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Leesa Fenderson

They did not tell me her name. She was my aunt, born in what my parent’s generation of Jamaicans called the Country. She didn't cry much at six months. But I knew what she looked like. I knew because my father's family was a deep brown. Theirs was the type of complexion that held fast to its hue even in New York’s winters. She had black hair that curled on the top and lay slick below the bend of her cranium. She had almond-shaped eyes—the pupils dark enough to shine black in the night. Her feet were smaller than baby-small and her cheeks were round. And under no circumstances did they speak her name.

Theirs was the type of complexion that held fast to its hue even in New York’s winters. 

If she had lived, her cheekbones would have been high and her nose bulbous. If she had lived, she would have been top-heavy with long legs and no hips. That's how my father's sisters were shaped, like apples balancing on chopsticks. She had two small ears, pink gums, and eleven fingers—perhaps not eleven, ten and an additional little one that hung off her pinky at the second bend and threatened to grow a nail, if not bone and cartilage. 

Euleth, number eleven among my father's siblings, had an extra one too. Her eleventh finger had a nail but no joint. It was chubby and seemed to plump up under my scrutiny. I was eight the first time I saw it. I knew better than to stare, but I also knew that I was young enough to get away with looking at it and examining it for bendability. I compared the cuticle size of her eleventh finger’s nail bed to one of my ten. It was adult sized like her other fingers and bigger than mine. 

I knew better than to stare, but I also knew that I was young enough to get away with looking at it and examining it for bendability.

But the baby, Euleth's older sister and my father's younger sister, my aunt, would never meet me. She would not rest the sixth finger on her right hand, the size of two peanuts in a shell, against the plastic table mat on the dining room table in our two-story Queens colonial. Her finger would never hang loosely from the corner of her right pinky like a charm and knock about a glass of icy lemonade with each of her sips—condensation moistening the fingerprint side and a bit of the brown skin of the dwarf finger. She would never migrate to America. She wouldn't attend university in Kingston. And she wouldn’t grow up in a zinc-roofed house in the Country with my dad and catch green jellyfish-like creatures by the river.

Nurse, as if it were her first name, had cut off her eleventh finger with a pair of scissors. Nurse used the big kind seamstresses use on denim. They were sturdy at the base and sharp and decisive at the cutting edge. Clip.

Her finger would never hang loosely from the corner of her right pinky like a charm and knock about a glass of icy lemonade with each of her sips.

Nurse bandaged the pinky then the whole hand. Euleth’s sister, my aunt, had small hands—smaller than baby-small. But neither the gauze nor the clotting of her blood stopped the bleeding after the clip. Nurse laid the small brown nub, wrinkled where knuckles were supposed to grow, on a pound-cake–thick mound of gauze—it, the mound, was punctuated by a circle of blood where the eleventh finger had rolled over. The creased white of an upturned palm, plump and belly-like, gazed at the ceiling until the clipped finger shriveled into a reminder. The hand missing its member would tear red then crimson. The blood bloomed on the white sheet under her tubby baby stomach. Gathering, it seeped, forming thick droplets that pooled on the floor under her crib in long, quiet drips. The babies near and around her, in their individual rectangular infant beds, did not stir. Still, but for breath, they slept on their bellies and backs.


Leesa's work has appeared in Callaloo Journal, Uptown Magazine, Moko Magazine, and The Nottingham Review. Leesa is completing a novel and a short story collection. She is an attorney and a teacher. Leesa is from New York City and currently writes in D.C.

Illustrated by Jazzmyn Coker

 

 

 

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