I tap my pen against my desk, the clicking sound gives me a bit of comfort. The clock reads five after midnight, my deadline is in a few hours. My mind should be focused on iconography in the Byzantine Empire but, it is elsewhere. Papers, sticky notes, and books decorate my desk, the debris of a writer. Maybe coffee will help? I head downstairs, flicking on light after light. My cat, Nefertari creeps around the corner, begging for food. Grabbing a can of food for her, I pop the lid and let her have at it.

All my coffee mugs are dirty. I semi wash a cup by running it through hot water, dry it, and put some coffee on. As the coffeemaker gurgles and percolates, I move over to the balcony. It’s a chilly night, I wrap my cardigan tightly over me and lean over the railing looking over Capital Hill. Artificial lights illuminate the city. I can look down on my old neighborhood from my balcony. “Look down, is the wrong wording, many people who live there I look up to. A gust of wind sweeps over the hills and whispers, “go inside.”

After pouring my coffee I pull out my phone and look over emails, writers block has fully set in, I’m checking emails, I never check emails! I take a sip of the coffee and realize I forgot the sugar. Times like this, I let my mind travel. With my coffee now lined with sugar, I move towards my bookcases. I tap the spine of Reelecting Lincoln by John Waugh, what would President Lincoln do?

He would wrap a shawl around his broad shoulders and light a candle. A stack of blank paper would sit next to him with a bottle of ink. He would write, then read what he wrote out loud. If he liked it he would tuck it in his desk drawer if not, he would still tuck it in his desk drawer. You know I really admire about President Lincoln; he was not afraid to learn. We praise Washington and Jefferson but, I am not sure why. What is so intriguing about a person who grew up in a slave state, owned slaves, and in no real respects never challenged the system (Washington freed his slave postmortem but, his wife kept her slaves)?

Nefertari, bolts across the room chasing either a ghost or a bug, which either one it is I hope she rids the house of it. I finish my cup of coffee that I spiked with vanilla creamer and hesitation. I can’t avoid my office forever, or can I? I pick up another book from my library, Negroland by Margo Jefferson. I love everything about this book; the book jacket, even the thickness of the pages. Allow me to explainNegroland as Margo Jefferson has tried to explain it.

Negroland is a place of a “certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Negroland is a place of many names; the colored aristocracy, the colored 400, the Blue Vein Society. A place that has a lot to teach the white population and the black population. Negroland is a place that raises the “good blacks.” Good blacks like Cyprian Clamorgan who publishedThe Colored Aristocracy of St Louis, in 1867. James Forten of Philadelphia, owner of a sail making company, and financier to William Lloyd Garrison when his funds were low. Negroland doesn’t sound too bad….

It is official, my mind is not on work. Its one a.m., I grab a book and jump on the next train. I open up, Bind Us Apart: How Intellectual Americans Invented Racial Segregation, the train jerks and jumps as I turn the pages and attempt to highlight, making more of a mess than anything. Richard Johnson, as it says in the book, was Vice President of Martin Van Buren. It says, he also openly loved and lived with his slave. Here is the interesting part: she ran the school that he opened in Kentucky for “negroes and wild Indians.” Johnson and his slave had daughters who went on to marry, white men of course. He brought his “mixed race children” to barbecues and “forced them upon society.”

As I attempt to highlight someone drunkenly sits next to me and I make a highlight mark through the entire page.

“What are you reading?” she says while placing her head on my shoulder and touching my chest.

“I am sooooooo sorry about my friend. She’s well, she’s drunk. She didn’t eat so she won’t throw up.”

I take a deep breath; I am more annoyed about my page being ruined  than the stranger drooling on my shirt. She fell asleep pretty fast…

“Well, as long as she doesn’t throw up”, I shrug my shoulders and continue reading. Something was strangely satisfying about a stranger sleeping on my shoulder, the warmth. Snuggling with no commitment. The girl gathered her drunken friend and the stumbled off the train into the night. My destination, Kramer Books, open until 3 am. I browse the selection and stumble across Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. I run my thumb through the pages and stop at page 347. The first sentence read, “In Saint-Domingue, Toussaint Louverture maintained precarious control under a military dictatorship.” I closed the book and tucked it under my arm. Nothing else sparked my entrance so I went to checkout.

“You’re here at a rather late hour”, Lindsey (an employee and friend) says while placing a bookmark in the book.  I check my watch and it’s just after two am. I take my book and head outside. Time to go home and work.

Published by Amir Webb