Read My Soul to Take Online

Authors: Tananarive Due

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BOOK: My Soul to Take
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She was bursting to tell someone, but thought better of it. Carlos had made the mistake of blogging his theories about his mother’s sudden illness. He’d taken the internet page down right away, but the damage had been done. He’d been banned from flying, threatened with arrest. He said he’d never seen Puerto Rican officials in such fear and hysteria.

“I’m profoundly sorry for his loss,” Wright said. “But your husband’s mother would still be alive if she’d had this vial of Glow.”

Phoenix didn’t believe in miracles in a vial. Mom had agreed to try Glow toward the end, and Gloria had pulled every string in search of the fabled Underground Railroad. The doctor who had analyzed the vial Gloria brought back said it was saline with red food coloring, and it might have done harm if she’d injected it.

“The hard sell doesn’t work for you, John,” Phoenix said. She picked up the waiting vial and held it out to Wright, noting the warmth of the glass against her palm. Rumors said that real Glow was warm to the touch, but that thought only made her angry. It didn’t help her now. “Take it. I wish you hadn’t brought an illegal substance into my home without my permission.”

“Please, Phoenix—keep it,” Wright said. His eyes pleaded with her.

“I don’t shoot up drugs,” she said. “
Any
drugs. Don’t make me ask again.”

Wright pursed his lips, so disappointed that his eyes narrowed. He returned the vial to his hidden pocket. “I’m sorry. I meant it as a gift, but … it’s only a gift if you’re ready. My employer wants to keep you around a long time.”

“Tell your employer I’m doing fine,” Phoenix said.

But that wasn’t true.
What about the lump?

Phoenix could lie to John Wright, but not to herself. She felt a tiny lance of pain in her right breast as she remembered. Sometimes she thought she could feel her breast squirming, changing shape. Vivid, ugly imagination. But moving or not, she knew the lump was there. Her hand brushed it in the shower each day. After losing her mother to breast cancer five years earlier, Phoenix would have thought she’d rush to her doctor’s office at the first sign of trouble. She’d promised Mom she would guard her health. Instead, much to her amazement, she wasn’t picking up the phone to call her doctor. She expected to each day, and never did.

As soon as I know Carlos is all right, I’ll call
, she thought, a new variation of the vow she’d been making for nearly a month. Maybe the psychic part of her was steering clear of doctors because a doctor would make it real.

Wright studied her face. “You can lock the vial in a drawer and never touch it,” he said. “It doesn’t need refrigeration. Take your time. Have it studied by someone you trust. Keep it for when you need it. Authentic Glow is very hard to find in the States. Some of the trash products are only poison.”

“I have to ask you to leave now.”

“I’m sorry, Phoenix,” he said, stepping away, hands slightly
raised. “If you knew what I knew, you’d understand why I’m trying so hard. I really only came with a simple request….”

Phoenix was already leading him to the door.

“One night only,” he went on, following her. “Johannesburg. A concert for worldwide health care. Lifesaving treatments for adults and children. I know you don’t need money, but we’ll donate five million in any currency to your favorite charity.” He spoke faster as they neared the door, fumbling with his briefcase to bring out a glossy black folder.

“Five million for one night? Must be expensive damn tickets.”

“Tickets are free. We’re not raising money—we’re raising awareness.”

Nice touch
, Phoenix thought. But she donated plenty of money through her foundation. She and Carlos had been living on a fraction of her earnings since she’d retired, designating the rest to charity and Marcus’s college fund. She had long ago run out of things to buy.

“I don’t do airplanes,” she said. “And I don’t sleep away from home. Not anymore.”

“Name your venue,” Wright said, holding the folder out to her with the same pleading expression. “What about L.A.? Four hours’ drive, and you’re back in your own bed.”

Phoenix opened the front door, inviting in the dry, cool air. “I’m sure you can find a whole lot of other folks who’d be happy to help. I’ll tell my cousin to send you some names.”

“My employer wants
you
, Phoenix,” Wright said, nearly breathless. “She’s a lifelong fan. It’s not a stadium or arena concert—it’s intimate. With two or three songs, you can help spread the word about Clarion.”

“You mean Glow,” Phoenix said. She wouldn’t let him PR his way out of illegal drugs.

“Do your research, Phoenix,” Wright said. “In this folder, you’ll find a link to a website set up by independent medical scholars, one at Harvard Medical School, one at Cambridge. A Lasker Award winner is on our board of directors. Glow
heals
. The only side effect is a mild euphoria. We’re running out of time to fight the propaganda. This new infection in Asia …”

Despite herself, Phoenix’s heart jumped with thoughts of Carlos. “How bad is it?”

“Bad,” he said. “We have doctors on the ground in North Korea, so we’ve penetrated the news blackout. We’re ninety-five percent sure it’s airborne. It’s a tragedy.”

Airborne
was a scary word. Carlos had overheard that word and tested it in his blog. “How tragic?”

Wright blinked, lowering his face to hide the mania dancing in his eyes. “The question may not be how many will die—the question is, how many will survive?”

Phoenix felt icy panic, until she remembered Wright’s gift for overstatement. Why was she asking his opinion anyway? But even if John Wright was a quack or a nutball, she and Carlos both needed to research the infection. Ignorance was no longer an option.

Phoenix took the black folder. “Is your card in here?”

Wright brightened. “Yes. And—”

“Fine. I’ll keep this. I’m sorry to kick you out.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I mean thank you, Phoenix. For trusting me this far. Your music has been a gift to all of us.” He wanted to gush more, but held himself back.

Phoenix watched Wright retreat to his soiled SUV. He waved before climbing back in to fire up its oversized engine. Below her elevated property, the dusty road wove down to sprawling acres of dry farmland and ghostly vineyards. More than her lawn was dying.

“You said your boss is a fan,” Phoenix called. “Who is she?”

Phoenix saw the beatific transformation on Wright’s face as he grinned. Wright worshipped the woman he worked for. She hoped John Wright hadn’t fallen victim to a religious cult the way so many restless souls she’d known in Hollywood had.

“You don’t know her. Not yet,” Wright said, his grin shining. “You’ll meet her soon.”

John Wright said it as if he knew her future.

Three

A
broad-shouldered man stands at Jessica Jacobs-Wolde’s kitchen counter, stirring a bowl with slow, careful strokes while he watches her out of the corner of his eye. He slumps across the counter on one elbow, his face hidden by a shadow escaping the light from the bright rows of jalousie windows.

Not her husband, David. She left David sleeping in their bed upstairs. Besides, this man has the wrong shoes. Wrong posture. Wrong smell … shoe polish. And Old Spice, a smell older than David’s. The man’s face turns slightly, and light cleaves to his dark skin. Jessica blinks three times, more weak-kneed with each blink.

The man is her father.

Jessica’s father died when she was eight, in 1978. But now he’s in the kitchen as if he belongs with her in 1997, stooped over as he stirs the cobalt-blue bowl she and David bought in Key West. Nineteen years have passed, but she knows his wide shoulders, salt-and-pepper hair, the small gap between his front teeth.

Time and death haven’t changed her father a bit.

But his clothes aren’t right. At first, he was wearing his dusty work boots, and in the next breath he’s in his gray Sunday suit with shiny black shoes reeking of Kiwi shoe polish—his only church suit, the one he was wearing when they closed the gleaming rose-colored casket and lowered him into a maw in the earth.

I’m dreaming
, she thinks, a late realization. She has to be.

“Thought I’d make us some breakfast,” Daddy says.

How
dare
he just show up now, out of the air! What has taken him so long?

Before she speaks, she talks herself down from her anger. Isn’t he always near them when she and her daughter, Kira, climb down into the tiny burial cave at the foot of their front yard, near the mailbox? Don’t the neighbors talk about ghosts in the mossy live oak trees? Maybe it has taken him twenty years to find her.

“Daddy?” Her voice reverts to childhood, almost too soft to hear.

Her father stirs with his wooden spoon. Pancakes and fried eggs were all her father knew how to cook. It’s Daddy, all right.

“’Mornin’, baby girl,” Daddy says.

“What are you doing here?” She can’t say
Daddy
a second time.

His clothes change again, melting. Now he’s wearing his brilliantly aqua blue Miami Dolphins jersey, number 72. Bob Greise. Daddy has gone to the Orange Bowl to see the Dolphins play all season long, sparking a fuss with her mother. The tiles on the kitchen counter turn powder blue, like the ones in their childhood home. When Jessica blinks, the tiles pale back to white.

Is Daddy trying to trick her? Daddy’s face isn’t quite in focus. She blinks again. Now he looks like David.

“You’ve been gone a long time, Jess,” he says. Her father had never called her by David’s nickname for her. When he was alive, he told her and her sister, Alexis, to stop letting neighborhood boys call them Jess and Alex because it sounded too tomboyish. “Come on back with me, before you can’t anymore. We miss you, Jessica.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Jessica is surprised at how angry she sounds.

“You know who I mean,
mi vida
,” Daddy says patiently. He heats a skillet on the stove, and butter sizzles sweet in the air. She has never heard her father speak Spanish, but his accent is flawless. He sounds like he grew up in Spain. Daddy’s voice drops to a whisper. “Fana. Me. Alex. All of us.”

What’s he talking about? Her sister, Alex, isn’t dead!

“Alex isn’t with you, Daddy,” she says. “She’s still here. And who’s …?”

She already can’t remember the other name.

As if the stranger’s name broke the spell, Daddy is suddenly gone. The skillet sizzles without him, the butter turning brown. No
Daddy. An echo of his bright jersey still plays behind her eyes, but his absence hangs in the room.

Jessica holds her breath, waiting for him to reappear, her mind raging with questions and regrets. She is exhausted from grief. She wants to go back to bed, but her nightmares would come if she tried to sleep now.

“Daddy?” she whispers to the empty room, trying the word on her tongue again.

“Lord, girl, you’re burning up the butter!” Bea says from the kitchen doorway. Her loose, multicolored batik tunic fans across her arm like a choir robe.

Her mother was in last night’s nightmare, Jessica suddenly remembers. Something about an airplane. Her heart. The memory fragments are sharp as glass, like physical pain.

Still here
.

Jessica clasps her mother’s warm hand, running her fingers across the soft, fleshy ridges of her knuckles, moistened with the Giorgio lotion Jessica gives her for Christmas every year. And the scent of Zest soap from her neck.

“Something just scared the
crap
out of me,” Jessica says. Already, holding her mother’s hand, she feels better. “Not you. It was …”

“Ommmmmm!” Kira hums, chiding her from behind Bea’s skirt. “You said a bad word, Mommy!
Crap
is a bad word.”

Jessica is surprised to see Kira up and already dressed for school—in her pink Flower Power T-shirt and slightly too-short blue jeans she wore because she loved the pink belt. Her sneakers clash in bright orange.

Jessica feels sick to her stomach. A sour taste prods the back of her throat.

“Well, let’s see what Gramma can whip together,” Bea says, opening the kitchen cabinet.

“Kira has school, Mom. I’ll fix her cereal.”

“Hush,” Bea says. “We have all the time in the world.”

Kira gives Jessica her prettiest bright-eyed stare. “I love you, Mommy!” Kira says, and crushes herself against Jessica for a tight hug. “Forever.”

Jessica kneels to the kitchen linoleum on one knee to hug Kira and savor every part of her. The sure, steady fluttering of her heartbeat. Her tiny rib cage. The sweet Crest toothpaste on her breath. The honey scent of her uncombed hair.

Honey? Bees
. Her nightmare tries to surface, but Jessica fights it back.

“You need to let her go and give her to me, Jessica,” Bea says. “She’s my best helper.”

Kira cheers, flying to Bea’s side by the stove. Smoke rises from the skillet, Bea and Kira are hard to see.

“Jessica, go fetch me some flour from the cellar,” Bea’s voice says in the smoke.

The smoke is pluming, filling the kitchen, but Jessica sees the cellar door wide open in her path. Two steps, maybe three, and she’ll be inside the doorway.
We don’t have a cellar
, Jessica thinks, but there it is. A bright light shines, and a shadow moves against the wall.

Maybe it’s her father. Maybe this is where he wanted her to follow him.

Kira gaves a small cough, and Jessica’s head whips around. All she sees are smoky profiles, one taller, one tiny. The kitchen smells like sweet-spicy incense.

“Mom …” Jessica begins. She has a thousand things to say. A thousand questions.

“Don’t worry about Kira,” Mom says. “I’ve got her, baby. You go on, now.”

“Bye, Mommy!” Kira calls, and Jessica’s throat burns with pain.

The shadow in the cellar moves again. A disembodied arm beckons, or seems to.

“Daddy?” Jessica says, and goes toward the open cellar door. The incense smell is stronger from downstairs. Bea and Kira giggle behind her.

Jessica takes her first step down the cellar stairs.

But it isn’t a cellar, just as she’d thought. It’s the burial cave at the end of their driveway with smooth dirt walls, built by the Tequestas to store arrowroot: Kira’s outdoor playhouse. The most charming fixture of her yard. Jessica’s favorite place.

BOOK: My Soul to Take
3.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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