It was night. And then it was day. And Mama became the sun.
She never looked so happy. Gliding through the house. Gospel music blasting. Spinning into dances I didn’t recognize.
Her voice vibrated with a rhythm of her making.
Mina, isn’t it so pretty today? This is the perfect day for the park. We can have a picnic. Would you like that? Yea, we’ll do that. Just you and me. A picnic in the park. She said to me, but not really to me.
I smiled. Cause she was smiling. And it felt new. It felt good.
What was supposed to be a trip for lunch meat and bread became a new tv, a dvd player, three pairs of shoes, and dozens of snack cakes, until it was too late for the park.
Instead we went home, watched movies, and stuffed ourselves with too much food until it was morning again.
But this time, no sun.
When the rain hammers against the house, I tuck myself into a corner in my bedroom. Her footsteps come like an impending tide I am sure is going to take me under.
She finds me. Grabs me gently from my corner, and carries me. Carries me to the door and then outside and sits in the middle of our yard, in the rain, still holding me tightly against her. And then it comes, the wailing towards the sky, until I think her lungs might give out this time.
Uncle Willie Earl says he can feel a storm coming in his bones
A swollen ankle the size of a grapefruit, dull pain in the knee.
This body never told a lie, he says.
I never ache when bad weather is coming. Just when it gets here. My head pounds on the side until the last drop of rain hits the ground. Until the last trumpet of thunder blasts from the clouds.
Mama calls it a mark.
Says, we all got something in the body that haunts, tortures, or just is. Something we could never rid ourselves of no matter how hard we try. Something we got to accept and move on.
Mama shook me awake before the sun was up to help her find something she didn’t name.
Or maybe couldn’t.
Get up Mina. We got to find it. I know it’s here, she says, growing increasingly distressed.
Like always, I tried to act like I was looking for something.
Pull out all those drawers and see if it’s there, she instructed me with eyes looking as wild as this hunt.
We pulled, lifted, and undid until our house slowly unraveled. After hours of scrambling, she gave up.
Somebody took it, she says, before plopping down in the middle of the mess she had made in her bedroom. Crying. Crying like a small child.
Mama, it’s okay. We’ll find it, I say, rubbing her back, trying to make it better. Knowing good and well there’s nothing. At least not nothing I would know.
In the other room, I find the phone to call Uncle Willie Earl.
This is how it was every now and then. Mama in a frenzy and us having to clean up the mess.
What you think it is, Uncle Willie Earl? I asked him later that evening after we had made the inside of the house look livable again.
He stared at me for a minute, then said,
Sometimes things just stay with you, Mina. Sometimes for years. And then a bubble in your head just burst wide open and it’s like that thing happening to you all over again. That’s all I reckon it is. A bad memory she can’t shake.
We watched the sky together, sitting in the grass, breathing deeply into one another.
I sat between her legs while she cradled me in her arms, wrapping her ankles around mine. Our dog, Samantha, rolled around on her back a couple of feet away from us, in her own separate world.
The sky was blue and cloudless. But I could still smell rain in the air.
It was just like this before the last bad storm. The worst we ever had, Mama says while looking up at the sky.
She held me tighter and sighed.
I liked being this way. When things felt normal and calm. And Mama, a little closer to the real world and me.
What was the last bad storm like?
Oh Mina. I didn’t really see nothing but the after of it. I was in the hospital having you. Wasn’t even in town, but it sholl tore up a lot of shit up. Spared most of us though.
Did your mama die cause of the storm?
No, she died from a stroke. If she could’ve got to a hospital in time she might’ve lived. Maybe. But I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s talk about something happy.
I sigh. Trying to think of something happy.
Mama’s smile, with gold-plated fronts.
Uncle Willie Earl’s bear hugs.
Samantha’s wide, wet grin.
I relax deeper into Mama’s chest, feeling her heartbeat lightly against my back.
Another happy thing.
My head is a marching band, just the drums. Beating. Beating. Beating.
And Mama is on the warpath. Pacing back and forth from the kitchen to the living room. Bursting into sobs, on and off.
I lay on the couch, cuddled up with a trembling Samantha. She always gets scared during storms. I wonder if the sound of the wind whistling makes her ears ring, too.
We both watch Mama quietly, waiting, hoping she’ll get tired soon and lay down.Uncle Willie Earl limps into the house, soaked by the rain, and slams the screen door.
We gotta get ready for this storm. They already spotted a tornado not too far from here, he says looking from me to Mama, and shaking his head before callin’ her name.
Ronita! Just barely below a yell.
She stops pacing, her face wet and deep red, and looks at him like he interrupted a thought.
The radio saying they spotted a tornado nearby. How much food ya’ll got?
I get up to check the cabinets. The blankness on Mama’s face meant that his words went in one ear and out the other. Uncle Willie Earl found a box and told me to put all the canned food we had in it.
Ronita, come help me get these cases of water from out back in the shed. I put a couple of cases out there when I got the feeling ‘bout this storm coming.
Mama, still wet-faced, did as Uncle Willie Earl had said. Once we got all the food and water together, we turned on the tv and watched as the small, red words trickled across the bottom of the television screen: . . . SEEK SHELTER NOW.
The wind and rain whip against the house, shaking the windows, the floor a steady tremor. The sound, like a train chugging from a near distance.
With Samantha in my arms, I follow Uncle Willie Earl towards the closet. Mama wouldn’t come, said she wanted to see it through.
The closet is the safest place for us. If it comes through here it’s taking out the windows and you, too, Uncle Willie Earl had said.
But she just stood there, in the dark. Unmoved. Staring blankly out the window. Uncle Willie Earl, a flashlight in hand, huddled us up into the hallway closet that he had lined with pillows.
The train sound got closer. My head, chug chug chugging with it. I call out for Mama, but it is muffled by the storm.
Uncle Willie Earl hovers his body over me and I squeeze my arms around Samantha’s stiff, warm body. The closet shakes so violently, it feels like it may break away from the rest of the house. My ears ring so loud, I can’t hear. I feel Uncle Willie Earl’s heart beating, beating too fast. Then it all stops. The chugging. The shaking. The whipping.
And we tremble together, alone.
Nothing much was left standing.
Only one reported death, so far. Somebody got caught up trying to get home, and slammed into a tree that had blown in the middle of the highway.
Our house was a pile of wood and debris, only the closet and hallway partially intact. We dug through the mess, searching and searching, but nothing.
She couldn’t have survived that, Mina. She gone, he said.
She gone, repeating it as if to convince himself and me.
My mouth was dry. I couldn’t think of any words to put together. I sat in the middle of the mess with Samantha in my lap, still trembling.
She wouldn’t leave me. Slipped from my throat, barely a whisper.
Some endings only leave memories.
Sticking to the brain. Coming and going like the sun.
What will mine be?
Maybe Mama’s smile. A rainless sky.
I hope it will be something.
Oh God, please make it beautiful.
Danielle Buckingham is a Black Southern writer from Louisville, Mississippi. She is a 2017 Voices of Our Nation (VONA) alum, and has work published in Raising Mothers, Black Stew, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and elsewhere. Her writing centers Black folks surviving and thriving in the Deep South.