Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon (MAY-lon) Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he was lured by his beautiful Canadian wife. Many of his short stories are set in an alt-Chicago future and feature people of color. In January 2020, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His brain lesions do their best to stop him from writing, but he continues to fight them—and keep going.
"Blackout, White Space" is an intimate look into the alt-Chicago world of Malon Edwards' collection If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories, to be released into the wild on Sept. 12 by Fireside Fiction Company. It's a world where people don't have to die, thanks to Electric Resurrection and its promise of a new artificial body and a second chance on life. That is, if you can afford the bougie price tag set by Stanford Sutton Industries.
This story follows Raf in his digital refuge, called a Blackout, as he battles the effects of multiple sclerosis while he and his former girlfriend Qiana get real and honest with each other like never before. It's a deeply personal story for Malon, who, like Raf, is battling multiple sclerosis, brain lesions, and memory loss in the form of White Space. But Malon is determined to hold on to the memories of those who matter most to him.
Blackout and White Space
by Malon Edwards
“I didn’t ignore you. And I didn’t set auto-delete for your TruTells like my boys said I did. My AirScroll LightSpeed Rating isn’t compatible with Mahalia.”
Qiana makes a face. She still looks beautiful, though.
“That’s a stupid rating, Raf. Just because you’re really fast at scrollin’ don’t mean you’re going the speed of light.”
I make a face. I’m sure my ugly matches her beauty on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“Thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
She folds her arms. She gives me a wicked side eye. But she doesn’t say anything. She’s daring me to explain myself.
I take a deep breath. I drop my voice into what I think is the ASMR range. She always says I have a nice voice.
“Right after I moved to the North Shore, I downloaded the Mahalia extension for TruTell. I gave her your dij-skin and your dij-voice. I missed you.”
She kisses her teeth, which triggers the black and white canvas over the bed, of Miles Davis playing the trumpet, to shift to Louis Armstrong’s puffed cheeks.
“You could’ve had your Mahalia message me. Call me. GIF me. Even all that at once. Somethin’ would’ve been better than nothin’.”
I look directly at her. This attitude. This is the her now that I wanted to see back then. Even if I can’t remember her name now.
“But my Mahalia couldn’t do a gotdamn thing. I customized her to be you with TruTell’s SayI simulator. Your image and voice. My LightSpeed AirScroll totally fucked that up. You glitched. You stuttered. Your movements were jerky. You couldn’t even read the subject lines of my messages.”
She breathe-speaks as if she’s tryin’ to out-ASMR me.
“You could’ve scrolled slower.”
I shake my head.
“Nah, it was more than just AirScroll. Mahalia’s Call and Response notified me after the first glitch that it wasn’t Mahalia malfunctioning. It was me. Multiple sclerosis. Brain lesions. More than eighty. Mahalia recommended I see a neurologist.”
Her eyes widen. Her jaw drops. But she doesn’t say anything.
I continue in my calm, ASMR-poser voice.
“Mahalia’s Call and Response program told me that my ability to detect targets with visual acuity using sustained focus and attention while in LightSpeed was severely impaired. And it predicted the same thing when I wasn’t in LightSpeed. I thought its diagnosis was bullshit, so I dropped out of LightSpeed and opened one of your TruTells.”
Her voice isn’t ASMR anymore, but it’s soft.
Tears drop onto my lap.
“I don’t remember. My memory is messed up these days. I do remember that I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t read properly. I skipped words I had no idea I’d missed. Mahalia’s Call and Response detection and diagnosis program is on point. My brain was broke. Still is broke. I shut down TruTell and haven’t looked at it since.”
She wipes her eyes. She squeezes my hand.
“You’re seeing a neurologist, right?”
I wipe my eyes. My voice is calm. Even.
“Yeah. I need some help wit this. My MS is a nasty bitch-ass motherfucker. It knows what I want to do, acts like it doesn’t care, and then when I try to do it, it looks me in the face blasé blasé and says, ‘Fuck you.’ So, me an’ my neuro are sayin’, ‘Fuck you right back, you heartless motherfucker.’“
“I don’t think the same way anymore.”
She looks down at herself, at her circa 2018 Cleopatra Coleman skinload, and runs a hand over her very close cut.
“Looks like you still do.”
I look at her beautiful full lips. Her thick, well-manicured brows. Her light skin. Her eyes. I still don’t know if they’re hazel or green or both.
“When was the last time you wore this skinload?”
She shrugs and looks down at my blackout’s ebony hardwood floor.
“I don’t know.”
I run the heel of my right palm up the middle of my forehead to my hairline. I do this slowly. But I press hard.
“I don’t know, either. I don’t know nothin’ no more. I don’t even remember what you really look like. But I do remember a long time ago you used this skinload. It’s why I saved it to my blackout. It’s my favorite visual of you.”
She exhales. Her cheeks puff out. She’d been holding her breath since my first mention of the skinload.
“You know it ain’t right this is the way you see me. And it ain’t fair. Not at all.”
I shrug. One shoulder. Awkwardly. My left.
“My bad. When I created this blackout, I knew that. I remembered that. I was never gone invite you here because of that. But I for real forgot you don’t wanna hear nothin’ or see nothin’ ’bout that skinload. But speakin’ of fair, memory loss ain’t fair. Brain lesions ain’t fair. MS ain’t fair.”
She mean mugs me something fierce.
“I know. Fuck MS. But fuck you too for forgettin’ about how that skinload fucked me up. Cleopatra Coleman is beautiful and all, but fuck you for forgettin’ that I refused to take that skinload off for a year and a half. Fuck you for forgettin’ that I’ve been doin’ therapy wit my Mahalia ever since I did so I can love who I am an’ how I look again.”
I take a deep breath. I don’t hold it in like she did. I let it out slowly. My Mahalia tells me there are thirty-nine unseen messages from her about this.
“I’m sorry I forgot that. I’m sorry I wasn’t around for most of that. I’m sorry I didn’t look at those messages.”
She kisses her teeth. Hard. It sounds like a tree limb just cracked. Louis Armstrong shifts to Dizzy Gillespie.
“Don’t be sorry! Be fuckin’ compassionate! Be fuckin’ supportive! Be a fuckin’ real friend! Tell that gotdamn brain of yours to remember what’s important to other people, especially me, an’ not to be such an asshole!”
Anger rushes through me so fast that a very light sheen of sweat pops onto my forehead. But I try to cool my temper. I will myself not to get pissed off. This ain’t the first time my MS and brain lesions want to send me there. I don’t reach the full extent of whoosah, though.
“And fuck you right back for tellin’ me how to handle my MS an’ for thinkin’ you know how the fuck it works!”
She gives me another wicked side eye. But then it swiftly crinkles into a slow, ugly cry face. Her voice is a whisper.
“Yo, my Mahalia heard you an’ just schooled me on what’s goin’ on wit you an’ about MS more than I ever knew. It’s a real punk-ass nwafa.”
I shake my head. Slow. And then fast.
“Yo. Don’t even. You gone make me cry again.”
She tries to talk and her voice breaks. She clears her throat, and then laughs. Her ugly-cry face smooths away. When she is finally able to talk, her voice wavers. But only a tiny bit.
“Boy, you ain’t got nothin’ to be embarrassed about. I seen you cry before. I know you ain’t forgot when I first made you cry in Covey Three when you and them bad-ass boys were playin’ Catch A Girl Kiss A Girl and you kissed me so I hit you. I didn’t ask or give permission for your stank-ass lips to be on my cheek.”
I nod, smiling a little. That memory is hazy. Fuzzy. Not sharp at all. Right on the edge of my consciousness, bordering the black void of nothing beyond.
“I can’t really remember. I can’t even remember your name.”
She goes quiet for a long moment. She looks up and starts fanning her eyes.
“I know. I noticed. Every night, before I go to sleep, I pray you remember me the next day.”
One day, when me and my boys was shorties in middle school, Big Sherm an’ Reese was shadowboxin’. Big Sherm connected on accident. Right in Reese’s chest. Big time. Reese fell on the ground an’ started runnin’ in a circle like Curly from the Three Stooges, makin’ funny noises ’cause he got the wind knocked out of him an’ he was tryin’ not to cry. Me an’ the rest of my boys busted out laughin’ an’ then made fun of Reese by fallin’ on the ground an’ doin’ the Curly Shuffle too.
I’ll be straight up. What she just said hit me hard. It hit me so hard, I should be doing the Curly Shuffle on the floor of my blackout right now. I should be makin’ funny noises ’cause I’m tryin’ not to cry.
“Shit. I didn’t know that. Wait. You haven’t told me that before, have you?”
She fans harder.
A bed appears behind me. I sit down on the Dusk Feels Like Down duvet and slump back against two huge, white decorative Scandinavian ball knot cushions handmade in Sweden from soft-as-hell teddy fabric. I remember I had a blackout builder design this for me in code, and that it gives me a little comfort.
“Am I wrong for not knowin’ that?”
A bed with the exact same stuff on it appears behind her and she sits on it. She shakes her head.
“You’re an MS combatant and you fight that unjust motherfucker every single day.”
I grin my ass off.
“Damn skippy I do.”
Both her hands are on my cheeks. Her hands are soft. Her touch is tender. I’m surprised. She plays ball at the University of Virginia. She’s been hittin’ the weights. Tryin’ to get swole. I suppose it’ll just be a matter of time for the weight bar to give her calluses.
“Where were you?”
I look around. We’re in a bubble made of steel and glass. It’s night. Outside there’s snow on the ground.
Overhead, I can see the Northern Lights through a skylight window. I know where we are. Its TruTell code tells me.
“What the hell? This bullshit ain’t my blackout. Somebody hacked my most precious place and put us in an Arctic bubble cabin in Swedish Lapland.”
She locks eyes with mine. Concern is in her eyes.
“You didn’t just see the look on your face. In your eyes. Where were you, Raf?”
I look at the Märta Måås-Fjetterström carpet on the floor of the not-my-blackout. Its TruTell code tells me it’s expensive. And vintage. But it looks washed out. It looks cheaper than the Rafauli custom carpet by The Rug Company in my blackout. It gives me no comfort that whoever hacked me gave me this knowledge.
“I was in my white space.”
She doesn’t see the look on her face. It’s heart wrenching. Lovely.
“You looked like a lost little boy who didn’t know where he was or where to find his mama.”
I put my hands over her hands. They’re cold. Mine are warm.
“It’s a comfortable mind space.”
She wipes away her tears with her fingertips. Her voice is soft.
“Even with your MS?”
I nod. Sound and movement are kind of slow, even though I’m back in this reality. My white space still clings to me, though. It’s persistent. It wants me back. It wants to remind me that’s a safe place.
“It’s a hushed and dulled world.”
She puts her right hand on my left hand. Her fingertips are wet with her tears. She looks around the ice bubble.
“Saffron Sutton knows Michaëlle-Annabelle is busy bein’ the boss wit her Black girl magic floss at Michaëlle-Annabelle Industries, so white girl tip-toein’ through the blackout code she designed for you. She tweakin’ it, tryin’ to flex her hackin’ skills wit no repercussions, knowin’ Michaëlle-Annabelle ain’t got time to smack her ass down. So here we are. This is what Saffron Sutton’s meddlin’ has created.
“But this place looks comfortable. This place don’t make you do what you just did, which was scary as hell to see. Would you rather be there than here?”
I look up at the Northern Lights again through one of the three skylight windows overhead, grateful she just reminded me who built my blackout.
“To be honest, Iunno. My white space is a safe space. It let’s my brain checkout when it needs to. This place tryin’ too hard to be a comfort zone, and it just ain’t me.
“Checking out comes wit some consequences, though. My white space is a rude motherfucker. It’s a fuckin’ thief. Whenever the fuck it wants, it rolls up on me like one of them Ro Boys in Roseland and jacks me. It jacks my ability to process information. It jacks my ability to think with any sort of clarity. Sometimes, it even jacks my ability to speak.
“But if all that ain’t fucked up enough, every now and then, it fucks with me like the asshole it is and jacks your name from me.”
She looks up at the Northern Lights through one of the skylight windows and gives them a you-ain’t-shit wicked side eye.
“When we lose a game, I go to my blackout. I’m not tryin’ to see and hear all that noise people say about us. About me. About my handles. About my turnovers. I just want to unplug from the world for a little while. Is that what it’s like in yours?”
I shake my head and then stop. I nod and then stop. I shrug, both shoulders.
“Sometimes, I can feel that my brain is about to be overwhelmed by all the information comin’ at me. I know that, eventually, it ain’t gone be able to keep up. So, I go to my blackout. Nothing can follow me there. Except you.”
She doesn’t smile. She just looks worried.
“But I don’t look like me there.”
I give her a sheepish shrug.
“Sometimes, this visual of you is all I have. All I remember.”
Her voice softens even more.
“Do you ever go to your blackout when you can’t remember my name?”
I nod. But I don’t say anything.
She takes a deep breath.
“When you go to your blackout, does this skinload of me help you remember my name?”
I look her in the eye. I want her to know how much this hurts me now that I remember how she feels about her skinload.
“It used to before today. All the time. But my memory is getting worse.”
She clasps my hand and kisses me. Short. But sweet. Her full lips against my full lips.
I kiss her back. Short. But sweet. My full lips against her full lips.
“I should have remembered. I’m sorry.”
She shakes her head. She squeezes my hand.
“Don’t apologize. You got a crunk ton of brain lesions. You didn’t give them to yourself. They’re not your fault. You can’t battle them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”
“But I do. I have to. And they shouldn’t be an excuse. I own it: I couldn’t fuckin’ remember your name. And not just then.”
Her voice is full of wonderful compassion. Qiana’s voice is full of wonderful compassion.
“But you know now.”
“But I won’t remember it forever. Or how you look.”
Qiana kisses her teeth and smirks at me.
“Nwafa, I’m too foine for you to forget how I look.”
I try not to smile ’cause I know she jokin’ and I don’t want her to think I think she’s funny. Even though she is. Sometimes. But I definitely don’t want to smile as I say what I’m about to say to her. But I can’t help myself.
“Tell that to my brain lesions.”
Qiana raises both her middle fingers at me.
“How about I tell them this.”
I raise both my middle fingers and tap them on my head.
“I tell them that every day. Multiple times a day. Just like I’m telling them now.”
Qiana takes another deep breath and lets out a sigh.
“Yeah, but they don’t seem to give a fuck.”
I stop tapping my head.
“Or I got a skull so thick, that my fuck-yous don’t get through.”
Qiana gives me a smug, smart-ass grin. The Northern Lights still flicker overhead as if they’re in on the joke.
“Just like my fuck-yous didn’t get through to your balls when they wouldn’t let you send me TruTells.”
It takes me a moment to get it. I blame my brain lesions.
“Ouch. That was a Flagrant 1 foul. My balls are now gone, flung out into space, unable to escape the gravity pull of some unknown black hole, never to return.”
Qiana stands up like she’s just made a decision. She gives me the most peaceful look I’ve ever seen from her.
“I guess I need to get you your blackout back, ’cause your brain is better there, an’ this ain’t me. Plus, you ain’t as much a dumbass there.”
I smirk at her but throw my arms around her and squeeze her tight to let her know what I’m about to say is good-natured teasing.
“How in the hell you gone do that? I can’t remember most shit these days, but I do remember when we were in Computer Science and Philosophy class in Covey Seven and you couldn’t code your way out of that dij-bin code bag Mr. Lennon put you in.”
Qiana flick-twists her hand in that “forget you” way we used to do when we were little and we didn’t want to get caught by adults giving somebody the finger.
“Nwafa, the only reason you found your way out of your dij-bin code bag was ’cause May Sandiego didn’t obfuscate her screen. She thought you were too nice to cheat off her. More like too lazy to study.”
I give Qiana a slow Mr. Grinch smile. Yeah, I did that. I remember that.
Her hand is on my cheek.
“You can’t remember my name again, can you?”
I grind my teeth. I clench my jaw. That doesn’t help my memory, though.
“How long was I in there?”
She looks at her handheld.
“Five minutes and twenty-three seconds.”
I need to release this tension. I take a deep breath and slowly let it out. I relax my jaw so it goes slack.
“It felt like five days.”
She sits next to me. She looks around in an obvious, pointed, exaggerated way.
“You didn’t notice.”
I look down at my ebony hardwood floor. I flop back on my custom-made Grand Vividus Hästens bed. I feel like I’m floating on this black mattress and its layers of horsehair, wool, cotton, and flax. I sit up. I look at her. Her lips are still full. Her skin is still light. Her hair is still close cut. And her eyes are decidedly hazel. This is her. Really her.
“You’re beautiful just as you are.”
She blushes and looks away for a moment.
“Thank you. My Mahalia helps me to believe it more each day.”
I frown at her, confused.
“How did you do this?”
She twists her real full lips to one side.
“I know people. Powerful people.”
I scooch closer to her. I’m excited to tell her this.
“So do I. Saffron Sutton has promised me unlimited Electric Resurrections and eternal battery life. But she won’t let me carry over any memories to those resurrected lives. Not that I have all that many these days, anyway.”
She gives me a forearm shiver to the chest. Hard.
“Don’t you dare fuckin’ do it.”
I push back upright from the wonderful cloud of my mattress. I remember her name again.
“Yo. Kee-Kee. Qiana. Chill. You ain’t my girl no more. I ain’t gotta listen to you.”
She gives me another forearm shiver.
“I see you can remember the important things, though.”
I rub my chest. I’ve been blasted by linebackers after finding a sliver of a hole through the line of scrimmage. They bounced off me. They didn’t hurt me. Just like that forearm shiver didn’t hurt. But I gotta play the role for what I say next.
“And I see you playin’ the wrong sport. Forget point guard. I bet you could walk on at UVA as Sam linebacker with them forearm shivers you givin’ me.”
Qiana nudges me with her left elbow. It’s a gentle nudge.
“For real, though, let’s be serious for a moment.”
I stop rubbing my chest and listen.
“I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to follow that Suss-path you left for me way back when. Not after you ghosted me.”
I frown and tilt my head to the side to look at the NBA regulation-size court behind her.
“This ain’t a bad place.”
She turns to look at the basketball court and flashes me a quick grin.
“Stop tryin’ to distract me. Look, I came here to tell you that Saffron Sutton wants to make you into a mindless clone so the State of Illinois can use you over an’ over in their war wit our wonderful Sovereign State of Chicago.”
“I’m cool wit that.”
Qiana gives me the most detached, emotionless side eye I’ve ever seen.
“Nwafa, how you able to sit over there bouncin’ up an’ down like a crackhead on CrackMas an’ tell me she gone give you unlimited Electric Resurrections and rip out your memories like it ain’t no thang? That ain’t no improvement and it don’t make none of what’s goin’ on wit you any better.”
I shrug again and look at her straight on.
“But it do. Having no memories and a purpose is better than having my cherished memories, my best memories--my memories of you--fade and disappear over who knows how long, or short, and not being able to do anything about it.”
Qiana shakes her head slowly.
“It ain’t gotta be that way.”
I stop bouncing.
“I know it don’t. But I already signed the contract with Saffron Sutton Industries. My Electric Resurrection goes down this Saturday.”
Qiana wraps her left arm around my waist and puts her head on my shoulder. Her voice is soft again.
“Please don’t. Fuck Saffron Sutton. Fucks wit Michaëlle-Annabelle instead. She got soul.”
I try my damndest to keep a straight face for five full seconds because that sounded hokey as hell.
Qiana gives me a side eye so stank my blackout smells like she just cleaned some chitlins sitting next to some Epoisses Appellation D’Origine Protégée cheeses on a cutting board.
“What’s wrong with your face?”
My so-called straight face is now eight seconds long. And counting.
“Nothing. This is my face. I was born with this ugly motherfucker.”
Qiana gives me a look I ain’t seen since we first started courtin’, as my moms would say.
“I don’t talk to ugly motherfuckers, and I for damn sure don’t kiss them.”
I stop slouching and sit up straighter because I miss that look. I want to see it--and remember it--for as long as I can.
“You keep lookin’ at me like that, and you might just heal my brain all by yo’ damn self. And my legs and my back.”
Qiana reaches under my shirt and touches my back. It’s a hesitant, delicate touch.
“You can keep tryin’ to sweet talk me like that all you want, but it ain’t gone get you no where.”
I look around my blackout.
“It got you here.”
Qiana flicks her other hand at me as if I’m an annoying mosquito.
“Nah, nwafa, I got me here. It was my choice to walk your Suss-path, even though your MS made you ghost the fuck outta me. But I’m here for you. Like I said: Fuck Saffron Sutton. Fucks wit Michaëlle-Annabelle. She, her roboticists, an’ her computer engineers will build you a digital brain, an’ it won’t be nothin’ like the shitty one Saffron Sutton gone give you.”
I look down at the ebony hardwood floor. I don’t say anything.
Qiana reaches under my shirt again. She rubs my back. Her touch is warm. Remembered. Loved.
“Michaëlle-Annabelle will sit down with you before you undergo Electric Resurrection and go through all your TruTells and InTells with you to build your personality and restore as many memories as she can.”
I still don’t say nothin’. My blackout tells me I’ve been silent for six minutes and twenty-seven seconds.
Qiana matches my quiet for a moment. And then, what she says next sounds like it has been well-rehearsed. But it doesn’t sound robotic. I can hear the conviction and affection in her voice.
“You’ll remember me always. Your personality will remain intact and not be erased, which means you’ll keep your fuckin’ soul and you won’t be no damn Saffron Sutton clone.”
My blackout now tells me I’ve been silent for six minutes and forty-six seconds.
Qiana grabs my face with her right hand and yanks it toward her. She’s not gentle.
“What the fuck, Rafael? Say somethin’!”
I kiss her. My full dark lips against her full pink lips. I remember this. I don’t want to forget this.
“That right there is me. Memories with you are what matter. Memories with you make me happy. Memories with you make up a big part of who I am.”
Qiana takes my face in both her hands. She’s gentle now.
“So, why do you want to give them away?”
I move my mouth to smirk at her, but I shrug both shoulders instead. My voice is so soft she has to put her right ear to my mouth to hear me. I repeat what I said.
“What if it doesn’t work? Not knowing you is better than knowing you and losing you.”
Qiana’s brow furrows something fierce.
“Nah, nwafa, that ain’t the right answer.”
A tear slips down each of my cheeks.
“I know. But it’s a comforting answer.”
Two tears slip down each of her cheeks. Her voice is as soft as mine.
“Not for me. I ain’t about to be erased by that mephitic white girl. We goin’ to Michaëlle-Annabelle. Right the fuck now. Your soul is way too fuckin’ beautiful for Saffron Sutton to have. Let’s go snatch it back.”
If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories by Malon Edwards
“Electric Resurrection. Born again perfection. The six-zero correction.”
For the last decade, Malon Edwards has been spinning out a world where humans have conquered death but still haven’t bothered to take care of the living. Where resurrection is the ultimate commodity—if you’re rich enough, powerful enough, and white enough to buy in.
If Wishes Were Obfuscation Codes and Other Stories collects 10 cyberpunk dispatches, including a brand-new, epic rap novella. On offer is a guided tour of an independent Chicago, a beacon of Black excellence that is done with the ever-hostile State of Illinois showing its ass.
Your guides are a little rough around the edges: hackers and assassins, thieves and grieving parents, elders and teenagers. Don’t fret. These people will take good care of you, so long as you mind yourself.
Welcome to the Sovereign State of Chicago.