What is a ghost except a longing that will not die or a love that has yet to be born?
All the women in Anora Madison's family have lived haunted by the curse of Poor Butterfly: women still longing for but deserted by the men they loved. Determined to be the first to escape a life of abandonment, Anora fled Harlem for Brooklyn, not only severing her ties with her mother Angela, but also ending her relationship with Winston Emerson, her lover and the father of her child.
Six years later, Anora comes home to make peace, but an unseen force manifests itself during the homecoming and targets not only Anora, but her little girl Cammie.
With nowhere to run, Anora must confront the evil now trying to destroy her life. She vows to protect her daughter at all costs, but if that protection can only be found with Winston back in her life, how will Anora protect her heart?
Winston's offer to help resurrects the ghost of heartbreak which haunts Anora still. Can fighting one ghost free her from another? Does she want it to?
I swore I’d never return to my mother’s house. She swore I’d never be welcomed back.
That was 1957. Six years later death made liars of us both.
On September 15, 1963, the one year anniversary of my aunt Diana’s death, four young girls in Birmingham, Alabama lost their lives when their church was bombed for its involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
My mother called that evening and inquired after my health and the health of my daughter Cammie—the granddaughter she vowed never to acknowledge. Fear, anger and sorrow sounded in her voice. Mine too. We mourned those girls, their families and the sister/aunt we both loved. In that spoken grief, I silently mourned what had died between my mother and me.
The following month she called again, this time inviting me to bring Cammie to dinner. Like some sulky child I felt tempted to ask what took her so long. Instead I swallowed my hurt and came home.
Cammie squeezed my fingers and stared at 13 141st Street with a wide-eyed wonder only six year olds possess.
“Wow. Grammie has a real house.”
I don’t know what excited her more: the prospect of meeting her maternal grandmother or visiting a real house. Single-family homes with front stoops, porches and backyards were things she saw only on television. We lived in a Brooklyn housing project with eight apartments to every floor and eight floors in every building.
All last night she ooo’d and ah’d over the photo of Number Thirteen my mother had sent her. Too live to sleep, she tossed and turned on the double bed we shared and shook me awake each time a new possibility occurred to her. Did her grammie really own the whole house? Could she have a room of her own when she spent the night? Could she have a puppy there? No cats or dogs were allowed in the projects. How many staircases were inside the house? Did it have a doorbell she could ring?
The sound of her excitement cleaved my heart. She showed no signs of discontent with our life, yet the smile she wore as she slept told me my daughter had desires of which I was unaware.
We paused on the sunny side of 141st Street and surveyed the stately façade of my mother’s Harlem brownstone. While the rest of the block showed signs of neglect, Number Thirteen survived as an unscarred reminder of this venerable neighborhood’s glorious past.
The stoop and first three floors stood shadowed by the oak looming before them, but the fourth floor blazed inexplicably with a light of its own. Cammie pointed to the windows where the orange glow of autumn seemed to appear, fade and reappear like the light of a dying bulb.
“Mommy?” She smiled a smile as wide as her eyes. Her young voice trembled with delighted terror. “Does Grammie Angela live in a haunted house?”
I shivered. Out of the mouths of babes.
“No, sweetie.” I laughed and followed that lie with another. “There’s no such thing as haunted houses.”
She frowned up at me. Her mouth twisted into a disappointed pout. “Really?”
She tilted her head in disbelief. “No such a thing as ghosts?”
“Only on Halloween,” I said and looked up to the fourth floor. How easy lies flow once they get started.
I gave her hand a loving squeeze, noting the difference in our skin-tones. Hers a beautiful dark chocolate and mine light as cream. The ghosts of prejudice and self-hatred have always haunted my family. Perhaps with today’s visit my mother and I might exorcise them. After all, it was 1963. Change was in the land. Change could be waiting for me in my mother’s house. I took a deep breath and let the chilly autumn air fill my lungs with a cleansing hope.
The sidewalk beneath my feet sported the words “Honor Your Mother” above the spray-painted outline of Africa. I mulled that one over. It’s easy to honor an idealized motherland five thousand miles away where people are fighting for and winning their independence. It’s not so easy to honor a flesh and blood mother only a borough away against whose influence I’d been fighting and losing my whole life. I shrugged off my reservations and crossed with the light, clinging to my daughter’s hand.
Cammie pulled away from me the minute her foot touched the curb. She raced to the site where I’d experienced so much rejection and bounded up the stairs to Number Thirteen’s stoop, so innocent, so trusting, so happy. Would she still be so innocent, so trusting, so happy once she met my family? My God, how could I bring her here without first being sure of her welcome? My chest tightened.
“Catherine Angela Madison, you wait for me,” I shouted.
She ignored me, as was her wont when I used her full name. Children know when you really mean business.
With precisely timed leaps, she aimed for the doorbell, just missing it each time. She turned and beckoned to me with impatient glee.
“Hurry, Mommy. Lift me up. I want to ring the bell.”
I wanted to lift her in my arms and run back to the shelter of Brooklyn. Before I could the front door yawned open.