Chapter 1 - Light Show
Time; time is something they’ve taken from us.
And we will never get it back.
“Raymond, baby?” A voice sweet as honey called from the kitchen. “Did you get everythin’ I’d asked ya?”
I nodded. Wrinkles formed at the curvature of my cheeks from a fake smile. Mama twirled around the kitchen, taking out various pots and pans from the cupboards, miraculously dodging the open doors she left open in her search. She kicked them close with the worn sole of her leather shoes. Mama fiddled with the stove, her whistling filled the empty house with bliss. Well, almost empty. The rambunctious ramblings of a child made a few dings! and clangs! every once and awhile. But nothing out of the ordinary.
I sat at our dining table, a newspaper propped by my hands. My elbows digging into the splintery wood. All across the headlines shouted about the ending of the war. “PEACE WON” “ARMISTICE SIGNED!” “GREAT WAR ENDS”. The war had ceased. And all the soldiers were expected to return home. Waves of them flooding into the eager arms of isolated mothers and loving children. Mama’s husband, was among them. He sent a letter of his departure back to the states before he left France. His ship arrived this morning but with the influx of returned soldiers, it’s taken him all day to arrive. Well, it’s mainly because he belonged to one of the only black regiments in the America. A regiment in which the U.S government granted safe passage to their hometowns. Humble of a knowingly racist government granting “safe passage” for blacks. It seemed unrealistic. But everyone knew it was a strategy to cater to our communities. To manipulate us into thinking that the government was on our side.
“Perfect!” Mama clasped her hands together with a squeal, “Now I can prepare a feast worthy of a war hero!” She skipped to the groceries, a bag filled with everything on her list. Her clumsy handwriting woven onto a crumpled paper in my pocket.
The wrinkles on my face eased. A war hero. Something I will thankfully never be. The violence that came from this war sickened me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand it. I tried to imagine me, on the battlefield, taking another man’s life… I couldn’t. Not even comprehend it. The blood, the horror- A pit in my stomach formed at the thought. Vengeance. The true sin of this world. I never thought to volunteer for the war because I never supported the cause. I would never fight another man even if the pigment of my skin matched Uncle Sam’s. Fighting a cause I didn’t support would have been the bane of my existence. Being forced to murder, just for the sake of it. Never felt right.
Mama’s whistling turned into humming. Her voice gliding down the scale of her joyous tune. Her chocolate locks swaying behind her gorgeously framed face. Mama filled the world with joy. When looking at her it wasn’t hard to forget the chaos the world had evolved into. I couldn’t help but be envious. She witnessed the horrors this world had to offer, and she still chose to be optimistic. Not that I wished any ill thoughts to her, but it was hard to refrain from jealousy.
You see… Father was the light to her world. Nothing bad about him had ever slipped from her lips. And I envied that, because he was the darkness to mine. Any accomplishment, any milestone, any mistake made he confronted with the same disappointed stare. Never satisfied with me. Somehow I always brought shame to him. Shame of me not being the same eager sinner as he. His lust for battle consumed him. Willing to pick a fight with anyone who dared look at Mama’s direction. With the white who’d shove him out of the way in the street. Or a man of another nation. He called this lust patriotism.
Once news spread about the formation of an all black regiment, father jumped at the opportunity. Eager to show his patriotism to a nation who deemed him lesser. Who wouldn’t even let him be in the same camp as any other white. Father felt he owned his devotion to men who granted him his freedom. But, he never owed them anything to begin with.
“Baby… You’re doin that staring nonsense again.” Mama’s rich skin glowed from the setting sun. It’s rays pouring in from the open window.
“Sorry Mama.” I paused, setting down the newspaper. “I have a lot on my mind.”
She placed her dulled knife on the cutting board, reaching for the towel laid across her shoulder, and wiped off her hands. Her arms crossed as she leaned against the counter. “Is it about your father?”
My chest tightened by the mention of his name, “… Yes.” An overwhelming pit of emotion began to fester.
Mama’s lips curved into a frown. “I know it’s hard baby, but we talked bout this before. And you can’t tell him.”
The wrinkles on my cheeks formed once again, “I know.”
Thick tears glossed my eyesight. Our small kitchen blurred into shades of green and white. Even Mama’s sweet smile warped into an unbalanced reality. Upon closing my lids the warm embrace of a mother's love grounded me. I leaned my head back against her chest. Hot tears trickling down my frame.
I knew a subject like this shouldn’t upset me. Most people, apart from Mama, didn’t accept this. I was lucky enough not to be sent a pastor for redemption of my sins. I couldn’t help but dread Father’s opinion if he discovered my dark secret. The poison that would leak from his wretched mouth. The scowl fit for punishment. Or just the thought of Mama trying to defend me. This thought, was unbearable. A son’s job is to carry on the family legacy. To make his father proud. And I, will never be that son.
“Raymond?” Mama kissed the top of my head, moving into view to cup my wet cheek, “You know your Mama will always love you. I’ll always be proud to call you my son.” Her lips pursed.
“I know.” I wiped my face, using my sleeve.
Air staggered through my nostril with a deep breath. An act this out of line around father would result in a lecture. And nothing ever good came from those.
He’d call me stupid.
And hearing Father upset is the last thing Mama needed right now. I glanced back to her, seeing the content in her eyes. I couldn’t do that to her.
“Brotha! Brotha!” A little energetic child came dashing from the hall. Dust surely flying from her feet, “I wanna see a light show!” The child tugged at the fabric of my sleeve. Eyes rounding as she plead, “Pleeaasseee?!”
“I told you after dinner.”
Much like Mama, my sister radiated a similar light. The water from my eyes quickly vanished at the sight of her presence. I watched as she bounced up and down.
“But Brothaaa! You said when you get home!” Her nose flared as she huffed like a dragon.
“No,” My sister crossed her arms. “I told you after dinner.” I crossed my arms to match hers, looking down into her golden eyes.
“LIES!” She sneered, putting on her best pouty face.
“Poppy Grace Walters!” Mama cried, her jaw hung open, “What have you done to your hair!!” By hair she meant the crow’s nest that resided atop Poppy’s head. Her afro poofed into a cluster of tangles. “Raymond, can you please fix your sister’s hair. And Poppy!” A mischievous smile crept on her face from the mention of her name, “I thought I told you to get dressed young lady!” Mama scolded.
Poppy hid her face in my lap. I scooped her up and began walking away, “But I wanta see Brotha’s light show!” She whined, throwing all of her weight back, now upside down. I stumbled, nearly dropping her in a state of panic.
“I will give you a light show, if…” She swung back into view in my arms, her face flushed by the blood rush she had given herself. “You let me dress you. You need to impress Father.”
“Like the one from Mama’s stories?”
“Yes, dear.” Mama’s eyes illuminated with the same love and passion from just a few minutes ago. “Your father is comin’ home! He’s been off fighting those baddy germans! And defeated them too!”
“Yeah!” Poppy stuck her fist in the air, mimicking punches and kicks, “Baddy Germans!” She stuck her tongue out, sending spit everywhere.
I couldn’t help but smile at her innocence before I took her to her room. Her dolls and blankets thrown around the floor. As if a tornado had blown by. I set her down with caution, her immediate reaction being to run away.
Despite our agreement, I fought with her to get dressed. She didn’t like dresses too much, always wanting to dress like me. In a plain sweater and pants. I found it difficult to explain to her why she couldn’t do that. After I wrestled the dress on her, she dashed into my room, lodging herself beneath my bed.
Playful giggles filled the room. Poppy laughed at my struggle to grab her legs. She forced me to fight an intense battle of rock-paper-scissors before finally crawling out of bed. I praised her fighting skills, for I was far to dumb to match her skills.
A loud knock ended my joy.
“Oo! Father’s here!” Poppy raced out of my room, leaving me to myself.
I stood with hesitation. My stomach twisting into a knot. Every ounce in my body begged for me not to leave my safe space.
But I had no choice.
He wrote to me once after he got selected. Asking if I’d volunteered. I didn’t need to look into his devil eyes to know he’d be disappointed. I stood in the hallway. Frozen. The cheery sound of warm greetings followed by a pleased voice. Father’s voice. I swallowed hard when I heard his laughter.
Mocking me… Tempting me.
Once I exited this hallway, I was no longer safe. I debated turning around. Pretending I had left. Or fallen ill. Something that would prevent an interaction with him. The world around me shifted. Every word he spoke sent another pounding memory into my skull. I didn’t want him here. Not in this house. Not in Brooklyn. Not in- “Raymond!” Mama called.
“Comin!” I concealed the panic in my voice.
I squeezed my eyes shut. My heel anxiously tapping the floor to gain motivation. I took a deep breath before exiting the hallway, greeted by a picture perfect moment. An unharmed war hero, fresh out of the war. His family beside him. An innocent daughter scooped into his arms. Her tiny body wrapped around his neck. A grateful wife. The gravity of his sins hidden by the pure bliss in her smile. Their arms linked.
Father’s smile dropped once we made contact. “Son.” He acknowledged.
I nodded, “Father.” The air around us thinned.
“Raymond’s been a huge help while you were away!” Mama felt the tension rise. “He’s been workin’ extra hours for Mrs. Bonni. Teachin' Poppy to read…” Mama trailed off, lost in father’s eyes.
"I’m hungrrryyy!“ Poppy wailed, drawing the attention to herself, as well as diffusing the tension that had built up again. Prompting Mama to usher everyone to the dining table.
The room fell silent as Mama and I scrambled to finish last minute preparations. My hands shook when I set the table. I had done so a million times, but the pressure to be perfect ate away at my conscious. Napkins. Waters. Lighting. Father watched me with judgment in his eyes. Once I placed his plate in front of him I prayed for a sign of satisfaction...
Mama bounced in her seat as she gave the prayer. It’s length longer than any she had ever said before. She thanked God for his grace, his humbleness in allowing father safe passage home. As soon as we began eating Poppy quickly made a mess of herself. But no one cared because father was home. The amazing war hero! Survivor. Husband. Father… I switched my focus from my plate to conversation. A poor choice given that the conversation centered around Father.
“And there I stood, gun in hand while my righteous comrades fought beside me. Giving their lives to preserve our freedom! And it was in that moment I wondered why we didn’t have an advanced power on our side. Surely, if we did we could have had the upper hand sooner.” He paused, forehead creasing, “Why didn’t you join, son?”
His gaze burned through the back of my brain. Anxiety wrapped around my throat; choking me. My hands strained the napkin in my lap.
“Because I’m not an eager sinner like you.”
Mama gasped in horror, “Raymond Walters!”
Father gave no clear reaction, waving his hand to silence Mama. “Your powers would have been useful on the battlefield.” By now he had stopped eating, his posture straightened. Mouth twitching for an argument.
“My powers aren’t meant to start wars.” Our voices raised.
“But they would end them!” The conversation escalated.
“I’m not a weapon!!”
“Bullshit Raymond.” Father pounded his fist against the table, causing Poppy to flinch, “I’ve seen you create knives, scissors, pliers. You have an entire artillery in the palm of your hands. Made from only your light! Maybe you could make something more useful if you even tried. Not those.. Those pathetic balls of light!”
“But I like Brotha’s light sh-” - “Not now dear..”
“You don’t see me killing other human beings! Even if they’re against me.” I defended, feeling the strain in my composure.
“Than you’re no man! You’re weak!”
His words echoed through my skull, consuming every thought. Every desire. I shot from my chair, slamming both hands against the table. Muscles tensed from the clenching of my jaw. Holding back cursed words I wouldn’t dare say out loud. I wanted to scream. Fight back. Anger laced across my irritated stature. Itching to take action… But I refused.
Instead, my sweaty palms disconnected from the table. Father and I shared a deep connection. One that encapsulated our despise for each other. There were better things to do instead of fighting him. Not in front of loved ones. Mama held onto Poppy as tight as she could in an attempt to protect the innocence of her mind.
Mama watched our dispute with horror. Her eyes lined with tears. Although her ears were covered, Poppy listened to our conversation intently. Never before has she witnessed an interaction like this. Atleast, not with me.
I stormed out of the room, clamoring into the hallway. My legs grew weaker with every footstep. A numbing heat curled up my shins, taking way at my knees. I tumbled into my door. Smacking it open. My knees brushed against the tacky carpet. The walls began to spin. Faster and faster. Breathing labored. My airway blocked from mucus lodged in my throat. Clenched fabric chained me to reality through sweaty palms.
Stupid… Head buried between quivering knees. Pathetic… My arms shuddered. Weak… I could hear my heart pounded into my head. Corrupting every thought. Thump thump. Thump thump…
A chilling draft wafted across the room. I sat on my floor. Isolated. The coolness of the air coaxing my thoughts. And the numbing sensation of anxiety to comfort me.
My eyes shifted to the matted carpet as I gathered the strength to get to my knees. A typically dry face now stained in tears. The emptiness of my room matched my own emptiness. A simple bed. The legs beat up from it’s previous owner. A dresser, that shelved various flowers. Each hand selected by me from work. And a torn poster, promoting the new age of music; Jazz.
My eyes fell to my clenched fist, still holding a fragment of my orange sweater. Scrapes covered my chestnut skin. White speckles sprinkled over dry knuckles.
A weight began to form through my sweaty palm. Small, but certainly noticeable. A shimmer of artificial rays poked through the cracks of my fingers. It’s illumination blossoming as I opened my palm, where a small orb rested. This orb took the liberty of leaving my touch. The corners of my mouth rose as it floated up towards the ceiling. It’s peaceful sparkles illuminated my formerly unlit room. A similar sensation rose from my other hand, blossoming into the still air. And then another. Then another. I observed their tranquility in silence. Curving my fingers to bend their shape and pattern, settling on a mirror of the night sky.
A subtle creak of the door destroyed the constellation. A hurried twist of my hand doing so. Dread rushed through my body once again. Not at all prepared to turn around. Once I did, however, a small figure met my eyes; Poppy. Her head peeking into my darkened room. Both of her hands cradling the handle to my door. She had no powers, but she knew I was upset.
“Brotha..?” Poppy’s small voice whispered, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I responded coolly.
“Mama said it’s no good to lie…” She commented, making her way over to me. She placed herself beside me, struggling to move her dress around as she crossed her legs. “Did Father upset you?” She asked with youthful ignorance. Her head tilted with curiosity.
“Father is a good man…”
Poppy’s eyes narrowed by my statement, “No…” She stated bluntly, “I like Brotha. And.. Father made Brotha upset. So. I don’t like Father.” She shook her head.
A ghost of a smile masked my face. I leaned over, embracing her tightly, “You can’t tell him that.” Poppy looked to me and nodded.
After a moment of silence, Poppy spoke again. “Can you put on a light show?”
The room illuminated in response. Dozens of orbs bloomed from my palms, twinkling in her eyes. A wide smile appeared on Poppy’s face, in awe of the orbs surrounding her. I sent them dancing in a spiral around her figure, changing shapes as they went along. Poppy encouraged my light, rather than asking me to sin. And nothing made me happier than moments like these. The innocence and purity my sister possessed… Just like Mama.
Her soft giggles filled my ears as the shapes morphed into animals. Both domestic and zoo-like. They pranced in an orbit above our heads. Instinctively, Poppy stuck her tongue out at a courageous lion. A shift in my finger led the lion to stick his tongue back at her. She giggled again, making my heart whole. The lion raced up to her, booping her on the nose before rejoining the constellation of animals. She stood up, fixated on an orb the size of her hand on the other side of the room. She cupped it gently, a huge grin grew on her face when she tossed it in the air.
I couldn’t help but smile back at her. Poppy, was my world. Nothing could change that. She had almost made me forget the quarrel between Father and I. When I looked at her, the hurtfulness of his words did not affect me. No matter how cruel they were. She made existing not so dreadful. I pushed away my negative emotions from earlier, deciding to focus on the true light of my world: Poppy.