Monday, January 16, 2017

The Visitors

By Ellen Nicole Usher
Come on and help yo grandmother, the old woman said as she used her wrinkled hands to push the childs head towards the room.
                The little girl slowly moved to get things read for the visitor.  She grabbed a handful of dingy white sheets and rags from a brown trunk in the corner of the room.  It was where her granny put the visitor linens. Two logs and pieces of old newspaper were dropped into the brewing fire of the wooden oven that dominated the small kitchen.    
                Why did they have to come so late at night she thought?  She had become used to the late night visitors to the small hack where she and her grandmother lived.
                Iris and her grandmother lived on the edge of the small town of Biscoe, Arkansas.  The ten miles that separated the two from the town seemed much farther to Iris.  The only people she saw were the ones who dropped off their linens and drapes for her grandmother to wash--and the ones who came late at night.
                The family had lived in the shack for generations.  Its age was visible in the cracked walls and its slight lean to the left. The wood floors, old and decaying,  creaked with even the slightest move.
                I tired Granny.  Do I haf to? she asked as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.
                Now hush up and dont give me no lip, her grandmother said, pushing her forward.
                Iris noticed how serious her grandmother would get when they were expecting visitors. She watched as her grandmother hastily began moving the furniture around in the kitchen.  The two kitchen chairs were placed in Iriss room.  A thick, patch-work quilt was placed over the table for cushion.
                With a pipe nestled securely in the corner of her mouth, her grandmother began dropping metal utensils in the boiling water and peroxide on the stove.  She would always smoke her pipe before a visitor. The faint mixture of tobacco and mint began to fill the air.  It was her grandmothers own blend.
                Git that pot there for yo grandmother, ya hear, she said, as she pointed to the kettle in the corner of the kitchen. 
                The kitchen was the center of the shack. It was where she and her grandmother ate their meals, discussed Iriss school work, and had their nightly Bible readings.  Iriss small room took up the back while the bathroom, built by her grandfather, was next to her room.
                Iris heard the car as it dragged across the rock-covered path that led to their shack.  She walked towards the window to get a closer look and noticed that the cars lights had been dimmed.  Iris knew all too well what to expect.  The visitors were always the same.  They were always girlssome just a little older than herself.   She wondered why they only wanted to see her grandmother so late at night. 
                The two girls got out of the car. The driver held the other girls hand as they walked towards the house.  Iriss grandmother walked to the door and opened it slightly. With her head peeping slightly out the door, she began asking the two girls a series of questions.  Which one needed her help? Were they sure no one was following them? Did they have the money?  When she was satisfied with the answers, she opened the door just enough for them to slide their bodies through.  Iris saw tears  running down one of the girls face as she walked through the door. Why were they so scared she thought.
                Without being told what to do, Iris instinctively went to her post.  Her grandmother had been explaining to her all week what her duty was.  As her grandmother coaxed the girls into the kitchen, Iris carefully slipped out the front door.  She was looking out for her grandmother.  For what, she didnt know, but she knew it had to be important.  Granny told her so.  Granny was gonna let her help tonight.  She had never let her help before.
                Now I need ya to look out fo yo grandmother, her grandmother said.  Dont want ya granny to git in trouble do ya? Then youll be all alone.
                Iris didnt want her granny to leave. She couldnt let the bad people take her granny away.  She couldnt let them find her. 
                More than the unexpected interruption from her sleep, more than the smell of the mint pipe that made her stomach turn, Iris hated the crying.  She had heard the sobs before. While she lay in bed, she heard the moans that came from the kitchen.  She would cover her ears with her pillow and hum herself to sleep.
                Granny, why do they haf to cry, she would ask the next morning.
                Those people--why do they have to cry all the time?
                They sick and when I make em better they cry a little.
                Like when I had the sickness in my stomach and that medicine you gave me made me cry, cause it hurt?
                Um-hum, her grandmother grunted as she drew a pipe from the pocket of her apron.

                That was all Iris needed.  She knew better than to push things.  Iris still didnt understand. No matter how much the medicine her grandmother gave her made her feel,  she never cried the way those girls did.  This girl was no different.  She couldnt stand the sounds that were coming from the house.  Iris covered her ears with her hands and began to sing her favorite song.
                Darling you send me I know you send me  Honest you do honest you do. . .    
                Sam Cooke was her favorite singer.  Granny didnt like her singing any kind of music that wasnt for the Lord.
                That musics a sin.  Dont let me catch you listening to it ya hear! Her grandmother would scold her every time she caught her singing or dancing.
                Iris would listen to it whenever she got away.  Granny had given her a red transistor radio for her birthday and she took it with her wherever she went.   Iris knew it was used, but she didnt care, it was hers.  Iris told her that they had to do weekly new report for her Social Studies class, and that she needed the radio to listen to the news or shed fail school.  Iris knew school was important to her granny. 
                The fact that there was no music playing didnt stop Iris from dancing. She wanted to forget what was going on in the cabin. She wished her Granny would hurry up.  She was tired and wanted to go to bed.  Iris was sorry that Granny had promised to let her help this time.
                Iris didnt notice the door of their cabin open.  The two girls,  one leaning on the other, crept out of the house and down the steps.  Iris noticed this time that the girl was clamping her stomach.  Immediately, Iris walked towards the cabin.  She wanted to hurry up.  The sooner she was done, the sooner shed be able to go back to bed.
                When Iris walked in, her eyes focused on the pile of blood stained sheets on the floor.
                Whats da matta with you? You movin slow as molasses.  Come on, her grandmother said, pulling Iris next to her and the pile of blood stained sheets. 
                Iris began to feel the little nudges coming from her chest. She tried to hold it, but she gagged at the sight.  She placed her hands over her mouth to try to keep it inside.
                We aint got time for bein sick. Now git them up and follow me outside,  her grandmother said and  gathered  the sheets in her arms.
                There was an old pot that her grandmother used when she washed the laundry in the back yard.  Iris could barely see her grandmother through the smoke that came from the boiling water.  Her grandmother began stuffing the sheets into the pot.  Iris had never seen her grandmother move so fast.
                Now hand me that box of lye right there, her grandmother said, and pointed to a box of white powder at the end of the steps.
                Come on girl. Gotta git this done.
                Iris wished her grandmother had never promised her that she could help.  This wasnt fun.  She knew from that moment on that her grandmother would always want her to help.  As Iris climbed into her bed, she prayed to God that they wouldnt have any more visitors.
                Ya did good.  Grannys proud of you.  Gonna be a lot of help now that ya Grannys gettin old, her grandmother mumbled and stuck the wooden pipe in her mouth. 
                Come on now, get up. Gotta hurry, her grandmother said for what seemed like the hundredth time to Iris.  Somehow Iris couldnt get her body to move.  She knew she would have to get up eventually.
                It had been five years ago, the first time that Iriss grandmother had her to help get ready for one of their many visitors.  At fifteen, Iris didnt need anymore explanations.  She knew what to do. 
                Iris had learned over the years what her grandmother did.  She knew why she had to look out, why the visitors only came late at night and why the drivers purposely dimmed their lights as they reached their cabin.  She and Granny never talked about it.  Iris knew that her grandmother could get in a lot of trouble.  Granny was really careful about it, always making sure that there were no signs, no clues.  Iris wasnt quite sure how the girls knew about her grandmother.  Theyd get a call one day and then the visitors would arrive a few days later.  Iris never new who called her grandmother.  There were rumors of course, but no one could prove a thing.  Granny was too smart for them.
                Some of the girls at school had been visitors too.  Most stopped talking to Iris after a visit.  She couldnt tell if it was embarrassment or fear that made them stop speaking to her.   School was always awkward for Iris.
                So is it true?      
                You know, is it?
                Is what true? Iris said, not flinching as she applied a fresh coat of lipstick.
                Iris was used to the spontaneous questions in the bathroom; she knew better than to talk about it at school.  A few days later, the same girls would make a trip to her grandmother.
                At times Iris hated her grandmother for it.  Throughout the years she began to understand why she did it.  The money from washing linens, drapes, and tablecloths wasnt enough.  It was all her grandmother had.  It was all she knew.  Grannys mother had done it too.
                Iris was a loner most of the time.  She always felt uncomfortable around the other students.  She would never be able to invite them over or be allowed to stay in town with her classmates.  Kenneth was her only friend.  She had known him for years.  He was a lot like her. His fathers farm was a few miles away from her grandmothers shack. He and Iris had been walking home from school together since the fourth grade. 
                The Shirelles Baby It’s You streamed from the radio as Iris and Kenneth kissed in the front seat of his fathers truck.  She wasnt really interested, but it seemed to make him happy.  Iris was thinking about the history test she had the next day when she felt Kenneths hand slip under her sweater.
                Not today.  I dont feel like it, she said as she pushed him away.          
Come on Iris, he pleaded.  Its been a whole month.
                I dont care if its been a year! she said, pushing him away.
                Ah, come on, he said moving closer.  You dont have anything to worry about.
                What? Iris said, snatching her arm away from him.  She began buttoning her sweater. 
                What do you mean?
                Nothing. I was just joking.
                Take me home.
                What? Kenny looked confused. 
                Take me home.
                Iris hoped her grandmother would be sleep when she got home.  She was in no mood to hear her preaching.  For years her grandmother had used the girls as examples of what sinning would get you.  Iris didnt know if her grandmother wanted her to help because she needed her or if she wanted to show Iris the consequences of sinning.  Somehow Iris just couldnt imagine herself as one of those girls.  They seemed too pathetic and helpless.  Iris knew she was smarter than they were.
                Back kinda late, Granny said as Iris walked passed her.
                You know Kenneths pretty slow in math, Iris said, hoping it would keep her grandmothers questioning to a minimum.
                Iris walked passed her granny and slammed the door.
                Why ya slammin doors round here, Granny asked.
                Sorry, must have been the wind, Iris yelled from her room. She hoped her grandmother didnt hear the crack in her voice.
                That boy make you mad?  You gotta be careful round them bo-
                Granny, Im really tired and I got a big test tomorrow.  May I go to bed?
                All right. All right.  Jest warning ya.  Gotta always be careful, ya never know what--
                Good night, Iris said, knowing that her grandmother wouldnt get the hint.
                As her grandmother walked out the door, Iris locked it behind her.  The lock was her sixteenth birthday present to herself.  She was tired of her granny walking in whenever she felt like it.  She had Kenny put it in when her grandmother was in town.
                Well, pose ya thinkin ya need some kinda privacy or somethin.  Aint got nothin I aint seen befo, her grandmother said with a shrug.  She never said anything else about it.
                Iris could feel her eyes beginning to itch from the tears.  She purposely didnt want to blink.  She didnt want to aid them in anyway.  She wouldnt.
                She was one of them--- helpless and pathetic.  Iris had known for about six weeks.   She was hoping that it was a mistake, but inside she knew.  She was glad that her grandmother was a heavy sleeper.  Granny never heard her sneaking out of their shack into the back yard in the morning.  She would never do it in their bathroom.  She didnt know how long she could keep it from Granny.
                What Kenny said made her sick.  He didnt understand, she thought.  If he had seen the things shed seen over the years, he wouldnt have said it.
                Iris turned on the radio that was placed on her nightstand.  The music helped to muffle her crying.  It always did.
                Iris didnt remember falling asleep.  The shrill of her alarm caused her to jump out of her bed.  The room began spinning and she sat back down. She hated when she forgot to turn off her clock. 
                You up?
                Granny never failed to ask that question.  Iris wondered why her Granny didnt think the alarm clock was enough to wake her.
                Um-hm, she moaned.
                I got ya breakfas on the table.
                Um, thats okay. Im not really hungry, she said.  I just want to sleep in.
Iris thanked God that she had gotten the lock put on the door.  Granny was smart--if she saw her shed know.   
                Well, I gots tah pick up the linens from Mrs. Hayden.
                Kay Granny. Love you.
                Umm, hmm.
                Although her granny never said she loved Iris, Iris knew she did.  Her granny had done nothing but love her ever the day her mother dropped her off for good.  Iris didnt want to disappoint her the way her mother had. 
                You a smart girl Iris.  Granny only gonna do this til I get my baby through college. My baby aint gone deal with other folks dirty laundry.  
                Every time Iris thought about how stupid shed been with Kenny how disappointed her granny would be,   she knew she had to do something.   She wasnt going to disappoint her granny.  She remembered hearing some of the girls at school talking about taking care of things. She listened, but never offered her grandmothers services.  If Granny didnt get a call, then she wouldnt take a visitor.
                Iris knew she what she had to do.  Soon after her grandmother left she got dressed and walked to Tysons Drug Store.  When she got to the store, she tried to remember what the girls said.   It had to be strong, she remembered. She picked up a basket and frantically searched the aisles of the store. . . .Peroxide, alcohol, sheets--those were all things shed seen her grandmother use, but she wasnt sure what she needed to do it herself.
She methodically searched the various chemicals until something clicked. When she saw the   The blue box of lye, she anxiously picked it up.
                Hows your granny, Mr. Tyson asked as she placed the items on the counter.
                Shes fine, she said, hoping Mr. Tyson was in a less talkative mood. Any other day she wouldnt mind his attempts at flirting, but today she was in no mood. She thought she saw a look of concern on Mr. Tysons face as he rang up her items, and nervously offered, My boyfriends conking his hair.
Immediately-- she felt stupid.
                Dont know why our young men feel the need to do that, Mr. Tyson said and shook his head.  
                Style I guess, she said, relieved when he handed her the bag.
                When she got home she was glad to see that her grandmother wasnt there. Saturdays  meant the two of them would spend the day cleaning and doing their own chores.  She decided she would treat her grandmother.    Despite her nausea, she cleaned the house and started dinner.   Soon, things would be the way they had been.  Granny being Granny and her making sure shed never disappoint her again. 
Whats gotten into ya, her grandmother asked when she return.  House clean, stove goin and I aint even  asked you.
Cant I just do something nice for my granny, Iris asked and kissed her grandmother on the cheek.
                Iris spent the entire weekend indulging her grandmother.   Although she had heard the stories of how Grannys mother and grandmother had done the same thing, Iris indulged her grandmother with questions,  knowing shed be eager to answer.How she had to make sure they had a way to make it in the world, but how she was going to break the mole with Iris.  Iris had heard it time and time again. In the past she rolled her eyes and tried to get out of listening to her stories, but now she relished in them.  Listening intently, remembering why her granny did she the things she did.

Rose of Jericho

“Rose of Jericho”
by Ellen Nicole Usher

     Mama warned me but I just couldn't stay away. Mama always told me to stay clear of Aunt Rae. Aunt Rae lived a couple of blocks away from my mama's house.
     One thing's for sure, people were always talkin' 'bout Aunt Rae. Seems as if a day didn't go by without hearin' some kinda story ‘bout what she had done that day or the day before. People even knew stories 'bout Rae from way back, before I was born.
     "Didya hear what crazy Rae done done today?"
     Seems like everybody had Rae on their minds. Aunt Rae was my mama's older sister. Grandma Lee had been married to some man before she met my grandpa and had Aunt Rae. If you looked at Mama and Rae you'd have a hard time believin' they were sisters. Looked mo' like mother and daughter than sisters. But that's what they were.
     My mama looked like Grandaddy Ed, least that's what the people say. They said he was tall and as dark as the nights. Rae favored Grandma Lee.
Grandma Lee's mother had been pure blood Cherokee, and she wore her hair jest like them Indians did. Her braids were so long, longer than mine. Looked kinda like she had gray snakes easing down her shoulders and into her lap. People say I got my hair from Grandma Lee.
     "You sho' is blessed," people at my mama's shop would tell me 'bout my hair. Girls at school always wanted to play with it 'cause it's so long.
     Mama made sure it was done up all nice for school.
     "Don't want the hair dresser's daughter's hair lookin' nappy," she would say.
Rae looked like Grandma Lee, at least in those old pictures of her.
      "Don't know what I'm gonna do with Rae," Mama was telling Mrs. Reiner, one of her regular customers.
     "A lord, what she done now?"
     "Jest last night, was coming home and heard her screaming out the window. In the middle of the night, she was yelling something 'bout Thomas
leaving her."
      Uncle Thomas had been gone for five years, but it seemed like a day if you hear Rae talk 'bout it. I sure did like Uncle Thomas. Uncle Thomas
was white and I was the only one in my school with a real life white uncle.
      I can still remember the days he would pick me up in his big ole green
Cadillac. All the kids just lookin' at me and my white uncle. I
especially liked him 'cause he let me comb his hair. His hair was so straight.
I never seen anybody with hair that straight. Mama had a time pressing my hair to get it straight. It'd be straight for 'bout a day, then I'd see them little crinkles forming back. That's why I liked combin' Uncle Thomas' hair. His hair was like brown silk. I had a time tryin' to keep it in my hands. Every time I gathered it up, it jest slipped right outta my hands.
     For hours I'd just be standing on a chair combin', braidin', and partin'. You know, he never said a word. He jest sat there like I wasn't even there. I sure do miss combin' that straight hair of his. He hardly comes around anymore. Sometime I see him at my mama's shop. Every few weeks he'd come by and give my mama a plain white envelope.
    He walks right pass me now, not sayin' anything. You know something, Uncle Thomas looks like he's afraid to look at me. I was pretty sure that there was money in them envelopes, 'cause it seem like after one of his visits Mama would buy me something.
     Hear people say he's living in some big apartment in the city. People say that he and my aunt was livin' high. Now he's in the city, and Aunt Rae's rentin' a room at the boarding house down the street.
     "It's a shame," Mama would say to me, "Rae had everything and now she ain't got nothing."
     Mama would tell me stories 'bout when she and Rae were young. She'd tell me stories 'bout how all the men downtown would stop in their tracks just to get a look at her. Mama said Rae was flip. Grandma says I'm flip too, ‘onna count that I'm friendly. Mama said men, black and white, would buy her things and take her on trips. At fifteen she ran away to Chicago. For six months nobody heard from her. Then outta nowhere she'd be back. It was kinda hard believin' them stories ‘bout her now. When I looked through them old pictures, I tried to see the Rae I knew in the one that the pictures showed.
     Rae had them Pearlie eyes. That's what they call them. The Pearlies, Grandma Lee's people, had slanted eyes. I got ‘em too, ‘specially when I smile. You can't hardly tell if my eyes are open or shut. Rae had them eyes in the pictures. She still got them, but she got dark circles under them now. Rae had beautiful teeth then--all white and shiny. You'd have a time believin' that it's the same person. Rae's teeth started fallin' out right after Uncle Thomas left. I bet she got ‘bout four, maybe five of them teeth left. Mama says it serves her right, all them cigarettes and Cokes she drinks.
     "Go on to the store and get yo' aunt a pack of Kools and a six-pack of Coke," she would ask me.
     I would go running. Truth was, I liked being ‘round Aunt Rae. Them stories she'd tell 'bout my mama when they were young in Arkansas were funny. I couldn't believe them stories she told ‘bout how she and my mama would play tricks on the other kids.
     "Oh yes and yo' mama sho' was a clever one. Did I tell you how we tied your Uncle Sherman to a tree?"
     Mama didn't like me bein' 'round Rae too much. Thought she'd do something crazy to me. ‘Course I knew it wasn't true. Mama said Rae wasn't right in the head.
     "God don't like ugly, Mary Louise," she would say. "You're aunt's payin' now. She payin' fo’ all the ugly she done in her life."
     Aunt Rae had her good and bad days. Some days I would find her sitting in front of the television crying and come to find out, the TV wasn't even on, or there would be days where she would be talkin' funny, like she was from another country. Once she told me that she was from England and the man who owned the house was keeping her captive. I tried to stay away from her on them bad days.
    I can't rightly say why I stuck under Rae so much. Maybe it was 'cause everybody was telling me how I looked at her. It was true. I looked mo' like my aunt than my own mother.
     "Girl, you lookin' mo and mo' like that aunt of yours," people would tell me. Mama hated it when people told me that. I would see her glance at me, tryin' not to see what everyone else saw.
     "Mary Louise looks like her aunt on her father's side," Mama would jump in. I just plain couldn't understand why Mama didn't want me 'round Rae. Rae didn't have any friends, so I made it my duty to be hers. Rae had been stayin' in a small room upstairs in Mr.Johnson's house. As I walked up the
steep stairs that led to her room, I could smell her cigarettes. Rae was
always smokin'. Seemed not right to see her without a cigarette in her
     Rae's room was filled with pictures of herself when she was in Chicago. She'd be smiling something awful. Only thing different in the picture was the man standing next to her. Rae always had a man standin' next to her, some tall, some short, some old, some young. They looked mighty proud to be standing next to Rae in them pictures.
     "There's my girl," Rae said as I entered the room.
     "Hey, I brought you a picture," I said as I sat on her brass bed.
     Rae was poor, but you'd have a hard time believin' it when you saw her
room. She had kept most of the stuff she and Uncle Thomas had when they
was married. Her queen-size bed was covered with white satin sheets. Everywhere you turned, you'd see your reflection. Rae had this brass vanity
set that she swore Uncle Thomas had sent straight from Paris. It was
covered with all kinda perfumes. My Aunt Rae was always smellin' good.
     "Mary Louise, if I don't tell you nothin' else it's this, always git the best and no less. You hear me chile, always the best. Don't let no man
stick you with nothin' cheap."
     Rae was always telling me something or another. It was kinda like she was groomin' me for somethin'.
     Rae was starin' out the window, looking down the street. She had started doing a lot of that. It was like the world outside was somehow more
interesting than her own. For hours she'd stare out that window into the sky.
     "Aw, isn't that sweet. Thank you, sweetie," she said as she looked at her new gift. Rae liked my pictures. She said she wanted to be the first
to have a Mary Louise collection. Told me that they'd be valuable some day
and she wanted to have her share.
     "Mama said don't be late Sunday," I said as I began twisting the loose ball of her brass headboard.
    That was the only time Mama let Rae in the house. We had our weekly family dinners at my house.
     "Yo' mother's always tryin' to tell me what to do. I'm gonna be fifteen minutes late jest for that. You tell her that for me."
     She knew I wouldn't.
     "You want me to put your hair in them braids you like?" I asked.
     Rae wasn't listening to me. I was used to it. Sometimes we'd jest sit there not talking. Her starin' out that window and me lookin' at her. Rae didn't know this, but I wanted to be jest like her. Seemed kinda nice to
have everybody talkin' 'bout me. I was gonna be flip jest like her. I
wanted to have men follow me around and take me on trips and buy me all
them nice things.
     "Girl, the day you get the chance you leave this town," she told me. “Run and don't ever look back. I shoulda never come back here."
Folks say that she's wasting away here. They said that she had lost all that life she had. Rae was like a Rose of Jericho. I learned about it in my science class. It's a kind of flower. I read that once the herbs flower
on it, the leaves fall off and curve inside into a ball. Sometimes the
wind blows them leaves in the water and brings them back to life. Rae had
curved into a ball in that little room of hers hardly coming out 'cept to
go to our house for Sunday dinner.
     Sometimes me and Rae played this game. I'd bring a map and we'd look up all the places that sounded interesting. Then I'd add them to my list of
all the places I'd like to go.
     "You gonna go with me?" I asked.
     "Chile, no. . . my time done came. I ain't goin' nowhere. I ain't goin' nowhere till I see the Lord or the Devil himself. No tellin' with me,"
she laughed.
     When I looked at them old pictures of Mama and Rae, it seemed like Rae took up all the space in them. My mama was barely noticeable in the corner. She was always looking down in them pictures. When I could see her eyes, they were kinda plain, no spark. They didn't look like Aunt
Rae's. Seems like her eyes said more than the picture itself. When Mama
and Aunt Rae were together, seems like Mama just kinda fades away. Even
now, although Mama's younger, her eyes still look dull while Rae, with no
teeth and nappy hair, still seem to shine.
     I'm sure not going to be like her. I'm gonna sparkle, just like Rae.
When I get old and can't walk, people gonna still be talking 'bout the
sparkle in my eyes.
     "You got yourself a boyfriend yet?" Rae asked.
     "No," I said shyly.
     "Girl, you be careful, with them looks of yours, boys be coming left and right."
     Rae didn't have to tell me. I already knew. Knew I was gonna be
Something, just couldn't wait. I didn't tell her this, but I had kissed a
couple of boys behind the school. They paid me fifty cents too. Bought me some candy with that money. I had already earned five dollars doing what Rae had told me. "Don't ever let them give you something cheap," I remembered. If they wanted a kiss it would have to cost them.
      Rae was teaching me everything. Even told me a little bit 'bout the birds and the bees. I knew more than any of the girls in my class. We had been through it all. Rae even taught me how to smoke and drink a little.
     "All right, now don't try to inhale at first," she said. "Now you hold it like this," she said, crossing her legs, her cigarette between her fingers.
     "Now, if a man wants you to light it, you let him. Just kinda hold it in your mouth like this," she said.
     One day I had stayed so long that it was dark before I got home. Mama was worried something sick. Mama was like that. Never wanting me to get too far outta her sight. It was like she was afraid that I'd leave and never come back.
     "Do you know what time it is?" she asked me.
      "It's ten o'clock. I don't want no daughter of mine in the streets afta dark. I swear you get more and more like Ja--"
      Mama stopped in the middle of her sentence.
     "Mama, please. I ain't got time for this."
     Mama knew. Rae was always saying that she didn't have time for silliness. Rae never had time for nothing.
     "You been going to your Aunt Rae?" she asked, not waiting for a reply. "I done told you time and time again. You jest plain hard headed."
     "Mama, she ain't got no friends. Why you so mean to her?"
     "Listen, I'm looking out for you. You know she ain't right in the head. Doctors say she ain't right."
     I began walking up the stairs to my room.
     "Mama, she don't do nothin’. We jest talk. What's wrong with that?" I asked. Mama moved closer to me.
    “Don't you walk away from me when I'm talkin' to you!"
     I stood on the stairs. Mama got this look on her face. She began walking slowly up the stairs. I ain't never seen her look at me like that. I was sure it was hate in her eyes.
     "What's that smell?" she asked. She moved close to smell my breath.
     "You been drinking?"
     "Mama, I ain't got ti--"
     Mama slapped me. She slapped me so hard I had to catch myself on the
banister before I fell down.
     "Ain't got time," she said. "Ain't got time. I'm so tired of "ain't got time". You always saying you ain't got time. You ain't got time to listen to me when I told you not to go to Chicago, but you went. You ain't got time when Mama was sick and I told you she was dying, too busy not having time. Ain't got time to take care of your husband, that's why he left you. Didn't even have time to raise your own child!" Mama said.
     Mama realized what she had said and just looked at me, tears rolling down her face. I felt my legs collapse underneath me. I just couldn't stand
up. Now I understood why Mama didn't want me around Rae.
The next day I went back to my Aunt Rae's. I was so happy, Aunt Rae was my mama. I couldn't wait to hug her and tell her that I wanted to live with her. All those years I knew that something just wasn't right between me
and Mama.
     I ran up the stairs to her room. Rae was still starin' out that window of hers.
    "Hey,” I said as I entered slowly into the room. I walked over to the
window and hugged her.
   "Well, there's my girl. What you bring me today?"
    "Nothing." I said, not knowing if I should tell her or not. "Mama told me."
     "What yo' mama done done now," she asked.
    "I know," I said.
     "Chile, you talkin' silly. What you talkin' 'bout?" she asked me.
     "Mama told me what you did. She said you was my mama," I said.
     Rae jumped up from her hair and looked at me.
    "Mary Louise, you know I ain't got children."
     “But Mama told me," I said. "I was thinkin' I can move in here with you, if you don't mind sharin' a bed with me, I mean, 'till we move outta here. Now we can go to all them places we wanted to go to--"
     "Stop it!" she yelled. "I ain't got no children!" Rae began screaming; she didn't stop. I ran outta that room so fast. I could hear Rae's scream out the window.
      "You stay away from me!"
     Mama and I never talked about that night and I never told her about that day. I never went back to Rae's. A few weeks later Mama decided to put
her in a home where she said she would be cared for.
     No sooner had Mama put Rae in that home then Rae had up and killed
herself. People said she walked right outta that place to a bridge in the middle of town and jumped right off. Rae just jumped right in that water.
     Every time I pass by the bridge I get a little sad. Then I start to think that Rae's like the Rose of Jericho, getting a new life. That she's going back to all them places she had been before.

                                                    The End