The Chore Girl (short short story)

​I only came back to St. Louis because my sister was dying. I didn’t want to ever set foot in God’s muddy footprint again. I remember I got off the plane, relieved and terrified, looking for my luggage in Lambert St. Louis International Airport. I smoothed the back of my tapered pixie cut remembering to breathe. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the soft hum of the baggage belt. “Renee, you know you gotta come home. Halle keeps asking for you.” I remembered cursing under my breath. I remember thinking why did it matter if I came back, even if I stayed!

​I left this place on the first thing smoking. I worked so hard from sophomore to senior year to apply to whatever college I wanted. I wanted as many states between me and the Mississippi as I could count. There was rub against me, and I shot the young man a look. He was dressed in a dark red Washington University hoodie complete with cap. His green eyes looked sad and apologetic. “I’m sorry, I was just grabbing my suitcase.” Grabbed a hunter green suitcase, and walked away.

​I scanned the baggage claim looking for my luggage. I adjusted my carryon Louis Vuitton GM on my shoulder. I wanted my black suitcase with my monogramed luggage tag, so I could get my rental car and go. Seeing the luggage, I moved to retrieve it, bumping into what might have been an oak tree. “I’m sorry.” I managed, shifting around him to reach for my suitcase. “Not a problem.” I meant to turn around and walk away, just as he began to speak. It felt like someone had put a hook in my back. I looked back and saw this man whom it fought the urge to unwrap. He was ebony dark with deadlocks and I thought I smelled YSL L’Homme on him. I felt the smile creep over my lips. I reminded myself to breathe and where I was. He wore a dress shirt, and jeans and Jordans. He looked like he stepped off a magazine cover, reminding me of Malcolm Jamal Warner.

“I’m Renee.” I said, answering the question behind his eyes. “John.” He reached into his wallet in his back pocket and gave me his card. I took it, studying his top lip. “Thank you, John.” He smiled brighter. I remembered had to pick up my rental car from Avis which was on the other side of the airport. “I have to go, but I’ll call you later.” I reached in my purse and found my set of cards. “Renee Waller, Esq.” I gave it to him, still grinning, his scent and ernegy wrapping around me. “St. Louis is small, I hope I see you around.” Turning towards my new direction with luggage, I didn’t turn to see his face. I thought if I turned again, I would melt. “I’m sure you;ll see me around!”

​My heels clicked to towards the Avis counter, and I got my reservation from the kisosk, grateful I didn’t have to talk to another person. I got the receipt, and went to pick up my keys. There was a red-headed girl at the desk, whom looked at my paper with her black Avis shirt and told me to enjoy my stay in St. Louis. I managed a week smile, and walked to my black Jetta I was assigned. ​My went to my car, keys firm in my right hand as I lifted the trunk lid with left. I only planned on staying here a week. My mother told me Halle didn’t have long, and I had even less time. I had cases on my desk. I was building clients. I had a life in Chicago. I had things I had to do. I didn’t want to be in St. Louis longer than needed.

​In driving, I remember the route towards North St. Louis without the help of GPS. Getting on 1-70, I let my mind wander. I exhaled as I left the radio off, and didn’t want to turn my phone back on. I thought about the house I was going back to. I thought about my older sister. I thought about my grandmother whom passed away about five years before. I thought about the cancer that was crowding the life out of my sister. But I thought about the elephant in the room. I thought about how these people only call me when evictions are happening, someone is in jail or when someone is about to die. I am what my best friend’s mother calls a Chore Girl. I’m always cleaning something up or fixing something else.

My mother was more frantic even thought my sister had already made her plans and last wishes known. Halle wanted to be interred in Oak Grove. She wanted our father to do her service. She had already talked to her husband and kids. I had no idea why I was here. I came only because I was summoned, not even asked. When I saw the letter in my mailbox in my Chicago townhouse, it might as well have been a subpoena.​There was something the matter. Something was going on, and it was beyond my older sister dying. The Chore Girls always have it harder. We have to find out what it is, and solve it. These people are going to get tired of treating me like God. I cannot fix anything. One day, God won’t pick up the phone.

[originally written 10/14/2018]

Blood Still Works (short short story)

For as long as I can remember, my life has been with the dead. My grandmother made elixers, gris gris, and mixed oils to ward off spirits. Before my grandmother died, she started calling for her grandmother. “Mama, Mama!” She would say, with her hands outstretched. The sterile, backroom at my mother’s house held her dying body. For a year, I watched my grandmother, my Nan go from the land of the living and the dead with only ceiling fans to talk back to her.
On good days, she would be up at her sewing machine. Never using the machine, but making pillows. Or surging hems around curtains or tablecloths. My oldest brother, Ernest, had her make his fiancée’s veil for their wedding in December. He thought she would be alive at least until the New Year. “She too mean to die, Peggy.” He laughed when he brought the toole over and brushed my shoulder. “Sewing always gave her something to do. This project will keep her focused. Mama is worried about her mind being idle.” He looked away from me as I sat at Mama’s big dining room table, doing my math homework.
Idle. He said that word like there was vinegar attached to it. I remember getting up and walking down that long dim hall with the panel walls. I put my hand along the wall, and anchoring me between the ceiling and the floor. I heard humming as I got to the end of the hallway off the kitchen. With all the moxie I could muster as a ten-year-old girl, I exhaled before I knocked on the dented peach door.
I bit my bottom lip, knocking three times in quick succession. I heard more humming. “It still works, it still works.” I tried the door. Mama told me to never try the door. I saw my grandmother with her headwrap on, this long white scarf, pilled on her head like a crown. I stood in back of the machine, watching her shoulders and upper arms push towards the fading light of the window. The whirring of the machine captured me. She was speaking low, and in broken Creole. I didn’t know much about my great-grandmother, but I knew that she worked for either a French or Creole family. I knew that her mother before her ran away from the master that stalked her and her younger sister before the Civil War. I knew that my great, great-great grandmother had learned it and told all her children.
I knew that my grandmother was dying. But that didn’t scare me. Her not being in the house I was in raised in didn’t scare me. Not being able to see her didn’t scare me. This, this dying she was doing, scared me. It seemed to have no rhyme or reason. She would be fine and then what seemed to be sick or paranoid. The whirring of the sewing machine got louder, matching the thumping of my heart in my ears. “Just like that Mama?” she asked to the room and light beyond my own sight. She hummed the hymn again. “it will never loose it’s power.” She turned and faced the wall where her dresser was. She had her good sewing shears and nipped her index finger. I heard the whizzing and whirring of the machine stop. I watched the black housedress she wore transform into the robe for a queen from the stories I read. The big white magnolia flowers marched the white crown she wore.
“It will work, Mama. I’m leaving soon. It must work!” She turned back to the veil she created. My feet, glued to the floor. I willed them to move, an could only twitch them. “Maharet.” She said, a harsh whisper. “This is blood work I’m doing. You can’t see this. You can’t be seen seeing this yet.” The sewing machine whirring again. I saw the tinted white fabric. She spoke French again, louder, then screaming in the empty room. “Mama, it ain’t time. It’s not time.” More whirring. She muttered, she always muttered when Mama forgot to give her the tea she made for confusion. “Protection. They won’t get him. Not through this line. No.” I still couldn’t move. The whirring and heartbeats deafened me.
My grandmother took a deep breath. Her shoulders slacked. “How does it go, Maggie? Sing it for your Nan.” She often had me sing to her on nights she couldn’t sleep. I sang the song , the same one I had snuck in to sing last night because she was screaming for her long dead father.

It still works,
It still works.
The blood still works,
It will never lose its power.

​I saw her shoulders slump, as she fell backwards from her sewing stool. Fingers bloody, the veil falling over her. I couldn’t move still. I watched her eyes flutter to the ceiling and then close. The room was quiet again.

[originally written 10/14/2018]