Four slices of bread in the toaster and I press the toast button down.
I cut off four squares of real butter, put them on the side of the plate.
The toast hops up and I stack the four slices, cut diagonal with a butter knife, and put the toast next to the butter.
Momma says presentation is everything.
I spoon into a jar of marmalade, thin orange slices swimming in the jam, one, two, three spoons next to the toast and butter. Momma says the marmalade is from Carmel, California, which is her most favorite place in the whole world.
I put the plate on a tray with the cup of coffee in the special china.
One foot in front of the other, I walk extra slow so I don't spill.
When I get to her room, Moshe and Diana are up on the California King, cat bodies around and around and Momma pets with both hands.
"Good morning, Sunshine," Momma says.
The best part of seeing Momma is how she always calls me Sunshine and how there's that look in her dark brown eyes. It's one of those special looks for special people. Momma has that special look for Daddy too, but I mostly see it when she looks at me, and when she looks at me that way, I know I can do just about anything.
After toast and coffee, Momma lets me brush her dark curly hair and it's fine and soft between my fingers.
One time she showed me a photo of Mrs. Kennedy in Life magazine. Momma calls her Jackie, says the former First Lady is bursting with style. She wants her hair just like in the magazine and I make the part on the side, brush all her curls into one curl just under her chin.
"Does Mrs. Kennedy have curly hair too?" I say.
"That's a very good question," Momma says. "I don't think so."
Momma holds the mirror and watches me pat the last curl in place.
"Ready?" Momma says.
I cover my eyes and hold my breath.
"Ready," I say.
Momma sprays a cloud of Aqua Net and it's the smell of hairspray and that sticky mist on my hands and legs. The hairspray makes Moshe shake his head and that's when he jumps off the bed and disappears until tomorrow morning. Diana doesn't care about hairspray, rolls over on her back, and takes up the sunbeam Moshe left behind.
"Getting put together is more than hair," Momma says.
She always says "getting put together," like she fell apart overnight. Momma leans over, opens the top drawer of the nightstand, and she takes out the black and white zip-up cosmetic bag.
Momma dumps her makeup out on her lap and lines the cosmetics in order: compact powder, a tube of rouge, eyeliner, and lipstick. She picks up the powder compact, snaps open the lid, and inside is a soft round pad. Momma rubs the pad over the pressed powder and moves the pad under her eyes, over her nose, up her cheeks, and down her chin. Momma touches her face so light, it's almost like she doesn't touch at all.
"Just a whisper of powder does the trick," Momma says. "Too much and you look like a clown."
Momma taps the pad of powder to my nose and that always makes me laugh. When I laugh, Momma laughs too, and the sound is better than music.
After the powder, Momma taps rouge high on her cheekbones and rubs the color until it's the lightest shade of pink.
"Rouge is like a trick on Mother Nature," Momma says, "it gives that flushed fresh look, even when you're not."
The best part of getting put together is when she does her eyes. Momma has the kind of eyes that are so dark they take in light and make it dark too. Momma says eyes never lie and if you know how to look just right, you can always find the truth in another person by watching their eyes. When I look at Momma, I mostly see that special look like she's happy I'm here. I know there are other things going on inside that she doesn't say, but I'm still learning how to look just right.
Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Lauck.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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