Short Stories

The Stiffening
by Nicole D. Sconiers
(Originally published in The Absent Willow Review)

I was eight years old when I realized that I never saw my mother sitting. Ever. Or lying in bed or immersed beneath a blanket of suds in our old claw foot bathtub. She was always upright. Afternoons would find her in the kitchen, tending something on the stove or wiping down counters with a dish rag.

This is how I remember her: Thick black hair spilling over broad shoulders and sturdy legs clad in a print skirt and Woolworth stockings. She loved to cook, to bring a steaming and pungent plate of collard greens to the table, to serve my sister Trina and me a slice of her famous orange pound cake. Even though she was on her feet all day mixing batter at Xavier’s Donuts, the sound of a metal spoon clanking against a pot usually met me and Trina when we came home from school.

Older than me by three years, Trina was the more thoughtful sister. “Mom, you work too hard. Sit down and let me fix you a plate,” she would say.

Mother brushed off Trina’s concerns with a smile as she brought a bowl or glass to the table.  “That’s alright, baby. You and Valise enjoy your free time.”

Then those lean, long legs carried Mother into the living room, where she would pull back the curtains she had stitched by hand. Home from school, the other girls on the block would be practicing their drill routines in the street, or the staccato thumping of twin ropes on asphalt would drift in through the screen door as my neighbors played double dutch. They never invited me to join their games. “Double-handed,” I was called. That meant I turned the rope too clumsily for their liking and out of rhythm. Mother never beheld this festival of flailing limbs from a chair by the window like our elderly neighbor Miss Isabel, who wore wigs and scolded the neighborhood kids as if they were her own. Nor did she recline on the front stoop, a glass of too-sweet iced tea in hand, chatting with Miss Irene or Mr. Alphonse, an unmarried couple who lived in the bungalow next to ours. She stood, arms crossed, in the middle of our bay window, as if she were controlling all activity on the street with a glance.

Download a PDF of the complete story.

Infinite Dreams
by Nicole D. Sconiers
(Originally published in neon V magazine)

DreamsIf I were strong enough, I wouldn’t need to drink it.

Every other day, I take a book to the soothie bar around the corner from my apartment and sit at a table away from the window, listening to the drone of the blender as it grinds frozen melons and mangoes into a sedate puree. I scan the pages, my ears perking up whenever someone leans in to place an order. Will they go through with it? But the orders never deviate.

“Medium Mango Moodslayer, please.”

“Large Melon Self-Love to go. No ice.”

Then the blenders start up again, whirring blades of sameness, and I return to my novel or Bible or whatever book I happened to pick up on my way out of the apartment. I never finish my drink. As I leave the shop, it takes a minute for my eyes to focus, and I reach for the red banister outside the door to steady myself. I toss my cup into a dumpster in the alleyway. Bums descend on it. I quicken my pace, rushing away from the sound of anxious sucking.

There is a soothie bar on every corner in North Hollywood. Nine years ago, when I first moved to this wasteland for would-be actors, writers and comedians, people were less inclined to drink pureed fruit in a cup, especially at $10 to $12 a shot. But since the dereg of ’22, my neighbors are more than willing to pay $50 to $55 for their daily soothie. It’s sweeter this way, filling and there is no aftertaste.

Download a PDF of the complete story.

Lady in a Cage
by Nicole D. Sconiers
(Originally published in Inglewoodlandia)

On the corner of La Brea and Heliotrope, just south of La Tijera Boulevard, sits a lady in a cage. My friend Niecy noticed her a few days ago while driving to church.

“What does she look like?” I asked when Niecy dropped by my apartment that afternoon. She still had on her Sunday best, a white blouse and black skirt.

“Big. Her head almost touched the top of the cage and her hair was matted,” Niecy giggled, brushing wispy strands from her brow. “The kind of hair my momma calls ‘can’tcha-don’tcha’ – can’tcha comb it and don’tcha try.”

We were drinking peppermint tea at my dining room table. Niecy’s purse lay on one side of the placemat, her Bible on the other. Her face had that after-service sheen, a mixture of sweat, tears and hope that always faded by Monday morning.

I fingered the swirls on my teacup, thinking about the caged lady. If Niecy saw her on the way to church, it must have been around 6:30. Even though it’s late May, Los Angeles mornings are chilly at that hour.

“What was she wearing?” I asked.

“A purple body suit.” She sipped her tea. Slurped, actually, and I was tempted to say that slurping isn’t ladylike, but I wanted her to finish her tale. “She was real confident to be so big.”

I’m a big girl, and all I wear are loose-fitting clothes. L.A. has a way of making you hate your own skin. I wanted to know why the lady was so bold, but it seemed weird to go way down to the Wood to gawk at her. Living in The Valley, I didn’t get over to Inglewood that much, only making the 45-minute trek to buy synthetic hair for my braids or when I craved a good fish sandwich. I shrugged, putting the stranger out of my mind.

Download a PDF of the complete story.


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