That’s life, mom said when I told her. And she was right, then. When I went back the next day, the carcass was gone. The skull was all that remained, picked clean. I played with it, and when I was done I threw it against a tree to see if it’d break. Only now, after seeing the countless chalk outlines of Black people murdered on the news, can I look back on the meadow, on the turkey skull flying white through the air, and see the stain.

The soul as droplets after a sneeze. Bless you.

A body gone to ash. I threw my mom to the wind too early. That’s what everyone says. It’s how she wanted to be spread. She had that much time, at least. The time to decide. She wasn’t even fifty. We climbed a small mountain behind the property Grandma owned in Arizona, got to the very top, and threw her off. She was packed so tightly in the urn she stuck to it. By the time we finished spreading her ashes, the whole family had her under our nails. I didn’t notice until my sister pointed it out. I was too busy watching her draw patterns in the wind. I was too busy pre- tending she didn’t want to leave us, that she was somehow right there.

A small pile of leaves after a gust of wind has moved through them.

Dandelions. A friend, AJ from my flag football team, gave me one after a game, broke its stem and handed it to me. We were ten. Half a breath is all it takes, in or out. I sent the seeds flying. Some of them landed in his hair, and we laughed. He pulled a dandelion and blew it back at me. A dandelion war. That was the last time I saw AJ, end of the season. His dad picked him up, and as they left, his dad asked if I was Black. Yes, I said. He gave me a nod, and I sat blowing dandelions until my own dad came, watching what felt to me like thousands of their seeds hover and twirl and fade into nothingness. I gave my dad the same nod AJ’s dad had given me. My dad’s gummy smile back was all I needed. He knew. A few weeks later, he was arrested and jailed for the third time. I didn’t see him very often after that. The pappus of a dandelion allows air to flow up through it, creates a bubble of low air pressure called a vortex ring. It’s an efficient flight, full of purpose, but to me then, they were just helpless little white seeds, the part of me that I could never be, blowing away in the wind.

Lawn gnats as you run through a field of grass. Mesquite beans when they fall.

Lovers. For so many different reasons. The reasons, when you look at them. We were in our twenties. The timing wasn’t right. I was in a relationship, and if I was going to leave one lover for another, it had better be for a woman of colour, I told myself. I’d learned better. We met at a soccer field late one night. Smoked in the bleachers and hardly said a word to one another. I told her I was going to break into a car. She came with, didn’t tell me the car I chose was hers. I smashed the window. She couldn’t stop laughing. When I left we brushed fingertips. I apologized for the next two years while she was in my orbit, every time I saw her. She never asked me to stop, and she always said it was okay. I was lying to myself. If I was going to leave for anyone it would have been her. For many more reasons besides, but always, at least in part, because she was white.

Water droplets on a mirror after I run my thumb across the bristles of a toothbrush, and my face inside them.

Light when it collides with anything, though with varying intensity, so that everything I see is partial. Always running. Delicate enough to brush your fingers through a beam of it. Delicate enough to burn. It doesn’t happen often, me getting burned. The summer it did for the first time, I spent weeks in the sun. I’d finally learned how white my skin could get by staying out of it—not white enough—and now I wanted to see how dark I could get. Every time I went out to play that summer, I took my shirt off. When my mom asked if I wanted sunscreen, I told her I didn’t burn, only tanned. And I didn’t. Until I did. Spent the last week of my sixteenth summer barely moving, my mom applying aloe vera harvested from the plant in our yard to my upper body daily. It took a lot to burn though, and that felt good. I ended that summer darker than I’d ever been. The aloe survived all that use, too. Hardy things.

Clothes. Mom told me to put them away so I threw them all over the room. It was her third time telling me in as many minutes, and I was fed up. White kid from down the street was headed over, yes, but we were going to play outside. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just clean them up later. Clean house won’t change the fact that we’re poor, I said before slamming the door on my way out while mom vacuumed the living room carpet. Except we weren’t poor. We had Grandma. When I got back late that night, my clothes were hung up. Mom never said anything about it, but my first job a few months later was in retail, and every job after that for a while, and sometimes I wonder if I was trying to make up for that day. Some part of me grew to understand what my mom was doing. And that if she had to do it as a white woman, it’d be even more important for me. I kept my closet roy-g-biv’d after that and it stayed full of the popular brands, Sean John and Ecko Unltd, my Jordans down below. But I was still a kid. Mom never stopped asking me to clean my room when company was coming by. I never stopped saying no.

Electrons if a magnetic field is present. Memory.

My idea of a person across time. The kid who left a handprint in the concrete block of my old house. A name scratched into the underside of a table. A note in the margin of a book. How many ways I pictured him, that kid. Eric was his name. First with dry hands from the concrete. He applied lotion for days afterward. He was a mixed kid, because that’s what I knew. Lived a normal life. Mattered to people. I don’t know why, but he was a singer. He liked Usher and Sisqó. We might have been friends. I wonder how many other lives Eric has lived that aren’t his own. In the minds of people who saw his handprint, or passed by him in the grocery store. And I wonder if any of those other existences matter. If he had a list of them, moments where others knew him, however briefly, would he recognize himself?

I don’t think I would. I think I can only know myself through the way in which I know others, not the other way around. I spread out among them, endless you’s, in search of myself. Maybe that’s the power of scattering, not the running or the covering more surface area or the sadness. It’s the scattering itself. Or the moment just before. The power is in my ability to bend down, rip a flower from its stem and throw the petals out across a stream.



Charles Brown is a writer from Arizona. He received his MFA from the University of British Columbia and now lives in Northwestern Washington where he spends his days scheming his return to Vancouver. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications. Find him on Twitter @youfoundcharles.


Toby Sharpe


I don’t know where a person can go when they disappear, apart from underwater.


Young Earle Birney in Banff: September 1913¹

what a day!at the Basin2 dove from the tufa overhanginto the water, playing my trick ofseeming to drown, not coming up until I finish wrigglingthrough that underwater chimneyand burst into air. always startles the tourists.


Zamboni Driver’s Lament

i know hate, its line-mates. believe me. you kids have, i’m sure, wasted—all early morning anxious and weak-ankled—their first impatient shuffle-kicks and curses on me.