Debris by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Debris has a bad effect on me. It's in my heritage. Everyone knows about the great Limione who got dust in her nasal holes and spent the rest of her life bequeathing her bones to cripples. It was harmless enough when it began. She offered a few of her decrepit digits to a little boy who was missing a foot. Sharing is a good thing, Grandmother told us. She hobbled proudly through the house, the model of benevolence.

We stopped admiring her charitable spirit the day she was wheeled home with no skeletal structure from her pelvis down. She waved off our horror by claiming she'd been using her legs less and less. When she was down to just her skull, her daughter—my mother—put my grandmother's head on a marble desk and locked her in the altar room.

It is legend how my mother kept my grandmother's eye sockets clean with the pure white feather of a cockatoo. She often sent me to the forests to pick marigolds to stack high around Grandmother's skull. Grandmother loved the smell of the marigolds. She told me so every time I entered the house with an armful of fragrant weeds.

After my grandmother's head had been sitting in the altar room for a month, my mother realized my grandmother was dying—not because of her missing body, but because she was bored. Mother brought Grandmother into the living room and positioned her right in front of the window. There Grandmother sat happily for a week until Dad caught her promising her skull to an epileptic candy vendor.

Mother couldn't bear the thought of locking Grandmother up again. So Dad came up with the idea of sitting her in the middle of the living room facing the kitchen. Grandmother didn't have much visual stimulation, but she could hear the sounds of the street. While staring at boiling pots and waiting for one of us to keep her company, Grandmother amused herself by mounting day-long monologues in response to the whizzing, clicking, and chattering that wafted into the house through the window.

One November, Trucia decided we should suit up and go down to earth for the Days of the Dead. The humans make so much mischief during those days, they don't notice us creaking through on our bones.

My costume had seen better days. Trucia said it was my sin that had made me run my robes down into dirty tatters. Lorki doesn't believe in sin—he doesn't believe in costumes either. Easy not to believe in anything when you're always aligned.

When I started slipping out the door that November night, I swore I heard Grandmother whisper "be ill." I stopped and looked back, but she was silent. I stared at the cracks that worry their way down the back of her skull for five minutes. But they too, were silent. Grandmother said nothing more, so I turned and slipped out the door.

Down on Earth, we looked for the cemetery with the most lights. We figured the busiest graveyards were best. While people drank, ate and cried for their dead, we could sneak in unnoticed.

We found what we were looking for in Oaxaca, a tiny little desert town in the middle of six kissing mountains. Lorki's black velvet cape covered us as we rushed into the swirl of activity on a dank, damp wind. The minute we landed I started trembling. That happens whenever I find myself in close proximity to large amounts of people. Their auras make me vibrate.

Humans have the best emotions. They are so sharp and hysterical and self-propelling. With the candlelight swimming around us, the buzz of voices and the emotions flying through the air, I felt a sense of intoxication. A grandeur.

How can I explain what it felt like to dance with a stilt walker whose stilts were thicker than my femur? How can I tell you about the eerie flesh-like shadow that shrouded Trucia's cheeks as she laughed at Lorki yanking people's souls out of their chests and juggling them with one long-boned hand? How can I describe the moist succulence of a tiny child's fear when it glimpsed my dirty, pocky bones and swallowed the sight of me with undiluted dread?

Trucia thought it was funny to pass her hand through people's spines. She would reach into their backs until her wrist bone was buried in their flesh. She'd rub the tip of her index finger along their hearts, moaning filthily when their bodies went stiff with pain. While she was enticing me to find a spine to disturb, I felt a sudden chill licking between my fifth and sixth vertebrae.

When I turned around, I saw a huge child running toward me. "You can't catch me," it yelled. The child did not touch me, but the force of it passing knocked me over. I fell across a grave and a parade of children—yelping in delighted terror—ran by.

Humans are dirty beings. They never learned how to transcend earth, especially in their graveyards. The debris kicked up by those murderous little feet covered me in a canopy of dust. This was not the little spray of dirt that, once stuck in Grandmother's nasal openings, induced her suicidal bone endowment spree. This was huge clumps of dirt. I was clogged. I was suffocated. I was nothing more than a pile of jammed joints and rigid bones.

Lorki tugged at the bowl of my pelvis. Trucia yanked at my anklebones. The debris damage was stronger than their worry. Trucia pulled harder and harder, but I didn't stir. Couldn't stir. Every inch of me was paralyzed.

Suddenly a little girl approached me. Her arms were full of marigolds. She started framing me with them. She stuck some through my ribs, another under my jawbone, six or seven around my skull.

When the earth under me started shifting, Lorki and Trucia couldn't bear it. They didn't stay to see the dirt seizing bits of bone to feed the grave beneath me. They went home.

Lorki and Trucia will never believe in breath beyond the bones, but it is real. When my body was completely dissolved, I became something else. The spirits that haunt these graves say I am one of them. They roam the confines of the cemetery, licking leaves, drinking morning mist and planting crazy notions in human flesh.

Yet, when the spirits retire to their graves, I find what's left of me grasping at sticks to scratch symbols in the dirt. Grandmother may never understand the shrieks I now use to communicate, but I must conjure a way to tell her the truth about the debris.

She must discard her skull.

We are more—so much more—than elegant skeletal spectacles. I will find a way to whisper it to Grandmother—may your cranium be eaten away. There is something else beneath the bone. Something indestructible. Something nothing, not even debris, can destroy.

Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana. Since 1990, she has been writing poetry, essays and short fiction that explore and celebrate the mysteries and challenges of life. Her speculative fiction can be found in anthologies such as Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora and Mojo: Conjure Stories, as well as The Infinite Matrix. In addition to publishing fiction in erotica collections, Kiini Ibura has developed a body of creative nonfiction that examines issues of gender, race, and social relationships. Her essays - ranging in topics from date rape to humanism to catcalling - have been included in college curricula and garnered a personal commentary award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Since 2001, Kiini Ibura has authored the KIS.list, a monthly e-report about the writing life. She is currently working on her first novel, Fate. Kiini Ibura Salaam lives and writes in Brooklyn.

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Twenty-three Small Disasters (c) 2007 Barzak, Haber, McCarron, Pratt, Rosenbaum, Salaam & van Eekhout