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  • Mrs. Watson
  • Charles Francis Gould (bio)

Ma had just cracked the first nit between her thumbnails when there was a soft knock on the front door. She quit fingering through my hair and we both listened to make sure if we heard right.

Another rap rap rap.

“Will somebody answer the door!” Dad called to us from the kitchen. He and my older brother Robbie were in there sitting at the table reading the Sunday paper that Robbie had copped from someone’s front doorstep.

Ma pushed at the back of my head to get me up off of the parlor floor. “You answer it, Buddy.”

I was glad to, because I really hated sitting on the floor in front of Ma while she took forever getting me unbugged. Funny phrase, “answer the door.” Excuse me, door, what exactly was your question? I opened the door. … Holy Shit! a black woman! I stood stunned. She must have thought I was looking at a zombie or something.

She smiled, “Good afternoon. Does Mrs. Jeanette Hanley live here?”

She wasn’t a bum, nothing like that. She looked like a real lady, wearing a big warm coat and a big fancy hat that matched.

“Who is it, Buddy?” Ma called out.

“’Scuse me a sec,” I said to the woman, and hurried back into the parlor. I whispered into Ma’s ear, “It’s a black woman, and she asked for you.”

“A black woman? What does she want?”

“She didn’t say.”

Ma went to the door. I followed.

“Hi, Jeanette.”

“Maxine … what on earth. …” Man, this is interesting. They hugged, but gently, because Ma had had a breast removed a couple of weeks ago.

“Please forgive me, Jeanette, for showing up unannounced. I tried calling you a number of times, but apparently you’re having phone trouble.”

“Yes. It’s always something. The serviceman should be here sometime tomorrow.” Not exactly true. Poor Ma, I hate to see her have to tell a fib.

“Anyway, I just had to see you before I return to Providence.”

“How soon?”

“Tomorrow morning, right after my treatment at the clinic.”

“Come in, come in,” said Ma, real happy-like, “we’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Oops!”

Ma’s foot landed on my toe when she stepped back to let the woman in. She grabbed me by my shirt collar and pulled me forward. “This busybody is my youngest son, Buddy.”

“I’m happy to meet you, Buddy. I’m Maxine Watson.” She shook my hand. It was real soft, and warm … and dark.

“Buddy, honey, go put the tea kettle on … and bring in the nice cups.”

Ma guided Maxine into the parlor; I headed for the kitchen.

I got the kettle down from the shelf above the stove and filled it from the tap.

“Who’s at the door?” Dad asked.

“Maxine. A woman named Maxine.” I put the kettle on the hottest plate on the stove. [End Page 453]

“I don’t know any Maxine,” said Dad popping up from the comic section. He looked across the table at Robbie. “What about you?”

“Search me,” said Robbie, chewing on the eraser end of a pencil and staring down on the Wonderword puzzle.

“What does she want?” asked Dad.

“I guess she just came to visit Ma. Ma greeted her like an old friend.”

I purposely didn’t let on that Mrs. Watson is a black woman. Dad hates half the world, blacks especially … and Jews … and Arabs … Haitians, and some others I can’t recall at the moment.

Oh yeah, he really hates the Kellys downstairs. Robbie, most always, goes along with Dad in his hates. Ma doesn’t hate anyone … except maybe the Kellys downstairs. Best Dad and Robbie didn’t know Ma invited a black woman into the house, even if the woman behaves like a saint.

I got down from the cupboard the two delicate Japanese teacups and saucers that me and Ma found at a garage sale for a dollar. Pretty flowers were painted on them. One saucer was chipped, but you could hardly notice it. I took them into the parlor along...


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pp. 453-458
Launched on MUSE
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