Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 3



Grandma’s Hands

Clynthia Burton Graham


This is the last place I will ever see. Inside a cavern of darkness, I await an unwanted illumination. It is an ominous light akin to the glow of swaying lanterns crossing the river Styx. The steady thrumming of two tentacles protruding from my swaddled body create a deceptive normalcy, as I dangle in mid-air with one tube taking my waste and the other bringing nutrients to sustain my life until it is no longer needed.

Stark white flashes across my eyelids force my eyes open. The only part of me left unbandaged. I stare at the awakening glass cube hovering above and brace for the onset of the extraction process. Like a rustler in an old western, my torturer seeks to steal the whereabouts of my daughter from the confines of my mind. After six days of imprisonment, she remains unsuccessful. This is my final act of defiance.

I gave birth to my only child, Amani, in 2018. I buried my husband who was beaten to death by police officers, after a traffic stop, in 2021. I held my grandma’s hands as she was dying in 2026. I joined the resistance in 2040, of which my daughter is now the leader.

It is 2048 and I am a higher vibrational peace maker intent on changing the world.

My crypt comes alive with dizzying motion. Blurred colors cycle around me with escalating speed, forcing my eyes shut. When the spinning stops, l open them to see a panoramic display of my grandma’s hands on the surrounding steel concave walls. A deep sigh of relief warms the gauze covering my lips at not seeing my daughter’s image.

“Today will be the day you break. No more subterfuge. I will find her and then you will die.”

Her words push into my head as she manipulates the floating holographic screens to ride my thoughts for a revealing brain shutter. Within moments, the probing feels like fists crashing into my skull. Like vultures ripping at a dying animal’s flesh, she claws at my unconscious mind until l fear I will split open. I cannot. I will not let go. Focusing on my grandma’s hands, I concentrate on her long fingers with bulging knuckles, dirt caked nailbeds, and deepening age lines flowing like creeks to rivers until the memory of our summer together in 2007, when I was sixteen, appears on the walls A series of strong jolts threatens my tenuous stability, but I suffer the assaults and enter the memory.

“You better keep a good watch Becka, cause things are going to get bad one day. Mark my words. That 9/11 attack set everybody shouting for foreigners to go home. Made me sick to my stomach. This country is nothing but foreigners. And the only thing that makes me madder is seeing black folks standing right along with them waving the flag and shouting “Keep America for Americans.” Only true American is an Indian and you know what’s been done to them,” she fusses, while on her knees, plucking and throwing the rotten parts of her garden into a burlap bag.

“Grandma, I go to school with all kinds of people, brown, yellow and white. Things are just not as bad as they were when you were younger.”

“Rebecca, that’s what you really think? Because you go to private school, because you got friends come in every color, because you can go to whatever store you want and buy whatever your heart desires, you think your free? You think all is well and no harm can come to you? Well, it ain’t true and you better understand that! Your skin is brown, even if it is a shade or so lighter than mine. Your people were slaves whose blood dripped into every dollar that made this country rich and powerful, yet we’re still subject to their whims.”

“I know our history and I know the color of my skin, but I also know things are changing. There are more people trying to make the world a better place than those that are trying to destroy it. It will continue to get better. Anyway, that’s what I think,” I sigh, sitting on the wraparound porch steps, stretching my legs for the sun to kiss.

“You heard the saying, “He who holds the gold makes the rules?” We hold no gold. We make no rules. Masses of brown children over the planet continue to go hungry and our children, our people continue to die in the streets. We feed the machine. Poverty. Jail. Drugs. Of course, some are let in, so others left behind got something to hold onto. The cycle repeats and repeats and we are still at the bottom of the pile.”

“Grandma, there are always going to be have’s and have nots. Life is a struggle.”

She stops rooting through the dirt, looks up at me with her hands over her eyes to shield them from the sun.

“Those that got seem to forget when they’re out buying the latest selfish thing, that where there is one hungry, one hurt, one lost, or one getting shot solely because of the color of their skin, it is all of us suffering. But that is what the wanting of money to buy meaningless things will do for you. The purposeful turning of our heads from consciousness through targeted media laced with subliminal messages, like the ones for black women. Skin too dark-bleach it. Nose too broad-get a nose job. Hair too wooly-get a perm. Nobody wants you. Redo your whole body and look like someone else in a magazine. People are so burdened with trying to be whatever the latest fit in trend dictates that they forget who they are. Ain’t nobody need to tell you about how or who or what to be. You got to know it for yourself and that comes from the inside. Now, come on down here and learn how to work this ground. The way this world is going you never know when you’re going to be without. You need to know how to grow and make things. How to survive without tv or some gadget. How to make a way when there ain’t no way.”

I scoot down the steps and settle next to her on the ground. She hands me a pair of gloves as I note the flecks of soil in her short, grayish black hair and her eyeglasses sitting askew on her nose. Before I put the gloves on, I right her glasses, then, despite the gloves, touch the dirt as if it is poison.

“Hear me child, one day this country is going to burst open like a swollen rotted seed, and all the hate, division, and deferred dreams are going to send people to the streets fed up with all the things kept from them or taken from them just because of the color of their skin,” she is practically shouting in my ear as she pushes my hands deeper into the soil.

“You mean like the civil rights movement?”

“Yes, only worse. It will not be non-violent resistance. It will be worse than the riots in Watts or Baltimore or Newark in the 1960’s and the ones before throughout our history. It will spread to high rise apartment citadels and gated communities like you and your parents live in and the gates won’t stop the fury.”

“That’s not going to happen. Our military would crush anything like that,” I say with conviction, feeling the sweat in my armpits rolling down my sides.

“Fed up is fed up, in any language. Just mark my words ‘Becka, one day you’re going have to fight for the right to be free all over again.”

The memory scene before me of my grandma’s flourishing garden, full of cabbages, tomatoes, collards and a variety of fruits and vegetables, turns into a bloody chaotic scene of people locked in physical combat. These moments are why I am here now. I continue inside the cover of memory.

Despite of or because of eight years of a Black President, the issue of race came front and center in a country with unattended wounds. It wasn’t the invasion of space monsters or Zombies, or hurtling asteroids, but the bursting seeds of greed and bias that shuttered us away from the world and embroiled us in internal confrontation.

Plagues of water and food shortages, resistant and virulent diseases, as well as, a myriad of government failures borne from a gathering of demented minds hurled us into an unfathomable darkness. Messages of a return to righteousness and the elevation of white supremacy proliferated. Many flocked to them, but many did not, and the ensuing battle resulted in mayhem, stripping America of its status as a world superpower. Instead of being a beacon of light in the world, a haven for those wanting a better life, America became known as the death star. At the root of our descent was the color line.

PAP, Pure America Posse, was merely a festering boil spewing purist ideology to a handful of people, but through the years, they grew to be a gangrene force infiltrating every fabric of the American landscape. Their core philosophy was the belief that people of color were the root of all evil. Fear of the ever growing “browning” of the world initiated their plan to expunge color by any means necessary. Natures rainbow reduced to a blank canvas.

PAP’s ascension culminated in the election of one their candidates to the White House. The new president and the PAP controlled senate and house immediately put their agenda into full effect. The borders were closed to foreigners. Strict religious codes were enforced with a brutality that left no room for exceptions. Media access was cut off, dissenting opinions were vilified and retaliated against. Often overlooked and under reported detainments and killings of blacks escalated to any nonwhite person. Even sympathizers were subject to removal. It was inside this lapse of humanity that unbelievable violence spread, and people of color began to disappear. We were either running to underground safe havens or dying in corrals.

Now, cloaked in our hideaway, we hear from runaways about operations designed to once and for all breed out skin color, while leaving certain physical attributes. The goal is to create a perfect homogenous race of people with pale skin, variations of blue and green eyes, slender noses and silky, long hair are the standard. Escapees arrive daily telling us of the thousands being held against their will and forced to provide hard labor in the water fields, energy stations, food farms, technology factories and changing centers.

Grandma’s prophetic words linger over floating pictures of stacked brown bodies. I think about her making me read a play called, The Day of Absence, during one of my summers with her in Georgia. In it, all the black people voluntary vanish from a town throwing white folks into chaos. Now, we are not vanishing of our own volition. We are systemically being vanquished or enslaved or forced to flee.

My daughter, Amani, is a prophetess of active peace. She is gifted with extreme mental, physical, and kinetic powers and a wisdom beyond her thirty years. She speaks the truth of our extermination and our path to victory against slavery and genocide. She says, “As we learn to vibrate higher, increase our mental and spiritual acuity, we will, as benevolent stewards of our planet and ourselves, move the world towards collective peace and everlasting goodwill.” Even I have been able to increase my brain power.

I realize my thoughts have strayed to Amani. She appears on the screen, running with her shoulder length dreaded hair flapping across her face. I want to reach out and touch her beautiful cheekbones and look into her almond shaped eyes, once more. The acorn color of her skin blends into the woodsy background as her striding legs catch my captor’s attention. She tries to lock in onto the area surrounding Amani to see if she can GPS her hiding place, but I quickly change the direction of my mind and my daughter’s long strong legs turn into those of a chubby toddler. I latch onto the remembrance of her grabbing my hand after a game of hide and seek. Her tiny hands are like mine. Our hands are shaped like my grandma’s hands.

“I will find her, just like l found you on one of your rescue missions. How surprised you were that day. I waited for you, just like I wait to find and bring your daughter here, where you will both burn. What a waste! All you had to do was stay inside like me. Look at me. I have one of the highest leadership roles in the country and my color was the same as yours once. Now I fit in. I am truly one of the chosen. Relinquish old thoughts and be spared. Be a soldier for us in the rabbit holes and basements of soon to be forgotten wells of discontentment. One world. One color. One truth,” she splinters through my brain with the truth she has come to know and embrace.

“I am prepared to die for a better world,” I push back, while looking at her engineered nose, eyes, skin and kink less hair.

She fills my head with tortured laughter before screaming, “I have power over your life at my fingertips.”

“And I have power over yours in my head and through my spirit,” I respond.

“You grow weaker every day. You will not be able to block much longer.”

“I have enough strength to take us into whatever world awaits. You will not find my daughter. You will neither kill her nor her message.”

I harness my reserves and snake through the compartments of her brain seeking an opening. I watch her stumble backwards at my first assault. She recoils and reaches for her precious technology, but I stop her movements. Instead, she clasps her hands over her ears, as I infiltrate her mind and squeeze. Blood seeps into the crevices of my mouth, as I savor the last moments of this life. I send a final impulse with all my might. I stop her heart, as if I were plucking weeds out of my grandma’s garden.

Final Mind Recording of Rebecca Morgan



Clynthia Burton Graham: "I am a fiction writer whose has been recognized by Maryland Writer’s Association and the Hurston/Wright Foundation. My stories have appeared in Persimmon Tree Literary Magazine, Pilcrow & Dagger, Academy of the Heart and Mind, daCunha Global, Auburn Avenue, Rigorous Magazine, Sirens Call Ezine, Pen in Hand Journal, and others.

“I am an MFA graduate from the Creative Writing & Publishing Arts Program at the University of Baltimore, in Baltimore Maryland, where I reside. My work is mainly black female centered with characters who keep reaching for their definitions of love, life, and light."




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