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Scarlett Rose Wilson
Hi! My name is Scarlett and I’m seven and half years old. My teacher’s name is Ms. Jackson and startin’ this year I get to walk to school on my own. It’s only eight blocks but I know how to make it twelve without Daddy finding out. This past July, Me, Daddy, and Mammy moved to New York City, “where we belong and where we’ll stay” says Daddy but I know that isn’t the case. My home is in Mississippi and as soon as I can I’ll be going back there.
Daddy hates it when I say ain’t.
Daddy’s hairs are gray and split at the ends and ‘most always his chin is prickly when he kisses me g’night. His skin is fair and burns easy in the sun like mine. His hands are dry and cracked and sometimes I try to figure out the lines on his palms like a corn maze. Daddy’s smile is tricky, but I’ll get to that later. Mammy is tall, beautiful, and plump in all the right places. Her dark skin is soft and stretchy and she does the best hugs in the world.
I once asked Mammy why her skin was black and she explained that she just had more melnin’ but that it didn’t make no difference.
The most important thing to know about Mammy is that she sings while she cleans. She knows all the words to the one ‘bout the “chapel in the morn’” and sometimes she even makes her own. The other thing she makes real good is cakes and that’s when I get to see how much Daddy loves her…. But anyhow this is suppose to be my story so I guess I should tell you more ‘bout me: Scarlet Rose Wilson. I love ladybugs, the touch of the wheat fields, and the colored frosting that Mammy puts on my chocolate desserts. I don’t have a best friend at school, I hate the smell of Ms. Jackson’s parfoom, and if you ask me, school is a waste of my time. I’ve got important things to see and I ain’t gonna see any of them from inside the muggy, old schoolhouse. So here’s my story ‘bout the things I learned myself and let me remind you that nun of them came out Ms. Jackson’s pursed lips.
It all started last week, January 18, 1946, when Mammy and I were walkin’ home from the store with a bundle of bread and four different types of jam: strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and a new one called wildberry. I thought about how if I had to be a jar of jam I’d sure be the wildberry. We were ‘bout a block away from home when we passed a man so shriveled from those January winds that his shoulders looked attached to his ears and his fragile hands rattled. The fire from the Abbot’s brownstone numbed my nostrils so I couldn’t really smell him but I could tell it wasn’t good and Mammy certainly had not been brushin’ and braidin’ his hair. I wondered bout his surname but then Mammy snatched me by the wrist and ordered me to “stop that starin’.” So I stared at the bundle instead and realized I didn’t really need so many jams.
That night at dinner, I sat across from Daddy with my feet danglin’ as I counted the flowers stitched on the tablecloth that cloaked the rough wood of our kitchen table. I craned my neck around to peer into the kitchen.
“Mammy come and eat ‘fore it all gets cold,” I said.
And just like every other night, Mammy replied that she was still fixin’ dessert and that she would eat after, but I still asked. I gulped down my milk and started beggin’ Daddy for a story but he got cranky real fast, “Mammy would you get her in a bath and to bed already?”
I once asked Mammy why she called Daddy Sir and she said it was just outta respect, which I guess makes sense.
Mammy brought me upstairs and fixed me a nice warm bath. As I watched my toes wrinkle, Mammy said it was time I be getting in my jammies before my hands and feet grow old. As she tucked me in under the blankets I wondered if Mammy ever got lonely sleeping downstairs.
She sleeps in the basement cuz Daddy snores real bad.
The next morn I walked to school, careful of course not to step on any cracks, but when I got there and Ms. Jackson started preachin’ bout how God made us and the animals and everything else, I got the feeling I had stepped on one or two. By the time lunch came I glanced at the food and decided I’d rather have somethin’ at home, so I snuck back into the classroom, snatched my coat, and slipped silently out the backside of the schoolhouse. When I was almost home and approachin’ that same sad man again, I wanted to think of somethin’ to say to him cuz I figured maybe nobody ever had, but I couldn’t think of what to say and as I was starin at the gum stuck to the sidewalk, I realized I was hungry so I ran the rest of the way home. As I climbed up the steps to our house, I wondered what Mammy did all day when Daddy was workin’ and I was at school.
I grasped the frozen brass doorknob and used my whole body to push open the heavy door. The blazing fire in the den raised goosebumps up and down my skin and the heat almost stung my thawing nose. I ripped off my wool hat and stopped sudden as I heard voices in the other room. “Oh Mr. Wilson” said a high-pitched, snobbish female voice. I crept closer and smushed my ear up against the wall only long enough to hear her fake, giddy, and somewhat anxious laugh. This was not Mammy’s genuine laugh which came from deep inside her belly and made a whole room smile. Against my own will, my head peered around the door, which was cracked open, and immediately I was blinded by her cheap red lipstick. Daddy’s eyes were lost in hers and didn’t even notice me until her eyeballs shot out at mine and she let out a shriek. He drew back his lips followed by his hands and then I couldn’t watch no more as he forced the buttons on his starched shirt. My stomach began to shrink and I swallowed hard.
Before I knew what I was doing I had sprinted out the front door and was tumbling down the unforgiving stone steps. When I reached the sidewalk bum first the tears poured out and I began to wail. Before I could catch my breath, Daddy scooped me up and set my feet back on the ground.
“Sugar I’m sorry you had to find out that way”, he pleaded.
Wheezing, I couldn’t get the words out between sniffles and sharp breaths.
“I wanted to tell you ‘bout Ms. Maypole but I was just waiting for the right time.”
“How could you!”
“I was only trying to protect you. I- ”
“How could you do this to Mammy?”, I bawled.
I couldn’t look at him no more so I took off tearing up the sidewalk. He hollered after me but I refused to hear him. I ran fast as I could back to the schoolhouse. Behind the wooden door, I stood halved over and panting. My legs melted to the ground and I pressed my knees hard up against my flat chest. My mind was racin’ faster than the horses we used to own back in Mississippi. My warm breaths formed a fog in that bitter January day and all I could make out was the color of my shiny school shoes. As I lost myself in the reflection of my blue mary-janes, I wondered if that man perched on the corner of the Abbot’s block had shoes. When I looked up, Ms. Jackson’s eyes were nailed to my forehead. She snatched me up by the ear and dragged me into the classroom.
Without so much as talkin’ to me she gently pressed my nose up against the blackboard like she’d done so many times to Bobby when he caused a ruckus during lessons. I watched as the chalk particles swept across the board like sand across a desert. When the other kids returned from lunch, I leaned away from the blackboard and sat down in my chair, the white circle still at the tip of my fiery nose. I tried real hard to listen that afternoon to what Ms. Jackson had to say but it wasn’t no use.
On my way home I started at the twelve blocks pace and passed by Our Lady’s Church. A couple emerged from the blinding white paint on the tall wood building and the woman’s dress flowed like the foam crest of the waves that Daddy and I saw this summer. They were tossin’ the rice and all I could think about was who would have eatin it had it not been abandoned on the ground. Then a man snapped a photograph and like a bolt of lightning, the flash blinded me for a minute. I was starin’ right at it when the flash took off into the air and as it disappeared I was left wonderin what Daddy and Mammy’s wedding picture looked like. So I hustled up and made it ten blocks.
I tore past Daddy’s study and up the stairs into his bedroom. The only picture out on the night table was of me in front of our home in Mississippi. So I checked the large, ominous mahogany dresser and as I burrowed past itchy sweaters, I got the feeling I was being watched so I turned around at the pale green wallpaper and with its thin layer of dust, it knew. I picked myself up noticing the dirt I had imprinted in the depression that my shoes made in the soft, yielding carpet. Normally I would bend down and smooth out any imperfection, but I figured I could leave it now as the room had taken on a different aura.
I shuffled back down to Daddy’s study and began to rummage through the crinkled papers on his bureau, but there were no photographs. I creaked open one of the drawers and beneath a folder of numbers and a leather-bound journal lay an image of a docile woman in white. Her skin so pale it barely contrasted the stark white of her gown. I couldn’t my peel eyes away as I tried desperately to figure out the story that lay in her eyes, so pure a blue. On the back of the photograph an ink pen had dripped the name
Rose Cornelia Wilson
Then it hit me hard like that icy cold bath in the middle of Mississippi July. 1938’s the year I was born. I took hold of the photograph and aimed for my bedroom. I searched under my bed and retrieved the dusty, neglected storybook that Daddy had given me. I flipped furiously to the final page where the family who lived in a colossal house slept all in one bed because they loved each other. How could I’ve been so dumb? It was there all along. I tucked the woman inside the book as a place holder and ran downstairs to the kitchen where I knew Mammy would be fixin’ dinner.
I slapped the book down on the table and shoved the flimsy picture at her chest cuz I couldn’t reach her face.
“Who is she!” I demanded.
Her jaw began to drop but caught itself like a rubber band before it opened too wide. Mammy’s lips uttered no words, but they didn’t have to because when I searched in her eyes I found a deep brown that didn’t match my pale blue and they told the whole story better than you or I ever could.