Here you’ll find merch, Issue #26 story excerpts, and the issue’s Spotify playlist. So take a look, and make sure you haven’t missed anything!
Artwork by Anthony Peyton Young
We should have known what would happen. It had been three years since we’d last been able to get away together, and we always feel a very particular energy when we finally do … a deep synergy that barely recognises the outside world; an ease of understanding between us that no changes in our lives could ever shatter. But what with Lani’s breakdown, and my ma’s condition, and Shazia’s Surprise Baby Number Four, we just hadn’t been able to coordinate things. We’d twice had to cancel — once when Lani lost her job and had to move back in with her parents at the age of forty-four, and then again when my ma had that fall.
For a while, it had felt like we were cursed. Like the fates were conspiring against us and we’d never manage two blessed days together with no kids, no work, and no responsibilities. Just the three of us, like it used to be thirty years ago when we hadn’t known what time meant, not really, and being together had always just happened. We wanted that spa weekend. Needed that spa weekend. So we should have known the pent-up energy of that desire would end up going somewhere.
He’s ten years old when he finds the body in the kudzu patch.
His mother sends him out the house because she has guests and he’s familiar enough with the process that he doesn’t even groan when she tells him to get his skinny ass off her porch and disappear. He sucks his teeth, however, when he sees her lay the good china on the table and catches her bringing out the pitcher of sweet tea, a half lemon bobbing amongst ice cubes.
“I’ll be good,” he says, dogging her heels as she walks back and forth from the kitchen to the porch, sweet tea and lemon bars in hand. “I swear, Ma. I’ll even pour, just let me stay and watch.”
“No and no. I don’t want no stinky, shirtless boy around my guests.” She arranges the lemon squares perfectly on the platter and turns to jab him in the side with one pointy knuckle. “Get, Lucas, and do not come back until I call for you.”
He rubs his side, pouts, and tries to sneak a lemon square when her back is turned. “Can you at least find me something to do? It’s hot out today, Ma.”
His mother turns and gives him a look that makes him want to tuck his empty hands behind his back where she can’t slap them.
There’s a tiny man in my laundry hamper and he’s gnawing on the yellowed armpit of my nightshirt. I almost buried him under my dirty apron by accident but he curled his knobby back, bared his teeth at me, and growled.
“Do you see him too, or am I crazy?” I say to Macy Gray, my cat. She hunkers low behind me, nostrils pumping like bellows. I think this means I’m not crazy, that he really is there sucking on my soiled clothes. Spooked and stiff, I lower myself to the tiny person’s level and gawp at him. He looks like a grown man, shrunken to the size of an almond. He’s hairy and pale and — I blush to notice — hung to his knee.
“Hello?” I whisper. “Can you talk?” He makes a shrill sound, like a tiny pig and I want badly to give him some pants. I scare up my hand, palm open towards him, but he leaps over it in one bound, over the side of the hamper, and skids across the parquet. Macy leaps, but before she can even hurl a swat, he’s out of the room and gone and I’m left clutching my apron.
No one knows why people started to turn into trees, but everyone remembers the first. A baby in Japan, a girl, and no one knows if she turned in her mother’s womb or a moment after her introduction to this harsh world. Her name was meant to be Yumi Murakami, and she was born a sakura seedling.
It wasn’t the same for everyone. Baba Iyalla’s wife woke to a sapling one morning. A neighbour, Little Farah, erupted into an iroko tree inside a closet during a game of hide and seek. The house is abandoned now, half-collapsed but still supporting the weight of the tree. The trunk and branches spread far above the roof, drinking up the sun’s rays, the crumbling concrete exists in perpetual darkness. Little Farah’s eternal resting place.
My father turned in the middle of a sentence. My brother and I were fighting in the back seat over something characteristically stupid and his stern voice started, “Temi. Andrew. Settle down before I—” We never found out what he was going to do if we didn’t. The steering wheel rotated wildly, veering the minivan off course. I slammed into my brother, who slammed into the window. My mother fought against the momentum and reached her hands to steady the steering wheel while one foot stretched across the divide to pump the brakes. The minivan skidded to a stop with an ungodly screech as part of its skin was scraped away by the concrete pillar of a bridge.
Anissa fought the urge to turn back and return to her bed. The ostensible ruler of their city had summoned her. Not attending would be an insult. She couldn’t afford that. If she was going to survive her widowhood, she needed to stay off the Colt’s bad side.
She weaved her way through the streets of Hampseth. The long winding roads were studded with towering shards of rubble from the old world and what people had once called cars, all moldering and painted with runes and craftings. Some paths invited ambush by thieves but as a native, Anissa knew the signs. She moved with the ease of someone who had never left the city of their birth. Owen had teased her about it, poking her ribs when someone mentioned getting out of the city or some unfamiliar sight they’d seen. She’d hated it, his superiority and his worldliness, his sophisticated friends. Now, she wanted nothing more than to feel the irritation of his finger between her rib bones, pressing her until her deep brown skin might bruise.
Knowing he would never do it again seared her with agony, from the inside out.
Poem: Coding a Demi-griot (An Olivian Measure) by Armori “Monihymn” Boone
Poem: Abecedarian For Light and Change by Omodero David Oghenekaro
Poem: Sea Beat Blues by Gabriel Awuah Mainoo
Essay: ÀBÍKÚ: THE TRUTH IN THE MYTH by SISI AFRIKA