“You can take
his fat funky butt and throw away the key.”
|Tina, Earnestine’s youngest daughter, scratched her scalp. She was drenched in perspiration. She glanced at her mother’s bright red face. She finally hates him. Tina hid her smile as the two plainclothes detectives led her stepfather, Brother Floyd, to the front door. Janice, the oldest, let them out. Angry and defiant, Earnestine followed the three men out of the small apartment.|
just ain’t no good!” Earnestine added.
Tina ran to the window, followed by Larry, the youngest. She watched the neighbors stare at Earnestine, who resumed her tirade, hands on her hips, pacing the sidewalk. Brother Floyd hit his head while being put in the back seat of the unmarked police car that blocked in his blue and white Chevy. Tina winced. Then she looked over her shoulder at Debra, the second oldest, who seemed unconcerned about what was going on. Tina gave her a disapproving look.
“Are you okay?” She worried about Larry, who seemed to be shaking. She wondered what made him shiver more, Earnestine’s incessant screaming or the cold breeze that swirled through the open door. Tina braced herself as her mother headed toward the apartment with her oversized sweater and long wavy hair blowing furiously in the wind.
“It’s cold,” Larry said through chattering teeth.
“And good riddance!” Earnestine snapped. The front door slammed and a large photograph fell off the wall. Tina and Larry jumped. Overheated, out of breath and visibly shaken, Earnestine plopped down onto the sofa. Debra disappeared into the bedroom while Janice took a seat next to Earnestine.
Tina waded through the sudden silence. She picked up the photograph that lay face down on the floor. Earnestine, dressed in a white headdress and gown, peered up at her with the kind of smile that Tina was used to seeing in television commercials. Tina stared at her mother’s almond-shaped hazel eyes; petite nose which is slightly smattered with freckles and thin red lips. Brother Floyd, wearing a black tuxedo, seemed to swallow Earnestine. He held her in a close embrace. Tina wondered if her mother could breathe. Brother Floyd’s arms are the size of tree trunks. Tina peered at her stepfather’s keen, deep-set green eyes that looked out from under bushy eyebrows that perfectly matched his jet-black hair. They seemed so happy. Tina stared at the fresh crack that made its way down the center of the framed picture, separating the couple. Staring at her own reflection through the broken glass, Tina ran her finger over Earnestine’s face. Why couldn’t I have been born light-skinned and pretty with good hair? Tina rolled her big brown eyes as she stared at her short kinky hair, dark skin, full lips and wide nose.
“Let me see that,” Earnestine said, reaching for the silver frame. Tina handed her the photograph. “The good old days,” Earnestine said, sighing. Tina looked at her curiously. Held captive by the photo, Earnestine wiped at sweat beading on her forehead. “It’s hot in here.” She removed her favorite sweater. Tina gazed at the dark needle marks that zigzagged their way across Earnestine’s arms. She counted each mark with a grimace. She didn’t understand why her mother had to take medicine and why it made her so sleepy and itchy. “Well, that’s it. I can’t take his mess anymore,” Earnestine announced matter-of-factly. Tina looked at Janice and noticed the strain as Janice returned the look. A smile forced its way onto Earnestine’s face as she glanced down at the photo in her lap. She dabbed her red-rimmed eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. A knot formed in Tina’s throat. She smiled nervously. Earnestine got up and made a beeline to her bedroom. Tina followed her. Janice grabbed the photo before it hit the floor.
“What’s wrong, mommy?” Tina watched Earnestine fall back on the bed.
“Nothing, Tina. You’re too young to understand.”
Seven is not that young. Tina helplessly looked around the room. Brother Floyd’s jazz collection was stacked high in a corner. She glanced at the small rubber ball and jacks on Earnestine’s sewing machine. She did a double take at the black and white photo of Elijah Muhammad that sat on the dresser near the closet. She thought for sure the eyes were following her. Brother Floyd’s clothes captured her attention.
“Tina baby, you see that black jacket? The one at the end?”
“Look in the pocket.”
Tina carefully reached in the pocket. “There’s nothing in here except this yellow balloon.”
“Give it to me.” Tina handed her mother the balloon.
“Mo--”….Before Tina could get a word in edgewise, Earnestine’s mood had reversed.
“Baby, everything is going to be fine now that Floyd is gone.” Tina hesitantly smiled and watched her mother grin from ear to ear.
“You okay, mommy?”
“I’m more than okay, baby.” Earnestine held onto the yellow balloon like it was the last lifeboat on the Titanic. She quickly untied the knot and grabbed a spoon from the nightstand. She searched the drawer for matches before remembering that Tina was in her room. “Now go on and give mommy some privacy.”
“Okay, mommy.” Tina hugged her mother tightly and ran back into the living room.
Tina was surprised to see Janice still fidgeting with the photograph. She ran to the window and looked out again. She wanted to make sure Brother Floyd was really gone. A group of men warming themselves over a trashcan stared at her as she peeped out the window. Tina quickly shut the curtains and took another look. He’s really gone. She jumped up and down and began to laugh wildly.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you?” Janice asked.
“Why you so happy?” Larry asked, running out of the kitchen wearing Earnestine’s sweater.
“Shut up all that racket!” Debra bellowed from the bedroom.
Copyright © 2008 - Alretha Thomas