17 at Midnight
The first time, ever I saw your face.
It’s 5:30 am and Anise’s body is wrapped in silk sheets, snuggled beneath a dark floral duvet. She hears the rain pattering against the large top floor windows of her family's five story brownstone. Slowly, Anise opens her eyes as a drop of water falls on her bottom lip, startling her wide awake. She looks up worried there is a leak in the roof. She quickly notices that all of the ivy covering the walls appear dewy, as if rain had fallen inside her bedroom. Anise slowly rises and climbs out of bed. She stands up facing the open window located above her favorite spot in the house. A dark quaint reading nook upholstered in velvet. Everything around her fades, almost disappearing and she hears a man humming a familiar song just outside her window. She slowly walks towards the sound, an investigation to see who could hum so softly yet thunderously at the same time. Before she can reach the open window the wind blows so hard that rain water pinches her skin. As the wind grows, so does the humming. Anise quickly reaches the reading nook and kneels on the soft velvet to close the window.
In the dark of the early morning she sees the humming man standing in the middle of the street facing away from her. He is sweetly humming to someone at the top floor of the opposite brownstone. She squints her eyes at him, subconsciously trying to see his face through the back of his head, then quickly looks to the window across from her to see who is receiving this early morning serenade. It’s still dark out and she can’t quite make out the person in the window. With a flash of lightning she sees her, a young woman with black kinky waist length hair, wearing a dark cocoa brown nightie matching her dark brown skin, and she’s staring back at her in complete shock.
With both hands reaching the top of the window she leans further out to see if her eyes are mistaken. She knows the girl is still there but she can't see her face, she stares for what seems like minutes, her breath quickening every second with anticipation. When she can barely take another moment of curiosity a second flash of lightning hits the street directly in front of the humming man and she sees the girl clearly. There she was, holding onto the window, leaning on the nook of the top floor, wind and rain on her face and hair. Anise couldn’t believe it, she was staring at herself.
The brownstone goes dark again and Anise swiftly looks to the humming man who has suddenly become louder. She gasps when she sees him standing in her direction with no face, his arms out pleading for returned affection. The window breaks from the weight of her body. The humming stops as she and her doppleganger fall from their windows at the same time. As Anise falls into the humming man's arms, her doppleganger sprouts wings, transforms into an owl, and flies away into the night.
“You can’t have both.” The humming man whispers.
Anise awakes in a sweat, catching her breath from the fall that felt so real. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Just as she begins to relax she hears the floor creak beneath her and she freezes in fear holding her breath. The duvet begins to move as if someone is crawling from under her bed. Anise inhales and then screams at the top of her lungs.
“Happy Birthday sissy!!!!!” Her four year old sister, Poppy, and nine year old brother, Caster, pop up from the side of her bed. Poppy jumps in the bed and hugs her tightly. Anise squeezes her, throwing her head back laughing in relief.
“Ahhh you guys scared me to death!” says Anise.
Caster climbs onto the bed. He lays next to the two of them and folds his arms behind his head. “We have a surprise for you.” he says calmly with a smile on his face.
“What is it?” Anise smiles.
“Get dressed and come see…come on Poppy.” Caster says. Caster and Poppy run out of the room.
Anise gets out of bed still glowing from her nightmare. Her feet are so damp she leaves prints on the distressed bamboo flooring on her way to her bathroom. She takes a quick five minute shower, dries off and gets dressed. As she makes it to the 4th floor, she hears humming coming from her mother’s room. She walks to her door to listen and she hears it, her mother is humming the song from her dream. She knocks on the door and the humming stops. Her mother answers the door and smiles. “Happy Birthday my Anise seed, I love you.”
“I love you too, mommy.” Says Anise and her mother kisses her on the forehead.
“Mommy…” Anise sighs with worry in her eyes.
“I know.” her mother sighs, then she grabs Anise’s hands. “You’re a woman now, what will be will be.”
Anise takes a deep breath then exhales slowly, “I want to fly so bad, but I...” She whispers as she looks down and rubs her stomach.
“It’s what we do as women my dear, we sacrifice, but remember there is peace in each path. I wouldn’t change my path for anything, you will feel the same.” Her mother says. “Hahaha you know when your father found me I was crying because I was so sure I’d sprout and be alone. I waited all day on those front steps for him to find me…as soon as I saw those eyes…it was the most beautiful day of my life.”
Anise sighed, ever since three years ago when her father passed, her mother would tell her her story of “being found” over and over. She didn't understand how her mother would want love and children over freedom and magic.
After enjoying Caster’s surprise birthday breakfast muffins, Anise went to the local coffee shop for some alone time. Sipping her tea while sitting at the corner table she paused to take off her sweater. For it to be early February in Philadelphia, it was a warm sunny day. Suddenly a gentle breeze lightly grazed the skin on her back. Something about that breeze in the midst of the city street led her to stop what she was doing and look up. There he was, the humming man from her dream. Her eyes locked onto a tall man wearing a casual green suit, holding music books, and an old brown leather satchel. He was walking quickly as if late for something important, beads of sweat glistening from his temples. She made sure to avoid his eyes and whispered, “ Tempus mortis.” His eyes went from blankly staring right through Anise, to locking onto her. As soon as he saw her he stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes widened in amazement, his lips parted, and let out a gentle gasp of surprise. “Tempus mortis.” Anise whispered, then quickly turned back to her tea, took a sip and smiled. The humming man fell to his knees grasping his heart. As people gasped and rushed to his aid, Anise collected her things and walked away.
That midnight Anise’s mother, Poppy, and Caster lay in front of the family room fireplace humming the song. The song was passed down generation to generation, a prayer for love and fertility. It was tradition for women in their bloodline to face their fate by Twelve am, the morning after their 17th birthdays. The lights begin to flicker as an owl with cocoa brown feathers lands in the open window. Anise’s mother closes her eyes and calmly whispers, “What will be will be.” The owl flies into the brownstone, up the stairs to the fifth floor, into Anise’s room, and transforms into Anise. She looks into the mirror admiring her new powers when the doorbell rings. Anise’s mother can’t believe her eyes when she sees a young man wearing a green suit standing at the front door. “I need to see Anise.” He says.