Instructions: Read the short story and once you’re done (scroll to the end of the story) VOTE on whether this story should be turned into a novel or novella. And if you don’t think the author should keep going, we have a choice for that too.
“At birth, I was given a Christian name and a middle name. Shortly thereafter, I was also given a “basket name,” not to be confused with a nickname. Nicknames have no inherent connotations or power; a basket name does. Only one’s family and closest friends know one’s basket name, and they use it only around each other.” Voodoo & Hoodoo by Jim Haskins
Clang, clang, clang
“She’s coming mama.”
Clang, clang, clang
All morning I took to banging mama’s pot together to match the noise I was hearing all day.
“I’d set you outside for anyone to take if I wasn’t in my right mind.” I heard Mama yell in between my banging. “Now put my good pots up before you dent them and I’ll have to put a dent in you.”
I froze with the pans in mid swing. Mama never served empty threats. I dragged my feet over to the cabinet to put them away. “Mama, you never believe me. She is coming.” Just as I was closing the cabinet, I was met by Mama standing over me untying her apron. A proud, slender woman with deep-set brown eyes. ‘You can make a blind man see and a deaf man hear.’ I once heard a man say to Mama walking by.
“Cassie, you’ve been at this for weeks now. Whoever she is ain’t coming.” She turned away to hang her apron on a hook by the door.
“A haint, Mama, she’s a haint, ” I protested. “She can’t tell time like us. That’s why it’s taking her so long.” I watched as she kicked off her shoes.
“Cassandra Rose James, that is enough. I’ve had it with this haint talk.” She said facing me standing akimbo. I squared my shoulders to match my mother’s stance, “Grandma Eve would believe me.” There was a moment of stillness and I braced myself for her response. Or hand.
Grandma Eve and I were very close; always trading secrets and stories. The same stories she would tell mama but, ‘her mind wouldn’t make much room to keep for y stories, even at a young age,’ Grandma Eve once said. I was only left with the little memories I had of her as mama didn’t talk about her much or ever in fact. No pictures, family bible, or family traditions.
Nothing. Except for an apron she wore even when she wasn’t cooking. Once white with bright yellow and pink flowers was not yellowed from years of cooking. And after all the years of wear and washing it still smelled of cinnamon and bay leaves.
“Well, ya grandma ain’t here is she? Neither are those damn haints.” I started to answer her back but I was quickly reminded of my place. “Utter another word and you’ll meet Grandma Eve and Jesus for tea.” I nodded knowing I’d gone just a bit too far and yet relieved that my straightening came only in words. “Now get your coat. We’re going into town.”
The walk into town was a long one but it was always an adventure. Seeing the men working on the railroad singing together like one voice. So much so, I started to walk in rhythm to their singing in my black Mary Janes. “Ba bum be, huh, rails coming up, huh, rails going down, huh.”
“What are you doing back there?” Mama asked without slowing her pace. “Singing with the men, mama. I have to say it from down deep to let them know I’m working just as hard.” The air was still and a bit cloudy but there wasn’t any rain in the air. The rail men were long behind us but I kept humming; I liked my song but mostly it was mostly to quiet the voice I was hearing.
At the edge of town, Mama stopped and called me closer, “Come here Cassie” gathering me softly by my coat collar and smoothing out wrinkles that weren’t there. “I know Mama, I know” Sighing heavily. “I’ll mind myself.” Mama rubbed her hands across my two braids until she was satisfied, “Alright.”
Everyone was a giant to seven-year-old me. Brown giants, high-yellow giants, and white giants. Mama said never to look the white giants in the eye for too long but I did anyway. They always looked at me strangely; twisting up their faces and sometimes turning red, but I didn’t care. They looked strange to me.
Like, walking ghosts. Just before any of them could say something to Mama, I’d put on my best smile and proper voice and say ‘Good afternoon ma’am, sir. Fine day ain’t it?’ I always got a rough ‘humph’ back and watched them storm off as I muffled my snickering.
The door to Mr. Daniels Grocery opened and a bell jingled. That was new. Mama walked off down the aisle and I stood by the door to watch folks come in and out the ringing door.
Mr. Daniels was a big man with pudgy fingers; a peculiar white man. Mama said that was a nice way to say someone was strange. Peculiar in the way he talked to black folks like he talked to white folks.
“Hey there Cassie. Come sit and talk with me while your mother does her shopping.” Placing a wooden stool by the register. “When’d you get that bell, Mr. Daniels?” I asked while climbing the stool, careful not to show my underside. “You like that bell? I put it up this morning. Had it for a while but today just felt right.”
I straightened out my dress to look smart at everyone coming to the register. “What about today felt right?” “Can’t rightly say, but where I’m from when you get that feeling, you don’t ask questions. You just do.” Mr. Daniels thanked a lady as he placed her items in a paper bag. She smiled at him and rolled her eyes at me before making the doorbell ring.
“Where are you from?” He smiled as if a memory of his home flashed in his mind. “I’m from the North, but my people are from the South down by the Bayou. Where the food is plenty, people of all tongues and bells can be a celebration or a warning.”
Another person walked in. “Afternoon Mr. Reid,” the man tipped his hat and carried on.
“Well, did you put the bell up today to celebrate or warn us?” He looked up at the bell scratching his head as if it would fall out at any moment. “Hasn’t come to me yet, but I’m sure it will.” He finally answers.
Mr. Daniels was starting to sound like Grandma Eve. “How–” before I could finish my question a red-haired lady with matching lipstick was clearing her throat for his attention. A pound of sugar, a small cut of ham, and half a pound of salt. “You were going to ask me something, Cassie?” still checking out the woman. “How it come to you?” He packed up the last of her things and thanked her.
“Sometimes I hear things, other times I see things.” He was just like Grandma Eve. Finally, someone who would understand me. I didn’t feel alone. “Like haints, I whispered to him. “Mama says they’re not real, but one is coming. She told me so.” He smiled at my excitement and began to scratch his head again.
“Well now, Miss. Cassie,” No one ever called me Miss before. “Haints don’t do any warning, but ancestors do” He whispered back. Could it be the voice I’ve been hearing was Grandma Eve? If it was, why wouldn’t she tell Mama? I froze just like a bird in winter at the thought. “You really are peculiar Mr. Daniels.”
“Cassie!” Mama heard us before we ever saw her and was shocked that I repeated something she said. “I think you’ve spent plenty of time bothering Mr. Daniels for today.” Guiding me off the stool. “She’s alright, he assured Mama. She isn’t wrong though. Besides, I’ve been called worse things that weren’t true.” “See Mama, I’m no bother.”
“Maybe not to him.” As she handed Mr. Daniels her money she gave him a warning of her own, “But maybe you should be mindful of the rest of your customers.” His smile faded a bit before saying good day. Ding, Ding.
The bell continued as we left with people going in and out. “Mama, I told you so. Even Mr. Daniels believes so.” Her grip on my hand was so tight my fingers started to fold in like a cone. “Just what I need, some strange white man agreeing with a black child. They’ll lynch you both and make me watch.
“Mama, don’t say that.” Tears started to well up as I tried to open my hand but Mama’s grip just tightened and my little legs were doing all they could to keep up with her stride. Gusts of wind started to shoot dirt in my eyes. It even made Mama slow down. Ding, Ding.
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