She’s lighting a cigarette. The first time pops lost his words, I found her between the legs of a railway, staring at the ocean of distance before her, measuring foot by plank, how many steps she must take until she is born again. She hums the tune of Strange Fruit runnin her toes along the stones, making them jingle black bodies tied to arms of steel, held by the devil, Lord tell me this ain’t real. Nana says she ran from them black lungs in the sky, closing her eyes to the burnin’ of poppa’s library. She trails lines of smoke before her as she cusses and cries and sings and puffs – she say she dodged the chapters that tried to leave burn scars on her. Pops would yell at her a day after writin’, say she ain’t got the story straight. She say her wrists wouldn’t stop shakin, she was trying to remember the last words ‘a them boys pops told her, tried to write them down when all them damn voices, one after the other, all them black boys ain’t nobody never seen again began screamin’ in her wrists. They were fightin, she say, fightin to be ‘membered. Every time this wrist here go into one of them pain spells, I swear it’s my body bein a microphone for them screamin boys. All the books in pop’s library have burned their way into her skin. One time he was full-on fightin her, all he saw was the boy bein’ burned, and she couldn’t wake him.I stop her as she tries to reignite the flames to ‘member what his voice sound like when he told them stories. She bouts against the force of my hold, and tries to inch the cigarette closer to the pages of her skin. Brother, pop’s memories are only outlines of stories with spines. He remember the ropes and blood on the railroad tracks, but forgot which poor by it was, must’ve been one of those fast talkin’ boys, one ‘a them ‘gressive boys with wanderin eyes. Wander who his daddy was. That’s what made nana leave the house. She pushed back the chair letting it yell for her, she grabbed her pack ‘a cigarettes she’d vowed to smoke over a couple days, and walked out the house and cross the yard. Shoulders hunched, hands cupping the cigarette between her lips, she lit the cigarette with a match. She threw the matchbox to the ground and walked into the trees. I heard her singin one ‘a them blues, and she laughed. Her cackle was muted by pops cussin. Pops picked up the notebook, what is this woman writing? Shes just writin fairytales in this book here I ain’t said none ‘a that! He tossed the journal to the ground, and creaked his way across the wood floors to his chair. By the time I cross the yard and find Nana, she’s cryin’ laughin’ and talkin’’ to herself. I watch her cage her mouth with her fingers, sucking life into the congregation in her chest, and then spitting out a few pews. She is a cathedral of wilted flowers and memories, a canvas beaten with colors the sun only makes before hiding. She has their stories in her veins; every boy who screamed his way to eternal sleep hanging from these trees, and all the black bodies that was splattered on the railway. Pops he tears chapters from her every day that she is the only one who remembers the words. When she sees me, she laughs. Where’s Nana? Why, she’s wherever their Sun is, the white clouds took him away; she traces a purple bruise so dark it looked black, there he is, right there. My baby.
The featured images accompanying this short story, entitled ‘Fructose’, have been used with the permission of New York artist, Robert Alan.