Clover

Part VII: Soulful Legs Dance Studio has a new member.

Photo by Ratih Siubelan via Redshot

The night before my audition, I break the nail on my big toe pretty badly. It bleeds heavily on my bedroom carpet. I stand amazed at it. I don’t even feel the pain. I had been dancing for a few hours nonstop and must’ve broken it while turning. Mama notices it and shushes me repeatedly. At that moment, I had not known I was breathing hard and loud. She asks me to sit down on the bed while she gets the first aid kit. I sit. I wait. She rushes to the bathroom in the hallway, rushes back to my room, and takes out the antiseptic and some cleaning cloths.

I watch Mama clean up my toe, wrap it in gauze, then place a large bandaid over it. She is careful but she is serious. She tells me to stay off my feet for at least an hour — this applies to dancing. Then she says, “tomorrow when I come in from work, we can practice one more time before the audition.” My routine is five minutes long. Mama would have to rush home from work, hop in the shower, run through my routine with me, then we’d have to get to the studio by at least 1:50 p.m. This is what she said.

I don’t like being rushed. Mama knows this. She doesn’t like being rushed, either, but her boss had already said she could not get off thirty minutes early, so this is what we have to work with. I know my routine like the back of my hand. I can jump. I can leap. I can even do the three dances in between. But . . . it hurts so much when I come back down on my feet. My toe stings — a burning sensation runs through my entire left foot. Mama says, “dance through the pain, baby. It’s nothing big. It’ll heal.” And I guess she would know. She’s danced through a lot of pain.

Mama is home. She presses me to stand in front of her, look poised. We do my routine together one last time and when we’re finished, there’s a tear coming down Mama’s face. She orders me to sit down on the bed. She rushes to get the first aid kit again and she begins doctoring up my toe. Some more antiseptic, gauze, and another large bandaid are placed on my toe. She wraps it securely with an ace bandage and tells me to do the last three moves of my routine. I do them and I don’t cringe.

“There. You’re ready, baby. You’ve got this. Let’s go and show them who their next dance member will be.”

I started school this past week too! I haven’t even told you that, have I?! I’d been so excited about this audition and preparing for it that I forgot to mention my first week of school. Well, first half-week. I like the school well enough. My teachers are nice. I have one I don’t care for, but the others are pretty cool. I’ve made only one friend so far — Selena. She dances for Soulful Legs Dance Studio. She tells me all the things to spot and look out for during my audition. I listen and learn. I want to be on this squad so bad. I take all her information with me and use it to my advantage.


I nailed the routine! Two of the instructors were there and three of the senior dance members. Everyone loved it! Mama was in the crowd. I heard her “Hoot” after I was done, then I saw her shoot from her seat, jump up and down excitedly, and begin clapping. I couldn’t believe I’d finished the routine and landed every turn, every dance move, and all of my lines were straight and perfect. I also think it helped that I had three of the best songs on the radio as a mix for my routine: Craig Mack’s Flava In Ya Ear, Total’s Can’t You See, and Method Man & Mary J. Blige’s All I Need.

The instructors were dancing. The senior dancers were getting down! Mama was grooving too. I had such a great time. We didn’t have to wait long. The instructors talked for about five minutes, then called me and Mama to their side and told me I made it! I couldn’t believe it! I made it! We hurriedly drove home so we could tell Daddy and that’s where we are now — home.

We get out of the car, Mama locks everything up and we hurry inside to search for Daddy. He is sitting in the living room watching college football. I half-smile at him and Mama leans in for a kiss and says, “Guess what, Paulie!” Daddy looks over at me, smiles wide, and says, “You did it, didn’t you, Sweetpea?!” He hops out of his chair, slides toward me, and lifts me up into the air. I feel like I’m flying — like I can touch the sky. I am so incredibly happy!

And then, my toe aches. It’s a pain that reminds me I probably overdid it during my audition. I signal for Daddy to put me down and sit on the floor. I take off my shoe, remove my sock, unwrap the ace bandage, and finally the bandaid and gauze. Blood has dried over my toe and half of two of my other toes. the gauze is yucky. Mama sends Daddy for the first aid kit and she goes through the routine one more time. She orders me to take a bath and leave my left foot hanging out while I bathe.


When I am clean, we have an early dinner — it’s 5:30 p.m. Daddy made lasagna, garlic bread, fresh salad, and sweet tea & lemonade combined. Mama calls it Arnold Palmer. Why? I don’t even know. Every bite of my dinner is delicious. I forget about the pain in my toe again. I slip into the mood of the day and relax in front of the t.v. while Daddy rinses the dishes, loads the dishwasher, and Mama tidies up the kitchen.

They join me and Mama gets up, places a tape in the VCR, and my face appears. My music for the routine plays. And she throws a smile my way. She recorded the audition, but how! She looks at me as if she knows what I’m thinking and says, “Todd, the other senior member you did not see, recorded the entire thing for us. I wanted your Daddy to see what you accomplished today, baby.”

I look over at Daddy, he’s dancing in his chair, Mama pulls him up, and they begin dancing together. I stand in the same spot — stuck, but happy. Stuck, but honored. Stuck, but connected to these two beautiful parents of mine who made a very, very happy Clover.


Originally published in Hinged.Press via Medium.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV,  Part V, and Part VI

Hearts of Burden

Hearts of Burden, created with Canva.

Musical Selection: Bishop Briggs|River

Hearts of Burden

Fiction

She examines the tips of her fingers — her nails . . . she’d let them grow too long once again. Tonight, she’ll clip them. That’s what she’ll have on her schedule for a Friday night. Among watching whatever series her perusing eyes land on, courtesy of Netflix, and washing two loads of clothes — she’ll clip her nails. She lifts each finger closer to her eyes, scrutinizing them equally. The beds of her nails are splitting. There are hangnails on at least three fingers on each hand. What do they say about hangnails?

Most people experience hangnails when their skin is dry, such as in the winter or after being exposed to water for a prolonged period. A hangnail can become infected if exposed to bacteria or fungus. — Healthline

And this is what she gets for pruning in the tub several times this week. Mika’s body had been aching — her left leg shot twenty seconds of intense pain through her entire lower limb hourly. Her old high school athletic days were coming back to haunt her: iliotibial band syndrome, arthritis, headaches, and neck cramps. On top of all this, she and Zee had broken up just two weeks ago. She promised herself she would not sit around and sulk on her days off. But what is she doing? Sitting around . . . sulking . . . on her days off.

Just as she was thinking about Zee, her phone rang. The Rolling Stones’ Miss You blared through the device’s speaker louder than normal. She’d changed the ringtone three days ago. It seemed fitting at the time. She blows a huff of air out of her weakened body and answers the phone.

“Hey, Zee. Did I leave something at your place?”

“Hello, to you too, Mika. No, you did not. I called to see if you wanted to go to The Ladies of Neo-Soul concert on Sunday. Regardless of what we are now, we still love a good time.”

“This Sunday?! As in two days? Who’s headlining?!”

“Yes, Mika. This Sunday . . . Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Cleo Sol, Alex Isley, India Arie, and Amel Larrieux.”

“Are you shitting me?! Of course, I want to go! How much are the tickets?”

“The not-so nosebleed seats are $115.00 each. If you’re up for it, truly up for it, I’m on the promotional page now. I can buy the tickets.”

“Yes! Lock it in, Zee, please! I’ll get the money to you next week.”

“I didn’t ask to be paid back. I offered. You accepted. Let’s leave it at that.”

The tone . . . It’s always Zee’s tone that crawls up the spaces of Mika’s temples and crushes them until they throb. Why is there always a snide attitude? It’s not just with her — it’s with everyone. But it was also this same tone that attracted her to Zee — Zinobya Adamson. She fell for her within moments after meeting at a Funk Festival four years ago. At the concession stand, she’d purchased a corn dog, waffle fries, and an iced tea. She turned around to get some napkins after crowding her food on her chest and ran right into her. Iced tea, a mix of ketchup & mustard, and waffle fries’ crumbs landed on Zee’s The Roots’ T-shirt.

Mika apologized profusely, but Zee dismissed it simply with, “It’s no big deal. I have two more shirts just like it. I purchase multiples of my favorite things for this very reason. I mean . . . you just never know, right? I can change after I get my order.” Mika recalled that day just as it was yesterday. She jumps out of her mind and back to their current conversation.

“Zee, do you always have to be so dismissive? So . . . whatever-ish to people? I know you offered, but it is also good manners for me to offer to pay my half, especially since this isn’t a date.”

“So whatever-ish?! Mika, please don’t start. This hypersensitive shit is one of the main reasons we aren’t together anymore. For the love of God, you’re from Yonkers! You can take a few blows to the chest and give them just as well as I can. Let’s not act like you can’t.”

Mika sighs into the phone. Another argument. Out of nowhere. And it hasn’t even been ten minutes. She licks her bottom lip, sucks in a full breath — straight from the diaphragm, and quickly gets the details for the venue, time, and where to meet for the concert. She doesn’t want to waste her night seething in anger from this conversation.

“I’ll come to pick you up. The show starts at 7:00 p.m., so I’ll be at your place by 5:30.”

“Nah, Zee. I’d rather drive myself. So, we can meet up at the front entrance of the venue and I’ll spot you unless you spot me first.”

“What the hell, Mika? I can’t come to pick you up now? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take one car, get there, get parked, and already be with each other instead of looking for one another?!”

“Just the same, I’d rather drive myself.”

“Okay, fine. Meet me by the two columns in front of the center by 6:00 p.m.”

“Cool. I’ll see you there. Thanks for offering.”

“Whatever.”


She tries to remind herself what caused her to fall for Zee — it comes in and out. The reasons hover over her and she remembers: she’s confident, smart, independent, originally from Miami, FL, can cook like her late grandmother, and never hesitated to show her public affection. When she was with Zee, people knew it. They had been a beloved couple — there was no hiding — no sneaking around. They were free, and she loved that feeling.

Sunday arrives quicker than she imagined. She has belly butterflies, a nagging headache, and her sinuses decide today is a good day to be annoying. She will let nothing keep her from this show. A chance to see Zee again so soon after the breakup — a chance to be near her . . . she wants this. She even thinks she needs this. The headache and sinus issues will be combated. She is going to this show.


Mika steps out of her midnight blue SUV. Her multi-colored Dunks match her tie-dye Peanuts T-shirt. Her jeans are fitted with patched holes in the knees. She has medium-sized bamboo earrings in her ears and is carrying a rust-colored clutch. She spots Zee just as she locks her car. Zee struts toward her — body wrapped in a sky blue sassy romper with matching color stilettos. She is carrying a black clutch with accompanying black accessories. She looks amazing! Mika nearly trips over her own feet, walking to meet her.

“You . . . You look good, Zee. You look damn good.”

“Thank you. You look good yourself, Mika. But then again, you are always sharp in anything you wear. I like the Dunks.”

“Thank you. I like that romper. You better be glad we aren’t the same size cuz I’d be raiding your closet for that one.”

“Ha! Your words only. Are we gonna be civil tonight?”

“I think we can manage that.”

“Okay, then. Shall well?”

“We shall.”


The ladies make their way to the entrance. Zee presents the tickets for scanning. Their clutches are briefly but thoroughly searched. The night is young, and the music settles into their hearts. Zee locks her arm around Mika’s and plants a kiss on her cheek. Burdened by their past, could they be stepping into a future?

YouTube

Originally published in soliloque via Medium.

Clover

Photo by Monstera via Pexels

Part VI: All the world’s my stage

When Mama hands me my plate of food, it takes everything in me not to shovel it down my throat quickly. The waffles are perfect; nice and fluffy. I eat my cheesy scrambled eggs eagerly the entire time. Mama looks at me, smiles slyly, and nods in approval. A happy belly makes a happy Clover. She knows this. Daddy knows this. Soon, my classmates will too. I have two more days before school starts and I want to be prepared.

Mama and I went to get school supplies and a few new outfits last week. I like what I picked out. Now that I am getting older, Mama lets me select my own pairings in outfits and shoes. I like my style. Mama says I look like a cross between Punky Brewster and Meg Murry when I get dressed up.

I dance. My specialties are Hip Hop and Tap. I’ve been dancing since I was five years old. Mama said it was “essential” that I learn something to do with my body — mainly my hands and feet.

I am a ball of energy, as you’ve probably guessed. But I was once what my mama said was, “quite the handful,” when I was younger. She tells me now, “If I didn’t put you in dance, you’d be bouncing off the walls. Dancing is a great way for you to use all that extra energy God gave you.”

When I’m on the stage, nothing else matters. Nothing else is. It’s just me and the music. My body moves rhythmically and I follow the beat, focused on perfecting the choreography issued to us during practices.

One of the first things Mama did when we got settled here in Hopeulikit was to find a dance studio. Luckily, there isn’t one far from where we live. Bulloch County isn’t the biggest county around, but at least, they’ve things to keep a kid like me busy and interested.

Soulful Legs Dance Studio is the place Mama settled on. She spoke with the head instructor on two different visits, got their pricing information, talked things over with Daddy, and now . . . I will continue what I had been doing in Summerville before we moved here — dancing. She brought home two pamphlets; one for me and one for her.

I stared at the photo on the front of the pamphlet; a huge stage with so many girls and boys and instructors standing on it — posing for the photo. I smiled hard at the image because I thought of myself dancing across that stage on Friday and Saturday nights. Mama says I have an audition on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. I am going to be sure I bring my A++ game. Mama says if I’m selected, I’ll begin practice the following Tuesday evening after school. I am excited but a little nervous too.

Just a few butterflies in my belly, nothing to get all crazy about. I know I’ll be fine. I know what I can do and Mama dances with me sometimes, too. She’s still got some great moves. She glides across the floor so perfectly. Her lines are symmetrical and she doesn’t miss a beat. Mama keeps time with every song we play and I just stare at her. Sometimes I whisper to myself while she’s dancing, “That’s my Mama.” Yep. She’s amazing.


Photo by David Hofmann via Unsplash

Before I was born, Mama danced for some big-time theater in Los Angeles, California for about five years. Dad likes to talk about this — Mama, not so much. Something about tearing her ACL and being forced to quit dancing. I don’t really bring up the subject — her face sinks into itself and it seems like the whole world could get sad from the power of her feelings. I think . . . and you better not tell her, either . . . I think she feels like she failed at it, you know? Since she can’t really dance like she should and as hard as she used to that she has failed at it, somehow.

I tell her all the time, “Mama, you’re my favorite dancer,” and I mean it too. She sits back and smiles a half-smile and her eyes get all teary — gives me chills. Daddy told me one time, “Sweetpea, when your mama took to that stage, no one uttered a word. All eyes were on her.” When Daddy talks about Mama’s dancing days, he lights up — he gets so happy I can feel the sunshine leaving his body. But he quiets down a little also when Mama comes around. It’s like the stage is an awful place for Mama and well . . . every chance I get, every place I go to, I dance. All the world’s my stage.

It’s just better not to talk about it too much around Mama, is all. I’m just happy she takes the time to dance with me — to still feel the music and try her legs out. They still work. They still carry her. She can even balance her whole body on one leg for ten minutes! Can you believe that?! TEN WHOLE MINUTES! I was excited to see it the first day she showed me and you know what she said? “Oh baby, your mama used to do this for twenty minutes a long, long time ago.”

I look forward to the audition, but I’m really just ready to get it all over with and start dancing with a new team. I miss my squad in Summerville, but I think I’m getting used to newer things happening. At least, I want to get used to the new things that are happening. Mama says there will be three judges. The piece we’re working on is a mix of Jazz, Funk, and Hip Hop and we’re going to have one of my favorite songs mixed in, Craig Mack, Flava In Ya Ear. We are working very hard — day and night. We have fun, too, though.

I’m just hoping they like the routine well enough to accept me. That’s my hope — my dream. I know Mama likes that I dance, too. I know it makes her happy. I see her sometimes when I’m dancing. She looks at me like she’s missing something bigger, but she’s happy to still hold on to a bit through me. I’m going to take to that stage and rip it up for my mama.

I am . . . I am . . . Just watch!

Originally published in Hinged Press via Medium.


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V

Brought Back to Life (Revised)

Microfiction

Photo by Rahul Pandit via Pexels

Sold into flames, fiery pits sing of the determination of willful souls who know only the battles of their homeland.

Dead then alive, then dead again, human resurrection; phoenixes rising up, resisting the shackles weighing them down. We move to get away from ourselves. We seek peace in other lands — eager to take over other worlds. Will our legs carry us to places unknown?
 
Temptation comes in two forms; young or old. We crave them both. Is this life’s crown? Are we waiting to be brought back to life while we struggle to live? 
 
Are we?


Revised version originally published in soliloque via Medium.

Clover

Part IV: Standing at the gate, waiting for Mama.

Photo by Shan via Redshot

We got settled into our new home within three days. Mama’s really determined about these sorts of things. She likes to have balance — complete and total Zen. We decorated my room exactly the way I had it back in Summerville. Thankfully, the space is about the same. Our kitchen is my favorite place to be. We have an open layout (as the adults call it) with a bay window. There’s plenty of bright sunshine poppin’ on through. There’s also an extended sill wide enough for me to sit on and read. I’ve spent every morning here since we moved in.

Mama begins work today and I have four more days of summer vacation before school starts. I went with her yesterday to get her keys, name tag, employee packet, and code for the alarm. This boutique isn’t anything like Mama’s shop back home. There’s this huge brick space with a teal or some kinda greenish-blue gate and anyone visiting has to be buzzed in. I asked Mama, “How in the world are customers supposed to come shop if they need permission?” She shrugged her shoulders. I’m almost certain she was thinking the same thing.

I am sitting in the bay window listening to the news as it plays in the background. Mama likes to catch up on the weather, the latest events, and traffic updates as she cooks breakfast. This morning, she offered a request — I choose blueberry pancakes and chocolate milk. Daddy’s been getting himself ready to work another ten hours down at the Statesboro, Georgia branch of Viracon, Inc. He left Amtrak when I was about four years old. His career path took a turn to the administrative side. He’s a Human Resources Coordinator by day and a “man with a plan” by night.

Daddy has this wild dream of owning his own tobacco & things shop. One thing he’s extremely focused on is making and selling unique smoking pipes and other tools used for smoking tobacco. This is the part Mama hates . . .

“Paulie, I don’t see why you have to make things that help kill people. Can’t you put that genius mind of yours to work towards something else?”

I just shrug my shoulders every time I hear this argument from Mama. Daddy’s got a dream. I hope he sees it through. Who knows? Maybe his pipes will become the most purchased pipes this side of Georgia or even bigger — nationwide! That’s what I see for my daddy. That’s what I hope for — I know he does too.


It is another blazing hot summer day. Sunshine kisses every inch of my skin and I have drunk at least a gallon of water already. It’s not even 10:30 in the morning. Mama typically works from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week and on Saturday, she works 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There are clouds bulging up in the sky. Maybe we’ll get some rain today. Today is Saturday and to save on gas, Daddy drops Mama off to work and picks her up when she’s done. I tag along.

We get to the big brick boutique with the teal or some kinda greenish-blue gate and Daddy presses the numbers “1, 7, 2” on the call-box and instantly, Mama’s voice comes through the speaker. “I’ll be right out, Paulie.” He smiles down at me and we wait. And we wait. And we wait some more. Mama is running behind and this bothers Daddy. He looks at his watch and shouts to the air, “12:50 p.m. What is that woman doing?!” He presses the numbers to the call-box again and Mama’s voice comes piercing through. “Paulie, if you push this call-box one more time, it’s going to be me and you! I’ll be out shortly!”

I step away from Daddy and sit down on the bench. Mama means business sometimes and I don’t want to be in that line of fire when she comes high-tailin’ it outta the boutique’s door. Shortly after I’m seated, here comes Mama.

“What is wrong with you?! It’s my first week! Surely, you must understand I’ll have to stay around a bit after at least once or twice, Paulie!” Daddy stares at Mama, taps his hand on his right pants leg, and shyly comments . . . “I know, baby. I apologize. I was just missing you is all.” He plants a huge kiss on Mama’s cheek and takes her bags from her with one hand and places his other hand in hers.

Yuck! The two of them need a room! I think this. I do not say it. We pile up in Daddy’s truck and the first thing he says is, “I’m hungry. Who’s hungry? Anyone want some Vandy’s Bar-B-Q?” I lick my lips as I hear his offer and shout excitedly . . .“I SURE DO!” I look at Mama and she smiles while mouthing, “Yes” and we head Downtown for lunch that’s sure to make our mouths and bellies happy.


After lunch, the rest of the weekend awaits us. I come up with little games and indoor fun to keep busy. It’s too hot to go outside and play. Our closest neighbors are about a mile up the road, so I sure ain’t trekkin’ that far to see if they have any children. I’m certain I’ll make some new friends when school begins next Wednesday and I’ll get plenty of time to play with or get to know many of them during P.E. At least, I hope so.

I think about Mama and how her days go at the brick boutique. She doesn’t seem happy and I want her to be. I know Daddy wants her to be happy, too. It must feel like the world has come tumbling down on you when the place you spend most of your time looks like some sorta prison. Again, I think this. I do not say it. I just sit with it for a while and let it keep me company.

Maybe I’ll talk to Mama about it tomorrow.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

Part I, Part II, and Part III