The Keenan Gospels

Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay

He was one of the Keenan Boys, known collectively rather than individually largely due to the sheer number of them and the way they traveled together, in line step with one another, a massive hulk of fraternal flesh making its way from here to there and everywhere. Kenneth was the youngest of eleven with a shock of dark hair, a nose with nostrils so wide they were in perpetual flare, and a squat little body that always drew curious looks. He was adored by five of his brothers and reviled by the other five so when the Keenan boys were making their way here and there Kenneth was always in the middle, being dragged along by the boys in front of him while the toes of the boys behind him nipped at his heels.

The Keenan Boys took their fraternity very seriously. Kennedy, the oldest at thirty-five, spent each Sunday evening coordinating his brothers’ outfits for the week. For the Keenan Boys who were married, this courtesy was a great relief to their wives. Kennedy would e-mail the outfit schedule to each of his brothers. As the brothers eagerly reviewed their wardrobe assignments for the week to come, sounds of glee or displeasure could be heard filtering throughout the family compound in the tender hours of Monday morning. Kennedy preferred natural fibers and sharp knits while most of his brothers preferred to spend their days in jeans or khakis and t-shirts with vulgarities blazoned across the chest. It was a delicate balance, coordinating the fashion preferences of so many men but Kennedy acquitted himself well.

At twenty-three, Kenneth Keenan realized he was a very lucky man. Despite his unfortunate looks and constantly being surrounded by his ten brothers, women were fond of him because women understand that small men try harder. Tall women were especially interested in Kenneth. When Kenneth and the rest of the Keenan Boys frequented Ortega’s, the neighborhood bar they called their home away from home, Kenneth would sit at the bar, his stubby legs dangling as he drank fruity drinks, secure in his masculinity. Tall women would drape themselves all over him dragging their perfectly lacquered fingernails across the back of his neck and leaning in so close he could smell their lipstick and perfume and the booze on their breath. They would whisper, “I want to put you in my pocket,” or “I want to sit on your face,” and Kenneth Keenan would squeeze his legs together and lick his thin lips and grin. He’d say, “I might be happy to oblige.” Kenneth was not above playing hard to get.

Most decisions for the Keenan Boys were made by committee. When a woman captured Kenneth’s fancy, he had to turn and face his brothers who were generally congregating at a long table a few feet away from the bar with their wives and girlfriends, drinking pitchers of beer and cherry bombs. When Kenneth gave them the code, two tugs of his left earlobe and the cracking of his knuckles, the women and wives would excuse themselves and the ten eldest Keenan Boys would put their heads together. Literally. They stood, gathered in a tight circle, pressed their foreheads together and wrapped their arms around each other’s waists. Occasionally one of the three eldest, Kennedy, Kiernan, or Keegan would look back at Kenneth and the woman in question and the brothers would deliberate a bit more. Kenneth never knew what went on during these conversations. He never would. There were times when he suspected they weren’t talking about him at all. If the Keenan Boys approved, they would break apart and all ten of them would give Kenneth a thumbs up. If they disapproved, they quickly pulled apart and sat down without looking in Kenneth’s direction, affording him a small bit of privacy to nurse his disappointment.

When Kenneth Keenan brought a woman home, he would take her to his room on the fourth floor of the main building in the family compound. He kept his suite clean and well appointed and more often than not, his lady friends were pleasantly surprised. They sat on the edge of his bed while he lit candles and turned on some music—always Dirty South rap. The rest of the Keenan Boys liked to hover near the closed door, listening. Their wives and girlfriends thought it was weird and strangely perverted but all the Keenan Boys tried harder so they were forgiven for their idiosyncrasies. Kenneth would take off his shirt revealing his barrel chest and a matte of dark, curly hair from his neck all the way down to his waistline. He would do a little dance to the music, throwing white boy gang signs and his lady friend would either laugh or roll her eyes but she was always charmed. Kenneth Keenan was a very charming man. He would offer her a beer from the mini-fridge next to his bed or if he really liked her, Andre Pink champagne, chilled to make it go down easier.

Kenneth Keenan was a short man but he had a long tongue and no lady friend left his suite in the Keenan compound unsatisfied. More often than not, Kenneth found himself trapped between a pair of strong thighs as his lady friend sobbed freely, her fingers wrapped in his dark hair, unwilling to release Kenneth from the humid prison between her thighs. One lady friend went so far as to call his mouth a revelation. Kenneth spent a lot of time at the chiropractor.


Roxane Gay’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney’s (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.


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