The Story of How It Happened (or, The Rag-and-bone Collector of Hard Obsidian Problems)

A room had two wooden doors and a window. A large mirror, an unused bed, and an empty bowl occupied it. You occupied it as well. I am telling you this because this is how it happened.

At the head of the bed rested a dream you wrote down and tried to remember. A dream of children with dark and hollow eyes, cleaning dirty dishes.

On the other side of one door, cheap wine burned your belly at the crack of dawn. You sat with an empty bottle, shut your eyes tight, and saw a dead man’s dog rolling around in wet sand.

The walls of this room are barren, save for a clock hanging in place, with hands frozen in place. What type of prison is this place? I am asking you this because this is how it happened.

She looked into the mirror and saw every odd idea she had ever had. A voice asked her where she went when she closed her eyes. She leaned in and whispered, answering her own question.

The bed is unused, and you are tired, as though sleep were an abstract concept; as though a dream seemed as real as anything else, and the act itself, the act of dreaming, exhausted you. You were tired. Sit and think about what this means. Not tired, as though you spent the day out and about. Not tired, as though your body had been overworked and needed rest.

The empty bowl is your family tree, ’cause ancestry.com ain’t got shit on your ability to trace your own lineage. You know your momma’s​ momma’s muthafuckas, the farm in Georgia where they used to grow peaches, and the way your great-grandmoms in Virginia tore the neck off chickens, plucked feathers, and how good the shit would taste next to mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens cooked with neckbones, black-eyed peas, and too-damn-dry-to-swallow cornbread, washed down with sweet iced tea. I am telling you this because this is how it happened.

Behind the second door is a staircase, leading to the kitchen. You were sitting at the kitchen table, across from your uncle, who, at the time, was still working at Lincoln University. Your mother and your mother’s sister laughed and watched Bravo ’cause no two women talked more shit or got each other more than these two.

It is a bit hazy, but you remember your grandmother in the kitchen, giggling the way she does when she is surrounded by her five grandkids: your baby cousin, your two teenage cousins, your younger brother (who used to be your baby brother and then your little brother before he got two inches on you) and you yourself. She giggled and giggled and giggled and this is all you remember. In the corner, your grandfather ate dates.

A study I just made up reports you are not at all an original thought. Scientists claim you are, at most, the latest in a long line of thoughts, and at least, the bridge between ideas. It all started when someone wondered what was going to happen next, when someone wondered if this will ever end, and when someone else said they wanted more for their children. I am telling you this because this is how it happened.

These things, a clock, and four walls. And a bright, flashing light. So bright, you could see it through the walls. What have they done to you now, after life solves all of your problems, against your will?

You woke up in the middle of the night and saw the sky, glittering as though a childhood painting. She says instead of sheep, she counts the number of times a little Black girl jumps rope.

I am telling you this because still, after all this time, when you dream, you find the same house in

flames.

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