This monthly recurring story series tells of the loss and bittersweet redemption of the African-American Knox family, specifically Tim (father), Clarisse (mother), Laurel (daughter) and Matthew (son). 

Roxanne Lee thought an older boy would have known not to take a class ring from the dead boy’s body, but Lippie was so little, only seven then, and he didn’t know. The ring was pretty in a bulky way, silver, with light seeming to move independently in the pale stone in the center. And now, later, all Lippie wanted to do was give it back. Almost nine now, Lippie showed up one night on Roxanne Lee’s porch, a shadow that wouldn’t let the streetlight touch him. He had learned more now, was harder, street-hearted now, but she recognized him from that pack of loud boys from her old place down the way. She remembered him tiny, unsure, swallowed up in clothes that were too big, always a little unkempt, trying to keep up. She didn’t need to ask how Lippie found her. Folks knew and remembered. You never really get out no matter where you went.

“You Big Claude’s old trash girl?” the shadow, voice not really of a child or of a man either, whispered in the dark. It was not said mean, but it wasn’t really a question either. Roxanne Lee, living on Luji Street back from Froyler Avenue since her Big Mama (adopted grandmother) died, sat on the floor inside her living room by the front and only exit door biting into a hulking fear. Even though Big Claude was dead, nothing asked about Big Claude could be good. And even though Roxanne Lee thought frantically this was as far as she could get, it was not far enough. Big Claude’s Trash Girl, Roxanne Lee felt angry tears gather and separate from the fear pooling in her stomach.

“What you want? Big Claude ain’t here. He gone. Go way from here!” Roxanne Lee tried to sound brave, tried to sound like she was not alone in the studio apartment and in the world, was not trapped like a rat in a drain.

“I know. Naw, I can’t go way. I got something. Don’t nobody know about….”

Roxanne Lee snorted tears and doubt on her side of the wooden door. “…I don’t want what you got. Gone from here.” After weeks and months of secretly throwing out those stolen goods after Big Claude’s death, stolen things that Big Claude made her take in the first place, she was about to be dragged back in. “I don’t do that no more.” Silence. “Please…just this,” the shadow said then crying against her outside weatherboard wall. “My big brother and me leaving tonight.” Silence. Like he had said too much. “Throw it away,” Roxanne Lee said. “I ain’t got no use for it.” Silence from the shadows.

“I cain’t keep it no mo’; I’m sorry,” Lippie said and Roxanne Lee slammed the back of her head against the wooden front door. Lippie hadn’t been talking to her but to himself. He thought Roxanne Lee gave those stolen items back to the people they were taken from, when she only threw them away piece by piece in the trash each week until they were all gone. Things people treasured, things taken from them by force and stealth. And he was so young, such a child, even for where they lived. She knew what he wanted then and she wanted to howl.

Roxanne Lee heard his movement, then felt her legs moving her to standing without volition. He was going. She heard his clunky little boy tread down her wood steps. He would leave her with it, whatever stolen mess he no longer wished to handle. She had heard the rumors about Lippie and didn’t need to open the door or push back the screen to know that that something was from the dead boy, Matthew Knox. Roxanne Lee didn’t want that, but she couldn’t make herself open that door to stop him.

Roxanne Lee thought, this little place is all I have and it ain’t mine. She waited two hours before she opened the door. It was still night in September. I have clothes, books from my classes; there ain’t hardly nothing else to take from me. It was wrapped in yellow t-shirt cloth, torn from the whole shirt.

Big Mama’s children had no use for her and her soothsaying ways when she was living, but after Big Mama died, they had a use for the house she and Roxanne Lee had lived in.

Roxanne Lee cradled the yellow cloth like a mother would, folding the sides of cloth back until the ring glittered in the center. That Roxanne Lee had no place to go wasn’t considered. Big Mama’s three children sold the house at auction for $21,000 and split the money three ways. Lord, she thought as she traced her finger over the raven mascot engraved and raised.

Roxanne Lee remembered the almost-regret Big Mama’s children expressed in weak pats on the back and no tears, the $20 the oldest handed her, as they let her go out alone. She had no blood connection.

Someone will know it’s me. Someone will…I’ll have to leave again and no way to go.

She knew what she would find inside the ring, knife-scratches and gouge marks, some raised and still sharp. Someone had tried to cut out the boy’s name.

Oh, Big Mama, life is a full moon shining ugly and unkind. I can’t stay ‘round here either.

She saw that little boy then, ashamed of those cuts, but not Lippie, the little Knox boy. Because she heard they buried the Knox boy in a closed casket. Roxanne Lee had come to the funeral, sat in the back; she had seen the mother’s pain ghost-whipped and mad. She felt both the Knox boy’s death and the little boy’s steps from her porch running to some peace and freedom. Maybe Lippie wouldn’t be back. Maybe he would get out. Shouldn’t someone get out? Because Roxanne Lee knew she would give the ring back.

About The Author

Telisha Moore Leigg

Telisha Moore Leigg is a writer, teacher, daughter, and mother of six-year old twin boys…unless you know her husband ; then make it triplets. She enjoys Japanese, swing dancing, and reading naughty books.