Tamika escaped into the night and collapsed down next to the aging tombstone. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, and her labored breathing once again became audible. She knew that she was now living on borrowed time, and soon the machete at her mother’s hand would come back to finish the job. In the kitchen, before she had fled the house, the metal had slapped and stung her face, and the cold greasy feeling at her fingertips over the hairline fracture in her throbbing skin told her the blade was no longer clean. Deep and long menstrual cramps pinched hard in her abdomen, and for the briefest of moments felt in perfect synchrony with the blood oozing steadily up and out of her cheek. Even her blood wanted to leave.
She rolled over with her back against the cold and moldy stone, and closed her eyes. Tamika pulled her knees up and rested her head between the two bony points, and with a conscious exhale realized that she was once again in control of her breathing. The graveyard was a hundred feet from her rural house and they were surrounded by fields and woods on all sides. The discarded church had been razed to the ground by her drunken stepfather in an attempt to bond with her younger brother, and it had worked. Those two were now living in the city, offering to fix anything for the right price.
She lifted her head and stared out over the silhouettes of rounded tombstones and angular crosses, all the way down over the iron railing, and passed the cornfield to the tree line. The night was quiet, and otherwise beautiful. The silvery sheen on the full moon favored the dead and offered Tamika its acceptance. Behind the stone, the past was approaching, and she knew she could not go back. She also knew she could not go forward. She was in death’s pen.
The hinges of the wrought iron gate squeaked and crunched on the breeze, and Tamika darted forward, keeping her knees bent and her back arched. Her mother was now obese and wore the same purple floral gown day in and day out, and even though she had arthritis in her hips and knees her reflexes were still fast at will and her strength superhuman. In decades past she had survived police brutality and saved her friend from an abusive husband. Tamika didn’t hate her mother, but she hadn’t finished grieving for her, either.
She stole over the grass between the rows using familiar coordinates and found the grave of her stillborn daughter, Ebony. The grass was long and damp in front, and soaked through the hem of her thin cotton skirt. Her daughter was the last body to be buried in the grounds of the Church of God in Christ before it had been abandoned. Tamika dropped to her knees and held on to both sides of the small tombstone.
“I have been here many times, but I have never left your side. You sat with me for eight months as I tried to figure out the world before I brought you into it.” Tamika fell back onto her heels and wept. “But I failed to understand the world, and then I failed to bring you into it. I wanted so much for you, Ebony. My darling, Ebony. I would play music for you, and dreamed of being there when you picked out your first instrument. I strolled through bookcases with my hand on you, and looked over all the titles and smiled at all the adventures we would have by your bedside. During checkups with the doctor, I wondered if you would be allergic to penicillin, or if you would be braver than your mommy when giving blood.”
Tamika wiped her eyes on her bare arm and felt the crystals along the sticky cut line on her cheek. “All of those times I dreamed about being there for you, when it was I who needed you to be here for me.” She glanced up at the tombstone and ran her fingers over the name ‘Ebony’ etched into the granite. “I need you now more than ever.” Tamika’s fingertips etched down her navel to the scar. “I could never bring you into this world, but I need you to take me out of it. Please.” She leaned forward and kissed the stone.
The cold and porous rock pressed to her full lips, and the smell and taste of grass and mildew pushed her imagination into another time and place. The sun was shining and she was rolling around in the freshly cut grass at school. She laughed as she remembered what it was to not feel lonely. An explosion of life and thoughts cascaded through her mind and were gracious to re-instill in her of all the good times she had felt. When the memories simmered to a stop, she was once again face to face with the word ‘Ebony’. Tamika smiled and reveled in the sense of warm joy sweeping through her veins in waves, and down her face in comforting and familiar tears. She sat back on her heels. “I died when you died.”
Tamika straightened her back and stared back out over the cemetery to her house with the light still on in the kitchen. The gate to the cemetery was wide open, and Tamika knew that her mother was standing behind her. The strained breathing and the smell of putrefied milk and body odor told her that it was time. Tamika pulled herself towards the tombstone and edged around to face her mother, her back resting against the granite.
Her eyes refused to focus on the imposing and towering form before her in the dark, with the moonlight reflecting on the blackened blade, hanging limp in her mother’s hand, the tip carelessly brushing against the grass. Tamika’s head, resigned to its fate, fell to the left and she saw her father in his overcoat and hat floating before her in the night. The image was from a memory of an old photo, frayed at the edges and kept in a box underneath her bed. He had finally come back to take her away.
Tamika closed her eyes and plucked one last memory; her mother reading to her at her bedside, when nights had once been magical and mornings-after full of promise. Her last breath unmoored from her soul and convulsed from her chest in a whimper. “Mom, I forgive you.”
The machete rang out and chipped on the stone behind Tamika’s neck, and the flesh of her past stood over her severed body, as it once again bled for a future that was never to be.