Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 3



Phantasm

Tamam Moncur


Aurora wakes up heart beating rapidly, shaken from a dream in which she’s trying to get to her daughter Rain. Rain is in a slow-moving car covered with sheepskins. The entire car, windows and all are concealed. It’s weird. Aurora can’t see in the car, but she can hear Rain yelling, “Mama help me! I can’t see! Help me!” Panic and fear saturate the atmosphere. A myriad of feelings swirling in tandem envelops Aurora. Her phone alarm goes off. She presses the snooze button wrapping the covers more tightly around her. What a bizarre dream! She lies in the bed, though uneasy awhile longer thinking about Rain. Trauma at such a young age and now more trauma. Years ago, having to grapple with the, untimely passing of her father. One minute so alive, so loving, then a massive heart attack and he’s gone forever.

Aurora remembers the financial turbulence. The countless visits to social security, then her returning to nursing school, and for Rain after school programs. Her best friend Joyce always by her side helping her. She fondly recollects their first meeting. They are in the gospel choir at Community College and they both sit on the alto side.

“What’s your name?” Joyce addresses her initiating conversation while they are waiting for rehearsal to start.

“Aurora.”

“Wow what a pretty name. What does it mean?”

“Aurora is the Roman Goddess of the dawn. My mother was a mythology buff in high school and promised herself that’s what she would name her future daughter. I’m her first born so lucky me I got the name.”

“That’s really a cool story. My name is Joyce, the one and only because I’m cheerful and full of joy.” They both laugh. Camaraderie is instantaneous, and they grow quite close over the years. Her own parents are deceased, and her siblings live out of state. Joyce is a staunch church goer. She’s not but she does go a lot of times when Joyce invites her. Joyce is like a sister. Both Rain, and now Storm call her auntie.

She and Rain become a real mama-daughter team surviving in a difficult reality. Rain does great in school. She’s a serious student. She goes away to college but she’s in love with her childhood sweetheart Wa’du. She is on the dean’s list every semester. Whenever she comes home, she spends time with him. He’s a very intelligent young man who unfortunately chooses to wheel and deal in the bling-bling of hood realism. Rain believes her love will change him. She earns a Criminal Justice Degree, returns home, and almost immediately ends up pregnant with Storm. Aurora is livid when she and Wa’du decide to live together and move into one of the nicer high-rise apartment buildings. Aurora loves her grandbaby though. She already recognizes that Storm will be spending a good deal of time with her. Rain and Wa’du seem to only have eyes for each other.

Aurora knows this fantasy life cannot last. One year does manage to stretch into seven. Then about three weeks ago, Wa’du loses his life in a drive by shooting. Rain is with him and he dies in her arms. The tears, the wailing, the message at the funeral hollers for young people to make better choices. Rain’s overwhelming devastation and sense of loss pushes her off the cliff of sanity into a void of mental instability. Aurora suggests that she and Storm come live with her. Rain’s response sends shivers up and down her spine “We’re alright Mama, Wa’du will take care of us.” A knife cuts right into the core of her heart.

Her snooze alarm sounds. She stretches, throws the covers back, and slowly sits up. She loves working at the hospital, on the floor taking care of patients, but the hours are not conducive to having the responsibility of caring for her daughter and granddaughter. Her transfer for changing over to the clinic is approved. She starts in two weeks. She can’t afford to miss any more work. She has another long day ahead of her, a 12-hour shift but after that she has three days off. She’s been promising Storm that she could come over and stay with her a few days.

True she’s worried about Rain, but this dream, a nightmare hovering in the dominion of absurdity is rattling her. She’ll call her daughter before she leaves for work. She gets out of the bed, turns the light on and makes her way down the hallway to the bathroom. Turning the bathroom light on she looks at herself in the mirror. She is a mess, a fifty-five-year-old disaster. Aging is taking its toll, her afro full of gray hairs, and crow’s feet spreading from the corners of her eyes mock her as she looks at her reflection. Completing her morning ritual Aurora returns to her bedroom, her uniform for the day is hanging up. Having her work clothes ready is a long-time habit.

She finishes getting dressed and calls the house. Storm answers the phone. “Hello?”

“Good morning baby this is Grandma. Where’s your Mother?”

Storm goes to the doorway of the bedroom. “She’s staring out the window again. She been there since yesterday.” Aurora hears the falter in Storm’s voice.

“I know this is scary for you, what with you Daddy in heaven and Mama not being herself. Are you getting ready for school?”

“I don’t wanna go back. I hate school. The kids call me dirty girl. Anyway, Grandma I’m hungry!”

Anger and despair shoots all through Aurora. “Look Storm, you stay home today. I’m going to call Auntie Joyce and see if she can come over, bring you something to eat, and see what’s going on with your Mother.”

“Grandma, I just wanna come stay with you.”

“I know Storm. I’m going to call Auntie right now. I’ll call you back.”

Aurora immediately dials Joyce’s number. Joyce answers on the first ring, “Hey Girl…”

“Joyce what are you doing this morning?” Aurora anxiously inquires.

“Don’t have anything planned yet. Is everything alright?”

“No…it’s Rain. I just talked to Storm. She says her mother been staring out the window for two days now. I put in for a transfer to the clinic. It was accepted but. I can’t miss anymore days.” Her shaky voice betrays her usual stoic self.

“Aurora, I got this. You go to work. I’ll go over Rain’s and find out what’s happening. I got to get dressed, but I am as good as on my way. I’ll call you later.”

Aurora calls Storm back. Storm picks up immediately. “Grandma?”

“Yes baby, just talked to Auntie. Soon as she gets dressed, she’ll be over. For now, just make sure you keep the phone by you so when Auntie calls you can let het in. I’ll see you this evening. I love you Storm.”

“Love you too Grandma.”

Storm presses the off button on the phone and puts it in her pocket. She continues to stand in the doorway solemnly staring at her mother. Storm is famished. She turns and starts slowly down the hall towards the kitchen letting her bare feet slap against the hard tile floor in a heel slap fashion. Heel-toe slap heel-toe slap heel-toe slap. Storm opens the refrigerator and takes out the milk. It’s sour. She then turns around and heel-toe slaps her way to the table where the cereal is already out and starts eating it out of the box. The table is cluttered and dirty. Digging into the sugar bowl with her spoon, she manages to scrape up enough to sprinkle in the box. She really doesn’t like plain corn flakes but that’s all there is.

Early morning sounds float through the window. The excited voices of chattering children remind Storm that it’s time to go to school. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t like school anyway, but she likes watching cartoons. She’s glad that there’s a television in the kitchen. She twirls towards it. She stops suddenly, jumps up into the air and turns, landing in her best karate stance. She then proceeds to hand chop her way to the television, hacking away at invisible enemies. She turns it on and flicks the dial to the first cartoon she comes to. With a few jump-turns, and some graceful karate kicks she makes her way back to the table, sits down and starts munching away at her cereal.

Storm puts the box down, turns off the TV and goes into the living room. She takes the phone out of her pocket and places it on the coffee table. She’s tired of watching television. Nothing but boring stories are on now. Storm is glad that they have two televisions. The one in the kitchen is little and the one in the living room is a big screen. Silence surrounds her. She misses her Daddy. Mama says sometimes she can see him. Auntie should be here soon. She hears the baby crying in the apartment next door. She feels like crying too but she must be brave like her Daddy. Mama says Daddy is a warrior for God now. She leaps onto the sofa and starts jumping. She jumps high and lands on her side then rolls off the sofa onto the floor. She lies spread eagle on her back. The floor feels cool. She attempts a backward somersault but only ends up banging her legs against the coffee table. She sits there and rubs them for a while.

She thinks about checking on her Mother. She stretches out and lies flat on her stomach. She begins pulling herself along the floor with her elbows. She must get the machete. Her mother needs her protection. Quietly she reaches the doorway and peeks in at Mama who is still sitting in that same chair staring out the window. It’s those dee-mons again. Mama has told her before that dee-mons are after her. Mama says that she’s the only one that can see them. Sometimes Storm wishes that she could see them, so she could help Mama but other times she’s glad she can’t. It’s too scary. She shouldn’t be a scaredy cat though. She beats up the children at school. She beats them up when they call her dirty so why should she be afraid of dee-mons? She continues to lie on the floor in deep reverie.

She decides to get the machete from the closet, come back and chop those dee-mons up. She creeps back to the living room to the rhythm of her thoughts. Nearing the closet, she stealthily glances around, gets to her knees, reaches her hand up to the doorknob and quickly opens it. Looking up she realizes that she will not be able to touch, let alone grab the machete. She gets to her feet, bends over and scurries across the living room, down the hall to the kitchen and hurriedly ducks behind a chair making sure no one has spotted her. She then begins slowly pushing the chair across the floor to make sure she is not being observed. She must keep stopping because she is sure the dee-mons can hear the chair scraping against the floor as she pushes it, but she’s determined to go ahead with her plan. Reaching the open closet, she shoves the chair into the closet. Absolutely satisfied that she is alone, she climbs on the chair, stands on her tippy toes and grabs the machete. Leaping back to the floor, she drops to her stomach and starts wriggling back along the floor to the bedroom. Arriving at the doorway, she slides the machete out of its sheathe then from a crouching position she springs into the bedroom with her most ferocious yell.... ahhhhhhhhhhhh...ahhhhhhhhhhhh...ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...slashing away at the air she begins slaying the dee-mons. Kill the dee-mons...kill the dee-mons...kill the dee-mons... “Mama I’m killing them...mama I’m killing the dee-mons! Mama can you hear me? I’m killing the demons. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh…Oh yeah and Mama, you gotta buy milk and cereal.”

Rain hears distant screams...her avengers. Kill the demons echoes through her isolation, sounding in the distance, drawing her whizzing and whirling through stratospheric mantles. Kill the demons invades her cosmic aura getting closer and closer, squeezing at her perception, forcing her awareness, marching across her vision. A small figure dances wildly on a bed waving a sword, screaming at her, exploding in her mind. Kill the demons!

“Storm baby come give Mama a hug. Mama needs you. Storm baby come here before Mama disappears. I love you Storm. Mama loves you!” She feels the strong hug of her little one. She hugs her back.

The road out the window is long and narrow. An apparition entices her to move forward. “Wa’du is that you?” Memories stand ready to capture her. A chorus of voices whisper in her ear telling her that truth lay in the depths of darkness. They signal for her to follow their sound. Her feet are made of cement blocks, her legs too rubbery to sustain her weight. She falls into her mind tumbling and whirling. Disjointed arms and legs reach out grabbing at her. She manages to stay just out of reach making herself small, shrinking, then sliding through space. The air crackles around her while sharply syncopated brass sounds blast in her ears.

Destructive forces swirling twirling in a whirlpool of negative energy suck hope into a void of nothingness replacing it with overwhelming depression drowning her soul in a sea of injurious thoughts. Whispering voices murmur, generating perplexing suggestions of emancipation. “Wa’du is waiting for you. Jump…jump… jump!” Shades of grey shroud the light that attempts to pierce her heart wanting to infuse positive expectation into veins running cold. Loneliness creeps in. Die, die, die disembodied voices chant in atonal discord crushing the need to be sane. Die, die, die, just say goodbye and die! The demonic eye in the center of her emotional storm fixates on impulsivity and the need to act without thought pushes Rain’s soul into an abyss of no return. Rain slowly rises from her chair and makes her way through the glass doors leading to the balcony. Small hands are tugging on her robe trying to pull her back, but she easily slips out of it. “Mama, Mama, Mama” screeches baby girl’s voice. Mama, Mama, Mama…don’t leave me!”.

Rain squints her eyes. A spirit appears, “Wa’du is that you? Yes, yes, it is you. I see you clearly. Take my hand. I’m coming. I’m coming” Rain’s heart bursts with joy as she climbs over the rail into his reaching arms. “Baby girl I’m going to be with daddy. Never forget that Mama loves you”.

Delusions shoot from guns of insanity, traveling faster than the speed of light, penetrate consciousness killing it instantly. Catastrophic energies explode into a cacophony of sound clashing, clanging, banging. The clatter of dissonance swishes into brain matter destroying the will to survive in heartache and loneliness. Falling…falling…falling…pressure snatches the breath. Blood splatters. Pins and needles shoot through the body numbing senses as the finality of the moment sets in. Bones crushing on impact, split ligaments, tearing nerve endings from the root of life.

Storm is curled into a fetal position sobbing uncontrollably on the balcony, retching, gagging, still clinging to her mother’s bathrobe. The buzzer is frantically being sounded, the phone is ringing, and there is banging on the door. Storm is immobile, frozen in time in a deplorable space. A key is inserted in the lock. The door opens, and feet come running in her direction. She hears Joyce’s comforting voice and feels her strong arms pick her up and cradle her, “Baby, baby, baby…Grandma’s on her way.” Storm is aware that she is being carried to the sofa and Joyce sits down with her still on her lap. Storm listens to herself screaming hysterically, “The dee-mons took my Mama…the dee’mons took my Mama! I tried to kill them Mama…I tried to kill them!”

Her mind revisits that fatal moment. She’s busy killing dee-mons. Mama is silently sitting on the chair. She stands up and Storm runs to her, wraps her arms around her and gives her a big hug. “I love you Mama!” Mama hugs her back, “Baby girl I love you.” Then she starts walking towards the balcony. She grabs onto her robe. She recalls Mama saying “Wa’du is that you?” She starts kicking and twisting in Joyce’s arms trying to break free. Joyce holds her firmly. She screeches at the top of her lungs, “She thought it was my Daddy…she called my Daddy’s name…Wa’du is that you…I didn’t see him. If my Daddy took her why couldn’t I see him? Where’s my Mama…where’s my Daddy?”

Mayhem invades Aurora’s sphere. Rage and grief trample her heart immobilizing her ability to think sensibly. Storm is her focus. Storm has become her only reason for being. She must get to her grandbaby. The love of her friends and colleagues surrounds her since the horrific news of Rain’s suicide. They designate a driver to take her to Rain’s building. This is a nightmare…a real phantasm. Rain’s tormented spirit haunts her invoking innumerable conflicting emotions. She feels as if she’s the one now in the car covered with sheepskin. Darkness is upon her. There is no light. Where is her failure? Where is life taking her?

The car pulls up in front of the building. Aurora sees evidence of police activity. She’s detached…in a fog...can’t see. Time is elongated. Rain’s apartment is at the back. The car parks. She’s being guided into the front to the elevator. The button for the 14th floor is pushed. She exits the elevator making that long walk to the apartment. The door is ajar. Aurora heads straight to the sofa where Joyce is holding Storm The person sitting next to her stands up and Aurora sits down reaching for her grandbaby enveloping her in her arms hugging her tightly. “Grandma’s here baby girl…Grandma’s here.”


Tamam Moncur: "I enjoy writing. I write for the sheer pleasure of writing. Writing helps me organize my world and express what matters to me at any given moment in time. I’ve been a Civil Rights activist, taught elementary school for twenty-five years, worked with my husband, Grachan Moncur III arranging musical compositions and performing. I self-published a book entitled Diary of an Inner-City Teacher, a project that was very close to my heart. I wanted the reader to see the classroom experience from a different perspective and become an advocate for the creation of innovative schools for the future. I also self-published several poetry booklets, co-produced a CD of music and poetry, and collaborated with my family to produce a play that my mother wrote. I am now a retired teacher and a seasoned senior who still loves to write. Writing helps me synthesize all that is happening in my world. Writing helps me glean a somewhat nebulous understanding of the anger, the stress, the daily deluge of violence that has become the norm…the new reality. Writing soothes my soul."




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