Baby, dance

Dance baby, dance.

Lina heard her mother’s voice in her dreams. She saw her eyes before she could make out her face. They were dark brown, almost black. She bent down and gazed upon her daughter. Quarter-sized raindrops fell onto their brown skin, their bare feet planted firmly in the wet grass before their home. 

Dance baby. The rain deserves a little praise too.

In her dreams, Lina smiled. She raised her hands in the air and jumped. Her mother closed her eyes. She looked like a prayer. She opened one eye and caught Lina staring at her. She chased her daughter, and the two fell into the wet grass laughing, jumping, praying. Lina rolled over, tickled by her mother’s prickly fingernails, and when she turned her neck to catch her mother’s smile, she was gone and the girl was left alone. 


When she came to, Lina heard the gentle patter of rain on her windowsill. She wiped the crust from her eyelids and dug wax out of her ears. It couldn’t be raining, Lina thought. Not in September. Maybe Julia’s in the shower. She hit the snooze button and rolled over to her partner’s empty side of the bed. Moments later, she woke again to a new alarm. 5:45am. She was going to be late for her morning shift at the cafe. 

Lina thrust on some pants and reached for her phone to call a ride. She wasn’t stressed. More annoyed that she’d have to pay for a Lyft rather than catch a leisurely bus ride to LaVida, the cafe where she worked at on the weekdays. No matter though. The early morning rush didn’t really begin until after 7, and the only customer that might be there was Mr. David, an old man who lived alone up the street.


“So sorry, Mr. David,” Lina said to the man who sat patiently on the bench before the coffee shop’s gate with a newspaper in one hand and an umbrella in the other. His bronze skin glowed in the morning light and his curly gray afro blew in the direction of the wind. 

“It’s alright, Miss Lina. I ain’t been waiting here too long,” the man said in a raspy voice. Lina figured that Mr. David was a cigarette smoker in another life. “You okay though? Not like you to turn up late.”

“The rain,” Lina said through a forced smile. She pulled back the gates. Screeching metal competed with the steady patter of rain. Lina unlocked the doors and let the old man in. She turned on the lights and readied the shop for its morning clientele. Mr. David read his newspaper and when Lina looked ready, he went up to order a cup of iced coffee. 

“Iced today, huh? That’s new for you,” Lina replied. She prized herself on remembering everyone’s orders, even those who only came in a few times. Morning drinks, she surmised, said a lot about a person. 

“Yes, I’ll have mine iced today,” said the old man. “Most folks like to heat up in the rain. I want to chill these nerves of mine.”

She handed Mr. David his drink and he lingered by the counter for some time. Lina began wiping down the counter and tinkering with the machines. Every now and then she’d catch Mr. David staring absentmindedly into his cup. She didn’t know how but she saw sadness in his eyes. Figured it must be about his wife, Ms. Diane, who died of cancer last year. 

“Everything all right with you, Mr. David?”

“It’s the rain, dear. Makes me think…”

Lina could relate. She still felt her mother’s playful caress tickling her youthful belly. She pushed the memory aside, afraid of what it might bring up.

“Ever had someone,” the old man began, “someone you wish you could still talk to? You know, make it right…”

Mama. “Can’t say,” Lina replied. She felt an urge to console the man, so she said “you thinking about Ms. Diane on today? She always had the loveliest smile.”

Mr. David shook his head and let out a chuckle. His gray curls bounced with his giggles and he fell into the seat beside him. “No no, honey. I do miss that woman. But we made our peace when she passed on.” His eyes moved to the cars speeding by on the wet pavement. “I’m talking ‘bout someone else. From a long time ago. His name was Antonio.”

Lina came around the counter to refill the straw jar and sat across from the curly haired man. “Antonio,” she said, “what a mysterious name,” Lina teased, but Mr. David didn’t seem to notice.

 “Me and Antonio, we had a...a bond. He loved me when I was young. Many, many years ago. He loved me and I loved him. But,” he sighed, “it was...a different time. Not as uh...accepting as it is today, you know what I mean?” he said and raised his bushy eyebrows at her. And Lina understood. She wondered if Ms. Diane had known about Antonio when she was alive. If he had told their children. She was certain they had at least one. And the thought of children brought Lina back to her own mother. Dance baby, she heard her voice once more. 

And so, she decided to. 

“I do know what you mean, Mr. David. Wishing you could speak to someone from the past,” Lena paused and looked down, remembering the way her bare feet slid through the wet grass. “I keep having these dreams about my mama. She left when I was just 10. Left me with my grandparents. I think she was an addict. I don’t know. I don’t really know much about her at all. But I can still hear her voice.”


You have to let me go

About a year and a half ago I began a Black writing group with my friends. We’re all writers of different genres, goals and experiences. But the one thing we share is our desire to write and grow in a community of Blackness. I’m often surprised by the things I come up with in those monthly sessions. This piece came from the theme of “letting go.” I tried a something different. This piece is stripped down. Personal. Cryptic. I ended up liking it, so I’ve decided to share.

———

“You have to let me go,” Jenna said. Her voice was firm. It felt foreign even to her.

Maurice lowered his eyes and sobbed, briefly. A toddler’s cry. He walked behind the counter and brought back a cardboard box. Placed it on the table before her.

“I don’t want to see that,” Jenna said. Her voice wasn’t so firm anymore.

“Tough,” Maurice replied. “You wanna leave? You’ll have to take him with you.”

A rank odor arose and slithered into both of their nostrils.

“I can’t,” Jenna said, covering her mouth. Afraid she’d vomit.

Maurice took his seat and pushed the box closer to Jenna. “You can’t have it both ways. Not anymore.”

He leaned over and unlocked the lid. Jenna thrust her hands in front of her face. “I don’t want to see it!” she screamed. But it was too late. It all went dark.

***

When she came to, Maurice was by her side, fanning Jenna in a small room underneath a soft yellow light.

“Is it gone?” Jenna whispered. She scrunched her nose. Afraid of smelling that dreadful odor again.

Maurice wiped her forehead and leaned in from the shadows. “You’ll never see it again,” he whispered, “so long as you’re here, right by my side.”


THE THINGS WE DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN

The last time I had to explain, it didn’t feel so good.

Oblivious glances passed around a circle asking the age old question: So, where are you really from?

Matt goes first, Polish, he says. Molly, dark and ambiguous, shouts Greek and Spanish with casual pride. Someone else mumbles Italian, Croatian, and the list goes on.

All eyes land on me. You can’t be serious, I say, read up on American history, and you still won’t find my ancestors on the pages.

But one day, an epiphany arises, and you suddenly realize that their validation never mattered at all. That there’s no need to explain:

  • The southern twang in your midwestern speech

  • The rhythmic phrases only understood by you and the South Side you call home

  • Or just what goes into a name you’ve used for 30 years, passed down from mother to son, and son again.

Sometimes you don’t want to explain. The will is gone. And only then, right there, is when nuff said is just enough.

Last Sup pt 2

Second half of something I’ve been working on since like forever…

“Listen, Jer. I love you and I’m not leaving. I’m simply asking to open up what we have. I’ll never stop wanting you. You don’t have to worry about that. I just think, why not share our love? Why not have...more?” Kende passionately pleaded.

Kende had never so honestly offered his feelings on non-monogamy before. But if he thought Jeremy would appreciate his candidness, it seemed that he was wrong. Jeremy’s light brown cheeks quickly reddened and he his clenched fists even tighter.

“All I hear…,” Jeremy began with an exhausted sigh.

“Don’t minimize what I’m saying, Jer,” Kende interrupted, finally grasping the gravity of their conversation. He couldn’t protect Jeremy’s feelings forever.

“All I hear,” Jeremy’s voice dropped, “is that you aren’t content with just me even though I’m content with just you.” The fire in his cheeks cooled as the first tear fell. “And I see your side. That’s what infuriates me. Because I understand. I just…I just don’t, I can’t, it’s not for me, Kende. It’s not for me.”

The waiter came back and began to ask if she should top off their drinks, but the tension in the air suggested otherwise so she quickly pivoted toward another table. Jeremy reached out and this time it was Kende’s hand he caressed.

“I love you. I always will. But what you want, it’s just not what I want. So do what you need to do, Kende. Do what you need to make you happy.” He didn’t mean to, but his words fell out flatly.

For a moment, Kende wasn’t sure if Jeremy was serious or not. He struggled to grasp how they so quickly arrived to this point. Kende didn’t expect that he would be deciding on the future of a three-year relationship so abruptly. But here they were.

“Is this real? I don’t know what to say,” Kende replied in disbelief. He could always think of something charming to say to ease any awkward scenario. This time, though, he was at a loss for words.

“You don’t have to say anything. Let’s just finish dinner,” Jeremy replied with familiar disregard before returning to his plate.

They didn’t speak much for the rest of the evening. It was clear to the both of them what would come next. After signing the check, Kende reached over to touch Jeremy’s thigh but he moved his legs.

“It’s over Kende,” Jeremy paused. He didn’t think he could continue but he did. “You can get your things in the morning. Good night.” He put on his coat, looked one last time at the love of his life, and left.

“Good bye,” Kende responded, dumbfounded; a meager bowl of plantains resting alone on the table before him.


 


Last Sup pt. 1

first half of somethin' I've been working on since like forever: 

 

“Let’s see. What is it this time? The chairs? Let me guess, there are exactly twenty-four chairs in this restaurant.”

Jeremy felt the waves of Kende’s deep voice bouncing off the brown hairs on his arms. He shot Kende a cold glance and took a deep breath before responding.

“There are thirty. Seven are currently being used. It would be eight if you had arrived twenty-seven minutes ago as we scheduled,” Jeremy replied with cold and meticulous precision.

Jeremy despised feeling that his time was being wasted. He selected Negril, the Caribbean restaurant in the couple’s East Oakland neighborhood, to serve as a neutral meeting ground. But Kende’s tardiness was already working his nerves and Jeremy struggled to keep his calm.

“Apologies my love,” Kende said with a forgivable smile. Negril’s gentle lighting perfectly complimented his dark chocolate skin. He kissed his partner on the cheek and took his seat.

Kende could have told Jeremy of the accident on the I-80 and how he had been driving in one-lane rush hour traffic for nearly two hours, but he knew his love all too well. Jeremy thought it foolish that Kende even drove into the city for work and had no sympathy for his daily traffic woes.

“How was your day, sweetheart?” Kende asked, loosening up his tie with his right hand and caressing Jeremy’s fist with his left. He knew that if they were going to move past this tension he would have to be the one to make the effort.

Jeremy paused, took a sip of water and stared at the happy couple seated behind their table, wondering if he and Kende would ever feel that joy again.

“It went well, Kende,” Jeremy responded coldly and took a deep breath before asking, “so, are we going to act as if yesterday didn’t happen?”  

Kende knew it was only a matter of time before Jeremy brought it up. He crossed his hands and forced a relaxed smile, eager to find them in steady waters once again.  

“We’ve spoken about opening up our relationship before, Jer. I still don’t understand why you blew up,” Kende casually replied, halfway focused on flagging down the waiter to order a glass of white wine.

“But never before have you posed it as an ultimatum,” Jeremy urged, and his voice cracked a little; a drop of vulnerability could be found in there, somewhere.

Silence fell over the table. The waiter brought out two dishes of spicy curry rice, a platter of jerk chicken and a thing of plantains. As Jeremy readied himself, Kende went in for first and emptied out nearly all of the plantains from the bowl.

“And you’re so inconsiderate too!” Jeremy fumed. “You have me wait half an hour and then take all of the food?”

“Eh, you said twenty-seven minutes,” Kende softly chimed in, quickly realizing that humor wasn’t going to help him out of this dilemma.

It was unlike Jeremy to raise his voice, but he needed to let go of this anger. He was determined to finally address his feelings head on. They both dropped their utensils and stared at one another....

Kennedy Park

Intimate spaces were hard to come by as an 18-year-old in love. The back seat of my car next to Kennedy Park, often did the trick. Jamal was in my arms when two white officers startled us, banging on the window.

“What are you doing in there? Come out right now,” the cop demanded.

Terrified, we hurried outside. She surveyed my I.D. while her partner inspected the vehicle. Found nothing.

What will my parents say if I get arrested? I thought, sweat falling down my brow.

We stood there, trembling in the middle of the street. Two Black boys out of place. Brown skin reason enough for suspicion.

“I’m letting you off. But you boys can’t be here doing...this,” she said, handing over my I.D.

We got in and sped off, too afraid to speak; quietly in pursuit of a place to be, free, together.