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Read an Excerpt From Will Do Magic for Small Change


Read an Excerpt From Will Do Magic for Small Change

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Read an Excerpt From Will Do Magic for Small Change

Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire.


Published on August 25, 2022


Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire.

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Will Do Magic for Small Change by Andrea Hairston, out from Tordotcom Publishing on October 11th.

Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But she’s always been theatrically challenged. That won’t necessarily stop her! But her family life is a tangle of mysteries and secrets, and nobody is telling her the whole truth.

Before her brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer—a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. They are a story of magic or alien science, but the connection to Cinnamon’s past is unmistakable.

When an act of violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad determine to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds crashing together.



Public Display

“Books let dead people talk to us from the grave.”

Cinnamon Jones spoke through gritted teeth, holding back tears. She gripped the leather-bound, special edition of The Chronicles her half-brother Sekou had given her before he died. It smelled of pepper and cilantro. Sekou could never get enough pepper.

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Will Do Magic for Small Change
Will Do Magic for Small Change

Will Do Magic for Small Change

With gray walls, slate green curtains, olive tight-napped carpets, and a faint tang of formaldehyde clinging to everything, Johnson’s Funeral Home might as well have been a tomb. Mourners in black and navy blue stuffed their mouths with fried chicken or guzzled coffee laced with booze. Uncle Dicky had a flask and claimed he was lifting everybody’s spirits. Nobody looked droopy—mostly good Christians arguing whether Sekou, after such a bad-boy life, would hit heaven or hell or decay in the casket.

“Why did Sekou give that to you?” Opal Jones, Cinnamon’s mom, tugged at The Chronicles. “You’re too young for—”

“How do you know? You haven’t read it. Nobody’s read it, except Sekou.” Cinnamon wouldn’t let go. She was a big girl, taller than her five-foot-four mother and thirty-five pounds heavier. Opal hadn’t won a tug-of-war with her since she was eight. “I’m not a baby,” Cinnamon muttered. “I’ll be thirteen next August.”

“What’re you mumbling?” Opal was shivering.

“Books let dead people talk to us from the grave!” Cinnamon shouted.

Gasping, Opal let go, and Cinnamon tumbled into Mr. Johnson, the funeral director. The whole room was listening now. Opal grimaced. She hated public display. Mr. Johnson nodded. He was solemn and upright and smelled like air freshener. Opal had his deepest sympathy and a bill she couldn’t pay. Dying was expensive.

“Why’d you bring that stupid book?” Opal whispered to Cinnamon, poker face in place.

“Sekou said I shouldn’t let it out of my sight.” Cinnamon pressed her cheek against the cover, catching a whiff of Sekou’s after-gym sweat. “What if there was a fire at home?”

Opal snorted. “We could collect insurance.”

The Chronicles is, well, it’s magic and, and really, truly powerful.”

“Sekou picked that old thing up dumpster-diving in Shadyside.” Opal shook her head. “Dragging trash around with you everywhere won’t turn it into magic.”

Cinnamon was losing the battle with tears. “Why not?”

Opal’s voice snagged on words that wouldn’t come. She made an I-can’t-take-any-more gesture and wavered against the flower fortress around Sekou’s open casket. Her dark skin had a chalky overlay. The one black dress to her name had turned ash gray in the wash but hadn’t shrunk to fit her wasted form. She was as flimsy as a ghost and as bitter as an overdose. Sekou looked more alive than Opal, a half-smile stuck on the face nestled in blue satin. Cinnamon inched away from them both.

Funerals were stupid. This ghoul statue wasn’t really Sekou, just dead dust in a rented pinstripe suit made up to look like him. Sekou was long gone. Somewhere Cinnamon couldn’t go—not yet. How would she make it without him? Pittsburgh’s a dump, Sis. First chance I get, I’m outta here. Sekou said that every other day. How could he abandon her? Cinnamon brushed away an acid tear and bumped into mourners.

“God’s always busy punishing the wicked,” Cousin Carol declared. She was a holy roller. “The Lord don’t take a holiday.”

Uncle Dicky, a Jehovah’s Witness, agreed with her for once. “Indeed He don’t.”

“So hell must have your name and number, Richard, over and over again,” Aunt Becca, Opal’s youngest sister, said. “This chicken is dry.” A hollow tube in a sleek black sheath, she munched it anyway, with a blob of potato salad. Aunt Becca got away with everything. Naturally straight tresses, Ethiopian sculptured features, and dark skin immune to the ravages of time, she never took Jesus as her personal savior and nobody made a big stink. Not like when Opal left Sekou’s dad for Raven Cooper, a pagan hoodoo man seventeen years her senior. The good Christians never forgave Opal, not even after Cinnamon’s dad was shot in the head helping out a couple getting mugged. Raven Cooper was in a coma now and might as well be dead. That was supposedly God punishing the wicked too. Cousin Carol had to be lying. What god would curse a hero who’d risked his life for strangers with a living death? Cinnamon squeezed Sekou’s book tighter against her chest. God didn’t take a holiday from good sense, did he?

None of Opal’s family loved Sekou the way Cinnamon did. Nobody liked Opal much either, except Aunt Becca. The other uncles, aunts, and cousins came to the memorial to let Opal know what a crappy mom she was and to impress Uncle Clarence, Opal’s rich lawyer brother. An atheist passing for Methodist, Clarence was above everything except the law. Sekou’s druggy crew wasn’t welcome since they were faggots and losers. Opal didn’t have any friends; Cinnamon neither. Boring family was it.

“I hate these dreary wake things.” Funerals put even Aunt Becca in a bad mood. She and her boyfriend steered clear of Sekou’s remains.

“The ham’s good,” the boyfriend said. He was a fancy man, styling a black velvet cowboy shirt and black boots with two-inch heels. Silver lightning bolts shot up the shaft of one boot and down one side of the velvet shirt. His big roughrider’s hat with its feathers and bolts edged the other head gear off the wardrobe rack. “Why not have supper at home, ’stead of here with the body?” He helped himself to a mountain of mashed sweet potatoes.

“Beats me.” Aunt Becca sighed.

Opal couldn’t stand having anybody over to their place. It was a dump. What if there was weeping and wailing and public display? Aunt Becca glanced at Cinnamon, who kept her mouth shut. She didn’t have to tell everything she knew.

“Some memorial service. Nobody saying anything.” Becca surveyed the silent folks clumped around the food. “Mayonnaise is going bad,” she shouted at Opal over the empty chairs lined up in front of the casket. “Sitting out too long.”

“Then don’t eat it, Rebecca.” Opal sounded like a scratchy ole LP. “Hell, I didn’t make it.” She needed a cigarette.

“Sorry.” Becca pressed bright red fingernails against plum-colored lips. “You know my mouth runs like a leaky faucet.”

Uncle Clarence fumed by the punch bowl. His pencil mustache and dimpled chin looked too much like Sekou’s. “Opal couldn’t see the boy through to his eighteenth year. I—”

Clarence’s third wife read Cinnamon’s poem out loud and drowned him out:

Sekou Wannamaker
Nineteen sixty-six to nineteen eighty-four
What’s the word, Thunderbird, come a streaking in that door
A beautiful light, going out of sight
Thunderbird, chasing the end of night

Cinnamon joined for the final line:

What’s the word, Thunderbird, gone a shadow out that door

 “Hush.” Opal turned her back on everyone. Maybe it was a stupid poem. “Sekou talked a lot of trash. You hear me?” She touched the stand-in’s marble skin and stroked soft dreadlocks. “When he was high, he didn’t know what he was saying—making shit up. Don’t go quoting him.”

Cinnamon chomped her bruised lower lip. “The Chronicles is a special book, magic, a book to see a person through tough times.” She threw open the cover. Every time before, fuzzy letters danced across the page and illustrations blurred in and out of focus. If you couldn’t stop crying, reading was too hard. The pages were clear now. The letters even seemed to glow. She dove right in.



Dedication to the Chronicles

 The abyss beckons.

You who read are Guardians. For your generosity, for the risks you take to hold me to life, I offer thanks and blessings. Words are powerful medicine—a shield against further disaster. I should have written sooner. Writing might help me become whole again. I can’t recall most of the twentieth century. As for the nineteenth, I don’t know what really happened or what I wished happened or what I remember again and again as if it had happened. I write first of origins, for as the people say:

Cut your chains and you become free; cut your roots and you die.



Chronicles 1: Dahomey, West Africa, 1892—Stillpoint

Kehinde was fearless, an ahosi,  king’s wife, warrior woman, running for her life, daring to love and honor another man above Béhanzin, the king of Dahomey. She saw me come together in scummy water tumbling over smooth boulders, my eyes drawn from rainbows, feet on fire, crystals melting into skin. Momentum carried her through the cave mouth toward me as bright green algae twisted into hair, and I sucked in foam and slime to form lungs. Even if she had wanted to run from an alien creature materializing from mist, dust, and light, there was nowhere to go. Enemy soldiers rushed past our hiding place, bellowing bloodlust. Seeing me emerge into human form, Kehinde did not scream or slow her pace, but accepted the event, an impossible vision, a dream/nightmare unfolding before her as truth. Her disciplined calm eased my transition. Yet, nothing prepares you for the first breath, for the peculiar array of new senses or the weightiness of gravity. I was stunned by the magnetic field and the urgency of desire—for food, for touch, for expression and connection. The first experiences are paradise.

As I selfishly reveled in the miracles of this universe, in the delight of a new body, danger threatened at Kehinde’s back: bayonets, bullets, and a hundred furious feet. She gulped the humid air and glared back and forth between me and the watery entrance. Her deep brown flesh was torn and bleeding as her heart flooded bulging muscles with iron-rich, oxygen-dense blood. An unconscious man was balanced on the fulcrum of her shoulder. He bled from too many wounds, onto the knives, guns, water gourds, ammunition, bedroll, food, wooden stool, palm leaf umbrella, human skulls, and medicine bags that hung from a belt at her waist. She settled the man against the damp earth. She kissed his eyes, stroked his hair, and murmured to him. Foreign projectiles were lodged in his organs. He’d soon bleed himself away. Abandoning him would have improved her chances of survival, yet she had no intention of doing this. Kehinde’s spirit appealed to me at once. My body settled on a form close to hers.

She aimed a rifle at me. Later I would learn she was a sharpshooter, gbeto, an elephant huntress, a merciless killer of her enemies. In these first moments I understood the murderous device yet felt certain she would not set its lethal projectiles in motion. Too noisy, why give herself away to harm me, a naked being just coming to my senses? She could not fathom the risk I posed. Trusting me for the moment was reasonable.

I pushed her weapon aside with my still spongy cheek and bent to the suffering man. Kehinde shifted the rifle toward the cave opening and held a knife at my writhing algae hair while I ministered to him. If I knew then what I know now, I might have been able to save him. Perhaps it was better for me that I was so ignorant of human bodies. He might not have embraced a newly formed Wanderer, and Kehinde might not have become my guide. Lonely Wanderers fade back into the spaces between things or fracture incessantly until they are next to nothing.

“Kehinde,” the man groaned and reached for her. “Somso…” I covered his mouth quickly. Kehinde dripped fragrant, salty fluid onto my face, silently urging me to act, to aid the broken man. With minor core manipulations, I eased pain, calmed turmoil, and gave them a few moments to share. The man came swiftly to his senses and gripped her calf. She thrust the rifle into my hand. I grasped it clumsily and monitored the cave mouth. I doubted my resolve and my accuracy—my bones were still gooey, my muscles rock hard. She crouched down, and they passed soft sounds between them, inhaling each other’s breath. She never betrayed his last words to me, yet I’m sure he exhorted her to leave, to let him die with the hope that at least she had a chance to live. Kehinde shook her head, resisting his demand.

The people who carried her death in their minds raced again through the water outside our cave. The man heard them and clutched a blade at her belt. “Somso!” Insistent, he ground his teeth and spit this word at her, a name I would later learn. The sound made my throat ache. Someone splashed close to the entrance. Kehinde’s heart raced. The dying man nodded at her and closed his eyes.

Kehinde sucked a ragged breath. “Somso,” she said. Her hand shook as she forced her cutlass through his heart.

He did not cry out. My own heart rattled in my chest. Kehinde pressed her lips on his as blood burbled to an end. She wiped the blade on the damp ground and threw a wad of cloth toward me. Words rained down, a frothy hiss, barely audible, like steam bubbling through a hole. I understood nothing and waved the cloth at her stupidly. My new body was starving for language. I gorged on her sounds, gestures, smells; I lapped up the twists and turns of her nose and lips, swallowed the flashes of light and dark from her blinking eyes. Her expressions were tantalizing and rich, but sense would only come after more experiences. Abandoning me would have greatly improved her chances of survival. She had no intention of doing this either. I resolved to know her completely. Kehinde would be the stillpoint of my wandering on this planet.

A rash decision, but Kehinde was taking a similar foolhardy course. A storm of feet headed our way. She gripped my wrist and dragged me through the cave. We crawled on our bellies, twisting and turning through a labyrinth of darkness. Kehinde hesitated at an intersection of four tunnels. She lit a lantern, whispered Somso, and chose the narrowest opening. A distant spit of light might have been illusion. Just when I thought the walls would crush us, we tumbled out into a forest.

Kehinde lurched about dropping gear: umbrella, water gourd, bedroll, and several human skulls. How she chose what to abandon and what to keep was a mystery. She explained nothing. What would I have understood? She snatched the cloth I clutched stupidly, threw it over my nakedness, and cinched it with a belt. She reconsidered abandoning two skulls and wrapped them and bags of ammunition and food on the belt around my waist. Angry voices and clanking weapons echoed in the cave. Kehinde pointed to the bright orange star sliding behind trees. I mimicked her gesture. She ran. I followed, matching her cadence, stealing some balance. Luckily a new form yields quickly to the demands of the moment, to the first experiences.

Racing through dense forest over rock-hard roots, we kept a punishing pace until the star’s bright light faded from the dome of sky. My lungs expanded, increasing their volume with each tortured breath. Indeed, my whole body strained to match the warrior woman’s. I admired the powerful limbs, muscular buttocks, and indefatigable heart that she’d had years to develop. I had a few hours of struggle and pain to match her physique. Exhaustion accumulated in my cells; torn muscles generated more strands; my feet bled new blood. The trees sang comfort to me. Birds let loose battle cries, goading me on. So many strong chemicals assaulted us. My skin, tongue, and nose burned. Dizzy, I faltered, but the rhythm of Kehinde’s breath and heart guided me through the maze of sensations. Our human pursuers could not fly across the ground as we did. Soon our sole companions were unseen animals and the wind.

We camped in cold moonlight on burnt ground. Kehinde had tools to make a fire, but resisted offering a sign of our location to her enemies, my enemies now. Nursing bloody feet, ripped muscles, and an empty stomach, I intertwined limbs under a scratchy blanket to sort and assimilate the first experiences. When Kehinde thought I was asleep, she hugged a dead tree stump and swallowed sobs. Distant creaks and rasps from the bushes made her flinch. She scanned the darkness for spies on her grief, for enemies about to attack. Pushing away from the stump, she spit and hissed, stomped intricate patterns in the dust, then obliterated them with furious swipes of a horsetail whip. She fell to her knees, threw back her head, and shuddered wordless anguish. As she forced herself back up, my eyes watered.

Spying on Kehinde felt wrong; yet, as I rehearsed her dance in the theatre of my mind, her love and anguish claimed me. I resolved to be a good witness.


My memories waver. Coming from another dimension and manifesting in this flesh form, who would not be uncertain? This drawing is what I make of that funeral night. It was a fevered moment. Such is life on Earth.


Excerpted from Will Do Magic for Small Change, copyright © 2022 by Andrea Hairston.

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Andrea Hairston


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