As she leaned her bulk against the Bed-Stuy brownstone’s groaning fourth floor banister, Ms. Ackers pulled a damp wad of paper towel from her brassier and, careful not to disturb the Nat Sherman hanging from the corner of her mouth, passed it over the sweat pooling on her top lip.
Her hand moved with an owner’s assuredness as she felt along the wall of the dark landing for the light switch. The torn hem of her housecoat kicked at the 30 year old carpet that used to be the color of Pitkin Avenue’s best red wine. It had been her favorite color until she’d discovered the beauty of brown liquor.
The eight year old light bulb didn’t answer when she flicked the switch and that started Mrs Ackers on another spate of speakeasy style cussin’.
“This heifer must be out her damn mind,” she mumbled into the darkness, “Got me in this dark ass hallway climbin’ stairs in the middle of the damn night.”
A new match worked to relight her cigarette as she moved closer toward the far end of the landing. She cocked her head to get a better fix on the noise coming from the only room on the house’s top floor. The low keening was making her neck hairs stand up and it was pissin’ her off.
“Miss Moore!” she yelled into the room’s door, “Now you gonna hafta stop all that damn noise. Ain’t no call for all that cryin’ and carrying on.”
“Hello!” She yelled again banging the hollow wooden door with the ball of her fist. Not getting any answer, she turned the doorknob and entered the dark room. She was assaulted by the odor of rotten meat and onions and her singed fingertips dropped the match. Acid boiled into her throat as she watched the match extinguish in the vomit that snaked across the warped parquet floor to the mattress that centered against the room’s far wall. Missing slats in the old stained Venetian blinds allowed a narrow shaft of light from the street lamp directly outside the house and Miss Ackers was able to make out some of the room’s chaos. Empty liquor bottles, crumpled clothes, and what looked like newspaper clippings were strewn about the room.
The sobbing had gotten louder as she walked across the long room and, as she lit another match, Miss Ackers was able to make out the naked, sheet draped body pressing itself into the floor between the bed and tall chifferobe in the corner.
“Ms. Moore you got to stop all that moanin’ and carryin’ on! Ain’t nuthin’ so bad, you got to get folks all riled up!”
Miss. Ackers bent beside the young woman and none too gently lifted her vomit covered chin from the floor. Whatever was haunting Yvonne Moore had devastated her classic West-Indian features, leaving her with sunken, swollen shut eyes, rusted skin and cracked, spittle crusted lips .
Unbending herself, Miss Ackers dropped the girls face back to the parquet floor.
“Cain’t stand no damn crackhead.”
As she moved out of the room, back out into the dusty hallway, Miss Ackers wiped young Miss Moore’s spittle from her hand onto the warped doorframe. Taking another swipe with the soggy paper towel, she fished a fresh Nat Sherman from between her Playtex covered bosoms.
Turning back toward the barely conscious huddle she said, “You better hope them EMS people get here with a quickness, else I’m gonna whip yo’ ass my damn self. Damn crackhead.”
“Yeah, Hello? I’m looking for somebody kin to Yvonne Moore.”
“This is Kenya Moore. Yvonne Moore is my cousin. Who am I speaking with?”
“You speakin’ to the one who’s fixin’ to put yo’ cousin’s belongings and business out in the street.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You people ‘bout to be beggin’ for more than a pardon if somebody don’t come git this chick’s shit out my house.
“I’m sorry ma’am, who did you say you were and how do you know Yvonne?”
“Name is Ackers, Miss – Ackers. Your friend been renting a room in my house and somebody need to come get her shit. I should’ve followed my first damn mind. Knew that coconut was gonna be trouble.”
Ma’am, I’m sure there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. Is my cousin there? May I speak with her?”
“Hell no she ain’t here! Din’t I tell you I’m fixin’ to put to put her shit in the street? I ain’t seen that wench since the ambulance came and carried her out of here last week.”
“Ambulance? Yvonne was in an ambulance? What happened? Miss Ackers please I will compensate you for your time. I simply need to know what has happened to my cousin.”
“Look, I’m done talkin’ for the day. You want to “compsate” me? Be here before my stories come on and bring a crate all this crap. You got till 2 o’clock ‘cause at 2:01, somebody’s belongings and business is hittin’ the sidewalk.”
Even as Jessira Moore pushed open the front gate of the Park Slope Brownstone, her gut urged her to turn around and leave. Self preservation told her this wasn’t a good idea but murdering curiosity made her lean on the bell. How could her cousin Kenya live in this house of all places? What on earth could have kept her in the Moore family home after all these years?
As Jessira stood waiting for an answer to her bell, sweat made her summer skirt cling to the back of her thighs. Pigeons squatted on window ledges, too lazy to beat their wings against the afternoon’s heavy air. The block stood quiet as neighborhood children traded their heated street play for cool confinement.
“You’re letting out my air conditioning,” Kenya’s voice said behind her..
Startled, Jess turned around and faced the woman she hadn’t seen in 12 years. Kenya’s voice was still so much like her own, it had almost sounded as if she were talking to herself.
“Hello Kenya”, she said to her cousin.
Kenya didn’t answer her as she stepped back and gestured for Jess to come in. As Jess moved into the house of her childhood, she marveled at its renovation. Colors of burnt orange, red and chocolate brown filled the living space. Brass and copper planters strained to embrace too lush abundance. The summer sun left its heat outside as it infused the open floor plan of the living room and kitchen with its light. Carelessly tossed pillows seemed at home were they landed and a deep cushioned sofa hugged its pile of manuscripts.
Kenya motioned again for Jess to have a seat. Seeing the notebooks and pens strewn about the kitchen’s huge round oak table, memories forced her smile as she turned back to her cousin.
“Don’t tell me you still do the pen and paper thing?” she said.
Kenya didn’t answer her and continued to pour the apple juice that Jess wanted but hadn’t asked for.
“Jessira, I appreciate you coming on such short notice,” she said. “I’m sure it was an inconvenience. I know how hectic a High School English teacher’s schedule can be.”
Jess decided not to ignore the dig.
“Alright Kenya, how do you want to do this? Do you want to just tell me what’s going on or are we gonna stick with this hostility bullshit? ‘Cause I didn’t ask for the invitation, you called me remember?
“First, I’d appreciate it if you would mind your language. This is still our grandmother’s house. Secondly, let us be very clear. It has been 12 years, and I have left you more messages than I can count but you, Jessira, have not so much as sent a postcard in response. So forgive me cousin, if I’m not as polite as you would prefer me to be.”
Thanks for reading my story! *LBD
All content © 2013 Lisa B. DuBois