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An Introduction, For Which We Step a Little Back in Time

When I was a child, I told my mother that her voice sounded like poetry.

I think my third grade teacher, Mrs. Brennan, had been reading poetry to us in class that day, and I went home, and when my mother spoke in her low, mellifluous voice, I thought I could hear all the loveliest words in the world running under her own words, just as I thought I could hear in poetry. Mama had looked surprised, and thanked me, and watched me with a tiny half-smile for the rest of the day.

As an adult -- for I had no time when I was a teenager -- I tried to write poetry, but I just don't have the knack for playing with words. This is ironic for a woman who can have all the words in the world, and all the feelings behind and beneath them, all the invisible meanings and half-meanings. But just because I know them doesn't mean I can put them together into something beautiful.

I remembered all this in an instant, as I often do, when I heard my mother's voice on the direct telephone landline that runs from her little house in the outside world to my living tomb. Mama sang in jazz clubs when we were children -- her second job after her first job cleaning the Manhattan apartments of the white folks who sent her home with hand-me-down clothing for us. My sister Reesy got the good genes of my mother's voice and looks, and sang along with her around the house. My sister Lashawna and my older brothers got the good genes of my mother's first husband, the one who left her for his secretary, with his light skin and long, elegant bones. My younger brother and I look like our father, Mama's second husband, the sweet man who had a heart attack long before his time, and who made us short and round and brown with cheeks our aunts loved to pinch.

"Renata, are you there?" Mama's voice brought me back to the present.

"Sorry, Mama," I said, and with my attention on her, I began to feel the trickle of the words beyond her words washing into me through the phone line.

"I was asking how you were feeling today," Mama said. "You said you had a headache yesterday."

"Yes," I said, noticing the pleasant absence of pain. "Was there something going on in the city yesterday?"

"It was a terrible fight," Mama said. "Part of the nice area just outside downtown was leveled. It was some white man who thought he was a god," she added, with a wry twist of thought that added, Don't they all?

"It felt like a mess," I said. "Was Ruth in it? I thought I heard her once."

"Oh, yes, Ruth was right there in the middle of it, one of the last people standing, the news said."

I never look at the news if I can help it, because if I know something is going on, I can't help but seek it out. My internment here only works when I make a concerted effort to ignore the outside world. "That's not surprising."

"No, not at all. Our girl did all right. They say that it was her and the Fat Lady and the new Amazon and some little white girl no one knows that took him down."

"New Amazon?"

"Yes. Daughter of the original, if the newspapers are to be believed." Mama was of the school of believing only half of what you see, a third of what you hear, and about five percent of what you read. "Big girl, has a Hispanic look to her, if you ask me."

"Well, I'm glad they took him down," I said, and I was. I knew what havoc a man like that could wreak, since the last time something like that had happened, Ruth had been off-planet. I couldn't remember why or where she'd been, because I tried not to remember that time. It was only a week, Mama had said, but it was a week-long nightmare for me, and took me another month to pull myself back together. It takes that much panic to leach through solid stone, but when it does, it's pure madness for me.

Still, this time I'd heard Ruth, she'd been upset, far more than I would expect from a fight of the sort she dealt with -- well, if not every day, then every couple of weeks. That was why it came through, I think; she was terribly worried, and angry, and... I can only describe it as wrenched. I thought perhaps I should call her.

"Did I tell you Lashawna's girl has a concert this weekend?" Mama said, timely as ever with a change of subject.

The direction of my thinking had leaked back to her, I supposed. She wasn't conscious of feeling it, but over the years, I had figured out that she, too, had a gift, but it had been small enough that she'd repressed it, could live in the outside world. My aunt Dolores had always said that Mama had been a sensitive child, too sensitive, but she'd toughened up when she was a teenager. Tough as nails, Dolores said, tough as steel, tough as glass. I hadn't understood the last, had said, "But glass breaks!" And Dolores had told me, "It may break, but the shards slash you and the slivers get under your skin and stay."

Yes, that was Mama.

"What's she playing?" I asked.

"Bach's Minuet in G," Mama said. "She's nervous, of course. I'm gonna find some of my old sheet music for her, though. No point in her only learning music by dead white men."

And so our conversation went on for fifteen minutes. I said, sadly, "Mama, I think that mess yesterday made me tender around the edges."

"All right, baby girl," Mama said. "You take your medicine and I'll talk to you tomorrow. Do you think you'll be all right for the video call on Christmas? You've been edgy lately."

I laughed. "As long as no other supervillains sow mass panic and destruction in Wonder City."

I heard Mama suck her teeth in disgust. "I'll never know why we came to this city anyhow. Good night, Rennie."

"Good night, Mama."

I knew why we had come here.

And it was all on me.


From the Author:
Still broken, but feeling a bit less pain, so able to sit and type now. I'm working from home until next week, when my (oh, joy) physical therapy begins. My wife has been a dream and a wonder in taking care of me and the cats and the house and her own work and everything else. I expect that episodes are going to come slowly, but I wanted to get them started, at least! Thanks for all the good wishes, and I hope you enjoy volume 2 of Wonder City Stories as much as I'm enjoying writing it.

Vote for us at Top Web Fiction! Help us get back up the ratings! I'm sure that will make me feel better. :)

Date: 2010-11-15 03:39 pm (UTC)
laturner: (Default)
From: [personal profile] laturner
Thank you so much for working through the pain for us! My thoughts are with you for a fast recovery.

Date: 2012-05-10 12:20 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Ooh the first introduction to Renata. I love her character!


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