Excerpt: Tapestry of Sentiment and Sunset

Tapestry of Sentiment and Sunset

An Excerpt from the short story Tapestry of Sentiment and Sunset, from “Wickedly Abled” (2020).

Strawberry Creek going west past Anthony Hall at UC Berkeley (Photo by Coro)

Chloe was a natural witch. The rocks called out to her, and the rivers. Tiny trickles of water burbling soothing sounds over smooth earthbound rocks sang to her as she strode past brilliant estuaries and warm grassy knolls redolent with fresh loam and newly cut grass. Chloe had a way of dancing around campus, her short floral print summer dresses dancing mid-calf against legs as long, thin and brown as cinnamon sticks. Her hair and clothes were constantly fragrant with spices and herbs from cooking, growing tea leaves in her garden, and doing kitchen magic. She had been speaking to the trees and stones since early childhood, but she was not a child any longer.

In her second year at Berkeley City College, she looked forward to graduating a year from now and hoped to transfer to UC Berkeley, where her girlfriend Bethany attended.  To Chloe, Bethany was made of magic… the way she glided across the green in her baggy camouflage army pants and black tank tee with a beret cocked askew atop her russet dreadlocks. Her magic was musky and bone-deep, from her creaky dark laughter to the way her round John Lennon Harry Potter steel classes sat carelessly above her pert brown nose. Bethany’s round plum mouth tasted like her hip clove-oil vape, late-night snacks of cheesy puffs and forbidden delights entangled in her arms in her purple-silk-scarf and incense adorned dorm room all Spring long.

woman in red long sleeve shirt and black pants walking on forest during daytime
“Chloe was a natural witch. The rocks called out to her, and the rivers.”
– Image by Emily Valletta

One day Chloe might have a dorm of her own, but Bethany would have graduated by then. For now, she lived with her parents. And her mother insisted that she go to the school psychologist about the way she kept talking to the plants and the animals. Her father, African, and a practitioner of the Igbo religion Odinani, found her mother’s concerns unwarranted. But her mother was an atheist and didn’t believe in magic. Chloe shrugged and went obediently to the school psychologist’s office. The voices of nature spirits were the cause of some consternation for the nineteen year old city college sophomore’s school psychologist, Dr. Maya Robbins, as was the impulsive nature of the young woman.

Before Chloe Anna Mayfield could get enough credits for an A.A. in Psychology, the spirits of her ancestors interfered. . They told her to take his text Totem and Taboo and set it to burn. Closing her eyes, she leaned back into the plush green lounge chair in her therapist’s office, relishing the memory. In her mind’s eye she recalled tossing the hateful racist tome Totem and Taboo: Resemblances between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics into the flames as they licked the sides of the stainless steel ash can in front of the blue and white fiberglass bleachers. The book hit the hot coals and disintegrated, tiny bits of paper flying up into the air alit on the summer heat like fireflies. Tiny fire spirits spread upwards in hot tendrils of smoke and flame, dancing in synchronicity as they rose into the sky. These were not the Greek elementals known as salamanders, but animist spirits known before the birth of the world in African, the place of our ancestral mother. Mmo, the spirits of her Igbo ancestors, manically giggled as the pages of the oppressor’s tome withered in the heat.

“How long have you been hearing voices?” Dr. Robbins asked somberly, her dour face elongated with a look of deep sadness she fabricated for communication with the most depressed of her therapy clients.

Chloe giggled and put her hands over her mouth, increasing Dr. Robbin’s impression that she’d lost her mind. “I don’t hear voices,” Chloe responded, refusing to make eye contact. “The nature spirits communicate with me. They aren’t voices in my head, they are spirits. I told you, it’s a religion.”

There was a way the rich cocoa-brown skin over Maya Robbin’s high cheekbones drained to a sallow, corpse-like ash gray when she thought you were saying something crazy.  It was happening right now. A concerned, dark shadow settled over her deep-set umber eyes. The school psychologist usually appeared a youthful age of thirty-seven. All of her anti-aging creams melted away in an instant, leaving her furrow-browed and stewing in an authoritarian haze of maternal consternation. She looked her full fifty-five years and then some in its wake.

Was this lady seriously using the look on her? Chloe’s grandmother used the look. All black women over fifty seemed to have the look, an incredulous glare that made most young folks shut up the minute they saw it. It was like side-eye only straight at you, letting you know the lady in question thought you were ignorant, insane and all kinds of imbecile.

“Chloe had a way of dancing around campus” – Image from Mocah.org

Chloe pressed a palm against her aching forehead as a blood vessel begin to tick angrily on her temple. “I am not crazy, Dr. Robbins. Animism is a religious practice, not a mental illness,” she explained patiently for the fifth time. “I am an Animist. Magic is a part of my religion. My spiritual practices are valid. You and my mom are interfering with my fifth amendment rights!”

Annoyed, Chloe began calling to the wind to blow open the office window. It was stuffy in here anyway. Dr. Robbins huffed when one of her Bay windows flew open, but didn’t get up to close it. Chloe giggled into her hand as she playfully suggested the African Violets on the psychologist’s desk begin to release an aroma enticing to honeybees.

“I am concerned about you,” Dr. Robbins prattled on. “Let’s talk about your decision to change your major. Don’t you think it’s rather impulsive?”

“Impulsive… hrmmm…” Chloe chewed her bottom lip and nervously kicked a leather sandal against Dr. Robbin’s imposing wooden desk. Just that morning, she’d changed her major from Psychology to English. She didn’t know if Dr. Robbins needed to know too many details about her selection process. The truth was, the ancestral spirits told her to ditch Freud and his colonial oppression.

“I’ve taken most of my general education course load. I have only taken two psychology classes. I knew I could easily transfer those credits to an English major, so I did. What is so impulsive about that?

“It felt like liberation magic.” — Image from Mocah.org

 “You tossed your entire psychology textbook collection into the bonfire after the Homecoming Game,” Dr. Robbins said sourly. “They were worth about three hundred and fifty dollars. Didn’t you need the money?”

 “As I told my mother,” Chloe explained, rolling my eyes,” the ancestor spirits told me it was patriarchal, colonialist garbage that would only poison my thinking. If I had sold it, it would have only brainwashed other unsuspecting souls. Kill it with fire, they said. And so I did…” She grinned as she saw the first of the bees slip into the room and quiet saunter over to the flower on the desk.

 “How did that feel?” Dr. Robbins asked. Unaware of the insect, she had her head down, scribbling franticly into her notebook.

“It felt like liberation magic. Liberation magic is invigorating, like a pot of hot lemon tea with honey in it on a cold winter’s day,” Chloe stated serenely.

In her mind’s eye, she saw the front page of Chapter Three, Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thought, part from the book Totem and Taboo and rise in rebellion as began to singe and furl. It floated up in the air in slow, cinematic sequence and languidly spun in the smog. Her forehead furrowed, she stared at the wicked text, muttered an incantation under my breath, and watched as it exploded. It was a protection spell against Sigmund Freud, the long-dead colonial oppressor. Her spell was proof against Freud’s further attempts to infiltrate her mind and soul with internalized loathing.

“You certainly have a way with words,” Dr. Robbins admitted. Stunned, Chloe wondered if Dr. Robbins had read her mind. Then, she realized, the school counselor was referring to her line about liberation magic.

“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn…” Chloe quoted enigmatically.

Dr. Robbins nodded and smiled. “Octavia Butler.”

Chloe smiled. “Indeed.”

“So you think of the burning of those texts as symbolic, then?” Dr. Robbins asked.

“Yes!” Chloe shouted. “Bethany and I held hands, smiled triumphantly into the flames.  On Monday, I went in first thing changed my major to English. You know, those old psychology books aren’t too far from the scientific racism of Georges Cuvier and Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville, the monsters that labeled Sara Baartman the missing link and encouraged her to drink herself to death so they could dissect her …”

“I already know how you feel about psychology,” Dr. Robbins sighed.

“You read books by old dead white racists and worship a dead white man on a cross, yet you think I am the crazy one?” Chloe groused.

Dr. Robbins shook her head. “My religion has nothing to do with this. This isn’t about me at all. You were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I think you should be on your medication. Don’t you agree?”

“Sure, I’ll take it,” Chloe lied. “Write me a prescription.” A second bee entered the office window, accompanied by a fly. They buzzed around the flower, annoying Dr. Robbins, who wasn’t allergic or anything. Chloe snickered when the fly landed on the psychologist’s eyelid, making her blink in irritation. Always professional, she refused to swat it away until the prescription was written.

Petty, she knew.

For the rest of this story, and many other works of speculative fiction by disabled authors, pick up Wickedly Abled (2020) today!

~ by Sumiko Saulson on October 3, 2020.

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