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Or Something

 “It didn’t sit right with me. It felt like frostbite and searing skin.” She thought as she barreled through the field on her way home from Clementine’s Grocery. She had never seen someone weep with such intensity; it was as if his whole body was grief and salty tears and pooled snot were the only way he knew to communicate.  Her lips quivered and her shoulders ached, she was running on empty and the house seemed so far away.

“Why had I run? Why hadn’t I attempted to speak or stay or something?’ I see him every day, he smiles and waves as I cross the road, he is nice to Ma – he doesn’t have to be anything.” The trip seems to go on for decades, though she is barreling recklessly, looking for her door or her ma or him.

When she finally reaches her door, she could almost collapse with relief.  Her ma’s steely scent of lavender and sweat permeates the hallway, as she gulps the air greedily. “Where is she?” she thinks as she hastily removes her shoes and coat, after putting her keys into the dish on the dresser. “Momma never misses a chance to greet me, especially when I’m supposed to be carrying in things for supper.”  But of course, she was not carrying anything. Hadn’t carried anything but her damn self through that door and that was a feat. She calls out to the cool air, awaiting a soft reply from her mom. There is none. She carries on through the small house, checking the quaint bedrooms and the decent sized kitchen. Nothing. “Where the hell is my ma?” She thinks as she enters her room and quickly grabs her slippers. “If she’s not back soon, I’m going to head back out.” No later than the thought enters her mind, her mom comes through the same door she previously plowed into.

 Though this isn’t her ma, not warm and soft with a light look on her face ma, no. This ma is worried and stiff, seems a little jarred. “What’s wrong baby?” She utters as she removes her winter gear.  No answer.  “What’s wrong Kaira?  What is it?”  She tries again. Kaira can only open her mouth and close it again, repeatedly. She is trying to speak, though she can’t quite get the words out and doesn’t want to swallow them either. They taste like iron and blood. Ma envelopes Kaira in her embrace faster than you can blink. She doesn’t know what it is, but she could feel it as she walked briskly back to the house—having only gone a few houses down to see Pauletta before Bonnie came by. They hold like this for some time—could be five minutes or a small lifetime.

“All right, we have some work to do. Aunty Bonnie is on her way and we best fix her something to eat.”  Ma says as she releases Kaira, never mentioning the nonexistent groceries or the erratic beat of Kaira’s heart. “Aunt Bonnie? Why the hell is she coming, how could I have not known?” Kaira thinks as she moves toward the kitchen with her ma. A comfortable silence falls over the kitchen as they ignore the outside and focus on preparing peppers and rice, curry and baked bread.  “I’m going to wash up in the bathroom ma” Kaira speaks for the first time since they entered the kitchen and turns away from the counter. “Shit! You scared me.” She exclaims, clutching her already irregularly beating heart. “Kaira!” Ma shouts and then turns to Bonnie who had quietly come in and was observing them. “I’m sorry Bo, we didn’t know you were there and you startled Kai.” “That’s quite alright Kenyetta, I’m fine watching you.” Bo says as she gets up and embraces her sister, a long squeeze that seems to fracture “Jarred ma”, however fleeting.

“She is downright creepy sometimes.” Kaira thinks as she dries her hands off in the bathroom. Though, she couldn’t deny that she was happy to see her. Aunt Bo was like a tornado of wisdom and strength wrapped into a small- statured, cocoa brown woman. She felt like home and help and trouble. She always came dapperly dressed and with a somber expression. It’s like she knew we would need her before a sob could steal its way from our throats. As Kaira prepares to leave the bathroom, she hears a firm knock. She opens the door, expecting to find her mother. “Oh, Hi aunt Bo, sorry about earlier. It’s great to see you.” Kaira says. Bo nods thoughtfully and pulls Kaira in for a long hug and a kiss.  “I know baby. I know.  You can’t run from this, not really. It’s hitting you so hard and you can’t even begin to think of how to escape. I know you’d like relief or a break or something. But it don’t work like that. Not grief, not anger, not sorrow.  But you speak, you hear? You can’t swallow all the shit of the world every day and live. I want you to live.”  The trouble was thick in the air as Kaira sagged into her aunt’s embrace and her ma called to them both, dinner was ready.

Dinner felt like sinking. Kaira could only taste iron and blood as she pushed curry and baked bread around her plate. She could still feel her aunt’s much needed embrace as images of him played on a continuous loop—searing her retinas and frosting her eyelids. Kenyetta and Bo looked as worried as one could in this predicament, she was their baby and they had been trying to protect her all her life- but you can’t protect from everything. Brown girls know burdens far and wide and it seemed that this one might be one of her heaviest yet. Kaira was trying her best to be present, to speak the language of love and understanding her mother and aunt always rolled off their tongues, but she couldn’t. Not right now. Right now—if she even wanted to or could, she would speak the language of grief or anger or something. She would speak in salty tears and pooled snot, would whisper garbled words and shout curdled screams. She was feeling heavy and she knew this time she couldn’t act like she wasn’t. Kaira is startled—downright frightened if you want to be honest. She wore “wasn’t” like it was on sale and getting ready to make a comeback. It made her feel comforted and she’d lost it. Lost her ability to say nothing and everything at the same damn time. All she could feel and see was him and the sinking.

            “I’m going to go wash up for bed, if you don’t mind Ma. It’s real nice to see you Aunt Bo and I’m glad you’ll be sticking around for awhile.” Kaira says as she pushes the thick sepia colored chair back from the table and grabs her plate.

“Okay baby. I love you.” Aunt Bo and Ma say in unison, aware that they can coat her in their love slow like honey, but that you can’t interfere on someone’s right to feel—especially in its rawest stage.

            Kaira knows that they are tiptoeing around her anguish, trying their best to give her space and she is appreciative. So damn glad that someone is giving her a break. She prepares the tub with warm water, a little honey, and some vanilla. Begins to soak, feeling pieces of herself slid in and over her mind as she breathes the gracious sent and prays for mercy. Kaira could have gotten into the tub, intent on a reprieve, but she knows that it will not come. Instead, she has gotten into the tub to breathe, heavy and deep breaths, an attempt to stop the erratic beating of her heart and the turbulent shaking of her hands. She is intending to steady herself, to don her suit of armor and reestablish her “wasn’t”.  She can accomplish the first task, though it will take some time. But the second, is a fairytale, a wish, a want, a “it ain’t gonna happen” from Ma about something she knows she isn’t supposed to be doing. Aunt Bo’s words float around her in a whirlpool, she knows she will hear “But you speak, you hear?” for the rest of the night and much further on into her life.

 “Why the hell don’t I speak? Why the hell didn’t I speak to him?” She thinks aloud as water drips from the long brown fingers on her left hand—enunciating her point.  She could see him now, bent to the grief he unconsciously carried with him. Salty tears streaming down his face, mixing with a bubbling pool of snot. His body was a crumpled mass of trying and defeated.  She had seen him melancholy before, shit, we’re all sad sometimes. But this, this was different. He was desolate and afraid and he needed someone and she didn’t even utter a sound. As she soaked and breathed and thought and pictured him; she could feel the heaviness gathering in her, feel it joining other shreds of burden and sewing itself to her insides. He had lost his whole family, she saw it. Saw them and him and the love and hurt and that he might not be able to continue. Kaira knows he is close to losing himself and so is she. Kaira knows that she will soon pick herself up from this place in her mind and travel to the current. Feel the waves of the water in the bath and that she will rise.  She knows that when she is able, she will utter the words “I love you and you speak, you hear?”  She hopes that she is able, far before he decides not to continue. Hopes that she utters it far before she decides not to continue and allows the burden intertwined with her insides help her sink instead of float.

 

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