DeMisty D. Bellinger "All the Dreams You’ve Yet to Have" and "Ladybird, Ladybird (Reprint)"
All the Dreams You’ve Yet to Have
Kaizah searched for something worth saving. In the past, her family sewed quilts from remnants of cloth or from old clothes worn ragged. Her great-grandmother’s house was once a slave barracks, then a sharecropper’s home, and it grew from the remnants of the abandoned shacks beside it, from dilapidated wooden tools, from splinters of fallen trees. Kaizah’s mother and father’s knowledge came from a patchwork of horse sense, family legends, street smarts, and an American school education.
The leftovers, the scraps, the bits people discard.
Bene’s clothes were still in the closet. His shoes: on the rack by the front door. His work boots: by the back door. In his shaver behind the head some of his chin hairs and one dreadlock she cut from his head. The food that he ate—the chicken bone from the last meal he shared with Kaizah—was still there. Kaizah froze it along with the fried corn and the collards he was about to eat (“Saving that for last,” he said) before he died.
Kaizah wanted Bene back. She knew people who could help, including her sister and mother, but she couldn’t bring herself to go to anyone in her family. Instead, she went to a shop on the pretense of getting her fortune read. Inside, there was a white woman dressed in a colorful lehenga, a peasant blouse, and a shawl made of batik. The cultures clashing on the woman was enough to make Kaizah want to go away, but she stayed to see. “You the only one here?” Kaizah said.
“You think I’m not good enough?”
“I think you’re confused.”
“You came to get your fortune read, so sit down and let me read it. Don’t be prejudiced.”
Kaizah sat where the woman pointed. “Black people can’t be prejudiced,” she said.
The woman ignored the remark and sat across from Kaizah. “I’m Diamond, by the way.”
“That’s your Christian name?”
“I ain’t a Christian.” At first, she did nothing but stare at Kaizah. Her scrutiny was so raw that Kaizah felt as if the woman was physically touching her. “You are obviously in pain,” Diamond said. “Hey, give me your hands.”
When Diamond took her hands, Kaizah could feel the coolness of the gold and silver on Diamond’s fingers. Her hands, too, were cool and Kaizah was impressed; the woman was making herself neutral.
“Someone died,” Diamond said. “I ain’t trying to be a psychic; it’s just that obvious. A lover?”
“You don’t want to see me. You came to see her.”
“I can tell that you have something in your bag for her. This doesn’t feel right; I think you should leave.”
“If there is a her, let her tell me to leave.”
Another woman appeared in the rear of the store. She was black. A small, ancient woman wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt that was probably two sizes too big for her. “Let the woman figure it out when she get the facts,” the old black woman said.
Annoyed, Diamond quickly gestured at the woman. “Madeline,” she said and slightly bowed.
“This woman has experienced grief,” Madeline said. “Anyone can see that; you’re right about that, Diamond. She carries in her bag earthly things. But what she wants isn’t exactly earthly. You have a past with this religion? You knew what to grab.”
“I want to make a quilt,” Kaizah said.
That night, as instructed, Kaizah laid Bene’s things out on his side of the bed. She sprinkled the mixture Miss Madeline gave her over Bene’s belongings and whispered the incantation she acquired by rote. She closed the ceremony by saying, “Because I love you. Because I don’t like being here without you.” Then she went downstairs and waited. First on the couch. She tried to sleep but couldn’t keep her eyes shut. Next with a cup of tea. She sipped so slowly the tea went cold. Then with video games. She played without pleasure. When hours passed, when she had nearly forgotten what she was waiting for, Bene came.
His walk was the same, only slower and smaller. His broad shoulders had narrowed and he held them curled into himself. He was diminutive and that wasn’t the case before.
And Bene had a new sound. His dreaded hair was rough as sandpaper and she could hear the dreadlocks shifting together. His steps were soft, but lifeless, flesh-like thuds against an ungiven surface. And Kaizah could hear a rattling in his chest or throat, like mucus drying and trying to break free.
But still, he was beautiful to Kaizah. He was the man she fell for. He was the one she promised to love through good and bad times. She stood to greet him and he stopped, just a few feet from her. His eyes were flatter; she could see that. The light in the greenish hazel of his eyes was gone and they shone more brown than green. Still! “Bene,” she said.
He opened his mouth. The rattle within him grew louder and in spite of herself, Kaizah shivered.
He closed his mouth again. Speaking, at least for now, was too much. Kaizah went to her husband and held him. He opened his mouth, rattled again, and she hugged tighter. The sensation, she noted, was like holding empty garments.
“You hungry, baby?”
Bene grabbed and held her back. Kaizah went cold. She had wanted this, she told herself. This was good. So, she and Bene held on to each other in their living room. Bene opened his mouth again and put it so close to Kaizah’s ear, as he did in life—close enough to taste it, they used to say, so he sometimes would take a lick with his tongue, but not now. He opened his mouth again and Kaizah heard flesh and skin pull apart. “I don’t eat,” Bene said.
“You don’t eat,” Kaizah said. Her heart was beating hard enough to shake them both. “Let’s sit down, Bene. Come on, over to the couch.” She gently pulled herself away from him. He followed her, but he didn’t sit. Kaizah wondered if he could bend.
In college, her philosophy professor said that no one has come back to tell us, so we depend on faith in God. Or, we could not believe. But here, Kaizah thought, was a man who had come back. Would it be rude to ask him now, when he only so recently found life again and his voice? Also, she hoped he’d get better at talking soon; conversation is what Kaizah missed the most.
She could ask. He’d tell her, she was sure. He stood before her, waiting, smelling of fresh cut dahlias and lilies and something earthy. “Were you,” she started, but stopped herself. What if he had gone to hell, if there was an afterlife? Bene breathed in. His chest rattled. She tried again, giving him the benefit of the doubt because Bene was a good man.
“What was heaven like, Bene?”
Her husband looked at her, his eyes growing flatter. “I dreamt good dreams. I had good sleep. So restful.”
“I’m tired and want to sleep again.”
“You’re too young to sleep like that. You’re up now.”
Bene stayed dead. Kaizah was convinced that the spell Madeline gave her was created to taunt her. Or maybe it was a lesson spell, a conjuring to tell you to be careful what you ask for. Three weeks after Bene’s resurrection, Kaizah noticed three problems she couldn’t deal with. The first was the cleanliness, or the lack thereof. He’d do nothing but sit there all day with his flat eyes and rattling chest, and Kaizah would bathe him at night. Each night, the bathwater would run mud brown. Sand and silt would cover the bottom of the tub.
The second thing was the lack of regeneration. His nails grew for that first week, then stopped. They were long and blackening. She tried not to think it, but the word worked itself into her mind: rotting. His hair was longer than it ever was when he was alive, but he’d lose dreadlocks quite often. They would fall off. She couldn’t moisturize his hair no matter how hard she tried, so it stayed dry. She’d find dreads in areas all over the house which bothered her because he didn’t seem to move much. On his head were shiny bald patches where a dreadlock used to be.
Third, he slept a lot. Almost as much as a cat. He’d ask her to sleep with him and she found out that it was not a euphemism; he wanted to sleep. Once, they did try sex, but she couldn’t perform with his flat eyes on her. And he wasn’t interested. But he wanted to sleep all the time. “It’s the best rest, Kaizah. If you just sleep with me.”
Kaizah knew what he was asking. “Couldn’t you get energy somehow?”
“I have suspicions of how, but neither of us would want that.”
Kaizah took his hand and looked at him. “I suppose I have to see this life that I do have through.”
“I can’t be like this much longer.”
Kaizah ran the bath water and guided Bene up to the bath. She undressed him and helped him into the tub. The water almost immediately went from clear to brown, a color as rich as her own skin. “Does dying hurt?”
“I don’t remember. I suppose it does, but eventually, it doesn’t. And then it’s every wonderful dream you’ve had. It’s all the dreams you’ve yet to have.”
“Ever have any nightmares?” Kaizah undressed herself.
“If your dreams start teetering into undesirable places, you veer yourself away from those territories. Eventually, you become lucid in those dreams, moving about as you would if you were awake.”
She got into the bath with him and he held her. His skin was neither warm nor cold. The texture was not unlike clay. They lay in the tub, holding each other, and Kaizah let herself drift off. She had a wonderful dream of being pregnant, her belly fat and round. She was wearing a yellow and white patterned dress. Bene was there, full of life. He smiled with his whole face. His teeth the impossible white they were, his gums pink, his dimples accenting his long face. They were laughing about something. It was the kind of sunny day that felt nostalgic, a summer day of memories. But she was never pregnant.
She woke up. She turned in the tub to look at her husband. “Do you ever wake up?”
“Not exactly,” he said. “But you see how sweet that dream was?”
“Yes,” she said. “I do.” She ran the hot water again to let the tub heat up. She turned the tap off and let herself drift off.
Birdlike. Flitting? Bouncy? Do I float? “It’s that you’re light. You peck at your food. Hollow bones.”
“My bones aren’t hollow.”
“No,” he shakes his head. “No, I know they’re not. But it is like they’re hollow. You know. Like a bird.”
He shrugs. “Sure.”
I imagine him dying.
I imagine taking one of my chopsticks and turning it away from the deep-fried tofu and towards him. I see myself forcing its dull tip into his chest, breaking beyond errant bones and stringent skin, plunging through to his heart. Maybe both chopsticks? I am diving in and sawing at his heart, using the sticks as knives, picking up juicy bits of his heart. “Your voice, too” he says.
“Sing-songy. See, you just asked a question there.”
“Well, I didn’t know.”
“But your voice goes up and down. Like a melody that doesn’t mean anything.”
I put my chopsticks down. Suddenly, I don’t feel like Chinese food. I don’t feel like food. I want to keep eating because I’m afraid that he’d continue the metaphor, but I can’t eat. His heart blood is all over the eggplant and tofu, the steamed brown rice, the noodles, it’s on everything. I can’t tell what’s red pepper and what’s him. I cannot eat this. I say: “You remember that chant? About the bird? ‘Fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children are alone.”
He asks: “Do you want children?”
I think about the term ‘fall out of love with.’ I had always called bullshit. I never believed that people can fall out of love like people could fall in love.
But here I am. Falling as if my wings are clipped.
"Ladybird, Ladybird" was originally published in Okay Donkey and they, as well as DeMisty, have given Middle House Review permission to reprint here online and anthologize.
Bio: DeMisty D. Bellinger lives and teaches in Massachusetts. Her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available at Finishing Line Press. Her full-length collection, Peculiar Heritage, is forthcoming from Mason Jar Press. Her writing has appeared in many places including Contrary Magazine, The Rumpus, and Barren. She has a husband and twin daughters, and may get a cat soon.