Chapter 1- Light Show
Time; time is something they’ve taken from us.
And we will never get it back.
“Raymond, baby?” A sweet motherly voice called from the kitchen, “Did you get everythin’ I asked ya?”
I nodded. Wrinkles formed at the curvature of my cheek from an illusive smile.
Mama twirled around the kitchen, gathering vessels to prepare tonight’s dinner, miraculously dodging left open cupboards in her search for utensils. The soft tapping of her heel echoed across the room while she dinged the cupboards shut.
Mama’s focused brow worked on the stove, fiddling with the gas. Her harmonic whistling filled the quiet house with bliss, relieving my anxious mind of the night ahead.
Soon the rambunctious ramblings of a child rang from the hallway with accompanying dings and clangs! A genuine smile formed upon my lips, relieving the tension that was strung throughout my body.
My elbows dug into the splintery wood of the family dining , a newspaper in my hand. It was a recent paper, which was a rarity that we’d be able to afford one. Its headlines screamed American patriotism.
“THE GREAT WAR ENDS”
The world’s war had finally ceased. America’s great patriots were returning home after taking the lives of humanity’s fellow men, each soldier returning to the eager arms of relieved mothers and idolizing children.
Mama’s husband was among them.
Word on the street was that he was a part of the Harlem Hell Fighters, although he didn’t live in Harlem. We moved to Brooklyn after my father left in hopes for prosperity, or, as much as people like us could find.
“Perfect!” Mama clasped her hands with a squeal, skipping to the groceries, “Now I can prepare a feast worthy of a war hero!”
A war hero. Something I prayed I would never become. The violence that spawned from this war sickened me. As if there wasn’t enough death in the world as it was. I seemed to be one of the few who truly despised this mentality. Perhaps I was too much of a coward…
Having a lust for violence corrupted the soul. The amount of times I tried to imagine me on a battlefield, taking the life of another… I could never. The blood, the trauma, all these stories I had been told horrified me.
A pit formed at the base of my stomach. Mama’s whistling soon turned to humming, her voice gliding down the scale of a holy tune while I sat in apprehension. I envied her ability to forget the chaos this world had to offer, choosing optimism over cynicism. I refrained from jealousy, attempting to distract myself by continuing further down the newspaper.
My father was the light to my Mama’s world. Not a single illspoken word had slipped from her lips in regards to him. I despised it because my father was the darkness to mine.
Any accomplishment, any milestone, any mistake committed by my person resulted in the same exasperated grunt. He was never satisfied with me. I always seemed to bring him nothing but shame in my lack of compliance in becoming the same eager sinner he was. His appetite for conflict consumed him, willing to pick a fight with anyone who dared look at my Mama. Perhaps that is why she loved him so much: for protection.
That was her justification for her husband volunteering: protection for a heroic feat rather than the reality of his character. However, his eagerness to show his patriotism to a nation that deemed him lesser, his resistance to ending up as a trench digger, was commendable... He devoted his life to men whose ancestors granted him freedom when freedom was withheld under bigoted pretenses.
“Baby, you’re doin’ that staring nonsense again.” Mama’s rich skin glowed from the setting sun, its rays pouring in from the open window and giving highlights to her pulled back curls.
“Sorry Mama,” I paused, closing the newspaper, “I have a lot on my mind.”
She placed her dulled knife on top of the cutting board, wiping off her hands on the towel across her shoulder. “Is it about your father?”
My chest tightened. “...Yes.” An inescapable whirl of anxiety quickly cluttered my thoughts.
Mama’s lips curved to a frown. “I know it’s tough, but we can’t tell him. Or anyone.”
The creases around my eyes deepened. “I know,” I inhaled sharply, “’cause they’ll tell me I’m destined for hell.”
Thick tears glossed my eyesight. The green and white shades of our kitchen blurred into a sickly haze, engulfing me into the tattered reality of despair. Remnants of dread were quick to drown sensibility.
“Raymond?” Mama’s voice echoed from afar.
I needed to be strong, but I had proven to be incapable. I relied on the warm embrace of a mother to coax me to stability. I rested my head against her shoulder, where she knelt on the ground beside me. I clung to her body like a child while tears trickled down my neck.
“No, no… Look at me my precious boy…” Mama kissed my forehead, holding my face, “You not going to hell. Not when you can’t help being who you are. Got it?” Her stern eyes forced contact, “’cause you the sweetest gentlemen there is. Nothin’s gonna change that.”
I had been blessed to have a mother who viewed this complication as a blessing, not a curse. I would hear stories through the grapevine of this identity being beat out of people and traumatized by the church through speak of damnation, returning home as a ghost of who they once were.
If father found out about this, I would surely be subjected to the same fate. The poison that would seep from his wretched mouth would be too much to bear. I’d crack. Submit myself to the expectation of carrying on the family legacy. I would never be that son…
“Raymond,” An affectionate smile glimmered in the dying light. “You know your Mama will always love you. I’ll always be proud to call you my son.”
I wiped my face with the scratchy corner of my sleeve.
Air staggered through my nostrils as I took a deepened breath. An act this out of line would lead to the routine lectures of a deprecated father, and nothing good ever came from those.
He’d called me stupid.
Turmoil like that would be devastating for Mama. I couldn’t do that to her knowing that she would be caught in the crossfire.
“Brotha! Brotha!” A little energetic child came dashing from the hall, “I wanna see a light show!” The girl tugged at my sweater, eyes rounded as she pleaded, “Pretty please?!”
“I told you after dinner.”
Much like Mama, my sister radiated a similar light. She showed me how the world could be, distracting me from what it was. The water under my lids dried as she bounced up and down, making faces at my disagreement.
“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 said, mimicking her bratty stance.
“LIES!” She sneered, her golden eyes curving with a pout.
“Poppy Grace Walters!” Mama cried in dismay, “What have you done to your hair?”
By hair, Mama meant the crow’s nest that resided atop Poppy’s head.
“Son,can you please fix your sister’s hair? And Poppy!” A mischievous smile appeared on Poppy’s face. “I thought I told you to dress yourself, young lady!” Mama scolded.
Poppy rushed to my chair, hiding her face in my lap. I scooped her up off of my legs.
“But I wanna see Brotha’s light show!” Poppy whined, throwing her weight back until she was upside down.
I stumbled, my lanky arms nearly dropping her in a state of panic.
“I will give you a light show, if…” She swung back into view with her face flushed red. “You let me dress you. You need to impress father.”
Poppy’s face brightened in anticipation, “The man from Mama’s story!”
“Yes dear,” Mama’s figure swung from the counter, “Your father is coming home!” She squished the cheeks of my sister, “He’s been off fightin’ those baddy germans! Defeated them, too!”
“Yay,” Poppy pumped her fist, mimicking a series of punches and kicks, “’Baddy germans!” she stuck her tongue out, spitting everywhere.
I couldn’t help but smile at her innocence. She looked to the world expecting beauty, unaware of the gravity of real life.
I danced around scattered dolls and blankets as we entered her room, the few articles of clothing she owned tossed around as if a tornado had come through. She always complained about wearing dresses. Apparently, they were a trap to get out of. Regardless, I always encouraged her shenanigans, which drove Mama up a wall.
I set Poppy down with caution, but her immediate impulse was to initiate a game of tag. A subdued sigh left my mouth as I chased her through the doorway and into my room. She jumped on my bed which creaked loudly from her weight, before she sprung off of it and dove underneath the frame.
Playful giggles filled the room as Poppy mocked my struggle to grab her legs. She forced an intense battle of rock-paper-scissors before finally crawling out from beneath my bed. I praised her for her fighting skills, for I was clearly not as skilled as her.
I dressed her in her most expensive dress before going to war with the knots of her curls. I eased her through her pain, giving her words of reassurance.
A loud knock at the door shattered my good mood.
“Oo, father’s here!” Poppy raced out of the room, leaving me with my thoughts.
I stood with quivering legs. Every ounce of my body begged me to hide, signaling danger beyond the door frame.
He only wrote to me once. Asking if I’d join, asking if I’d ever gotten selected. I already knew those devil eyes were out there, waiting to bore into me with disappointment.
I stood frozen in the darkness of the hallway. Cheery babbles echoed in my ears alongside a pleased voice. Father’s voice. I swallowed hard at the sound of his chuckle.
It mocked me.
Any security I still held evaporated once I exited my room. My subconscious begged me to flee, to fake ill - anything that would prevent an interaction with him. But alas, I kept walking.
Every word he spoke sent another pounding memory to my skull. I didn’t want him here. Not in this house, not in Brooklyn, not in-
I squeezed my eyes shut, tapping my heel rapidly against the floorboards for any ounce of motivation. I took a choking breath before emerging from the shadows.
The furniture around me shifted at the sight of an unharmed war hero, reunited with his perfect family. An innocent daughter scooped into his arms, her tiny body wrapped around his neck. A grateful wife with the gravity of his sins dismissed by a blissful smile, their arms linked.
Father’s facade dropped once he saw me. “Son.”
“Father.” The air around us thinned.
“Raymond’s been a huge help while you were away! He’s been workin’ with Mrs. Bonni, helpin’ Poppy with her homework…” She lost herself in father’s eyes.
“I’m hungry!” Poppy wailed, attempting to splice the tension.
Her diversion worked, prompting Mama to summon me to the kitchen. The house fell silent as we finished our preparations. My hands shook while setting the table, resulting in a judgmental eye from the devil. Perfection nagged my routine while I lit the candles, tunneling my vision on what laid before me.
Mama bounced in her seat as she gave the prayer, taking longer than usual. She thanked the Lord for his grace and his humbleness in allowing father a safe voyage home…
“And there I stood, gun in hand with righteous fellows next to me. Givin’ their lives to preserve our freedom! When I was out there I asked myself why we didn’t have a powered black on the front lines. Cause if we did we would’a destroyed them for sure.” He observed his fork with a creased forehead. “Why didn’t you join, son?”
I didn’t need to look to feel his burning gaze. My face remained still as I attempted to salvage my remaining composure. The tension strangled me as my hands gripped the napkin in my lap-
“Because I’m not an eager sinner like you.”
“Raymond Walters!” Mama gasped.
Father gestured Mama into silence.“Your powers could have proven useful out there.”
“My powers aren’t meant to start wars.”
“But they’d end em’!”
“I’m not some weapon to be toyed with!” I snapped.
“Bullshit, Raymond!” Father pounded his fist against the table, startling Poppy, “I’ve seen what you create. You have an entire artillery in the palm of your hands, made from your own God damn light! That’s a weapon from God right there. Maybe if you tried you could make somethin’ useful. Not those- those pathetic balls of light!”
“But I like Brotha’s light sh-”
“Not now, dear.”
“At least I haven’t killed people!” Outrage burned on my tongue. “Regardless of whether they were my enemies or not!”
“Then you’re no man! You’re weak!”
That word consumed my every thought. I shot from my chair, slamming both fists against the table in temptation.
But I hesitated.
My clenched jaw faltered to Poppy. She huddled between her knees, wide eyed. My muscles strained with the effort of holding back cursed words. Anger blazed across my irritated stature, begging for action.
But I refused.
Instead, my sweaty palms disconnected from the table. For a split moment father and I exchanged a deep connection, one that encapsulated our despise for one another. I had to remain the better person. I had to…
I stormed away from the scene, clamoring into the darkened hallway. My legs weakened with each step towards salvation. A numbing heat curled upwards from my shins, giving way at my knees. I slammed my door open, tumbling to my knees on the tacky carpet.
The environment around me spun, slurring together into an unrecognizable blur. My shallow breaths labored through building mucus lodged into my throat. I gulped through pants, my sweaty palms clenching fabric and chaining me to reality.
My head buried itself between trembling knees.
Heart pounding up my throat.
A chilling draft wafted across the room as my exhausted body slumped to the floor. I laid in isolation. The cool air brought that tiny ounce of comfort I craved, my anxiety keeping me company.
My vision shifted to the matted carpet as I gathered the strength to pull myself to my knees. Tears stained my cracked lips. The minimalist aesthetic of my surroundings matched my own emptiness. Only the bare necessities were present.
I found myself focused on my clenched fist, till clutching to my orange sweater which hid the scrapes covering my chestnut skin.
An artificial weight began to form within my dry knuckles. A shimmer of fabricated rays slowly seeped through the cracks between my fingers. The size of the object became too large to hide within my hand, encouraging me to let it blossom within the darkness.
A smooth orb rested on my palm, drifting into the air with ease. The corners of my lips rose from watching the orb twinkle illuminated the darkness. It swayed in solitude before another weight bloomed from my opposite hand. Together the two orbs drifted in harmony as more began to join. I observed their tranquility in silence. I occasionally curved my fingers to bend their shape and pattern, settling on a replica of the night sky.
A subtle creak of the door destroyed the constellation, a frantic twist of my hand willing it so. Dread pulsed down my spine as I spun around. My rush of adrenaline simmered once my eyes met that of a small figure. I sighed in relief.
“Brotha..?” Poppy whispered, “You- Are you okay?”
“Yes.” I responded coolly.
“Mama said it’s no good to lie…”
Poppy made her way over, gently pushing the door shut in the process. She settled beside me, struggling to shift her dress as she crossed her legs.
“Did father upset you?” She tilted her head.
“Father is a good man…”
Poppy’s eyes narrowed, “No… I love Brotha. And… Father made Brotha upset, so I don’t like father.”
A ghost of a smile concealed my guilt, “Don’t tell him that.”
Poppy nodded in understanding, scooting closer in order to wrap her small arms around me.
“Can you put on a light show now?”
The room illuminated in response. Dozens of orbs blossomed from my palms, reflecting the awe in her eyes. A wide smile spread across her cheeks as I sent the constellations dancing around her body, crafting different soft edged shapes which each spiraled.
My sister encouraged my light, reflecting the kind of optimism I aspired towards. Nothing made me happier than moments like these: moments filled with innocence and bliss.
Poppy’s soft giggles filled my ears when the orbs morphed into animals: into any and all she could imagine, prancing in orbit above our heads. Poppy stuck her tongue out at a courageous lion. A shift of my finger led the lion to stick it’s tongue back at her. She lost herself in stifled laughter and my heart swelled with pride. The lion raced down to her level and booped her on the nose before rejoining the constellation of animals.
My sister stood, fixated on an orb the size of her hand on the other side of the room. She cupped it gently, a huge grin growing on her lips as she gently tossed it back in the air.
Her playfulness was therapeutic. My soul felt full from the joy she created in my life. Poppy was my world, and nothing would change that. Being beside her allowed me to see the beauty this world had to offer.
I pushed aside my previous negativity, escaping the darkness in order to focus on the true light of my world: