‘No More Than a Bubble’ by Jamel Brinkley

When two black students, Ben and Claudius, crash a Brooklyn house party thrown by Harvard grads, they meet their match in Sybil and Iris, two ‘wild women’ whom they spend the whole evening pursuing, until they’re taken back for a night of carnal promise. So far so formulaic, yet the story is dazzling in its reach, covering notions of intimacy, boundaries and thresholds, male vulnerability, race, class and sexuality. Brinkley pulls off this narrative feat with three effortlessly interwoven time-frames. There’s the present, from which the story is recounted, the party, which took place twenty-five years ago, and the deep past, in which Brinkley explores the mixed-race narrator’s relationship with his Italian father, a man whose face had ‘collapsed like a piece of rotting fruit’. Its closing moments – rich, complex, contradictory – in which the narrator’s true sexual identity is disclosed, are among the best in recent short fiction.  

First published in LitMag#2, 2018. Collected in A Lucky Man, Serpent’s Tail, 2019

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