I remember Dunbar being a place where evening never ended, and where Laura Reed would channel the spirits of the dead.
Her mother noticed it early on; the frequent glimmer of passing lights over her pupils, and the constant quivering and cracked lips that would speak silently for hours at the shadowed corners of her home. It was a clear sign of channeling, and her mother wasted no time in getting her into the business that had a long history in the family.
The storefront churches raised her, and the sagging, wrinkled-faced customers moaned melodically asking for help, showing their bruised bodies, loose hair and bursting sores, carrying with them trinkets they wanted blessed, and begging Laura to channel for them, bringing their lost loved ones from the cold wind of dreams, and into the crammed, sweating rooms, speaking nonsense and unfamiliar language and forcing everyone to sob uncontrollably and scream, their red bloated faces trembling as they threw money into the waiting baskets, which Laura’s mother collected without hesitation.
Laura told me it all felt like buzzing, and that her body would tremble, and her mouth grow dry causing her to choke, and everything would turn black, hearing only distant murmurs until finally waking up on whatever floor she happened to be on surrounded by tears and the thunderous clapping that sounded like waves of an ocean as she pressed her ear against the floor, wishing she was underwater.
Soon, she didn’t want to channel, but her mother would have none of it, and would lock her inside a closet, standing outside reciting hymns and prayers in a crackled voice, as Laura looked upwards towards the lone light that flickered occasionally, and made the threads of the hanging wool coats curl, and tighten around the fading bursts of color that appeared with each blink.
One evening though, while leaving Kroner’s Grocery, she met a boy named Landau, who spoke almost in a whisper, and whose breath reminded her of the warming fires cutting through cold, winter air.
The two began spending a lot of time together, mostly in her basement when her mother wasn’t home, sitting on the concrete floor surrounded by stained and crumpled cardboard boxes, and Laura gripping onto his shoulders, massaging them slowly with her thumbs, and soon resting her head on the back of his neck, blowing short breaths and watching his tiny hairs sway like grass, and feeling his arms wrap around her back, his fingers writing her name she hoped, and letting the softness of the silence envelope them like a blanket.
Laura soon left Dunbar. There was no note, and it was in the middle of the night. I remember she once showed me an old ad for a house in Atlanta that she kept with her, and wondered whether she tried to find that house, so that she could walk through all the empty rooms that were now hers, and lay on the floor, pressing her ear to its wooden surface, and once again hear the rolling waves as they poured into the rooms allowing her to freely float in the pools of light that now shined down from a limitless ceiling.
Her mother would never speak again, and as she entered Laura’s empty room, she found only a hairbrush, its wooden handle chipped, and the bristles holding several pieces of hair, which she gripped onto and began rolling into a ball with her thumb and index finger until finally placing the ball into her pocket and exiting the room.