Sometimes I like to sit under the maple tree out back and watch the sky. Cloud people always look friendly. Like they’d never burn you with a cigarette or hold your head under water for too long. And they gots great big floaty beds. Soft and warm, like you could snuggle way deep in them and sleep and sleep and sleep.
Sometimes, when I’m really lucky, and Al’s had lots of beer, but not too much, he’s in a good mood and I’m allowed to sleep with Benny in her bed by the stove. Mama says I’m getting too long for it now, she says that my legs don’t even half fit. But I don’t care. Least ways it’s better than sleeping on the concrete floor in the basement. That’s been my room for almost six months. I gots me some cardboard and a old rug. I shiver all a the time, even with the rug. On bad nights, I sees the ghost on the stairs and keep my eyes wide all night long. Benny smells like under the porch and stinky old dog, but she’s warm and I push my hands deep into her long fur. When the ghost comes, she growls and scares it away.
Al don’ like kids much. He says we eat too much and are ‘spensive. He tells Pops that I grow and grow, and keepin’ a shirt on my back costs—way—a lot. Pops used to send us bags and bags of clothes, but Al said he wasn’t havin’ it. Like we’s a charity case or something, he said. Money’s fine, he said. He says, money—we can always use. For food and such. But all I see when the money comes is too much beer and never no new shirts neither.
Sometimes, when I’m sittin’ under that tree, I watch the clouds and see fluffy bowls of ice cream. My tummy growls then and when I push down on it I feel the bones under my raggedy old shorts stick way out. Mrs. Avery, the lady next door, she leaves bowls of Cheerios with real milk out in her back porch. She does it all sneaky like, cause of the charity. I pretend to not like her, like I’m a scared of her. I tell Al that her eye, the one that’s blind and gots a grey swarmy thing on it, is like a witch’s eye. Al don’ care, he makes me go to her house every morning and get her paper and take out her trash. Right neighbourly, he says.
Mrs. Avery’s kid got killed somewhere’s people are fightin’. Over God knows what, she says. Oil or such. I secretly think it’s diamonds. Cause diamonds is pretty and sparkly and they costs a way lot. More than stinky ole oil. If I was sent over to the fightin’, I’d sneak out in the middle of the night and look for them diamonds. Then I’d be rich and I’d buy me a big ole bed and Mrs. Avery a new one of those things that helps her walk better. The one she gots has a broken wheel thingy on it. Then I’d give Mama the rest of my diamond money so she could kick Al to the curb. Mama says, we need him cause what would we do without a man around the house. I know what I’d do. I’d sleep in my own room, for one.
Sometimes, I hear Mama crying and telling Al, no. Usually it’s only when I seen the ghost an I’m too scared to stay in the basement. So’s I sneak up the stairs and sit with Benny. Benny don’ mind. But if Al didn’t say I could stay with her I have to make sure I don’ fall asleep. Once I done it, and he got so mad he throwed me into the basement and locked the door for a long, long time. Mama says we need a man around the house to fix things and keep us safe. But I only ever seen Al break things, and I only ever feel safe when he’s not home. When I sit with Benny, I put my hands over my ears so as not to hear Mama.
Mama says that I don’ remember what it was like before Al came to live with us, but I do. I remember my own warm bed and cuddling with Mama in the mornings. Now my room is a “guest room.” It’s for just-in-case Al’s mama comes to visit. She never done it yet. I remember eating breakfast and supper, and watching TV, and a new red dress and going to watch a parade. I remember Mrs. Avery waving to her boy when he left for work in the mornings. I remember playing with the ring on Mama’s finger and how it sparkled in the light. She said it was from my daddy and costed more’n the house we was in.
Sometimes, I think of that ring. How if Mama hadn’t up and lost it, I’d take it and sell it. Then we’d have lots of money. Sometimes the clouds are dark and scary and there’s no ice cream or fluffy beds. When that happens, I usually crawl under the porch. It’s warm and dry there and I don’ mind the spiders. Sometimes, I think about Mrs. Avery’s son. If he hadn’t up and got killed, he could come over and fix things for Mama and tell Al to go to the curb. Sometimes I dream about Cheerios and real milk and my tummy doesn’t hurt so much. Sometimes, I think of the ghost and see my Daddy’s sad face on it, then Benny comes over and we cuddle until the storm passes.
Photo #430 – Hannah Sad. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.