Flash Fiction: Old Bags

Author note: I like Marcus. Y’all may see him around. -JBHarris

Happily Ever After: Old Lady Pocketbooks - I Love 'Em

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.

Flash Fiction: Creshendo

This pieces is significantly older, and from 2007-2008. It’s actually a favorite. And I’m sure y’all will also. -JBHarris

Unmade Bed Pictures | Download Free Images on Unsplash

It had begun to storm.

I tried to keep my eyes closed, and the smile from spreading too far across my face. I rolled over, not surprised that he wasn’t there. There was so much on his mind lately. I called him name, almost as a reflex, waiting quietly for the echo from the hallway. He made a noise and came to the doorway of his bedroom. This was still his house after all…I could claim nothing in it as mine or ours.

He stood in the doorway, flushed and shirtless, smiling at me. I tousled my hair as I slowly sat up, wrapping the sheet around me. I grinned inwardly, I had no need to be modest, he has already seen all that I had and am. “Cleaning it?” I said, gesturing to his trombone and the rag in his hand. Clad only in dark blue boxers, he grinned at me boyishly. I lived for that grin. He walked over to me, the dim lamp upon the dresser being washing him in this pure bronze aura. He sat next to me, cupped my face, and kissed me. All of me that was female wanted him all the more. Yet, I knew I had no claim, no tie to him, and thought it rather foolish to have one so soon. He held me then, his natural scent comforting me. “I don’t want to leave. I hate leaving.” He kissed my forehead as if to scare away all the bad things I was thinking. He put a finger under my chin, and kissed me again. “For as long as I am here, and you want me, I will be here.” I wanted to cry. It had been so long since I had felt anything. I was more interested in savoring it, than deciphering it. “Close your eyes.” He told me.  I obeyed, as I heard him shuffle around his small room. Then I heard it, my favorite song by Norah Jones. I told him never to play it, because it evoked so many memories and emotions.

I heard him walk over to me again, placing something on my shoulder. “Open your eyes.” He whispered. I smiled, putting on this shirt. Standing not even five feet from me, eyes as warm as the sea, he stretched his hand out to me.I reluctantly climbed out of bed, and moved to his embrace. He held me so close, as if I were meant to fit. I slipped my arms around his neck, kissed him as we swayed. He whispered in my ear part of the verse:  “I’ll need no soft lights, to enchant me, if you would only grant me, the right—to hold you ever, so tight—and to feel in the night, the nearness of you.” I put my ear to his chest and remembered what it was like to feel and be special to be cherished, to let the world and its inhabitants be damned. To take a deep breath, and inhale him, and know I’d rather be nowhere else.

Flash Fiction-‘He Won’t Hit’

For those of you that are unhip, Flash Fiction is piece of fiction that is between 250-500 words–between 1-2 pages. With nothing but time and words to chase, I decided to craft this one. I’m sure there will be more to come. Flash Fiction is challenging, and dope! Enjoy! -JBHarris

How to Choose a Winning Slot Machine | Casino Market

Curtis watched as he swept up the lobby, watching the late night early morning crowd come in. “The look like gas station dogs!” he looked up, giggling in the direction of Ms. Lucille, the chef that came in at 6:00am for the morning shift. She always came in humming Amazing Grace while she got the food ready for the Lucky Morning buffet. He watched her go through the heavy gold doors to the kitchen. “Morning Ms. Lucille!” Curtis, still sweeping, said after her.

He was right thought. There, on the casino floor, every morning he worked was the wrecking of the night before. There were the regulars that came in because their rooms were comped. There were those that were too drunk to go home because they would have to explain why checks were bouncing the next week. And then there was who Curtis nicknamed The Wanderers. Every day, these group of six people would come in al in their Easter best and they would leave about 7:00am. They would eat after gambling and then they would just…go. Upon seeing them, Curtis thought they looked like Jehovah witnesses. The ‘spiritual walkers’ Stevie Wonder talked about.

They would be these three women in their church hats and dresses. These men would be in their suits and they would just…leave. Curtis watched them leave as he vacuumed, watching the other stragglers either leave or settle by the machine. The Wanderers were leaving, all 5 of them without their 6th. Curtis looked towards the slot machines, and saw him there. The last one, with gray hair, unbrushed and a dusty brown suit. He walked away from his vacuum and looked and walked towards the flashing and dingings light, and the angry voice in the machine that kept screaming “You lose! You lose!”

Curtis got to him, shaking him, his eyes shut at the Keno machine, wishing he was dead. In the year that he had worked at Happy Cherokee Casino, he had never spoken to these people. He couldn’t remember anyone speaking to him. “Um, sir?” he said, sounding more awake than he was. “It aint hittin’! I ain’t sleep!” The old man’s eyes opened as if they were snatched. He looked at Curtis. “It ain’t hit! I ain’t lose nothin’!” He slid from the stool, half shuffling completely cursing at people that weren’t there. Curtis watching him walk away muttering to himself, cursing like spurts from an old Monte Carlo. “I can’t eemb shut my eyes without folk bothering me.” Curtis walked behind him, scared he would fall over for how he was walking. He trotted to the seat he was in and found his wallet. “Chester Humphrey Allen.” The wallet said. There was an old Steel worker union card inside. Receipts, a casino rewards card and a note. And a crumbled five dollar bill.

‘Babe-

Remember to come home by 8.

Mama.’

Curtis ran to this man, newly discovered as Chester Humphrey Allen. Retired steelworker. Mama looking for him. He tapped his shoulder, giving the wallet to him. “Mister Chester?” he caught him right before he left the casino floor. He turned, the pain in his face, willing his body to move backwards. “You left your wallet.” Chester looked at Curtis’s face, as if it were mirror. “Thank you.” He blinked, Curtis blinked. And he turned toward the direction of bacon, biscuits and eggs. “It just ain’t hit. Idda made it up if it had just hit!” Curtis went back to his world, consumed with vacuuming and screen checks and checking for drunks for the next 8 hours. Chester would be back tomorrow.

[image from casinomarket.co.uk]

The Fire Next Time: For James and Octavia

 

 As a writer, and moonlighting teacher, I reflected on If Beale Street Could Talk after the hubs took me to see the movie. I was 6 when he died in 1987 of stomach cancer. And through my middle school and high school reading, I cannot remember him ever being mentioned. Either him, Octavia Butler, Alice Walker or Richard Wright. I think Toni Morrison would call that ‘the colonization of your canon.’  I mean, my Junior year of high school is when I got introduced to Toni Morrison. That was 1997!

I get incredibly pissed off when I think about that now!

Now, do I know, did I know, that Black writers existed? Yes. Most of my books are composed to authors whom I fell in love with on my own. I needed, wanted more than the smattering of Black writers we go in February. I remember being so tired of just reading Knoxville, Tenneessee by Nikki Giovanni! In wanted more of her work. But I’m aware that certain school districts like the safety of Maya Angelou and Lorriane Hansberry’s Raisin In The Sun. I get that Baldwin is confrontational to those whom govern these curriculum spaces; the people that can and do say ‘Yes’ to Washington Irving and ‘No’ to Octavia Estelle Butler. The people that think James Baldwin asking with audiacious sincerity why the country ‘needs to have a n–gger?’ is too much for White teacher in a predominately Black school, whose bosses and administrators are all White. I get that no one wants to have these conversations regarding race and writing. Perhaps, this is the folcrum that Wynton Marsalis talk about when he said this during the Ken Burns documentary Jazz:

“The more we run from race in this country, the more we run towards it.”

Perhaps this is why up until the birth of my parents, and a little after that educating a Black person in Mississippi was seen as punitive and would be punished as such! There is a power in control a narrative in such a way that the people you brutalize cannot even tell what happened to them in a first hand account. That kind of power the oppressor will never give up, be reasoned for or given away without it being identified and overthrown!

A friend of my husband graduated from seminary last week. As all college students do, she was cleaning out her apartment to move. In these three Rubbermaid totes, she just had books. Copious, delicious, incredible amount of books! She called it her Harlem Renaissance collection. I thumbed through them and almost cried. My legacy, my footsteps as a writer in this colonized, thieving nation was in these bins. I almost wept. I couldn’t take them all with me, and I couldn’t just take one.

My mission as I move through this space of writer-teacher is two-fold.

One. I vow to write constantly. bell hooks said that no woman has ever written enough. I agree.

Two. I vow to decolonize my canon. This means that I have to step up my reading to where it was before. This means I have to be willing to talk up other Black writers. Recommend their work as casually as I would any other writer. To quote them, read more of them, and–in the case of the marvelous Tananarive Due–follow them on social media!

For those of you IRL that know me, it is no secret that my passion has been and is words. The dream was–still is–to teach at the university level. Whereas before I wanted to be a professor at NYU, teaching English Literature. I think we can say that I’m passed that. The most amazing way to honor my Blackness, my gifting, my call–all of me that is Oracle–would be to teach African-American studies. I mean, I already got my thesis! No, I’m not telling you, but it’ll be dope I assure you.

In earnest, if I didn’t see folk that look like me setting the world on fire, I would never have believed I could. For that, I am grateful.

 

“The goal of the artist is to disturb the peace.” – James Baldwin

[images from azquotes.com and goalcoast.com]

 

 

Love & Possession: The Dark Set (Week 1)

img_0403I told him I would answer when he called. He told me to shower, using the vanilla scented soap.

He told me to stay home until he called. I had rearranged my work day to be available for him. This was a test I knew. I sat in bed, the warmth from the down blanket soothing my nerves. I kept thinking about our conversation three nights before.

In the three years we’d been dating, I had always felt safe and comfortable with him. I mean, it wasn’t anything outrageous, but our sex life was great! Mason was attentive, sweet and had what I thought were lycan-like tendencies. He was possessive of me. Not the smothering type of possession you need the law for. But he was super aware of what was going on with me, some times without me saying anything.

I believe love has levels, and I more than loved Mason. Whatever level there is beyond love, we were there. I thought I could hear his thoughts. We were that close. “This is the next step, Kyla.” he had whispered in the receiver. “Let me in, babe. Let me in.” I closed my eyes, remembering his voice and the last time he touched me. “You know you belong to me right?” I had smiled when he said that, holding the cell phone close to my ear.

There was a click in my soul when he said it. There was no ounce of jest, no doubt. I shuddered when he repeated it. All I could manage was a simple, “I  know.”  We were silent then, content to hear each other breathing. “You are my jewel and my greatest possession.” he said.

I opened my eyes, feeling the phone ring next to me. I looked at the glowing rectangle, feeling anxious and thrilled. I picked it up, hands trembling. His voice anchored me to the bed as he answered. “What color?” My mouth was dry. “Blue.”

“Good girl.” He said.

He’d never called me that before. His tone was different. More sure and hungry. I felt my body flourish and open, as a small puddle gathered between my legs. “My Kyla, my pretty, pretty girl.” I laid back on my pillows, closing my eyes.

I counted my breaths, willing the thudding in my ears to cease. I hung on his every word. “My pretty, pretty girl.” I heard this voice lower to almost a growl. It was a growl. “My delicious Kyla. I am going to have so much fun with you. I’m going to devour you, as succulent fruit.” My inner walls clenched, and I placed my left hand between my thighs, feeling how warm and slick I was. And I moaned. “You are mine.”

He Put His Hands On Me

Image result for woman in shadow

I don’t know if there could be a region deeper than the soul. But, if there were, since there is, he found it.

I laid there in this bed he and I had both filled, and been filled by, and every thought ran back to him. I laid there, wrapped in blankets, rich with his scent. The tears came because I was too weak to stop them this time.

My breasts heaved, still with a sheen over them–a mixture of our sweat, and the saliva from his hunger and kisses. I felt that mixture wick into the sheet, as I ran my free left hand through my hair. The thickness of the tresses made my body clench. I remembered how he pulled my hair. How he commanded me, handled me as he made my body an extension of his own.

Kisses on the nape of my neck, the slaps on my ass. I needed that power. I needed that breaking, and was afraid to admit that. I was his. I rolled in the sheets. This tangled, blessed mess was evidence that what we had was real. It was a fulfillment of every promised whispered.

He broke me open. He he did. He told me that he would. With his body snug and sure inside all of me which was waiting and woman, he found the fortress of my thick, dark hair and growled into my left ear as he took all of me. “All of you is mine. There has never been a time when you were not mine.” He pulled my hair with a force that only someone whom could own all of you could. Not vicious, not hard, but knowing.

My breath was caught until I saw stars, felt the world slow and shift with the melody  of his melding of body to mine. I opened my mouth, remembering to breathe, feeling as if–knowing as if–I was breathing for both of us. I couldn’t be apart from him. Not again, not ever.

It was deeper than this, we both knew it would be more than this. There was a chord within me strum, plucked and unknown, that could only had been found by someone on who knew where it was. I found my eyes, open in the dark, only seeing his.

And I felt it.

This, this, fire that coursed through me. With that latching, I felt my body bloom. My hands moved from the comfort of the slick flesh of his shoulders to the chill of the headboard. I breathed again, eyes glassy and pulse in my ears. His hands found mine, interlacing our fingers.

He kissed me, lingering on my bottom lip. I moved my head towards him, needing to taste him, committing him to memory. His taste. His form. His scent. My eyes closed again, and I fell into an ocean. My body became light, and pull into him–and he into me.

I tossed and turned, haunted by his body and memory. My thighs tingled remembering his hands as he pulled them apart to feast on their meeting. My inner walls still watered as if he were inside me. I gripped the sheets on my bed, and came again. Thought of him, and I, and me and this, and could only howl.

My eyes closed again, needing to pull him back to me. Remember the need in him that called to me, held for me, and I needed that back. On my back, I closed my eyes. I bit my bottom lip, remembering the growl that came from him. More wolf than man. And I loved that.

I found him.

My Alpha marked me.

And I could not wait until I could feel his teeth in my flesh again.

[image from abc.net.au]

RUBY Epilogue

 

*This is short addendum to my 2018 novel RUBY. You can purchase that by clicking here.)

 

New Year’s Eve-2005

 

It’s right that I watch her sleep. Back from the Honeymoon, I had done that alot. My head was clear. It was finally clear. I sat in the Master bedroom that we had done to her liking. I refused to bring my girl home to a house that Katherine’s claws had been all in. I remembered what my mother said about her once before she died. “Katherine wants everything so damn perfect. She doesn’t know how to make a life without sucking it out of other people.”

I sat in the mahogany recliner Michelle got for me for Christmas. I sat there, watching her sleep. I watched the sheet on her rise and fall with her breath. All those years out of my arms and she still was utterly damn beautiful. I sat there in my Washington University shirt and boxers, smoothing my face in my hands. I thought about the New Years Eve Party we had hours before.

I thought about how good she smelled, how sweet her mouth was. I thought how I could have ever thought living without her was an option. I saw her counting down the end of 2004 with Babs–as if no time had passed. I saw the balloons and streamers from Maeghan, Brian and Carolyn. I went to the kitchen, now warmer with her presence. She wrapped her arms around my back, squeezing me. “Happy New Year, babe.”

I moved her hands from around me, and looked at her. Radiant, slightly drunk, red hair shimmering almost. That same smile from our wedding day on her pretty mouth. I gave in and kissed her. Then kissed her again, cupping her face. I opened my eyes, relieved once more that I hadn’t dreamed her. She giggled. “Why they call you Keys?” I chuckled, kissed the top of her head. “Because I get in an out of anywhere I want. Just like a set of keys.” We laughed, and kissed again. Forgetting the company we had in the house. Ethylene always had the ability to make the world stop and start. A raucous chorus of ‘happy new years’ from the living room, before I heard cameras clicking.  “Happy New Year!” Babs came in with her new blonde hair and new left knee, as she took our picture. I kissed Ethylene again, and saw the flash of light with my eyes closed.

Katherine could never be what she is to me.

I had one more year with her. I prayed the night before to give me thirty years with her to at least match the amount of years I had without her. My father told me that my mother was the only woman for him. I sat there and thought how I could ever have fallen for Katherine. I thought about how sweet she was and could be. I thought about the Washington University mixer I met her at through a friend of a friend of Babs. I thought about how I tried to forget Ethylene, my girl. Always my girl. I remember my first time with Katherine, I whispered Ruby’s name. I was grateful to God that the lights were off. It was bad enough I was with this strict Catholic girl, the last thing I needed was for her to know I wasn’t even thinking of her.

I shook my head free of those thoughts. I went over to the King sized bed that Babs had gotten for us, that Brian and Maurice had put together while we were in Hawaii. While I was showing her the ocean, they were redoing the house for us. I laid next to her, touching her chin, her eyelids and her left ear. I kissed her shoulders, feeling her warmth, needing it. The fire, she called it. This connection sustained by whatever magic God gave us, this second chance to be hers. For her to be mine. I wanted more of her, I had to have more of her.

I pulled the white sheets back, finding her as God made her all caramel and perfect. I let kisses trace from the right side of her neck that always made her whisper my name, to roll her on her back. “Babe.” I whispered, almost a growl. Her eyes opened, blinking fast as if she couldn’t see me at first. “Hey babe.” she grinned and wrapped her arms around me, and I felt her thighs shift to open under me. “Happy New Year, Mrs. Lewis.” She kissed me, her tongue finding mine. “Happy New Year, Mr. Lewis.” I smirked, feeling her hands pull at my shirt. With some quick shifting, I was just as she was. “Let me stay where life is, Ruby. Let me come home.”

I pushed into her, sweeter than ever before. My hands were everywhere, drinking all of her skin and body and the beauty of all of it. I had my girl back, I had her all to myself. How could I have thought I would or could forget her? Life was here with her, and all that we had together.

She was home.