(note: i spend most of my time wondering what my grandmother is thinking. when she sits nodding her head to music i can’t hear, when she seems to tune us out and not hear us talking to her. when i ask, she either can’t tell me or she won’t, and when my curiosity won’t let me be, i imagine where she may have gone and write it down. none of the names are real. the voice is pretty spot on though—i do a good granny.)
6:30 in the mornin’, Brenda come barrelin’ in my room, flickin’ all the switches, turnin’ on all the lights. Barkin’. “Mama, come on, it’s time to get up.” 6:30 in the mornin’! I’m re-tired; that ‘posed to mean I never get up before the sun again a day in my life. She not retired, though, so she don’t know what it’s like. Or she just don’t care.
Some days I fight her on it, but it’s easier to just get up out the bed. I take some big breaths, thank the Lord for wakin’ me up and ask ‘em for strength before I throw off the quilt one of the kids down home made for me. I done forgot who it was; probably Janie or ‘Cora Lee. I put my hands on my pillow and push myself up. It take me a long time, but I get there. I look at my hands while I do. They fat now, look like big, greedy, wrinkly worms. And some of my rings is gone. Missin’. Somebody probably come in here while I was out sometime and took ‘em, or lost ‘em while claimin’ to be cleanin’ up. I don’t have nothin’ no more, all my stuff just keep disappearin’ a little more everyday. My rings, my money. Dolls and trinkets the kids give me years ago. Take, take, take. Everything getting’ took from me.
I try and swing my old legs around off the bed and on the floor, but I stop ‘cause I done got a catch in my back or my hips; pain shoot everywhere, so I cain’t tell where it come from. I cain’t move without hurtin’ no more; my legs and hips hurt me all the time. They say I got that general back disease or whatever they call it and it make me hurt so bad sometime I could just lay down and wait to die. And sometime I do. But I mostly don’t, though; I just swallow it ‘cause soon as I frown my face up over it, they run for medicine bottles and try to stick some more pills down my throat. I tell ‘em naw, I don’t need it. Them pain pills is full of God-knows-what anyway, be gettin’ all them people addicted. I don’t want to get dependent on no stuff like that. I carry it on my own. Like I always done.
I don’t know how much time pass before Brenda runnin’ through the house yellin’ for everybody to hurry up. She gotta go to work, Amanda, that’s my grandbaby, she got to go to work, too, and Queenie, my great-grandbaby (Kenny’s oldest one), she got to go to school. And I got to go up to the center. I hate that damn place.
By the time I pull my coat on and walk out my room, Brenda and Queenie in the car and Amanda just comin’ down the stairs from her room, still half dressed. She slow as smoke off shit. And lazy, always has been. She still faster than me, though, and even though she in the dining room when I reach for the front doorknob, she in front of me and on the porch before I even touch it. I stick my leg out, slow, cause my legs is hurtin’ me today, and I turn my body round some so I don’t have to move my hips too much. When I do, I can see over to Ms. Wolff’s house next door and my old eyes find her old chair settin’ on the porch. Seem like I ain’t seen her in a hunnert year; she don’t come out the house no more since she got sick.
She used to set right there in that chair whenever she was home. Mornin’ and noon and right up to bedtime except when the stories was on, right there in that chair. Probably ‘cause she kept such a nasty house. I wouldn’t wanna set in that shithole, neither. She used be settin’ out there when I come home from the bus after getting’ off work up at the donut shop in the afternoons and some days, dependin’ on how I’m feelin’, I walk across my yard to go sit with her a little while before goin’ in my own house.
We talk and we laugh and we gossip ‘til the sun go down. Back before I got sick I’d sit up tall and smoke me a few cigarettes. After I got sick and they made me quit, I’d borrow one from Ms. Wolff and have to bend my head down to smoke it, lest Brenda or Amanda see me and get to hollerin’. I like Miss Wolff. She lazy and she couldn’t never make that grandson of hers mind and she wear too much blush on her cheeks, but she good to talk to.
“Hey, James!” she say, wavin’ big when she see me cuttin’ cross my grass. I reckon that’s how you know I liked Ms. Wolff a tolerable lot—I didn’t ‘llow nobody in my yard and I only stepped in it to get to my flowers, but I didn’t mind a few secret tiptoes to get next door a little faster.
“Hey, sugar babe! What’s the word today?”
“Whatever it was yesterday,” she say and laugh. If ain’t nothin’ goin’ on she start chatterin’ bout the weather or somethin’ light like that, but if she got some gossip, she wait ‘til I get up on the porch til she say somethin’ else.
“So,” she say, leanin’ close, “what’chu think ‘bout the new neighbors?”
“Don’t know nothin’ bout em,” I say back. “You?”
“Not much. She got three kids, all different colors. She herself black as old leather.” We laugh. I light up.
“Three kids? Boys or girls?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Mmph. What church she go to?”
“Ain’t found out yet. I told Jeanie at New Bethel to look out, see if she see her next Sunday. Told Polly at Holy Catharsis and Helena at 17th St. Temple, too.”
“Josh meet the girls yet?” (Josh that ol’ nappyhead grandson of hers.)
“Naw, not yet. I’ma send him down to play this weekend.”
“Tell him to come get ‘Manda to go with him. You know them kids tell everything.”
“Chile, I know that’s right. They tell Satan all Jesus’ secrets if he offered ‘em cookies and ice cream.” We laugh. I take a big, mighty puff and hold it in til my lungs get to burnin’. Remind me of when I was a young girl workin’ Daddy’s land; when that sun get up high and you done worked up a good sweat but still got more to go, your body start takin’ in more air, much as it can hold like the whole earth is ‘bout to run out of it. Soon it start to feel like a thousand little pins is stickin’ you in your lungs and it burn a little, but it don’t hurt. Kinda wakes you up, make you feel alive. Starry Mae ‘nem stayed in school but I quit to work with Daddy. Nothin’ like good hard work to make you feel like a woman.
By the time I remember that I ain’t talkin to Ms. Wolff and my lungs is unfortunately full of clean air, ‘Manda’s talkin’ to me soft but strong, and before I can say anything she herdin’ me toward the front step. “Come on, Mama. We gotta go, they waitin’ on us.”
Shit. Let ‘em wait, I wanna say. What yall so worried about? Time? Puh. Time don’t give a shit ‘bout yall. When you need more of it, it run out on you, and when you don’t want it no more, it latch on to you like a leech in a pond that done got too cold to swim in and won’t let you go, won’t let you get out.