Hello, friends! I know I’m slowing down a bit with this scene, but I did so want to give a bit of history and had no idea where else to put it. (If you want some context, check out the complete list of current contents for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)
Writing Music: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis
Chloe’s father blocked her halfway down the stairs. Light from the grandmother’s room faded against the second floor corridor until it was just as dim as the rest of the foyer. The grandmother’s presence, however, hadn’t faded, not at all. Go to the desk near the fireplace downstairs, she’d said. Take ashes from the hearth, and with your own fingers make the sign. She refused to watch Chloe or her father leave, eyes still transfixed upon the window where the owl and clawed its own mark. Do it now, before he finds a way inside.
Not that the owl’s mark made much impression on Chloe’s father. Already he was grumbling about Chloe’s love of music. “Your momma got you that job to help jumpstart your journalism career, not to write songs other people are gonna sing without even mentioning your name.”
Chloe slumped to a seat on the stairs. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she said, voice hardly above a whisper. She clutched the hem of her skirt, so carefully sewn by her mom to help Chloe to look like someone who was on campus to learn, not serve. “I wanted to surprise you both. Play the radio and tell you, ‘I wrote that. That’s my song Brenda Holloway’s singing.” Through the rails of the bannister Chloe looked down upon the crow bones on display, the hung feathers, the child drawings. How many had been pinned to those places and left, unmoved, for years and years? “Some friends at WNOV, they’re going to set up a meeting with representatives from Motown after New Year’s.”
“Song writing. Jee-sus. Chloe, I…” Thomas Watchman bit his lip, breathed deep. Chloe knew exactly what he was doing: he was looking at her as if she was a clock refusing to wind. “When you reported what happened at the Black Student Strike in Madison to the Milwaukee campus, your momma and I, we were so, so proud of you.” He knelt upon the stair to see her eye to eye, to hold her hands in his calloused palms. “You were in living history. Do you have any idea how powerful that is? How important that is to preserve for your own kids and grandkids?”
Chloe swallowed back a hard lump of fear. So chilled, these stairs, like the sidewalk Chloe fell upon that day. The car horns, the words hot as acid on Chloe’s ears…Even Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman white men awarded, was almost run down while talking to the students. Yes, Chloe wrote a report and shared it on Milwaukee’s Black radio. But the real fire came in the words Chloe wrote after, words for a song, a song to hear with a piano and a microphone in a smoke-filled room, where tables are sticky with booze and old stories and the floor doesn’t care whose shoes walk its boards.
Thomas Watchman gave his daughter a little smile to tug her back into the present. “You’ve got the words and the soul to take on all those white men who think they know what deserves to be recorded and read by our eyes. Well they don’t. You.” He brought their held hands up to Chloe’s chin for a gentle nudge. “You do.”
Word Count: 542 Total Count: 10,540
The Black Student Strike was a real thing at UW Madison, as was Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks nearly being run down by a car. In this age of outrage and vitriol over merely not liking a YA book, let’s just take a moment to remember there are plenty of real battles worth fighting for.
Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!