Arthritis pinched her flesh and pricked her nerves; it jerked her knees with cold hands till the foundation of the house trembled to her heavy breathing. As far back as her mind stretched, there wasn't a time since she lived here and her knees didn't swell or hurt deeply. Grandma mixed hot water and Epsom salt to soak her stiffness and wipe away the pain. In gray hours of low clouds she felt like chopping off the knees and throwing them in the ocean, with all the throbbing and burning they gave. It didn't feel natural to be living in such a cold place, but she had been living here so long she'd be a stranger anywhere else.
God knows, the knees could be bad when they decided to, but they had a good side to them. Take our house, for instance; we didn't have to wait on TV weather predictions like other people. Grandma's knees, ever since she washed them in sea water, predicted everything for us. Like last summer when we had a heat wave that killed five people, everyone in our house was drinking lots of water and staying out the sun long before TV said heat wave was on its way.
It was kind of chilly outside yesterday when Grandma made me dig up the garden, said her knees told her to prepare it for things to come. I went towards our neighbor's garden fork. But Grandma stopped me, said she didn't want any fork on her stuff; it's devil's instrument, and will only disease the soil she planned to sow her seeds. These flower seeds are too precious. The hoe, on the other hand, is a special tool, she said, and if it take a liking to you, it'll put on wings and plow the dirt like woodpeckers digging away on wood. That's if it take a liking to you like it did to your granddaddy. God bless his soul!
Shinqua wants to leave in a hurry with me. But Onis is casting spell on the moment: Kill thyself or take him down before he shows himself, cause I know him.
Who are you talking to is what I want to know, I said to the little midget. You, pleasure of ugly love. Yes You! One deep whisper of mine can forever cause you, so watch your step. I tell him to the face, but Grandma warns me:
You best to drop and play blessed soul to heaven by trees in front of the house when your ex-brother wants your soul. Just do it. Do it for me, baby, give him what he wants.
Who the hell was he talking to though, Shinqua? Onis said, trying to act powerful. Shinqua has had enough of his mouthing by now. She switches him off once and for all; his voice was removed from the throat up by her car keys. I don't know what we did to him in the past, Shinqua stands by me looking puzzled at his make-up, but he is carrying the grief of an entire nation.
It's not what we did to him, my child. He was bound to happen sooner or later; all families have one of him. Grandma comforts Shinqua's heart as always after destruction. Now I am left out here all alone while she gets to enter Grandma's arms extended across the garden. She went to see why Onis was using polar fields circling coils in his heavy heart as gravity to pull the family down from under their feet when his job was to guard us against negative influences till a positive force comes into our lives.
Who called for me? Onis talks to Shinqua roughly, as if he didn't know he was the second-born. But she nods him away. I heard names in the wind out here knocking on my door.
Grandma puts up word for her: Whatever you say, Onis, whatever you say.
What's that towards the alley peering through the peep-hole, child? Grandma eyed the picture, me and Onis. He had me cornered and I swore to the very moment: Daddy died for possuming while working on a rocking back and forth for months in one spot, but not me. I wasn't going to possum for Onis. Shinqua stepped out from Grandma's legs and stopped watching violets and sun. She turned her head up straight and looked dead at Onis' mind in groves of water plants' belly. Why can't we ever see you resting on time without blading everybody's way? Shinqua asked. Onis resisted again and slapped her figure for glancing at his time piece, then Grandma stepped in. Don't bone structure your forms, neither one of you. Don't you ever! she told them. It has been keeping us from going homeless, my babies. Grandma finally embraced Onis. Shinqua liked the statue keeping all of us together. From a little girl to now she couldn't help standing and walking to Grandma's beat. How can you ask me if Onis is one of us? Cut my blood and see. Grandma squinted her eyes at her.
I didn't mean it. I really didn't mean anything. Shinqua stood beside Grandma, and moved Onis' skin-and-bone out of harm's way.
I saw the opportunity, so I asked Grandma what were we running from back in days when folks weren't running and why. It made my blood run cold to the middle of the street with Onis pounding on our heels before I could steer up the middle of the exit.
Look through the rear-view, children, Grandma said before we hugged each other. Shinqua and Grandma watched the more than large rat, live as ever, crawl, heart-beat pounding while I possumed so Onis could nibble on my big toe for blood and flesh. After he had a taste of everybody's life, from Grandma all the way down to me, Shinqua widened her eyes till her third one blinked. I'm scared, Grandma, scared, she admitted, plain scared.
Nights always comfort sleepy eyes and revive a drowsy spirit, but not Onis'. His nights had a pounding heart that didn't know how to produce tears, which is why he was out nosing in the dirt to head off Grandma's shoulder standing in the garden somewhere near Spring, and shut out me and Shinqua from blooming when the time was right.
Go to work, Grandma told him. But Onis was crazy anyway, and it was much easier for him to climb uphill and occupy time than go down empty handed and seedless. Grandma felt her time coming; she heard memories playing back to her. She thought about getting out the love she had for the family in a dream and pass it around so we all could get like flowers. But not Onis. That still wasn't enough to stand him up straight like water lilies walking hand in hand with the sun from east to west across the sky.
What the hell you want now, Onis? Grandma's eyes in the hole barely made him out. She had to open him up for flowers to grow in his unstable spots. Speaking through Onis in the garden were Grandma's golden eyes, finally. Then our knees bloomed sunflowers facing east to prepare the garden for summer in the sun.
Shinqua took her sparse hips to the middle of the flower patch to watch the hoe take on wings and check on Onis' soil plowing ability. I hope he'll plant deep purple animals God could choose as flowers, Shinqua said to me when the hoe was about to root up Grandma's seeds to no good end. But Onis did his job: Lord, Grandma, Shinqua was sipping tea when it came out of her. Onis is one of us, she said; he is one of us in more ways than blood!
Grandma raised the family back on her garden space. She rubbed oils on Shinqua's head and made it wide open to Onis that there was love for everybody to spread the wealth. Then she gave these words when she sank back into the garden: Put all your belongings in a parcel and sail for that one tree growing in the middle of the ocean; and when you find it just hang there till it bloom each of you another me. Shinqua kissed Grandma in the sun and I braced heartbeats released by Onis for the family as a whole. Shinqua didn't know it, as a matter of fact, we all didn't know it yet, but the spot of memories like spilled milk was long past for better days to come.
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