daciana – color theory – a work of original fiction

In childhood, my father and step-mother dressed my sister and I in white and soft blues, the colors of robin’s eggs and forget-me-not flowers and the portraits of Christ’s mother Mary in church. They were the colors of purity, chastity, and virtue, our father said. Grown women in the congregation were allowed pastels of other hues and pretty jewelry and hats adorned with beads and feathers, but the daughters of the pastor? Only the colors of the Lord and His mother were suitable for us. Couldn’t have anyone thinking we slipped or were too full of ourselves, not even when my own existence was proof of our father’s sins. 

That was my mother’s fault though; the congregation and my step-mother had decided that a long time ago. My mother was the temptress, the harlot, the agent of Satan sent to pull down their beloved shepherd. After all, she wore red.

The problem with white was how easily it stained in comparison. But that was always the point, wasn’t it? 

Kept us in the pews after the service was over, away from the boys outdoors, playing rough and tumble in the grass. Their mother’s chastisements were of fond annoyance, focused on laundry later rather than the appearance of impropriety. Boys will be boys, their fathers said. They’d say that again many times, for many of them, for far more than tackle football over the years to come. I didn’t know that at the time though.

All I knew was that the crinoline itched, and my hands stung when my step-mother would smack my hands away from picking at the eyelet lace out of boredom. I knew the sound that patent shoe leather made when rubbed together wrong was like a frog, but that if you did it even accidentally, people would stare at you from round the room almost like you just cursed. And I knew that even through the too hot layers of dress and pantyhose, if I dared take a fan from the back of the pew in front of me, I’d get thwacked with a hymnal.

One Sunday, when my hands stung and the ceiling fans weren’t working, the tray of communion cups passed by me. I reached up with sweaty hands to steady it on its way to my step-mother. My brother’s mind was wandering then, and his eyes too, toward Anayah Kingston. His hands slipped. Mine slipped too from the sudden and unexpected weight of the so-called blood of Christ in my clammy hands. Dozens of small plastic cups emptied onto me, soaking through the delicate white cotton of the dress I’d been shoved into that morning. Gasps rose from around the congregation, as the metal tray clattered on the floor.

For once, I wore red. 

My father waved it off with a joke.

“Well, we always say we want our children washed in the blood of the lamb early,” he’d laughed, allowing the tension to ease by turning me into the butt of a joke instead of a symbol of anything too deep. I’m not sure, in retrospect, if it was better or worse. I just remember the sting of the wine in my eyes welling up tears that I wouldn’t admit for years were from embarrassment. 

I locked myself in the cramped church bathroom. No one came and got me till an hour after service. 

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did.

——————————————-

When I moved in with my uncle, he threw away the pastel dresses that had been soaked too many times in cold water and peroxide after my father went on one of his drunken religion-fueled rages. He told me I was too pretty to be washed out like that, and he gave me some of my grandmother’s things until he could go buy more appropriate clothes for a teenage girl. My grandmother was a petite woman though, and they fit and….

They were purple. Orange. Green. They had patterns, some floral, some geometric, some brightly African-inspired that she’d bought when visiting her family in New Orleans, where I lived now. Even though I know now that I looked like exactly what I was–a girl in her grandmother’s clothes–I felt incredible. Different. Free.

My uncle liked seeing that enough that he made sure the clothes he bought me were bright too. My father had always said that bright clothes like that brought the wrong sort of attention, but I didn’t care about that. I’d already learned that it didn’t matter what I wore; puberty had taken away any ability or hope I may have had to hide from men.

I’d take joy where I could find it.

The man’s favorite color was purple, he’d slurred that day, as I walked home from my uncle’s shop on Magazine Street. It was far too early for anyone to be that drunk, especially some random white man in a business suit, and my nose stuck up and crinkled in more than just disgust for the smell. He didn’t like that. I didn’t care. Still don’t, but…I probably should have made it less obvious. 

The same purple would blossom on the side of my face where he hit me. On my arm, where he tried to drag me down an alley. I remembered the whispered advice of my uncle’s friends, middle aged women and older fem queens who’d all been through the ringer life put them through at one point or another. I grabbed at my keys and jabbed blindly at his face.

Blood and white fluid blossomed from his eye like an amaryllis in full bloom. The hand that had gripped on my arm reflexively released to try to staunch the flow and save his eye. I still don’t know if it helped.

I ran. I ran all the way back to my uncle’s house, falling over myself and twisting my ankles over and over again in a pathetic effort to escape to the bathroom upstairs. My thumb had slipped up the key and rammed into his eye and the blood was caking and clotting under my nail and and the dark spots were fading to dark brown on the dress and–

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did.

Story of my life.

——————————————

Dante was a Nice Young Man from a Nice Family, my aunt had promised me, and I could hear the capital letters in her tone. They had a lovely house and well-secured jobs, and a library of first edition books by authors like W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and other great respectable books by great respectable men. 

They had money. And security. And he was a gentleman, even I couldn’t deny that. The absolutely perfect gentleman.

And here I was trying to keep up.

His mother complimented me gently for having nice hair and a pretty face, but in her own way gave her nudges this way and that. Purple changed to black. Blue to gray or navy. Orange to camel brown. Even if I didn’t have much promise for college in sight, I certainly looked enough the part of an Ivy-destined co-ed that no one asked too many questions of what my plans were after high school.

But then neither did Dante. And I think we were both fine with that. 

He gave me his class ring more out of perfunctory requirement. I tried to give it back. Despite his parents’ having more than enough to replace it, I knew the value of it and didn’t want it hanging over my head, even though I knew he wasn’t the type to call in the debt.

He refused to take it back. I let the ruby and white gold ring hang around my neck on a chain for a few weeks before I received a politely typed letter on Duke University stationery announcing our break up. I quietly held the ring for a little bit before putting it back in a box in the back of a drawer.

Red stains in different ways.

————————————–

If I said it was love at first sight with Aleksander it would be a lie. After a short sharp series of unfortunate attempts to date boys my own age, either just starting their college journeys or wandering shiftless through trades and dead end jobs, I’d given up on finding that mythical spark. But he was attractive, mature, wealthy–

Married, but hey. That didn’t stop my own mother apparently. 

But he had a radiating charm about him that I soon fell for, like an idiot girl. He spoke of his wife as if he wanted to leave her and take their children, but never promised that. He hadn’t promised me anything.

Not until later. 

I would catch glimpses of his eyes sometimes in private, a sharp steel blue focused on something far off and unreal. His hands would flex and his jaw would tighten. I’d put my hands on his, the contrast between us less apparent in the low lighting. 

One night, I noticed red under his fingernails. 

I don’t know what motivated me to follow him the night I did. We’d had such a good arrangement, even though I knew the feelings I had caught went well beyond the limits of what either of us had planned. He didn’t owe me anything, and I knew there was a possibility there was another “someone else.” I don’t even think I cared then if there was. 

Something just…called to me.

The barn in the woods was worn down, and it took far too long for me to make it there through the underbrush even in tennis shoes and the low light of sundown. I don’t know what I expected from the place. Maybe an isolated tryst or even a drug deal? I know he looked in pain a lot of times, though I assumed someone of his means could more easily bribe a doctor for something to take care of that without a prescription on the books.

The back door was held together poorly. Not really locked. It only took a push. 

I smelled the blood before I saw him. The sad pathetic pile of a man was barely clinging to life. He looked up at me, reaching out pathetically as if I was his angel of salvation, as if I could do anything to save him at this point. His intestines were in a pulled out pile around him, loosely coiled and tangled like a copperhead in rigor. 

The other door cracked open, and I ran. I ran and stumbled and scratched my way through the woods till I made it back to the car Aleksander had helped me pay for, and from there, I drove my ass right back to my apartment and–

I didn’t make it in before I threw up by the parking lot dumpster.

Instinct took over from that point. I went to the apartment. I took a bath, careful to wash around the scratches and cuts I’d gotten from running through the woods without looking. I washed off my makeup, and considered getting my hair braided again to hide the evidence of any contact with nature.

I tried to ignore a lot of things. I tried to ignore the still burning nausea in my stomach, the sharp pain of a finger tip where an acrylic had ripped off, the still strong smell of iron and filth lodged in my nose.

I tried to ignore the blue-lined white stick I knew was hiding in the trash, mocking me since before I tried to follow Aleksander.

The door unlocked, which I couldn’t ignore. Only he had the key. My hands paused from trying to rebraid my hair into two long pigtails, instead fidgeting on my lap. He slipped in and sat on the edge of the tub, looking up at me as I stared blankly at the vanity.

Neither of us said anything for several very long moments.

He stood behind me after too many, too long beats of silence, towering over me. Part of me wanted to brace for something, some sort of impact, but I couldn’t bring myself too. I was too tired and too young to be so tired. Too smart for this yet too foolish to have steered away.

“Close your eyes.”

And like the fool in love who knew too much, yet had so little, I did.

The necklace slipped over my head and around my hair and laid on my neck like a whispered promise. Six stones red as pomegranate seeds, lying in succession, trickling down my chest like blood droplets. 

“A replacement, until I can find a ring,” he said, though what he didn’t say rang through the words just as strongly. ‘I saw you. You know me now. Please don’t leave.’

“It’s beautiful.”

I don’t know why I said that instead of a wealth of other things. Other questions. Screams or demands to leave. The image of the dying man was fading far too quickly from my mind in place of the familiar and now far-more-possible dream of bridal gowns and wedding planning.

My eyes darted to the trash can. The stones glittered under the vanity lights.

I couldn’t get the red stains out, no matter what I did. Not for my whole life.

“I’ll make sure the ring matches. The color suits you.”

I take a deep breath and sigh.

“Red always has.”

daciana – immersion – a work of original fiction

The fountain in the middle of the restaurant was just deep enough to drown a man or baptize him, and I fidgeted nervously, unsure of which of those the day might have planned. I hadn’t seen Micah since I was a kid. My memories of him were good enough–laughter, a quick wit, and an impossibly wide smile. 

I’d invited him to the wedding. He’d been unable to make it, unlike the other family members who had been unwilling to make it. He’d sent a photo of plane tickets for a business trip to Canada, and a lovely card and gift with it. His father and mother brought it with them, and then sat apart to themselves in the chapel. They stuck out visually as my only family in attendance even as there was no defined bride side or groom side.

It was a small ceremony anyway.

He’d called recently, through the number I’d given Uncle Enoch. Said he wanted to meet to catch up. I felt my heart squeeze up, as if it were trying to suddenly exit through my throat. There were so few reasons I could think of that Micah might want to meet up, and even fewer were totally innocent. 

Maybe I was being uncharitable though. Not everyone in the family held contempt for me. Uncle Enoch and Auntie Arika didn’t hold contempt for me.  

Micah’s smile held no contempt for me either as he was led to the table. The eyes of those around us regarded him with it though. I wanted to hiss at them. Micah was the successful one of the family. I just married well. His suit was untailored, yes, but he earned its ill-fit through a constant grind. He took my uncle’s shipping business from nothing to a million dollar company since he took over.

I just bought my dress. I didn’t even remember where.

Drown, I decided, eyeing the fountain. 

“Well, you look like you got a lot on your mind, Daci.”

“Just memories.”

“I imagine you wasn’t expecting to hear from me.”

“I wasn’t, no. I’m a bit surprised.”

“And that’s my fault. Was always so busy after you got outta Uncle Charlie house and then outta Nana house that I–”

“You were scared of Uncle Bertrand–”

“Everybody with a damn lick of sense in their head is scared of Uncle Bertrand. Your man got more money than God, and I hear he’s scared of Uncle Bertrand.”

My laugh was a cat’s bell, made of unexpected music and just loud enough to alert it was there.

“…maybe he is a little.”

Micah’s laugh was a car backfiring. It was big and booming and the start of something that commanded attention. 

“Good to know, good to know. I’ll keep that in my back pocket, don’t worry. Won’t go around telling nobody. But don’t worry, I’m not here to get dirt on your husband. You two got a kid now right? Forgot the particulars, seem like everybody from back home having kids these days.”

“Yeah, he’s one now. Cana. And there’s Alek’s others, I just adore them too.”

“You always was a better woman than Aunt Amirah.”

“Don’t say that.”

“…Cana, huh? That from Nana’s book of names?”

“It is.”

“That’s good, that’s good. Gotta keep some traditions alive.”

“Why are you here, Micah?”

His smile faded without faltering, down from bombast to professionalism. He held the look as the server returned to refill my water and take our food and drink orders. Eventually, he folded his hands across from himself, almost as if in supplication. Prayer.

Baptism maybe, I thought idly, my eyes catching the fountain again. But whose?

“I need your help with something, Daciana.”

Mine then, maybe, depending on what Micah wanted. Redemption in the eyes of a family member who didn’t think I’d wronged them all so terribly as to be beyond the hope of it.

“With what?”

“Well, I been wondering just how many of Nana’s traditions you’ve been keeping up with?”

“Why you asking?”

The accent slid back on like an old dress, not as fine and well-tailored as the one I wore, but more comfortable and familiar than anything from a boutique could ever be. It wasn’t that I’d tried to hide Southern drawl all together just…

Maybe I was too much of a coward to walk, smile beaming, through a place like this despite the contempt. Maybe Micah was braver for all he needed my help.

“Family business.”

“Uncle Enoch’s business?”

“Something more personal.”

“Micah…”

“It’s Quiana. Something’s wrong.”

“You think she’s cheating or something?”

“No. Nothing like that. I could…I mean I dunno if I could forgive that, but I could suss that out on my own I think. This is something different. Something bad, and she ain’t talking to me.”

Logic would dictate that he wanted me to go to his wife, make friends, talk to her woman to woman. Logic never had much place as I wanted in my family though. Never had as much as I wanted in me, but the problem of my family is how I was always found wanting in one way or another. Till they needed me it seemed.

“I’m not doing any–anything against her wishes, Micah.”

“I know. I mean, I figured. You’re a good woman, was a good girl too. Shoulda stood up for you more against Uncle Charlie, I know that–”

“You don’t have to–”

“I do. But I’m not asking you to just…I dunno go for it. I’m asking you to sit down with her and me. I’m asking cause I think whatever happened, she wants me to know. She just can’t say it yet.”

“And that’s where I come in.”

“If it wasn’t important, Daciana, I wouldn’t be asking. I wanted to–to talk to you for a long while, to apologize, try to make things…I dunno right as they can be for all the shit I didn’t do as a kid–”

“You were a kid, like you said. Can’t hold onto that forever.”

But my heart had untwisted itself a little, from the knots that had been tied into it by men in my life who refused to apologize. Shame that Micah owed me the least.

He reached across the table for one of my hands. I took it. I always ended up taking the hand of a man who reached out across the table and met me where I needed them to.

“Your man got you a good ring.”

“He did.”

I sighed, and he smiled. Bastard.

“When and where?”

“I’ll talk to Quiana. Figure that out. Wanted to know if you would ‘fore I broached the subject with her.”

“Probably for the best. You gonna tell her what it’s about?”

“Closer to time, if you’d like me to.”

“I’d like you to. And I’m sure she’d appreciate it.”

“Whate’er you say, boss.” 

He smiled a face splitting smile and toasted me with the water glass. The food arrived. I’d worry about what I got myself into later. I took one last look at the fountain as we departed. Drowning? Or baptism?

Immersion either way.


Quiana had never worn her hair in colors when we were growing up, so it took me a moment to recognize her with silver-blonde box braids. It was a good look on her. 

“Micah and I talked.”

“How much?”

“Not enough it feels like.”

I glanced at him, and he shrugged. What can I even say to that? There are generations of history behind what I do, and getting someone to believe it is difficult even when they believe in the unbelievable otherwise. Quiana had crystals on the mantle and tarot cards on the bookshelves, but her husband revealing to her just how extensive the family’s history of magic use was had to provoke skepticism at some level in her. 

I wondered. I wondered if he told her about Nana’s seances and weaving, about the heady mix of smoke and magic that seeped into the bones of her house and the blood of some of her grandchildren. I live within the bones of my family’s legacy, caged within the ribs of it with no hope of escaping its obligations. 

“Nana could…read things about people. She passed that onto me.”

“Like palms?”

“In a way. Not quite as simple.”

“You both keep saying that. I’m not sure I like where this is going.”

“You could just…talk?”

Her shoulders tensed and words failed her. There was an aura of pain and shame about her that made me want to hug her, even though we hadn’t seen each other in a good ten years or so. She looked tired in a way that permeated her bones. I wondered what secrets she held caged within her ribs.

“I…can’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, baby.”

Micah half hugged her to his chest.

“That’s why I’m here. You got anywhere in the house where you’re most comfortable?”

“I do my readings for people in the office…that work?”

“It should.”

The office was alive and soft and green, plants lining the window sills and shelves and hanging from the ceiling. There were more crystals in here than even in the living space, and the desk was lined with books on star charts and tarot guides. She sold readings on Etsy according to Micah, making decent money at it. I wondered what Nana would think of that, of how modernity had seeped into the DNA of an ancient craft. Probably laughed and told me how much it had evolved since she was a child anyway, that this was just another stepping stone. 

Magic was human, she’d say. Humanity was fickle and changeable. Chaotic, Aleksander would probably add with a smirk. Therefore that was what magic was.

It was terrifying. Beautiful and terrifying, and not at all fit for this soft, green room. But I’d promised, and she was practically begging for help with her eyes and subtle actions.

Quiana settled on the couch, fidgeting lightly as she adjusted her shirt and posture. She held her hands limply in her lap as if she was unsure of not only what to do but of what purpose they even served at the moment. Micah lingered by the door, and I sent Quiana a searching look. Did she want him here?

She nodded.

“Do you need to like…hold my hands or something?”

“Micah can if you’d like. I need to put my fingertips on your temples. Only for a moment.”

She looked confused, but closed her eyes and leaned forward. She looked almost as if she was expecting a kiss. I wished that it was as simple, if awkward, as that. Micah took a place in an office chair nearby, the wheeled seat creaking a bit under his weight. Both had such expectant looks on their faces. As if I could fix the weight of the wound she carried instead of just tearing it open wide enough that the pain of it was in Micah too.

Drowning, I reminded myself, and reached out to Quiana and pulled.

The tapestry of her tugged on my fingertips before loosening enough to float forth into the room, all purple light and Spanish lace. She opened her eyes at the brief discomfort of it and gaped as she took in the almost starscape the light had cast on the walls. People always had a hard time seeing the tapestry itself at first. We always try our damndest to avoid truly seeing ourselves. 

She didn’t have to be so avoidant, I thought. Her tapestry was beautifully woven with barely any flaws or knots. No true ugliness, save for a knot near the present, which lined up with what Micah had told me. I reached out for where it hung from the arteries of memory like a stubborn blood clot. 

“This will hurt for a moment. Are you sure you want this? Nothing that’s found out will leave this room.”

Quiana’s eyes stayed glued to the tangle of memory. I wish they would wander to see the beauty of who else she was. I wish the first confrontation with her soul wasn’t this knot I’d been called to cut through.

Unsurprisingly her eyes barely wavered. 

I reached out, acrylic nails as sharp as shears, and pulled once more. 

The memory tore open and spilled forth its blood into the room, before reforming liquid light into shape and picture. I recognized the form of Quiana. I didn’t recognize the man. From Micah’s inability to take his eyes off him, and Quiana’s inability to look, they both knew him. 

The knife in the figure’s hand was to the throat of Quiana’s memory-self before I could blink. The words were whispered. Micah had stood and wandered closer to hear. I…thought whatever it was it was better I didn’t.

I could already feel what she felt. The sharp pain against my throat, the tightening of every nerve and muscle in my body, the overwhelming desire to cry, the shaking of my legs, the rush of blood to my head–

Better to focus on pulling Quiana out than drowning us both by focusing on Micah.

The Quiana-in-memory passed something to the man, who shoved the doppelganger so hard she dissipated into mist before she landed on the floor. I felt pain in my shoulder.

“He said he’d kill me.”

“You knew him.”

Micah’s voice, as strong in ice as it had been in sunlight when we’d met for lunch, cut through the silence that hung after my words.

“Yeah, we know him. Baby, I’m so sorry–”

“He said if I said anything he’d–”

“Baby, you did what you had to do. Rather have you alive than anything else in this world. He gon’ be dead though, when I get my hands on him, fuckin’–”

“Who is he?”

“Gonna be who was he after I make some calls.”

“Micah.”

My cousin looks at me and for the first time I see the other men of my family in him.

“Micah,” I say again, trying to be firm, trying to hide the tremor in my voice. “Who is he?”

“…I thought he was my friend.”

“What did he take?”

“A key card,” Quiana answered. “To a shipping container.”

“…I don’t wanna know.”

“No, you don’t.”

I took a shaky breath and stood, trying to put from my mind whatever bullshit Micah had got caught up in. 

Overseas shipping business. No wonder we were all drowning. Familial salvation hidden beneath waves that crushed greater men and smarter men and richer, whiter men against the rocks all the damn time. Of course, Micah would get swept away in the idea of its potential. Of course it would immerse him. Of course, we’d all drown.

The water or blood or magic or all of it had rushed to my head, and I released Quiana back to herself, before my back hit the arm of the couch. I sighed so deeply it almost hurt to inhale again, like I was coming back up to the surface after too long.

“–ank you.”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you, Daci.”

Micah looked guilty about something. Whether it was for what was involved in the storage locker or for involving me at all, I wasn’t sure. But he looked grateful. I could imagine having a relationship again with a family member, maybe even his siblings. Maybe being a part of any eventual kids’ lives. Being an auntie was nice when it was Alek’s sister’s kids but….

Baptism could feel like drowning sometimes. Maybe this was one of those times. Salvation from risking it all to be cleansed by grace and fury. Either way I’d seen the depth of what I could get involved in. I saw it with my husband. I saw it now with my family.

I decided to sink.

“Of course. You’re family. And you were good enough to reach out.”

Micah nodded.

“I uh, I dunno if you or your man ever need anything–I know folks in that tax bracket can get into certain things, but I dunno if that’s the case. Just know you can…”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Right. You want me to walk you out?”

“No no, you stay with Quiana. I’ll see myself out, don’t you worry.”

She smiled gratefully, and Micah nodded. I stood, more solid on my feet now, and made my way back out to the entryway to grab my shoes. I made my way out to the car where Abrham was still waiting quietly. He was technically Alek’s personal assistant and driver, but Alek hadn’t quite wanted me to walk into a situation unawares….

“How did the reunion go?”

“Well enough. I think I’ll be seeing more of them.”

“Very good.”

He was a man of few words, and always had been. Normally, I would attempt to cajole more out of him, but I didn’t have it in me at the moment. As he opened the door for me, I practically collapsed into the backseat, folding in on myself like a shirt thrown aside. Abraham looked suspicious. He didn’t ask though, which I appreciated.

There was a small pond by the house that I noticed for the first time as Abrham started driving. Ornamental lilies floated on it and it was partially concealed by rose bushes. Not deep enough for fishing really. But deep enough to drown a man or baptize him.

I caught Micah staring out the window at me as we pulled backwards.

Immersion either way.