After Papa Died

by Malon Edwards

This story was previously published in Purple Magazine’s 2010 Black Faery Anthology.

Lé m’ t’yon ti gason an—when I was a little boy—I believed Père Noël truly left kado under the Christmas tree for me and my sisters.

Me and Jeanne-Marie and Nathalie would put our shoes by the fireplace and fill them with carrots and pain patate for Père Noël and his donkey the night before Christmas. And while we slept three-in-a-bed, Père Noël would let us know in the best way possible that we’d been bon gason ak tifi that year.

He would leave bannann yo and a shiny Full Steam Ahead! Airship for me, pom yo and a brand new thaumatrope for Jeanne-Marie, and joumou yo and a colorful wooden marionette for Nathalie. As we played with our toys and munched our fruit on Christmas morning, me and my sisters would whisper with amazement that Père Noël knew exactly what we wanted and liked.

But when I was eight years old, I spied Papa eating the carrots and sweetbread we’d left in our shoes, and Manman staying up all night to wrap the toys and arrange the plantains, apples and pumpkins under the Christmas tree just right. But I didn’t tell Jeanne-Marie and Nathalie. I didn’t want to spoil their amazement the next morning.

And then Papa died.

Life was very difficult those first few years after Papa died, especially for Manman. She didn’t say much in those days. Trankil ak tris. Manman had been like a quiet, sad ghost: sometimes there, sometimes not, but always unhappy.

We hadn’t been pòv when Papa was alive, but we hadn’t been rich, either. Papa had done all right as a charcoal burner, peddling his coal. And Manman had made some extra coin selling her pain patate.

But after Papa died, Manman had gone from selling pain patate for two hours at the farmer’s market to hawking it from sun up to sundown. She was hardly home. The most we saw of Manman was her climbing beneath the covers every night. Jeanne-Marie and Nathalie made sure she got some food in her before she fell asleep, though, even if it was just a little bit of pumpkin soup.

The month before the Christmas Papa died, I decided Jeanne-Marie and Nathalie needed to know the truth about Père Noël so they wouldn’t get their hopes up. But that Christmas Eve, we still put our only pair of shoes by the fireplace. Nathalie insisted. And though Manman didn’t tell me, I knew I was supposed to eat the kawòt yo and pain patate in our shoes just before we went to bed.

So it was a surprise for me and Jeanne-Marie and Nathalie to wake up and find fruit and toys waiting for us on Christmas morning. And the next Christmas. And the next Christmas. And the next Christmas.

I used to think that Manman would pull her tired self out of bed in the wee hours of that special morning and wrap and arrange the bannann an, pom an, joumou an, airship, thaumatrope, and marionette as we slept. So when I was eleven years old, I tried to stay up all night Christmas Eve and catch her in the act.

But as far as I could tell, the only time Manman stirred was when we woke her the next morning to come look at the fruit and toys someone not Père Noël had left. Manman had seemed just as surprised as us to see them under the tree.

As the years passed, Manman shook off her sadness and became her wonderful cheery self again and things got a little better for us. Copper coins were still few and times were still hard, but a Christmas didn’t go by without fruit and toys—sweeter and more intricate than the year before—under the tree with sprinkles of bright forget-me-nots.

Once I became a man, I missed those Christmases. I even missed the forget-me-nots.

And then they returned last night.

When Papa was alive, steam was clean and coal was plentiful. But over the years, New City has begun to change.

Nowadays, it’s all about diesel engines being souped up from stuff deep in the earth by a growing technocracy of machinists and engineers. Life is tough for a charcoal burner. I should know. For the first time ever, at the age twenty-six with de tifi—two little girls—I hadn’t been looking forward to Christmas.

The coin just hasn’t been stacking since everyone got all hot and bothered over diesel. Me and Lucie hardly had enough copper for Esmé and Aimé to fill their shoes last night with carrots and sweetbread for Père Noël and his donkey. And after shopping at the market yesterday for Christmas day dinner, we had nothing left for toys.

Heavy-hearted—sa se bèl madanm mwen—that beautiful wife of mine sat in the hearth room after we put the girls to bed, trying to figure out how and from whom we could get toys at such a late hour to put under the tree. And I sat there with her by the fireplace, helpless.

We pondered a long while. I must have nodded off, though, because next thing I knew, an intimate, sensual whisper pulled me from a fitful sleep.

“Awaken, Jean-Baptiste.”

A woman I’d never seen before was standing before me. Se bèl fi—a beautiful woman. Vivid blue lace-up corset dress to her ankles. Dark, loose-curled ‘fro holding a crown of equally vivid blue forget-me-nots. Lovely amber-hued skin. My heart knocked hard in my chest. A small teasing smile touched her full lips.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?” I asked her.

“Père Noël is not the only one with lists,” she responded.

I looked over at Lucie. She was in a restless sleep of her own.

“Do not worry,” the woman said, turning her smile upon Lucie. “I was just leaving.” She gestured at the Christmas tree. “My work here is done.”

Beneath it were plantains, passion fruit, mangoes, apple guava, pumpkins, two skipping ropes, wooden building blocks, and two wooden jumping jack string puppets. Some time passed before I could close my mouth.

“As for your other question, I am Asterid, the Forget-Me-Not Faery.” Lucie shifted next to me and opened her eyes.” I aid the downtrodden and bless the poor.”

Lucie took my large ebon hand into her smaller mahogany one and laid her head on my shoulder. I could feel her tears there.

“For fifteen years you wanted to know where your blessings came from. Now you do.”

And then she was gone. Faded into the aether.

And now, on this Christmas morning, as I sit in the hearth room and smile at Lucie while Esmé and Aimé play with their toys, I wonder if we dreamed it all.

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