Tuesday, March 14, 2006


(This is what happens when I don't have stuff to blog about - I make stuff up.)


Saturday. Nyla remembered a second too late to flop her legs down to the side and smooth her dress down over her ashy knees while sitting on the curb. That boy across the street flicked a booger (see, this is why she never wanted to play with him, anyway) and started singing.

"I see London, I see France..."

Nyla was already past the boys tossing the football on the lawn, past the little plastic toad sitting at the bottom of the stairs, and halfway onto the porch by the time that little nosepicker told all her business. She had to slow down to sneak into the house, though, 'cause Mama said to play outside and not to come back in 'til she called. She listened through the screen door. Good. All the voices were coming from the kitchen. Nyla pulled on the wooden frame to get the door open juuuuust wide enough to get through, but not wide enough to let the squeak loose that Uncle Junior been said he was gonna get fixed.

She had to blink and pause for a second to adjust to the light. It's a good thing she did come back in - she'd dropped a few of her jacks right here in front of the door on the way outside. If Mama had stepped on one in her houseshoes, she'd probably threaten to send her and Kevin both to Arlene's house to get out the way. It's not that Nyla didn't like her mother, but she was just a little bit afraid of her, 'cause everybody knew Arlene was about as crazy as indian summer. Cool as Mama's lemonade one minute, hot as Mama's iron on wash day the next. Nyla would rather stay at home with Mama and her sons Uncle Junior and Uncle Billy, where she and her brother Kevin have been ever since she could remember. The food was better, Uncle Junior told funny stories, Uncle Billy was slow but sweet, and she didn't have to share a bed with Kevin or listen to people stumble in drunk and hollering all night.

From the kitchen, words came to Nyla in snatches.
"It ain't enough room, noway..."
"Won't be nothing but trouble."
"Don't much matter what you think."

Once, after church, she was pretending to listen to boring old Pumpkin Williams from her Sunday School class, when she was really eavesdropping on grown folks business. Mama was telling Sister Tucker that she didn't really want to send her and Kevin to Arlene's, but she just didn't want them to feel like strangers with their own mama. She knew how worldly Arlene could be, and she knew Arlene had heathens over all the time for liquor and spinning those records and everything, but she wasn't but so worried about Nyla and Kevin, 'cause she knew they were raised right and were old enough to stay out of trouble for the short spells they would stay at Arlene's. Well, she was half right. Sometimes Nyla would catch Kevin drinking that whiskey "Uncle" Fish would give to him, with Arlene just watching and laughing. When those records would start playing, Nyla and Kevin would go and watch the grownfolks shaking everything for a while, but Kevin was bold. He would go right on out in the front room and dance with the grownfolks, just grinning all up in those loose women's faces when they would call him handsome and tell him it was okay to touch on their bootys like the men did.

"It don't make no sense to me!"
"Family is family."
"Well, I guess you done just made up your mind."

Nyla wanted to be wild and crazy sometimes, too, and swing her booty from side-to-side, too. But she was too scared Mama would find out somehow. Not Kevin. When they say Arlene spit him out, they weren't playing. Like her, he had no fear, and a look in his eyes that was hungry for anything that wasn't sitting still.

Nyla had stayed by the door too long. Voices had stopped. The door to the kitchen porch swung open and slammed shut. She felt the shift in the energy from the kitchen, and quickly picked up the jacks and scurried to the bathroom before Mama and those houseshoes shuffled to the couch. She listened to Uncle Billy's tender, deliberate steps go towards the armchair. Musta been Uncle Junior that stormed outside. Nyla found the Vaseline and rubbed some on the gray of her knees.

"Billy, I done told that child that pride goeth before a fall. All that worldly living... She just..." Mama drifted a moment. Then, with the determination required of a woman with no time to mourn, she spoke more clearly. "Son, tell the chirren to come on indoors so I can talk to 'em 'fore Junior gets back."

Nyla flushed the toilet and came out of the bathroom to head towards the door.

"Nye," Mama started. Nyla stopped under Mama's suspicious glare, and tried to look as if she hadn't been listening in.
"Go and tell your brother to come back in - right now, mind you."

The booger boy was tossing the ball with Kevin and Shorty now. As they came inside, Nyla told Kevin to wipe his hands, to which he sneered. He changed his mind after Nyla told him about the boogers that were probably on the football. They entered from the porch laughing together. Their smiles at the joke were met and erased by Mama's serious face, like Pastor when he talks about Judgment Day.

"Your mama will be staying here for a while in Nye's room. Nye, you'll stay with me in my bed from now on. You be sure to be quiet in the house and unselfish. I don't want no trouble out of y'all, do you understand me?"
"That Fish done lost his mind and your mama needs a peaceful place to rest, 'cause she's not feeling very well. Get her water and whatever else she needs when she asks you for it, understand?"

As they went back outside, Brother Williams' truck pulled up in front of the house. Except that where his wife and Precious would sit, there was Uncle Junior and Arlene, looking about as small as Precious. Uncle Junior lifted Arlene out of the truck and carried her unceremoniously through the yard. Nyla winced. Arlene was pale and looked tired. She was wearing workmen's denim instead of a dress. Her hair was all over her head, and even though her eyes were open, she looked asleep under the big bloodied bandage on her face, where she'd so obviously been slashed. Mama stoically opened the squeaking screen door and Uncle Junior took her straight up to Nyla's little walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom.

In a rare show of brotherly love, Kevin put his arm around his sister when he saw her confusion and the water welling up in her eyes. He knew better than to try to explain what the adults would never tell her - that Fish finding out about Arlene's pregnancy by another man was the reason for her miscarriage and her new scar. Nyla had heard the word, but didn't know what "whore" really meant. He didn't have the heart to tell her that the town spelled it "A-r-l-e-n-e."

Nyla wanted to get her sack of marbles out of the room and go anywhere else to just play with them and forget about Arlene - the paleness, the scar, the weakness she'd never seen in her mother. She wanted to forget Kevin's embrace and Mama's solemn face that just confirmed that things were as wrong as she felt they were. Instead, she just sat with her family to supper, while Billy took a small plate up to Arlene. She pretended the collards were medicine, letting the potliquor minister to her throat, while wondering if the way she felt right then was the reason why Arlene gave up communion juice for bourbon before she and Kevin were born.