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In Between Spaces - Chapter 1
From the beginning, Georgiana Kesey knew she was screwed.
She knew it from the way those blue eyes shone when something caught their attention. She knew it from the honest attitude and blunt truths that just poured out of that little mouth. She knew from the toss and turn of those little red curls.
And damn it, she knew it from the way that child could get away with calling her “Georgie.” No one could do that, until that little spitfire came along.
Georgiana was southern, as she’d be proud to tell you anytime you asked. Born in 1942 and raised on a Mississippi plantation, she was quite aware of the way her people – more precisely her color – were seen by other, whiter folks. Hell, she’d been a maid for so many white households down there she couldn’t count them any more. Not that she bothered anyway. Her momma had always said, with that tone so it seemed the world was at her feet, “You try keepin’ track of whites, Georgiana. Never gonna happen, ‘cause once you get done counting, they’ve spawned fifty more for us to look after.”
So she’d done just that, kept her head down for most of her young days. She’d kept her head down when boys would pass her in the black kid’s high school, ‘cause momma said they weren’t worth it. She’d looked away when Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. had led his campaign for black rights, ‘cause momma said they was gonna all kill themselves. She even kept her face hidden at momma’s funeral, ‘cause momma had said that cryin’ was dumb foolishness.
Georgiana had kept her head down all her life, till Little Miss Firecracker came along.
It was after momma’s funeral, maybe a week or so. Daddy wasn’t anything to worry about – she’d not seen him since he’d run off, years and years ago. It was then that Georgiana came to it, that she just couldn’t keep the big ol’ house anymore. A shame, really, but an expensive family house should be used for a family, not for a single, childless, Negro woman caught in the aftershock of a checkerboard revolution. People were still getting used to the fact that they were all, well, people.
Seemed her sister, May, had the same idea. Georgiana had always wondered if they had one of those psychic brain connections, ridiculous as it sounded. But whether it was magical forces or not, May called her up and proposed that she come up north to live with her and her husband and their growing household. Up north, to New York City no less.
A year before, she wouldn’t even had considered it. But slim money, an evil, empty house, and damn bored loneliness can make your brain make sense of things in a different way. So she sold the big family house, took what she could – the bare essentials- and never went back to Mississippi.
Found herself a job that paid enough, and gave her a lot of joy besides. It was made clear long ago that she wouldn’t be having children of her own, not with her innate, beaten-in shyness and then later, her momma’s attitude come back from the dead, so she made due with next best. Georgiana applied at Crossing Arms Orphanage, down in the lower, less seemly area of New York, when she was thirty-three years old. She became a mother of seventeen that day.
Really, it had started out as a cleaning job. The children being there was just added bonus. Then the older ones got curious,, just like a child would, little satellites anyway. One thing different, one thing disrupting their existence, and they’re all over it so fast your head spins while they keep running by. They’re moving at the speed of the world, and confusion doesn’t set in until they start questioning whether or not they should slow down.
Gradually, the curious - not confused though. More like soaking up all the information, like the sponge she used to clean the sink – stares turned to friendly introductions. The black kids were a lot different from the ones down south, healthier somehow, more confident. The white kids were different too, surreally so. They didn’t shy away from the colored children, nor Georgiana herself. This was an enigma in itself, being treated like she wasn’t an alien.
Still caught in the last wave of integration, Georgiana had hard time putting her finger on how the world could have morphed into something much more wonderful, something that made her heart all high and warm, when she stepped out her door and walked to work. But if she had anything worth admiring, it would be her ability to take everything in stride.
So she answered their questions with as much honesty as a grown woman could when speaking to kids as young as they were, and found that they admired much more about her than her emotional control. That’s not something that kids see as important, anyways. Over the years (and there were many) she became almost famous amongst the young faces that passed in and out. It was a quiet love, happy adoration that Georgiana also had to take with the pace it came. She’d never known such simple devotion, but she was certainly not one to waste such a gift.
And she loved them back. That was just as magical, if not more. When one of them left, big smiles on their faces as they rode out the door on their new father’s shoulder like a white knight charging in the sun, Georgiana wept while returning the age old sentiment – waving hands at each other across an unparalleled space until they both disappeared from view. Goodbye Steven, Goodbye Lacey, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
She became an expert at saying it, but her heart didn’t like feeling it anymore than it had the first time. There was a little wound there, in her heart, and it would open up every time one of them would walk out the door. Meeting with her grown-up kids for the last time was the worst. The absolute worst. Sometimes, though lord they tried, one of those beautiful children wouldn’t get taken in by a momma or a daddy. And once they were eighteen, adults by law, they couldn’t stay at Crossing Arms anymore. But they’d leave with a smile on their face, happy with the lot they were given and excited to start whatever job the orphanage had managed to scrape up for them. Because of those smiles, Georgiana wouldn’t cry until they were out of sight and couldn’t see her.
She was feeling the repercussions of one of those grown-up children, sewing up the scar, when Little Miss finally came along. Georgiana was only fifty-four, a grand age by her standard, but when they brought her in, clinging to a gold locked during a snooze, lord if looking at the sleeping angel didn’t make her feel old.
Toddlers were usually asked just two questions, and Little Miss knew the answer to both. The first she answered with holding up two fingers and waving them around. The second took some time for Georgiana to understand the answer, but it wasn’t the little one’s fault.
“What’s your name, baby?”
“Wha-? No baby, your name.”
At that point, the housekeeper simply chuckled and said to the social worker, “Knows her animals, don’t she?”
But she should have known from her previous (and brief) mingling with social workers, a woman in a matching pantsuit was never easily amused, “She means Kat ma’m, with a ‘K,’” she was certainly not too shy to grumble in her sardonic, fake-happy voice. “Her full name is Katsa Blake, but we can’t expect a grieving two-year-old to recite all of the details of her childhood, now can we?”
Deciding that this was a woman who wasn’t going to be pleased, and ignoring the sickly sweet smile that made her skin crawl, Georgiana turned her attention back to the red headed toddler, who looked up at her with blue eyes full of wonder.
And lord, she nearly jumped back she was so startled. Katsa may have had a face that made you feel old, but those eyes, portals to a child’s mind full of whirring gears and epiphanies left and right, those eyes were different. They gave you an impression that you were about the size of an ant in a world much too big for you. They took all of the doubts you had about yourself, every mistake that you’ve clung to, and threw them right back in your face. Beautiful, certainly, swirling bright orbs of mist over a crystal clear sea, but utterly unnerving.
And then she smiled, and the instant of doubt evaporated.
Georgiana smiled back and picked Little Miss up from under those reaching arms, settling her on a practiced right hip and carrying her towards the dining room.
“Wait,” The social worker barked. “Miss Blake needs to adjust, spend some time alone contemplating her new home, come to terms with her new situation. We can’t just throw her in with other children and-”
“This one,” Georgiana spun round and made sure her eyes were nice and hard looking. She wanted to be able to use her eyes, just like the child at her hip. “Has nothing to worry about ma’m. We don’t isolate children from each other at this orphanage. Katsa here,” she smiled at her newest baby. “Will learn about things in time. Right now, I can bet she’s hungry, and lunch is in ten minutes.”
And she swept Little Miss from the room, leaving the stuck-up social worker to finish the paperwork.
Separation from then on became a nonexistent thing. For the next few weeks, Katsa just toddled around her shared room, the dining room, the kitchen, all the while keeping “Georgie,” her name for the amused housekeeper, well within her sights.
Then she had her first fight with another child.
The other girl was spunky, just like Little Miss, or else there might not have been a fight at all. Her name was Barbara, after her late mother, and she’d been at Crossing Arms since infancy, when her parents died in a car crash. “It was tragic,” Barbara quoted the newspaper clipping that Georgiana had saved for her, whenever anyone brought the subject up. She was a year older that Katsa, which would have seemed to most as an unfair advantage. But she was scrawny for her age, and she didn’t have Little Miss’s eyes.
One blast from Katsa’s “superpower,” and Barbara backed down. But Little Miss, instead of hitting or yelling, calmly walked up to her pouting older peer, and said firmly, “Not worth the fight. We should try to get along.” Not a single word mispronounced, not a single syllable missed.
Aside from the astounding wisdom the child exhibited, Georgiana was dumbstruck at the child’s speaking ability. Not at all in the last few weeks had she said anything other than, “Georgie pway?” or “More pwease?”
Shaking her bewildered head, the housekeeper turned back to the television, which at the time was showing the 5 o’clock newscast. She preferred to watch the news at both three o’clock and five o’clock. In fact, Little Miss had joined her in watching the three, rapt with attention as they witnessed some politicians duel it out, on and on about the war in the Persian Gulf. One of them was calling for peace, the other demanding more violence.
It wasn’t until after dinner, after bedtime stories, after going home, after sitting down with a cup of tea, that Georgiana contemplated just what those politicians were all riled up about.
Then she remembered. Shooting out of her seat, spilling the hot tea on good carpet, she remembered.
“We’ve got to strike now! Force is the only way to end this!”
“But it’s not worth the fight! We should all try to get along!”
The years rolled by.
In all honesty, it was much too quick for Georgiana. Little Miss shot up so fast that if you blinked, you’d miss two or three inches. Katsa’s housekeeper didn’t want to give her up too soon, to new parents or to an eighteen-year-old deadline. But at least she could say that she was there. She saw it all, and cherished every moment.
Georgiana was there when all the older boys teased her baby… and then when her baby blackened their eyes. She’d taken Katsa aside and explained that hitting was not the way to solve all your problems. She then gently took her injured right hand and positioned it differently. “But when you punch, punch with your thumb out, not in.”
A stunned but elated Katsa had looked up and asked, “You heard what they said?”
“Baby,” the housekeeper began to bandage her little hand. “I hear everything.”
Georgiana was there when Katsa, at eight years old, had signed up for martial arts lessons. Each child was allowed one extracurricular activity sponsored by the orphanage, this was hers. More than slightly skeptical, Georgiana considered many times talking Little Miss out of it, suggesting ballet or something… ladylike instead. Then she realized that she sounded just like her momma, which somehow weakened her own argument. And after debating with herself for an obscene amount of time, even after the girl had already started learning, she came to a very un-momma like conclusion: this was New York City, and, sooner or later, Katsa would be out on her own. And this wasn’t 1950 anymore. Self-defense might come in handy.
She refused to argue this with herself any longer. What a waste of brain cells. Not to mention that after she signed up, Little Miss had no more trouble with bullies.
Georgiana was there five years later when her precious girl decided that she’d try smoking a cigarette. It was Barbara’s idea, she was sure. After that little dispute so many years ago, the two had become fast friends. But together, they made one hell of a trouble team. They figured that they needed each other because, while Barbara was perfect for getting them into the muck of it, Katsa was the only one to get them out.
But the thought of Little Miss smoking wouldn’t leave her alone and, in the three months after the discovery of a cigarette packet in the teenager’s bag, Georgiana’s patience finally snapped. So she’d taken it upon herself, trying to reign in her boiling southern anger and striving not to stomp too hard down the hall, to put a stop to this nonsense.
“Baby girl,” Georgiana closed the door of Katsa’s otherwise unoccupied room behind them, making sure that no one else would be hearing. “You know what smoking will do to you? With a cigarette?”
But Little Miss just blinked, confused, “Sure,” she shrugged. “Rotten lungs, bad teeth, cancer,” she ticked them off on her fingers.
“Then why, why baby, did I find this,” she pulled out the packet she’d confiscated and kept, for evidence’s sake. “In your book bag a while back?”
At this, Katsa began to smile.
“This is no smirkin’ matter, young lady,” the housekeeper’s temper began to rise, and she began to slip back into her less-educated speak from long ago, “I know I ain’t yer mama, but all I’d ever wanted was the best for you, and I can’t stand that yer hurtin’ yerself. You should be ashamed! I always thought you more sensible!”
At this, Little Miss began to laugh.
Georgiana stopped, utterly bewildered. Katsa didn’t laugh when she was being taught a lesson. Teenager she may be, but for all her stubbornness, will, and goddamn pride, Katsa was a good student. She listened. She learned. She didn’t laugh.
Little Miss wiped tears from her cheeks and tried to hiccup herself into silence. She wasn’t stupid. Georgiana was sure that Katsa knew just how much trouble she was in.
“Georgie,” the childhood nickname escaped after a long time of disuse. Between gasps, she choked out, “Y-you really think… I’ve been smoking?”
She shrieked while Georgiana glared and saddled her hands on her hips, southern-style, “And you’re gonna tell me you haven’t.” It wasn’t a question.
Katsa shook her head, finally regaining her sanity enough to answer, “Of course I haven’t. Those things are gross!” she stuck her tongue out to illustrate her distaste for rolls of shredded tobacco. “In science class a couple of months back, we were discussing recycling and taking care of the Earth, and all that. Afterwards, Bobbi and I went to the park.”
If Georgiana was honest with herself, the entire story was flying far over her head. Katsa had taken a completely different route than she’d expected.
“When we were heading back home, ‘cause it was getting dark, ya know, I saw a cigarette packet on the ground. Bobbi told me not to touch it, germs and all that, but I picked it up and put it in my bag to throw away,” Little Miss shrugged. “I guess I spaced it off or I was really tired, because obviously it didn’t end up in the trash, but when I looked in my backpack a few days later, it was gone. I thought that maybe it fell out or Bobbi decided to throw it away.” She then left her stunned housekeeper with claims of chores and homework, though Georgiana knew it was a little trick, leaving her alone to think about her accusations. She should know, after all. She’d used it on Katsa too many times. It was no wonder she’d picked up on it.
But at least a cigarette had never touched her baby’s lips.
Georgiana was there through it all, the first crushes towards the end of Katsa’s thirteenth year, and then the broken hearts afterwards, the little squabbles with her life long best friend. And lord, did she love her girl. She had such a connection with her, more than any other kid that passed through that door.
But good things, and more to the point good luck, always runs out.
Just after Little Miss turned fourteen, Georgiana fell down the stairs on the job. It was the most random thing, almost like her brain had stopped working for a moment.
Two months later, she had a stroke. Baby girl was there in the hospital to hold her hand, and Georgiana thanked whatever force was out there for Katsa Blake.
“I told you you’re pass retirement age,” Katsa chastised softly. “You’re sixty-seven, Georgie. Don’t scare us like that.”
Georgiana was sure it looked more like a grimace, but she smiled, “Jus’ like workin’, baby. Can’t be helped.”
And Little Miss’s lip began to quiver. She looked away, towards the window and the gray rain outside.
“Tell me, darlin’,” Georgiana watched the little jump that Katsa gave. “My sister and my nephews won’t tell me nothing. What’d the doctor say?”
“It’s not important. He doesn’t know everything.”
The housekeeper’s eyebrows furrowed, “Young lady, I’m inquirin’ to my current state of being. Please be honest with an old and sick woman.” She held her baby’s hand tighter. “I’m askin’ you to be a big girl.”
Katsa bowed her head, “He said you’re not critical, but not stable either. Your condition could change at any time.”
“Well,” Georgiana nodded her head. “That’s something, at least.”
Little Miss was shaking, “You could get worse!” she cried.
“Or I could get better,” what was meant as a comforting statement only made brimming tears overflow and fall down Katsa’s cheek, off her chin, onto her shirt, into her hair. “Now, now. Hush.”
The command, whether it was because it was sensible or, in Katsa’s eyes, one of last she would get, was enough to get the girl to wipe her face and settle down.
“There. Tears won’t help anybody,” Georgiana smiled encouragingly. “Now, how ‘bout that boy you’ve been chasin’ around? Still hot stuff like he was last week?”
Baby girl chuckled mournfully and shook her head, “He asked me for Bobbi’s lesson schedule two days ago.”
“Ah well,” she gave a frail shrug and coughed a bit. “Let Barbara have him. She needs someone to make her feel special. You, baby, you know that already.”
“You should,” the housekeeper growled. “You are special and important and beautiful. Remember that. There’ll be a lucky boy who sees it even more clearly than I do. And don’t let fear keep you from getting him, or anything else for that matter. Don’t keep your head down. Be proud and strong and push your way to the top.”
Katsa made a face. It wasn’t quite a smile, not at all a grimace, but maybe one of hopeful, mixed acceptance and resignation.
Yup, Georgiana Kesey was screwed. That little girl and her precious air had speared her heart long ago, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was lucky that she was able to meet this child. She was lucky that she could teach one person how to live decently. She was lucky that she’d be given this life.
And, though she still doesn’t know it, she was lucky that she died before her baby disappeared, and was never heard from again. It would have broken her poor old heart.