From The Crates: Leaving

From time to time, I find cool pieces that I did and saved. That series is called From The Crates. Here’s one. Enjoy.


(c) October 2015 JPHarris

The voices are aging. The forebarers that lit the path through the igniting of thought are leaving towards the same light that sent them.

In contemplation, I find myself going to these people: my mother Bessie Bush, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. It was my mother whom introduced me to the worlds books hold, and the solace they provide. In my darkest moments, she would ask me, “Are you still writing?” I would answer her as my situation dictated. I recognize there will be a day where I will no longer have benefit of her voice on the other end of a phone. Despite past contention, she has been graced to be my mother. I will need her until the Lord will need her Home. I thank her for being my mother when it would be easier not to be.

Anyone that knows me understands my love for the other 2 aforementioned women. With the nation losing our grandmother Oracle in Maya, I grappled with that sense of loss-I have enjoyed her work since age 9 when my mother gave me her copy of I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS. All we, yes we, have left of her, is what she left: her letter and voice.

Toni Morrison is 84. The same age as my grandmother whom would be 86 this year.

I found Toni Morrison in high school and was rapt with her tone and description of anything. I knew then, this gift of words and being a writer, was indeed a craft. Indeed a craft. There will too be a day where the world will only have her letter…and voice.

The Word of God says “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” In this space, I commit these intangibles back to Him seeing as He is the giver of all good gifts. In that process, in the beginning of the becoming and faith in its end, I believe a portion of my legacy will be left to treasure in letter and voice.

See mom, I am still writing.

Never As It Will Be

“The sun is bright this morning,” Nia sat sipping coffee slowly in her long lavender robe on her white elm front porch. With feet bare, and her long dark brown curls, framing her pecan colored face, she looked towards the direction out towards sun. Nia sipped, wondering if he was doing the same thing, suddenly happy the front Georgia porch was left open and not enclosed as her mother suggested. At this exact moment, could he be drinking coffee, watching the sun, thinking of her? She smiled at the justice of that thought. Nia wondered if what the saying of the old women she knew was true. The heart wants who it wants, it will never listens to your head. She smiled, the light of the thought warmed her better than the sun.

The habit of being awake early began with the carrying of her first child, Candace, almost five years ago. Insomnia made her nights into days; the sun becoming her signal to sleep. Nia rocked in the beige porch swing, happy the house was quiet enough to hear her own thoughts and see them through. Married life suited her, yes. Nia knew to be faithful, forsaking every other to cleave to her husband, Vander, so the two of them could be one flesh. She knew how to do that. Their life was supposed to have a cadence, a loved rhythm, which they planned aside from what could be found writhing on bedsheets. The passion would be cyclic, she knew. She knew how to be a wife, knowledge of that position didn’t push her to the front porch in her robe, with the matching lavender chemise underneath. He did.

This angel of her own making, this man-made god of her youth and imaginations. He whom she saw when she heard music or closed her eyes. Even his name was angelic when she breathed it in showers or alone with her thoughts for too long. James. The heat produced at the christening of his name over her tongue was unlike anything she had. Of course, she he knew to have him would be to forfeit her responsibility, her children and her faith. James would take all she built, all she promised herself to become and withstand. Being with him would be to change the course of her life’s path in the worst and most incredible way. Nia held on to the blue coffee cup, her head resting on the back of her thumbs and didn’t fight the tears this time. Nia recited the same prayer she had for the last few days.
“Father, either remove him or give me whom my heart wants. Either way, Father this must change. I cannot bear to be his and be here where he is not. Make him go away or make me his. In Your grace I stand, In Your love I am complete. I thank you. Amen.”

The tears where hot, flowing faster than the white painted porch could absorb them. The sobs came, deep and loud, but the release not complete. Nia thought about her last night with James two months before in August, right before her birthday in the first week of September. Nia remembered the cologne he wore. Savauge by Dior. She remembered his hair. His dreadlocks where redone and pulled back and his skin was deep ebony. His football player build inviting and marked often during their tryst with her nails in his back. He wore this cream collared shirt. He caressed her cheek, kissed her as he told happy birthday. “I have loved you since I was seventeen, Nia Hamilton. A decade later, it’s still like high school. I told you then you were mine. A husband ain’t ever gone change that.” He had kissed her pulled her towards him to cup her face, moaned into his mouth.
From his favorite restaurant, Malone’s for a an early birthday lunch lead them to the Lattimore Hotel soon after. Nia remembered the lovemaking, as she felt the heat from her cup. She remembered how he mastered her, made her pleasure and passion a priority. She smiled remembering how she yielded to how his body mastered and matched her own, along with its hunger. James was determined to sear himself into her memory. She bit her lip remembering how he had mastered her, anticipated her body, her open mouth and held her close after. Nia, after a decade and more after their first meeting in a Wyatt Senior High School Junior year in, after him being her first at that year’s prom, could not shake him.
Even now, Nia he wanted to run to him, full speed. She wanted to take nothing her love for him and sprint towards him. Through the fields before her, towards the sun, and not stop until he was in arm’s length of her own hands. “Dear God.” She began to will herself back to composure. Nia remembered what her mother told her, how she found out. How her mother kept everything from Vander. James had written a letter and let the gift she now wore at her mother’s house. On the phone her mother, Elizabeth, told her with the grace mothers have, she needed to end her relationship. “I don’t know what is going on, I don’t need to know. But James is not your husband, and you know what kind of man he is. Let James alone, Nia. Soon. Vander is who needs your attention. Give that man this robe and stuff back!”
Nia shoulders began to shake from sobbing. The sobbing let the coffee and its contents to spill over onto the porch and her feet. The heat from the coffee was a relief to pain in she had. That burning was understood, could be explained, even treated This burning had no explanation. She couldn’t pray fast enough to keep ahead of it. James haunted her. When she was driving. At work. Even with her husband of six years. This pain of being without him was unbearable. Being with James was impossible, but James thought she would return to him, just like always. Every time she would dream and saw him, she felt safe, loved. The cruelty came when she opened her, and he was gone.
Even the night before, sleep evaded her. Thoughts of him soothed and tempted. Her body relaxed and opened where he had touched. Nia left the bed she shared with her husband to work off the energy. She wore the pretty lavender chemise to bed, hoping Vander would touch her, kiss her, make love to her like he used to. She decided to do laundry, to make her day easier when she did wake up. While washing clothes, his ghost followed. She went to the office on the first floor and made sure checks were signed, four white envelopes stacked neat to take to the post office in the morning. She heard James call her name, low and hungry.
Nia washed dishes instead of running them through the dishwasher, praying the hot water would make her focus. She wished his hands were around her, his chin in the meeting of her neck and collarbone. “Relief, Lord. Send it.” She loved him. She wanted him. She couldn’t have him. The screen door closed with a bang. “Mama, are you okay? You look so pretty this morning, Mama. Daddy wanted me to find you.” Candance asked, her four-year-old wisdom and dark hair pulled in a ponytail on display. Nia sat up straight in the swing, making no attempt to dry her face. “I’ll be okay, baby.” She smiled. Her daughter’s eyes seemed to search her own as Candace walked over to her. Nia believed her daughter saw the lie she told, but didn’t know what it was.
She rose from her perch on her porch swing, picking up her coffee cup from the porch among the puddle of coffee. Nia ushered Candance through the screen door, hand on her back. “Daddy wanted to know if you were going to drink coffee with him this morning. He has his cup already, Mama.” She shook her head behind her daughter. “No, I don’t think I will, baby. I already had some.” She swallowed hard, let the door slam behind her. “I have other stuff I have to do this morning.”


Snippet-The Gypsy Hand

It was her first night singing. The Gypsy Hand was one of the most popular clubs in Gaslight Square. She smoothed the blue dress, the prettiest thing she had ever worn. She looked in the foggy mirror, stomach fluttering. She had no idea how to she could get from this room to the stage downstairs. Yet, she knew she would.

In some of the movies that she and her friend Deborah sneaked into, there was someone to come and get the star. In the clubs down the street, there were people that came and reminded someone where they were. How much time was left. She took a deep breath, thinking. Thinking of everything that could be, would be ahead of her. She opened her eyes, looking at the papers next to her. Doc had run in her room, and dropped of the crumpled papers as he dashed away. She heard a thunderclap, and smiled.
The music swelled downstairs, filling the room she rented with piano sounds. She thought about her grandmother, and the rhyme she spoke of when she was scared in the time of bad storms. “Sugarbaby,” she would say, leaning close to her ear. “You just sing this song, just like this here:

Miss Mary Mack,
All dressed in black.
With silver buttons
All down her back.

She clapped the correct rhythm for her to follow, wrapping her hands in hers. The callouses on her hands, rubbing the smoothness on the backs of her hands. She remembered the stories her grandmother told about farming, cotton picking and being the daughter of ones not born free. “Whenever I got real good and scared at that ol’ rain and thunder,” she’d tell her. “My grandmama, yo great- great Nana, Oleander, told me this lil ole rhyme.” She had smile, opening her eyes again. The little girl gone, the woman with the new hair and borrowed dress looking back at her from the foggy mirror.
She looked down at her hands, heard the thunder again. She closed her eyes , willing her hands from their resting place on the bed. The bed was hard and too small, but it was all Levi had. The room was all he could spare, and it was a way not to be home with Aunt Linda. She began to clap, “Miss Mary Mack, All dressed in black,” She continued the rhyme, willing the tears and ache for family away.

There was a knock at the door, quick and loud. “Miss Ethylene!” It was Doc, remembering his manners of not going through her door when it was closed. “Here me!” she answered. “Miss Carolyn sent me upstairs to go and get you so you can come downstairs!” He sounded out of breath. It was time. Carolyn, whom she only met last week, with the song he just gave her, was waiting downstairs. Everything was downstairs. “Tell her,” she exhaled. “tell her here I come.”
Doc’s footsteps mimicked the thunder outside. She stood, smoothed the dress borrowed from Levi’s wife, Naomi. It was a relic of her former life in New Orleans as a debutant. At least, that’s what she told her when she dropped the gorgeous gown off the day before. She turned in the mirror, examining the lines and the babydoll pumps next to her moisturized feet. They were unwilling to go into those hard shoes, or she was unwilling to give away that last bastion of self—the little girl who ran bare foot in delta clay and dust.

She reached down, picking up the shoes, icy blue like the dress. She grinned, remembering Ms. Naomi had said she had those ordered through the Sears clasping the doorknob which looked like a big diamond, she bit her bottom lip. She looked over her shoulder, her red hair shimmering in the dim light. “Okay, Ruby. Getcha ass downstairs.”

[The Gypsy Hand is a fictional bar set in St. Louis, Missouri during the heyday of The Gaslight District. The Gypsy Hand is also to a pivotal setting in my novel, RUBY. The Gypsy Hand will be a prequel to this novel. It will be released March 2019. If you want to know more about Ethylene and The Gypsy Hand, get a copy of RUBY by clicking here.]

Mate For Life (short short story)

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It was raining as he watched her skip over a puddle to her front door. Her hair was wet, but he could see her pecan brown face. He watched her fumble for her keys in her red bag, before going in. He had found her, with her scent he could never forget her. How could he? She was what, what whom he had sought for and wanted. As she entered the house, he fought the urge to watch over, by watching sneaking in to watch her sleep. He would announce himself to her soon enough. “Soon, dearest one.” He whispered. His mind went back to when he saw her three days ago. He was leaving work, it was just after sunset. She had with a coffee in one hand, glasses, reading a book. She sat In the back of Gill’s, smiled up at him. She had a heat that exuded from her. He sat across from her, soaking her up, taking her in. He motioned for one of the servers to come to his table.

He wasn’t hungry, just thirsty. A blue shirted red head named Callie came over. “Beer, please.” He said. “Budweiser, okay?” “That’s fine.” Callie dashed off, pencil behind her ear. He looked over at her again, noticing her eyes were brown. This scent he knew, his tribe leaders had told him and the other young men coming of age. It was a hint to whom was to be yours, they would always say. The inception, he said, will be unlike anything before and nothing since. You will know the one purposed for you. Their scent will be a clue. Legend, he thought. Fairy tales. It takes more to know someone than liking their perfume or cologne. That’s insane.

He watched her sip her coffee, her full lips wrapping around the blue mug. Her eyes closed. Her lashes were thick and dark. Her dark hair, framing her face. Her legs slender, muscles detailed under the blue pencil skirt she wore, ending in black ballet flats on her feet. He counted how many times her chest rose and fell. He sat and felt his heart all but stop. Callie dropped off this beer, asked him if he needed something else. He didn’t look up, but paid for his beer and well over with the twenty he gave. She looked over at him, smiled. Her eyes pulled him in. He held them for a moment, before she looked down again. She didn’t seem to notice or mind him staring at her. The blue wall above the brown paneling just made her stand out more. The want welled up with him, was beyond sexual. It was beyond possession. It was protection of what was his. This must have been the love the elders spoke of, that one would just know once they experienced it. She returned to her cup and her book. When the server brought her check, he watched her reach in her red bag to pay it. He watched the form of her arm and shoulder as she reached for her wallet. She got up, and he saw her full height and shape. He noticed the backs of her calves and her waist detailed by her skirt.

She tipped the server, and he watched her turn to leave. She smelled of violets and honeysuckle. His mouth began to water as he began biting his lip. She was it. He couldn’t explain it, it was too radical to talk about. He drew a ring around his Budweiser watching the foam. The heat creeping up the back of his neck, a low growl rumbled in chest. He got up to go to the bathroom, pushing past the blonde texting on her cell phone without looking up. He shut the door behind him, before going over to the sink. He gripped the front of the sink. He felt the pull in his shoulders, indicating the wolf was rising from him. “Not here. Not now.” Phasing in public was not unheard of, but with this new feeling, this unfounded inception, he was hesitant of his ability to control it. Hold it together, Michael. Hold it together. He looked up into his own changed reflection. The calm blue of his eyes, became their green-gold counterpart. He concentrated, willing to pull the wolf back in. Her I have to find her. Feeling steady, he smoothed his University of Miami shirt, smoothed his hair. His forehead glistened with new sweat, as his eyes reverted back. He had to talk to the elders. He had to have her. He would have her.

That need brought him to her apartment. He could find her in snow or desert. She was his now. His. He looked for her light to go out, remarking at the silhouette of his intended against the gold curtain of her bedroom. He remembered the shape of her hip. The rise of her breast as she turned from the window, and loved the way she shook her hair out before turning off the light. He closed his eyes, imagined her taste, her warmth underneath him. He even imagined what it would be like to phase in front of her and have her stroke his fur, or nestle her feet in it. The inception will be like no other love you will ever have. The elders spoke this to generations of young males of their pack. There would always be eye rolling along the males, the girls accepted it as medicinal gospel. “Scoff now,” the elders would say, “when you experience it? It will be impossible to explain it or pull away from.” He checked his reflection in the rearview mirror again. His eyes were phasing. “Soon.” He said. “Soon.”
(This may be the start of a novel…Stay tuned)

[originally written 9/7/2018]​

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]