It is 1910 and Philadelphia is burning.
The last place Spring wants to be is in the run-down, colored section of a hospital surrounded by the groans of sick people and the ghost of her dead sister. But as her son Edward lays dying, she has no other choice.
There are whispers that Edward drove a streetcar into a shop window. Some people think it was an accident, others claim that it was his fault, the police are certain that he was part of a darker agenda. Is he guilty? Can they find the truth?
All Spring knows is that time is running out. She has to tell him the story of how he came to be. With the help of her dead sister, newspaper clippings, and reconstructed memories, she must find a way to get through to him. To shatter the silences that governed her life, she will do everything she can to lead Edward home.
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)|
About the Author
Yvonne Battle-Felton was born in Pennsylvania, raised in New Jersey, and lived in Maryland for twenty years before moving to the UK. She holds an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD in creative writing from Lancaster University. She is a lecturer in Creative Writing and Creative Industries at Sheffield Hallam University. In 2017, Yvonne won the Northern Writer’s Fiction Award for Remembered, was commended for children’s writing in the Faber Andlyn BAME (FAB) Prize, and was short-listed for the Words and Women Competition. Most recently, she was long-listed for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Read an Excerpt
She's sitting there on top of the chifforobe rocking back and forth, swinging her legs in time to some music she heard ten, twenty years ago. She's like that, Tempe. Gets something stuck in her head and it stays there like a thumbprint in wet cement. I want to ask her what she's listening to, but I haven't let on I know she's there. I can feel her watching me, smoldering. Hating me for ignoring her. It serves her right. It's been nearly a year since the last time she came. She can just sit there brewing and rocking and waiting on me like I been waiting on her since then.
Mama's dead, she had said.
It was fall. She popped up in the middle of the kitchen and plopped into my favorite chair like it was hers. Like she'd been there all along and hadn't wafted in smelling of cinnamon and cedarwood. Always burning. Even on a crisp autumn day. She strummed her fingers on the kitchen table, fingered the cracks. Waited. I turned back to the ham. Had to get supper ready in case Edward came home looking for some little bit to eat between shifts. She didn't care nothing about my ham drying out, my biscuits burning, or my heart breaking. I couldn't think of nothing worse than having my dead sister sitting in my favorite chair talking about my dead mama.
"Mama been dead, Tempe," I told her.
Wasn't no need turning to face her. I knew her eyes would be burning a hole in my back.
She just now died. She snapped her fingers. It sounded like twigs breaking. I wanted to ask her not to do that no more. You just thought she was dead. I knew she wasn't.
"If you knew she wasn't dead, why wouldn't you tell me?" I asked. I basted the ham in pineapple juice and honey, put the biscuits in the hotbox, and tidied the tea towels. When I couldn't think of nothing else to do, I turned around. The look on her face said it all. Why would she have told me? We been keeping secrets since we was little girls. Why would death change that?
* * *
Beneath the covers, I press my hands together, almost in prayer. She laughs. It's low and hoarse, unused. Whiff of cinnamon. All at once hot air rattles the shade, bumps against the window, lifts the edges of the wall calendar, flips slim pages. Searches. It whips around pictures on the bureau: Edward at six. The house, deed and all, tucked behind a heavy frame. Edward and Lil. It tugs at my bed linen. I tilt my chin. Wouldn't surprise me none if these covers wrapped round my neck. Eyes closed tight I turn to face the wall. How she can whip up a breeze with the window closed I will never know. Wouldn't ask neither.
It's too hot but I won't complain none. Although she don't ever carry nothing but bad news, I'm almost glad to have her home. Lola Mae, Spinner, Mama, Christian: each time somebody close dies, Tempe makes her way back to me. She say can't none of them come theyself cuz of me. "Why you come?" I ask. Spite, she said. She laughed. I know it wasn't no joke.
I'm tired. Been tired. Maybe it's time for me to go on home. Don't expect I'm going to Heaven. I can think of some worse who shouldn't be there either. Of course, I would prefer not to go down under. If I could just see Mama and them one more time, it wouldn't matter one bit where I go. But please, don't be coming here for my babies. They too young. Ain't hardly lived yet. Lord, I ain't called on you for nothing else, but please let Tempe be coming for me.
I breathe in her smells and hold my breath.
I spread my arms and legs wide in surrender. "May as well just take me now."
Who will find my body? It can't be Lil. It wouldn't be no kind of start to her day to find me stone dead, bed undone, nightdress wrinkled. Would she know what dress to put me in? Maybe Sable will come. She'll know how to lay me out just right. She's buried enough people. She ain't been out that house since they killed her boy. Will she come now? What if Edward finds me? He might put me in one of them slack sets he's been eyeing in the catalog.
I know the flowers will be lovely no matter what, but who's going to do my hair? Not one of them can't-wait-to-move-in heif- ers. I'll just get myself dressed and save everybody the trouble. If I have time, I'll write a word or two that I wouldn't mind someone saying over my body. Don't have to be no church service but a few words couldn't hurt.
"I'm up." She sits on the edge of the bed. I want to reach out and touch her, to hold her, but she's wispy, like smoke. She's old. What's the use of being a ghost if you still get old? All these years and she's still on fire. "You still mad, Tempe? If I could change what happened, I would, you know I would."
The air crackles. I should have saved her. If I had gone back all those years ago, pulled her out of the house, she'd be alive. Or we'd at least both be dead. A warm hand above my shoulder.
I pick through dress after dress : too flashy, too homely, too proud.
"If I knew what I was dressing for, I would know what to wear."
The dresses are segregated by event. I flip through work, visiting, entertaining, and celebrating. Sweat slips down my neck. The room gets hotter. Soon I'll be at the last dress. Please don't let me make it to the last dress.
I skip over consoling. Holding my breath, I reach for the long, thick black dress in the back.
I breathe the thick woody air, swallow the salty lump that rises from my belly, and get dressed. Hope. I haven't worn this one in years.
* * *
Downstairs I click on the radio. Jubilee Earle's voice fills the front room. I set the kettle to boil. Nothing goes better with bad news than good coffee. Whatever Tempe has in mind, I'm going to need something warm to deal with it. Neither of us mentions my shaking hands or the water sloshing out of the pot. I still haven't put the woodstove on. I don't expect I'll need to. I peeped into Edward's room before I came down. Still-made bed, clothes neatly hung up, not a speck of anything on the floor. Edward never came home last night. Something's wrong. It's too quiet. My stomach keeps flip-flopping. My chest rattles and tightens. I can't seem to get enough air. Can't smell nothing but death.
I've been staring into the cupboard for the past five minutes. Do I put a cup in front of Tempe or no? I ain't seen her eat or drink nothing since she been dead. I don't suspect she's hungry or thirsty. Mama wouldn't let nobody cross her door without offering them something to eat. What would she think? I grab two cups.
"Breaking news," the announcer interrupts Jubilee. "A collision has been reported on the corner of Broad and Main." My heart thumps trying to drown out the voice filling up my kitchen. The cups get to rattling, the kettle whistle makes me jump. "The late-night Broad Street trolley."
"Ain't been nothing but bad news since them boys started this strike. Ain't safe to be on the streets no more," I say. But I can still hear him talking.
Three months of strikes and now this. Does Tempe know? Don't see why she wouldn't. To hear her tell it there ain't too much she don't know about. What she think about it? Striking over pay. I done plenty of work without getting no pay at all. I ought to go on strike right now. Refuse to take in laundry, clean houses, bake pies, polish floors, scrub windows, clean pots till I get paid enough to do it. They lucky to be getting paid at all let alone paid enough.
I'll ask Edward. He'll know what's going on. Can't seem to get him to shut up 'bout what one side doing to the other. Bunch of schoolchildren. Busting folk up over money. I'll get a nice roast on, he'll like that. We'll talk and eat. What about Tempe? She's waited this long. Don't reckon one supper will kill me. What if that's it? What if she's waiting on me to take a bite of my breakfast so I can choke and fall right down here in the middle of my kitchen? I'll get these cups washed just in case.
"Collided into the window of a corner store mangling innocent bystanders."
Edward will be late for supper.
Edward won't be home for supper.
"According to witnesses, a Negro overthrew the operator, hurtling the trolley into Clyde's."
That's all we need.
"Thrown from the wreck into the crowd."
Things is bad. Union threatening strikes, burning buildings, busting up tracks, beating up drivers, harassing yard workers. Company sabotaging lines, raising fares, doubling hours, cutting pay, bringing in strike workers. Now they crashing up trolleys into stores, killing innocent people? They don't allow no colored folks to operate no trolley. Not even Edward and he been there for years. He's gotta get out of there. They always trying to drag him into something. Laying off hardworking folk to pay new ones less and it's, Edward fix this, Edward tote that. Won't let him operate, though. Ain't ready for that. Don't hardly pay him enough to light a lamp. Don't pay him enough to get mixed up in all this mischief either. Next time he brings up getting one of them porter jobs, I'm going to tell him to take it. Just get away from all this. I'll take in tenants. One or two ought to make up for it. He's gotta get away from here.
"Police are questioning suspects."
Questioning? The word makes my stomach drop, my throat tighten, my heart throb. The room swirls. The table, chairs, ward- robe, everything moves around me like a tornado. I can hardly stand. I turn to Tempe. She's the only thing rooted to one spot. She nods, slow.
I snap it off but the announcer's voice still bounces around the walls, glasses, plates, vases, chairs, floors, my heart, and anything else it can find. I pull on a wool cap and thick gloves. The reverend from Second Baptist will be leading congregations of stragglers, his posse of believers, marching to convert me, to lead me through this "test of faith." Edward will be a cause.
Get the book.
I reach for the Bible, thick and unused. What good can it do now?
The other book.
It's foolish to argue with a dead woman. I get the book.
Outside, the streets swell with prayer. Like hisses, voices slip beneath window frames, joints, and cracks. They crowd my kitchen. The book is heavy in my hands. Memories and clippings, pictures and letters, pages stretch the spine. I slip it into my black purse and head to the cellar door. I can climb down the rickety steps, maneuver through the damp enclosure and slip out of the back door, cut through the yard. Forced to use the back entrance of my own home?
I unlatch the bolt and open the front door. Through the wall, I hear Sable knocking goodbye. Forty years stuck in the house. Forty years of being afraid to walk the same streets, see the same faces, hear the same voices and not know which one of them killed your baby. After all this is over, we'll have a good visit. We'll sit in her front room with the heavy curtains drawn and talk about our boys, how they took them and how to let them go.
Outside, a group of men and women, the community grief–birth–death–wedding–new job–new family–justice team, a small congregation of collective faiths, has formed on Twentieth Street. Etta Mae organizes folk into small clusters. In front of Sable's house, a group scrawls "Justice for Edward" and "Not One More" on the front of handmade signs. Next door, another cluster practices chants: "When one dies, we all weep! No more blood spilled in the streets!" Across the street old women wrap thick sandwiches in wax paper. In the middle of the street, men and women line up to march. They hardly notice me.
Buddy and Franklin stand on either side at the bottom of my steps. I search their faces; neither brother looks away. They know. Of course it was Edward.
"Tempe's back," I say.
They stare at me, then past me. They look through her as if they can't see her. Probably can't. She's stubborn like that. Won't let anyone see her but me. They nod in her direction. She nods back.
I feel Sable peeping through the keyhole next door. "Sister," the reverend calls from the sidewalk.
Sister? Even Tempe doesn't call me that anymore. It almost takes me back. I smell the river; feel the squishy bank beneath my toes. I shake my head, clear my throat. Settle down, it's a title, not a name.
"Spring," Buddy corrects.
"Ms. Spring," Franklin adds.
Their voices are deep but soft. The reverend clears his throat and steps back.
"Reverend," I say. There's no time for polite conversation.
"It's Justice," the reverend interrupts.
"Justice?" I can't have heard him right. My heart's beating, my throat's tightening, I can't stop opening and closing my fists.
The reverend brushes at the sweat creeping down his cheek. "My name," he says, "Reverend Justice."
"So it is." Names are coats around here. People try them on. They slip in and out of them like religion, weather, mood, or something else you can't afford to count on.
"We don't have much time. They done dragged Edward out the belly of the trolley. Tried him on the streets and found him guilty! If we don't put an end to this injustice, they gonna carry out the sentence right there in the middle of the street!"
Cuz of you, he won't know where to go. Cuz of you, he can't make his way home.
"He'll make his way home to me," I say. Tempe ain't got no right to blame me. I raised him, I near birthed him. I'm his mama. I clasp my hand to my chest. I can tell by the way they look at me, the crowd thinks I'm talking to them.
"Ain't no way Edward coulda done this," Buddy says. "I done known that boy all his natural life. Been there since he was this high." He pinches two fingers together.
The loud snap startles me, reminds me to breathe.
"Edward works on the rails, in the yard. If he was on that trolley, he had a good reason to be there," Franklin says. He nods like that says it all.
"Oh, he had a reason," Maybelle hisses. I can tell it's her with- out even looking up. No need to see her head-shaking sympathy. "Plowed that Express right in the middle of that high-priced store. No Coloreds Allowed. Serves them right."
"I was there," an angry voice answers. Still out of breath, the man pushes through the growing crowd. He pauses at the foot of the steps then turns to face them. "Seen the trolley damn near flying, sparks and metal everywhere. Folks scattering every which way. Bodies everywhere." His body ripples when he speaks like it can't contain itself, excited. "Edward was where the operator ought to be. He was holding a stick or something in one hand and waving his arms back and forth. Didn't look natural. Didn't seem like he was trying to hit anybody but didn't look like he was trying not to hit nobody either. All around him people running, screaming, but you know what?" The audience gathers closer. "He didn't look a bit worried. Crashed right into the glass storefront. Glass, metal, bodies everywhere, and the look on his face stayed as calm as you please. Even as they pulled him out."
The crowd looks at me for confirmation. My boy wouldn't do that.
"He has been acting strange," a whiny voice offers from somewhere in the back. "Hanging around with them union boys."
"They bound to put him up to it. You know they wouldn't allow no colored to operate no trolley."
"I don't believe it," a voice interrupts.
"Sounds like something he would do," someone else chimes in.
Suddenly, everybody knows my boy. People ain't said hardly two words to him acting like they know what goes on in his head. Everybody knows what Edward might and might not do. I push past the reverend.
"Just wait; things will all die down," Etta Mae says. Even outside of church the reverend's wife sounds the same. Always coaxing, cajoling, cautioning: "wait, wait, wait." Waiting was the best way to make it into Heaven; the only way if your skin was brown. And after all that waiting on Earth, they would finally meet the King and wait on him too. I've been waiting all my life.
Snatches of conversations slap me in the face, sting my cheeks.
"He did it, I know he did it!"
"If he ain't do it, he's sure gonna wish he did."
"Why'd he have to kill 'em, though? Things bad enough without this!"
"They gonna make this black against white. We all gonna look like Edward to them."
"Already do that now."
"I hope he did do it!"
"If we thought things were bad before, just wait."
"Mmmhmmm," they all seem to agree.
* * *
Children clamor noisily down Twentieth Street. On Twenty-First, horns honk, heels click, people yell. Quickly, as word spreads through the neighborhood, children are called, doors shut, windows locked. The warning: one of our own has killed a whole lot of theirs.
What if he did it? The ground dips. It's a barely perceptible pulse; a movement too minor to fret over now that the stoop has begun to shake. The sidewalk burps and rumbles, the street lurches, houses pitch. The unfamiliar faces of the crowd fade into those of my dear friends Sable and Lillian, Watson, Watson Junior, Edward Senior, both my mamas: Agnes and Ella, Meredith, Myrtle. All the faces of the past stand before me. One face doesn't belong. It's a shadow but I'd recognize him anywhere: Edward. Twentieth Street vomits fragments of the past, spewing bile and memories of Sweetwater, Maryland. Thick green trees, always weeping, leaves interlocking like hands, trunks thick like men you can rely on. Over there the river, rising and falling without mercy, as unfaithful as hymns. There the ramble shacks, makeshift boxes of sticks and gum, leaves, and paper. There the graves, a rock to mark this one from that. All around, straight, long rows of fat-bodied blueberries, thin-skinned and bleeding.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Remembered"
Copyright © 2020 Yvonne Battle-Felton.
Excerpted by permission of Blackstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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