Cedar Grove Rose

by Canisia Lubrin

They say Rose was born in invisible space. And because of this Rose could bend anything to her will. If you come upon the thick blockades of unbothered bush that surround Here, her neighbourhood formed by the momentary rage of a volcano that no one remembers, nowadays you would have a bitch of a time convincing anyone of Rose’s storied animalities. Here’s one field with its pickets on the boundary still drawing apart sunlight and moonlight like matchsticks in the dirt. The sinewed edge of Here was once the British Empire’s communications headquarters and its stronghold of slave catchers. And army whores during the Second World War. All the bays on the Atlantic side of Here are deep, just wide enough to keep ships unseen by enemy vessels. There has always been more here, of course. Rose knew this. But what nobody knows is that Rose made this invisible space of hers with all of its merciless things, that Rose turned a fugitive from There, a helloid by nearly any standard, into a Rose simply because she could.

Part of Rose’s magic was how she ran. She ran often, faster than she really could, churning the earth-lain dirt into wings, or some dragonfly nebula. Almost made me wish I never gave up that job at the butterfly conservatory There. In Rose’s presence all of a pre-life leapt from its latence. She could bend time and man just the same. In a more just world, her unmarked grave would read: Here lies Haggard Rose, her life was the best and strangest alchemy.

Rose’s mama would tap a metal spoon on the tar drum outside her kitchen when she needed her to do something, like chase down a chicken for dinner. Rose heard this tapping from miles out and would take to beating her feet along the roadside, making it home in record time, each time. But I want to tell you something particular about Rose and a stranger, a fella who seemed to be connected with a spoon in a way nobody out There has ever seen. I won’t tell you how I know Rose and all this; we just don’t have the time for that now. But you’ve got to believe me because I own these words.

This field was a big place, even to a kid like Rose and she treated it like her own yard. Everything Here was miles between trees and something somebody threw away. Rose chased one rooster for two hours but it seemed he got smart and learned all her moves. Then the fella I told you about earlier, standing on the corner called out to Rose, said his name was Baron, and that Rose should leave that chicken alone and let it “foeget-a-bout-you for a minute.” Something was familiar about that fella all the same: his leathery face and the notebook he carried in a custom-made leather strap diagonal on his chest. His arms seemed attached a few inches too low from his shoulder blades. Then he pulled out a spoon from his back pocket and stuck it above his ear like a pencil. He was standing next to a big wooden tray with a small radio on it, and he had a pair of tap shoes strung over his bony shoulders.

“You’re not from here,” Rose was saying to the fella.

“Well, if I’m Here, must be something here,” he answered but looking at me.

“Must be what thing,” I cut in knowing that there was nothing Rose ever came upon that did not suggest something else. Once when she fancied herself a musician, the pots and the pans, the potty with the broken lip, everything capable of making a hollow sound was an invitation to express her world-class musicianship. She even had a banana stand in for a violin one time and used her mama’s bread knife as a bow. Her body, always Cartesian, turned things inside out. Even though she did not have the benediction of the church as a performer of miracles, this is what everybody knew. I was interested in this stranger, how he ended up Here. The second world war was over and I was hell bent on mercy, not mercy really, but making sure to remind the brokers of mercy that they were not to actually claim its power. I had stopped a crowd from stoning a woman they thought was the wrong kind of whore. They ran me out of that town. I don’t mind. I remember a time when Rose would have been hanged and burned for the things she can do, but that bygone era was one she herself willed out of existence. It has nothing to do with how many nails I have pulled out of my palms and feet.

So that fella, he had big criss-crossed teeth and a bad spotty beard, like Miss Mona’s mangy dog. And when he smiled he looked deep into you and you knew things were about to go all green, that he saw things in you that you’re afraid of just because you didn’t know them yet. Things he had done, a horrible chronicle. Still, his little square moustache must have been the worst thing about him. That and how he looked to have leather skin, like it was grown in a lab to look dark and stay hard.

The fella had a dog with him. The dog had a crescent scar on its face like it had collided with a horse.

“Hey, kid,” he said, “never mind what I am. Just say a word. Anything that a-come to mind.”

Then Rose looked at him strange like he was stupid and Rose was smart and the man said again, “go’on now.”

“Spoon,” Rose said, stepping back. I know, but assume Rose didn’t know what she was up to.

The man raised his arms slow and arched himself into the shape of a goddamn spoon.

“Go’on, another. Like... A colour this time,” the fella hacked through a laugh.

“Red,” Rose said wanting the man to melt this time.

The fella opened his arms like they were wings and brought his head down to his crotch. Then he twisted and turned himself until his head was sticking out from the middle of his body, now curved like a helix. He actually looked like a rose. It was disgusting, of course. Rose smiled. The fella looked horrified.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9... I’m coming!” he yelled, seemingly out of his own sense. The fella’s voice was bubbly and jazzy in that kind of rusty way. I thought he was talking to me but he jumped, skipped a high skip over to the side and started shuffling his feet and tapping and swirling his hand around his chest and his head and smiling. Then the dog jumped up on the table and pressed his little paw on the play button and on came some jazz. Some Coltrane. It must have been Venus but fifteen years too soon. And he did this counting and dancing for a time and then asked Rose to join him.

Well, Rose looked as though she didn’t want anyone seeing her doing things with this lunatic but she broke off two sticks from the hibiscus plant on the left and started whipping the air, playing air drums. All the loud noises you wouldn’t believe. It was, after all, that one night in 1938 that Rose’s mama found her reputation as a Seeyer for being one of those women that warned the world about the end of the war. She was prone to happiness and unrepentant. “Take your shadow out and bury it if you won’t let me do my work,” she had told the local priest. Yet everyone criticized Rose roaming Here like she owned Here, making of her years some kind of failed psalmody, forgetting her mother’s diatribe against the priest. But remember now that Rose was born in invisible space.

“Hey, Mister!” Rose shouted through the commotion she had no doubt created. But he didn’t seem to care to break from all his ticking about to look back at the girl. By a flash of sun off three brass teeth in the front of the fella’s mouth, I had to look away quickly. In that brief time, I gleaned his hand. Its three and a half fingers. Rose’s mama had told about the men who would come with the three-and-a-half-fingers and the notebooks filled with formulas for poisons and bombs and all manner of hell on earth. She had told of the submarines nestled in the Caribbean Sea and their torpedoes.

Rose shouted again, “hey, Mister!”

He turned back this time, weary as I’d ever seen a man who knew he had been eclipsed into exile.

Canisia Lubrin is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis and The Dyzgraphxst (M&S, 2020).

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