Guess what. I loooove fiction but I don't share a lot of it. I have a formal finance background but about 10 years ago I enrolled in a creative writing course because I know that one day in the near future, I’ll be in my wish-listed MFA program and I’ll be a novelist and filmmaker in addition to a memoirist. But until then, I’ll be playing with it here on my blog. Also remember that fiction is fake but sometimes the foundation is familiar. One may infuse what they’ve lived or what they know to make their fake story realistic. (Or you can always conduct heavy research.)
This particular story was partially born out of a writing prompt my friend Savannah, who’s also a writer, sent me on Sunday. It was a TikTok where the creator asked five questions and we’re supposed to turn our answers into a body of creative work. Immediately below are the questions and my responses followed by my short story.
Q: What is the strongest emotion that you’ve felt in the last 24 hours?
Q: If you were a piece of food, what would you be?
Q: What time of day are you?
Q: What is something you miss?
Q: What is a sound that you love?
PS: Titles aren’t my lane, either, whether it’s a personal essay, article or fiction. My titles might sound a bit abrupt or romance-novelish. *shrugs* But I’ll get there.
It was getting dark towards the bay and for a quick second I could see a flash of the gray cloud’s aura. Thunder rumbled immediately afterward.
“You should probably go in soon…unless you’re trying to come with me,” she jokes.
I knew she was right but I didn’t want to admit it quite yet. We were only in the screened gazebo. Definitely not safe from the impending outside elements but not exactly secure in here, either, with the exception of protection from the flies and mosquitoes swarming on the other side of the screen.
I scanned the backyard to take a new mental note of all the nearby structures that could summon a lightning bolt. I might’ve grown up here but the layout of the land isn’t as ingrained in my mind as it once was. There were the clothesline poles that, until an hour ago, held up the flapping sheets that covered every bed in the house along with a few of the furnishings in the living room and den. By the way, line-drying is overrated. It leaves your linens feeling rough and hard and literally smelling like the outdoors.
And then there was the tiny stone shed, a replica of the main ranch-style home, that bordered the woods a good hundred feet from where we sat.
The woods. One tree isn’t a haven during thunderstorms, let alone a forest.
But this is what I had planned. And I had a feeling she was coming, because I came back after some years, too, so I prepared a feast fit for the outside. Outdoors because this was her zone, a nod to her former days and eves among the blooming flowers. It had been awhile since she last visited me and I barely remembered what we did, what we said, what we didn’t say. Or rather what I never said.
I didn’t even know what to say, really. That I was going through a phase? That I was immature? That I wanted to hide her from my peers because I thought she looked and acted like an old lady? That I felt she left at the wrong time? That those who were left behind turned out to be the fucking worst? That I often wish she took me with her?
More thunder clapped.
I felt her look back at me with those dark, penetrating eyes, giving me that face she used to give when I acted like I was hard of hearing. But I’m grown now. Now what?
I picked up another crab and cracked open its body. I plucked a lump of meat and dipped it into my butter, hot sauce, basil oil concoction.
As I ate, I felt a slight current inch along my forearms from my shoulders to my hands, kinda like a zipper motion. There was also a subtle buzzing bouncing around the gazebo. I realized we must’ve been sitting way too close.
I glanced back at her as her face changed to a knowing gaze. Of course she knew what I was already thinking. She probably studied me and my thoughts all these years.
“I didn’t mean any of it,” I finally say.
“I know,” she replies. “I did make it to that age.”
“And believe it or not,” she adds, “I do remember what it was like so I get it.”
I felt another electrical charge and thunder sounded again, a drumbeat louder this time in concert with a breeze.
I stood up to start rolling up the old pages of newspaper of picked crab shells. I threw the ball of paper inside one of those outdoor garbage bags that you use to stuff dead leaves. I touched the homegrown-in-the-garden watermelon that I stored in the refrigerator earlier. I had snatched it from Granny’s garden, where juicy melons still return year-after-year with the strawberries.
“Do you want me to cut it?” I ask.
She shook her head. She hadn’t touched any of the food. Not one crab. No fresh corn-on-the-cob. And now no watermelon.
But I already knew she wasn’t going to eat anything because she never did. I hadn’t seen her chew, not even a piece of gum, in 23 years.
“I knew you were gonna be in good hands for as long as you needed to be,” she says.
“I was,” I say. “But then I grew up and realized that no one else is like y’all.”
I learned the world is unusually catty and cruel just because. It can be exclusive, reminding you that you’re different, you’re not one of them or simply letting you know you don’t belong. It opens your eyes to what bonds are fragile, unsafe or untrustworthy like non-core relationships and which ones are sacred and unconditional like mother-child, siblings, grandparent-grandchild.
“They’ll never see you like we do. They’ll never want the best for you like we do, not for real. They’re not you,” she says. “And when they think you have nothing or no one, they’ll really treat you like you’re less than them. But do not kiss nobody’s ass!”
She abruptly stopped and covered her lips, looking up and mouthing a quick “Forgi’e me, Lord.”
“Remember who you came from,” she continues. “Remember who you are. Speak your whole smart mind.”
I slowly nodded.
Stop trying to prove yourself as worthy to those who insist upon treating you like you’re an outcast.
Stop trying to prove yourself as worthy to those who insist upon treating you as inferior.
Stop surrounding yourself with people who don’t make you feel good.
Stop chasing folks who like you but don’t like you, like you.
Raindrops began to tap the canopy like light knocks telling her to come now. She flickered with the lightning as she stood. That was new but I, too, understood that was her sign that she had to go, even if I didn’t want to accept it.
I opened the gazebo door and stepped out into the damp, but not exactly cooler air despite the wind. Turning back, I noted how funny it was that she looked exactly the same as she did before. She had no bags under her eyes, no drooping cheeks, no wrinkles, no sudden protruding chin. She still had her long black hair, too. What was even funnier is that I was now older than her. I had bypassed the “old lady” age. What would my kids have thought about me?
She and I could actually pass for sisters.
A sharp crack startled me out of my thoughts.
“Go ‘head,” she says.
As I walked back to the house, I turned back one last time.
“Do you ever see Gra’ma?” I ask.
She appeared to have paused but before she could respond, the dark cloud opened above us into a violent downpour.
“Tell her to come see me sometime,” I yell through the rain.
“Enjoy the rest of your evening,” she yells back as she waves.
I ran the rest of the way inside. And just like last time, the time before that and even before that, she vanished just as quickly as she arrived.