February 3, 2023
Luna, Tspice & Squirrel*
Story for February—Movement in Black Joy…
“My grandmother told me that her grandmother walked through time.”
“Huh” and “what” came from Tspice and Squirrel as they looked up from Tspice’s dislocated bicycle chain.
Luna repeated, “My grandmother told me that her grandmother walked through time,” as if saying it again would make the words make sense.
“We heard you,” said Tspice and Squirrel. “But what are you talking about?”
“My Grandma Pearl said that her Grandma Hattie had twice walked through time. The first time was in 1861 when she was 12. She walked into a place so loud, fast and unrecognizable that she very quickly stepped backward through the time opening.”
Tspice and Squirrel both rubbed the grease residue from the bike chain between thumb and index finger. Tspice returned to trying to get the chain back onto the sprocket. Squirrel looked at Luna, waiting to see if they were all going to start laughing. They all did laugh, but it wasn’t an “I gotcha laugh” come from joking. This was nervous laughter.
The sun was bright above the horizon. It was too early for sunset colors at 5 o’clock in summertime. They would have to go home anyway; it would soon be dinner time. Tspice got the chain back onto the sprocket. Squirrel examined it intensely—not that interested anymore, but not wanting to look at Luna.
“You need to clean that chain Tspice; grit grease is why it keeps slipping off.”
Luna, Squirrel and Tspice were all waiting. They talked about everything eventually—school stuff, home stuff, other friend stuff. Tspice spun the bike pedal, idle not agitated, part of waiting in time frozen. Because Luna just spoke out loud that her great-great grandmother had walked out of Civil War time into the future.
Squirrel’s phone vibrating unfroze the moment. Tspice’s mom was texting Squirrel to tell Tspice to get home. Simultaneously Luna received a text saying the same thing. As usual, Tspice’s phone was off. Squirrel and Luna pointed their phones toward Tspice, both saying, “Your Mama!” Also as usual, Tspice laughed saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” They picked up their backpacks and stood up, preparing to ride home, ready or not.
Luna said, “Tomorrow.” They knew that meant the full story would be told, but not now, not today. At that moment Tspice’s cousin Grigri and Squirrel’s cousin Smile could be seen and heard as they biked into the threesome, oblivious to the moment.
The five biked off in synchronized motion through the park and toward the street. They became a cohesive swirl of incoherent whoops and whistles as they rode alongside and pass cars and pedestrians. At this hour they headed for Saint Nicholas Avenue; it had the least traffic except for near 145th Street. There it was slow, a one lane creep because of double parked police vehicles or cars going to the fish joint. They navigated the minimally dangerous course with unity and exhilaration; separation began at 148th, where Tspice and Grigri kept left; Luna, Squirrel and Smile went rightward onto Saint Nicholas Place. Leaving Luna on Saint Nick’s Place, Squirrel and Smile would continue up toward 155th Street and make a hard right onto Edgecombe Avenue.
Luna’s mind was busy, and stayed busy through dinner and dishes, thinking about how to tell the Grandma Pearl Grandma Hattie story. Grandma Pearl would be gone two years tomorrow—left to take care of her sister across the ocean. The date was circled on the calendar in the kitchen. Luna noticed it on the way out to meet up with Tspice and Squirrel, maybe that’s why Grandma Pearl’s story showed up today. Now Luna had to remember it all and decide how to tell Tspice and Squirrel. She wasn’t going to tell Grigri and Smile; that would be like putting it on blast. Tspice and Squirrel knew how to be cool.
Luna was nine when Grandma Pearl first said something about her Grandma Hattie and walking through time. She wasn’t really talking to Luna in a way that Luna could ask questions, yet she had that look and tone she sometimes got when she was going to tell Luna something important and beneficial, even if the importance and the benefit was not obvious to Luna. Luna was an only child until she was nine. She was often under tables or slouched next to a couch absorbing grown-up conversations. She was also the listening ear for her grandmother’s pontifications about the country, the city and the neighborhood. But when her Grandma Pearl told her the Grandma Hattie story it was like entering a trance; words became very vivid pictures.
Luna had to wait several weeks before her Grandma Pearl returned to the Grandma Hattie story. She knew not to ask about it because Grandma Pearl did not like being asked anything. Direct and specific questions lead to long detours and often included pontifications—how Luna described Grandma Pearl’s talks to Tspice and Squirrel. Luna had learned about pontiff in her religion class, that a pontiff was the pope, the head of the Catholic Church, and his word was a pontification. Grandma Pearl was not pompous, except maybe in her holiday outfit, but she definitely spoke with authority. Had her words been recorded, there would be volumes of pronouncements.
Grandma Pearl pontificated that “the mayor needs to do his homework on the homeless shelter issue.”
They figured out with each other that the mayor wasn’t in school, that “homework” meant research and preparation, and that the “homeless shelter issue” was important.
Grandma Pearl pontificated, “God and goodness is more than a one day Sabbath affair!” Then her words veered toward clean streets and daily tithing, “You do both, give money and spirit. Make it a habit!”
From this Luna, Tspice and Squirrel interpreted she was saying clean up after yourself, and contribute at least ten percent a day to kindness and sharing.
Luna sat on her bed, staring at the bed where Baybay was asleep. She picked up her sketch pad and started drawing the images Grandma Pearl’s story had conjured in her mind, shimmering translucent light where her Great-great grandma Hattie had appeared. To Luna she looked like Luna, once past the distraction of the clothes, the bare feet; her hair was short too, cut very close to her head. But the face looked like her own. Luna fell asleep drawing the vehicles and buildings she imagined her great-great grandma saw when she first stepped through time.
Luna’s mom entered the room her daughters shared; it was midnight and Luna had again fallen asleep with the light on, earphones in, and marker pen in hand. Rosa gently and carefully removed the marker and pad. As she moved the earphones Luna looked up at her, smiled and turned over. Rosa kissed her big daughter’s cheek before turning off the light and leaving their bedroom.
*Excerpt from novella Luna, Tspice & Squirrel