I could hear my heart pounding in my ears as I sprinted back up the steps and into the house. Inside, Uncle Emmanuel’s body was now against the wall on the kitchen floor with a white bed sheet over him. My mother was sitting in a chair opposite my grandmother holding grandma’s shaking hands inside hers. Grandma was looking down at the big red blood-stain in her lap where Uncle Emmanuel had been. My mother was talking to her, but my grandmother was not responding. If she heard what my mother was saying or if she knew that she was there, she gave no indication.
I stood in the entryway to the kitchen. “Ma,” I said, the shock from my discovery still noticeable in my voice.
“What?” she said turning her head to look back at me. “What happened? Did Prince hear us? Is he ok?”
“He’s still out in the yard,” I answered.
“Didn’t I tell you to take him to the store?” she commanded. “I need him out of here.”
“He wouldn’t go,” I explained.
“Ma,” I tried to tell her the rest of the story, but she interrupted me.
“He needs to leave.” “I have to call the police, and I don’t want him here when they come.”
As though my mother had just pumped her chest with a defibrillator, my grandmother suddenly joined us in the moment. “Police?” she said. “Why do we need the police?”
“Mommy…” my mother started to explain, but this time grandma cut her off.
“Did Prince get in trouble again?” she asked. “I told that boy to go rake the leaves. He don’t listen to a word I say” she complained. Suddenly, she sprang up from her seat and went towards the hall closet. My mother and I followed her. She flung open the door and began pushing things to the far sides of the closet.
“Mommy, what are you looking for?” my mother asked her.
“All those leaves piling up in my yard,” grandma murmured, still barely cognizant of mine and mother’s presence. “I can’t stand it. All that time I spent tending to them plants and trees and they just shed, just like I ain’t even did nothing,” she continued.
I tried to pull my mother to the side to explain to her what had happened outside.
“What is it?” she asked, not taking her eyes off of my grandmother who was still rummaging frantically through the closet and mumbling to herself.
“There’s a knife with blood on it at the bottom of Prince’s leaf pile,” I told her.
“What?” she turned to look me in the eyes now.
“I think…” I couldn’t finish my sentence as I looked back at her.
My mother looked back at my grandmother, who had gotten down on her hands and knees and was now throwing things out of the closet in an effort to improve her search. Neither of us knew what she was looking for, but I had a feeling that it did not want to be found. Suddenly, my grandmother turned to look at me like she had known that I was there all along.
“Honey, what do they call them things?” she asked me. “You know how my mind gets when I’m trying to remember the names for things.
“What do they call what, grandma?” I asked her. “What’s it used for?”
“You know, to gather up all them leaves better so it won’t take me so long and they stay in one spot?”
Then, I realized what she was looking for. “A rake?” I suggested.
“That’s it,” she said. “ It figures that they’d call it just like what it does, huh?” she laughed. “I know I have one of them around here somewhere, but I can never find it when I need it. If that boy hasn’t raked the leaves yet like I told him to, I’m gonna have to do it for him. I’m gonna need one of those, so I don’t have to stay out there forever because I’m tired.”
“He’s raking, grandma,” I assured her.
In the meantime, my mother had gone out into the yard where Prince was. He was still standing in the same spot where I had left him, staring straight ahead at the street. She had seen the knife at the bottom of the leaf pile, and she stood just in front of the cement edge that blocked off the garden with a look on her face that I had not seen since her own father’s funeral. She wanted to give Prince a hug, but she wasn’t sure how he would respond.
“He wouldn’t leave,” he said to her, not taking his eyes off of the street and barely raising his voice to an audible level, “and she wouldn’t make him,” he explained.
With tears streaming down her face like rain droplets against a car window, my mother went over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. “I know,” she sighed. “I know.”
At that moment, my grandmother stormed down the front steps with a sense of urgency that I hadn’t seen in her since the time my older cousin removed his handball from the garden without informing her and accidentally stepped on one of her tulips. She rushed over to where my mother and Prince were standing and snatched the broom from his hands.
“I thought I told you to rake these leaves!” she yelled. “Why don’t you ever listen?” She began moving the broom around the yard like a hockey player with a puck and no goal in sight.
“Mommy,” my mother tried to snap her out of it, once she recovered from her momentary shock, but my grandmother was focused. Prince watched her in silence and surprise.
“These dead leaves are everywhere!” she shouted. “It seems like the second I clean them up, more fall.” She was beating the pavement with the broom now, as if the leaves were roaches that she was trying to kill. Broom bristles flew everywhere.
“Mommy, stop it!” my mother cried, as she went over to her to try and take the broom from away.
“Leave me alone!” “I’m trying to clean!” She wriggled her hand away from my mother’s and held her firm grip on the broom. My mother doubled back a little bit, taken aback by my eighty-year-old grandmother’s strength. “All I ever done was tend to these plants…” she was crying now.
“I know, mommy,” my mother approached her again. This time she succeeded in gently getting the broom out of her grasp. “But you can’t fix it all; you can’t save us.”
“No!” she screamed, flailing her arms as my mother tried to hug her. “I told him to rake these leaves. He don’t listen. He just like his daddy.” Grandma fell to her knees now. My mother dropped the broom and joined her, crying. Prince stood in the same spot looking at them both as a tear rolled down his cheek.
After a few moments, I went back into the house and got one of those big black trash bags from the storage container where my grandmother always kept them. I brought the bag down the stairs, picked the broom up from where it lay on the ground beside my mother and grandmother, and pushed the pile of leaves that Prince had gathered into the bag. When I was finished, I discarded the broom in the same bag. Then, I set the bag in the corner of the patch of grass just outside the front gate for sanitation to come and collect it. I stood on the outside of the gate looking at the scene inside as the L Train rolled past and the wind shook some more leaves loose from the trees.