Posted in Fiction, Short Stories

Looking Between Hues, a short story by Jean M. Hodges

“I don’t understand, “ I said, and I watched my mother sigh, disappearing into the long, dark hallway to return with a rhombus in hand, coming to sit next to me, fiddling with the jagged stone nervously.

“After our last baby died-“ Mama said, a long while of being quiet, “-your Daddy and I sorta gave up for a while. Having a baby was tough at our age, and for a while, we suspected the spirits were making fun of us for waiting so long to start having babies in the first place.” Mama said, taking a deep breath, breaking into a sad laugh that danced like a set of broken piano keys in the air around them.

She set the rhombus in the space between us, and it fell with a thump, just a hard piece of rock set against my blanket, waiting for itself to be important.

“We never thought it was funny,” Mama said, catching herself in my vanity mirror to readjust her thick black curls under her sleep-bonnet before she went on.

“I had to burn up every baby that fell out of me. They had my blood,  their rights to the funeral rites, I don’t regret doing that. But…sometimes…I wish they’d lasted longer, just a little bit longer…’cuz, well, they were always dead and buried before I got much of a hold on them, and if they just stayed with me, just a little bit longer, I, well, I- they were always gone by the time they came out of me-“

“What does this gotta do with me?” I cut in, annoyed, shifting impatiently on my squeaky mattress as Mama laughed in reply to my cranky outburst, pulling me into a hug and squeezing me tight.

“I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it!” Mama replied, and I broke into a smile, my stony face cracking against the warmth of Mama’s embrace. Mama squeezed me tight one more time with one buff brown arm, shaking me back and forth with love and laughter before she went on.

“Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnyyyyywwwwwaaaaaaay-” Mama said, letting go of me to pick up the rhombus and set it in her lap. “-as I was sayin’, the babies’ ashes were in the lake by the highway, your Daddy had to go back to work to pay off the doctor and the undertaker, and I had to rest up, get my strength back up and move on and get back to work myself. And, just as I was doing that, a witch popped up to ask me a favor.”

“A witch?” I cried, my voice in a whisper, as if I was afraid the walls were listening in on my mother’s story.

Mama nodded. “Plenty of those down here. Keep to themselves most times. They usually turn up at the change of seasons, and being that it was a harvest time, I wasn’t surprised to find one outside a few days after we burnt the last baby up. She was selling strawberries, and I hadn’t been to the store to get fruit in a while, so I gave her bought some off of her, into the house to get some tea as while I put the strawberries up in the fridge.”

Mama ran a thumb over the rhombus on her lap, looking kinda sad as she did. I was wondering if she was just getting distracted again, but I think she caught herself, smiling at me in her strange, sad way before going on.

“She asked me about the babies, yknow?” Mama said. “Said she could feel them in the house with me that night. ‘They so small, all they know how to do now is crawl up and down the walls.’, she said. ‘They’ll move on in a month or so, once they get themselves settled on the other side. I think they feel they Mama missing them, maybe they don’t wanna leave’. What could I say to that? She was a witch. They talked to spirits, why not to baby ones? Why not mine?”

I watched my mother wipe some tears off her face, and I sat there, not really knowing what to do or say. But she was holding that rhombus again, and, maybe to distract her-I don’t know, I pointed to it and asked, “What’s that for, Mama? That’s a pretty rock! Where’d you get it from?”

Mama blinked, looking at the hand that held the rock, almost embarrassed. “OH! I almost forgot about this old thing! Had it for about…I don’t know,  about  fourteen, fifteen years now? Long time. The strawberry witch gave it me and- Oh! Right! The witch, you see? I should tell you! Sorry, baby, I keep forgetting.

Annnnnnnnyway,” Mama said, laying the rhombus back in her lap. “I told the witch I was doing just fine, and I told her to thank you for checking in on the babies for me. And for the strawberries. Both were good to take in. And then she said, ‘I can get one for you, yknow’. And I said, ‘Get what, Miss-we always called witches Miss, even when they married, polite that way- and she said, ‘A baby. I know you’re an older lady now, Miss Rosemary. But you and your husband are good people, and I know a way to get you a baby if you let me.’ “

I held my breath as Mama said, in a low voice, “I told her I couldn’t afford to buy herbs or nothing, and she said she didn’t need that. But she did tell me what she did need.”

“What’s that, Mama?” I asked.

Mama sighed. “Colors”

And I said, “What?”

And Mama said, “Colors. And I told that old strawberry witch, ‘Miss, what on Earth are colors gonna do?’ and she said, ‘Get them to me, and you’ll see’. She left right after, thanking me for the tea and leaving the color list on the kitchen table as she climbed down the fire escape and into the street. “

Mama shrugged her shoulders as if shifting a huge weight on each side before she went on. “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, gray and white, brown, on and on.” Mama recited from memory. “List as long as my arm”

“Rainbow colors?” I asked, and Mama nodded.

“You’re Daddy and I never had a ton of money, “ Mama explained. “-we didn’t paint the house pretty and living in projects, we always felt a little bougie when we had to shop for nice-looking things, folks think you’re putting on airs. But after that witch left, all I could do was sit and look at that list on the kitchen table, and when you’re Daddy got home from work that day, he figured that old strawberry witch was tricking us into buying stuff for her and put the list on top of the fridge before we got in bed that night. Couldn’t sleep much, too much thinking. The still-crawling babies, the strawberries, the tea, the summer heat making up put a fan in the window to blow in hot air, the everything.”

Mama looked out of my window for a second, as if glancing a memory riding by down the road.

“The rules were so simple, though. Find the colors in the things I love, and hand them into her by next year. And it bothered me enough that I told your Daddy about it, and he said, ‘Well, Rosie. If you think you can do it, go ‘head. But if and when the witch play you for a fool, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You got sense enough, you grown’.”

I held back a chuckle at Mama’s Daddy Impression. Mama rolled her eyes fondly. “Sol never cared much for witches anyhow, had both of his feet on the ground since birth, your Daddy did’”

“Did you find the colors?” I asked, and Mama nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I did! It took a while, though, loving things are always hard to do when you ain’t got much. But then I found the pink dress I wore for me and your Daddy’s wedding and a set of red socks your grandma made me for when I was a little girl…the pieces came together. And the witch came back outside my door, selling strawberries in our building again, and I let her in, and she took the things, and handed me this.” Mama said, passing me the rhombus.

I held it in my hand for a second as she went on. She said, “Paint the baby’s room in all the colors you think they’ll like. Make sure to wait for a sunny day before you pull this stone out again. When the room’s ready and the sun is out and the stone is polished-cuz it was a bit dusty when she gave it to me- set it in the window. You’ll know what to do next.”

I blinked, my head spinning. “Well, what did Daddy say?”

“Daddy didn’t understand it much, but he did have a baby room set aside, and he was a painter on the side back in those days, so we got to work, putting enough love into the room that the colors, though they did seem a bit much at times, were so pretty in the sun, and after weeks of polishing that old rock till it shined…well, we knew it was time.”

“What did you do?” I asked, and Mama sat back.

“You know, it’s funny. It was the first time in a while you’re Daddy and I talked about the two babies. He had to toss the ashes into the lake under the highway, yknow. And he talked about there were days where all he could do was watch the paint dry at work, feeling the babies float around in his head as just sat and stared at nothing. “ Mama said. “We  keep the plaques on the walls now, but in those days, we kept their death plaques in a drawer, and while we cleaning the baby’s room, we brought them back out during a break one night and just sat and held each other and cried for a while. Just sat on the floor of our bedroom with paint all over ourselves and cried.”

I nodded, just listening. I looked at my walls for the first time, really looked. And I noticed the birds, the clouds, the stars. All bright, even after all this time. All multi-colored.

“It was a fall day, but it was sunny, your Daddy had to go to work early to get something done for his boss’s niece or something, and after I kissed him good-bye I looked at that old rock, looked outside and set it by the window to dry. I didn’t see any harm. It wasn’t a sunny day and I would be home by lunch anyhow. But when I got back, all I could find was this beautiful, bawling baby laying brown and naked in this empty crib, and I picked you up and called your Daddy and well, you’ve been here ever since.”

My eyes grew wide with recognition and I stared at the rhombus in my hand- no, it wasn’t a rhombus, it was a prism, the kind of prism that caught colors from the light.

“I was born from this?” I asked, and my mother nodded.

“I’m guessing so. The witch wasn’t exact. But we knew that you were ours once we had you. And we knew the moment we had you that we would name you-“

“DIAMOND! ROSEMARY? C’MON, Y’ALL THE MOVIE’S GONNA BE STARTING SOON, WE’LL MISS THE PREVIEWS!”

And Mama shrugged. “Well, that! C’mon, baby. I don’t think this coupon will be valid after midnight, even if we do tell ‘em it’s your birthday”

And in a minute we were gone out the door, but before we left, I set the prism under my rusty old lamp, the bulb that’s been dying since I first got it. I had a galaxy of rainbows in my room once we got back home.

THE END

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Author:

Writer, poet, storyteller, and professional time waster

One thought on “Looking Between Hues, a short story by Jean M. Hodges

  1. Nice! I like it. This story has a solid voice and ethereal/sunshine-y feel to it. Like one of those moments where the sun’s at just the right angle and the world feels endless. You captured its magic well.

    Like

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