He sleeping now. All the blinds open. Ain’t no sun out though. He always open all the blinds and sleep like this after he get finish. His body be naked, but his dingaling be all covered up. Everything in there brown. Him, the furniture, the sheets, the floor. Even me too. But I ain’t in there no more. When we finish, he say I can do whatever I want. I always go take a bath so I don’t smell like s-e-x. That’s the game we play. Then, I come stand in the hallway and watch him sleep. I don’t know why. I just do. He look okay. Normal. He always tell me it’s okay. We normal. Ashley say we ain’t normal, and we ain’t never going to be okay because of it. I don’t never watch him before he finish. I go somewhere else. I just be looking out the window. The one with the blinds open. Can’t nobody see in here though, but he planted some aster and some larkspur and some globe thistles out there in the window, in the flower bed too. I just be watching the butterflies. He sleeping now with all the blinds open, and I take me a mason jar outside.
I see Mrs. Hazel Mae over there on her porch. She sitting in her rocking chair humming. My chin on my chest now and I wave at her real slow. I put my hands behind my back and look at her. She roll her eyes at me and go back in her house. She slam her front door. She don’t like me no more. The other day, when she found me in her backyard behind her shed with my panties off, I was on top of Simeon. That’s her nephew. She grabbed me off that boy so fast and threw me. She a big ole strong lady. She slapped Simeon in his face. He ain’t even cry. He covered up weewee though. I told Mama I fell when she seen my bruise.
Mrs. Hazel Mae said, “Fast ass heifer! So hot in the tail, it don’t make no sense. Your mammy ought to know to keep you in the damn house somewhere, child.”
I ain’t tell Mrs. Hazel Mae that I can’t stay in the house. If I stay, when he wake up, he always want to play s-e-x again. Me and Simeon was just hunching though, we wasn’t playing s-e-x for real like me and Uncle L be doing. Simeon ain’t put his weewee in there. Uncle L say God made what I got for him. That’s it. He say if I be sharing it, I’ll never see Heaven. He say if I ain’t his first, I’ll never be nobody else’s.
Mama always say we ain’t supposed to tell nobody. She say, “What happen in this house stay right damn here, and that’s it. Ain’t shit about this here house that you need to be telling a living soul.”
I always say, “Yes ma’am.”
Ashley don’t never say nothing. She just be staring at Mama. That’s when Mama bang on the table and say, “Who bought your school clothes? Or paid your cell phone bill last month when you ain’t get enough hours at the little raggedy ass job? Huh?” When she say that, Ashley stop staring at her, go back to doing whatever she was doing.
Then I be saying, “I like going over Uncle L house.”
Every time I say that, Ashley be scared. She just get up and leave, go to work early. She never ask me why though. Lenelle Patric Eady don’t do roaches. He always be saying that. It’s clean over there, and Uncle L let me go wherever I want to go.
Before we was hunching behind Mrs. Hazel Mae shed, Simeon told me, “You got you a good mama. My mama be doing drugs all the time and she be leaving me and my sister. That’s why we staying over here with Auntie Hazel.”
I said, “…but my mama be being mean to me. I don’t never know when she love me.”
He looked at me sideways and said, “Briana, what you mean? You be taking pictures with her on holidays. Y’all be matching. Last week, on the 4th of July, she popped fireworks with you. She barbecued for you, and she let me and my sister come over there with y’all. She even made us a plate to go home with. I be seeing her when she take you swimming. She be kissing you bye when she drop you off at Mr. Lenny house.”
I said, “Yeah, but—”
He said, “…but nothing. You just a second grader. You don’t know. I don’t never see my mama. She don’t even know what be happening over Auntie Hazel house. At least your mama know you.” Then, Simeon started crying.
I put his hand in mine and said, “Let’s play s-e-x. It’ll make you feel good. I can put it in my mouth too if you want me to.” That’s when we got caught by Mrs. Hazel Mae.
One time after Mama blacked Ashley eye, I seen Ashley talking to a picture of Grandma Trixie in our room at Mama house. Mama seen her one time and told us don’t be talking to no dead folks in her house. Ashley don’t be caring what Mama say. She do it anyway. I seen her with some dirt in a jar one time and asked her, “What’s that?” She said, “Trixie Loretta Eady.” She poured all the dirt in a little lavender vase and sat it right beside our picture of Grandma Trixie in the closet. Ever since the dirt came, I be feeling Grandma Trixie walking around. I don’t never tell Mama though. Grandma was fine. She looked like a movie star and Mama look just like her and Ashley look just like Mama. I don’t look like them, but Mama say I got they body.
“Them is Eady peaches you got back there, girl! You hear me? Eady peaches!” That’s what Mama be saying. At parties, when I be dancing, she always say, “That’s my child,” and I be smiling.
Before the dirt came, I watched Ashley sitting in the corner beside our dresser holding Grandma picture one night. She was whispering. I sat on my bed, braided all my hair one big ole braid, and asked her, “What you doing? Do Grandma hear everything you be saying?”
She got in her bed, put Grandma Trixie under her pillow, and said, “Not a living soul.”
Grandma Trixie died when I was a baby. I got under my blanket and said, “But who I’m supposed to talk to? I don’t know nobody dead.”
She turned over and said, “Find something.” I wanted to ask her why she won’t share Grandma Trixie with me, but I didn’t. She share everything else, so I guess it’s okay.
Outside, the butterflies is beautiful. I wonder do they know? How can they be so beautiful and don’t even know it? They can’t see they self. They must be so sad. Sad little babies. They my sad little babies though. I don’t never stay long. I only catch one. It’s brown like me. I put him in my little jar and bring him in with me. I go in the room I share with my sister when she be here and lock our door. When he stop moving, I open my little jar and put him under the bed with the rest of them. I got a lot of them. They don’t know they beautiful, but I got a mirror under there too even thought it’s a little dark. I wonder do they know they dead too. I want to tell them, but I don’t know how.
I whisper to them, “Do y’all like being dead? I wish y’all could talk to me. Will I stay beautiful like y’all when I’m dead too? Uncle L be telling me don’t tell nobody. He said if I do he’ll take me to the Mississippi, and ain’t nobody I love will ever see me again. I asked Mama for swimming lessons anyway, and I think he telling a story. Y’all dead. I can still see y’all.”
The new butterfly moving again, and I’m scared. I don’t put him in the jar again though. Just watch him die some more without my help. I wait for him. It’s taking a long time. He moving. Shaking. Moving. Shaking. Gone. I put the mirror in front of him.
The bathroom at Uncle L house beautiful. Everything white and clean. Except for my panties. At Uncle L house, my panties be getting brown. A little bloody. I don’t be smelling how little girls supposed to smell. I be so shame, I just throw them away. Not in here though. I always throw them away outside in the big garbage can at the end of the driveway. I don’t care if the garbage man see. He don’t know me and I don’t even really live here anyway. I don’t want Uncle L to think playing s-e-x be making me dirty. I ain’t dirty. When I’m through peepeeing, in the bedroom, I open my underwear drawer for some more panties, but I ain’t even got no more. I threw away all the panties I came over here with. I know where I can get some more though.
Jodi live five houses away. On the way to her, I see Simeon outside playing with his little sister. I want to say hey, but I see Mrs. Hazel Mae standing in the window. I just keep walking. When I get there, Ms. Mary outside spraying gold paint on some candle holders. She a little itty bitty round lady. Pretty too. Just like Jodi.
I say, “Where Jodi and Miracle at?”
She say, “Briana, baby, what I done told you? Speak to your elders, girl. Greet them. Say hello.”
I say, “Hello, Ms. Mary. How you doing today? May I play with Jodi and Miracle?”
She smiling now, “That’s the Briana I know. Come on over here, and give me this hug, now.”
Her hugs be tight, and she always give me a kiss on the jaw. She smell like beautiful lotion and just washed laundry.
She say, “Oh, look at you, all that hair on your head. Did you braid it yourself like the last time?”
I say, “No ma’am. Uncle L combed my hair yesterday.”
She surprised, “Really? It’s gorgeous, child. I ain’t know the man could comb a head.”
“Thank you, Ms. Mary. Uncle L used to have a little girl.”
“Used to? Did she…did she go on to glory before he moved over here?”
I say, “No, ma’am. She live in Batesville, Mississippi with Auntie Rose. I miss her,” and lie. I ain’t never met Mickey. I ain’t never met Auntie Rose neither, but I seen them in a picture once.
Ms. Mary say, “Well, Panola County ain’t a world away from North Memphis. It’s summer time. I suppose you’ll be seeing your cousin soon, won’t you?”
“No, ma’am. Mama said wives don’t always understand a father’s love for a little girl. She said Auntie Rose ain’t even have no business being jealous. The ring was hers.”
Ms. Mary’s eyebrows lift when she say, “Oh. Well, okay…that’s some good hair braiding if I ever seen it. Miracle and Jodi in there somewhere. Go on in there.” I walk away, and Ms. Mary never take her eyes off me like if she do maybe I’ll disappear like Mickey too.
Ms. Mary got all kind of stuff in her house. She got big plants, little plants, old stuff from slavery days, candles, books, paintings, little Black boy statues, little Black girl statues, gigantic and glittery pillows on chairs, and pictures of her family is everywhere, especially pictures of Jodi and her other daughter Keshia. She even got a few pictures of her niece Miracle on the wall even though she ain’t been living in this neighborhood long. Ms. Mary what Mama call a memory person. Everything must be remembered with Ms. Mary. Not Mama though. Mama always say memories ain’t no place she want to be.
I hear Miracle and Jodi in they bedroom laughing. I open they door fast and yell, “Ah!” First, they scream and cookies go flying everywhere. Then, they laugh. I laugh too.
Jodi say, “We thought you was Mama. We ain’t supposed to be eating no cookies yet.”
Miracle get the cookies off the bed and put them back in the bag. She say, “You scared us, Briana.”
I lay across the bed and say, “What kind of cookies y’all got? Why it’s bread in the bag?”
They quiet quiet like something wrong quiet. I look at Miracle. She don’t like long hair. Ms. Mary got her curls short. Mama say it’s a shame, but I think it’s cute.
She say, “Girl, where’d your panties go? And why is your tail so big? Ain’t you the same age as me?”
My eyes big now. I forgot about my panties, but I stand up and get myself right. I say, “Sorry.”
Jodi say, “Mama put bread in the bag to keep the cookies fresh. It’s ginger snaps, but I don’t think you’ll like them. They kind of spicy. You don’t like spicy stuff.” She get up and close her bedroom door. It’s locked now too.
Miracle say, “I don’t want a big ole tail. Grown men like big ole tails. I saw it on TV.”
Jodi say, “You don’t know nothing about no grown men.”
I say, “It’s true, she right. Grown men do like big ole tails,” and I ask Jodi, “Is it okay if I have another pair of your panties?”
Jodi skin dark like mine and her mama let her wear afro puffs. They look like dandelions. Jodi go in her underwear drawer.
Miracle standing up in the bed now. “Again? You need Jodi’s underwear again? She told me what happened to you. We about to call 9-1-1 right now.”
I’m scared. Miracle jump off the bed and run for the door. Jodi push Miracle down on the ground. Miracle look at me like she hate me. I start crying.
I look at Jodi and say, “Why you tell somebody? I told you no telling nobody.”
Jodi help Miracle up and say, “It’s just Miracle.”
I say, “But Miracle gonna call the police on me. I don’t wanna get in no trouble. He said it’s okay. It’s just a game.”
Miracle hug me and say, “Shh. I’m sorry. Not on you. On Mr. Lenny, not you. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. You’ll get everybody in trouble.”
Jodi give me some panties and say, “Don’t put them on yet.” She give Miracle a ugly look and say, “Don’t even think about going to get that phone.”
Miracle try to make Jodi same face but she don’t do it all the way right. She say, “I’m not!” She sit down next to me, give me a piece of the bread out the cookies. I eat it.
Jodi go open her door and then she go in Keshia’s room. She come back with a piece of paper and lock her door again. She peel something off it and say, “Here. Put this in the panties.”
I say, “What is it?”
“What it’s supposed to do?”
“Keep your panties clean.”
Miracle say, “We have to do something. Let’s burn his house down. We can get Briana’s stuff out first. It’s easy. I saw it on TV.”
Jodi say, “Woah, woah. Wait. Miracle, we is little girls. We ain’t burning nobody house down. Let me think.”
Miracle say, “Why do you always get to think? I want to think sometimes, too. My plans work too. I’m the one who got the cookies down from the pantry shelf! The top shelf!”
Jodi say, “Okay, then. Think. Go ahead.”
Everybody quiet now. Jodi panties kind of tight but the pantiliner feel like it’s not there at all.
Miracle say, “We have to find somebody to beat him up, somebody who can hurt him bad.”
Jodi say, “But we don’t even know no grown men.”
I say, “I don’t want no grown men to know!”
Miracle say, “Grown men aren’t the only ones who can help us. Put your shoes on. We’re going to the candy lady’s house. When Auntie Mary comes back in, she’ll go to the bathroom. She always does. Then, we’ll sneak out.”
Miracle go put the ginger snaps back on the top shelf in the pantry. I look at Jodi. I want to ask her what’s about to happen. I don’t say nothing, but she smile a little bit and shrug her shoulders and say, “Grown men supposed to be with grown women. Me and Miracle saw it on TV.” When Miracle get back, we wait for Ms. Mary. I take off my sandals when Jodi give me a pair of her tennis shoes so I can run real easy. They fit a little funny but she help me tie them real tight.
When we hear Ms. Mary close the bathroom door, we walk real quiet to the kitchen and then to the den where the back door at. Before we leave, Jodi grab a bunch of coins out the glass bowl with all the change in it. Outside, we take off running. Miracle start laughing and then me and Jodi do too. Miracle grab my hand tight and we run faster than I ever ran before. Jodi hold on to her money with all her strength.
At the candy lady house, we sit on the porch and catch our breath. The sun out now. We sweating. Miracle’s curls sticking to her forehead. Jodi counting her money.
Jodi say, “Four dollars and thirty five cents.”
Miracle stand up and put her finger on the doorbell. She don’t never take it off. She look down at Jodi and say, “Did you even brush your teeth today? We haven’t even had lunch yet.”
Peanut open the wood door real fast, she yell a little bit, “If you don’t get off my motherfu—”
She stop yelling when she see Jodi and us. Peanut like Jodi sister Keshia. I think they go together. She open the screen door to let us in. She tall and strong like men be strong sometimes and got a lot of hair like me. Her house smell like candy. It’s candy everywhere.
Peanut say, “Jodi, what Keshia and Ms. Mary tell you about coming over here by yourself? And what I tell you about bringing this money over here?”
Peanut sit down on the couch. Jodi sit down in the middle of the other one and me and Miracle sit next to her.
Jodi say, “I remember what you said. But your mama said I’m bad for business. She said ain’t nothing free in this world. Not even lemonheads and candy apples.”
Peanut smile a little and nod a lot. Then she look at Miracle and say, “And you? What’s up with you and the doorbell today?”
Miracle say, “We have an emergency.”
I don’t say nothing. I look out the window. I can see Uncle L backyard from here. It’s a few butterflies on the side of the house.
Jodi put all her change in the $MONEY$ $MONEY$ $MONEY$ jar and grab three candy apples, two jumbo blow pops, potato chips, and all the bubblegum left on the shelf. She take a deep breath and say, “Somebody messing with Briana. You need to do some scary stuff.” We walk from the living room to the den.
Peanut laugh a little bit, say, “Some scary stuff? Y’all know I can’t fight no little girl. I see one, two, three of y’all. Why y’all ain’t go see about her? Or go tell Mr. Lenny. He’ll probably talk to her parents or something.”
Miracle say, “It is Mr. Lenny.”
Peanut confused. She say, “What you mean?”
Jodi say, “It is Mr. Lenny. It’s him. It’s him messing with Briana.”
My voice shaking, “It’s okay. He say it’s normal. We just play a game.”
Peanut leave the den. When she come back, she pulling all her hair back in a ponytail and she got on a t-shirt with no sleeves. I can see her boxers a little bit. She come over to where we sitting and squat down in front of me and ask, “Briana. Lenny say what’s normal?”
My heart beating fast. Ashely said when she told somebody when she was little, a lady came and took her way from Mama. When I ask her what it was like where she went, she said, “Mama was nicer than them folks.” I don’t want to leave Mama.
Peanut say, “Briana, if Lenny hurting you—”
I say, “It don’t always hurt though,” and Peanut madder now. Then I say, “He even put the flowers outside for me, so I can watch the butterflies, so I can have something to talk to.”
Peanut look out the window. We all do. Uncle L in his backyard smoking a cigarette. Peanut open a closet and take out a bat. Miracle and Jodi look at each other. I look at Peanut. I’m scared. Peanut look at us and out the window again. She close the blinds and throw the bat across the room. It land on the couch. She leave out the back door and we get up and peep through the blinds.
When she get outside, she holding one of them things Uncle L use to work on his yard with. She throw it over the fence and jump it. Uncle L mad, look like he cussing her out. She say something to him and he stop cussing. I think he stop breathing too. She go to the side of the house. She use the thing to break his window. Then she use it to ruin all the flowers. The butterflies fly away. I want to yell stop. Wait. Come back. You forgot to take me with you. I want to cry, but I don’t because Jodi and Miracle holding my hands like they ain’t never letting go.