My savvy hadnt come along yet. But I was only
two days away from my very own thirteen dripping
mommas cakes never lopped to the
side or to the middle. Mommas cakes were perfect, just
like Momma, because that was her savvy. Momma was
perfect. Anything she made was perfect. Everything she
did was perfect. Even when she messed up, Momma
messed up perfectly.
I often reckoned what it would be like for me. I
pictured myself blowing out the candles on my cake
and fires dying in chimneys across four counties. Or I
imagined making my secret birthday wishgetting my
cheeks full and round with airthen floating up toward
the ceiling like my very own happy birthday balloon.
My savvy is going to be a good one, I told my
brother Rocket. I just know it.
Girls dont get the powerful jujubes, said Rocket,
running one hand through his dark shock of unkempt
hair with a crackle of static. Girls only get quiet, polite
savviessugar and spice and everything humdrum
savvies. Its boys who get the earthshaking kinds of
I had scowled at my brother and stuck out my
tongue. Rocket and I both knew that there were plenty
of girls climbing round our family tree that had strong
and sturdy savvies, like Great-aunt Jules, who could step
back twenty minutes in time every time she sneezed;
or our second cousin Olive, who could melt ice with a
single red-hot stare.
Rocket was seventeen and full of junk that I wasnt
allowed to say until I got much, much older. But he was
electric through and through, and that had always gone to
his head. for fun, Rocket would make my hair stand on
end like hed rubbed it with a balloon, or hit fish with a
wicked zap from the other side of the room. But Rocket
could keep the lights on when the power went out, and
our family sure liked that, especially the littler Beaumonts.
Rocket was the oldest, with fish and me following
after. Born only a year apart, fish and I were nearly the
same height and looked a lot alike, both with hair like
sand and strawhair like Mommas. But while I had
Poppas hazel eyes, fish had Mommas ocean blue ones.
It was as if wed each taken a little bit of Momma, or a
little bit of Poppa, and made the rest our own.
I wasnt the youngest or the smallest in the family;
broody Samson was a dark and shadowy seven, and
doll-faced Gypsy was three. It was Gypsy who started
calling me Mibs, when my full name, Mississippi,
became far too much for her toothsome toddler tongue
to manage. But that had been a relief. That name had
always followed me around like one of fishs heavy
The itch and scritch of birthday buzz was about all
I was feeling on the Thursday before the friday before
the Saturday I turned thirteen. Sitting at the dinner table,
next to Poppas empty chair and ready plate, I barely
ate a bite. Across from me, Gypsy prattled endlessly,
counting the make-believe creatures she imagined seeing
in the room, and begging me to help her name them.
I pushed the food around my plate, ignoring my sister
and daydreaming about what it would be like when I
got my very own savvy, when the telephone rang right
in the middle of pot roast, mashed potatoes, and mighty
unpopular green beans. As Momma rose to answer, us
kids, and Grandpa Bomba too, seized the chance to plop
our mashers on top of our beans while Mommas back
was turned. Samson tucked some of those beans into
his pockets to give to his dead pet turtle, even though
Momma always said he shouldnt be giving it any of our
good food, seeing how it was dead and all, and the food
would just go to rot. But Samson was sure as sadly sure
that his turtle was only hibernating, and Momma hadnt
the heart to toss it from the house.
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