“The Knowing” by Tananarive Due
Just finished reading two more stories from Gumbo that I really enjoyed. Speaking of which, I’ve only read one novel by Tananarive Due, but I own a couple of her books—just haven’t read them yet. Needless to say, I had high expectations for her selection in Gumbo. When I finished reading “The Knowing,” a short story about a mother with a special gift for telling people the one thing that they really don’t want to know, I made a mental note to check for the book online. Sadly, the work is solely short fiction! I am hot about that. But I enjoyed the work so much that I searched online for an excerpt to post here for ya’ll. Check it out below.
The Knowing by Tananarive Due
Our teacher said one day that knowledge is power, and I had to raise my hand even though I don’t like to; I like to sit and be quiet and watch people and wait for lunchtime. But I had to ask him if he was sure about that, or if maybe knowledge isn’t just a curse. He asked me what I meant by that, and I said, Hey, that’s what my mama always says. Knowing is her curse, she whispers, touching my forehead at night softly with her long fingers, like spiders’ legs. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and she’s there whispering and rocking me. But I didn’t tell my teacher that part. I could tell from the way my teacher looked at me sideways and went on with his lesson that he thought I was trying to be a smart-ass. People always think you’re something you don’t want to be. Mama says that, too.
I like this school in Chicago all right because my math teacher is real pretty, with long legs and a smile that means what it says. But me and Mama won’t be here long. I know that already. I was in six different schools last year. It’s always the same; one day I walk into wherever we’re staying and she looks up at me through her cigarette smoke and says, “Throw your things in a bag.” That must mean the rent hasn’t been paid, or somebody got on her nerves, or maybe she’s just plain sick of being wherever we are. I don’t say anything, because I know if she stays unhappy too long, she’ll start throwing things and screaming at the walls and the police might come and put me in foster care like that time inAtlanta. I was gone six months, staying with these white people who were taking care of six other boys. Mama almost lost me that time. When the judge said she could take me back, I smiled in the courtroom so he wouldn’t see how mad I was at Mama, but I hate it when she acts like she’s the kid instead of me. I didn’t speak to her for a whole week, and when I did, I said to her, “Damn, Mama, you gotta’ do better than that.” I meant it, too.
And she promised she would. She really tries. Things will be really cool for a while, better than cool, and then I walk through the door and see that look on her face and those Marlboro Lights or whatever she smokes when she’s in a smoking mood, and I know we’re moving again. I guess she feels like she’ll be all right if she just runs away from it, as if you could run away from your own head.
I wish Mama wouldn’t smoke dope. It freaks her out. She goes up and down the stairs and walks through the halls wailing and sobbing, pounding on people’s doors and shouting out dates. March 12, 2003. September 6, 2006. December 13, 2020. I have to find her and bring her back to the apartment to listen to Bob Marley or Bunny Wailer, something that calms her down. I hug her tight and, when she sobs, I can feel her shaking against me. Those are the times I have to be the grown-up. It’s all right, Mama, I say.
“Nicky,” she says to me in a little girl’s voice, “I ain’t only telling. I make it happen. When they ask me, I say, okay, you’re October fifteenth, you’re February eighth. I’m doin’ the deciding, Nicky. It’s me. Ain’t it? Ain’t it?”
She gets like that on dope, thinking she’s God or something. I have to keep telling her, “Mama, it ain’t you. Knowing ain’t the same as deciding. TV Guide don’t decide what’s on TV.”
Then, if I’m lucky, she’ll get a smile on her face and go to sleep. If I’m unlucky, she’ll keep crying and go back running through the halls and one of the neighbors will call the police. That’s what happened in Atlanta. They thought she was crazy, so they locked her up and took me away. Lucky for her, the doctor said nothing was wrong with her.
But he didn’t know what she knows.
In Miami Beach, the last place we lived, our apartment was upstairs from a botanica, which is where the Cubans go to find statues of saints and stuff like that, trying to make magic. Mama took one look at that place and almost busted out laughing. She doesn’t believe in statues, she says. But she was real nice to the owner, Rosa, who mostly spoke Spanish. Mama told Rosa what she does, what she knows. It took the lady three or four times to understand Mama, and then she didn’t want to believe her. “El día que la gente van a morir?” Rosa asked, frowning. You could tell she thought Mama was trying to scam her.
Mama sucked on her teeth, getting impa tient. She looked back toward an old lady in the back of the shop who was checking out some oils in small glass bottles on a shelf. The lady was breathing hard, walking real slow. Mama can smell sick people, no lie. Mama leaned close to Rosa’s ear. “You know that lady?” Mama asked her.
Rosa nodded. “Si. My aunt,” she said. “Está enferma.”
“She’s gonna’ die soon. Real soon.”
Rosa looked offended, her face glowing red like a dark cherry. She turned away from Mama, straightening up some of the things on her shelves. You should have seen all that stuff; she had clay pots and plates and cauldrons and beads and tall candles inside glasses with holy people painted on them, even a candle that’s supposed to burn fourteen hours. And there were teas labeled Te de Corazón and Te de Castilla. I always pay attention when I’m in a new place. I like to see everything.
“Listen,” Mama said to Rosa, trying to get her attention. “You know your days of the week in English? Remember Friday. That lady back there gonna’ die on Friday.” Mama held up two fingers. “Friday in two weeks. Viernes. Nicky, how you say two weeks in Spanish?”
“Dos . . .” I had to think a few seconds “semanas.”
I will post my other favorites from Gumbo soon (as I read them). I don’t think there are any excerpts of Bernice McFadden’s Loving Donovan (or the excerpt “Luscious”) online so I’ll just have to create and post my own. I’m still working my way through Gumbo and hoping to finish it by next Thursday (probably sooner).
Stay tuned and happy reading ya’ll!