Our 7th issue is here! Featuring new short stories by eight emerging and established Black women storytellers from the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean, this issue introduces characters discovering self and defining relationships, negotiating with the past, and celebrating the things no one else understands.
Herina Ayot | angelia carey | Abigail Jordon | Quintessa Knight | Valerie Morales | Chinwe I. Ndubuka | Hannah Onoguwe | Ifediba Zube
IN THIS ISSUE
The story of a couple’s balancing act between the marriage they present to the world and the marriage they live after suffering a miscarriage. The truth is harder to hide when a wedding requires them to travel from the United States to Nigeria for an extended visit with relatives.
Mary stared at the image on her phone while her husband drove them home from the engagement party where their photograph had been taken and already uploaded with twenty-seven other images. She didn’t dare draw attention to it. One glance from Ike could quickly take things from bad to worse. He would misinterpret what had been posted from a United States suburb and shared with the world. Soon, her family and friends in Nigeria, where day was barely breaking, would see it too. But right now, it was dark and snowing, and keeping Ike’s attention on the road was safer for both of them in more ways than one.
The photograph captured them in evening attire, her head pressed against Ike’s as they chorused, “Cheese!” Mary cringed at the memory of Ike’s arm draped heavily over her shoulder like a soaked towel. She regretted the moment his friend’s mother cheerily planted herself in front of them with her phone, camera-ready, waving her hand like a traffic warden until Mary stood closer to her husband than she’d been in weeks. She’d endured it for the seconds it took to have their photograph taken, and then hurried to the bathroom because her insides wanted out. She’d breathed deeply and slowly counted to ten. Now, looking at the merry image on her phone made her sad. It was a lie.
She swiped the image away, thankful it was replaced by one of the other people clinking glasses.
Ike kept his eyes on the road. “What was your favorite part of the night?”
She couldn’t do this. “It’s late.”
Inspired by the 1958 stabbing of MLK.
Once when I was 9, my mother threatened to beat me for growing too fast. This wasn’t the first nor the last time she would make that threat, but she never followed through. Now, looking back at that time in Savannah when the whole world was crumbling under the weight of the Great Depression, Daddies were shooting themselves through the mouth, and Black folks were still less than half a man, I don’t blame her for wanting to keep her baby girl young, pure, and innocent.
It was a playful threat. Harvest season finished and I came to the kitchen on the first day of school wearing my new periwinkle dress mother had sewn for me. My hair had grown a whole four inches in the Georgia heat, and I didn’t think matching cornbraids suited me anymore for the first day of the fourth grade. I parted it on the side and used mother’s curlers to shape bouncing curls around my face. I hadn’t gotten my period yet, but I did notice my chest growing and when I walked into the kitchen, my mother stopped frying the bacon and stared at me like I was a foreign child.
“My little girl is disappearing before my eyes and I refuse to stand here and watch,” she had said.
“Mommy, don’t be silly. I’m in fourth grade now. I may as well look the part.”
She stuck her hip out and perched her fist on it. “Well, I’ll be damned. Listen here, be prepared to find another home if you grow one more inch or lose another ounce of baby fat, because if I see it, I’ll beat the black off you. I’ll beat you till you’re dead.”
“You will not, Mommy!” I giggled. “Besides, it’s all that good food you feed me that has me growing nice and strong, and Daddy says I’m growing up to be beautiful just like you, so I guess it’s your fault.”
Wesley works in her father’s laundromat as punishment for a scheme that takes place before the story’s opening. On a dreary night, a problem from the past walks back into her life.
Wesley’s eyes were small and wet. The tear paths etched into her cheeks complemented the roundness of them. The washing machines in her peripheral vision droned on, a cacophony of noise. The iridescence of the hanging white lights was unrelenting. The sight caused Wesley to involuntarily retreat further into the uncomfortable metal seat she occupied. Her back ached. She laid her head on the small, foldable table, bringing her arms up as shields to block out the light and noise. The rustling of her raincoat annoyed her, and she regretted putting it on despite the downpour outside.
The small, beige cinderblock room was mostly empty now, save for the occasional patron that slugged in, damp from the evening’s deluge, with a discolored sack of clothes and pockets singing with the sound of dirty, loose coins. The stinging stench of bleach and the hovering stink of artificial fragrances emanating from strewn detergent bottles only added to the smog of the poorly ventilated room, causing Wesley’s ever-growing discomfort to worsen. This place had been her cell for months now. She thought she would’ve become desensitized to it. But with every passing shift, she felt more agitated by the sights, smells, and sounds. Mostly, she felt more stuck.
“Can I get change for this twenty,” a middle-aged woman said in a way that was not so much a question, but an order. She, hair up in a bonnet, was dressed in gray house slippers despite the weather, and a matching black sweatsuit that reeked of smoke.
Wesley gingerly took the wet bill from the woman’s creased hands. The woman watched her instinctively, her eyes meeting Wesley’s sullen gaze more than Wesley appreciated.
“What’s the matter with you, child?” the woman asked, as Wesley counted out eighty quarters.
“Nothin’.” She almost losing count. The cold metal felt foreign on her damp palms. “Here.”
What if the people who are supposed to care for you can’t see you? Your therapist thinks you only know how to be angry. Your doctor thinks you’re crazy. Your significant other thinks you’re not so significant. This story explores a key question: is there anything you can do?
It feels screamy in my head.
The therapist frowns, and maybe hums a little. “What do you mean by that?”
What the fuck? I mean what I said. “I don’t know. Just, it’s loud in my head. Like screaming.”
“But is that a feeling?”
If I feel it, it’s a feeling, right? But I just sigh. “I guess I feel anxious.”
I don’t feel anxious. I feel screamy.
Her blue eyes light up behind her oversized hipster glasses. “Well, what do you think is causing that?”
I don’t fucking know. Life? What’s supposed to be causing it? I take a deep breath and look at my watch. Ten more minutes. “Actually, I need to leave a little early today. I have an appointment.”
“At 8 PM?”
“It was the only time I could get a grocery delivery. I don’t want it sitting out for too long. I mean, it’s ten minutes.” It’s my ten minutes. She gets paid either way. I stand to go.
“Spend some time thinking about what’s causing your anxiety. Maybe try some deep breathing.”
Explores the impact of gender roles in a contemporary African home.
Melody died in the body of an old lady, her wrinkled skin drooped from her cheeks, her pits, and her butt. She was only fifteen months. She was buried fast fast, sealed in a box used to store her father’s new stereos. Her nanny Chikodi was returned to the village because Melody’s grandmamma believed she drank her granddaughter’s blood little by little until she dried up and died. Chikodi was no blood drinker, although she drank most of Melody’s infant formula and cereal. Maybe her greed was a subtle form of witchcraft, maybe not. Maybe a seven-year-old nanny needed supervision in the feeding of an infant, maybe not. After all, nannies from the village are smarter than their age.
“All this wouldn’t have happened if she stayed at home and took care of her baby like a proper woman,” Melody’s grandmamma announced in the living room, as neighbors and friends trooped in with food and pity.
Melody’s mother bit her inner lip until she tasted blood. Her husband placed his left palm on her knee. She fought the urge to slap his hand away and slap the frown off her mother-in-law’s face.
“A woman’s place is at home with the children. It’s no use trying to do a man’s job. But Ego refused. Always work, work, work.”
Ego bit her lip harder, her husband rubbed her knee in small circles.
Evie returns home for her family reunion for the first time since her brother’s death, and finds that everything is not as she left it.
Our family reunions were a well-known celebration. Now, that may sound cocky, but let me tell you, they were held on Memorial Day for a reason. Anybody that found a poor excuse to miss them was shunned with sideways glances and met with the pettiness of not being invited to Auntie Kat’s Thanksgiving dinner. One day during the summer, every root of my family traveled back to the old oak tree in my grandparent’s yard. Generations of vehicles crammed into twenty acres of wide fields and sloping hills. Every person stepping foot from those vehicles had had at least one memory in this yard, whether they were distant cousins, in-laws, or family friends. Every single one of them had found a reason to enjoy themselves and come back—except me. I was the blackest of sheep in my family. Even Cousin BJ, who’d been locked up since I was twelve for selling narcotics, found a way to get a handcrafted card in the mail before that sacred day. But I had committed the worst of crimes in a Black family. I didn’t believe in God.
That may seem overdramatic, but if anyone knew theatrics, it was the people in my family. I thought about that scene from A Raisin in the Sun, where Beneatha smoothly remarks, “There simply is no God,” and gets a crisp slap across her face from her mother. So, I didn’t dare flaunt my atheism to any specific relative, but still somehow, they knew. The pregnant pauses that came after I refused to say prayers. My absence on Sundays. Lastly, the most prominent of my decisions came at my baby brother’s funeral, when I refused to bow my head in prayer or hold anyone’s hand. I stood defiantly with folded arms, wrapping in all of my anger.
It could have been assumed that I was simply grieving and everyone goes through it their own way, but my avoidance of family events, especially those involving religion, somehow placed me on their heathen radar.
Outwardly Sarauniya has nothing to complain about. She has her own business and lives a life of apparent leisure. Underneath it all is a desire to be accepted as she struggles to catch a younger man’s eye and tries to fit into her daughter’s life.
She lived for these moments, when the slide of each of his fingers against her skin was like a personal branding. When she could swear he wanted to torture her, sweetly, and she had to bite the soft inner flesh of her bottom lip to muzzle a moan. He knew just how to work those hands, burrowing them deeper, deeper…
“Is the water too hot?”
Sarauniya froze mid-squirm, eyes shooting open. TJ was looking down at her with a rumpled forehead.
“Oh no, it’s fine,” she said quickly. “My scalp is just a little itchy, that’s all.”
He resumed his motions, long fingers rubbing against her scalp. Eyes slit against the occasional droplet of warm water, Sarauniya mused that given just the slightest encouragement, she could have climaxed right there in the cheap plastic chair.
In a few minutes, TJ was done. He touched a towel to her ears, and then rubbed it over her hair gently, the fruity fragrance of the conditioner nauseating, but what could she do? This man with his unique fashion sense, his dark skin and dimples, kept her coming back. After he’d anchored a towel around her shoulders, Sarauniya rose and walked into the main room where hair extensions and attachments of different lengths and textures hung in shiny transparent packs, and cans, bottles, and jars of spritz, mousse, oil spray and gel at various levels of exhaustion stood companionably on garishly colored cupboards, reflected in multiple mirrors which bought the modest room some space.
There were two other women inside. One was about Sarauniya’s age, maybe younger, getting her nails done by the other young man who worked with TJ. Ndifreke, if she remembered his name correctly. The other was a girl, really. She looked about twenty, with false sweeping lashes that were unnecessary.
Lucy Alain Carruth does the unthinkable. She pays for a white soldier to be buried in the local Black cemetery. No one can ever find out, especially her three brothers.
She wasn’t on his mind. When he opened the car door hard enough to hang on, he didn’t think of her. He didn’t say Lucy won’t forgive me for this as he licked his lips for salt.
The front seat was smelly and cold, but not cold enough. Glassy-eyed, Hewitt reached over the console, stuck a straw in his mouth. He sipped flat Coke. In the old days, Orleans would give him cola for breakfast instead of milk, as if that’s what good mothers do.
The sun, what he could see of it, was a bent shape in a sooty sky. While Hew squinted past the windshield, Lucy never appeared in the dark space of his thoughts. That’s how far he had fallen. Six months ago, he thought of Lucy like a sweet syrup. Now, nothing.
Even though he felt three years dead, last night it occurred to Hew how important intention was. To be who you say you are. While drunk on Crown Royal and nostalgic, he thought of his first car, a red Jeep he gave away once he enlisted. He tried to get it back because he felt lost without some memory of the boy he was. Hew even offered the new owner five hundred but she wouldn’t take it.
Considering his size, Hew crawled exceptionally well. With his knee bent, sweatshirt dirty, belt missing, shoes scuffed, his freight eased into the back seat of the car. He held in his right hand his daddy’s favorite toy, a dull glazed Glock he inherited once Big Earl made his transition. As if it needed to ripen, Hew rarely took it out the box.
The Glock at his side, something made him think of his mother and he thought of a dress Orleans always wore, red and blue stripes on the skirt, and he thought of how she didn’t—wouldn’t—hold Hew’s hand on his first day of school, and he hated his mama for that, for knowing nothing about what he needed.
Herina Ayot is Kenyan American, a mother of twins, a lover of everything beautiful, and a storyteller documenting her journey through life. She writes about the difficult places. Her personal essays and nonfiction have appeared in Ebony Magazine, The Root, Human Parts, and The Huffington Post. Herina was a 2014 Hurston/Wright Fellow and the 2019 winner of NYU’s Threesis Academic Challenge where she discussed her novel in progress that centers on themes of victim and perpetrator, childhood trauma, and redemption. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. She lives in the New York Metropolitan area with her sons and her girl pup, Nikki Giovanni. Find her work at herinaayot.com and follow her on Instagram @herinaayot.
angelia carey is a reader, writer, and chef (not always in that order), and she cares if you ate today. an adult beginner who’s proud not to have a calling. descendant of cow people. not horse people.
Abigail Jordon attended the University of Southern Mississippi where she studied English Licensure and graduated in May 2022. Her passion for writing began at a young age. Her family is from Guyana, South America, making her a first-generation American. She grew up writing and illustrating every story that came to mind. Her grandfather was a writer; she believes she gets it from him. Her family is incredible and has always supported her writing endeavors. She hopes to work in the publishing industry as a young, Black female, to help diversify the field. She would love to work with children’s books, advocating for representation and diversity. Ultimately, she wants to be a writer and tell stories that haven’t been told yet to little boys and girls that look like her.
Quintessa Knight is an Atlanta-based writer with works published in Hayden’s Ferry Review and Dear America: Reflections on Race. Through an introverted and awkward disposition, she finds her connection with readers through the nostalgia of growing up Black with stories that highlight Black protagonists in the otherness they feel trapped in from their communities and/or society. She is currently working on her first novel of superpowered POC. When she’s not working, she is reading other Black authors that inspire her, learning to be a better plant mom, and falling into the depths of geek culture. She can be found on Instagram @quintessaknight.
Valerie Morales has reviewed books for the digital platform Book Browse, specializing in BIPOC stories, for the past three years. Other work has been showcased on digital platforms such as Huffington Post, The Talented Tenth Review on Medium, The Committed Generation, and in the periodical The Women’s Review of Books.
Chinwe I. Ndubuka’s flash fiction and short stories have appeared in Interpretations, the anthology of the Columbia Art League; Well Versed, the anthology of the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild (CCMWG); and Evening Street Review. “Week Two and Counting” won a themed flash fiction contest organized by the Daniel Boone Regional Library. Chinwe is a member of the CCMWG.
Hannah Onoguwe’s work has appeared in The Missing Slate, The Stockholm Review, Omenana, Timeworn Lit Mag, Eleven Eleven, and the Strange Lands Short Stories from Flame Tree Publishing among others. She was shortlisted for the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize and has work forthcoming on Mysterion. She lives in Yenagoa with her family where she often finds time to bake. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @HannahOnoguwe.
Ifediba Zube writes from Abuja Nigeria. She has been published in the Forge Literary Magazine and elsewhere.