by ML Dumars | May 26, 2020 |
Ours is a revolving table, once wooden, now glass,
Seating three, then two, then four.
Surrounded by friends, family, neighbors.
Our son did his homework at our kitchen table
Just as we did before him. Just as I do now.
He learned to read, count, and compose there.
I learn complex concepts to improve our lives.
Small children take their place at our table,
as they announce ”I’m finna eat!”
trusting something good will appear before them.
Here they wield Crayola markers confidently,
and share their masterpieces.
At our table, Ouchies get kisses, boo boos are healed,
on kids, stuffed bunnies and bears, and adults too.
Medications for sicknesses, chronic disease,
daily maintenance. Physical and mental health.
Our table witnesses silly, deep, daily conversations.
Trying, painful discussions. Tears of despair, joyful cries.
Life lessons learned, hugs dispensed.
Decisions made. Trips planned.
Dreams shattered and rebuilt.
Our table revolves and finds life again.
"Are you real?” the little girl asked, pushing her dark curly hair out of her eye. She leaned in closer, her wide nose nearly touching the boy’s. She examined his face so she could remember him, from his brown eyes peering at her sleepily, to his tight black hair peeping from under his red cap. She stepped back and looked him up and down, noting his denim overalls with a bit of turf still clinging to his knee.
“Are you a real boy or an imaginary one?” She paused for breath, then continued, “My mommy doesn’t like me to talk with imaginary friends any more, says I’m too old now.” She sticks a finger in her mouth to wriggle a loose tooth. “She didn’t say I couldn’t play though.” She took his hand and dragged him to the merry-go-round. As they spun at a dizzying speed, she crawled to the center and tugged his red shirt until he was sitting beside her. He smiled and watched her while she talked.
“My mommy does not believe in imaginary friends. She says they are make believe, not real. I told her mine were real but she got angry, so I stopped talking to them around her. I just talk stopped having tea parties.” She bunched her loose curls up on top her head and let out a heavy sigh. “Now I play outdoors mostly, more stuff to do out here. But I never met you before.” She placed a grubby little hand on his cheek and left a smudge there when she pulled back. “You are real! The sand is sticking to your face just like it sticks to my hand.”
Delighted, she hopped down off the merry-go-round and ran to the sand box to finish her sand castle. Her new friend plopped down beside her and started to help. They worked silently for a few seconds. A warm breeze caressed their cocoa brown skin. Then a voice tickled their ears. “Uh oh. My mommy is calling me. Time to go.” She stood up and reached to hug her friend. He hugged her back. “See you later!” she yelled as she ran off toward the sturdy silhouette of her mother. She didn’t look back. He had already disappeared.
by ML Dumars | Mar 8, 2021 |
Ramon sat in Josiah’s lap and relaxed as radiant hands enfolded his heart and his wound. As the glow intensified, a single bullet sprang from the wound and clattered on the ground. Ramon stood up, took off the blood-stained shirt, and walked out of the room.
Mama Teresa exclaimed her gratitude with clasped hands as she followed Ramon to his room. Josiah picked up the slug and shirt from the floor and tossed them into the trashcan. He swept the floor, tidied up the backroom in which he lived now. The events of this night were not strange to him, especially since Ramon was known as the Bad Boy of the family. Being the oldest child, he felt he had to represent, to keep the family safe from the other gangs out there.
Josiah showed up at the restaurant two months ago, with five dollars in his pocket and an excitement at having found “El Patron”. He perused the specials and, though they were reasonably priced, could not find anything lower than six dollars. Moved by his disappointed face, and perhaps his lost stare as he sat on the curb nearby, Mama T invited him into the dining room and gave him a plate of food on the house.
While he ate, Mama T chatted with him to determine where he came from, who might be looking for him, and if he was as mentally challenged as he seemed. She discovered very little about him. Besides his name, he could not tell her much else. He insisted this was the place he was looking for and he was alone. Mama T informed her family that he would be staying with them in the small house behind the restaurant until she could find out where he belonged. Papa Mateo agreed.
Juan became Josiah’s guardian of sorts, keeping him calm when sirens and gunfire rang out, or when people tried to hassle him. Police frequented the neighborhood due to heavy drug and gang activity. The family could not and would not move. The children grew up here when it was a quieter mix of people of color, all experiencing the injustice of red lining together. Juan was the youngest of three, yet he could still remember the threat of punishment for being bad from all the elderly neighbors, who then called his mother before he arrived home to face hers.
The middle child Nita married and moved a few blocks away into a more affluent predominantly white neighborhood with less crime. She worked in the restaurant daily but kept her distance from Josiah. Though he seemed harmless, she still dealt with demons from molestations in her past. She made jewelry which fascinated Josiah. She gave him a necklace made with an ornate filigree crucifix.
After Josiah was satisfied with the cleanliness of his room, he replaced the broom in the corner and stood rubbing the crucifix while he waited for Juan to appear in the doorway. He always knew when Juan was coming. They looked at each other then sat down on the makeshift sofa bed to talk. Juan worried about his big brother’s activities and was afraid he wouldn’t be able to make it home next time he needed healing. Josiah shrugged. He didn’t know or sense Ramon like he did with Juan. He could not heal Nita’s wounds. He wanted to protect them but accepted his limitations.
On this night, gun fire was so fierce, the restaurant closed early for the safety of their patrons. Police sirens echoed through the neighborhood, but the shots continued. Mama T pleaded with her oldest son to stay home, to rest from his recent wound, and to let the police do their job to protect them. Ramon listened silently while he checked the bullets in his gun. She tried to block the door with her body but he lifted her slight frame out of the way. She clung to him, but he wrested away, and strode confidently out of the house.
Mateo shook his head in resignation. He did not like his son’s stubbornness and cockiness, but he could not control a grown man. What was the use of getting upset when he would not listen to reason? Mateo gathered the rest of his family into the back room where Josiah slept. They decided to pray, for their own protection and for Ramon, until the noises ceased. They sat in the uneasy quiet, each in his own thoughts.
Josiah, troubled in his spirit, fiddled with the newspaper. He fixated on an advertisement for an old abandoned amusement park not too far away. The ad announced a car show last night. He nudged Juan incessantly until he looked at the paper. Juan shook his head no but Josiah jumped up and ran out the room with the paper. Juan followed and found him outside, stuffing a rubber toy cat into an old ratty backpack. He climbed on to a bike in the yard, Juan’s old 10-speed. Juan shook his head no, tried to pull him off the bike, and back into the house.
Josiah pointed to the ad in the paper then mounted the bike again. He took off down the deserted road away from the sirens. Scared but worried, Juan grabbed his new bike and followed him. They rode at top speed toward the amusement park. Juan wanted to turn back, but he could not leave his friend alone. So, he followed.
They arrived at the old park, sweaty and winded. Josiah dropped the bike and stood staring into the darkness. All the lights were shot out, a handful of cars were riddled with bullet holes, and the air was thick with the smell of gunpowder. Juan trembled next to his friend, afraid to ask why they were there.
Josiah, with backpack firmly strapped on, marched up to the first row of cars and peered into each one. Juan, afraid to stand out there in the open alone, and terrified to enter the park, stumbled a few feet behind him. What if the shooter or shooters were still here? Juan realized by now that the shots in the neighborhood had been a decoy. The real shootout happened here at the miss-advertised car show.
The only cars left were those recently abandoned, except for one. This car still held its driver. The driver was slouched over the steering wheel as if looking for something. Josiah hurried to the car. Recognizing the figure, Juan pushed past him to yank the car door open. Together, they pulled Ramon’s body onto the ground. Juan could hear the gurgling ragged breathing. Josiah felt his faint pulse slowing down.
“Heal him! Please!”
Josiah took the toy cat out of his backpack and lay it next to Ramon. Juan stared in disbelief at the scene before him. Josiah placed both hands on Ramon’s abdomen and they began to glow then stopped, returning to normal. He shook his head at the failure.
“You have to do it! Try again!”
Juan grasped Josiah’s hands and placed them on Ramon’s chest. Tears streaming down his face, Josiah did try again but nothing happened. Juan shook Ramon’s lifeless body, cursing him for leaving the house. Josiah’s heart broke. He pushed Juan away and put his hands on Ramon’s body once more. With all his might, he willed the young man well.
Josiah’s hands began to heat up, a faint light shimmered in his fingers. He felt warmth in his chest, his body emitted a pale light. It grew brighter with each heartbeat. It became unbearable and Josiah shouted as a beam of light shot into Ramon’s body. The young man gasped as air entered his restored lungs. His wounds healed as bullets fell from his torso. Juan threw his arms around his brother. He was alive!
Josiah crawled away with the toy cat in his burned hand, crawled behind another empty car. He hugged the toy as it melted onto the ground. Turning to thank him, Juan realized Josiah was missing. He caught a glimpse of something green behind the next car’s wheel. Going to look, he found only the toy melted next to a shiny strand of metal. It was the crucifix Nita had given Josiah.
Juan knew Josiah was gone for good. He returned to his brother and helped him walk to the pair of bikes left just outside the park. He offered Ramon the new bike. Ramon shook his head no and mounted the old bike instead. Juan hopped onto his new bike and the brothers pedaled home. Juan knew next time Ramon would stay home.