The Prediction

Submitted by Jessica Crenshaw to Contest #4 in response to: Write a story based on the song title: "My Generation"... view prompt

Leaping a generation isn’t uncommon, especially in Anjoulie’s family. Aunt Hattah often and proudly testified to the amount and duration of the family’s leaps. She kept accurate records. A challenge—a smile and wink with a nod—met anyone who dared question. Truth be told, Aunt Hattah was simply continuing the tradition of meticulous record keeping. It was handed to her by her Uncle Tatty. Rather, the key to a storage unit was handed to her when she turned 30. Filled with leather-bound books, spiral notebooks, and three ring binders neatly organized, the storage unit became the center of Hattah’s life. 

She knew it was important to keep track of details. She had leapt once. Recordkeepers don’t. At some point, it became the rule. Due to Hattah’s circumstances, her experience was never recorded. Her uncle was the only one who knew. It only happened once and Hattah was the best choice in the family as recordkeeper, so her uncle kept silent.

Thanks to Aunt Hattah and those who had gone before, Anjoulie had a basic idea of what would happen should she ever leap. Advancements in technology make it easier for recordkeepers. Many families had taken to digitizing records and entering the information into a searchable database, which allowed for more precise predictions. Hattah had completed both digitization and data entry, thanks to her team of cousins who diligently tip-tapped away at keyboards, hoping to find themselves predicted. 

Only certain family members knew who was predicted in each generation. Anjoulie was her family’s prediction. Anjoulie herself didn’t officially know just yet, but she had thoughts.

Secrecy was key in keeping the family engaged. If ever a prediction got out, the cousins would lose interest until the next generation renewed. The family dynamic was complex. The secret was openly discussed in cleverly coded words and knowing eyes. If you or I were to hear a family in discussion, it might sound like a conversation about summer camp or a college prep program. Each family had its own form of discourse. Each family had its own method of recordkeeping, some not as fastidious as Hattah and the other recordkeepers. Every family was different. Some lived in ignorance.

Sometimes Anjoulie wished her family was like the other families in her neighborhood. She was tired of ambiguous language and sly looks. She was living in a state of anticipation, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. She could never quite get comfortable in her skin, at least not without the aid of altered perception or laughter, but the reprise only lasted so long. 

Brushing her hair one August morning, she felt something out of the ordinary. A spell, that’s what her grandmama would have called it. Her head bounced and vision faded to lighting bolts. She was on the floor. Tossed ragdoll. She never knew how much time passed. It felt like years. YEARS. Maybe more than a hundred. 

She was swimming in an endless silent conversation. She could see, but could not move. She watched dust lilt and fall in and out of sun lines cutting through the bedroom shutters.  

She roused at dusk, amazed at how much dust had fallen. Her house was usually so clean. It happened a few more times and she never spoke of it. She certainly didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She didn’t have to. Everyone was watching anyway. In these families, eyes on everyone. Nothing unnoticed. It has pros and cons as far as relationships go. Some thrive, others suspect. In Anjulie’s family, it wasn’t too unhealthy. It created a communal sense of concern and caring about extended family. It drew the large circle tight and sealed. 

Hattah was her strongest advocate. It became hard for Hattah not to show her hand when the meetings got heated. She came close to letting secrets slip. She felt for Anjulie. She knew. She knew what it felt like. She never asked Anjulie anything. They barely spoke anymore. Hattah chuckled when she sat down in the dark and let herself go. 

Anjulie figured all eyes were on her, but she tried not to think about it. She didn’t care. If she could keep it to herself, all would be well. All was well as is, so why crash the party and steal the spotlight? That’s the way she explained it to herself, anyway. She didn’t want to lose the anticipation. She didn’t want her family to lose it. There was so much more than herself, she thought, debating whether or not her behavior might be deemed selfish. She knew it didn’t matter, but for some reason it bothered her to be thought of as selfish. Yet.. she could not share. 

She came close to speaking words about it. Once. Funny thing, she didn’t have to speak words. Somehow Anjulie knew Hattah knew and both knew it best to not say a word. To this day, Anjulie isn’t sure what happened. One day her aunt dropped by with a basket of apples from her backyard tree. 

“These are for your momma, for a special family recipe,” said Hattah as she entered the house after a friendly, loud whoo-hoo! “I think the crust is the best part,” she chirped with a smile, “but most everybody believes apples picked on this particular day taste best for the family recipe.” Hattah joined Anjulie in the kitchen. 

“Everyone knows how this family likes to play along with the lore,” she said as she pulled the handwoven basket up and placed them on the counter. 

“They’re beautif—,” Anjoulie reached out. Dramatically and on cue, an apple rolled across the floor, released from Anjulie’s hand with a thud. Moving quickly to grab the apple before it was too bruised for good use, Hattah left through the back door.

She didn’t see her aunt for a while after the apple episode, but she felt her. She felt as if thick velvet elastic wrapped them both, bound thoughts fluid and too full to understand. They communicated this way, across soft fibers and in generalities. 

When time came, Anjulie was fearful word might get out. While predictions are never spoken, they are communicated. She felt it late at night in wisps and folds, a soft song. Folks knew. Thought they knew. Nothing was ever confirmed. The family accepted one whose name was never spoken, but perceived. The lack of acknowledgement beyond knowing looks created a platform on which the communal collective unconscious could make their “prediction.” 

Only recordkeepers had the time and access to make proper analysis, yet they never offered predictions or confirmed. The requirements for keeping it all so hush-hush manifested long-term in a complete lack of understanding by the family as a whole. 

At this point, Anjulie had already decided her course of action: inaction. And denial, should it come to that. She hoped it wouldn’t, since no one ever actually spoke about it. She snorted under her breath at the thought. Her cousin Darla heard. 

“What do you think is so funny, huh?” Darla whipped her head sharply Anjulie’s direction. Like the entire family, she’d come to understand Anjulie was the one. As a result, she paid more attention to her cousin. Her hair, her shoes, her sighs...Darla paid close attention. That hair. Of course she was predicted, Darla thought to herself. At some point, Darla was certain she would be the one to represent her generation in Aunt Hattah’s spreadsheets. She kicked her ambition with her feet, stirring up dust on the road as they walked.  

“What? Oh, nothing. I wasn’t laughing,” said Anjulie with a side-glance at Darla. 

“What was the snort for, then?” Darla asked. She’d kicked up a cloud of dust visible as they passed under a light. 

“It wasn’t funny, like funny haha. It was like strange funny or, oh, it’s really not funny at all. I don’t know the word for it.“

“Soooo...you didn’t laugh and it wasn’t funny.”

"Geez, Darla! Stop kicking up dirt. We’re gonna be filthy by the time we get there. I wasn’t laughing. I was just making a sound,” Anjulie furrowed her brow. Sometimes words just didn’t do her thoughts justice. “Really, Darla, stop it!” Anjulie elbowed Darla until she stumbled. 

“Hey! Ok, I’ll stop,” Darla’s voice rose in tone. 

“You sound like Aunt Hattah when you get annoyed,” smiled Anjulie as she playfully punched Darla on the arm.

“Oh, great. So that’s it. I-I am the recordkeeper. Makes sense.” She gasped and clasped her hands over her mouth as quickly as the words came out. 

Anjulie shot her a look. “What are you talking about?”

Darla stopped walking and turned to face Anjulie. “Fine. I’ll be the one to say it out loud. You’re predicted. At least I think that’s right.”

For a moment Anjulie panicked, but she remembered what she’d rehearsed. “Hahahaha,” she threw back her head and laughed loudly. Her hair shook. “It’s Lucrecia!”

“Huh?” Darla looked confused. “I heard it was you. I’ve always heard it was you.”

“Nope. Wouldn’t something have happened by now if I was the one?”

“Well, I guess you’re right…?” Darla’s voice trailed off, skeptical. “I mean, it’s kinda hard to know.

“RIGHT! I wish we could just talk about it and figure it out. But I can guarantee you, it’s NOT me and I want to be the recordkeeper, so there! Maybe you’re the prediction,” Anjulie tried to judge Darla’s reaction without looking at her. She could feel her mind wrapping around the idea. Why not me?

The two joined a large circle of family members. Others were joining the group, silently milling and hugging and mouthing greetings. There was a strict no-talk rule. Once all had gathered, the group joined hands. Anjulie’s uncle stood in the center of the circle. Conch in one hand and rosemary branches from his heirloom garden in the other, he blew the shell and fluttered the branches. 

He spoke. “The prediction shall move to the center.”

No one moved. No one drew a breath. No one stepped forward.

He roared, “The prediction shall NOW move to the center.”

Anjulie felt Darla’s fingers twitch in her hand. They were all waiting for the other shoe to drop, leaning into the circle with squirming anticipation. It was electric. 

Darla took a deep breath and stepped forward. 

Back at home in her bedroom, Anjulie snuggled into bed. For the first time in ages, she felt safe. The next morning Aunt Hattah was waiting for her. In her hand, she held a key. 

 Anjulie smiled and nodded at her aunt. Hattah winked.

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