An Excerpt

"Tell me about your day, Jamia," Tamika said as she rummaged through the refrigerator in search of carrots.

"It was great! Mr. James was teaching us about ellipses in math class, and I got an idea. I worked on it after school, and I think I found a new proof of the reflection property." Jamia was practically vibrating with excitement, as if on the doorstep of a mathematical cure for cancer.

"Really? That's so exciting." Tamika had no clue what the child was talking about. She had reached the point where she no longer understood her daughter's math, which was both freeing and depressing.

“I know it's boring," Jamia said, reading her mother’s confused expression and coming back to earth. "For most people."

"Boring as a motherfucker." DeSean had just pimp walked his way into the kitchen.

"DeSean, stop being mean to your sister."

"It's true."

"Jamia is going to be an engineer someday," Tamika said setting the carrots on the countertop next to the other ingredients. "And maybe someday, when you grow up, you will stop being an asshole. Stay out of that!" She smacked DeSean's hand as he reached for the cheese that had been set aside special for tonight's dinner.

"Ow! God damn, woman. Ain't gotta hit me."

"And you ain't gotta talk like a jive-ass. You grew up in Wooddale, not the hood.”

“Don’t be fuckin’ up my street cred.”

“DeSean,” Tamika started, setting down the cutting board and focusing on her son, “why is it that every time your father is gone on a business trip you start cussing and acting like some kind of gangster?”

“He’s got to keep it real,” Jamia said. “Know what I’m saying, bitch?”

Tamika gave her daughter a hard look. “Jamia, when you’re eighteen I might let you get away with cursing and acting a fool. But not at twelve.”

“Sorry mom.” Jamia’s sheepish smile let her mom know that indeed she was.

“Call me a bitch again and you will be. Now take my shopping bags into the other room so I can use the whole counter.”

“Okay mom. I love you,” Jamia said hopefully.

“I love you to.”

Jamia picked up the bags and carried them into her mother’s studio, setting them down on the half-moon table facing the window. As she did so one of the bags opened, and Jamia caught a glimpse of something shiny. She knew her mother didn’t like children pawing over the things she collected from flea markets and second hand stores. Some of these were old and fragile, and artists like Tamika tend to be very touchy about their materials. But something compelling seemed to be whispering to her, and Jamia found that her hand was already drawing a silver brooch from the bag. It was shaped like a bird, and in the bright sunlight the metal shimmered as she turned it. In the center of the brooch was a blue stone that seemed remarkably clear for being so old.

Jamia suddenly realized she had been staring into the gem for a long time, and felt a little foolish. She had homework to start, and would get into trouble if she lingered in her mother’s studio. But when she tried to set the thing down, Jamia found that she could not. Indeed, the more that she tried to pull away the more her hand seemed to pull the thing closer. Something in the stone seemed to beckon, like the cool blue water of a lagoon in a tropical paradise. She became transfixed, mesmerized by the swirling movement of the waters. Slowly, and not entirely of her own volition, Jamia raised a finger to the stone. Just before contact her hand jerked back, something in the recesses of her mind fighting against the irresistible draw of the jewel.

But why? she thought. It’s just a shiny rock.

That’s right, said a voice in her mind. Just a shiny rock. Isn’t it beautiful? See how the facets mirror each other?

Yes, she thought in reply. They wind in on each other, like a spiral that goes on forever. It’s like…like I could fall into the stone.

There are places you want to see, dreams you want to live, said the voice. Simply touch the stone, and all will be yours.

“Just touch the stone,” she whispered dreamily. And she did.

* * *

“DeSean, leave my cheese alone.”

“C’mon, woman. I’m hungry.”

“Dinner will be ready soon,” Tamika said. “Unless you eat all the cheese.”

“Man, you trippin’.”

“I’m not your man, and I’m definitely not trippin'. Now go somewhere else, you’re starting to annoy me.”

DeSean was trying to think of something appropriately gangster to say when there came suddenly a scream from the studio. Not the high-pitched, gut wrenching sound of pain. Nor the kind of scream that suggested anger. It was a scream of victory.

“Oh, fuck yeah!”

“See what you do, DeSean? Your sister is starting to swear as bad as you.” Tamika shook her head disapprovingly.

“Mom, that didn’t sound like her.” DeSean thought the voice too deep, too rough, to be his little sister.

“Don’t be stupid. Go make sure she’s okay.”

Before DeSean could move, the studio door was flung open with a thunderous boom. In the doorway, silhouetted by the sunlight behind her, was Jamia. But something wasn’t right. Her chest was rising and falling as if she had forgotten how to breathe and was relearning it on the fly. And her shoulders were humped in an odd sort of way. Most disquieting was the way she smiled as she stepped into the kitchen. It was a smile that suggested cutlery. She strutted into the room like a pimp at a party.

“What’s up, bitches,” she said. “What a glorious, glorious motherfucking day. Do you feel it?” Jamia shoved a handful of her mother’s vegetables into her mouth, with the bits and pieces that didn’t quite make it flying everywhere. But when she bit down her expression changed. She grimaced and began to splutter and spit veggies everywhere. “What the fuck? Who the fuck eats this shit?” A green light was in her eyes, and malice.

Tamika and her son stared dumbly.

“Seriously, I’ve eaten goat ass that tasted better,” Jamia said.

“But…” Tamika started and then stopped, at a loss for words. “Honey, you love vegetables.”

“What are vegetables? Is this vegetables?” Jamia asked her brother, who nodded slowly. “Fuck that. What else we got?” Without waiting for an answer she began digging through the food on the counter. “It all smells fucked up.” She tore pieces, sniffed things, and threw whatever she disapproved of over her shoulder. “God damn motherfucker. I am so fucking hungry.” She threw open the pantry door. “Well fuck my ass with a baby’s forearm,” she said approvingly. “This is more like it.” A box of Oreo’s was torn open and Jamia began shoving. The Cookie Monster, in a bakery, after smoking a J, could hardly have done more damage.

Tamika got control of herself, the motherly instinct to stop of the eating of sweets before dinner kicking in. “Jamia! Stop eating those. What is the matter with you?”

“Me?” Jamia said, spitting cookie crumbs. “Not a fucking thing. In fact, I’ve never felt better.”

Tamika’s mind was racing to catch up with the speed of events. For no reason other than idiot terror, she grabbed the plate of cheese and held it out to her daughter. “Eat the cheese, it’s better for you.”

“C’mon, mom,” DeSean moaned. “You wouldn’t let me have—”

“You shut up!” Tamika shouted. “Here darling, have some.”

Jamia leaned close and sniffed the plate, pawing at the cheese as if she hadn’t ever seen it before. She carefully broke off a corner and nibbled it.

“Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck,” she screamed, spitting and cursing. “Gaveenah? Kus emmik!* You call it cheese?” Her eyes flashed, and Jamia growled. The sound reached inside Tamika and found the place where fear lived. “Don’t ever feed me cheese, bitch! You ever put this shit in front of me again, and I’ll eat you.” Jamia smiled maliciously, as if she were a tiger sizing up a new menu.

Jamia snatched the cookies off the counter, grabbed another box from the pantry and stalked out of the room. Tamika and her son stared after her for a few moments.

“Mom?” DeSean said softly.

“Yes?” Tamika answered in a whisper.

“What just happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me.”

*Kus emmak- Arabic: Your mother’s twat.