Please enjoy a draft version of my original story, The Clunton Family
The Clunton Family by Paula G. Akinwole
The Clunton Family was a typical and average American family. The father was a decorated scientist who now worked for the River Heights High School as a biology teacher. The mother stayed at home with the baby and also ran a profitable embroidery and calligraphy business. There were three Clunton children. The eldest was Brenton, a star athlete; their daughter Lillian was a talented pianist, and their youngest Maya hadn’t grown into her talent yet but seemed to be apt at finding and hiding things. They also had a dog, Felix. The Clunton’s were the perfect family perfectly content with their typical American lives in River Heights.
“Lillian, do you have your sheet music for the recital?” Father yelled up the stairs to his eldest daughter. Today was like any other morning as Father began the process of dotting i’s and crossing t’s to help his family get to their destinations on time.
“Yes daddy,” she screamed down before running back into her bedroom to grab the sheet music for Beethoven’s Fur Elise that she had left on her keyboard.
Downstairs, Father and Mother were helping their other two children get ready for school. Maya sat in front of the TV watching reruns of Bewitched and eating a bowl of cereal while Brenton was busy trying to find his football jersey by rummaging through the laundry hamper.
“Brenton,” Mother began with him sternly, “Had you put your clothes away yesterday like I asked you to, you would have your jersey because it would be on a hanger or in a drawer.”
“Ma, I know. I ain’t have time though,” Brenton complined while turning the basket upside down and tossing clothes everywhere.
“Didn’t have time,” Mother corrected him while snatching the basket from his hands and pointing to the freshly washed and folded jersey on the top of the dryer. “And who’s fault is that? You’re spending too much time with that girl and not enough focus on getting into the right college.”
“I’m already into a college,” Brenton said sweetly to Mother as he pulled the jersey over his head.
“The right college,” Mother emphasized.
“Why would you want to go all the way to Texas?” Father asked as he entered the kitchen with Maya on his hip. “You can go right here to Virginia University like me and your mother.”
“I don’t want to go to VU pop. Plus, Kat is going to be in Texas just an hour away and Virginia isn’t offering me a scholarship.”
Brenton’s girlfriend Kathrine had been a sore spot in the family for over a year now. Neither Mother nor Father approved of his relationship with her. She was smart and beautiful and the Clunton parents had raised their children to make their own decisions. But Katherine presented attention the family didn’t want. Brenton however was convinced that he was in love and there was little his parents could do to convince him otherwise.
“That’s because they know your ugly face is gonna stink up the campus,” Lillian teased her brother as she walked into the kitchen where the family had now gathered.
“Hey,” Mother retorted to her daughter, “That’s my handsome face he’s wearing.”
The family moved carefully around each other while packing lunches, signing paperwork, and eventually, seating down for breakfast. The Clunton family always did breakfast together. Every day. No matter what.
“Father, would you say the blessing please?” Mother asked her husband. He grabbed her hand in agreement.
“Lord, thank you for this bounty. Bless the hands that prepared it and let it be nourishing to our souls. Forgive us our sins and let not this world’s demands and the things we must do be a reflection on how you care for us… but we ask that you understand our plight. In your name we pray. Amen.”
The family ate noisily and thankfully.
At 8:20AM, a small wind chime that hung above the families’ kitchen table swung back and forth, gently allowing the sound of the metal tubes hitting each other to fill the room. The family fell silent. The small breeze that pushed the chimes came and went. As always, each member of the Clunton family picked up the small paper white cup that sat in front of them and a glass of water. They emptied the powdery contents of these cups into their respective drinks and drank slowly. One by one, each member of the Clunton family got up from the table and exited the home.
Individually, they stopped by the mirror, primped and pushed and pulled into perfection before walking out of the door and into another day.
Had you been there that morning, looking at the family, you’d understand why the actions at the table under the wind chime were very ordinarily un-ordinary for such an average family.
You’d have seen the chemical reaction taking place beneath their skin, altered by the contents of that little white cup. The melanin filled children, their skin once as chocolatey as the oak tree, transformed as father had designed. Now as white as the cups they held. Hair blonde, eyes blue, not passing or blending but genetically modified to look in every way as white as the people they’d encounter beyond their front doors, not what they had looked when they awoke.
Mother turned to her family before seeing them out the door. For over 10 years, the family had lived in River Heights but only in this way. Father, using his knowledge of science and access to a laboratory, developed a miracle that allowed his black family to exist in a world where few like them were left.
“This is the surviving Muntanda Family,” Mother said to them, her voice releasing the mimic she had perfected and pronouncing their family’s name with the Nigerian accent she hid in her heart. “We have a choice and we are choosing to live.”
Later that night, when the Clunton’s were all back home, they each drank “Reviver” that Father prepared. It waited for them on the table in the opposite fashion of the morning’s elixir. The drink they had every morning was nicknamed Eraser as grandfather had called it and the drink they had every night was the Anti-Eraser. It just as quickly replaced their melanin that the morning’s drink slipped off. It was important to Mother that the family revived their skin together and spent as much time in their brown bodies as possible. Father’s invention was what kept them alive but Mother feared what would happen if her children stayed in their white skin too long.
Brenton and Lillian had become accustomed to their white skin. But unlike their parents, they made no efforts to change their voice, their style, or their habits during the day. Brenton knew he looked like a white boy acting black with his love of hip hop and the urban street style he accessorized his school uniform with. What would have made him a troublemaker in his brown skin made him popular in his white skin. Lillian would have been called an “oreo” as a brown girl but as white, she was average. No one questioned her voice’s inflections, her vocabulary, or any of the pop culture she liked. For them, it was easy being white and they had done it for so long, they had little desire to peel back the layers and undress with their family. But without hesitation or a speech from their mother, they drank the anti-eraser and sat down for dinner.
The family, back in their skin, discussed their day. Dad didn’t mind hearing about Brenton’s relationship issues or what the football team was up to. He’d let Lillian discuss whatever gossip was happening in her friend circle and any music she was struggling to master. But Mother only wanted to know one thing. She waited for everyone to be done with their pleasantries and updates before asking.
“Did anything happen today that might jeopardize this family?”
Mother asked this question every night. She knew her family hated to hear it, and she often regretted having to ask but it was a necessity that she wasn’t willing to ignore. The family was on a strict routine that she and Father had perfected but only if everyone was abiding strictly. For the last 10 years, they survived by keeping the truth of their family’s identity safe. Tonight would be no different. Mother would ask and expect her family to tell the truth.
“Nothing here,” Father said to his wife. She smiled sweetly at him. He was always willing to break the ice and ease her concerns.
She waited for her children to answer. Maya had nothing to say. At only five years old, she hardly understood what was happening and simply obeyed her parents’ rules.
“What’s the rule?” Mother would ask her youngest daughter before leaving for school each morning.
Maya would answer her mother hoping to be rewarded with praise for remembering.
“Never tell anyone I’m black.”
Maya smiled at her mother from across the dinner table and went back to her food. She knew this part of the conversation wasn’t for her.
“Today was fine,” Lillian sassed her mother. “It’s always fine.”
“Brenton?” Mother asked. She knew her troubled child had more than enough of his fair share of hiccups to scare the family and always waited with her breath clinched in her chest for him to relieve her of her fears.
“Nothing mom,” Brenton lied to his mother. She believed his lie, relaxed her jaw, and shook her head in approval. The family continued their meal in silence.
Later that night, Lillian went to her brother’s room after the family was asleep.
“You may have fooled mom,” she stated standing in his doorway with her hands folded across her chest. “But you didn’t fool me. What did you do, Brenton?”
Brenton jumped from his desk and rushed to his sister, pulling her into his bedroom and closing the door behind her.
“I told Katherine,” Brenton whispered.
Lillian plopped down on her brother’s bed.
“Told her what?” Lillian asked, knowing her brother’s vague intention shouldn’t be assumed.
“Well,” Brenton paused as if to recap the conversation in his head. “Everything.”
Lillian stared at her brother. She knew what she wasn’t allowed to do, and she had never done it. All she had been taught was that breaking this rule meant that the family would be in danger. But she didn’t know exactly what that meant. She wanted to run and tell mother, warn them. Maybe prevent whatever Brenton had broken. The other parts of her trusted her brother and wanted to know exactly what he had done.
Recognizing his sister was waiting for more, Brenton began to explain.
“Katherine asked why I knew so much about black people’s history after arguing with Chad. He said that they got rid of all of us during The Great Divide and the world was better. I got angry cause I wanted to tell him he was wrong! But I didn’t say nothing to him. Kat kept bugging though. Without thinking, I just said to her ‘Because my mom doesn’t want us to forget’ and then she wanted to know what I meant and why it was so important not to forget. So that’s when I just told her. She’s been bugging me for weeks about why I can’t stay out late or on the weekends. So I just told her.. I told her about the drinks and dad made it himself.”
Lillian’s mouth hung open at her brother’s confession.
“You can not tell mom, Lillian? It’s just Katherine. She won’t tell. Plus, she probably thinks it’s cool to be with a black guy.”
“I won’t tell,” Lillian answered, finally finding words for everything her brother had just shared. “But maybe you should tell dad at least.”
Brenton nodded in agreement. Lillian hugged her brother and left his room. She didn’t sleep much that night. Bad dreams and bad feelings. She knew something was coming.
The next morning at breakfast, the Mutanda family sat down to eat; their white cups on the table and everything perfectly in order to start their day.
“Everybody slept okay?” Father asked his family while pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Just fine,” Brenton quickly interjected, afraid his sister might want to share more than he’d like her too. He glanced at her. She didn’t look back.
“You’re yawning a lot, dear” Mother put the back of her hand to Lillian’s forehead to check for a temperature. “Did you sleep okay?”
Lillian nodded yes and smiled at her mother to assure her that everything was fine. Moment’s later, three pounding knocks on the front door startled the family. Everyone fell silent. Father looked at Mother who shrugged and then looked around the table at her children.
“I’ll handle it,” Mother said. “Drink now,” she smiled while grabbing the white cup usually reserved for the end of the meal. Everyone drank and transformed. The knocks came again and Mother rushed to the door, checking herself in the mirror on the way.
Opening the door, two police officers stood on the porch of the Clunton family home. From the kitchen, the family had a view of the living room door and Father immediately went to Mother’s side.
“Good morning officers,” Mother began, her voice more stepford than normal. “Can we help you?”
“Are you Mr. and Mrs. Clunton, Brenton’s parents?”
“We are,” Father interrupted, knowing his wife would respond with anger upon hearing her son’s name from the mouths of white police officers.
“We’re sorry to have to come to your house early but there was an incident last night, and we need to know. Was your son home last night?”
“All night sir,” Mother responded. “We have a strict 7PM curfew.”
“And this alarm system prevents the kids from sneaking out,” Father added playfully tapping the control panel on the wall beside them. “Had they, you’d know before us officers!”
“What incident?” Mother asked, ignoring her husband’s lighthearted attempts at humor.
“Well, Katherine Martin was found dead in her home this morning.”
Upon hearing his girlfriend’s name, Brenton jumped up and ran to the front door. His parent’s arms blocked him from colliding into the police officers. Mother turned around to catch her son who stumbled back onto the floor as the weight of their words hit him.
“We’re sorry to have to ruin your family’s morning with this news, but we’ll need those security cameras if you don’t mind. We just want to rule Brenton out of any wrongdoing.”
“No problem, officers,” Father said and thanked the officers for coming by before closing the door.
Mother continued to console Brenton who was on the floor shaking and crying.
A few hours later, Father and Mother had put their children all to sleep. Nobody would be required to go to school today and even with white skin, Mother still feared her son being too close to a bad situation.
“Let’s just review the tapes anyway,” Mother said to her husband in his office.
“You don’t really think Brenton killed that girl, do you?” Father asked.
“I don’t. But if he does know something, he’s not saying anything yet.
The couple watched the footage of their house after 9pm when the children had gone to bed. They looked at the side of the house where both Brenton and Lillian’s bedroom windows were and they studied all the exits. At 11pm, they watched the light in Brenton’s room come on. It stayed on for an hour then flicked off but no movement from the exits or windows.
“There,” Father pointed to the screen. Around 2am, the front sliding door to the patio opens.
“Is that …. Lillian?” Mother asked, watching the figure Father pointed at slip out the patio door. The tape, whirling at 4x the speed, they watched as the figure returned around 4AM.
“What is she doing?” Mother said out loud to herself staring at the screen.
“I had to,” Lilian stated. Her parents were startled by the sound of Lillian’s voice. She stood in the doorway with her arms crossed her chest, watching her parents watching her sneak out of the house.
“I had to kill Katherine. Brenton did it again.”
Mother and Father looked at their daughter who stood unbothered by her actions.
Father walked over to his daughter and put his arms around Lillian’s shoulders. He pulled her in close.
“Lord,” he started “Thank you for this bounty. Bless the hands that prepared it and let it be nourishing to our souls. Forgive us our sins and let not this world’s demands and the things we must do be a reflection on how you care for us… but we ask that you understand our plight. In your name we pray. Amen..”
“Amen,” Mother agreed with her husband and then proceeded to erase the tapes.