The last assignment from this semester I’ll share with you:
Faith stands out of sight in the tight space between the square house and wooden fence. The fence is plastered with scriptures that her grandmother called tried and true. She watches Aayla in the backyard.
Aayla studies the tree, not too far from her door. The river’s breath, flowing just beyond the tree, always draws her in like blue does. Her eyes are big, as if she’s always wanting something – her mother was always wanting something, the tree always providing. Aayla’s nose is a small bell, her lips full from constantly sucking on fruit Her skin is a smooth oak-tree brown. She stands still, her left hand reaching past her stomach, clenching the right side of the sweater she’d “borrowed” from her grandmother years ago, when it could do better to swallow her than anything else. The grass is brown with soft rime, but she is barefoot.
Faith watches as the clear blood of a pear takes as much time to fall down Aayla’s chin as Aayla does to dry it with the arm of her sweater. Faith holds her potted plant close to her chest and walks to the front of the house, up the four steps, past the empty glass bottles framing the porch, and knocks.
Aayla opens the door, pear hanging between her hand and teeth, staring at Faith.
“Did you wash that? Don’t look like you washed that.” Faith’s nose is turned up, her chin down, head cocked, mouth pursed, left eyebrow arched higher than the right.
“Is that how you talk to people when you show up at they doorstep?”
“Apparently,” Faith walks through the space between Aayla and the doorframe. Aayla’s eyes follow Faith, amused.
“You been gone a while again.” Aayla closes the door with her foot.
“Seems you ain’t left this house or that strange tree of yours.”
“My tree ain’t done a thing to you. You come in here unannounced and first thing wanna start talkin bout my tree.”
Faith falls on the couch with the weight of a sack of potatoes that are rotten in a house full of empty stomachs and cupboards. Faith’s locs are layered and mostly black except for the multicolored tips she dyes every time she loses something or must start over again.
“Don’t you go get no dirt on my couch, now,” Aayla says, walking towards the couch the color of drained ocean blue.
Faith estimates the room. On the countertop is a wooden-woven basket full of imperfect and onion-colored acorns. The only sound in the room: Aayla sucking on the juice of her pear and water rushing the river in the backyard.
“What plant is that?” Aayla asks Faith.
The red pot, held in both her hands, and circular and smooth – not circularly squared or with that step at the top, houses black soil and moments of white. There is a singular stem and leaf like a half grown idea or unsunned hope.
“Some vegetable?” Faith shrugs.
“You don’t know?”
“We don’t all gotta have oak trees. Or trees for that matter,” Faith eyes the acorns, “My plants go where I go,” Faith meets Aayla’s gape, “You gotta stay here cause you can’t go nowhere with that big ol thing out there.”
Aayla’s laugh is the sound of gurgling water.
“That tree out there ain’t never known autumn. I never seen one leaf shrivel up, die, and fall from not one branch, now. I tell you I ain’t never running out of acorns and it feel good knowing you won’t run out of something – even if everything else be leaving you.”
Faith smacks her lips, then looks at Aayla staring out back,
“What, like my mama?”
Aayla plops not too far from Faith,
“Auntie didn’t know what to do with so much. You know she felt too bad for anything good.”
Faith put the circle pot plant on the solid walnut and glass coffee table, that’d been in the house for decades, and stood up before Aayla could make eye contact with her.
“What you goin in my fridge for?” Aayla sat back, knowing there was nothing there that Faith wanted.
“Ain’t nothin here worth goin in for no way.”
“Cause it ain’t yours to be goin in. Did you get bored of something? Did you hurt somebody?” Faith sits on the stool in front of the basket of acorns, “Somebody hurt you? Why are you here, Faith?”
“I can’t just stop by for missin you?”
“Would you ever?”
Aayla holds Faith’s back tight to her chest, feeling Faith smile and matching it. She kisses the back of Faith’s head,
“You gotta make up your mind someday ’bout where you wanna be, Faith.”
Barely moving, Faith shakes her head,
“You always goin’ on like I can’t take care of myself. I can control my own self.”
On her way out the door, Aayla eyes Faith’s potted plant,
Aayla isn’t out back too long before Faith offers her a glass of water.
“Thanks,” Aayla moves her left hand to receive and her right to give. Faith takes and throws the core of the pear, not far from where they stand, past a bush,
“You know what Grandma said to Mama Ruby, LaLa? She said, ‘the smallness in a thing is good even if nobody knows about it, and usually nobody knows about it until you’re good and gone. The goodness in small things, like seeds, is they grow – but you gotta let ’em. You gotta give small things time, like you gotsta be patient with little rugrats: cause they small. You can’t go on and move about from one place to another as a small thing – ya small and ain’t got no coverin’ and could get lost. This here seed is a small thing and we gotta cover it and ain’t no tellin who gonna appreciate the goodness in the thing, even though it’s small, cause it might take too long. But you know the man by what remains. By his fruit shall we know the tree. I say you know a friend by if he ’round long enough to see the tree get grown to make some fruit or even believe any fruit can be made.’
“I had a miscarriage. I can’t keep a egg covered with myself, can’t make no fruit. What I care about a seed for, LaLa? What I care for?”
Aayla walks back into the house without a word. By the time she finds the puzzle box under the couch and places it on the table, Faith is beside her.
The puzzle is 500 pieces. The picture is of a tree: the leaves of the tree are dead and gone, the tree left black and bare and wide, reaching. The ground dry. The sky a dying blue. They reach for and place pieces silently, the only sound: the triplet gulping of water. In time and out of time after albums have long ended, they reach the end to find there are three pieces of the puzzle missing. Incomplete. Unmitigated. Intractable.
“Came up short again,” Faith said, scratching her forehead with quick, short movements.
“Maybe you should stay for a while. Be planted, you know? Be taken care of … even though you can control your own life.”
Faith brushes nothing off the top of her thighs with both hands, before massaging the back and front of her ear with her right middle and ring finger,
“I don’t know the first thing about growing a thing, huh.”
They sit in silence, staring at the puzzle. The tree had been there long before them. The tree was bigger than anything they’d ever had and everything they’d ever lost and somehow Faith couldn’t stand being in its shadow.
Aayla woke up hours after Faith had gone, taking the wooden woven-basket of acorns with her.
There was the faintest sound of an acorn falling from the tree out back. The rest of the day was spent weaving a new basket for the acorns gathered under the tree.
I sat down every day for an hour and wrote. It took me between two and three days to get a full first draft. In addition to writing every day, I listened to a sermon series called “Planted, Not Buried” by Mike Todd on youtube. These sermons helped assist me in getting a more well rounded image for the story. The piece was then workshopped in class. The feedback was confusion about who was speaking; a break in the energy and focus of the piece; as well as a comment to trust the reader to pick up on what I was saying without me forcing it. These comments along with the spot on beliefs about what the story was about helped propel me forward into more revision. For revision, I rearranged the order of the story, changed the names to better reflect my point, and I added in and took out certain details and moments that didn’t advance or color the story. I went to Creative Writing PASS and got feedback from a wonderful young woman. I spent the rest of revision ensuring that every word was what I wanted and that the tenses were right and consistent.