Short Story: The Talebearer

This piece was chosen for a collection done by Big Black Chapters in honor of Juneteenth 2020. I am indeed a descendant of enslaved people, and as a writer? That holds a unique responsibility. With all that said, enjoy. #BlackWritersMatter #BlackStoriesMatter #Juneteenth -JBHarris

Juneteenth is today. What it means, why it matters, how to ...

The Talebearer

By Jennifer Bush-Harris

June 19, 1865, Massion Plantation, Galveston, Texas-

“Lord, you said if we would just wait on you, you would make the path straight!” Anna  watched her brother Luke as he prayed with the heat he had only seen my own Pap pray. She looked out the shack window, watching Luke talking and rustle of the trees answer him. Anna touched her belly, swollen and jumping as Rasp put his arms around her. Anna breathed him in, closing her eyes. “Jesus, help! Jesus come help!” Anna breathed deep as Rasp kissed her forehead. His voice and Luke’s prayer soothing as her heartbeat in his ears. “I saw them soldiers, looking like a some of the night time in the day time with all that blue.” Anna closed her eyes, the tears stinging her eyes. “But they ran, Rasp! They run from here!” Rasp held her, tight, shushing her in the way he always had. “Daddy said he seent them too.” The tears from their hiding place, tracing down the bridge of her nose. “But they ran!” 

Rasp walked around to the front of her, hands on her lap. Anna felt eyes on her, those same eyes that found her underneath the stars three summers ago. Rasp but his face in her lap, Anna petted his head. She scanned the trees for her brother, sighed when her eyes saw nothing but trees and night. “Anna, I have loved you feel like all my life.” Anna felt the air leave his body, shoulders loose, neck taut. This was how he had come home back from the field. This type of worn out her mother said, ‘Take somebody breath day by day till aint nothin left but tuh die!”

To die.

Anna had thought about that same thing, that last summer. As she scanned the trees for her brother, she closed her eyes. As Rasp held on to her, hands around her hips, she let her mind swim back to that summer. Back to the water. Back to the night she ran. Back to the night where death, that ‘good sleep’ Father Shep said was better. As Rasp breathed deep on her lap, her eyes closed. “Them is dark things in yo head, Anna. Don’t chu go chasin em.” Her father told her that when she would take off in the evening. “Imma just need to be by herself!”  Don’t chu go chasin em. The heaviness in her chest came back, the tightness of it making her head ache. The apron over her dress hard and damp from a day of candle-making. 

Don’t chu go chasin em. 

            Anna remembered how dark that night was, how cold it was. The comfort of the memory was better than not seeing her brother. Luke, the doctor. Her mother said when he was a small baby that he had an air to him, always fought to protect him. “He my Moses. Our Moses!” It was because of Luke, and Anna her mother, May Clara, was gone. The thoughts came back, the sand in her hair, the clothes torn from her, and her feet bleeding. It was the knocking on the door of the little shack Luke called the Prayer Closet, that snatched her back through time. He busted in through the door like hurricane wind. “The scouts is in the woods, Anna! The scouts is in the woods!” Anna pushed Rasp away, cold from the weight and heat of Rasp gone from her body. “What?” Luke paced the Prayer Closet, looking at the small window. “The Yankees ain’t gone, Anna!” She felt her chest ease a little, she rolled her shoulders, and went to her brother. 

            Luke held his sister, close and warm. Tears came then, as Luke spoke. “I saw one of them folk from that place Indian Jack stay.” He kept hugging her, speaking faster, lips near her left ear. “Them scouts is like God, they just be everywhere Anna! They coming in the morning. We gotta be here tonight.”  Anna pulled away, looking into the face of her brother. Tall. Dark brown. Cabinet maker, furniture maker their father and his father before that. “We gon be free tomorrow, Anna!” He blew out of the door just as quick as he had come. Anna watched him run back through the night towards the trees. “In the morning. We gon be free in the morning!” Anna looked at the sleeping Rasp beneath the small window. She wanted to wake him, tell him everything Luke had just poured all in her heart. 

Rasp had told her and Luke while they were in the cook house that he had seen the Yankees that morning. He had left the field, was missing the last two days trying to catch up with the troops. Rasp had hidden in the same forest and Prayer Closet Luke called his own to avoid the dogs and the patrollers Master Massion hired to find him. In the morning. We gon be free in the morning. Anna turned to the window, looking at the forest seeing Luke again running like he was young again. Breathing deep, Anna walked to the first big tree of the forest, leaving the door to the Prayer Closet open. Leaning against the tree, Anna wished for Luke, needing for the rest of his arms. But the thoughts came back, chasing the wisdom of her father away. She could smell the fire of fireplace in the room, candles that burned and how she had woken up, groggy and sore. The parts of her sex open and pulsing like a wound. 

Anna’s mother, their mother, May Clara tried to tell her that Master Massion’s son wanted her. “Anna Clara, there be a talebearer in this here house!” May Clara had told her this when she saw her leave the field to come to her, putting oil in the lamps in the salon room. “Be careful Anna Clara. Mind yaself, Anna Clara.”

Be careful, Anna Clara, Mama said.   Don’t chu chase em, Daddy said.

That cold creeped up her back, just like his hands did as he took off the housedress, she wore. The cold fingertips and lips that caressed her, came back. How her Master Massion’s son, Edward, took her. From that first night, and a season after. The night he, Edward, this same boy who taught her how to spell her name, took her in her own quarters. He slapped her, pushing into her as she cried. “You ain’t ever leaving me, Anna!” She smelled the liquor on his breath, through his clothes. “No, Suh! Please! Stop!” Anna couldn’t reach him through the liquor he drank. Groping in the darkness, of found the metal of a small lantern. She had grabbed the lantern with all her might, bringing glass crashing everywhere as her mother and father woke. Edward, bleeding and not moving, laid at her feet. Anna leaned again the wall of her cabin, holding her clothes together. As she held her clothes together, her parents woke up—looking at the bleeding, drunk white man on their floor. May Clara looked at the man on the floor before looking at her daughter. “Run, Anna Clara.” The calm of her mother’s voice, now a hiss, scared her. Stepping over Edward, she ran.  

Anna’s feet burned remembering how she had run. How fast she had run, how far she had run. Through that same forest, until she reached the beach. The sand a comfort as her feet throbbed and bled. As she wrapped her arms around herself, there was warmth that came over her. As she closed her eyes, she stayed in that space. Anna remembered everything in the waves that came to her that night, seeping through her head scarf and hair. The tears came again, as she pulled herself back from the sand, her blood and the water. Anna opened her eyes, pushing away from the tree. “We gon be free in the morning.”

There were arms around her then, Rasp’s voice in her ear. Her body shook as she cried, leaning against the tree, free from the memory. Don’t chu chase them. The memories of everything that happened came in waves again. She remembered Luke telling her their mother pushing Edward out the quarters. “Anna, Papa beat Mistuh Edward somethin bad! Face red as Jesus blood!” The memories skipped to the day her father, Joshua, took the lash to protect her after everything happened. Before he went with the overseers, he told her what she was scared to say again aloud: “Them is dark things in yo head, Anna. Don’t chu go chasin em.”

  Edward hadn’t remembered being hit with the lantern, but he remembered Joshua hitting him. Anna wept in Rasp’s arms like the same day her father was beat in the barn. For her. For her sake. We gon be free in the morning. She hung on to the words as the tears came in heavy sobs, tears steady as raindrops. “Papa!” she shrieked. Anna remembered Gram Hallie holding onto her from the tree near the barn. She remembered how he struggled, fought against her hug. Anna’s body shook, remembering the whip lashing against the flesh of her father’s back. “Shush, baby! Shush!” The juniper Gram Hallie worn filled her again, wrapped around her again even in Rasp’s arms. The sound of the whip fresh as Rasp held her. “Anna Clara! Anna Clara!”

Clara. May Clara’s mother’s name. Her mother was the last child she had before she was sold for spite. Master Massion’s sister, Miss Julia, lied and said Clara stole something from her. We gon be free in the morning. Her feet throbbed, reminding her of what Luke told her. “Luke wit Paul on alla his travels, dass what Father Shep say.” Her mother said. “Luke the same way. Knowin and seein. He gon be great!” Her mother vowed any daughter she could keep would have the name Clara if she could help it. “I know these white folk aint finna ever call you all that I say you is,” her mother had told her. “But yo name Anna Clara. Anna like the Bible. Clara like my Mama.”

We gon be free in the morning. 

Rasp held Anna, tight. His breath in time with her tears. She cried as the trees rustled. “There they is!” Rasp held her, turned the Anna from the sound. The smell of the hickory wood in Rasp’s clothes steadied her. “Anna Clara!” There was a weight that crashed into Rasp’s back, with a small tow sack on his back. It was Luke. “The scouts is gon be here at dawn! We gotta stay out here tonight. Be ready to go when they knock on the Closet door.” Rasp followed Luke as he set a lantern in the small window. Rasp picked Anna up from her feet, still throbbing from memory. “Tomorrow, Anna. Tomorrow already comin!” 

As he crossed the small threshold of the Prayer Closet, this small house built by their grandfather, Old Wen, before Master Massion was ever born! This place was built with scrap wood, and lumber from other trees. Old Wen, who died not knowing freedom, set a place for his grandchildren. Rasp held Anna, as she closed her eyes. “Tomorrow?” Rasp kissed her forehead. “We gon be free in the morning.” 

How To Successfully Survive A Jordan Peele Movie

Oh, my dearest ones! I have heard today the remake of ‘Candyman’ will be, is being pushed back till September, I thought I would do something a little lighthearted. You’ll thank me later, I promise. -JBHarris

What's Jordan Peele's new movie? Everything to expect in 2020
He’s brilliant. So very brilliant.

Let me preface by saying this: I am a fan of Jordan Haveworth Peele. I have been since I saw his President Obama sketched on Key & Peele on Comedy Central. I knew that he wrote for the show, but when I actually saw what he did for Get Out? I was a complete fan. Not just a fan, but a complete fan.

Note: The difference between being a fan of someone and a complete fan of someone is this. A fan is someone who likes a person, a thing or a concept and just that thing. A complete fan is someone that likes that thing/person; its cousin; their friends; the pie recipes; hash tags and follow everything associated on social media! I am a complete fan of Jordan Peele. Complete!

In this time of being self-quarantined/sheltering in place, this a perfect time to catch up on all the glorious genius of Jordan Peele and his funhouse of imagination known as Monkey Paw Productions. But, beware! Don’t be caught out there. A Jordan Peele/Peele-affiliated movie an experience. With any great, beautiful or dangerous adventure–you need a team to go with you! So, as I am here to help, let me tell you how to successfully survive a Jordan Peele movie.

1.) Go as a team. Preparing for a Jordan Peele movie/ Peele-affiliated movie requires the Buddy System. Don’t debate me on this. The Culture demands you have the Buddy System. You do not need to see a Jordan Peele/Peele-affiliated movie alone! This is for your own good! You need a group of people (at least 3!) to go with you. These are you EST (Emotional Support Team). A Peele movie/Peele-affiliated movie is ‘liable to have anything in it! You need a team, mane. You need a team.

2.) Emote in the correct parts. When I saw ‘Get Out‘, I was on the couch with my husband. From the onset of the scary music, I was invested. I wanted Chris to be okay, I thought Rose was trying too hard, and I KNEW something was wrong with Georgianna–horribly wrong! But with all that said, because Jordan can be so emotionally investing, it is a good thing to know when you need to be scared, and when you need to look at your EST–making sure you aren’t the only one that sees such a crazy thing happening alone! The laughs are help, trust they do, but you still need the EST.

3.) The Jump Scare. Bruh! I have never been the fan of ‘the jump scare’ because I had older cousins that made sport of doing that to me. And—I still hate them for that! With that said, Peele movies/Peele-affiliated movies have these–but they are so out the frame of where you really expect them (like Pluto in Get Out? Remember him! Bruh!)! Or where you think one will be–there isn’t!

Jordan Peele enjoys messing with your head.

Peele-affliated movies mess with your head.

See Step 1: Get your EST.

4.) The Easter Eggs. One of the reasons I am a complete fan of Jordan Peele, and everything he is involved with is because he makes his audience think (Pin: This is why writers need to be readers first!) and because he makes them think, you have to pay attention to what is said/not said/whispered. You have to watch everything! I am still picking apart Get Out and Us! There are still themes that I saw in these movies–even months later!–that I can see in pop culture and other literature. One of them being this mention of the Sunken Place was described is hinted at in Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Don’t believe me? Read it!

5.) The Decompression Comedown. Oh, the dreaded comedown. When my husband and I finished watching Us, I was blown away! He doubled over in his seat, probably to catch is mind as it was blown from the seat in his skull! And what did we do when we got to the car? Talked! We talked about the ending (no spoilers!), we talked about the themes, we talked about Pluto (bruh! There is a dissertation in JUST their interactions), we talked about the scripture referenced (Jeremiah 11:11). We broke it down, talking for a couple hours! These types of movies inspire conversation, thinking, analysis and the compulsion to see the movie again.

The EST helps you unpack your head–because the Peele/Peele-affiliated movie-going experience will definitely be thought-provoking. Or should be! But I’m a nerd with fashion sense. I’m biased. And a complete fan.

I urge you to become one as well.

So, with Candyman being pushed back for release come September 2020, remember what I told you. And stay out the mirror! The year 2020 is not playing with any of us…no one needs to at that dude to anything.

I Have Surrendered To The Air To Ride It.

Image result for toni morrison freedom quote

 

I was about 15 when I discovered Toni Morrison.

In my fury of reading ‘dark’ literature, romance and horror, I found her. There was a girl in my Spanish I class that had a copy of The Bluest Eye. I read the back of it, and was enthralled. However, how our high school was set up, I never got the chance to take the class this classmate did.

In my house, there were more books than television sets. At any of my maternal aunts’ houses I visited for that matter, there were books. Harlequin. Avon books. Encyclopedias. Langston Hughes. Toni Morrison. The first book I saw of hers was at my Aunt Stella’s house:  Sula. 

I finally read The Bluest Eye in my early twenties. I read her next to last book, Home, before I got a chance to read God Bless The Child. I had a habit of lending out my books, and sadly, due to this generosity, I lost a swath of my books. Most of them, by Toni Morrison. Thank God for Amazon, and Amazon Prime’s ability to replenish a library!

I found a home in Toni Morrison, I believe, due to her age and her physical resemblance to my maternal grandmother. I knew that Mother Morrison was getting older, and I knew she would pass away, but this loss? Her loss? It feels as if the world has gotten all the more dimmer. There is more of a chill to my day. There feels like there is all the more, that much more, lack in the world.

The one thing that I have to remember is writing, being a writer, carries its own immortality! Right now, I can go to a library, a book store, or the retail monster known as Amazon and find her!  I can find her imagination present in fictitious people or  in essays of power and substance. She may be lost, but she is not lost to time! In this, for this reason, am I comforted.

The question is now, how shall we proceed? We have long held up the artists of our parents’ and even grandparents’ generation. We have lauded over them, and protected their memories, with no thought of who will come after them! I understand (and it goes without saying) no one can be Toni Morrison. But what I can say is there are a generation of writers she inspired. Another generation of writers both/all Black, female, woman whom are grateful to her. Whom are steadied by the volume of her work, and whom now, I hope, shall be brave enough to put pen to paper. This is what I want…I want the work of writing to continue! From the accomplished novelists and essayist, to the young girl starting her first journal.

I want the work of writing to continue. This is how best to honor this giant of a woman is to have her spark, remind, invoke, provoke the writers whom will add to the canon of this glorious genre of Black literature.

As her body as surrendered, doing all it was purposed, let us be reminded of her quote in Song Of Solomon:

“If you surrender to the air, you can ride it.”

 

Ride the air, dearest ones. Ride the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Write

 

Image result for writing with pen and paper

 

There are over 150,000 words currently that make up the (American) English language. With all those words, I am often asked this question:

“Jennifer, why do you write?”

This is a loaded question. I write, not just because I’m good at it–that’s obviously a factor. But I write because it’s almost a compulsion at this point in my life. I have to write.

There are things happening in the world and in my head that I have to make sense of! Those things are not often reconciled unless I see them in ink or on screen.

Why I write? I write because I am descended from people that couldn’t speak the current language that I have now mastered. I write to embody the bravery found on slave ships, dumped into the Middle Passage, and washed on the shores of a strange world where they ceased to be both person and free.

I write to remember.

I write to forget. I write to record the stories of my parents I was too young to hear, and even younger to understand.

I write because there is a freedom I have found in 26 letters that I have found in nothing else of earthly importance.

I write because I can.

I write to conjure worlds that I only knew in lives lived before. I write to take photos of places I may never visit. I write to keep the tradition of storytelling viable. I write because bell hooks says that ‘no woman has ever written enough.’ I write to leave a road map to the women and girls to follow, just as Ntozake Shange instructed.

I have taken the tears of my mothers, the horrors of my fathers, knelled them into fire to be the fuses for my children.

They need to know that someone was here, someone was were they were, and didn’t die. They didn’t give up. They didn’t go softly into the dying of the light. They need to know that someone raged, fought and left instructions. Left a warning, or a seal of approval.

I write to remind myself to keep going.

 

 

 

[image from bonhitree.com]