Kesha Bruce, Anani's Reckoning, 2014, 48"x48", mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist and Morton Fine Art.

Kesha Bruce, Anani’s Reckoning, 2014, 48″x48″, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist and Morton Fine Art.

After God

by Dominique Taylor

2020 Flash Contest Honorable Mention

I never told you, but I loved to talk with you just after you talked with God. I laughed when I heard you roaring at your reflection and thought, for all your conviction, surely a lion might exit when the bathroom door opened. But it was you. It was always you. I had my doubts, but I found myself waiting to witness the stillness in your eyes after you asked the questions ailing you. You disappeared deep into your worries and drowned the fight out of me with your waves of silence, but when you had the answers you were seeking, that stillness was like coming up for fresh air.

You said to call you King. From the beginning, you were impossible to predict. I braced myself for reactions that did not come and surrendered to the responses that did. When I got accepted to Medgar Evers College, excited to move to New York but nervous to leave you in your state of mind, your first response was, “When are we leaving?” Our move meant freedom from the southern walls closing in on you and a chance to know the northern ones. But walls are walls.

We found a place on Flatbush and Ocean, a world away from Chesapeake, and started a life. I told you just after we’d bought that cane juice from Coconut Rob. If only I’d told you before, we’d still have that five dollars or at least a taste of the sweet relief that spilled onto the sweltering sidewalk at the news of you becoming a father. You made a thousand decisions for the three of us as we walked down Fulton Street. You decided for us to abstain from meat and dairy, despite my sudden cravings. You vowed to move us farther into Brooklyn where you found men to revere, the men who made sisters out of the women they refused to court. And you decided that I would drop out of school. This was when you started burning sage every morning and having your divine conversations at the altar of my belly. It’s when you started to redress supremacy, drape it in dashikis and ankhs rather than disrobing it completely. The possibility in my womb frightened you, broke you, and emboldened the part of you who felt the pressure to shape a world where you reigned supreme, because now you had to share it with your own creation.

Your best friends were absent for your transition to fatherhood; Calvin was locked up and Deonté had taken his own life. Black men are an endangered species, you told me. Without the black man there are no more black people. But I was there. I was always there for all your learning and unlearning, your unleashed hurt that latched onto the only other living thing in the room. You didn’t want to heal, you wanted to humiliate. You went to war in cerebral camouflage, armed with the very weaponry that had destabilized you. You went in alone, but then you found your tribe of brothers on the same quest to decolonize the mind. But didn’t you think to bring love with you?

We went to battle many times, and called many truces, but I don’t know who surrendered first. It was after we saw Lamine, who sold black soap and shea butter on the corner of Flatbush and Nevins, slap Aya. She had been mocking Lamine with a sermon or calling him monsieur or something in Wolof when his hand, which had just folded his prayer mat, knocked the words and two teeth out of her mouth. She was holding their baby.

What a disgrace, you said when we got to the subway platform.

I know, I can’t believe he did that. I raised my voice as the train approached the station. You looked at me from the corner of your eye, but I looked at the number 2 train because I realized he wasn’t the disgrace you were talking about.

You females is crazy. And you entered the train without me.

We fought that night until I went into labor. Malika broke my water a month early in an act of protest declaring that war wasn’t a necessary evil, giving birth was.

After she was born, I knew we were done. I found myself alone, numb, and breastfeeding, and you kept on building your kingdom. You collected women, like eggs in a carton you could carry, crack, and coax to your taste. Women who wouldn’t question you, who would lighten your load and whatever seeds you planted in them.

Love is acceptance and acceptance is a curious balm. At Malika’s first birthday we celebrated too loudly. Three officers arrived, their instruments primed to quiet our noise. The first bullet hit you, but I dropped the cake. The fifth and fatal bullet flooded my numbness with all of the lights, movement, cries, and reds and blues around us. I looked into your eyes and saw the stillness, and I knew I caught you just after God.

Published September 27th, 2020

Dominique Taylor is a writer and video editor. She enjoys reading and talking about books on her YouTube channel, The Storyscape. She studied Political Science at Old Dominion University.

Kesha Bruce is an artist and curator from Iowa. After completing a BFA from the University of Iowa, Bruce received an MFA in painting from Hunter College in New York City. She has since been awarded fellowships at the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), The Vermont Studio Center, The CAMAC Foundation, and The Puffin Foundation. Regularly exhibited by Morton Fine Art in Washington D.C., and numerous galleries in France, Bruce’s work is part of the collections in the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, The Amistad Center for Art and Culture, The University of Iowa Women’s Center, The En Foco Photography Collection, and MOMA’s Franklin Furnace Artist Book Collection. Now based between the United States and France, Bruce’s most recent solo exhibition, We Can Birth Worlds at Morton Fine Art, can be viewed online.