Flash Fiction Musical Selection|Erykah Badu: Orange Moon
Me and her pops had a big fight. I’m talkin’ — the kind that makes a brotha take a step back and think about what’s about to go down before it goes down — that kinda fight. I respect my elders — I got manners, you know. My folks raised me right, but I was just so damn tired of him puttin’ thoughts into Ruthann’s head about me — how she can do better than me.
I mean… Ruthann loves me. She ain’t tryin’ to hear what her pops is sayin’, but I hear him. I see the look on his face when I walk through their door. He hates me — literally hates a brotha.
And listen, I don’t normally feel that intensely about what other folks think of me — but this means something to me. I can’t put my finger on it just yet. But having her pop’s approval is at the top of my list.
Ruthann looks at her pops like he made the damn world. He is the sun, moon, and stars — hell, the entire universe to her. He has her heart and for three years; I cracked at the wall around it and I finally got in. I can’t have him reversing that shit, you know. I’m in there now, and I plan to stay there.
I ain’t stupid. I have my wits about me, and I got plenty of sense. Her folks don’t want her settlin’ down with me — don’t want us intermingling. My people — her people.
They can all pass. You know what I mean, right? They’re light as hell. They are the lightest Black folks I know. Ruthann is sugarcane colored — gently kissed by the morning sunlight. Her eyes are emerald green. Her lips are two finely sliced pieces of sweet flesh added to her face for effect.
When I first met her folks, her mother didn’t even say hello to me. She said, “Boy, you are the color of burnt molasses,” sucked her teeth, and walked off. Her pops looked me up and down — measurin’ me with his eyes. Dude ain’t need no ruler. I knew exactly what he was thinkin’.
I looked around their home — noticed the fine china, the furniture that didn’t come from IKEA, the barely walked-on floors, and the chandelier that dangled above our heads.
Somebody’s blood was royal, and it wasn’t mine.
I never thought I’d fall in love with a girl whose folks hated other Black folks. How much do you have to dislike yourself to look at people of your race like you want to sic the county dogs on them and skin them later just for fun?
Ruthann memorized this quote from Toni Morrison, she tells me sometimes. She tries to get my mind off the drama of her family, but I can’t stop thinkin’ about that shit. It consumes me. She’ll just say it as smooth as her lovely mouth can form the words, and I kid you not — I feel better.
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
And she’ll go on further, “Baby, it ain’t racism in our case, it’s colorism. And I don’t give a damn about who’s lighter than who or who’s darker than who. You know what I give a damn about?” And I play into this every single time, like the man in love that I am. “What, Ruthann? What?”
“I care about you. I care about us.”
The anger leaves me just as quickly as it seeped its uninvited self into my bones. I sink into the tightness of her embrace, and I allow her to be my peace.
She is my peace.
The fight started because I asked Ruthann’s pops for her hand in marriage. Ha! Listen, I was scared shitless! I sat down in their “main room”, across from the old man, and rubbed my sweaty hands together. My breathin’ was off. My heart was racin’ at the speed of light. I kept stutterin’.
He just sat back in his chair, chest all puffed out like he was some damn washed-up Avenger waitin’ for the call back into action.
“The Shield Family is cut from a different cloth, boy. Ruthann will not marry into one as simple as yours. We have standards. I want what’s best for my daughter, and Cleveland Mabry, you are not it.”
I don’t know what happened — I just saw red. And before I could stop myself, I raised up out of that chair, charged toward her pops, and lunged at him with an anger I couldn’t pull back.
He jumped up, took three steps away from me, and looked like the last days were pouncin’ on his heart. I thought the old man had seen a ghost the way he removed himself from my line of sight.
Ruthann had been standin’ on the other side of the room — just outside the doorway. She heard everything. She had tears in her eyes that were streamin’ down, linin’ her dimpled cheeks.
I hated to see her cry. I told her when we first met that I would never do anything to make her cry — not intentionally. The last thing I wanted to do was make her so mad that tears left those beautiful gem-colored eyes.
I walked over to her, placed my hand within her personal space, and she stopped me. She held up one hand, looked at her pops, then looked back at me. What she said next… floored me.
“Daddy, you do not decide who I will marry. You don’t get to approve or disapprove. You don’t get to design your life around mine to further infiltrate your beliefs into what I deem beautiful within this one life I have to live. If Cleveland wants to marry me. Then we will be married.”
There’s something about a woman standin’ up for you without your consent — without your awareness before it takes place. That night, I fell even more in love with Ruthann.
What the hell were two twenty-three-year-olds going to do on their own without her family’s financial support?
We were going to survive.
She moved out of her folks’ place and we carried everything we could to my house. I’d called my mom on the way over. She wasn’t happy, but she wasn’t mad, either.
We have a spacious, fully furnished basement. It was nothin’ to turn the area into Ruthann’s room.
My pops looked at me like the world had landed itself on his shoulders when I got outta the car. It was like he was tellin’ me something without sayin’ nothin’. And after the day I’d had, I just couldn’t play mind reader.
I walked past Pops and into the livin’ room, placed Ruthann’s bags on the floor, and led her downstairs to the basement where she could get herself ready for dinner.
When I came back upstairs, Pops was standin’ right there — arms folded — body language sayin’ a firm, “There’s only one man in this house, boy,” and I heard him loud and clear.
This wasn’t gonna be our home, either.
After dinner, I walked Ruthann down to the basement. I told her exactly what I knew I needed to. I watched her dancin’ eyes, her radiant smile, and her regal presence lean in to give me her full attention. The room smelled like her — like jasmine and fresh rain — like sage and Nag Champa. I choked on my words.
“We… we can’t stay here. Ain’t nobody said anythin’ yet, but it’s comin’. And Ruthann, I’d just rather not be here when it does. I’m tired of runnin’ into storms because we love each other. I’m so damn tired. Tomorrow, I’m gon’ pick up an extra shift at work for however long it’s gonna take to save up and get outta here.”
“So, you think you have to do this on your own? You don’t. We are a team, Cleveland. I’ll pick up a few more hours at the library, and I’ll make a significant withdrawal from my savings account. We are going to be okay.”
At that moment, I knew I’d made the right decision. I knew the woman who stared back at me with eyes of emerald green and skin matched by the glimmer of first light would be with me forever.
Because it felt like the right time, I slid the ring from my pocket and got down on one knee. I looked up at her — a lump formed in my throat — my hands got sweaty. I took a deep breath in and said, “Ruthann, I would like it very much if you chose to stay with me for life. Would you marry me, please?”
I could feel a smile growin’ on my face — one that settled there longer than it probably should have. I was safe. She said, “Yes.” Actually, she said, “Come here, silly! Hell, yes!”
And every time I wonder what will happen to us — who will try to separate us because of where we each come from …
I sink into the tightness of her embrace, and I allow her to be my peace.
She is my peace.
Originally published in Lit Up Magazine via Medium.
4 thoughts on “Cleveland”
This is so full of life and joy.
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Thank you, Peggy. It’s not an easy subject to discuss. I appreciate you reading it.
“Actually she said…” ❤️🔥 trE, you are the Queen of fully-fleshed characters!
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Whoa! Okay, this is high praise, Sun! Thank you kindly! I am glad you enjoyed this one! 🙂
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