The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “Float,” by Reginald McKnight
An encounter with the unexplainable can evoke awe, terror, confusion, denial—a whole spectrum of emotions. In “Float” (The Georgia Review), Reginald McKnight explores how a young narrator deals with encountering the unexplainable in his own home, and what ramifications that has for our society at large.
McKnight begins with the narrator, Dontrell, opening the door to find one of his Air Jordan shoes levitating in the middle of his bedroom. When he’s unable to move it, he becomes afraid—his neck warms and his “hands tremble a little”—and he then considers the ramifications of telling his family, but decides his mother, father, and brother wouldn’t believe him.
So I sit down right under that shoe, and I just stop thinking for a minute or two. What else I’m gonna do?
Take my homework outta my pack, and read four pages of social studies. It’s usually my favorite subject, but I cain’t focus on nothing ‘cause the shoe ‘bout as hot as the sun up there, staring down at me.
He tries to pretend it’s not there. But he can’t, and before he leaves the house he’s met in his room by his father—a mechanic—who asks him the whereabouts of a crescent wrench, threatening to take Dontrell’s iPod for misplacing it.
I wanna say, “Hey, Papa, how you think that shoe got up there?”…But Papa got his elbow up on the thing like it ain’t nothing. All he do is switch the cigar from the right side of his mouth to the left side, and say, “My hands is all greasy, just leave the thing (iPod) on the dresser in my bedroom,” and he turn and leave. I sit there, head all hot, and like to cry. Godmothafuckindammit, I’m going, Godmothafuckindammit. Must be, I’m thinking, that I’m seeing it all wrong.
McKnight’s characterization of Dontrell’s father is intriguing. It feels like an aggressive form of disinterest. Him leaning on the shoe in particular feels like a challenge. He knows it’s there, and doesn’t care, and wants Dontrell to know it. In light of that, Dontrell is left frustrated in his room, contemplating whether there’s something wrong with him, instead of considering whether something might be wrong—or even miraculously right—with his shoe (or his father, for that matter).
Dontrell responds to the setback with courage. He goes to the library and begins researching “unexplained phenomena,” on both the Internet and in the stacks, which yields nothing more than proof that his situation is unique, as well as evidence that he might be the one with the problem—something he admittedly doesn’t want to face yet. So he returns home to find that not only has nothing changed, but the other shoe is now floating next to the other one. Still no one acknowledges what is right there in the open. Notice how McKnight reveals Dontrell’s interior in the moments leading up to the end.
Maybe the fact I’m nosing around without being straight up about the shoe is why people ain’t acting right. Or let’s say they is up there. Maybe they thinking, `Trey’s room, `Tre’s shoes. Why ain’t he said nothing? Or maybe they just plain scared. My shoes, see must mean God is talking to me. Or some ghost. Or Darth Vader, or whatever. Either I’m seeing thing, or I’m the one got some explaining to do.
Finally, relief comes, from his sister Daiziah, whom he asks directly while she’s doing her homework.
“But they there, all right.”
“Truly.” (she says)
I don’t and she don’t say nothing for, like, a whole minute. Then she say, “You know I can’t say nothing about it, right?”
“Oh, I know that.”
“No, no, I know.”
“You see what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I see. I see.”
In this passage, there’s a recognition not just of the truth, but of why it has to be spoken of carefully; there’s a cost of recognizing reality and letting it be known. Here, like in the larger world, what constitutes reality is up for debate, and narratives that are crystal clear to some are for many reasons ignored, covered up, or simply not recognized by others. That said—and I won’t reveal the ending—Daiziah’s recognition that the floating shoes are real doesn’t just bring Dontrell relief: it emboldens him. Reality, even if it’s unexplainable, seeks a community, and through mutual recognition of it, a deeper confidence is gained.