Author

Applause

I didn’t really know this man. Was I just one of a number of starry-eyed college kids who were always crowding around the amiable and handsome professor with his direct gaze and crooked smile that seemed to me to be halfway between laughing and crying? For most of the time I had been aware of him, he had been unavoidably married. That had held me back as much as anything from making a complete fool of myself and perhaps hurting him somehow. But everything had changed.

      Light began to fill the sky. He was coming down the steps toward us with some young man—Lee Henderson, I think—whom I’d known since grammar school and with whom I’d shared many childhood games and secrets, but never this one, that I was so crazy about William Langley. I dared to look at the professor now from the closest I’d been in years. He was thinner than I remembered, and his hair was tinged with gray. There were shadowy places under his eyes, and he seemed not to be standing as straight as usual. I had better give a damn brilliant answer.

they call me SUNNY 

From the beginning they knew it was right, and my heart sang with the symmetry of my body freed at last. It seemed as if I had always contained the essence of each gait deep inside. . .but even with my new confidence and all the perfection I could show and the bright elegance of Lauren, we could not overcome the handicap of my color. I was still too white. Some humans even tried to deny that I was of the same breed as their mahogany champions and wanted me to leave the ring. Then my papers were brought out to prove that I was who I was, that I belonged there, that I had the same right as all the others, and I was allowed to stay. But it did not ease the heartache nor end the questions I would ask.

       “What difference does my color make? Why is gold, the color of the sun, so despised? Why do not my skill and my courage count for more?”

​Once to Every Man

We could not speak … but suddenly, she sat straight up and let out a cry, staring down at the cruel river from whence we had come. “Dak! The serum! My God, the serum!”

      I closed my eyes. I, too, had forgotten it in our frantic battle with the river. And then I was choking and gagging on the green-brown water I had swallowed. But Reena quickly slung her arm around my chest and held me until the worst had passed. I swear, in that moment, I loved her with my whole being. I had never needed an anchor, and here she was wrapping me in her own cut and bleeding arms.

      I did not wish for her to ever let go. She caressed my back and whispered the Lord’s Prayer into my ear. In her voice, it sounded true, and I let it fill me with peace. The prayer was still on her lips when I stopped her.

      “Reena … Reena. It hurts me to hear those words. I can’t trust them anymore. I can’t trust anything.”

      “We are together, and we are alive,” she said. “Trust that.”

      “But we have nothing—no drugs for Jim, no weapons or food, no dry clothes.”

      “We have each other … and God, our Father.”

      “No … it is all mixed up in my mind with the death-grip of the river and the foolishness of leaving my comfortable, sane life. The God from my city church, the God from my Bible study, the God from my Lenten fasting. That God is not here!”

      “Maybe you are just seeing a different face of God.”

      “I see your face,” I said, turning over, but she let go of me, and the communion was lost.

Dancing in the Red Snow

Susan had both arms around her cousin . . . The woman cried, “Oh, Susan, how I’ve missed you! Where’s that child? How she must have grown!”

                Susan turned toward Hank and said, “She’s right here. Sunny? Henry, where’s Sunny?” There was some panic in her voice.

                “I thought you had her hand,” he said, looking around now, imagining their daughter with her body pressed up against a young animal.

                “She can’t have gone far.” Susan said.

                “Sunny!” he cried.

                Hank turned quickly in all directions, alarm bells going off in his head . . . He grabbed a security officer that happened to come into the building, almost knocking him down. He couldn’t think. He called out Sunny’s name again, a wild cry of desperation.

                “Sunny! Answer Daddy!”

                Susan was running toward the booth where they had eaten the Mexican food. The man on the stilts bent down toward her and shook his head.

                Several fair-goers turned toward them and then noticed their distress. People began to search among the pens, asking others if they’d seen the raven-haired, almond-eyed daughter of the Roses, but folks just shook their heads.

                Sunny was gone.

Elizabeth Cain

Ark for the Brokenhearted

Major Farley almost loved the black girl, though her father had done him irreparable harm, and her half brother, he was fairly sure, had stolen his best horse right off the streets of Dar es Salaam. Farley had recently driven in wild circles looking for Resolute and ended up one night in a desolate, Bantu village where little boys saluted him and women made him a fine meal out of practically nothing. They didn’t seem to resent his whiteness or his rank. The hardness in him eased.

            And so, he leaned over to hug Safina where she sat on the couch. She endured his large, white arms wrapped around her and said, “Are you all right, Mr. Farley?”

            He hardly knew what to say. He had the means to destroy her life but hated himself for planning to do it and suddenly released her.

            She reached one hand out and placed it over his heart. Blood rushed in his ears, and something like elation swept through his body. “I have a secret,” she said. “When you find something you have longed for your whole life, you want to shout it to the world but you can’t without hurting someone.”

            “I know that, child. I certainly know that,” he said. She has seen her father, he thought. His chest felt warm where she had touched it, but his heart felt cold. He would have to disappoint her. He would have to break his promise to her mother to skirt the places where Dak might be. The assassin that was their hope must pay for his deeds.

            “You know I have a job to do, don’t you, Safina?” he chanced to ask.

            The girl didn’t say a word but stared back straight into his eyes. He couldn’t stay in the room. He couldn’t go into his wife’s room just then. So he went out into the dark night and walked across the parade grounds to the stable. There he raked fresh straw into piles of bedding in the stalls of his favorite horses, even Resolute’s empty one, believing in that moment that he would spare the life of Dakimu Reiman to have that horse back.

Almost Paradise

I handed the mare some hay from a net hanging inside the trailer, and then, with a motion of the soft loop, backed her right out, took the loop away and sat down on the ground.  She put her mouth on my hand where there was still the smell of oats.  I thought, Okay, girl, let’s blow their minds, and I put the loop up with her back to the open trailer.  She put her head eagerly in the loop, and as I moved toward the opening, she backed herself right into the trailer.  I was standing on the ramp.  Her feet were completely in.  She wasn’t a large horse and the trailer was extra wide, so I took a chance and walked up the ramp moving the loop to the right.  She stayed right with me and turned around inside the trailer, facing the front.

      It was something I had never done.  It was something the horse had never done.  We had talked each other through it.  When we backed out, there were fifteen ranch hands crowding around and praising that mare, just loving her and touching her gently.  She just ate it up, forgiving them their former cruelty and frustration, as only a horse can do.

            “That was magic,” Julian said.

            “The horse was magic,” I replied.

            “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next,” he said.

            “Neither can I.”

Thirst

      “What shall we do?” Father asked, as we escaped the crowd outside the cathedral. “Anything. You tell me.”

      Mama said she wanted to see the Indian Ocean, maybe walk in its warm water.

      “Of course. I’ll take you,” he said.

      He drove us to a place that had an unencumbered view of the ultramarine layers of ocean that spread out from the continent in darkening waves. Nearer the shore, the turquois tide pools ebbed and flowed across ancient reefs.

      “Oh, look!” Mama cried.

      Along the shoreline, a Maasai woman walked with a tall water vessel balanced on her head. The sea rolled and crashed beside her, lapping at her bare feet, soaking her long skirt with its salty edge, but she moved on unfazed toward people somewhere who waited for fresh water.

      “I hope they aren’t very thirsty,” my mother said.

      “Who, Mama?”

      “Her children. That’s not enough water. There’ll never be enough water.”

      “Iyeala, let’s go down that little trail there and walk in the ocean,” Baba said.

      “Yes, Fully, let’s.”

      I watched them maneuver the steep path and stride toward the sea. The tide was coming in, and they were soon knee-deep in the blue water. He lifted Mama into his arms and kissed her. I saw the gold bars on his jacket. I saw his head bent over hers and his soldier’s legs bracing them against the tide, but Iyeala was lost as if he had enfolded her body completely into his. He swayed a bit as if dancing, as if saying I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry … for all the things I have never given you, not knowing he would never be able to give them.

      When the sun threatened to drop them into darkness, they came back.

      My father drove us to the airport the next morning. Iyeala was so quiet that he finally asked, “My dear, are you ill?”

      “No, no,” she said quickly. “My throat hurts some … probably from the sea air.”

      “Askari, you’ll take care of her, won’t you?” he asked.

      “I’ll do my best, sir,” I promised.

      The three of us stood close together in the terminal. No words were needed. But in the silence, I felt them all—adore and bless and remember and good-bye.