Author note: I like Marcus. Y’all may see him around. -JBHarris
I was asked to take some bags out of the attic for my grandmother. Not for my grandfather. That mean old man did my grandmother so bad, that I would rather push him down the stairs than take the trash out. Leland George Gray was what Hell modeled demons after. Couldn’t nobody tell me different. My mother, my daughter, would tell me “Marcus, we all got out cross to bear. This was my Mama’s. The devil will have him soon enough. Don’t you get took too!” My mother, the consummate cross-bearer. We came over to the house, because Nan had died two months before and that old demon was going to a home.
My father had come home to see him standing out of the wheelchair calling my mother by his dead wife’s name, and trying hit her with his cane—what he called ‘his stick.’ My father would have none of it. They married as high school seniors, and hadn’t looked back. “Lisa, that old man need to go where folk are paid to care for his ass!” I heard them say from my room that night, safe to talk after Leland had taken his nighttime meds. “I know, I know.” She sounded resigned and relieved, weird combination to hear in the voice a teacher. “I’m sending him this weekend. There’s some old stuff I gotta get out of the old house so he can go.”
None of my mother’s sisters would or could take Leland. That’s what they all called him. Never Daddy. Never Pop. Just Leland. And they said it like they had vinegar in the back of their mouths! I don’t blame none of them. I was about to head to Jackson State in August, so this was the last thing I was going to do for my Mama, for my Grandma. The absolute last thing.
We pulled up to the house on 4220 Prairie Avenue on St. Louis’s North Side. That four-hour drive from Kansas City, Kansas might as well have been a walk as slow as we got there. Mom hates highways, and didn’t me to drive. “You know they kill Black folk on the highway as easily as they do in they front yards. You know that right?” After that quick car nap, we where there. This big, faded yellow house—with these things Mama said we had to come get. My Aunt Kim was left the house, because she was the only one who could stand the ‘ghost’ Mama said lived there. “Marcus, I’m about to talk to Kim, and you just go up to the attic and get the boxes Kim labeled ‘old bags.’” I nodded, grateful as fuck to jump out the red Blazer.
True to her word, my mom stopped in the kitchen to talk to Aunt Kim, with all her blonde box braids, Jackson State jacket and matching pants. He gave me a Black Power fist, as she and my mother all church lady appropriate in her red cardigan and long dark hair like Kandi Buruss wears it. I did the same fist and went up the attic steps. “Old bags.” I repeated, putting my hands in my pockets, then smoothing my haircut again. I remembered I had to call Michelle on the way back. I left my phone in the car, just knowing this wouldn’t take longer than an hour. I didn’t want to fight with Mama about me ‘being on that damn phone.’
I saw the boxes as soon as I got the top of the stairs. In big red markers, typical Aunt Kim. I grabbed the top box, making sure it was closed. When I moved it the three steps to the top of the stairs before I saw the other box with squirrelled, not taped. I opened it, because there was a strap poking out of it like a hand. I pulled it out, and found this big black bag. I recognized it soon as I saw it. This was my grandmother’s Bible bag. But there was never a Bible in it. There was always some book in it, or shooter bottle of Fireball whiskey. I leaned against the window, even though the whole attic seemed colder. There were some old pictures in it, bills in yellowed envelopes, and a red book. I couldn’t make myself hold that purse, so I put it on top of the box I opened. When I opened the cover, I bit my lip to fight the little boy in me that saw what I know I had!
There were a chunk of pages missing, but this is what I read.
“…Leland don’t know Kimberly Rose and Lisa Mae aren’t his. If he find this, I’m be a dead woman. I hope this spell worked. I need Lisa and Kim to stay close. They gon need one another. This root need to work.”
A month out from Jackson State, and the man that I hated, none of his blood was in my body. I almost tripped over the box and down the stairs to my Mama. I needed her to make sure I wasn’t crazy.