They met in spring at a secret rally in a ghosted, sand-floored, hijacked barn. He had sat near her, pretending to explain everything and everyone being discussed: Mumia, Assata, Diallo, many many more than two Kings and one X. Roaring about the big city troubles lifted them above Mississippi and their lives. She was drawn to well enough about him, felt in her mouth the smell of his breath at her earlobe. They remained behind drinking cans of no-name beer, and she had never had a drink before. Once everybody else went off to bed or the same, the two of them tumbled into groping each other in the barn. They did it atop a bale of hay raked to the back of the barn, a remnant of the abandoned sweet potato farm’s past vitality. They slept there. A rotted rafter finally gave in. It clashed down before the sun came up, and they were both embarrassed to wake up that way. Then he walked her four miles home to Bledsoe proper in the morning, and apparently doubled-back to his own home on outskirts.
Since the Redvines were stuck in a trailer park with no phone, Akila had to wait for days to know if Landon would call her. Even when he did, her mama was stingy with his message. When he called back, her mama warned her not to tie up the phone. Their touch and go continued with rushed sightings and fooling around in an eccentric variety of locations. Finally, she learned where he lived, planted herself there in innocent dates in his kitchen and living room; Mrs. Redvine seemed to enjoy their dates more than Akila or Landon did. And his little sister was chatty with her, eager and clingy, as if she was a long-lost relative and not a stranger. Then Akila discovered all their antics before had gotten her pregnant. She was recommended to wait for Landon if he had to go off to work, for all his effort to do better so he could do right by them all. He ran off to the Army, his “movement” friends who had no job doing the same. It was outrageous.
To prime her own self for her own long haul, Mrs. Redvine gave rosy lectures to the girl Landon made a mother before a wife, unlike she had taught him. She wanted Akila near. Akila held the baby who was Landon and therefore she was Landon, too. When it came, Akila included Mrs. Redvine generously in the resulting child’s life. She preferred Mrs. Redvine actually. Her own mama was too contorted into outrage with her, in premonition her grandson would wind up just as fatherless as her own children had. But Mrs. Redvine would have never have that. With her own young daughter so strange and Landon so far, Mrs. Redvine poured her vessels of knowledge and expertise upon her grandson’s mama and maybe daughter-in-law: how to avoid lumpy gravy, how to dart thread through a needle’s eye without spit, how to reverse a scorched pot or pan, how to hotwire a car, how to recognize the situation where this was necessary, how to pin clothes on the line without wrinkles, how to respect the black man with no carrying on necessary.
“With all that mess over here, over there, everywhere, we have to be light and fluffy for our men, not so muscular and knowing,” Mrs. Redvine counseled.
This encouragement worked. It sent Akila to work at Home-from-Home Motel, right outside main town and on Natchez Trace Parkway: fluffing towels, cleaning toilets, scrubbing cracked bathtubs, making firm and skinny beds, leaving flat shreds of soap for the next guests, greeting the few tenants who enjoyed tab instead of a lease.
And just a few months after Landon sent his first letter to describe his uniform, Akila and her mama crowded around the television to hear the president tell them the United States was in a war. She was sick for the rest of the week: couldn’t draw milk or even eat anything herself. ‘War’ meant there would be dusty yellow explosions at the roads, men with black boots and huge guns outside the stores, screaming people fighting at the Greyhound station, chaos and fear, bottleneck traffic, pick-up truck and motorcycle gridlocks on Natchez Trace Parkway, an exploding volcano on top of a lottery-filled tunnel in the unreachable distance, white people at the door to say her baby’s father was dead. But nothing changed.
“You fine?” Akila asked Landon, when he suddenly appeared in the spring, peeking behind her and into the house where his son cried, wearing his uniform and a smile. He was still tall. Nothing at all about him was blasted off—no holes in his face, or tears in his legs, or torn arms, or gouges in his torso. If anything, he looked entirely better than he had when he left Mississippi. He looked slimmer, rested, no longer so angry about something, less confused and more patriotic.
It was an illusion they made love past.
About the author:
Kalisha Buckhanon majored in English at the University of Chicago and received her M.F.A at The New School. She is author of Conception and Upstate, published by John Murray in London and Rouergue in Paris. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, London Independent, Mosaic, and more. She was born in Illinois. Her website is here.