short story

Exotic

(Somewhere along you linger, in warm sheets against my facsimile, haunting my dreams like a shade…)

{I know The Sun rests on your shoulders, by the way your skin glows like gilded mahogany.  I know somewhere in your cells lies a wicked light that doth sunder a man to ashes. I know you over again like the Morning Star, it’s lost titles, and the songs of The Heavenly Host.

And you were a promise I chose to keep.  Over and above hollow vows, precious stones, and sweet things which in their apathy, refuse to persist.  You rescued The Day from my night, with The Sun resting on your shoulders. Your name is a word worth keeping.

What does grace look like?

It swims in the eyes of a Black Woman.

What are riches worth?

That which she chooses.

And a Black woman is…?}

[And she took the form of elegant persuasion…

Her hair coiled around the air like cocoa butter and castor oil, starving it of lifelessness.

Lips filling the sky like sun and moon, she had her own gravity.

Something unearthly, Godlike burned in her eyes…

Her skin slid across The Elements like Energy, contouring to the imagination, ebbing and flowing to the desires of the mind.

Flowers blossomed as she sighed.

Her laughter stirred inertia in The Cosmos…

What wit? What force of Fortune would endear me to you?

How horrifying a mistake I’ve made to live so long without you…

Please excuse my tardiness.]

 

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In The Backroom

Was you a Black Queen in a past life?

Did God grant you a pass like,

From ancestor to grand daughter,

“I got you right the first time,

no added mix to the formula…”

And she said,

“I beat these bruises out my face,

and rub a smile across my lips,

but you can still see the thorns draped around my neck.

So if you think you can just buy my affection,

or spend my time…”

We painted all night in my studio,

She had a candid conversation with my canvas,

As I brushed her skin in candied couture,

Each breath like laughter,

Until honey dripped between her thighs,

The way the flames of another person,

Swallow you whole before you can wade their shallow waters,

I feel comfortable the way we bury our problems in one another.

The Lost Faith (VI)

As soon as Abigail’s hands found themselves upon the handle of the door, the distant bell above the cathedral tolled as if to spurn the heavens into motion. Looking up the vision she saw unfolding above her nearly brought her to her knees. The previously unremarkable sky had completely transformed, golden light poured from every corner of the sky as if the entire sky had been repainted with the rays of the sun.

Gently falling from the golden sky like snow feathers bright as stars plummeted softly to the ground. Joyous laughter welled up from Abigail’s heart as a feather floated down into one of her outstretched hands. The profound and beautiful silence of the moment moved her to tears.

The giant doors to the cathedral were lighter than air to her touch and swung open eagerly before Abigail’s fingers. She stepped into the cathedral and was shocked at how small and comfy it was on the inside. Aside from a few rows of pews and an altar on the other end of the room the cathedral seemed to contain little else inside.

Abigail walked towards the altar trying to make out the strange glyphs inscribed upon the far wall. She stopped shortly and try as she might the more she studied the symbols the more bizarre they seemed. She turned her sweeping gaze across the other features of the room; there were no symbols in the room defining any particular religion.

The benches that made up the pews were crafted from simple cherry oak. She inspected the back of them hoping to find a Bible or Quran perhaps, nothing. The carpet stretching from the entryway to the altar was a simple red with white borders along the edges.

Some candles set inside of candelabra in the corner of the room on either end of the altar gave no insight. Upon the altar itself, white cloth and a jeweled golden chalice. “Communion maybe?” Abby thought to herself. She leaned over and looked into the chalice, nothing. Frustrated and slightly crestfallen at the lack of answers Abigail turned to leave.

“What have you come in search of?” The question most certainly ringed in her ears but was it coming from someone else in the room or her own mind Abigail wasn’t sure.   “I don’t know,” replied Abigail aloud. Her eyes darted around the room for the possible source of the voice.

“What have you lost?” This time Abby was clear, it wasn’t coming from her own head, the voice seemed to be coming from the room itself, with no distinct center. “Faith,” Abigail said addressing the chalice on the altar. “No,” the voice responded.

The voice almost reminded Abigail of Nana but somehow distant, softer but somehow stronger. “What do you mean no?” asked Abigail defiantly. “Not it,” the voice replied simply. “You’re wrong, that’s why I’m here,” Abigail replied desperately. Her voice was quivering, full of doubt and fear, if this wasn’t why she was here then why would she be? “I’m not close, but I’m not lost,” the voice whispered.

“I-I need your strength…” Abigail pleaded, the words almost failing her. The voice did not respond. “Please, don’t leave me, I don’t know why I always feel so lost,” Abigail had uttered the words with utter humility; she was moved to speak to the voice by a force she did not know. Her pride and knees failed her as she cried out to the voice from the cosmos.

In the silence of the cathedral, as Abigail cried on all fours, she felt a warmth flooding her crouched form. “I’m never far,” the voice said breaking through Abby’s cries, this time distinctly above her. She looked up and instantly felt at peace.

The figure stretching above her filled the room with golden light. With wings as pure as ivory and eyes glowing with sunlight Abigail struggled to comprehend, the entity’s form. The Angel’s garb was a purely embroidered dress.   She sported ornate golden jewelry all across her body. Her hair flowed as slowly through time as if woven with magic. The angel reminded Abby so much of her dear Nana, but also looked profoundly different. Maybe this was Nana when she was younger? But no her face was different, one Abigail couldn’t quite make out.

In the presence of the Angel Abigail could feel an immense power welling up from deep within her. As she looked down at herself, she could see golden light pouring from herself as well in the presence of the Angel. In the Angel’s hands, Abby noticed the chalice stretched towards her expectantly.

Understanding dawned in Abigail’s mind as she reached into her pocket and withdrew the feathers that she had fallen earlier. Lowering them into the empty chalice, the feathers turned into a glowing liquid. Abigail pressed the chalice to her lips and drank the contents full.

Instantly she could feel the effects, the liquid making her body feel as light as a feather.   Deep inside, Abby felt an old wound close. The Angel smiled and wrapped itself in its wings vanishing in a radiant glow of light. “Wait!” Abigail cried out. “Never far,” the voice echoed, this time inside her mind. The light from Abigail muted substantially in the empty cathedral, but a portion remained all the same.

Even now, Abigail could sense herself stirring, waking from the dream. She tested her lightness, and surely enough, as soon as she willed herself to, she found she could fly. Facing the empty chalice and altar, the glyphs on the wall illuminated as if lit by an eternal fire. The walls around her were beginning to fade as she began to wake, a single word churned into being like fire in the darkness, Gratia.

The Lost Faith (V)

Running, shadows, noise. The breath in her chest was strained and sharp, the pursuit was relentless, the dark arms tore at her desperate for any speck of flesh, any strand of hair. The howling behind her was awful, deep and dreadful like a piercing cry from the heart of hell. Abigail’s feet pummeled the Earth hard, faster, towards the light, the scenery aside an indiscernible blur. Light. Hope. Silence.

***

Abigail awoke with a start. This was the aspect of lucid dreaming she hated the most, nightmares, so vivid, so real. Even the dreams that weren’t lucid were powerful and rapturous. Often times they were the worst because she couldn’t simply will herself to wake up like she could with an actual lucid dream. “Breathe,” she said to herself. “Breathe, it’s just a dream. That’s it easy.” Abigail extracted her dream diary from her bag and recorded the experience. Several minutes later, she eased herself back to sleep.

***

The world before her eyes was not at all what she expected it to be when she opened them. She stood in the ruined center of a once great city. The concrete and asphalt cracked and frayed. Great buildings stretched along towards the sky, some unfinished in construction, others broken by a terrible unknown force.

As she walked along the streets she observed crowds of people suspended in drama as if time had stopped, along other streets people walked along unfazed as if nothing peculiar were occurring. Cars drove along the streets and into the sky and vanished. All manner of objects floated about unfettered and phased through Abigail’s hand as she tried to touch them.

No one seemed to notice Abigail, just walking along deftly avoiding her or perhaps walking through her.   She tried to call out to them but much to her horror her voice was gone. “Reality check,” she thought to herself pressing her right fist firmly into her palm, with little resistance it passed cleanly through. “So I’m dreaming,” she muttered to herself. “But I need to find my voice.”

Abigail mouthed all manner of words and strained her voice but all to no avail. Gazing about furiously for help her eyes settled upon a small child eyeing her furtively. As Abigail’s eyes settled onto the small girl she felt a slight unease. The girl perhaps sensing it too cocked her head to the side and smiled. “She knows something,” Abigail thought. But before Abigail could reach the child, the girl ran off to the end of the street and rushed around a corner.

Instinct exploded into Abby as she shirked the corner every step driving into the concrete with increased power and resolution. The girl she pursued was fast too, always a couple steps ahead. Abby drove herself forward recklessly, “faster,” she thought, “faster.” The word echoed into her mind until her will wove itself into action. She distantly knew that at the speed she was currently moving was not humanly possible, and yet she did not feel fatigue, but rather invigoration.

Ahead the girl was still blazing ahead of Abigail, no closer despite the superhuman speed that Abby was now steadily stretching beyond. And the girl did seem to be a lot like fire Abby noticed as the child laughed and pressed beyond. The previously pale brown skin was now glowing, increasingly red like hot iron. The red hair waving and billowing like smoke, and when the child looked back it was with eyes full of flame.

“You’re not faster than me little imp,” Abby thought to herself. The words no sooner filled her mind than suddenly a joyous power crackled through her body like a streak of lightning. The imp’s eyes grew wide as she tried to comprehend the bolt of Abby bearing down upon her. Somewhere from the depths of the spark a hand formed and reached out to the imp. Triumphantly Abigail grasped the fiery sprite only for the imp to vanish in a puff of red smoke.

Abigail pressed her heels deeply into the ground; “STOP!” she yelled, and much to her surprise the voice tore through her lips into the world beyond. The sudden resultant stop was nigh instantaneous and not a moment too soon. She found herself in a distant part of the city where there was no other sign of life. The very atmosphere of this part of the city was different.

Before her stood a massive cathedral stretching into the heavens as if from a world beyond. She stood in awe of the construction it’s gothic architecture profoundly out of place in the ruined city she had witnessed. And yet it stood completed and resilient, like a last bastion of hope and faith in the shattered world.

“I don’t belong here,” thought Abby aloud, she hadn’t been to church since Nana forced her to go since she was a little girl. “I’ve lost faith.” It was strange to Abby that her dream world decided to take her here. She had no intentions of setting foot into church especially not into an illusory one. Yet she still couldn’t help but to be taken in by it’s profound beauty.

The more she stared at the grayish-white stone with which the cathedral was hewn from, the more radiant it seemed to glow, a soft silvery white almost like moonlight. The cathedral sported a profound sense of symmetry in its construction sloping towards its center where a bell remained suspended at its highest point. Along the various towers figures stood atop some clutching arcane objects locked in contemplative grief, others raptured in joyous expressions of jubilation.

Abigail could feel something deep within her compelling her inside the cathedral. Even as she debated the sensation in her mind she felt a remarkable ease and lightness creep up from the pit of her stomach. Before she could protest, the compulsion became a step towards the door.

The Lost Faith (IV)

The kitchen had become a concert of metallic chimes and delightful laughter in a mere matter of minutes. Before Abigail knew it she was scurrying about reveling in her almost lost passion for baking along with her cousin and grandmother. Young Kevin scurried back and forth between the kitchen and the cartoons in the living room stealing snatches of the unfinished desserts during any of the adult’s lapses in attention.

As the time elapsed Abigail told her grandmother and cousin of the numerous adventures that occurred over the course of the semester much to their amusement. By the time both the dinner and dessert had finished cooking they had all exhausted their cache of missed events of the recent past and were discussing plans for the future.

“I’m actually thinking about going back to school for another degree,” said Gloria, stroking her chin thoughtfully. “Probably just go to a community college though, major in business.” “But it sounds like you’re doing quite well for yourself over at the gym, why go back to school again?” said Abigail eyeing Nana’s freshly baked black cake covetously. “Well it is but I don’t really see myself staying there much longer, I’ve always wanted to open up my own business and I have a fairly good idea of what I want to do anyway.” “So there’s no chance of you going back into law then,” Nana cut in sharply. “No I don’t think so Nana, it took me forever to get a job as a paralegal despite me already having a law degree,” said Gloria shaking her head. “If I hadn’t started working at the gym I don’t know where I’d be now.”

“How about you Abby? Still pursuing finance or whatever?” asked Gloria, now expectantly eyeing the black cake as well. There was more than a considerable amount of heft behind the seemingly innocuous question. “Yeah, I mean its what’s best right?” Abby asked staring into her plate. “It’s what’s best…” “Who are you trying to convince Abster?” said Gloria half laughing. “The last time I saw you perform at that open mic in midtown. You did some serious damage.” Abigail smiled slyly; she remembered well the performance that Gloria was alluding to. It was a spoken word piece she had been working on for the better part of four months. Her work was a love letter to womanhood, perseverance, and the contemporary African American experience.

“I mean, sure I love writing, it’s an important part of my life but that doesn’t mean I have to rely on it as a profession,” said Abigail. “And I have job security to worry about too after all. In this day and age you can’t really afford to simply do what you want, particularly in the liber arts fields. I have a good feeling about finance, it’s a safe bet.”

Abigail had spun the words smoothly from her lips almost as if from memory. There was no doubting the finality in her tone as she spoke, and yet when Gloria spoke it was past the finely tuned logic, and straight down to the heart of the matter. “Yeah Abster, that’s the safe bet. But its not who you are.”

***

By ten o’ clock Kevin was too tuckered out to keep up with the adults and resolved himself to clamber into one into of the beds in the guest room. Nana also took Kevin’s fatigue as her cue to rest and followed shortly after. Gloria and Abigail continued to talk about the various men who had drifted in and out of Gloria’s life at the gym. Eventually the conversation turned to Abby and the men, or lack thereof in her life.

“So you mean to tell me with all the dudes on your campus, there’s not a single one you want to talk to?” asked Gloria skeptically. “Not even one you think is fine?” “Yeah, I mean there are some I like but I don’t know, I don’t think they would be interested. As a matter of fact I’m not even interested, I’m not looking right now.” Abigail’s response was far too unnatural and swift; Gloria could sense the tension in the air but ploughed through regardless. “Come on now Abby, you’ve been using that excuse for as long as I remember, what about your friend Michael? You’ve never thought of it?”

Of course Abby had thought of Michael albeit briefly, and besides he never seemed to express that kind of interest so she never dwelled on it. “No, I-I haven’t,” she said her face now thoroughly flushed. Aside from Michael there was another guy she had always fancied, but he was far beyond her reach, and part of her wanted it that way.

“Well hopefully you meet somebody at that party your going to, shit I might need one of them Greeks to change my life,” said Gloria patting her hair. “Are you going to bring your sister?” Abigail hadn’t thought about it since earlier that day. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Have you even talked to her about what we’ve discussed?” Gloria asked the question almost as severely as she eyed Abby. “I haven’t found the time,” Abby squeaked. “Well whatever you do, you need to speak to her, don’t go back to school before you have that conversation.” Gloria was right, Abigail knew the words to be true and yet it did nothing to ease the difficulty of the task.

The pair continued to chat idly as the conversation eventually drifted towards their differing preferences on old school music. The channel on the television clicked from movies to cartoons, then finally an old stand up comedy special. Eventually Gloria hugged Abigail and wound her way up to her room, she had a long ride back home with a very precocious young boy tomorrow.

Abigail turned off the TV and brewed a cup of tea, steeped from valerian, her favorite. She sat in silence as the day’s events turned over in her mind. The tea seeped down deeply into Abby’s core, then spread through her legs like roots and her arms like branches. Her body compelled itself towards her bed, and before she knew it, the world was gone.

The Lost Faith (III)

It took Abigail more than a moment to quell her quietly seething rage as she stood before her exam’s classroom. Mere thoughts of having to speak with her sister caused the unease of their frequent past arguments to surface in her mind. “I have to focus, I’ll deal with her later,” thought Abigail shaking her head. She adjusted her glasses and performed a reality check, pressing the index and middle finger of her right hand against the ones on her left.

This seemingly bizarre act to an onlooker would be easily understood by any other lucid dreamer. “I’m not dreaming am I,” she asked herself already fully knowing the answer. “No, I’m not. Now lets be done with this.” With her mind clear and resolute, Abigail turned the knob of the door and embraced her final exam like an old friend.

It took Abigail no more than thirty minutes to finish her exam. After enthusiastically shaking the hand of her excitable professor Abby flew back to her dorm to pack away her things for the break. The time elapsed quickly as Abigail packed away her belongings, only the most essential of which she planned to freight home with her.   By around three o’ clock she had already finished her lunch and called a taxi.

Twenty minutes later the car pulled up to the school’s main gate and Abigail settled into the backseat after stowing her suitcase. She spent the roughly half hour cab ride to her grandmother’s house silently writing all manner of wonderful works, almost none of which would ever reach the eyes and ears of the needed. When the car pulled up to the familiar old gate, Abby couldn’t help but sigh blissfully. All manner of fond memories welled up in her chest as she stared at the slightly aging house.

The driver removed Abby’s suitcase and she thanked him curtly with a stiff nod and a crumpled note hastily removed from her wallet. As soon as Abigail wheeled her suitcase up to the front door it opened expectantly. She was greeted by a waist high precocious face smiling up at her, which then proceeded to press itself into her knees.

“Abby!” The muffled face squealed as it hugged her legs. Abigail chuckled weakly, “Hi my little munchkin how are you?” It was her cousin’s son Kevin, although to Abby he was more like her nephew seeing as her cousin was more of a sister to her than her actual one was. “Come on let’s go inside,” Abigail said as she strained to carry both the boy and the suitcase in each arm.

As she crossed the door the familiar faint smell of incense and scented candles greeted her. She looked around, the entryway as she remembered, the dining room to her right and a case full of dinnerware and piano in the alcoves of the opposite room. Ahead the staircase loomed leading up to the bedrooms, around the staircase to the left was the living room, and to the right the kitchen. The house was small but cozy, a bit dimly lit and chock full of all manner of accouterments. From the numerous pictures scattered about the walls and the candles around the house lighting various rooms Abigail felt a remarkable lightness she hadn’t experienced since moving into her dorm.

From the kitchen Abigail became distantly aware of sounds and activity.   “Mommy Auntie Abby’s here!” called out Kevin. Immediately her cousin rounded the corner into view from the kitchen, tall and fit as ever Abigail’s twenty seven year old cousin grabbed her son and proceeded to vigorously draw Abby into a deep hug. Her cousin Gloria was a fitness trainer, a major inspiration to Abby in terms of both confidence and physique; she also was the one who did her hair. “Oh my gosh! Why didn’t you say anything! Nana come down, Abby just made it home!”

From upstairs Abby could almost feel the labored heaving of her grandmother’s scurrying. Now eighty-eight years old, the doctors recommended much bed rest for the old woman, but Nana was never one to remain still for long, especially when she had a valid reason. Abigail climbed the stairs and met her grandmother half way.

As soon as she met the kindly old rich brown eyes tears of erupted from Abigail. Feelings of deep gratitude, joy, and utmost safety welled up from a place far beyond Abby new and she found herself again weeping into her grandmother’s arms as the old voice just repeated the same words “I know baby, I know.” After Abigail composed herself she raised up so her grandmother could study her. The powerful searching eyes roved her face and probed her deeply.

Even now the old woman was still formidable, graying fibers sprouting from her head, mottled brown skin, back firm and straight, and the scent of lavender pleasantly wafting from nowhere. Nana or rather Ms. Christine Willard was as mighty and eternal as ever.

“Goodness, you look ever more like your mother every time I look at you,” said Nana shaking her head slightly. “Lord, lord, lord you must be killin’ them lil boys down there ain’t you?” Abigail laughed softly “Oh come now Nana they don’t” “Now I don’t want to hear that now child,” said Nana abruptly cutting her off. “You been opening up girl, you gotta open up now child, these boys they want a strong woman now. I’ll tell you now when I was young your grandfather thought no one could keep him down, but I tamed him.” Abigail laughed and shook her head. She remembered her grandfather well; he passed when she was about fifteen years old. “Come on downstairs child, let’s fix you something,” Nana said as she clambered downstairs towards the kitchen.

The Lost Faith (II)

The campus was eerily ghostlike, not the usual frenetic sandbox of activity it usually was. Today was the last day of finals, many of the students had returned to the various parts of the country they had come from, and yet quite a few still planned to remain on campus during the break. Abigail plunged her headphones into her ear and began the trek across campus to the building that housed the business department.

Today’s playlist consisted of sensual soulful R&B from a number of popular underground contemporary artists as well as some of her favorite conscious fringe rappers. The perfect mix to keep one centered and isolated. No sooner had she made it a quarter way to her destination when the familiar unpleasant call of Khalil’s voice rang out over the music in her headphones.

“Aye! Ma! Yope!” called Khalil, running down Abby’s graceful strides. The pre-programmed grimace instantly unfurled itself from Abigail’s face. Khalil was a fellow classmate from high school.   A tall handsome light skinned young man, who had come a long way from how Abigail used to remember him in their freshman year. The scraggly frame had transformed into a slight powerful frame with strong muscles. He sported a tattoo on his arm of his deceased relative’s name on a scroll with a dove floating above it. One of those generic tattoos that people are always clamoring to get. His once completely unremarkable mohawk had become a tangle of curly hair tapered neatly on the sides. Abby wondered if Khalil secretly harbored ambitions to convert his hair into a man bun.

Khalil had most definitely become a new man, or boy perhaps based on his behavior. Serving on the college’s basketball team and joining a fraternity had transformed the once nice and slightly awkward young man into a crazed ego driven moron. “What do you want Khalil?” heaved Abigail flatly, completely unfazed by the freckles and hazel eyes that seemed to crush the souls of most other girls. “Damn, ma! Why you always trying to play me, you know we go way back I stay trying to talk to you.”

Abigail silently reflected on the fact that before college Khalil never spoke to her. Despite the overwhelming urge, Abigail managed to transcend her propensity for sarcasm and pettiness and sighed, “I’m sorry Khalil, you’re right, what can I do for you?” “Well there’s a lot of things you can do for me,” he said eyeing her greedily and wringing his hands. “Boy bye,” said Abby rolling her eyes. “Wait you know I’m just playin,’ look, when you plan on coming to one of our parties? We got one coming up next Saturday, I need you to be there.” She turned the prospect of the party over in her mind, normally she would say no, parties were not at all her type of thing but a different wind seemed to be blowing. “Alright, I’ll come, text me the flier.” “Cool, cool, aight, and bring your sister too,” he said in a silky voice far too feigned. “AND TEXT ME BACK.”

By the time he had yelled those last words Abby was already careening off. She knew the only two reasons he wanted to talk to her. The first was because he wanted to sleep with her; she knew the hungry looks he shot at her well. She could hear the greed in his voice, she could hear it seeping out all of their voices, and it made her feel profoundly unclean. The only other reason he wanted to talk to her was to gain access to her sister, a local underground R&B singer. Abigail’s sister Michelle only two years her elder, was about the only underground singer Abby didn’t listen to. But that was because of a matter of principle, a very important one.