Today, we are proud to share the honorable mention from our Fall Fiction Contest, Nancy London’s “Genealogy.” In this breathtaking reverie, the narrator reflects on her life and the lives of her ancestors: “There’s no way to write about my ancestors without beginning with my legs.” read on.
So. Trickle down economics. Youngest girl and youngest boy meet in the middle, the air hot, smelling of the tar slowly melting the pavement. Shy maybe. By that time my mother had already put in her two years as a secretary after college and was getting restless, needing something, someone, and maybe he would do. She said once about their sex that he could make any body anybody melt and I liked that because certainly by the time I was old enough to witness their dynamics, she was a block of ice dense as a glacier, no melting for that babe.
There’s no way to write about my ancestors without beginning with my legs. I wanted the kind that ended somewhere under my armpits, but when I look at my legs, in a mirror, in a bathing suit, I see my Russian grandmother, my great-grandmother, all the mothers before them; the long chain of women back to that first awakening in Africa. Stretch. Move. Plant wide feet on the hot earth. Set a course north into Egypt and across the Red Sea into Persia. Stop and build homes, eat the dates hanging from palms like elongated nipples, the offering of oneself to another. Make love and create a long line of women with legs like timber. Cross the Caucasus into Russia. Feel how wet and fertile it is. Make homes, make babies. Make time to build community, gather herbs, brew medicines. Barefoot, toes always dirty, legs so fucking sturdy they could lift a calf. And when the soldiers came, watching their village go up in flames, babies thrown from second story windows, their bodies like small birds shot from slings; sending their daughters away on trains and ships with food wrapped in paper, with names sewn into clothing, with no language to say my heart is breaking, carrying grief like a stone on their backs, bending them to the task at hand, surviving until the red hot violence returned all they had brought to bloom back to the earth as ash, in smoke and silence.
What does this have to do with me, I ask, these legs that have run behind me for generations calling, Wait, don’t forget us! You need us!
What for? I sneer, getting ready to curl my bangs before the high school prom. Fuck off. I’m washing my wide feet and squeezing them into five inch heels. You’ll be sorry, they echo down the long corridor of my dreams. No I won’t, I yell back over my shoulder. But I’ve got good manners, so I stop and say, Okay, you have five minutes. Spill. And they say, First darling, sit down and have something cool to drink. Flex your little toesies. Remember this little piggy went to market? I roll my eyes. Please, I say, why do you haunt me, follow me, bust my long-limbed fantasy with a Russian peasant Yiddish-speaking thick-legged ancestor I never knew? Because, shaina maidelah, who do you think gave you your strength? How did you learn to stand your ground and hit back when your mother may her soul rest in peace felt free and happy to whack you across the mouth? How did you stand steady and fight back? Think about it. And how if you don’t mind me asking did you walk out of the house and never look back? Certainly not on your hands, darling girl.