by Lenore Jean Daniels
When the two of our faces were in the mirror, I looked at her. Her eyes were blue and her hair blond and silky -- not like mine. She was like all the people on the television, and those who owned stores in our neighborhood. Catherine was lucky to have me for a mother because I adored her. I had vowed to protect her and anticipate her needs. And now what will I do, I thought, as I sat beside my mother on the bus ride to the hospital. At the hospital, momma told me to sit in a seat near the elevator and stay put. She would be right back. She said it as if she were talking to someone in front of her and that is why I turned around and looked behind me. She rolled her eyes and a sound came from between her lips, but she turned quickly and walked fast to the elevator. She kept her head up and looked at the numbers as they lit up.
What do children know? Everything is fun and games. The other day, she wanted money for a blue light bulb. Like I have money to waste. I don't know what these nuns are teaching. If she gets a blue light in the room at night, she could talk to a live Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary would come, and she could talk to her live. Just the two of them.
I had wanted to talk with her since the day before. I wanted to talk about Rita taking my doll, Catherine. Rita said she wanted to see Catherine. Then at lunch, she said she wanted to take her home. Rita said she would bring Catherine back the next day. But she didn't.
And I tried to tell momma this that morning, and that I wanted Catherine back, but momma was upset. She was in Parry's room making up his bed. She told me to go and clean my room. momma said that after we come back from the hospital, my cousins were coming. I told her I wasn't sick. I could go to school. That's when she said I would not see Parry again. I asked momma if Parry was sick. But momma slapped Parry's pillow and stood up straight. She began walking toward me until a draft of cold air passed along my skin, and she was out of Parry's room.
I had to tell them to pull it because he's never coming back. They don't really care except for how much it cost them to keep the plug on when some young white child could have that air. What I do without my child? What I do? His face look so cold, cold. Don't recognize him as mine. They make sure them schools ain't an option. They turn 'em out by eight.
I kept thinking about how I missed Catherine and how Catherine would sit with me at places big, like the hospital, with all these people who are sick. I sat swinging my legs and watching adults in their coats and big boots sitting rocking and staring at the nurses behind the counter. I thought about Catherine and wondered how she was doing. Maybe I wouldn't see Parry because he, too, was upstairs waiting to see the doctor. He will have to wait a very long time. Then I notice some people at the elevator. I stood up from the seat. It was grandmother, grandpa, and aunt Mae.
I don't know what happened at the hospital with Parry. My grandparents, aunt, and momma and me -- we all took my aunt's car back home. In the car, I thought I could tell my grandparents and my aunt about Catherine, how I missed her and needed them to get her back for me. But they were all silent. I never knew aunt Mae to be so quiet. Momma always said she had "this and that to say" all the time. Drove her crazy. Aunt Mae and Uncle Roy had three children. All boys older than me. They had "plans" for them. Each of them had jobs and my cousins had tutoring after school, so we seldom saw them come over, except aunt Mae who would come and bring clothes for Parry or some bags of groceries. She would come unexpected, walk through the door calling Parry and asking him to "try them on," and take the groceries out of the bags and ask momma to put this and that in this and that cabinet. How was I doing? I was growing so fast, she would say. Momma would put the groceries up all the the while looking back at Parry trying on a jacket or shirt or pants. Aunt Mae would agree that Parry was "getting there."
Get him away from here, girl. Get him away from here, Mae had told her. She had planned to do just that when Parry graduated from elementary. She would have saved enough from her job as a nurse to move to some place better. Maybe Evanston. Mae had a husband and she had a job, even if they did have three. Mostly it was Roy with his job and his income. And how long did it take for me to get this job when momma wouldn't babysit 'cause she thought I should do better than to have two children with no husband.
Our folks is something, Mae said. If she didn't offer to keep Parry and Yolanda some evenings, I don't know. But then you gotta move.
Then we were back home. Uncle Roy was there at the door, held it open for us to pass though. He did really see me. Uncle Roy held his arms out too high, and when I turned, he and momma were in a bear hug. They hugged with their eyes closed. No one said anything.
Did you tell the child, aunt Mae asked momma
Yes. Yes, momma said like she was very tired, but I didn't know what it was I'd been told. I looked from Aunt Mae to momma, but they turned and followed my grandparents and Uncle Roy into the living room. I followed them and my cousins already seated. My cousins said hi as if they were in church. momma went to the kitchen and Aunt Mae walked right behind her. Uncle Roy sat down on the armchair. Oh well he said. Then my grandmother said she did not believe in something that momma did, but I did not understand her. Grandpa said quietly, it made sense, looking at neither my grandmother or Uncle Roy. Grandmother repeated, it made sense. He not here. That makes no sense.
They shot and always kill innocent people, Uncle Roy said. It happens. Don't matter to the city, police or them thugs. But they like it that way. Keeps us dead or dead -- either way.
I could hear momma in the kitchen talking. I sat down on the sofa next to my grandparents. No one was talking except for momma, but we could not hear her words. So now, I thought, maybe now I could tell grandmother, grandpa, and Uncle Roy about Catherine.
I should have been there for him. Momma thinking that. Everything in her head is simple. Cut and try. No details. I was thinking of something different ever since I was 15. I tried to tell her that. You have to go up against the rock rather than let the rock beat you about the head. How am I going to act like some princess in England. Well, the princess came and they left. I was waiting to get enough to get that boy away from here, so he wouldn't have been shot just walking home from school. What was I missing? Tell me that?
Grandmother, I said. Rita, at school, took my Catherine. I don't have her anymore. My eyes and throat burned. I was crying, and I covered my face with my hands. I heard giggling from the sofa across from me, but grandmother pulled me toward her and told me not to worry about that. Not to worry, I said to myself as I removed my hands and looked up at my grandmother who had already moved her arms and was looking away. Stop it, Uncle Roy said, and I noticed that the giggling stopped.
Does the child know? My grandfather asked looking at Uncle Roy.
Uncle Roy shrugged his shoulders. Grandmother turned to look at Parry's bedroom door. It was closed. I thought maybe Parry had come back before we did. I felt I could not go to the door to see if Parry was in his room. He got sick after school yesterday. They took him to the hospital then. A neighbor sat with me all that evening into the night because momma was there at the hospital with Parry. Then this morning, I did not hear when she came in, but she did not have Parry. And now¨things were so different. I would have prayed to the Virgin Mary. I would have had the blue bulb, and she would have come yesterday. Maybe Catherine would be here with me and Parry would be here too. Not sick. But she wouldn't buy the bulb. An Rita did not bring Catherine back yesterday. It all happened because maybe I did not get th bulb, so the Virgin Mary couldn't come to our house. It all happened so quickly.
For the first time, I noticed that momma had all the curtains drawn, blocking all the sunlight. It was after 12 noon. Then she came out of the kitchen with her arms folded. aunt Mae was following behind her. They sat in chairs away from the rest of us.
"You will have to gather some clothes for him, Doris. We got calls to make," grandmother said.
Is it too much to let the girl just take it in first, Grandpa said.
In a few days, it will be over, Uncle Roy said.
Grandmother looked at Roy for a long time. It will never be over, she said. Uncle Roy took a deep breath.
My child's gone, momma said from the chair in the corner. Aunt Mae jumped up to put an arm around her. My child's gone. momma covered her face and cried and then screamed. It sounded like the whole room was screaming and crying. But it was only momma Aunt Mae knelt in front of her with her face close to momma's. She and momma were swaying. Uncle Roy asked the boys to get up and go into the kitchen. They got up, looking back at momma
Want to start now and take care of what we have to do? Grandmother asked. momma and Aunt Mae did not move out of their embrace. I wanted to answer for momma, but I did not know what to say.
I sat quietly on the sofa. I watched them. I watched grandmother get up slowly from the sofa and walk over to momma and Aunt Mae. She seemed to pat momma on the shoulder. Aunt Mae stood up. momma, too, stood up. They walked to Parry's bedroom. They went in and left the door open. Parry should be here. He should be here. I felt sick to my stomach. I saw grandpa at the other end of the sofa, near Parry's bedroom, look down at his open hands as if he were looking for something tiny and hard to see.
The toilet flushed. Then I noticed Uncle Roy had got up and now he was walking back to the living room. He stopped in front of the television and turned it on. I looked from him to grandpa. I was tiny. Hard to see even before yesterday.
I could still hear momma crying, and I tried to swallow hard so I wouldn't not cry.
But the tears came. She was calling out, Parry. Parry.
I covered my eyes again. I could see Catherine. There was Rita happily combing her hair, and maybe, too, pretending she would sit by Catherine everywhere and people will notice and say what a pretty doll...
Catherine really did not look like me, I thought. She's like the people on television where nothing was missing.