Whitney French (she/her) is a Toronto-based writer, multidisciplinary artist, and publisher. She is a self-described Black futurist, middle-child trouble maker, who explores memory, loss, technology, and nature in her works. Whitney French is the editor of the award-winning anthology Black Writers Matter (University of Regina, 2019) and the editor of Griot: Six Writers Sojourn into the Dark (Penguin Random House Canada, 2022). Her writing has appeared in ARC Poetry, GEIST, the Ex-Puritan, Carousel, CBC Books, Quill and Quire, and others. French is now the co-founder and publisher of Hush Harbour, the only Black queer feminist press in Canada. Language is her favourite collaborator. Follow her on her Website and on Instagram.
for all black mommas
I go on a Tuesday because the line is supposed to be significantly shorter during the off-peak. That’s what my sister muttered under her breath, after an hour of arguing with me not to go to the memory depo. “Ain’t nothing there for you,” but I swing my purse over my shoulder and watch my feet carry me to the brick-brown building anyhow, full of coffee and empty of sleep.
I don’t see him in my dreams anymore. S’how I know it’s getting bad. And of course, my sister’s right. Hardly eight folks in the line-up, all Black women, all stepping forward one-by-one with the gait of grief. I hadn’t heard the sound of my breath since it happened, but in the sour-smelling office, among empty chairs and linoleum floors, I can hear something else — seasoned work shoes shifting from left foot to right, weight and waiting unbalanced.
Like an unlikely talisman, I thumb my digi-card in my pocket. Opting out of the wrist-implant was impulsive and irrational but I lost two whole months. Missed the deadline. “Register next spring,” my sister suggested, because she knew I was wailing my throat raw, which was a better use of my time. Today the anxiety double-knots inside my windpipe hard. Without the correct documentation this whole trip will be in vain.
I hadn’t heard the sound of my breath since it happened, but I could hear something else — the near rhythmic sniffling of the woman in front of me, hair tied back in a thick coily bun. Her clothing tag, 85% polyester playing peek-a-boo out her blouse. I stare at the back of her head for what feels like a short lifetime, eyes following the intricate hair pattern, a nesting for me to hide in. A constellation. Most of my own hair fell out weeks ago. I have no desire to talk to this woman. We already speak the same language of loss. We are both here for the same reason, to pretend that something can be done to quell an unlivable ache. Speech will only disappoint us both.
The room grows still until the sharp sudden register behind glass spits out Transblip, churning and beeping a crescendo’d screech from the ticket printer. The office, smelling of wet ink, PINK hair cream, prayer hands, and mint is the real time machine. Over her shoulder, I witness Galaxy Bun fill out an application, same as mine, so she too can receive her entitlement to thirty seconds of her last vision of her son. Far less fortunate than me, she had the horror of holding her boy in her arms before he slipped away. I’m hoping she never watches it, but I know full well she will.
Once I leave the depo, my son, the image of him, sits on my forehead and the TransBlip sits heavy in my pocket. My eyes catch sight overhead of swallowing blues, the underbelly of a cloud like a sky shadow. I hold on to his memory too hard, though, it’s been so long, and it quickly fades from my mind.
At home, the experience is anything but comforting. The loop of Abdi, walking out the door, indifferent, stunning, painfully ordinary makes it worse. I, naïve to the idea of closure, obliterate whatever healing I had begun.
The details are all wrong on the hologram: in my mind, he’s in a black cap with a jean jacket, he looks over his shoulder smiles at me and says, “See you later Mom.” But in the granular moment of time-lapsed reality, Abdi wears no hat. No matter how many times I loop back, I can’t make out his full face. Ever. His presence is flat and ghostly. He walks out the door as if this isn’t his home, as if I’m not his family.
I’m afraid to call her. And I need to call her. Probably pains her more than it pains me to admit but my sister’s right — you can’t go back. This hologram is not my child. These moments are not for ownership. I’ve read articles of people getting lost in TransBlip experiences, lost between dimensions, failing to reconnect with what’s real. In this light, living in this world without Abdi, their fate doesn’t sound altogether terrible. My ancestors learned to cope with loss for thousands of years without this technology. And I can barely fathom to cope with it.
I see him, my son in his truest essence, as the sun peels open the day. Light pours into my window and the blues aren’t of sky but of his jean jacket and the shadow isn’t of cloud but of his hands under his lip as it curls into a smile. No confusion, no contradiction, just my boy. Without pain.
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.