Cloak: Chapter 4
Creative Writing | Serial
A new novel, presented in serial form.
CARMEN RAN BACK toward her kids, and they were already running toward her, too.
“Are we going to fight?”
“I want to run!”
“Do we have enough darts left?”
“Shh! Everyone! Follow me right now!”
Carmen scooped up Asha, and ran unevenly to a collection of stone sculptures on the other side of the garden. She urged the children toward a large angel sculpture near the middle. The robe of the angel flowed inward between its legs, forming a sort of alcove. As the children all crowded into the curve of the angel, they could hear car doors opening.
“Silence. Will your Cloaks to muffle sound. I will hide you.”
“But Mama—” Asha started.
“Shh! I will hide you!”
Carmen spread her Cloak wide, holding the edges and gripping the hands of the angel for support. Her left thumb stung terribly where she’d cut it, but she had to ignore that. Hood up, and making sure her Cloak’s shadow fell on every bit of every child, she began to will, Hide my family.
The Blades were already searching through the garden. Carmen could hear them in the far periphery of her awareness, but had no idea how many there were, or where they were searching. Every shred of focus was consumed in the fire of concealing her family completely. Getting a Cloak to obscure, or make someone go unnoticed in a passing glance, took attention. Getting a Cloak to hide, to render someone invisible even under intense scrutiny—that took power. Normally Carmen only did it in short bursts during a fight.
Her arms started to burn from staying up, but she gripped the angel’s hands harder. Hidehidehidehide. The small cut in her Cloak didn’t respond to her will, but she couldn’t worry about that; she desperately hoped the Blades didn’t notice that small break in her concealment. She tried to keep her breath quiet, even. Oh, Lord, are they getting clo—Hidehidehidehidehidehide. Her arms shook, sweat poured between her breasts and down her back. Blood from her thumb trickled down her wrist. But she held, and she hid, for an eternity. She looked at nothing, heard nothing, was nothing, except the will to hide.
“Mama?” Lenore whispered.
“Mama?” Lenore whispered again.
Zati touched her face. “They’re gone, Mama.”
Carmen opened her eyes, still tensed. “You sure?”
Zati nodded. “They’ve been gone for about fifteen minutes.”
Carmen’s arms fell and she collapsed to the ground. Her children cried out, crowded around her, trying to help her stand. Nausea bubbled up, and she choked for air. When was the last time I had to will something so hard?
On hands and knees, she blinked back tears and took deep breaths. After a few moments, she stood. She looked at her children, touched their faces one by one. “You’re safe,” she said, over and over.
“Yes, Mama, we’re all safe,” Ty said, taking her hand.
“Where did they search? Could you see them? Did they ever get close?”
Lenore explained. “They searched under benches, behind bushes, under those big shrubs. Oh, behind the doors, too.”
“They walked right next to our statue,” Deshawn whispered, eyes huge.
“But they didn’t look close at any of the statues,” Zati said. “It’s like they thought we’d hide under something.”
“That’s what I figured,” Carmen said. “And that’s why your mama is smarter than Blades. Don’t you forget it!”
Asha hugged her legs. “Let’s go home now.”
There was no Zipping to the bus stop this time. Carmen felt woozy with every step. As she eased her tired body into the bus seat, the answer to her question slipped into her mind. Memories of aching, despair, and relief filled her. Memories of a presence infinitely wiser and more patient than she, filling her with words and calm and…When was the last time I willed something so hard? Right after Tyrone left us.
Sunday mornings, Carmen just let the chaos happen. Church didn’t start till 1:00pm, so she stayed in bed as long as she could. When she finally dragged her body out, taking her Cloak from a hook on her bedroom door, she didn’t know what would greet her. This morning, Ty, Deshawn, and Asha were using their Cloaks to hang upside down from the ceiling while Lenore and Zati shoved marshmallows in their siblings’ mouths. They all froze when Carmen came down the hallway—and then Zati offered the bag of marshmallows to her mother. Carmen shook her head in disapproval, smiling despite herself, and ate a handful of marshmallows. “Who’s making breakfast today?” she asked, voice muffled.
“We already started, Mama,” Deshawn said, flipping and coming down gradually to the floor, Cloak slowing his descent. “Me and Ty cracked all the hard boiled eggs, and measured all the bowls of oatmeal.”
“Ty and I cracked all the eggs,” Carmen corrected.
“No, I cracked them with Ty, not you,” Deshawn sassed.
“Yes, you did, Deshawn. I was sleeping, praises be.” Carmen tapped her bowl of oatmeal, which was always the red one. “Put some peanut butter in mine once it’s hot. I want a little extra protein today—helps me stay awake in church.”
“Okay, Mama! Can I have chocolate chips in mine?” Ty asked.
“Only if you can give me those marshmallows back. I think you’ve had enough sugar for the morning, baby.”
Carmen curled up on the couch, wrapped in her Cloak. It would take a few minutes before the oatmeal was all heated up, and she was just going to relax until then. Asha climbed into her lap, wiggling and twisting to cuddle in. Being only four, Asha didn’t take a turn making breakfast yet. For now, since Ty was nine and Deshawn was eight, they worked together on their breakfast morning, and they could only use the microwave and toaster. At eleven years old, Lenore and Zati were old enough to each take their own days, and they could cook. Once the girls turned twelve, they’d share dinner nights, too. Plus, everyone made their own lunch. If they gonna eat the food, they gonna help prep the food.
Asha curled closer, and on reflex Carmen said,“Don’t pinch my arm.”
Asha opened her hand, but kept stroking the soft back of Carmen’s arm. Carmen removed her little hand and kissed her fingers. “Why do you pinch my arm?” Carmen asked, yet again.
Asha pressed her nose to Carmen’s. “Because I love to pinch your arm.”
“Don’t pinch my arm,” Carmen said, emphasizing every word.
“Breakfast!” Ty and Deshawn called in unison.
“No Cloaks at meals,” Carmen reminded the younger kids.
Everyone crowded around the six-person table. Carmen wondered what they’d do as the kids all got bigger. We can’t fit anything bigger in here—and I sure can’t afford to move somewhere different. As it was, elbows bumped constantly as salt and pepper, milk, cinnamon, and bananas circled the table.
“Asha, lean over your bowl!” Carmen yelped, catching a big glob of oatmeal in her bare hand before it fell to the floor. She let the oatmeal fall back into Asha’s bowl, then stood up to rinse off her hand.
“Sorry, Mama,” Asha said, scooping another huge, precarious bite up to her mouth without leaning over.
Carmen gently pushed the back of Asha’s head till her chin was over the bowl. “Please. Over the bowl.”
Carmen sat back down, and between sticky bites of oatmeal, told the kids, “Aight, homework’s gotta be finished up this afternoon. Anybody got projects?”
Ty spoke, bits of yolk tumbling out of his mouth. “I’m supposed to—”
“Baby, please, finish chewing.” Carmen asked, leaning over to scoop up the yolk with a napkin.
Ty chewed and swallowed, and spoke again, this time over the sound of Asha singing to herself. “I’m supposed to make a poster thing about gratitude for Thanksgiving.”
“What about gratitude?” Lenore asked.
“Something about family and saying thank you,” he shrugged.
Carmen nodded. “Find out this morning, so we can borrow supplies from Big Mama if we need to.” Ty and Deshawn were sword-fighting with their spoons. “Ty?” Carmen said. No response. “Ty, TY.” She grabbed his spoon. “Are you listening, boy?”
“Yes, this morning.”
“Good. Thank you for breakfast, by the way. I loved my oatmeal.”
“You’re welcome, Mama!” Ty and Deshawn said in unison, just as Asha let another glob of oatmeal hit the table.
Somehow, Carmen got everyone out the door to church later that day looking halfway decent. They slid into a pew the next morning right as the sacrament hymn started. No matter how late the raid went the night before, Carmen tried to get to church. Plus, Ty was supposed to say a scripture verse in Primary. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put some demands on her—but somehow lightened the burden of every other demand. She needed that.
She shushed all her kids, trying to interest them in singing the hymn with her. Asha was already trying to climb under the pews.
“I heard you went on a date with a Blade,” Keshara whispered in her ear, plopping down beside her, Keshara maneuvered her two-year old daughter and bulging diaper bag around her big pregnant belly. She brushed graham cracker crumbs from her belly.
“You been talking to Ashley?” Carmen whispered back as the strains of “I Stand All Amazed” flowed around them.
“Yeah, that was some crazy stuff. Right by Big Mama’s. Oh, you ever seen a Blade with a note? With instructions?”
“Sienna, baby, don’t pull my hair,” Keshara gently pried Sienna’s finger’s off a hot pink chunk of her weave. “Shh, shh, you wanna snack? Here you go, here’s some more crackers.” She smiled. “What kind of instructions? ‘Please suck at fighting?”
“Instructions about me. Specifically.”
The hymn drew to a close, and Keshara remained quiet, absorbing this new development while the bread was blessed and passed to members of the congregation. Carmen shushed her children, especially her chatty older girls.
As she sipped the water in the second part of the sacrament, her thoughts lingered briefly on Chris. He has never been able to reconcile the gospel and Cloaks. He couldn’t handle the questions, the mystery, and in the end had abandoned both. Carmen didn’t have all the answers either, far from it. But she knew the difference church made in her life and her children’s lives, and for now that was enough.
When the sacrament was over, Keshara whispered to Carmen again, “I’ve never seen a Blade with a scrap of writing on them. Who would write instructions? Blades have no—Sienna, no, no, don’t, you’re getting cracker crumbs everywhere—no leaders, no organization.”
Carmen leaned over towards her kids. “Asha, let Sienna see some crayons, baby. Maybe that’s changing, K.”
Carmen turned at the distinctive rustling sound of Big Mama crowding into the next pew with her motley crew of bags and poster boards for teaching children’s music. Carmen smiled and waved a little, and then remembered Ty’s homework. Poster board for Ty! Can’t forget to ask for some. If we’d manage homework on Saturday I wouldn’t have to bug her for last-minute supplies all the time…
Something alarming caught her eye. “Deshawn, no, no, not those markers, those are permanent. I don’t know how they got in the church bag. Use some crayons.”
“But crayons won’t look—”
“Shh, shh, not so loud.”
“Crayons won’t look right.”
“Sorry baby. Make it work, no markers.”
While Carmen talked to Deshawn, Asha accidentally squirted an applesauce pouch all over the pew. Maybe I’ll get a few words out of church today. Maybe.
That evening as everyone jumbled away from the dinner table carrying plates with smears of ketchup and cups with drops of orange juice, Carmen laid her head down on the table, her skin sticking to the cool wood. No matter how hard she wished, Monday always came back.
She loved her kids and her work as a midwife, but weekdays…she had to keep running on this giant falling boulder, and if she didn’t keep it together then she fell off and the days rolled over her, crushing her down to her worst self. Messiness. Sarcasm. Irritability. Selfishness. Temper. They all got squeezed out of her in the relentless pressure of weekdays.
Slap! Carmen started as something clapped onto the table. It was poster board. Ty held a pack of markers. “Will you help me with it, Mama?”
Carmen leaned on her elbows and rubbed her face. “Sure, baby, sure. What’s it about again?”
Carmen yawned. “And what are you grateful for? What makes you happy?”
Ty grinned. “You, Mama.”
A true mother smile spread across Carmen’s face. “That’s real sweet, baby. What else makes you happy?”
“Now you can’t say that, baby, because nobody knows about our Cloaks.”
“Not that either.”
“What about raids?”
“Aight, aight. What about family time?”
“Now that’s a decent idea. Let’s think of a few more things. And how do you wanna show your list?”
At some point, later than Carmen would have liked, the poster was finished. As she did every night, she went to check on all the captured Blades. She leaned in close to the cabinet, the smell of leather and wood softly wafting up to her. She ran her fingers idly over the Thread binding the knives. Why haven’t any of them changed? Why don’t any of the Threads release? Do they only want to destroy with their Blades? Why can’t they find their own power, without hunting us down? She sighed. Having enemies was exhausting, and she already had enough to worry about.
With fingers on the last light switch, she smiled as she glanced over Ty’s list again—which he had chosen to portray as six different types of candy bars, all clutched by a bright representation of himself.
And even with Monday and all those questions looming—Who is M? Are Blades changing? Who was the single Blade? Who knows about my family?—that simple, Crayola list helped Carmen go to sleep happy.
To be continued.
Cover image by Elise Matich