An impossible quest. To marry the Moon Tower princess, Anton earns the help of four animal spirits- Eagle, Ant, Lion, and Dove. As an Eagle, the African prince persuades the Wind Witch, to help. Treacherous mother, she pries the location of the Tower from her Wind son’s lips. Becoming a dove, then an ant, then himself Anton enters the Princess’s bedroom.
But Papa refuses to negotiate. Becoming a Lion, Anton disembowels the fierce guardian pig who hides the father’s life inside an eggshell. And when Papa’s gone, good and gone, the hero rules the land, his princess wife as queen.
Condensed from an African folktale in Virginia Hamilton’s, The People Could Fly.
I knowed it were all over when that smart ass, Br’er Rabbit, fooled me ag’in. Boss gonna think to hire that rabbit. What am I saying? “Don’t nobody hire no rabbit when they’s a fox to do the job.”
Then that sly trickster pops out the bushes . “Well, Br’er Fox, you wrong ag’in.” Br’er Rabbit swung his fine cane in a circle, its fine brass knob shining in the sun. “No, times they be a changin’ and the world be too, though it be slow as molasses in January.”
When Jesse said his people could fly, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water instead of digging crawdads for supper. Though he fled to D.C. after the Klan burned Wilmington in 1898, we kept in touch. *
In 1965, both ninety-five years old, we rode to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. Afterwards, Jesse said, “The moral arc of the universe must be a rainbow. Takes faith to find the end of it.”
“Helps to fly, doesn’t it.”
He nodded, picked up his two-year old great-granddaughter, who spread her arms, laughing and flapping. “This one’s in training.”
The door swings open. Your roommate pumps his fist and plops on the bed. “Winter break, here I come. Hey, wanna go skiing.” He’s always after you to relax.
You want to go, but you count every penny since your dad went bust in real estate. “La Jolla’s warmer. Mom would love to meet you.”
He agrees. Mom agrees. Everything is set. You’ve registered for classes next term, it’s dead week and you’re confident about finals. Then you get e-mail from the bursar. The autopay from your bank failed. Calling Mom, you hope your Dad hasn’t hacked the account again.
Her mother texted Aimee : “Your Grandfather left you everything.”
After mixing peanut butter into vanilla cookie dough, Aimee replied, “No way.”
She was stumped. He’d barely spoken to her the last time she visited. Aimee had hidden her resentment, watching how his care exhausted her mother, knowing her mother loved him.
Traveling to the funeral, she’d worked it out. Of his four children, only her mother had fulfilled his wishes, giving him a grandchild and care at life’s end. It fell into place. While Aimee stood in for her mother, her aunts would feel the sting of his venom one last time.
The chair, a lucky garage sale find, tucked itself under the desk after Anne’s husband died. She thought to never change it. Her sister thought otherwise and upholstered it in maroon brocade.
“Much better,” Marla said, deploying a tack to the seat’s bottom.
“Like Burgundy, his favorite wine.”
The new fabric smelled different. She sat in the chair, holding the original brown corduroy. After a year, she gathered her husband’s belongings: the chair, his books, his desk, etcetera and sold them from the driveway. Neighbors shared memories with Anne, bought remembrances. She stowed the proceeds in her brown corduroy purse.
“Snow symbolizes death,” a Kenyan English major told me as we walked across campus to our shift at the greenhouse. Both of us clutching our coats closed against the cold, I suppressed thinking about ashy flecked flakes falling as early as July.
By May, the ground thaws so we can harvest root vegetables for winter stews. The short warm season discourages growing anything but leafy greens outside. Broccoli, artichokes, melons, tomatoes and tree fruits need shelter and warmth. Apples are a tropical fruit now, shipped on boats to reduce carbon footprints.
She smiled at the waitress. “A whiskey sour, please.” A youngish woman took the order, her short skirt stretched over lean legs.
He looked up. “Bourbon, neat.”
He surveyed her ass as she motored towards the back, where the Happy Hour crowd filled wooden barstools. Picking up empties, she glided past banks of booths arranged in tight lines on either side of adobe tiled floors. When she reached the midway point between the entrance and the end, he remembered who he’d come with.
Touching his ex-wife’s scented wrist with the palm of his hand, he asked how she’d been.
He stood close to the mortuary exit. He thought she might change her mind. Mourning doves called, cooing in short and long bursts of flutelike music, cooling the dry warmth of the afternoon. She arrived carrying a vase, then dumped water into a hedge and tossed the flowers into a trash bin. The bouquet was large, composed of scentless yellow roses, blue irises, and red tulips. They were filled with sorrow dripping from broken stems, the way that funeral arrangements are. He imagined his longing for her upended like the discarded green spikes.