when basement minds intertwine and engage in a slow dance: an excerpt

by Jasmyne K. Rogers

“My baby! What did you do to my baby!”

 Mama was screaming at the top of her lungs in the front room. It pierced my ears. It was a different scream this time.

Usually Mama would fuss at my ten-year-old brother, James, for roughhousing with our two-year-old sister, Lena. This time she kept on screaming.

“Oooh, James gonna get the switch this time,” I said to myself in the small room I shared with my siblings, which was also a makeshift hair salon where Mama did hair on Thursdays. 

I would’ve tuned out the screams until Mama shrieked, “You drunk hag, you shot my baby!” I left the room to see what the commotion was about. 

I saw Mama on her knees wiping Lena’s face in the same manner she did when my baby sister put too much jelly preserve on her bread. It would end up getting all over her and her clothes.

James sat stock-still in the metal chair that Papa had gotten from Mr. Jacobs so that when we had company, there would be enough chairs. 

All I saw was red. 

The same shade of red that Papa had painted old man Turner’s barn.  The same shade of red of the heart I gave to Mama every February 14th. The same shade of red I would see crawling from the corners of Mama’s mouth when Papa had consumed too much moonshine. That shade of red always stood out. 

James was still paralyzed to the chair, and I stood in the space in between him and Mama. This space was neutral. I could stay here in this space and not have to deal with what was happening on either side.

But life doesn’t exactly happen that way.

I placed my hand on Mama’s shoulder and she shuddered from the touch.

Once she looked at me, I saw her pain. 

“Oh Ella!” Mama screamed. “Do something!”

It was then that I saw my little sister sprawled out on our wooden floor in her favorite pink nightie.

Ms. Tannie, my mama’s dearest friend, staggered in our doorway. 

“Do something!” Mama screamed again.

James was still glued to the chair, Mama was still wiping the pool of blood that now surrounded my little sister, and Ms. Tannie still staggered in the doorway.

I brushed past her and ran out into the night air without a care in the world.
I knocked as hard as I could and it seemed like I stood on the small cement porch for an eternity.

Soon a dim light came on and the front door opened just a tad. 

Ms. Addie Mae fiddled with her glasses.

“Ella, what you doing out here at this time of night? Jean will skin you alive if he knew you were out here this late. Where your…” In mid sentence, Ms. Addie Mae knew something wasn’t right. I was crying a river and managed to utter the words, “Lena. Something happened to Lena. We have to get her to the hospital.” 

Without a blink and in the absence of a thought, Ms. Addie Mae grabbed her husband’s keys, grabbed me by the wrist, hopped in the car, and rushed to my house.

She hopped out of the Ford and told me to stay there. 

Brushing past Ms. Tannie, she scooped Lena up swiftly and gently and guided Mama all the way to the idling car.
As Ms. Addie began to clutch the wheel, I saw Ms. Carrie Lee walking down the dirt road to our house. 

Once Ms. Carrie Lee hobbled onto our front porch, Ms. Addie Mae reversed the car and sped down the dark road.

As we traveled the dark road into the unknown, I looked back past my sister and weeping mother.

Ms. Tannie still held on to the doorway, but the moment became different.

I saw her drop the gun.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more;
feed me till I want no more.

Ms. Addie Mae rocked and hummed in the old rocking chair as she greased Mama’s scalp.  Mama sat on the red milk crate with her head burrowed in her arms. I watched intently on the wooden and tattered step as Ms. Addie Mae parted Mama’s thick mane in four sections and massaged the homemade grease onto her scalp. Every time Ms. Addie Mae hummed a line of the hymn, Mama would release a deep moan. It was almost indescribable, but spiritual for sure. I studied Mama in her silence.

My sixteen-year-old mind could not fathom what my mother was going through.

I felt helpless. I felt like a burden. My mother had lost her youngest child and here I was breathing air and taking up space.  I did not know how to ease her mind or massage her scalp like Ms. Addie Mae. I did not know how to caress her and tell her that everything would be all right with strong conviction. I did not know how to be a woman.

As Ms. Addie Mae’s humming grew more intense, so did Mama’s moaning. It was so intense that I felt the pain and sorrow embedded in it. I wanted to cry and scream and run a mile down the dirt road to the graveyard and claw at my sister’s tiny grave. Claw until I unearth the pine box that held her lifeless two-year-old corpse. I wanted to bring her back.  Our world was not the same without her.  

“Let it out, Rose. Let it out honey,” Ms. Addie Mae gently caressed Mama’s arm. She shuddered at the touch. I looked into my mother’s hazel brown eyes and saw a trace of a tear for the first time.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jasmyne Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama and graduate of Georgia State University. She majored in English and thoroughly enjoys writing that reflects African American culture, history, and progression. She self-published her first extended short story, In the Basement of a SOUL Child’s Mind: The Extended Short Story, in 2012. Her personal motto is adopted from the Ubuntu philosophy, “I am because WE are.”

Connect with me on FaceBook--Jasmyne K. Rogers and Twitter & Instagram--@poetic_jaszy.