Family secrets surface in Kendra Y. Mims-Applewhite’s “Gone Already,” this week’s New Voices story. Claude returns home to Louie and his ailing mother to find that the things he’s known to be true may not be so. A compelling tale of kinship that asks, What makes a family? Dive in below.
Mama’s sickness got her all messed up in the head. Started some years back with simple stuff. Losin house keys. Forgettin appointments. Comin home to a pitch-black house cause she forgot to pay the light bill. She went to church after cookin breakfast without turnin off the stove. House woulda gone up in flames if Miss Mable hadn’t smelt the gas from her garden. One day me and Claude found her sittin on the curb in the Piggly Wiggly lot, rockin back and forth, cryin with her head in her hands, a puddle of ice cream on her dress cause she forgot how to get home. Things been downhill since.
I ain’t never paid no mind to folk gossip about mama’s curse till I came across these letters. The white envelope in my back pocket got me thinkin about Claude, wonderin if he really comin home tonight like his last postcard say so I can show him. Wonderin how he gonna take knowin what I know.
I’m fixin myself somethin to eat in the kitchen when I hear him knockin. I ain’t gotta peek out the blinds or yell who there to know it’s him. He makin that same beat with his knuckles—that tap-ta-tap-tap-ta-tap sound he used to bang on my bedroom door back in the day to signal mama was pullin up. Gave me just enough time to help Helena tip toe out the back door and squat behind those evergreen bushes till mama was inside and outta sight.
I slice my grilled ham sandwich into two squares and grab a dill pickle out the glass jar on the counter. Pour my whiskey. Grab my chips. Let him stew on the steps for a minute. Took him a year to bring his tail back home this time. Boy can wait.
I don’t say much when I open the front door and find him standin on the crumblin concrete steps wearin a three-piece pinstripe suit and fedora. Shiny black caddy parked in the dirt driveway. Lookin like a bag of old money. He carryin a black suitcase, but ain’t no tellin how long he stayin this time. Claude been comin and goin since mama got sick. I don’t know much about where he been layin his head or how he makin his money these days, and it ain’t none of my business as long as he keep these checks comin. The money come in handy. Help me take care of things.
I give him a nod and point to the blue welcome home mat on the doorstep so he remember to take his shoes off when he come in. His green eyes stare at me through the screen door. He don’t blink or move his feet. Just stuff his hands in his pants pocket and stand there.
I ain’t got time for his hemin and hawin. My sandwich gettin cold.
I push the screen door open. “You waitin for a personal escort or somethin?”
He finally come to life with a smile. “Good to see you too, Louie.”
Claude follow me inside the house, take off his fancy shoes, remove his hat, pat down the swirl of deep waves on his head in the hallway mirror. My reflection hover behind him like a shadow—skin black as night, afro woolly and nappy again since I gave up on the conk. This high yellow pretty negro ain’t never needed to conk his good silky hair a day in his life.
My stomach start fussin and makin noises, so I head back to the kitchen and leave him and his bag by the door. He grew up in this house same as me. He know where to find me.
I’m on my last bite when Claude finally make his way down the hall. He stand in the kitchen doorway shufflin his feet like he nervous about somethin. I wipe down the counter and pour myself another shot of whiskey. I offer him a glass, but he shake his head. Boy could never hold his liquor no ways.
“So, you too good to drink with your big bro now?”
His lips turn up in his big ‘ole Kool-Aid grin. “Gotta keep my mind clear. I’m working on a book. I got some ideas when I stayed in Harlem.”