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The Strings Between Us

Story by James Braun (Read author interview) March 11, 2019

Art by Lesley Rankine

You might guess what it is that I, Sanora, and my sis, Latoya, are doing sitting butts-together in front of our home computer this evening, Latoya’s face lit by the screen, mine own likely lit as well, yourself guessing as to what it is we’re looking––no––searching for, Google searching for, us all evening sitting here asking the internet, asking Google, typing on the keyboard, the keyboard with the broken A key, the broken O key, you yourself most likely guessing that we, sister and sister, together, are probably searching for “Activities For Kids” to keep the boredom away, to stay busy during these summer months, but you see, you yourself would be wrong when you guess like that, we are instead searching for “CTIVITIES FR KIDS,” us without the A key or O key, us also without a way to turn off CAPS LOCK, because CAPS LOCK too, is broken.


Us, I, Sanora, and my sis, Latoya, after searching for “CTIVITIES FR KIDS,” have found the activity we have been but didn’t know we were searching for, the cup phone activity, the activity where I, Sanora, takes my fuzzy blue string I’ve had since the last forever from the dresser in my room, and my sis, Latoya, snags two paper cups from the kitchen, the cups with the fishes on the side, and us two sit butts-together on our living room floor, poking holes into the cups with scissors Latoya got from I-don’t-know-where, us following the instructions from the internet, from the website we found after Google searching “CTIVITIES FR KIDS,” our mother in the kitchen cleaning the whole time, the kitchen countertop awash in Bath and Kitchen spray, in 409 spray, in Williams Sonoma Meyer Lemon countertop spray, our mother watching us the whole time with her B-I-T-C-H face, while also sweeping dust and dirt into neat piles with her left-handed broom, the dust piles we call landmines, because if you step on one then you’re in deep S-H-I-T, our mother all the time saying, “Don’t step in my piles, don’t step in my piles,” and if you do, if you do step in a pile, on what we call landmines, you pretty much explode on the spot, our mother screaming, “You stepped on my pile!” while battering I, Sanora, or my sis, Latoya, with her left-handed broom, this entire time our father gone to we-don’t-know-where.


This morning we got ourselves a tele-line running from the living room to the kitchen, Latoya in the living room, I, Sanora, in the kitchen, very much aware of the landmines around me, the landmines you can barely see because they are made of dirt, made of dust, and us, Sanora and Latoya, we are pulling the tele-line taut between us from the living room to the kitchen, speaking into our cup phones we have made after searching “CTIVITIES FR KIDS,” but you see, we can’t hear the words between us too well, can only make them out when we say them slow, slow, slow like me saying LUH-TOY-UH, and Latoya saying SUH-NOR-UH, so instead of the words, we make codes, codes like GUH-GUH-GUH meaning water break, or NOM-NOM-NOM meaning food break, and between all these codes and breaks our mother puts away her Bath and Kitchen spray, her 409 spray, her Williams Sonoma Meyer Lemon countertop spray, even her left-handed broom, and she leaves this morning to go to work, dressed in her hunter-green scrubs that go swishy-swash as she walks, the whole time looking at us with her B-I-T-C-H face as she swishy-swash walks out the door, and then, only then, does our father come out of hiding from his bedroom, zooming into the kitchen to grab the home phone, the phone he doesn’t have to go GUH-GUH-GUH through, or NOM-NOM-NOM through, him saying other words, words that conjure up a girl at our doorstep in ten minutes flat, another girl that is not our mother with all her sprays and the left-handed broom, and because we sisters, Sanora and Latoya, do not have a code for another woman, I say into the cup phone, “UH-NUH-THUR-WUH-MAN,” and Latoya says back, “WUT?” and I say back, “UH-NUH-THUR-WUH-MAN,” and I think Latoya gets the gist of what it is I am trying to say when another woman steps into our fuzzy blue tele-line, tripping her and sending both cups, the ones with the fish, flying her way.


All morning our mother sneezes spray over the kitchen counter, this time from her nose, her sick because of Allergy Season, the fifth season, and because it is Allergy Season our mother is also running behind this morning, late for work, swishy-swash as she walks out the front door, not even having time to put on her B-I-T-C-H face, leaving all her landmines behind and spread all over the D-A-M-N house, and once she’s gone, then, only then does our father grab the home phone and call another woman to come over, the woman he yells in his bedroom with, yelling noises Latoya or I, Sanora, can’t even repeat, and while another woman and our father yell in the bedroom, us sisters make our own noises through the cup phones, saying GUH-GUH-GUH and NOM-NOM-NOM through the tele-line, us always hungry, and it is not even an hour into talking to Latoya over the cup phone that there’s another noise, the noise of our mother’s van rumbling down the driveway, the sound of her swishy-swash walk as she steps inside our house, and then the noise in the bedroom stopping, our father walking out with another woman behind him, I, Sanora in the kitchen, Latoya in the living room, the fuzzy blue string between us, on one side my mother looking––no––searching, our father’s eyes, then searching his shoulders, chest, stomach, legs, all the way to his feet, where if you look close enough, you can see our father has just stepped on a landmine.


Notes from Guest Reader Tyrese L. Coleman

I knew from the first paragraph that I would love this story. First, it was the voice. It is authentic, curious, and leading. I love the breadcrumbs dropped throughout about their lives and what is really happening while these girls play. This story is fresh, yet it also feels very reminiscent of Black writers I love from long ago. I knew instantly once I read it that it would be my choice.

About the Author

James Braun has work forthcoming in Atlas and Alice and has won first and third place in Oakland University’s flash fiction and nonfiction contests, respectively. James lives in Rochester, Michigan. “The Strings Between Us” is his first literary magazine publication.

About the Artist

Lesley Rankine is a musician and multimedia artist who works under the moniker Ruby. Her first major release was the acclaimed electronic-downtempo-trip hop album “Salt Peter,” a classic of the mid ’90’s alternative and dance music scenes. In the course of her career, she has worked with a diverse group of musicians and artists including Trent Reznor, Tom Jones, and Samuel Bayer. Her latest release is her 3rd album, Waiting for Light, a work characterized by emotive electronica, acoustic and traditional instruments, with soft, melodic, at times jazz-infused vocals.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Three

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