midnight & indigo is a literary journal dedicated to short fiction and narrative essays by Black women writers.
Our second issue features contributions by 14 Black women writers including: Khaholi Bailey, Zakiah Baker, rebekah blake, K.B. Carle, Jeannine A. Cook, Cassandra Eddington, Johannah Fienburgh, Janyce Denise Glasper, Marissa Joy Leotaud, devorah major, Zuri H. Scrivens, Vanessa Taylor, Janelle M. Williams, and Akilah Wise.
K.B. Carle, “Wick”
A woman Sylke calls Wick leaves etchings of her lips on the Master’s windows while catching the drippings of candles in the palm of her hand. Sylke finds her in the quiet of the nighttime, watches her drift through the Big House from her settling branch on a big tree, willow leaves keeping her small body to themselves. Mantis tickles her scalp with her claws, scraping at dirt bits and whatever else she finds.
Unlike Sylke, Mantis has no interest in the woman who dances in the smoke trails of candlelight.
Sylke’s mama, Abigail, tells her that everyone and everything has a name. That those working in the Big House probably have day names that sound like bird songs or the gentle humming of bees. From her gazing spot, Sylke releases her day name, Barbaidy, into the air. Listens for the hummings or songs it might sing but only hears Mantis whisper,
A name made special, one Sylke can hold or give to the ones that fill her with a warmth she frees when she’s scared. A reminder that she is more than just Barbaidy, a name made for Master Laide that burns and causes her tongue to get to tangling, forming new shapes that threaten to choke her.
Marissa Joy Leotaud, “Crazy”
Two sticks of incense burn. Tufts of smoke waft through the air, rising and curling, swelling then evaporating like pulsing thoughts that remain secret; drifting off before full expression, leaving only their fragrance behind. One stick lavender, the other cedarwood. Familiar, comforting scents.
We met back in college, the only Black students in our American literature class. He gave me the Black person head nod of acknowledgment. I nodded in his direction politely, and we silently addressed each other’s presence in front of the whites. Internally, we screamed, “Thank God you’re here! Sit next to me!”
We sat next to each other.
I got him cedarwood incense that first Christmas. Neither of us could afford to fly home. I’ve been buying him the sweet-smelling sticks ever since.
Five years later and I’m with him again on Christmas. Still too broke to go home. It’s okay. His loft is home enough.
Cassandra Eddington, “Sunday”
They walk into the train car and toward the empty seats across from me, see me, stutter as they sit down. It does not bother me, I am patient. They avoid looking at me. To them, it is more polite that they pretend I am not here. I wait.
I see the sadness in her eyes, the glistening, the gentle tension in her eyebrows. I am unfortunate. I am a victim of something. It pains her young mind to think of what, so she makes a wall with her furrowing.
He crosses his hands in his lap. He examines his knuckles, the crescent-shaped scar from the lid of a can. It has healed wide at the center. His face is tilted in the way that heads tilt to honor God. He clears his throat. He adjusts the angle of his sneakers, the distance between his knees.
I look to my reflection in the window between their heads. I am old. I have aged again, the deep downward scratches in the glass intersect with the lines beneath my eyes. There are three now, deep and brown. A mole rides the ridge of the third fold beneath my left eye. I put one finger to it.
He puts his hand on her knee.
Vanessa Taylor, “Kelsey Monahan Stole Your Goddamn Jacket”
You realize this after coming back from a visit with your umi. It will go the same way those visits always do. There’s two kid siblings at home, and you’re pretty sure your younger brother is queer too, so that’s the only reason you bother going back. Umi will quietly ask if you want to visit the masjid down the street. Just to pray asr. You know asr will turn into whispered conversations with the imam which will turn into men reading Quran over you in the basement. The sheikh will scream surahs in your ear. They say if you flinch, you’re possessed. Your mother will go upstairs, running tasbeeh through her hands, feeling groves you helped put there. Umi would rather have a daughter full of jinn than a daughter who fills herself with women.
Janyce Denise Glasper, “The Goodbye Sister”
I loved visiting my younger sister when she lived at the modern brickwork complex around Shell Gas Station. You had to pull the bell of the northbound Route Sixteen bus right at that exact moment and cross the dangerous curved street with no stoplights, watching for incoming traffic aiming in both directions.
We had many girl’s nights there. Just us and Donatos thin-crust pizza with all the vegetable toppings and those amazing cinnamon-sugar dough balls for dessert. Sometimes, if we had a real good coupon deal, breadsticks would be in the order too.
She selected eclectic film combinations from the library. For instance, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington battled wills in Crimson Tide, and afterward we read subtitles of French animated Triplets of Belleville. Our penchant for Brian White films included the soft comedy Mr. 3000, dark erotic Trois, and Black spiritual romance Me and Mrs. Jones.
Then I would crash on her soft beige wrap around couch, warmed by her extra blankets, full of love and food. The large windows were closed by long white blinds that touched wall-to-wall carpeting, a deep, pretty gray.
Her belongings were neatly arranged; different from the chaotic dolls, clothes, and coloring books splattered on our shared childhood bedroom floor.
She resided in one of the best places ever acquired by any of us.
Janelle M. Williams, “In c/o Chidi Onyeachu”
They only do this in Black neighborhoods, keep people waiting all damn day. When the Post Office closes at five and doesn’t open until nine, don’t they know people have jobs? Tamika taps her tan mules. She’s seventh or eighth in line, after waiting fifteen minutes already. She hates knowing, just as well as anyone else, that this is to be expected at Harlem’s College Station.
Tamika looks behind her, finding a woman with a big box hitched to her hip like a toddler. She raises her eyebrows, projecting Now isn’t this some shit. The woman shakes her head, and Tamika watches the way her black bob moves, stiff with product. Her kaleidoscopic leggings with a small hole in the thigh and fuzzy purple slide-ons, the kind Rihanna made popular, make her errand look erratic, nothing like Tamika’s own.
The box Tamika is carrying isn’t too big, but it’s heavy, and something seems to be reaching out of it, clawing at her forearm. Her waist too. If I could just get this shit over with.
She moves the package as far away from her body as possible.
devorah major, “Sitting Spells”
When I open the door she just trots in, all prancing and sweet, high stepping like she helping the earth to turn, I tell you. I know by the way she sits down, selecting a chair to sit in before she is invited to rest her feet, that she was a child with little enough of no and too much of anything you want baby. But tell you the truth, I also recognize an old charcoal drawing of myself in her carriage, so I just laugh.
“What brings you here?” I ask as if I don’t know. Pretty girl like her, nice clothes, new bag, polished nails, flower perfume, ain’t but one thing she want: love. And with her, I can tell it isn’t love in general, but one particular man she wants.
I know too, it was my sister who sent her up here. My sister got a glowing stripe of cruel running thick across her forehead. Had it tattooed there so everybody would be warned. Most folks can’t see it though. Me, I lived with it most of my sixty-two years.
“Your sister Meecha told me to come and bring you this fruit and these flowers cut from her garden.” She has a little hummingbird buzz of a voice.
“Hrmmph,” I answer, but she doesn’t notice.
Zakiah Baker, “Up North”
The summer before I went to fifth grade, me and my mama moved to an all-white neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to leave the South, but she got a new job as a housekeeper for some rich white folks. My great aunt Edna worked for them first, and before she died, she told Mr. Sutherland all about Mama and her strong work ethic. He trusted Aunt Edna’s judgment, so he sent for her immediately. He offered her what must’ve been a lot of money back then because she had us all packed up and on the road in less than three days. She said it would be better living in the North, but I couldn’t imagine life much sweeter than where I came from. Aiken, South Carolina.
rebekah blake, “Mary, Mara, and Death”
I wished to be a flower child. Dancing and music, drugs and sex. My dream was to create a commune that had at least one person from every race on this earth. At the age of eight, I knew without a doubt that I hated the institution of marriage and swore I would love freely. None of my ten children would know who fathered them. I would name each of them after flowers, boy or girl. Everyone in my commune would be mothers and fathers to my children. We would all love each other, and that would be enough.
But I was a good Christian girl named Mary who went to her parents’ Baptist church every Wednesday and Sunday. Who babysat kids in the neighborhood after school while their parents finished up their shifts and came home for a few hours before their graveyard shifts started. My momma worked two jobs, so she’d come home at 7 PM and check in on us. I’d watch multiple kids at a time at my house. I’d call them sleepovers, and I’d have the kids hold hands like I saw Dr. King do and we’d all sing spirituals while walking around the house. Some- times, I’d stand on my bed and say as much of the “I Have A Dream” speech as I could remember. I’d quiver my voice just like him. All the kids, young and with boogers hanging from their noses, would look up at me enraptured.
Johannah Fienburgh, “Pomegranate”
Jamie remembers very little about the night his little sister was born. Most of it was snapshots, lightning flash images that were half memory and half story, passed down by his dad, his grandma, his mother. Certain things had been told to him so often they had become his. It had rained like the devil, for hours, for days, they said. The power had gone out, they said. You were so excited, you drew picture after picture of you and your new little sister, they said.
What Jamie knows he remembers was the screaming, the terrible, terrifying, animal sound of his mother in pain. Her groans ripped through the tense silence of the house, at odds with the dim, flickering light of the candles and the warm-sweet of his mother’s incense; things he associated with peace and calm, with his mother’s low, chanting voice as she pressed oiled hands into the pressure points of his feet, swept light hands over his legs, his arms. There was nothing calm about his mother now. He may have only been five, but even he knew something big was happening on the other side of the closed living room door. Every so often he’d hear a voice, his father’s, the doula’s, at once calm and also so very obviously scared and then their voices would be swallowed again by his mother’s screams.
Akilah Wise, “Mr. Landry”
I sat on my porch with a glass of sweet limeade in one hand and Philibert, my kitty cat, in my lap and watched the world beyond my little white fence. I do not care to go beyond my fence; I usually enjoy being as alone as I am. But sometimes I do fancy bringing the world to me when feeling especially alone, and this was one of those days.
It was a fine day, just like the weatherman said, with big bright white puffy clouds floating over the softly rolling emerald grass dotted with spicy autumn sage. Hot and smothering like always. Behind my house, a one-story Creole cottage my daddy built but that I painted myself in 1967, I heard the sparrows, the warblers in the oaks and maples, with the grass mice scurrying through the bushes. Flies and mosquitoes were buzzing in my ear, around the veranda, and I swatted them with my newspaper fan. Philibert was purring in my arms as I stroked his velvet ears. I did a little jig in my seat when I heard a tune from Boozoo Chavis come on the radio beside me. Now you may not know a thing about Boozoo Chavis, but let me tell you that he was the bees’ knees back when I was a young fellow. Zydeco was the wind, and boy did we float.
Khaholi Bailey, Black Barbie
Daddy straddled the heap of toys that lived on the floor of our playroom in Brentwood, Long Island. Tiny plastic arms splintered out as though bidding for a chance to accompany me to Becky Carrigan’s* sleepover that night. Daddy sifted unceremoniously through water-damaged board games and the action figures that my sisters and I mostly used as our dolls’ eager boyfriends. Beneath the Sega cartridges and tufts of nylon hair, Daddy unearthed a land mine. It was part of a limited edition and in an unopened, double-wide package to contain its power.
I felt a sour feeling creep to my bowels: Daddy held out a Black Barbie.
Before that moment, I would have described Becky as a nice girl, my friend. The girl who would always share her snack, the girl who generously expended all of her patience trying to teach me how to do a backflip during recess. At that moment, it became clear to me that I also saw Becky as white. I somehow knew that held a sort of reverence, and that giving her a doll that looked nothing like her was out of order. It was confusing to even me because, as it often happens, the more Khaholis moved to Brentwood, the more Beckys moved out. Somehow the thought of gifting a Black Barbie to a white girl made me feel out of place in a town where most people looked just like me.
Zuri H. Scrivens, Little Brother
“I’m worried about my brother,” my mother says softly. My four-year-old son, Michael, breathes her a quick “Hi Nana!” and rushes over to the living room to build yet another fort. I settle in and pour myself a cup of tea, staring at my mother, waiting. Her face is fixed between tears and defiance. She has the broken heart of one who empathizes with everyone she meets – a feeler, a woman who knows. She knows your pain before you even know it yourself, a valuable trait for a registered nurse. But today the pain is hers, intertwined with her baby brother’s, twists of sorrow suffocating each heart even though they are an entire continent away.
“He’s coughing up blood,” she says.
“It could be pneumonia or tuberculosis, but given his history, it’s probably stage four lung cancer,” she tells me. “You know he’s an alcoholic, right?”
My mother always tells me this as if it is news. As if I’d never noticed the permanent stench of days old rum on my uncle’s skin, or the constant zigzag of his gait. As if his thickly slurred accent was undetectable by anyone other than his parents or siblings.
Jeannine A. Cook, We Are The Champions
Put one foot on the toilet bowl. Try to pee in a steady stream over a short white stick. Pay careful attention not to oversaturate. Remember that you are not equipped with the proper aiming tools, so getting everything into the toilet will be a dance. Gag at the smell of your pee. Follow your teeth with your tongue. Taste the chalky film in your mouth. Throw the stick into the sink when you lose balance. Keep your underwear above your knees. Extend backwards for toilet paper and wipe the seat after finishing with yourself. Sit on the seat for a while. Hold your head between your legs and say the alphabet backwards. Start over a lot to buy yourself extra time. Control a dry heave by biting down on the inside of your gums. It’s time. Take careful strides to fix yourself. No underwear sticking out of your jeans. No toilet paper on your shoes. Peep into the sink. Pretend you are nonchalant. Wrap the stick in tissue and wash your hands. Then wash your face. Get enough water into your eyes that you can’t tell where the tears end or begin. Dry your face. Rub harder and harder and harder. There is nothing there. Rub the nothing away. Bite down on your inner cheeks. Try to puncture the walls of your mouth. Try to taste blood and not metallic chalk.