Who says the days of youth are carefree? The entire piece, which is not posted here, was published in Sandhills Literary Magazine as a short story and is a flashback.
"Sunday School every Sunday and still! Je-e-sus! What kind of hateful, common children are you?" Vita's voice boomed. "Damn it! You’re cousins! I knew we shouldn't have taken him in," she said, shaking King, "But Lorraine !"
When Aunt Vita said Lorraine's name, the girl, still on the edge of the bed, dug her nails into her forearms. The louder Aunt Vita's voice grew, the more King shrank. His head seemed to sink down between his shoulders into the neck of his white T-shirt, and Lorraine wondered how soon would it be before only his sienna kinks were visible. Aunt Vita shook him again and yanked his head up out of his shirt like King was a puppy who’d peed on the sofa.
From the moment King had moved in four months ago, he'd declared Aunt Vita witchy with a "B." He claimed even if she'd never murdered anyone, she'd considered murder a lot, and the Bible said if you think a thing, you've done it. That's why he didn't see the point of them dragging him to church every Sunday. He confessed he'd thought so many truly wicked thoughts even Jesus couldn't save him. Aunt Vita thought wicked things too, King figured, because she was always accusing people of horrible things with very little cause. "My daddy used to say," King would tell Lorraine, "as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Lorraine's mama and Nana called Aunt Vita high-strung. Wrinkled doilies, a spoon in the fork slot, soft giggles, whispers, dust might set her off. She'd rebuke anybody, even white people, because Winfields were just as good as white people. Winfields were college-educated. And, as a Winfield, in public, Aunt Vita walked very straight, like she had a pole spine, like she felt eyes always on her back. But in the house, Lorraine often caught her slumping.
"Stand in the hall!" She threw King through the door. Lorraine heard a thud as he hit the wall.
"You." Her growl came slowly to Lorraine, who leaned back, eyes growing ever wider. "Lorraine, how could you be so filthy?" She held the "f" in "filthy" and let the air hiss through the little gaps in her teeth. Then she spat the word over her niece. Filthy. Maggots crawling over rotten meat, flies buzzing over feces, mice nests, roaches. The soul of the word sifted Lorraine. Her aunt's chest rose. Her breathing swelled in Lorraine's ears. Earlier, when Lorraine had first come in the house, she'd heard Uncle Lee, the Weatherspoon twins, cousin Gail, and half the neighborhood in the front yard, gossiping, laughing. Now she only heard Aunt Vita heaving air in and out of her chest, in and out of the room. She wondered why Nana didn't make Aunt Vita stop.
"Go take a bath!" her aunt barked.
Lorraine didn't move. She just studied the tall woman before her. Pearls of moisture glistened on the flat bridge of her aunt's nose, and the short sleeves of her thin, green cotton dress clung to her bulging upper arms. The room wasn't as hot as Aunt Vita seemed to be, and Lorraine was afraid to scoot past her. Her aunt was the demon's mother in that story Uncle Lee liked to tell. Her coarse black hair sprang from her scalp like the few weeds in Nana's back garden, and rage drew her lips in so tightly, it seemed she might swallow them. She lunged for Lorraine, but Nana threw a strong arm straight and stopped her.
"Calm down, Vita. Hear me? You go'n calm down now, and leave it alone." Nana reached around her daughter's back and began to gently stroke. "Just go check my roast for me, Vita."
Aunt Vita resisted being nudged out the door. "How'll Leatha take this?" Accusation echoed in her voice. Lorraine looked away. She knew she was stupid, common. Selfish. Filthy. She hadn't even thought about Mama. She looked down at the hardwood floor. Her granddaddy that'd died when she was a baby had put the floors in himself. He had built several houses along Jefferson Street. In the planks, she tried to see faces. Sometimes, if she let her eyes blur, ordinary blotches on walls or floors could look like people or monsters. She could make out hair, a chin, sometimes eyes.
Mama lay in the back room, resting. She hoped she didn’t hear Aunt Vita screaming and damning her and King to hell. Nana and Dr. Gibson, who lived down the street, and Aunt Vita always said that the family shouldn't make a lot of noise or upset Mama. If Aunt Vita told Mama about what I let King do, Mama might get sicker, Lorraine thought. She wished she had thought about that when King showed up in her room, but she didn't. She thought nobody would know, and it might not hurt to see what everybody was always talking about in secret, but she didn’t look for it. Everyone had been out front, each group doing its own thing, and she'd just come inside to get her shoes and skates because Gail had hers, the Weatherspoon twins had left to get theirs, and they were going to race.
Nana broke Lorraine's thoughts when she put a hand on her thigh. Not the bruised one. She told her to stop rubbing the floor with her toe. She could get a splinter. Lorraine stopped. Then her grandmother patted her knee and told her to go take a bath. She didn’t scream like Aunt Vita. But her face looked sad to Lorraine, like Nana knew she had no hope of making anything better. Still, Nana looked pretty. Just as dark as Aunt Vita, but pretty. She must've been about sixty something then, but trim waisted and as neat as the people on TV commercials in her flowered shirt dress, except she wasn't white. She was stunning. Even her salt and pepper nylon wig couldn't change that. Skin smooth like melted chocolate, nose narrow like a movie star's, teeth with no yellow. Lorraine wanted to hug her, but thought if she reached out and Nana didn't let her hug her, she would die. Nana turned her back. Lorraine felt like her heart stopped, all breath gone, but then she heard drawers opening. She breathed again. Nana's just getting me fresh clothes. Turning toward her granddaughter, Nana handed her clean cotton panties and a purple sun dress. Lorraine took the clothes but kept her head down and left the room.
The aroma of roast perfumed the hall. Before, when she was out front with everyone else, she'd thought she was hungry. Before Aunt Vita stormed through the door, grabbing her and King, screaming, punching them, and threatening to tell Mama.
The roast was Sunday dinner. But Nana always cooked Sunday dinner on Saturday, and it always smelled like heaven, especially the roast. She was the best cook in Savannah. King said this was the great thing about having to come live with them, Nana’s cooking. He faced the wall now with his hands clasped behind his back. Lorraine didn't want to see him and skittered like a roach across the hall's speckled tile floor toward the bathroom.
In the old claw foot bathtub, unbubbled water reached her waist. She gazed at her forearms that had little half-moon welts where she'd dug in her nails. She splashed water on them. It stung. Then she examined her bruised thigh again. The lick had made only a small angry splotch.
Her thighs spread out a bit wider than the thighs of other girls, and her stomach had tiny rolls. She wasn't really fat, but even just a little fat was enough for teasing. Enough not to have a single boy admit he liked you. It seemed amazing to her now. At ten she and other girls longed for boys to like them. If The Temptations crooned "Just My Imagination" on the radio, girls pretended some boy felt that way about them. When her friends all claimed they had boyfriends, she never claimed anything because she didn't want to hear the laughter. Once she’d announced she wanted to marry Michael Jackson. Monique Tiller snickered and said, "Michael's too cute to like a fat girl." She learned then to keep her daydreams to herself.
Slender Monique, the prettiest girl on Jefferson Street, always played the princess or the angel in school plays. The boys liked to pull her long wavy hair, and all the girls considered her sweet. Her parents ranked as good people, a social worker and a schoolteacher, churchgoers. Monique attended St. Bernadette’s. "Fat" was her cuss word.
She swooned over King. Most of Lorraine's friends did. Some of their big sisters made eyes at him too, and though he was her cousin, she knew he was cute. It made her feel important, she guessed later, that half the time the girls were looking at him, he was looking at her. She kept wishing she could tell Monique Tiller because Monique drooled over King so, but she couldn't. She knew something was wrong and unholy about him looking at her that way. Still, she needed him to look.
Both hands under the water, she examined her chest and saw what Nana called mosquito bites. Bigger buds than the other girls had, they were a little lighter than the color of her arms. King had tried to touch them once, but she kicked him and ran. Now, she laid the wet washcloth neatly over the burgeoning buds and drew her knees up tightly to her chest, covering her young breasts, spicy secrets, tickling whispers, and blossoms that tempt fingers but vex the innocent mind.
© Copyright 1994 Nordette Adams