i have to get away. my sister’s not the kind of person that you can escape from. our five year age difference may as well be ten. our parents are long gone. i have no memory of my own, of them. only hers. it is because of them, that we live the way we do. we must. we’re paying for their debts.
we live on the edge of windsor. i run alongside the lake. she is in detroit,“taking care of business”. a small part of me wonders if she is alright. she is. i can feel that she is. i should wonder about the people that she went to see. they would surely not be alright.
i miss the states. we left detroit way before it became a wasteland. before detroit it was flint. before flint it was gary. before gary it was nashville. that was last time mama and papa were alive.
“join me for dinner, sister.” i stop running and push the button in my ear. it is my sisters voice.
“it is not a question, ezra. we’ll have cinnamon wine. meet me at the estate. don’t be late.” the line ends.
my run is over. i walk home. in comparison to the estate, it may as well be a shack, i live in. it’s barely lunch time. i go clean myself up trying to figure out how to have dinner elsewhere. it is not possible. my sister has eyes everywhere.
at 645p, i am walking through the estate doors. servants in tuxedos, men and women, polishing things no one ever uses. i go sit at the table. i am not interested in finding my sister. she will find me. she always does. water is brought to me at the long dinner table. it could seat sixteen, seven on each side, two on the ends. i’ve never seen sixteen people in the place outside of the servants.
the lights from the wood hanging lanterns dim themselves. there are over twenty lanterns in the ceiling. the room is longer than the lanterns are able to light. she enters. dressed in all black, a one piece. her skin is almost as dark as her outfit. a cloak around her shoulders longer than she is tall. it drags itself behind her.
“sister.” she calls as if she is happy to see me or i am here by choice.
“evie.” i stand. she clasps my shoulders and kiss my face. i accept it. she goes to the opposite side of the table to sit in front of me and not at the head of the table. which is where she usually sits. “will it be just us?”
“just us, my dear.” we sit at the same time. servants begin bringing out dishes that would feed more than two people. a woman turns over my red wine glass. i smell the cinnamon before i notice it is a woman standing beside me. i look up at her. she pours cinnamon wine. with a smile for me. “don’t flirt with the help, ezra.”
“don’t call them that.”
“or we can make a deal. you take her and leave the other woman alone.” i look at my sister. i hold my sigh. that will do no good here. the servant leaves. i let her go. “have some wine. it will help.”
“help what? you manipulate me even more than you do now.”
“you know, it seems that you’d be grateful that you have as much support as you do now. this is barely manipulation. you don’t do a thing i tell you to do.”
i sip the cinnamon wine. red wine with cinnamon, cloves. i could have a plain apple cider instead. tonight, i drink.
“have you been to the 1960’s again, ezra?”
“you ask me a thing that you must know. why ask?”
“testing your honesty and loyalty.”
“it is not needed. i’m no liar. yes, i’ve been to 1964.”
“i don’t understand your attraction to this woman. it’s foolish. she doesn’t live. you know that?”
“she doesn’t die, evie. she transitions to another body. you see that as i do.”
“eat. we’ll talk and eat.” she tells me. it is her way of calming me down. it works. i smell the indian food nearest me already in small bowls for me. i may take the servant woman. she knows me well. i start with the biryani.
“your assignment is the woman.”
“again. you know the deal. you will get her in the 60’s.”
“i reject it.”
“you know there is no option, ezra. let’s not do this.”
“i can’t keep killing her.”
“you have to. you will until you can do it without falling in love with her.”
“i’m no longer hungry.” i stand.
“sit. we’re talking. you don’t get to walk away from me while i’m talking to you.”
“you’re talking at me not to me. there is a difference. you’ve given me my assignment. what else is there to speak of?”
“sit. we’ll discuss. i’ll let you take the servant for a night. if you promise to return her.”
“keep her. i want nothing from her.” i take my seat.
“that’s not true. even she knows that.”
“well. i want nothing from you. better?”
“truer, yes.” we eat in silence for some minutes.
i can hear evie swallowing her food. i hear the servants in the kitchen speaking amongst themselves. i smell dessert. baked apples. spiced pears. i could stay. i smell her. the servant that poured my wine. she smells like she is thinking of me. i rather leave with her than sit with my sister.
“let’s call a truce.”
“you own me. what truce can we have, dear sister?”
“remember your place, ezra. this is not about my supposed power or control over you. this is about you returning to the past to visit one you’ve been forbidden to visit. your assignments are primarily based upon the facts that you prove unable to perform your duties without emotions. you have to leave the woman be. even i can’t understand your infatuation and many gods know that i have tried.”
“i don’t have your heart. i should not be punished for having a different heart than yours.”
“keep your heart.no one cares about your heart for whomever except within the confines of this assignment. you can’t fuck her, kill her and keep her. it is impossible. the assignment is to kill her. you will receive the assignment until you do exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
“i love her.”
“that’s not part of the assignment.” my sister smiles. she sips wine. i’m eating more than she is. i always eat more.
“i can’t keep killing a woman that i want to keep. you make me chase her into and out of each body she lives in. what do you think that does to me? how do you think that makes me feel?”
“i long for the day when you show up feeling nothing but relieved to get a new assignment.”
“let me stay with her. you have the power to make that happen. i want to stay with her.”
“in the 60’s? you want to stay in the 60’s as a black woman with a black woman to love her when black men were being put to death for loving a black woman? it will be no better for you there. you’re talking foolish, ezra.”
“i beg you.” i plead. she sighs. she spoons food in her mouth and chews. she looks as if she’s thinking it over. weighing options. i know she isn’t. she doesn’t give me what i want.
“camille. pack food. take my sister home.” she commands without looking at me. camille doesn’t enter or respond. i am sure she heard and she is obeying. evie is to obeyed.
“no.” i say. i stand. it’s time for me to go.
“sit. if i stand, we will surely have problems, sister.”
“do not threaten me, evie.”
“i have no threats for you, my dear. i don’t want to interrupt my dinner for this. i would rather you sit and have dinner with your sister instead of always making me hear your threats of running away from me. it gets exhausting.”
“you do not get to call her as if i need a sitter or distraction.”
“well, you could use the distraction. she’d be pleased to give herself to you. you’d be happy to take her. that is no secret that you enjoy each other. if she can calm you, then yes, i will call on her to calm you. you won’t enjoy my ways of calming you. join me. utilize less threats and i will utilize less commands.” i sit. this is all a losing battle. i know that. “camille. prepare the food for when my sister leaves.” again, no response. “my intention isn’t to hurt you or cause you grief. i am just as bound as you are. there is no difference. i’ve haven’t fallen in love along the way. it is dangerous for you. each time you’re away, i know exactly where you are. if i know, who else do you think knows? if it comes down to me dealing with you. i will keep choosing me over and over again over who else it could be. trust me, you’d rather have me instead. eat some more.” she stands with her wine glass in hand. she refills her glass from the carafe. i tear off pieces of naan to eat. she goes to stand by the window. the sun is setting on the other side of the estate. the darkness is coming in the dining room. “she makes you feel. you want to feel. i question the era of which you’re attached to. there is much terrorism against all peoples of color during that era. there is no peace to be attained. i love your heart. on good days, it’s likes waves on the ocean with the sun reflecting from it. it is warm. it is reassuring. it is pure and peace. i’ll think i have nothing and no one else. i see all these rays shine like broken pieces off a mirror. why would i release that, ezra? am i a selfish bitch for keeping you instead of releasing you to where you rather be? well, i am human and i can’t apologize for my feelings any more than you can.”
“she keeps dying in my arms.”
“she’s not supposed to die in your arms.”
“no one should have to take their last breath alone. there is enough human kindness in me to sit with the dying.”
“even if you’re the cause of her dying?” evie teases.
“i take no delight in my duties. i am without the choices that you have.”
“we all have choices, ezra. mama and papa had choices. they did not choose us. they chose themselves. they chose to run. i see that you inherited that trait.”
“it is not a thing i feel shame over. anyone would choose to be free over imprisonment.”
“each time you run someone else takes your punishment. we would not live this way had they remained to face the consequences of their own actions.”
“you blame them? why not blame the system that would provide a life that is impossible to escape debt?”
“we all make our own decisions. we’re born knowing what this life asks of us.”she walks back to the table. glass half empty. “serve the system. avoid the debt. it is possible.”
“am i allowed to leave?”
“you would run?”
“i don’t know.”
“you know. i know. if i know, you know.”
“it’s not worth discussing.”
“if not now, when? after you’ve run away. and i spend the rest of my days serving time meant for you? you would do that, wouldn’t you?”
“i haven’t. i know how the system works. i return because of you. i’m going to leave. i’m done.” i stand. evie is still standing. leaning over her chair with that glass of wine. a smile eases across her face and into her lips. there is destruction underneath it.
“i will find you. you should know that no matter what era you seek to hide in, i can find you. i will find you. i’ve done my time for my parents. i will not do time for my sister. don’t ever take that personal. complete your assignments and you have free reign across the universe. now. you may leave. you intend to jog?”
“camille will meet you there.”
“keep her here.”
“i will do no such thing. i can’t give you everything you believe you desire. you can have her for a night. the assignment has been sent. camille returns tomorrow before dinner. you return to your duties. do we have an understanding, dear sister?”
“we do. goodnight.” i take a piece of naan and walk out of the estate doors.
i don’t run. i walk. the air is crisp. like honey crisp apples fresh fallen from red and yellow leaved autumn trees.
i have to get away. my sister is not the kind of person that one can escape.
i stay the night with camille. consistently satisfying. she attempts to talk me out of running. i hear her. i silence her with kisses. if there wasn’t a 1964, i could build an existence with her. she is a controlled feeling that becomes unleashed when it’s just us. she is want and desire just for me. so much want. i almost want to keep her. she leaves after lunch. i return to 1964.
she looks up from the clothes that she is hanging on a clothesline on her piece of the back porch. it is the dead of summer, in august, in chicago where no windy city winds blow. her aged flower dress sticks to her skin. the bottom hangs limp having given up on the winds blowing life into it. she wipes at her neck with the back of her hand. she is thirty- four in age. twenty-one in energy. sixteen in love. eighty-six in wisdom. ageless when she sees me watching her.
“you’re back. It’s been so long.” her voice heavy with august summer and moisture that drips from the air.
“can we go inside?” i walk past her inside her one room apartment with her hand in mine. the bathroom is in the halls. she shares with the rest of the tenants. i long to take her with me. the heat lingers in the walls. moisture slides down the faded wall paper that alternates between sticking to the wall and not. i pull her into my arms. she is non resistant. her head rests on mine. too much heat. “i’ve missed you.”
“not as much as i’ve missed you. how long will you stay this time?”
“not long. i’m sorry.”
“something better than nothing. i’ll deal.” her arms wrap themselves around my waist.
“i won’t return after this. i’ve done something. i need to say goodbye to you.”
“i wish you were here to take me with you.” she smiles. my eyes are closed, i can feel her smile in her voice.
“it is not from a lack of desire. you hungry? we should go to the diner. have someone cook for you.”
“only if you return with me tonight.”
“i’m going wherever you go tonight.”
“well, let me change into something else. pray there’s no line for the shower.”
“i’ll wait. go.”
we eat at clay’s corner. a half a mile away from where she lives. musicians are in place, miss lucille at the microphone crooning sadness in perfect harmony with the double bass and saxophone, winking at the owner of the diner. he has stopped serving. his eyes only for the singer in her sequined dress. their flirtatious affair obvious. his wife delivers fried chicken to a booth in the corner of lovers just as entranced by the singer. we sit at the bar with the daughter who is shining silverware and sneaking peeks at the singer in the same way her father is. we take seats beside her at the bar. she barely notices us after we speak. fresh and hot buttered biscuits in a basket are put before us. i take in the singer. my date, the love of my existence orders for the both of us.
we eat fried chicken. collard greens and cornbread. baked macaroni and cheese, yams. there is barely room left inside of me when caramel cake appears in front of us. i inhale the food, the energy, the time, the current of love and pride in the air. there is so much more than food that i am swallowing. it fills me up in exactly the same ways. her hands rest in my lap. i pull out money to pay and leave a tip behind having received my cue.
dawn slips in the one window by the backdoor, without permission. it is time. she feels me awake. she slowly sits up. her body now loose limbs. it takes seconds before she is coordinated. she finds a dress to throw on and leaves her apartment. i don’t wonder about her destination. we’ve been here before. only i remember. i hear the downstairs slam against the old wood building holding it up. i get dressed. i follow her. she is getting breakfast to bring back. i lean against the brick building of clay’s corner thinking of a way out. she is getting food for us. and i have to kill her. again.
the bells ring when she walks out the diner. she is practically skipping remembering that i told her i wouldn’t be able to remain. i follow. she turns into the alley for quicker access into her apartment building. i pull out my gun. i shoot her. i hold my tears. i put the gun away. the silence falls. the community knows how to respond to this act of violence. do not exist. do not be seen or heard. in case the violence travels.
i hear her body fall to the ground. i go to her. again. her front and back drowning in her blood. her dress the color of death. her bags of breakfast left for the rats. i lift her head to put in my lap. her brown eyes drift from the sky to land in mine. her breaths too shallow, too quick. her heartbeat too rapid. her fear and surprise in plain view on her face. i caress her skin to comfort myself.
“it’s alright. you’re safe.”
“ezra. stay with me.”
“and here i was worried about you leaving me. i’m leaving you.”
“i’ll find you. i will always find you.”
“i’m surprised you’ve returned.” evie says without looking up. drinking from her wine glass staring at the skies from her gazebo on the estate ground.
“when you’ve performed your duties and not before. you haven’t done that to your best of your ability.”
“i will run.”
“i can find you, ezra. when i do, it will not be the me that you’re used to seeing.”
“it’s worth the risk.”
“you would say that. you knowing nothing but the feelings in your pants. to make decisions based on lust shows me that you still have a lot of growing up to do. run. if you must. i will not have mercy on you. it’s me or them.”
“what happened to our parents?”
“i put them to death. that was my assignment. guess how many times i did that before i grew a pair and just did it so i never have to do it again? it’s an effective form of torture and training. i should know. at least i gave you strangers. run. i will have to put you death numerous times. i will make sure you remember it in each era you choose to hide in.”
i lean against the metal frame of the gazebo. pointless. everything is pointless. i cross my arms. look from the coldness that is my sister to the waters between the trees.
“forever can be more fun than you’re making it. i can tell you that much. right now, we live like many that cannot. it’s the world that we live in. i didn’t make the rules. i follow them. we’re surrounded by destruction and misery. would i rather live like that or like this? that has never been a hard choice to make. i had a sister to take care of. there was nothing to consider. i did what i had to do. we needed to eat. we needed to not freeze. i made decisions. i refuse to return to that time of not knowing what would happen next. that’s what i’d be returning to if you run. i won’t. i’d kill you first. forever can be more fun if you allow it.”
“what do i do to be free of these assignments?”
“kill. you let her linger onto life each time. kill her.”
“i didn’t choose her but she seems to be your weakness. how they know that, i have no idea. there are people who sit and have nothing but time to search for how they can control you. you keep getting her until you can properly do your job.”
“you mean after you can instantly kill her and walk away?”
“you’re free. you will have done your time. you have properly served the system. your debt, our parents debt to society has been paid. work will be found for you. it won’t be along the lines of what you’re doing now.”
“when is my next assignment? i’m ready.”
“in two days. rest. eat. have camille over. she’s asked for you.”
“she is my assignment again?”
“of course, she is. “
the fall air blows from lake michigan. i feel the chill in the air shake my arms.
“you will meet her in another time. it won’t be in the 60’s. you’ll find out when you receive your assignment. i will not send it yet. one more thing.”
“your selah is here in this time on this side of the lake. complete your assignment and i’ll give you directions to her. go. camille is waiting for you.”
“her name isn’t selah in this time, is it? what is it?”
“it is not selah. go away. camille made you dinner.”
i begin leaving the estate grounds. hands in the pockets of loose jeans, no sleeves. loafers and no socks. the fall winds are having it’s way with me.