Big Mama Yaga’s


Joke was, we relocated to Texas cause Katrina flooded us outta New Orleans. Then, of course, Harvey took possession over half the state, losin me my husband Vernon. One side of the Gulf to the opposite; I wonder why we thought movin would make a difference.

I mean, Harvey was spozed to be a “500 year event.” More like 500 days. I can laugh now, but back then it wasn’t funny.

The house I got when I first come here with my sister Tini was one of them build-it-yourself deals like Ikea coulda made. Real basic. No floor but a plastic sheet. Plain white walls; one door. Four windows and two vents, though. The land we put it on was what we could get for our little savins. We wanted a nice spread: places the rest of our family could put somewhere to live, and for when we could spend more on a bigger and better building. What this amounted to in the end was a plot on an extension of Fidelity Street, right up against Buffalo Bayou. I don’t need to tell you what kinda mess that wound up bein.

We come back soon as we could, not to lose our claim on the land we’d bought. While stayin up north we’d connected up with Uncle Spree via NextDoor and he put together our GoFundMe, forwarded us a lotta money from his friends and audience members. So ever year since I been expandin— bought that old tofu factory and the steel warehouses beside it, and more ruined industrial properties than even Google Earth showed. Prudent? Nope. Tini figured I was pure-dee insane.

“Why come you didn’t at least buy us a trailer, Tami?” she ask me one cool, cloudy night in April ’26. “We could use the extra room, and Lafcadio wouldn’t mind towin us to Uncle Spree’s when the water rise again this August.” By now my Malia was twelve-goin-on-ninety-three and needed her own room for sure. Especially with Tini and Lafcadio’s eighteen-month-old twins crawlin around the shelter when they wasn’t messin up my workshop.

Lafcadio knocked to come in. Like he didn’t practically live there. Same charade every evenin, soon as my phone struck eight: tap-tap-tap. So polite. “Hold up!” I yelled, gatherin my tool belt. When I let him in I stepped out to the yard— that’s how tight our little refuge was. Didn’t help that he such a big bull of a man, or that he alway brung sample bags from stock Kralovec Growth Supplies was considerin. That night, in addition to a sack of some hybrid grain it was all these squares and bars of plastic and metal clatterin around a cardboard box. “What’s this?”

“They was throwin em out. Said since they merged with Squire Brothers— that construction outfit—? They’d be gettin sensors already integrated in they new plantbed frames.”

“Thank you.” I tucked the box under my arm and went across the lot to my workshop, which was modified from a flat pack deal like we lived in. Tini had no call to give me a hard time for what I used it for; she hadn’t barely begun to show when I bought it.

Up the steps. They was my first project on my own once me and Lafcadio shoveled a high enough mound and assembled the shop on top. I would say my second project, but we hollowed out the mound together, though Lafcadio didn’t know then it was for me to build the chicken leg inside.

Behind the workshop door we kept a similar Elegba statue to what Uncle Spree had us put behind the door into our house. African juju, that’s what that was; Elegba in charge of making the impossible not just possible but true. I’d say it worked.

I slung the box of sensors in the far corner to inventory later. Fast as I could I hauled up the lid in the shop’s floor, lookin through the scaffold around the leg and foot.

Between steel wool and mother wit I had cleaned my scavenged warehouse servos and repurposed em in there: lifts, rotators, stabilizers, brakes. Heavy duty shocks was a problem: had to steal em from the truck garage I worked in twice a week, and even still you’d feel when I set my shop to spin and bop. Whatever wasn’t locked away went flyin, the twins rollin around gigglin like this was their favorite game— Tini didn’t know or I doubt she woulda ever sent em here for me to sit, no matter how horny she got. No matter whether Lafcadio do it good or not.

Like she was sendin em right that minute. Didn’t take long for her and Lafcadio to rouse each other up. “Mama!” shouted Malia from the staircase. “Open up! These babies fat!”

I slammed down the cover on the access. What mattered I’d check out tomorrow: that five claw foot, which would do the actual walkin.

“Quitcher bitchin. At your age I took care of babies all day.” Rain was startin. I let them in.

“Got paid for it too I bet.”

Smart mouth. But she did keep them boys outta my things —Malia headed em off from the box of sensors by ticklin em so hard they couldn’t get up on they hands and knees. Thank Jesus, because some of them sensors turned out to be crucial— Motion, light, height, all kinda feedback I added. Had to made a difference in my business plan’s reception. Had to be why when it come time that microloan was mine.

Ten years later to the day I won it, now, and ain’t nobody no different. Except maybe me gettin rich from my patent on these Yagahuts— Just had to make sure them manufacturers of the shelters I modified got their cut. And Malia married now— She and her wife Spike and they bitty son Grigio comin here from campin down by Corpus Christi. Tini and Lafcadio and they boys—big as Malia was— be here in the mornin, and Uncle Spree and his new boyfriends— Everybody comin to celebrate at Big Mama Yaga’s. Bringin they houses— or you could say they houses bringin them.

Homes of a feather flocks together.

Nisi Shawl, winner of the 2019 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award, wrote the 2016 Nebula Award finalist Everfair about an imaginary Fabian socialist Utopia in the Congo, and the 2009 James Tiptree/Otherwise Award collection Filter House. Shawl co-wrote Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. Their story collection Talk Like a Man is part of PM Press’s “Outspoken Author” series. They live in Seattle and take frequent walks with their cat.