Cloak: Chapter 5
Creative Writing | Serial
A new novel, presented in serial form.
“MAMA, I forgot my Cloak!” Zati cried, halfway to Big Mama’s. It was Tuesday night, and Zati and Ty had been fussing at each other the whole cold walk. The full moon lit every bit of her distressed face and Ty’s smirk.
Carmen schooled her features, and turned to Lenore. “Would you please run back home with your sister, since she’s too busy arguing with Ty to remember her Cloak on Thread Night? And I mean run. This is Deshawn’s first weave!”
The streets leading back home were all big, busy, and well lit this time of night, so she knew the girls would be fine. Praises be, or I’d have to drag everybody back and Big Mama would whoop my behind if we were that late.
As they walked, Carmen put her arm around Deshawn’s shoulder. “You ready for tonight, baby? You got any questions?”
Deshawn thought for a moment. “Why do I have to put all the colors in the cloth? It sounds so hard. Can’t I just do one color?”
“Mm, that’s a good question, baby. You’re always thinking.” She hugged him closer. “Sometimes, a cloth made from Thread can be all one color, if it’s going to have just one purpose. Like our socks.”
“Blue. For comfort.”
“Exactly. And those don’t have to be all Thread, they can be mixed with common thread too. Same with our Threadpacks, but we use more colors in those, right?
“Right, orange and blue and purple.”
“Orange to make them strong, blue to make them comfortable, even if they’re heavy, and purple so people don’t really notice them. We wouldn’t want someone to steal our Threadpacks, or try to search it and wonder about our Cloaks. So yes, we use those three Thread colors woven in with lots of common black thread.” They all paused to wait at an intersection.
“But our Cloaks do so many things!” Ty said. “Anything we want them to do!”
“So we need all the colors present in our Cloaks to respond to any command, to do everything we imagine,” said Carmen.
“Why can’t it just be patches of every color? Then we could weave the cloth from all one color Thread and just sew them together.”
The light changed, and Carmen took Asha’s hand as they all started across the street. Her head shifted constantly, keeping track of her boys walking on either side of her. “You tell me, Deshawn. What would happen if it was patches, each made of one color?”
“Well…” Deshawn paused. “Well, then I guess the yellow patch would be move quick, but it couldn’t do anything else. Or a blue patch would keep you warm but nothing else would, and then you’d still be cold.”
Carmen smiled proudly. Hearing her kids think through problems pleased her no end. “You got it, baby. Every bit of the Cloak has to have some Threads from every color in it. So you can make purple Threadcloth for a Cloak, but when you look close you’ll see red, orange, yellow, green, and blue in it, too.”
Deshawn shook his head. “It sounds hard. I don’t know how I’ll do it.”
Ty put his arm around Deshawn. “Don’t worry! If I can do it, you can do it.”
“And you’ve been practicing with common thread for months now, baby. Weaving with Thread isn’t really that different. You’ll get it.”
Breathless, the twins caught up with everyone a few blocks before Big Mama’s. They all hurried the rest of the way and were welcomed into the crowded house. Big Mama and Pops were at the door to greet everyone, wearing their gorgeous, coordinated Marriage Cloaks. Both had bold, swirling designs that belied their marriage being in the late 1960s—Big Mama’s in hues of red, blue, and purple, and Pops in orange and green, with a few deep yellow accents. Carmen had never seen anyone with Cloaks as intricate as her parents’; she could only imagine how much time they had spent in their lifetimes maintaining those designs.
Once inside, Cloaks came out of their bags and went onto their shoulders. The older kids all hustled to chat with friends before things got started. Many members of their Circle were there, coming from all around north and central Philly. Not everyone came on Thread Night–there simply wasn’t room–but anybody who was supposed to spin or weave came, or brought their kids.
Plopping onto the couch, Carmen pulled Asha onto her lap. Gotta mend that cut later tonight, she remembered, wrapping her Cloak around them both. Asha was such a skinny little thing, she easily tucked up into a ball. It wasn’t Carmen’s night to spin, so she could just cuddle her daughter and relax for once. One day, if she ever left being Circle midwife to become Circle Center, like Big Mama, then she would spin every full moon without fail. She looked out over everybody, squeezed together and sprawling into the kitchen and even the utility room. How do we always fit so many? With the people plus the compact spinning wheels and looms, it was a wonder anyone could move.
Zati and Lenore were choosing poofy, combed-out cotton seeds from a large basket, getting enough to keep them busy. Ty was helping Deshawn choose some spools out of the large collection of solid color Thread that the Circle had built up. Ty seemed encouraging, but Carmen could tell from across the room that Deshawn was still full of nerves. He’ll calm down once he’s got his hands on the loom. He likes to be doing.
Big Mama started clapping her hands and calling out, “Quiet now, y’all.” After more claps and even some whistles from Pops, everybody hushed up enough. “Hello, everybody!” She directed the crowd as they called back, “Hello, Big Mama!”
“Now mosta y’all know the drill, but tonight we got somethin’ special. Deshawn, you come on up here!”
Deshawn smiled as he squeezed through the looms and men on his side of the room. He stood beside Big Mama and she hugged him close.
“Can you believe this boy is 8 years old? It feels like this mornin’ he was in diapers!”
Everyone laughed warmly, and Deshawn hung his head with a grin. “Now, tonight is his first time weaving, and his daddy ain’t here, so y’all take care of him!”
Claps and cheers followed Deshawn as he headed back to his seat. Carmen took some deep breaths. She didn’t want to think about him, the man who was missing. Instead, she looked at each of her children in turn. Zati and Lenore, getting settled at their spinning wheels with the other women. Ty, clapping Deshawn on the back and pulling him back through the crowded bunch of men and looms to his seat. Sweet, fiery little Asha nuzzling into her chest.
Everyone quieted completely as Pops started slapping a beat on his thigh and humming in a low voice. Men and women, young, and old, all picked up their Cloak Hearts and kept ahold of them while spinning or weaving—no easy task. But spinning Thread or weaving Threadcloth required that matrilineal connection, along with the presence of the full moon—and very focused will from each person. Soon, Carmen was caught up in the beauty of Thread Night. The whisk of the wheels, the clack of the looms, and the deep, familiar melody.
Round the moon and
Round the wheel
Thread to spin and
Will to seal
Will to live and
Will to birth
Will to grow from
Wealth or dearth
Will for self and
Will for kin
Will to end and
In minutes Asha was asleep, and Carmen longed to sleep, too. How many Thread Nights had she spent dozing in Big Mama’s lap when she was young? But despite the squishy couch beneath her and the warm child in her lap, Carmen blinked herself awake. She would not sleep through Deshawn’s first weave.
Ty was settled next to Michael, his weaver. Michael was only 17, but his large build made lots of people peg him as older. As usual, he leaned in close, speaking softly to Ty as the low voices filled the room. Deshawn was going to learn weaving from Tamir. Lean Tamir was slightly older—26. He immediately handed Deshawn some Thread and gestured for Deshawn to imitate his movements. Slowly, steadily, Tamir maneuvered the Thread. His light eyes never left the loom, making sure Deshawn caught every nuance.
Tamir and Michael were good teachers, and they were always kind to her boys. Lots of boys learned from other men and young men in their Circle instead of family. Pops was the Lead singer for their Circle, and couldn’t talk while weaving. Her boys couldn’t learn from her brother Chris, since he didn’t use his Cloak anymore, and her brother Lawrence—well, he had started teaching Ty before Afghanistan. But as she watched the Thread slip in and out and around itself on Deshawn’s loom, she could not keep her mind from Tyrone.
She could see his long fingers, working faster—and yet more neatly—than everyone else’s. She could hear his tenor harmony rising above the bass. She could see him rising from his loom, walking to her, smiling and offering her the first fabric he had ever made as a patch for her Cloak. Dark Turquoise. And as she reached out to run her fingers over that very patch of cloth in her Cloak, she could still see him walking away. Walking away from her, from their children, from Cloaks.
Deshawn was doing so well. He already had a growing piece of fabric on his loom. Carmen bit back a sob. Tyrone. He should be teaching Deshawn. He should be right there between their sons, helping them weave something fine and long lasting.
She kept rubbing the turquoise patch of her Cloak between her fingers. It was so smooth, so flawless. Why hadn’t their love held up like this? How could he just—
“You’re thinking about him.” Keshara sat beside Carmen on the couch, her pregnant belly swooping out onto her thighs.
“You’re supposed to spin tonight,” Carmen said, dropping the turquoise patch. “And where’s Sienna?”
“Sienna’s with my mom, and Tanya sat for me. I told her I needed to talk to Ms. Feelings.”
Carmen laughed. “And that’s me?”
“Girl, your face was like a one woman soap opera. Everyone in this room has gotta know you’re thinking about him.”
“How could I not? When Ty learned to weave last year it was hard, but I thought, maybe Deshawn will get to learn from his own daddy. But here we are, three years since he left…”
Deshawn looked up at her then, and smiled shyly. Carmen flashed a confident grin, and mouthed, “Good job, baby!”
Keshara rubbed her belly. “It’s a shame, CC, I know. Tyrone was good. But he wasn’t good enough to stay and be a man.” Her fingers started kneading her hips. “Now let’s talk birth. Is my tub in yet?”
“Yes, the rental company dropped it off today.”
“So it’s not inflatable, right?”
“No, I’ll come show you. It has this shell and a lining thing.”
“Well good. The last thing I want is my landlord up in my grill over water damage.”
“Most of the inflatable tubs are fine, K.”
“No way! I was there when Ashley’s busted. You think I’ll forget that?”
“No one could forget that.”
“She’s hollering, pushing her baby out, and suddenly water’s gushing all over the floor?”
“Guess you could say her water really broke.”
Keshara groaned and slapped at Carmen. Carmen yelped and curled up around Asha, who barely stirred. When Big Mama glared from across the room, Keshara laughed and changed from slapping to rubbing Carmen’s neck. “CC, why you so stiff? Don’t you get any sleep?”
Carmen gestured to her children spread out across the room. “Only with company.”
“Mm,” Keshara replied. “What about your pillow? You got a good pillow?”
Carmen winced. “Nah, it’s pretty tore up. I don’t wanna spend the money on a new one.”
“Girl, don’t tell me you ain’t got money for a new pillow.”
“I get by, K. Between midwife work and selling Thread to other Circles and my SNAP card, I get by. But I don’t buy extras.”
“A good pillow shouldn’t be extra. Though who am I to talk? I’ve saved up a bit so that I can take a couple extra weeks off from ShopRite when baby comes, but it is gonna be tight.”
Carmen nodded knowingly. “It’s inhuman, how fast you gotta get back to the grind or lose your job. Anyway, a pillow is extra to me. Besides, that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m out at the store. I’m thinking about food and whatever the kids need.”
“Hmm. I know what you mean.”
“Speaking of what kids need…have you thought more about who you want to tie the Birth Thread?”
Keshara clicked her tongue dismissively and looked away. “I told you, I’ll be good with just you and Lenore.”
“K, are you sure? Isn’t there anybody else in the Circle you feel close to?”
Keshara lowered her voice. “I’m excited for Sienna to have a sister, but CC…I still feel raw about this. Another baby, another man who won’t be there. I just don’t know if I can share with anybody else.”
“Even if it impacts the Birth Thread?”
Keshara nodded, looking at the floor.
Carmen took her hand. “Well, if Zati somehow gets her period before then, can she come?”
“You know she can, I love that girl. I wish she could come anyway!”
“Can’t help tie the Birth Thread till she’s got her period. Plus, I don’t know if she’s quite ready to be at a birth.”
“But Lenore’s been going for months, she’s been fine! They’re twins.”
“Twins or not, Zati is a little more…tender. Birth is pretty potent, even if it all goes smoothly.”
Keshara snorted. “Potent. Yeah, you could say that. I’ve been trying to remind myself just how ‘potent’ birth is, and forget how potent birth is at the same time. I want to be prepared but not freaked out! How am I supposed to do that?”
Carmen kissed Asha on top of her head. “Just don’t forget who’s working with you. Don’t forget about baby.”
Keshara leaned into her belly a little. “You hear that, baby? You gotta help me out! I’m not doing this by myself!”
“You’re thirty-eight weeks now?”
“Yes, as of yesterday. And I feel every week of it in these hips, let me tell you.”
“You got everything ready at the house? You went early before.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it all ready. I got my snacks, the home birth kit came in the mail, and my mom loaned me lots of towels.”
“And you don’t want your mom to help tie the Birth Thread?”
“CC, you know she hasn’t worn her Cloak in years. Even if I asked her, she wouldn’t do it.”
“I guess not. Just wishful thinking.” Carmen looked over at Deshawn again to see his progress. Tamir was helping him undo a bit of work that had been too loose. As she watched their hands tease out the Thread, she saw the quickest flash of movement in the window behind them. Immediately she stood up, swaying a bit under Asha’s heavy sleeping body.
“CC, what’s wrong?” Keshara asked, alarmed. Carmen held up a hand and squeezed through the men to the window. Nobody stopped spinning or weaving, because that would ruin the the Thread and the Cloth—it needed focused, continuous will till it was done. But everyone looked at her, surprised. Balancing Asha with her left arm and hip, Carmen pressed her hand against the cold glass and looked out into the dark. The bushes on the other side of the yard were swinging. Someone was getting away.
“Does anyone have darts with them?” Carmen said, loudly, jostling back through the men to set Asha on the couch. No one stopped what they were doing, but everyone shook their heads. Pops and Big Mama both raised questioning brows at her. Carmen swore. She pushed open the front door and stepped out onto the porch.
Warm me, she thought absentmindedly as the cold hit her skin. She listened and looked for the sneak. She wouldn’t go running out into danger again. At least she had her Cloak on this time. She flipped her hood up. Obscure me.
She tried to step quietly down the porch steps, but they were always creaky. She slowly went around to the side of the house. The bushes by the window were a little bent. Maybe there were footprints. She leaned down to look—
Carmen spun, willing Stiffen! and brandishing the corners of her Cloak, which were now hard and sharp. The man stumbled back as Carmen lunged toward him.
“Whoa, whoa, Carmen, it’s me!”
Carmen tumbled over her brother Chris, not being able to stop her momentum. She hit him over the head repeatedly with her Cloak corner, letting a bit of her will lapse so it was hard but not sharp. “What-the-hell-are-you-doing-out-here?! You scared me to death! What are you doing out here!”
Chris tried to put up his arms and defend himself, but Carmen kept at him. “If you want to come back to Cloaking why don’t you come inside like a normal person? Do you know what I’ve been through lately? I am on edge, Chris!”
Finally, Chris managed to roll away from her and staggered to a stand. Carmen kneeled in the lawn and glared at him, dampness seeping into her jeans.
Chris put a hand to his head, trying to smooth his cornrows, which Carmen had fuzzed up with her assault. “Lord, Carmen, you lost your mind? You can’t take a joke anymore?”
Carmen stood and grimaced at her now muddy knees. She had just washed these jeans. “I can take a joke, Chris, but I don’t see what’s funny about you staring in from the dark at our Thread Night.”
He shifted a moment, then spoke. “Look, Carmen, it’s not easy being Bare.”
“You chose to give up your Cloak, Chris. You chose to be Bare. You can be a Cloak again at any time.”
“No I can’t, I don’t have the same will for it now. I wouldn’t have the control to do anything.”
Carmen adjusted her own Cloak. “Yes, you would have to work to be the master of your Cloak again, but the choice is there. Some people are truly Bare, Cloaks destroyed. Let’s not forget that.”
“I know, I know. Listen, sometimes I just…I just wanna hear the music, again, you know? I wanna hear Pops leading, all the looms going. I miss it. But I just don’t think I can come back. So I watched.”
Carmen crossed the lawn and pulled her baby brother into a fierce hug. “You listen to me, Chris Campbell. Whether you cloak or not, we’re family. You don’t have to keep secrets. I know you can’t be there without a Cloak, but you are always there in my heart. Don’t forget it.”
Chris pulled out of the hug, smiling. “Thanks, Carmen. I’ll let you get back to Thread night. I should probably head home, it’s cold out here.”
“Alright, Chris. Goodnight. Stay warm.”
Carmen watched Chris head off down the sidewalk from the porch. There’s only one problem with your story, Chris. I did see footprints before you surprised me—and there were two sets. Who are you hiding?
Enjoying Cloak? The complete novel will soon be available for purchase. Look for details on the release of Cloak, and its forthcoming sequel, Patch, in future issues of The Remembered Arts Journal.
Cover image by Elise Matich