Antonia woke up feeling like a new woman. The absence of physical or emotional pain combined with the realization of her own sobriety meant only one thing: Mama was right. She sank into the soft ground with her eyes closed and took a deep breath. This wasn’t where she fell asleep, and that was fine. Perfect, even. If she could wake anywhere, Home is the obvious choice.
She looked around, delighted to find herself beneath the giant tree on her family’s land. Balmy wind gently coaxed the dying leaves from branches while the three-storied palace with the observatory built just for her one of her aunts beckoned to her. She was home. She told herself again, shaking her head; Mama was right.
She stood, savoring the stability of the ground beneath her bare feet. The roots diving up and back into the earth bore a well-worn path home, taken by the many residents of Foret Manor for several generations.
The orchard to the left dripped heavy with the fruit she harvested as a child. Women holding baskets worked side by side on beneath the trees, voices weaving together in a silken harmony that floated in the wind like the butterflies around them. Antonia fcaught herself humming the familiar melody as she continued the path towards home. Home. Mama said she’d always find her way back, whether she wanted to come home or not. She was right. She didn’t remember wanting to return before passing out the night before.
She recalled the day she left Foret Manor, pregnant, angry, and righteous. She didn’t want her daughter to live the lonely world she’d grown up in. The desperation to be liked and accepted, only to be passed over as the product of a line of unmarried witches.
Mama said that men rarely stuck around for women like them and was openly unimpressed with every male Toni expressed interest in dating. They were never enough, but would anyone ever be enough, a defiant teenaged Toni lashed back. She was determined to keep a man unlike every woman she’d been related to; she was different. Antonia Mae Foret wanted romance, a family off of the palace that felt more like prison.
When Theodora’s father left Antonia, the shame of returning after Mama’s prediction kept her and her daughter in a tiny house across town. Together, Toni and ‘Rora’ erected a botanical fortress around their home, and everything was hard, but happy. When the distance didn’t lessen her shame, she turned drinking and men. When the combination of the two deepened her humiliation, cocaine went from her nose to her left arm in a matter of months. She looked at her arms and found them the color of cinnamon and free of any scars, even the burn she’d gotten at twelve from accidentally scraping against the oven was gone from its usual space above her wrist. She no longer felt the shame from ignoring Mama’s prophecies; she understood them.
Antonia wondered why it took so long for her to see as she climbed the steps to the wraparound porch. The black and white house loomed above her, almost visibly pulsing with life. I’m home, she thought to herself.
Then the realization although tragic, eased itself inside her like a warm bath: I’m dead. I’ve come Home.
A memory of the night before, a spoon, a rig; a trailer with a tattered rebel flag being used as a curtain. She was dead somewhere, and she left Theodora alone.
“Oh, now you worried about ya girl, huh?” A righteously familiar voice startled her, she turned to see her grandmother, Allie Mae sitting on the porch with a fresh cigarette dangling from her lips.
“While you was laid up in them trailers, with that street trash, WE got it taken care of. She comin’ HOME, whether you like it or not.” She packed the Virginia Slims in her long slender hands, worn from work but still too elegant to cover with gloves.
“Grandmaw, am I in Heaven?”
“Heaven?” Allie Mae balked and exhaled a puff of smoke. “Girl, you Home. You an Ancestor now.” She gestured her arm around her and for the first time Toni noticed the clothing of the singing women, clean and crisp, clearly from another time. Allie Mae wore a colorful floral gown with platform heels, she remembered seeing it growing up. Her afro shone in the sunlight, a reddish-brown halo around high cheekbones and hazel eyes. She, like the other women who appeared from dragon’s dust along the property lived, died, and returned to their kingdom. No, this wasn’t Heaven. It wasn’t some idea based on folklore with clouds and robes. For this family of deep roots, their souls returned Home to contribute to the heartbeat of Foret Manor.
These women singing in the orchard, baskets in their arms were goddesses.
Mama had been right the entire time, and it took Antonia sneaking out across town to a trailer with a rebel flag for a curtain to finally understand. Had she been alive, she might have been angry. Now, she felt only peace.
“I’m glad you made it Home, baby.” Allie Mae gestured for her, and Toni approached with the same obedience as the girl in Saddle Shoes and pigtails, leaning in to kiss her cheeks and hug the woman who held court wherever she pleased. “You been out there fuckin’ up long enough, not letting us come see you. You should be ‘shamed of yourself.”
Toni hung her head, recalling her attempts to block her family, her Ancestors’ intervention during her feud with her mother. Their constant reaching out nearly drove her mad and drinking herself into oblivion or tooting enough blow to stay awake for days awarded her dreamless sleep when she finally closed her eyes.
“Antonia, the only way we can help you is when you let yourself dream. Does Theodora know this? Does she know that we protect you at your most vulnerable hours?”
Head still hung; she shook her head ‘no.’
“Girl, the fuck is wrong with you? Don’t go nowhere,” Allie Mae stood and the ash from her cigarette finally blew away as she stood. “You oughtta be ‘shamed, girl. Your Mama was right about you.” She shook her head before leaving the porch to go inside, Virginia Slim and Chanel perfume lingering behind her.
“This shole ain’t Heaven,” Antonia muttered to herself as she cradled her head in her hands, savoring the sweet smell of her Grandmaw. Mama was right, there isn’t any place better than home.