Copyright © 2010
All rights reserved to Miamac
What the hell is wrong with her? I’m her own damn flesh and blood. How is she going to just throw me out, just like that?
He made his way down the dark, dank hallway leading to Aunt Shirley’s apartment. They lived in the same building as we did but in a separate wing.
The Parkside projects was a public housing community for the poorest of the poor and consisted of four massive brick buildings, ten stories high, having each three columns. On each floor there were a total of six apartments encircling a large, cemented and iron fenced porch. Aunt Shirley and we both lived on the top level.
No matter how much he blinked, his vision remained blurred as he wallowed in pity. But he dare not risk stopping and instead quickened his pace, anxious to reach safety. Once at her door he did a quick eye wipe before knocking.
Aunt Shirley peeked out the tiny peep-hole drilled into the enforced steel door and with a big smile immediately opened it. “Boy, whatcha got in those bags? I bet yo' mama cooked, hunh? She sniffed the cool air breeze hoping to catch a whiff of the delectable aromas. All three sisters were great cooks and usually sent each other plates of food in exchange for a phone call of praise.
He just stood quietly with his head hung low. She caught a tear drop.
“Baby, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? Did somebody mess with you?
He shook his head, no, confusing her even more. “What?” She examined the bags closely and seeing there was clothing inside began putting two and two together. “Did yo' mama---,” she shook her head, “Child, get in here!” She slammed the door behind him.
“Now Angie has really lost her muther fuckin’ mind, putting out her own flesh and blood!” Aunt Shirley wasn’t stingy on curse words, especially when she was mad or drunk....or both. Family had always been front and center of her childhood and adult life, so it angered her to see any one of us children hurt.
“I betcha that voodoo, man lookin’ bitch Miss Johnson had something to do with it!” She snatched up the telephone receiver only to hear it was already being used. “Hang up the phone, I need to use it,” she ordered before slamming it back down. She waited about a minute or two before picking it up again and hearing the sweet laughter of teenager's in love.
“Didn’t I tell your black ass I need to use the goddamn phone!” she screamed into the receiver. “You don’t want me to have to come back there and beat the hell out of yo' ignorant, dumb ass!”
She heard a double click and quickly began pounding on the key pad. He knew she was either calling mama to give her a colorful piece of her mind or Aunt Esther, since strength came in numbers. Either way he didn’t care to hear it and tried to hurry down the hallway towards Eddie’s room. But he hadn't moved fast enough.
“Girl, can you believe this shit! Angie n’ put Darnell out!” he heard her complaining.
Although he was mad and hurt that mama had thrown him out, it hurt more to hear the sisters speaking speak ill of her. No matter their differences, she was still his mama and he loved her very much.
The anger in Aunt Shirley’s voice had become as shrill as an injured banshee, blanketing every livable space in the tiny apartment. He hurried and shut Eddie’s door in hopes of drowning her out.
Mama slumped down on the couch. Things had gotten out of hand and had not gone the way she’d wanted. Little by little she was losing all those who had been closest to her, who’d been there in good and bad times. But Miss Johnson had forewarned her that this would happen, that those closest to her including her very own seeds would turn their backs on her. Her exact words were, “Angie, child, don’t be surprised when they start turning against you. The enemy is angry that you’ve given your life to the Lord and will do anything to make you turn back around, including using your loved ones against you. That ole serpent the devil is like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour. But girl, now you stead fast in your faith and trust that God will bring you through. Remember, weeping may endure for a night, but joy, cometh in the morning!”
Emma, girl, I sure hope you’re right, she thought sadly to herself as she let the tears flow freely.
Our world was crumbling with us balled up inside. Our new, saved mama was ripping our family apart like cheap toilet paper. Like prisoners hole up in a cage we limited our movement hoping the still and silence could help us escape the madness.
Steven sat stone-faced staring at the bedroom’s picture-less brick wall.
“Stop crying and acting like a punk!” Junior whispered to
Junior wanted to be as old as Steven, who age 15 was three years older than him. He emulated everything Steven did to prove him the bigger man, including masking his pain, even though he was screaming on the inside.
The Parkside projects were turning us all into empty shells; it seemed the only way to survive.
"What the hell just happened?" Steven questioned nobody in particular. “Man, why she doing this? Acting like she hate Aunt Shirley and Esther when they didn’t even do nothing. Shoo, she the one acting crazy and stuff, hanging with that church lady and beating us for no reason. She can’t keep us from seeing our brother or Aunt Shirley ‘nem! Damn, I wish we’d stayed in
Each telephone ring perfected its clarity but none of us dared go answer it.
“Hello?” we’d heard her say. “I already told you not to call here no more!” Mama bit hard down on her lip not sure if she was yet strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Aunt Shirley, who she knew wasn't going to bite her tongue.
“Angie, you mean to tell me you are going to throw away yo’ family just like that?! You’s a crazy muther fucker to let some dike ass bitch tell you what to do!” Aunt Shirley continued ranting and raving but it didn’t matter. Before she could say another word, mama slammed down the phone. She then took a deep breath. “The Blood of Jesus, the Blood of Jesus,” she chanted over and over to muffle the piercing monotone of the ringing phone. Not able to drown it out, she just took it off its cradle and let the line go dead.
The nightmare continued as she screamed for us to get up and get dressed for school. We girls quietly obeyed but were moving in slow motion, the way most people do when preparing for a funeral. Still sore from yesterday's beating and from a rough night's sleep my body ached all over as if strong field hands hand wrung it dry like a wet towel.
The birds should have been chirping, the sun smiling and the wind easy. Afterall, it was Friday. But Darnell was gone, stripped away just like our father. For us he’d been the next best thing, helping us to adjust to the hell hole we’d been dropped into. Worse, she’d cut us off from the rest of the family, the only people who we could trust to love and protect us.
Mama’s extra weight was beginning to slow her down and had caused her to shuffle instead of picking up her feet when she walked. The friction sounded like two pieces of paper rubbing together and was just loud enough to give us fair warning of her approach.
She peeked inside our room and was surprised to find we were nearly dressed. “It’s almost 7:00,” she said dryly before shuffling down the hallway towards the boy’s room.
Because our family was quite large the apartment complex assigned us one of the two 700 square feet, 4-bedroom units on our floor. We three girls shared a room; the boys, Steven, Junior and Gary, shared a room; Mama, of course, had her own room and so had Darnell. But now that he was gone Lynette and Steven were each hoping to lay claim.
I could hear mama fussing in the wind. “I know one thing, if ya'll expect to eat some breakfast than ya'll better hurry ya'll little greedy behinds to school. Lord knows I ain't got nothing here left to feed ya'll. Little demons are eating me out of house and home."
Like the other tenants receiving public assistance we were coming down the stretch -- the last week of the month when food and money was real tight. So the free breakfast and lunch they gave us at the public school was our only real meal until the 1st, when mama got her welfare check. Until then dinner might be toast or sugar sandwiches and some Kool-Aid, and when that was gone we would fill our acidic bellies with warm water to help us sleep at night.
Lynette steered us girls into the living room to wait for our brothers. Mama believed there was safety in numbers so she’d make us walk to school together. Still dazed we sat quietly staring at the blank T.V. screen. The deafening silence had created an eerie ringing in my ear.
She carefully weighed our zombie-like composures. “So what the hell is the matter with ya’ll?!”
The muscles tightened our jaws. “Oh, so ya’ll are giving me the silent treatment, hunh?” Little demons, she muttered loud enough for us to hear.
I could see the intensity in her eyes. The horsemen in my heart took off, galloping too fast and too hard. One by one the boys stumbled in, saving us girls from Mama’s short fuse. Lynette bolted up and headed towards the door with me and Darcy right on her heels.
Head hung low,
Junior was marching to his own beat, taking short, deliberate steps. He kept glancing over at Steven, anxiously awaiting him to open his mouth so he could then speak ahead of him. Denied, he first thought to kick at a plastic grocery bag chasing the wind but then finally blurted out, “Man, I can’t stand that lady!”
“Who, Mama? Or are you talking about Miss Johnson?” Lynette asked. A strong head nod affirmed the latter. “Me neither,” she sighed.
“It was her who told mama to kick Darnell out," Junior determined. “At least that’s what Darnell and Aunt Shirley said, didn’t they Steven?”
Steven just rolled his eyes, exhaled and continued kicking.
Junior shrugged his shoulders. “Shoo, I didn’t know. I thought he just meant mama.” Darnell had made them both swear to keep it a secret that they’d sneaked and called him. “Anyways, she ain’t gon’ tell. Are you, Lynette?”
She shook her head, no, and then curiously asked, “Is he okay? Is he back home?” The door to his room had been closed when she’d awaken so she hadn’t been sure if maybe he’d been in there the whole time.
“Nawl, but we did talk to him and Aunt Shirley last night after mama went to bed. He’s okay, but he’s still mad.” Steven went right back to kicking trash, but asserted more energy like he was angry that he’d been made to speak.
He saw one of our cousins in the distance. “Hold up,” he yelled. He turned to Lynette, a mischievous grin plastered on his face. “I’ma catch up with ya’ll, okay,” he said before running off to join them.
“Man, I wanna go,” pouted Junior who hated that he was only eleven.
“No,” she said sternly. “Yo’ behind need to stop kissing up behind him. Shoo, Steven know daggone well that Ray-Ray and them ain’t up to no good.”
Junior brushed her off. She turned to face him and shook her finger. “Boy, I better not hear you skipped school to hang with them either. If you do, I’m gonna tell mama everything. You hear me?”
Pouting, he begrudgingly nodded, yes.
There were only two elementary schools within an eight mile radius for tenants of the Parkside projects and
Lynette turned back around and almost tripped over a dead body of a nude girl partially clothe in leaves. She covered
It was weird. Here lay a dead body and yet none of us children uttered a sound. We’d seen so much so fast in the death trap we now lived in that it left little room for empathy. I’d begun noticing that my ability to show emotion was evaporating just as fast as my tears.
“Ain’t that---? Lynette shushed Junior, not wanting him to say the girl’s name aloud. Her little sister was in Darcy's class.
“You think she...” Lynette quickly nodded, yes, wanting to keep him from saying the word 'dead' out loud for the rest of us to hear.
“Damn,” Junior said staring at her partially nude body.
Lynette pinched him for cursing and then realizing he was examining her private body parts, too made him turn away. He staggered into obedience. She then found a large piece of cardboard lying nearby and used it to cover up the dead girl's nakedness.
Junior turned back around and curiously asked, “Lynette, whatcha gonna do? You think we should tell somebody?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged, “I guess we should.”
Fear escaped Junior's lips. “You ain't gonna tell mama are you?”
“Boy, no!” Lynette was scared but not enough to do anything that stupid. These days telling mama anything was like confessing to murder. After Miss Johnson got wind of it, who knew what she’d convince mama to do to us, especially once she learned we’d taken a detour.
“Maybe I’ll tell my teacher,” she lied. She wasn’t quite sure who to trust but she did want the girl’s mama to know where she was. She just couldn’t figure out a way to do it and still protect us from the woman we called mama. The first school bell rang. She quickly led us out of the lot back onto the sidewalk and then told us to make a run for it.
As we approached the school’s doors she threatened all of us to keep our mouths shut, telling no one what we’d seen or heard them say in the lot.
She knelt down to where he stood. “What’s the matter, Bucket Head,” she said affectionately.
“I know, me too,” she told him. Sugar bread was more a snack than a meal and always left you floating on empty air, like you’d not eaten anything at all.
“But if you wait, I promise to bring you an apple from the cafeteria. Okay?”
“Okay,” he grinned acceptingly. She rubbed his head and walked him to his kindergarten class. His easygoing mannerism could fool the naked eye, but not hers. Something just wasn’t connecting inside
By the time she made it to her own classroom, her teacher and a few others were out in the hallway huddled together in a deep discussion. It allowed her to slip in unnoticed.
The Parkside projects were the nucleus of drama and like a drug, its poverty-stricken tenants couldn't get enough. Not even death could make them overdose in restraint.
One student stood engrossed in a very graphical description of the girl’s body. Another was dramatically portraying the little sister’s reaction to learning her big sister was dead. Lynette thought about Darcy and pushed a few tears down her cheeks. She watched the faces of her fellow students as they listened to the gossip spilling onto the classroom's floor. Some were just intrigued, others appeared sad but a few had too begun to cry.
It was then that Lynette broke down into loud sobs. She cried for her daddy who she missed dearly. She cried for her big sister, Sandra, who she’d once been very close to and had not seen or talked to in over a year. She cried for her brother, Darnell, who she wished was back at home. She cried for the mama she once knew and loved, and for the one she now hated. She cried for herself and for her siblings, lambs made to sleep in a wolves’ den. And she cried for the dead girl who would never see her loving family again.