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Hen's teeth.

My mother is not a liar but sometimes I wish that she could be. At school I tell a lie or two ocassionally because it changes how the girls feel about me, what they think. I don't tell bad lies, you know, brag about things I don't have and will never get. Or invent stories about special places I've been. But I will tell a good lie, and mostly they are about my father. I'm thirteen and I don't know my father. How could I after only meeting him once? To the girls at school, he works very hard. Every nice thing I wear he bought. Every funny joke I overhear from David Letterman he told me. He moved away from Arkansas to Louisiana because he found a better job down there. All lies except for the bit about Louisiana. When I begged Momma to tell me something about my daddy she said, "He's in Louisiana."

"That's all? You don't know any more than that?" I said, regretting my tone.

"You want me to lie? That's all I know, Mavis."

That was over a year ago and I haven't brought him up since. Right now while we braid the jump ropes so we don't have to waste so much time untangling them tomorrow, Danielle says she's got to hurry up because her daddy's grilling tonight and he lets her light the charcoal. No time to make up a meal prepared by my invisible dad. One of the girls says it's five after seven. And, I'm late.

I was out of breath from trying to beat the sun going down, and on top of that, the screen door slammed behind me after I ran through our front door. Momma was in front of the stove frying hamburger patties. I gave a cheerful "Hi, Momma," to disguise my guilt. If I was grounded I promised myself never to speak to Tamara Green anymore. She just had to show off her crisscrosses when we jumped double-dutch. Since she did the crisscrosses, when it came my turn I had to do the roller derby. The roller derby is when you jump sideways and kick your legs out one at a time. If you do it right, it kind of looks like you're roller-skating. Well, when I did the roller derby all the girls gave me my props and I showed Tamara who the real double-dutch queen is. But then, everybody wanted me to teach them how to do it and before I knew anything it was five after seven and Danielle was talking about her father grilling their supper. I'm supposed to be home at seven o'clock. "And home means inside the house, not on your way," Momma would say in her most serious voice.

"You have a nice day, Momma?"

"My day was fine, Miss Seven Nineteen." She rolled her eyes at the clock on the wall. "Any money you earn this summer from babysitting or lawnmowing you be sure to buy yourself a new watch since the one you got don't seem to work. French fries in the oven. Wash your hands and take the paper plates down. You're going to Louisiana to stay with your daddy this summer. For once, somebody else can put up with you breaking the rules."

I was on tippytoe, reaching for the paper plates and full of so many questions I didn't know where to start. Momma didn't exactly seem like she was in the answering mood so I kept it short. "When am I leaving?"

My last day in Hot Springs Momma and me went shopping. I had never owned a robe before and questioned why I needed one now, especially since I was going to Louisiana where the summer heat would beat Arkansas's. Momma said young ladies couldn't walk around menfolk in just their nightgowns. She bought me slippers and a new sundress in case my father took me someplace special. She doubted he would but wanted me to be prepared to prove what nobody questioned anyway--that she was the responsible parent. When we pulled into the parking lot of Kroger I begged to stay in the car. Grocery shopping with her was a drag since she took everything out of the cart that I put in, saying, "That ain't good for you" or "You eat too much junk." But she insisted I go in.

Side-by-side we stood in an aisle facing shelves of feminine products. She asked me which of the sanitary napkins I thought I'd like.

"I don't get a period yet," I reminded her.

"But you might start this summer. Just in case, pick one."

I rolled my eyes at her. As usual, I felt she wasn't telling me something.

"I don't know which ones to choose."

"Choose the ones you think might be comfortable. They all the same."

"Well, then these, I guess."

I pulled the same box of Stayfree I knew were at home in our bathroom. Before we left the store I asked Momma if I could also buy a new notebook. I kept a journal about humdrum life in Hot Springs so I would definitely need one for the adventures with my daddy.

Seven hours on the Greyhound isn't so bad if you sleep most of the way. I stepped off the bus in Shreveport looking for the man on the picture my mother had given me. There were just a handful of people there to meet the bus and none of them was a tall black man. I waited at the side of the bus where the driver pulled suitcases from the luggage bin. The ugliest, most beat-up suitcase of them all belonged to me. My mother had never traveled anywhere so I used our old neighbor's suitcase. She told me I could keep it because she wouldn't need to take anything with her ever again. I dragged the hideous thing to the curb, watched and waited as the bus riders dwindled down to just me. An hour passed before a woman in a loud purple and green dress approached me.

"You Mavis ain't you?"

I shook my head yes.

"I knew you was you. Well, come on then," she said turning away and switching hard, or throwing her ass as Momma would say. I picked up my suitcase and followed her to a car my friends back home would definitely call a hooptie. All over was rust patches except for the orange passenger door. Whoever this woman was, she had it worse than Momma and me. We got in the car and the woman spoke to the three children in the backseat who, other than slurping on popsicles, were quiet as mice. "This here's ya'll cousin Mavis." One of the children hiccupped. The woman I now assumed was my aunt pushed a white cassette into the stereo system and a raspy-voiced woman sang, "...Baby you understand me now when sometimes you see that I'm mad. Don't you know no one alive can always be an angel? When everything goes wrong you see some bad. But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord please don't let me be misunderstood." We drove for an hour listening to that voice turn from angry to sad to blues-happy.

I had not imagined many details about the house, other than it would be large and my room as big as the apartment Momma and me shared in Hot Springs. I thought since I was going to the Deep South there would be plenty trees to send a breeze my way at night and a huge yard with grass as thick as the hair on my head. I could practice the splits and back bends to make sure I made the junior high cheerleading squad. But the house my aunt No Name parked in front of had no yard whatsoever. There was a tiny sidewalk right next to steps that led to a small porch, too narrow even for chairs.

A fat light-skinned woman with one gold tooth appeared in the doorway.

"Tina, that you? You got Mavis?"

"She right here."

"Good, good. Welcome Mavis. Welcome. I'm your Granny Bea. Bettina's my name but everybody call me Bea. Now your auntie there, her name's Bettina too but we call her Tina."

She held the door open for me as I took the last step. Not knowing whether I should hug her or what, I extended my hand.

"Go on in." Aunt Tina called from behind me. "She can't see you. She blind."

I practically fell into the house as the little ones pushed by me, screaming and laughing as they scattered like roaches when you flip the light switch on.

"Ya'll break anything I'm gonna break ya'll behinds," Aunt Tina yelled after them.

Up close I could see that the fat, light-skinned woman was older than I thought. There were deep creases around her mouth when she whispered, "Tina, I forgot to close my bedroom door. Go close it for me so them kids don't start rambling through my things." She turned to me. "Mavis, your daddy was supposed to pick you up but he got held up somewhere. You know how he is."

I didn't know anything about my father and I wondered why she thought I did.

"He be back before dark. You hungry?"

"No ma'am."

"Sure are polite ain't you? I'm not surprised. Your momma is a good woman."

"You know my momma?"

"Baby, of course I know your momma. I'm your grandmother ain't I?"

I sucked in my breath, fuming angry with my mother for keeping these people a secret. I sat the suitcase down near the stove, right where I'd hugged my grandmother for the first time. In the middle of the kitchen floor I stood waiting for her to put me someplace like I was a potted plant they needed to find a spot for.

"Bea, what you cooking tonight?" Tina said when she returned to the kitchen, throwing her ass again just like all the fast girls back home.

"Well, Tina, since you went and got this child, your druthers is my ruthers. What you in the mood for?"

"Why don't you fry up some fish?"

"Fine, but you have to go get some."

"Gimme some money."

"You know where it is."

Tina sashayed past me, opened one of the drawers under the sink and reached inside a tattered envelope.

"Use them stamps, cause I'm low on cash. Mavis, come on honey. Let me take you to your room," my grandmother said. "Ain't but two in the whole house. Your father was staying in one. He staying with me while he get himself together. When your mother called and said you had to come stay here for the summer, I told him he'd have to sleep on the living room couch cause my grandbaby had to have her own room."

I wanted to tell my grandmother that before this trip to Bossier Parish, the last and only time I'd even seen my daddy was on our couch in Hot Springs. The first time we met he was passing through Arkansas late one night in the middle of a schoolweek. I got up to pee and saw Momma sitting next to the man from the picture. "You up now, so you might as well come meet your daddy." It was three days before my tenth birthday, and when I told him his eyes lit up like I had shared a great secret. It didn't occur to me then that a father should not be surprised by the news of his child's birthday. When I asked him to stay, he tugged one of my braids and said, "Wish I could baby. You know how it is." I didn't know how it was but hoped he would tell me the next day. But when I woke up--full of questions for him to answer over the french toasts I planned to make him--he was already gone. Later I learned that my mother had always received news from my father but refused to share it with me. She could have told me about my aunt, and especially my grandmother who seemed to really like me.

I smiled before I remembered Granny Bea couldn't see me. The two bedrooms were across from each other. In my room, there were only two pieces of furniture so in a way it did look as big as me and Momma's apartment. I had a twin bed with faded pink sheets and a chest of drawers.

"You can close this door if you want to--so them kids don't drive you crazy," Granny Bea said.

The whole house stank like fish, which I don't eat. Nobody asked so I didn't say anything. Sitting down to the table that night I figured I could eat potatoes or macaroni and cheese or whatever they made to go with the fish.

Tina reached across the table and put a hand on Granny Bea's arm.

"Momma, Sylvester say his luck be doubled if I go with him to the riverboat."

"That dog won't hunt Tina. Not tonight."

"Come on Momma, please."

"What I say? Hardly had the chance to slap my pappy, and you out the door leaving me with them kids? Nossir. Not tonight, Tina. I'm tired. Take your babies home with you--where they belong. Sylvester do all right without you. Or maybe he won't. But I'll tell you who's not gonna worry about it."

My aunt was about to say something when my father walked in. I recognized him right away. He still had the moustache I'd seen in the picture Momma had given me.


Because I had a mouth full of cornbread, I nodded my head yes.

"Girl, if you ain't Shirley up and down. Stand up."

"Reggie, the child is eating. Grab a root," Granny Bea said. My father took a seat across from me.

"You sure are pretty. Got them pretty hazel eyes just like Shirley. Got her cheekbones, too. How she doing?"


"Yeah, I bet she fine. She always was."

Aunt Tina stood up and stacked the plates left by her children. "Tyra, LaStarr, Mickey, ya'll come on so we can go."

"Baby, you have a good trip down?" my father asked.


"Nobody bothered you did they?" "No sir."

"She's a little lady, ain't she, Momma?"

"That she is," Granny Bea said.

The children made a beeline for my father. Mickey, a three-year-old in a kindergartener's body, held out his arms. When Daddy bent down to put the boy up on his lap, the girls wrapped their arms around his neck.

"Reggie, don't get them all riled up. We about to go."

"Why don't you wrap up some of this fish so I can take it to Amarilla. Ya'll know she love catfish. Look like Mavis didn't eat hers." Aunt Tina took her son off my father's lap and wrapped him around her hip. "I'm not your maid, Reggie. Thanks for cooking, Momma," she said over her shoulder on her way out the door.

"What's her problem?" Daddy said.

Granny Bea waved a hand as if she could care less. "She'll be alright."

"I gotta make a run. Ya'll probably be sleep when I get back. I had to swing by though, check ya'll out--say hi to Miss Mavis here." He winked. "You finished eating now, ain't you?" He said to me. "Good, now stand up. You tall just like your daddy. Your momma come from a family of munchkins, but not you. You my Mavis." I smiled. "Pretty soon you'll be as tall as me." My father is a liar. I didn't even reach his shoulders. "Got some people I want you to meet--Amarilla, my lady friend, and her daughter who's round about your age. I got a feeling down in my shoes that they just gonna love you."

When I sat back down he came over to my side of the table, kissed me on the cheek and whispered "We gonna have some fuuuun this summer." It tickled my ear, the way he said fun like it was a bad word.

Granny Bea closed the door behind him and said below her breath, "I wish that boy would pull his socks up," and I knew my father still had a lot of growing up to do.

Three weeks had passed and my father still hadn't made good on his promise of fuuuun. Except for a Bible in Braille, there were no books in the house. I asked Granny Bea about the library and she said Tina would have to drive me because it was too far to walk. With no books, magazines or even a newspaper, I was left to watch television, something Momma would've hated. I watched reruns of Bewitched and Gidget and helped out around the house. I looked after my little cousins so Aunt Tina could go out with her boyfriend, Mickey's father. No one said where the father of the girls was. She never paid me for watching them, but I thought it might make her take me to the library. Granny Bea had told me how to get to Kroger for groceries and cleaning supplies. But I hadn't met anyone interesting, read anything interesting or seen anything interesting in Bossier Parish.

The fourth week I received a letter from Momma telling me that she had heard from Grandma Bea that I was acting the lady and she was glad. She told me she was working the nightshift, sometimes pulling doubles to save money for my education. I read on to learn that my cheerleading plans were over. Momma had enrolled me in the private all-girls Catholic junior high, which had no sports teams. That day I also found out why my father was living with his mom. I was slicing the two BLTs I'd just put on saucers for me and Granny Bea's lunch when he stumbled through the door. He came over to me, pulled my arms up and started shaking his hips.

"Dance with me Mavis." He smelled like old sweat and beer and his shirt was wet. "Don't you wanna dance with your daddy?"

"Me and Granny Bea about to eat lunch," I said.

"All right then." He let go of my arms and sat down at the table.

"I saw Amarilla last night. Now, that's what you call a woman. Had on a red dress and red and white shoes. Looked just like a movie star. I tried to talk to her--"

"Mavis baby, where you disappear to? Come on now with my sandwich, I got to take my medicine," Granny Bea called from the back of the house.

"I told Amarilla I'd be real good this time. She ain't never gonna know how good I can be if she don't let me come back home. She say my home is right here with Bettina. She say that's her house and I should just get it out my mind that she even want me back. But I know she lying."

In the living room I sat the snack tray down in front of my grandmother.

"Daddy's here. He been drinking and he's in there talking about some woman named Amarilla."

"Next thing, he be crying. Well, he the one don't know how to act. I don't blame her for putting him out."

"What he do?"

"Baby, it ain't what he did. It's what he didn't do. Won't get no regular job. A hustle here, a hustle there just don't add up to much. You know Mavis, your daddy's one blade shy of a sharp edge. Amarilla's not gonna let him lay up and do nothing. Especially not now when she working so hard to pay for that girl's special school."

I was hanging out in my room about to write a letter to Momma when Granny Bea stuck her head in. "Mavis baby, I was wondering if you could help me straighten up. Amarilla wanna come over this afternoon 'cause she got something she wanna tell me. I'll fix a little something nice for lunch and appreciate you helping me make the house presentable for company."

Granny Bea shouted over the vacuum that I pushed around the living room, "You gonna like Amarilla. I ain't never laid eyes on nobody but I know that child got to be one of God's prettiest. I hear it in her voice and I feel it whenever she come around. Been fooling with Reggie for too long is her only problem. I think she was scared to deal with that child of hers alone. That's got to be the only reason she would get involved with your daddy. Her girl is about your age. She's got a lot of problems."

Apparently I had slept through Granny Bea's cooking spree the night before. I set the dining room table for lunch, while she pulled from the refrigerator a stuffed chicken and put it in the oven to warm. On top of the stove red potatoes and green beans remained from the wee hours of the morning. In the center of the dining room table was a cake.

"You ever had upside-down cake?"

"No ma'am."

"I make a good one. Eat as much as you want at lunch 'cause I always send whatever's leftover home with Amarilla."

I was looking out of the window over the kitchen sink when she drove up in a silver car. I watched her lean over to undo her daughter's seatbelt. She held the girl's hand when they walked to the house. I was sure I had not seen anyone more beautiful in my life. Amarilla was the blackest woman I had ever seen. Darker than eggplant, with thick dark black eyebrows and cropped natural hair. Her teeth dazzled they were so white and so did her eyes when I said "hello" and held open the door.

She stepped into the kitchen, pulling the girl in behind her. She shook my hand. It was the kind of normal greeting you got in Arkansas, but one I had not received since being in Bossier Parish.

"Mavis, so glad to finally meet you. This is my daughter, Saretta." The girl grabbed my hand and wouldn't let go until her mother told her to. Saretta didn't look anything like her mother. She was not beautiful, or even cute. Her glasses were thick as Coca Cola bottles and she had beady eyes. What she lacked in eyes she more than made up for in boobies. They were much bigger than mine, her mother's too. I didn't know girls our age could have boobies that size. She had on a t-shirt that was too little and denim shorts. Nice legs. They were shapely and shiny smooth, nothing like the hairy baseball bats I had. I wondered if her mother let her shave; I was forbidden to shave until I turned sixteen.

Granny Bea hugged them and said we should go into the dining room to eat. Saretta was quiet for the whole meal until Granny Bea raised the lid of the cake stand, then she said, "Give me some." I was told to take Saretta to my room so the grown women could talk. With no books and no special place to go I didn't know what to do with her. Saretta walked over to my dresser and picked up the comb and brush and handed them to me. "Fix my hair like yours," she said, her mouth turning up into a mean little smile. Her teeth looked like tiny white pebbles, and I wondered if she thought they were better than mine, hidden under tracks of metal. Her hair was certainly long enough for french braids. I don't know why I didn't just agree.

"You sure it's okay with your mother?"

"I got the ass burger syndrome and they don't know what else, but I ain't no baby. And I can wear my hair any kind of way I like."

Ass burger? She talked funny. I took the comb and brush from her hands and told her to sit on the floor. I sat on top of my bed behind her. I took the rubber band off her ponytail and combed through several times to remove the kinks. Then I made a part down the center. I'd finished one braid when I felt somebody watching us.

"Is it all right?" I said to Amarilla.

"It's fine. Thank you, Mavis." Amarilla walked into the room and stood in front of Saretta who did not raise her head although I had long stopped combing her hair.

"Miss Bettina says you can stay Saretta. I'll be back for you tomorrow afternoon."

Saretta was bathing when Granny Bea came into my bedroom to explain. Amarilla had to make a trip down to Baton Rouge to visit the school Saretta would be going to after summer. I was told not to mention the trip or the school because Saretta was very upset about it.

"I know that bed's tiny but ya'll be alright if one sleep with her head down this-a-way and the other sleep with her head the other way. Ain't that Amarilla something? Smart as a whip. And a good mother too. Like your momma. I don't know how your daddy did it--got himself two women rare as hen's teeth--three if we count you--and he keeps on messing up. See, now where I come from that's what you call a fool."

Saretta wore a light blue baby-doll set to bed. Through the top I could see her large thick nipples. I tried not to stare. Even covered her boobies were much more interesting than mine. Soon as I turned the light off she started to snore. I wondered about her life, if she had any friends, if she liked her old school, what, if anything, she did for fun. I must've dozed off during my list of questions because a while later the jiggling of the mattress woke me.

The light from the street lamp outside shone at the foot of the bed so I could see plainly. Saretta's eyes were shut tight making me wonder who or what was moving the bed? Then I saw her hand moving under the sheet. Her knees began to punch against the sheet like fists, and her hand moved faster. I felt funny watching her, but I wanted to see where she would end. Finally, she kicked both legs straight out, moaned, and her hand stopped.

As if any child could make a worthwhile plan in Bossier Parish, after breakfast, Granny Bea asked what ours was. I hunched my shoulders, still forgetting she couldn't see me, and Saretta said, "Out."

"Going outside is a good idea," Granny Bea said.

We took a walk to the grocery store and bought two cans of soda. On the way home I asked Saretta if she'd slept well. She told me no and that she only liked her own bed. I thought she would say something about what she did but she didn't. When Amarilla pulled up later that day, Saretta didn't wait for her to come in. She grabbed her backpack and ran out to the car without saying goodbye. Amarilla waved to us and called out, "Thanks a bunch. I'll call you later, Bea."

I was in the kitchen stirring mayonnaise into a bowl of canned tuna when my father jumped onto the porch and danced into the kitchen. He kissed me on my cheek and spun me around. "You my lucky charm. You know that? Stopped by the store to get this ice cream for you and heard a woman talking about the tickets she can't use to go see Gladys Knight tonight. Amarilla love Gladys Knight so I bought them tickets right off that lady. I'm fixing to take my woman out tonight."

Amarilla dressed up real tough for the Gladys Knight concert. She wore black shiny pants--maybe they were satin--and a black tank top with sequins. There were even black sequins on her sandals. She had on lots of makeup and long crystal earrings that looked like chandeliers dangling from her afro. Daddy looked good too. He wore a sports jacket and a hat. They laughed out the kitchen door and down the steps. I was sure they would have a good time but wasn't so sure I would. Saretta's arms were folded across her big chest and her lips were stuck out.

"I'm going out too," Saretta said.

She didn't want to hear that we had to stay inside because it was getting dark and that was Granny Bea's rule. According to my grandmother, Bossier Parish was best seen by daylight and we didn't have any business out in the street once the sun went down. We sat on the top step of the narrow porch. The crickets seemed to have a lot to say each other, "Maybe they arguing about what they're going to do tonight," I joked to Saretta, who was still wearing the plaits I had given her nearly two weeks ago. Stray hairs were coming out and one braid was puffy and coming loose. I put my hand to her head to smooth the puffy side and she jumped. I asked her if she wanted me to braid her hair over and she agreed. When we came back into the house we sat next to Granny Bea who was listening to an episode of Matlock. At ten o'clock we got ready for bed. Like the time before, not long after we'd gotten into bed, the bed started to jiggle and I woke up. This time when I looked down, Saretta was on her stomach and her behind was moving up and down.

When Amarilla pulled up the next morning, my father jumped out the car and called for Saretta to come out. Amarilla leaned her head out and said, "Mavis, you come here too." She gave me a headband, purple with silver sparkles on it, which was very nice and which later I would wear on picture day. This time Saretta smiled as she got in the car.

Daddies are supposed to give their daughters things. I was grateful for the headband because at least it was something to show. I decided then and there that I'd later give Amarilla some of the credit too: "My daddy bought it for me, his beautiful girlfriend helped him pick it." It was a small, good lie that would fly with the girls easily, but it wouldn't sprout wings to fly for Momma. Her voice from the letter rang clear. She'd wrote that talk was cheap and I should be careful not to be disappointed by Daddy's promises because he was a very, very cheap man and that was "the truth." Never mind Momma's truth.

Anyway, Saretta smiled which might have meant she liked me or was beginning to. And then Daddy pulled me down on the porch steps beside him.

"You and Saretta hitting it off, I see," he said.

I let out a nervous laugh thinking about what Saretta did in the bed.

"Oh, I see how it is. Ya'll got secrets already. You girls is something else."

I guess it was a secret even though we had never talked about it. I didn't have any secrets with girls back home so I was glad to not disappoint Daddy. He seemed to have a lot of ideas about girls and women, or me and Momma, and none of them were right.

"You got a best friend back home?"


"I know you don't have a boyfriend?" I laughed. "Nossir."

"That's what I like to hear. Well, you might get a best friend out of Saretta. I know she different. But different don't mean bad, different just mean different. If you can trust her, if she teach you something--make you look at life in a different way, make you laugh and feel other things, then that's the making of a good friend." It seemed to me that Saretta was hardly in the market for friends, then again, she had smiled.

A few days later, after I finished vacuuming the living room for Granny Bea she said, "Mavis, you've been real nice to Saretta. Don't think we haven't noticed. Amarilla sure appreciates it too. Saretta don't know it yet but her momma fixing to take her to the school this Sunday. If you could keep company with her today and tonight while Amarilla does some running around, you know, getting her things together and what not, you'd be doing us all a big favor."

It's not like I had a choice. And Saretta wasn't really awful or anything, just quiet, until she opened her mouth to boss me in some way. It took a little work, but by noon I had convinced her to join me at the elementary school playground. Sitting on the merry-go-round kicking up clouds of dust, she started talking.

"You don't know everything," Saretta said.

"I never said I know everything," I said.

"Do you know how to oochie koochie by yourself?"

I didn't know what oochie koochie was, but something told me it was what she did at night, never mind who might be watching.

"No," I answered, hoping to God she would explain.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. Nobody does the oochie whatever you call it in Arkansas."

"Want me to show you?"

I didn't know how to answer that. Part of me was curious. Another part of me knew it was wrong. I knew the oochie whatever was not something Saretta should be doing and certainly nothing my momma would want me to do. Saretta swung both legs around, put her feet down and stopped the merry-go-round then pushed a hand down into her shorts. Right there in broad daylight she was going to show me whether I said yes or not. I grabbed her arm. "Not here, Saretta."

"At the house then."

"Not at Granny Bea's house either. You shouldn't do that at other people's houses."

"Why not?"

Not yet knowing the point of the oochie koochie, I couldn't exactly say why Saretta shouldn't do it at other people's houses. Instead I scanned the park. "Let's go over there," I said, pointing to a field in the distance. Forget about a heartbeat, I had a drum inside my chest. Could Saretta hear the roll of thunder? Would she change her mind and not show me if the thunder grew louder? We walked through the field of tall grass more yellow than green from the scorch of the sun.

Saretta stopped, slid a meaty hand across her face and carried away sweat.

"Why you do it anyway--the oochie koochie?"

"It feel good."

Saretta got down in the grass. "You afraid of the dark? Cause you gotta close your eyes. It don't work with your eyes open." She took her shorts off and put her hand inside some very cute white panties with pink polka dots. "Take yours off," she ordered.

Forget about a drum, pots and pans and metal pipes clanged in my eardrums and my throat was dry like when I ran the hundred-yard dash in track. I did what I was told: got on my back, closed my eyes and waited for Saretta.

"Touch your thing."

If we got caught, I plotted that I'd just tell them Saretta was going to start acting out if I didn't do exactly what she said.

"Put your fingers on it."

"On what?"

"That thing that boys got except boys got a bigger one." Saretta was already past me. Her legs were starting to dance. "What do I do now?"

She didn't respond at first and then in a whisper, "Mooove your fingers." So I started to but I forgot to close my eyes. I want ed to tell her that it works with your eyes open, too. And that the clouds rushed overhead to see us. And now, looking back, I want to tell her that the soft sweet noises she made helped me along, that time and many others since.

When we stood up and dusted ourselves off, she looked at me and started to giggle. She lifted her glasses to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Then I started to laugh. There was nothing else to do.

LASHONDA KATRICE BARNETT is the author of the story collection, Callaloo, and editor of I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters On Their Craft. She is a past fellow of the Sewanee Writers' Conference and Provincetown Fine Arts Center. She teaches writing at Brown University. Her website is
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Author:Barnett, Lashonda Katrice
Publication:New Orleans Review
Article Type:Short story
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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