Authors: Isla Morley
Come Sunday / by Isla Morley. — 1st ed.
“Sarah Crichton Books.”
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-12687-2 (alk. paper)
ISBN-10: 0-374-12687-9 (alk. paper)
1. Daughters—Death—Fiction. 2. Life change events—Fiction. 3. Bereavement—Fiction. 4. South Africa—Fiction. 5. Honolulu (Hawaii)—Fiction. I. Title.
A bad sign, my grandmother would have muttered, looking heavenward. She would not have had to say another thing and Beauty, nodding, would have taken off her apron and her starched
covering her peppercorn curls and headed out the back door into the African night with its sick moon. The Cape veldt was different at night, alive with the wild smell of
; a thing with its own heartbeat, its own snorts and threats. Children were called in from its heat at dusk, long before the earth cooled and its worn paths began to vibrate with the invisible steps of the ancestors and the menacing Tokoloshe, long before the moon would rise over the
in the east. But under a bad moon, no one went in the veldt—not even the ancestral spirits. Only a
, a witch doctor, whose magic her old white madam had come to rely on. Beauty Masinama, grounded in the tradition of the Ndebele nation, knew all about lunar tidings. My grandmother, a woman whose superstitions grew up in the crack between her Christian faith and the lore of her Scottish ancestry, knew about them too.
Beauty would have walked into the bush with measured haste, to the foot of the
over which the sickly moon rose, to the source of her
, her medicine. Tracing her steps back to the farmhouse before the moon had completed its arc, pigskin bag filled with twigs and rocks and bones and feathers rattling with each step, Beauty would have chanted a
liturgy as ancient as the hills themselves. Only after she had laid out her wares in an elaborate tapestry on the back porch and kindled the blood of the long-deceased with her invocation under the moon gone bad would she go into the madam’s room with her early-morning tea tray and reassuring, toothless smile: all would be well. Maybe.
IN AFRICA THERE are good moons and bad moons—moons that foretell of bounty and fortune: the long-awaited birth of a chief, a wedding, a visit from relatives, rain. Eclipsed moons, yellow moons, upside-down sickle moons are bad—famine, crop failure, war, sickness. Moons with gossamer halos—nooses, the
call them—mean only one thing: death. People in Africa will go to great lengths to stem the doom of a bad moon. But here in Honolulu, a half spin on its axis, the world is bright with fluorescent bulbs and can barely be bothered to look up.
It is a cool night and the heavy clouds are spilling over the mountain behind us, right on schedule. Solly is eager to go back inside, forgoing his leisurely round of leg-lifting for a quick pee against Mrs. Chung’s mailbox. Attaboy. I look up once more at the moon and its ring before both are blanketed with clouds, and feel a twitch of foreboding and a longing for one of Beauty’s spells.
I WAKE UP to a stiff neck and a throat that feels like it has dry ice stuck in it. Every inhale sears my throat and I quite expect steam to come billowing out my nose on each exhale. My left eardrum pounds and I can hear, for brief moments, the sound of blood flowing in my head. Just then Cleo marches into my bedroom and snaps to attention next to my side of the bed. “Mommy,” she orders, “put this on!” “This” happens to be her purple bathing suit, an item decidedly inappropriate for a spring morning, chilly by Hawaii standards.
“Darling,” I croak, squinting through puffy morning eyelids still crusty with sleep, “don’t you think it’s too cold to wear that?”
“PUT IT ON!” she commands.
“Let me get up; hold on a moment,” I say, knowing that this is a battle I do not have the stamina to win.
“Put it on, put it on, putitonputitonputiton!”
“Please!” I swivel around and glare down at her, totally awake. “Do NOT start whining.”
“Can you put it on?” she persists, and I wonder whether three-year-olds have selective hearing like the husbands of naggy old women.
I shiver barefoot, hold out her bathing suit so she can slip one foot in one hole, then the other, and try not to feel as though my watermelon head is about to roll off its stand. Before I can pull the straps up over her shoulders, she yanks them out of my hands. “I can do it!” she insists.
“Fine,” I say, and reach for my robe. One foot finds the slipper. “Goddammit, Solly,” I hiss, because instead of bunny fluff there is only the soggy mess of an indoor dog’s sacrificial kill.
“Mommy!” Cleo reprimands. “You took the Lord’s name again.”
“Don’t tell your father,” I grunt.
When I get downstairs, Greg is still asleep on the couch and I roll my eyes for the benefit of the unseen entities that may or may not inhabit the lonely spaces of my house. Today is Thursday, the last day of my vacation, and I am not looking forward to returning to the world of editorial deadlines. I feel the resentment rise like bile: for just one morning I would like Greg to be the one to drag his tail out of bed and hup-hup-hup to Cleo’s endless list of orders. I bang the microwave door on purpose and he wakes up and says, “Huh, what?”
The hammering sound coming down the staircase is Cleo in my silver high heels, which were in fashion the last time they saw the light of day, possibly last century, and the pounding on the parquet floors makes Greg frown and rub his brow. “Cleo,” he calls.
“Morning, Daddy,” she coos.
“Cleo, do you think you can take Mommy’s shoes off for now?”
“Will it wake the neighbors?” she asks.
“Yes, it might,” he answers. “It woke me up and it will most certainly wake up the cat.”
She grins sadistically as she spots Pilgrim curled up on the rocking chair, in hibernation mode. She thuds over to him, more determined than ever to keep the heels on, and says, “Pilgrim! Wake up!” and then she roars at him and the poor feline lunges past her before she can grab him. I place a warm mug of milk at her place at the table and fix my own cup of tea and a slice of toast.
“Did you hear the thunder last night?” Greg asks.
I shake my head in reply. “But I saw the bad moon before we went to bed.”
“It started about one o’clock,” he continues, ignoring my comment. Greg doesn’t like it when Africa seeps through me, as though he were a missionary watching his converts go native. “I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I stayed up for a while. Bet there were flash floods down in the valley,” he says, passing me on his way to the refrigerator.