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I

I got two braids, a dozen neon bangles, and a pair of plastic pink jellies jumping across the hot concrete cracks behind Dee-Dee doing damage to old Cadillac passers-by appraising P.Y.T.’s1 in denim shorts hiking up to the down town Granby Plaza.

At a pit-piss-stop at a bar up the block from Grandma’s house I guzzle ice-cold cups of Coke courtesy of the balding black bartender who tends to talk with his eyes like the cook from the Chinese joint dishing out free and greasy egg rolls as my eyes roll from the kind of out-of-place grin mamas warn girls to get away from. But, Dee-Dee nudges me forward, I muster a thanks, look down, ball up feeling corrupt-like the dollar bill crammed in my hand for keeping quiet when she followed her boyfriend to the backroom to talk for a minute. I kept quiet [End Page 177] when she floated around the corner scouting a fix, my eyes fixated on her missing tooth, her bruises, her . . . baby girl,Don’t tell your mamaI am here in Lynchburg covering night cops watching Oprah on one of her “O”ccasional lightbulb moments, the phone rings, Mama says,            Dee-Dee dead and, I got this two-ton cement block of guilt weighing on me. I had to white-out her black body long before the detectives outlined the murder scene with chalk. long before the drugs, I just prayed to let us be re-membered in our familiar selves before the hail (of)

II

Secrets at Grandma’s house Uncle Willie slouched in the sticky pear vinyl kitchen chair his oily hands sliding a cheap pipe between the empty space where teeth were supposed to be. He patted his right thigh for me to sit right there to listen to a lisp-full of small talk of non-particulars until I couldn’t stand sitting NO MORE. He fumbled with his weathered brown leather wallet to barter some change for some sugar. And I got some stinky slobber of whiskey syrup slathered over my cheek for two quarters, [End Page 178] I kept quiet about the kitchen, until my cousin Kesha pulled my earlobe to slip me some fresh off the grapevine gossip,            and without looking into my eyes she got a whiff of everything that went on inside.

We erased it, laughed it off, ran up the block to the frozen-cup-candy-ice-cream lady to O.D. on some sugar, to rid me of a clear case of Cooties caught at Grandma’s house. He slid through the cracks in the crowd awaiting the one-time family ride in the limousines a half-hour before Dee-Dee’s funeral. He called Kesha’s kid to the kitchen. Michael could not creep a half-step to the corridor before all the cousins could hear Kesha swearing NO MORE silence in the back of my head,

III

In the back of my kitchen, I called her out. Slammed my two cents on the three-legged table, picked up a handful of clothespins to hang her should-of-could-of-would-ofs out to dry like the dingy white cotton draws’ she didn’t want her Christian neighbors to see. and I put it out there, in the open. I came home from one high school second-wave feminist class, turned into Frankenstein to attack the nameless black iron maiden who breastfed me with the take-no-stuff-spitfire I hurled at her, the venom [End Page 179] she concocted for me so I could to learn to fend for myself in this poor-black-woman-hating world. She stands in her faded flower housedress curling Over the steel sink sinking in a wail where my tears are still frozen.                       I am good too, She said. For the first time I saw my mother frying fish and chicken making ends meet, raising funds for school field trips, for better clothes, for better days for silent nights, after she hosted the absolute last Tupperware-lingerie-dance-card party...

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