Speaking of Summer (novel excerpt)
By Kalisha Buckhanon
(forthcoming July 30, 2019 from Counterpoint Press, Berkeley)
I was out of food. And wine added up. I had to pare down from Manhattan’s prices, even though those prices seemed to include only coffee and junk food unless Chase supplied a real hot meal. I decided on a fresh start, maybe even detox. Between Asha and me, I was the only one who had enough credit, or an intact driver’s license, to reserve a Zipcar for a cheaper stock-up in Jersey. One Sunday I got a Mini Cooper, not the most practical for bulk shopping, but well . . . compulsions.
Just like a long-term love, past the point of surprises, Chase gave a familiar list from his SWAG office phone: “Those snackbag thingies . . . you know, with Doritos and Cheetos and pretzels all mixed in together? Twenty-four pack of Corona, a big Tide, a twelve-pack of Zest, and as much toilet paper as you can stuff in without blocking the rearview window.”
“A hundred pack of ultra-thin condoms?” I suggested.
“I got that one covered, sweetie. Drive safe.”
Asha knocked so we could go. She had totes for us, to save the world in recycling. I suddenly felt queasy and not up to it, as wine and toast was no real brunch, but the car was already reserved. We walked to 145th Street to wait for the number 7 bus down, to get nearer to the car’s reserved parking space. As usual, inside the bus was colder than outside. We had a nice pick of seats. Asha and I sat in the furthest possible back. She read a natural hairstyle magazine. I brought along Night Wind, drawn to it for the first time since the trip to meet its author, refreshed on the curves and grooves of Gabriel Johns’s writing, episodic and saga-like. I opened it to the section devoted to his lost wife.
Anna was a beautiful storm, as lovely as a woman could be when she arrests your loins and your mind. She required patience and ability to still, like a portrait subject as the painter searches out her angles and shades. For those whom she passed quickly and at first, in mercy to unhear the treble of what would come next, she remained an astonishing figure. I know the sway she brought upon the boughs of our spice trees, the scent of it all one a child could have remembered as the most heavenly he ever knew, for ignorance of the malevolence it was. I squashed a leatherback turtle, and many fish, when I ran to her near the sea, hoping to sell her sewing and her singing so I could write. We had not known. Water pushed me back, not my vigor and will. Certainly not my heart. Her hands, like a child’s with no hairs and lines yet, reaching out to me as gray water lashed at our sides and bucketed our bodies from above. I could swim, but I could not push hard enough. This is just one way my mind will see it, forever maybe. She simply disappeared.
Then the bus veered onto Columbus so sharply I lost my place and thought. I looked out to the coming street before us, with Central Park at the fringe of Harlem and the traffic slimmed down to fewer lanes. That’s when I saw her.
On the east side of the street, in the doorway of a stone house with high steps behind an iron gate.
The coffee cup in her hand was no surprise. She wore jeans and a gray hoodie. Her hair was a puff-bun on the top of her head. She leashed an orange poodle. The bus jutted forward away from her. I strained to look back through the window across from me. Warmth seeped through my midsection. My eyes watered into a blur. I dropped the book in my lap, grabbed the handrail, and leaped up. Asha looked up from her magazine. Her mouth was moving. I stepped over her knees onto her toes, reaching back to press the yellow strip to stop the bus.
“Summer!” I shouted.
“What?” Asha yelled.
I reined in the angry tirade furling in my brain, the insults and shouts Summer deserved for finding her way out of our sadness but leaving me here, the abuse I would heap to return the anguish her insensitivity and irresponsibility created. What the hell was wrong with her? How could she have run off to a new life right uptown without even explaining? I ignored the Upper West Sider wearing large black sunglasses. My tennis shoes may have plowed through her tough Chanel loafers to mash her toes, as her “Watch it!” indicated they had. The bus did not come to a complete halt but I pushed the door open.
“Autumn, wait for me!” Asha scrambled to collect our tote bags.
I turned to see Asha smashed between the doors before she wriggled out after me. The driver cursed us out as he passed. On the quiet block, the houses all looked the same behind their iron gates. I jogged two blocks. My eyes stayed on Summer and her dog, now hunched in a gated grass patch around the lone tree across from the house they left. I was so intent on catching her I almost ran past.
She did not look my way at all. So I stood and caught my breath before the pretty woman’s eyes angled into my direction. And I was so sure. Then, embarrassed. Asha came up to me, expectant and poised. But I had no one to show her. The woman was not Summer, not even close to a lookalike, up close. I could not name her a hallucination, because an actual person truly stood before me. Rather, she was an optical illusion.
“You look like somebody I know,” I told her anyway.
As I felt Asha’s palm in mine, my illusion frowned and rushed away.
Kalisha is the author of the novels SOLEMN, CONCEPTION and UPSTATE from St. Martin’s Press as well as the Amazon Bestselling story “Pick Me” from Kindle Singles. Her next novel, SPEAKING OF SUMMER (Counterpoint, July 30), pulls readers into a woman's quest for answers and justice about her sister's disappearance from Harlem, leading to revelations about women’s lives in America and the arduous task of survival. Her stories and essays appear in She Knows, Fiction International, Oxford American, Black Renaissance Noire, Kweli, pluck!, xoJane, Winter Tangerine Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and many more. She is also seen on ID Channel, BET and TV One as an expert in true crime cases involving women. She was born in Kankakee, Illinois, and attended the College at University of Chicago, The New School M.F.A. Creative Writing Program and University of Chicago's English PhD program.
Her remarkable 2005 debut UPSTATE introduced Kalisha in such media as People Magazine, The Guardian’s London Observer and Essence, which named her one of "Three Writers to Watch." UPSTATE's audiobook is co-narrated by Chadwick Boseman and won an Audie Award in Literary Fiction, and Terry McMillan gave Kalisha a Young Author Award specifically for the novel. The book is one of 5 chosen for the new National Book Foundation “Literature for Justice” program, an American Library Association ALEX Award winner, a Hurston/Wright Foundation Debut Fiction finalist, and on New York Public Library’s List of Best Books for Teens. Her second novel CONCEPTION won a 2008 Friends of American Writers Award in Fiction. She is also a Pushcart Prize nominee, Illinois Arts Council Fellowship winner, Phi Beta Kappa inductee and Sisters in Crime member. She writes at her blog Negression.