Excerpt from Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Childhood Lost and Found

by Jennifer Lauck

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2000, 410 pages
    Sep 2001, 432 pages

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"The operation for the tumor as long as my arm?"

"That was operation number two."

"The operation for the tumor that grew back because stupid doctors didn't get it right the first time?"

She smiles when I say "stupid doctors." She holds up her empty hand, holds up three fingers.

"Operation number three," she says, "that's right, honey."

"If the tumor is really all gone now," I say, "how come you have pain?"

She takes a deep breath, lips together, air back out through her nose.

"You always ask the same questions."

"I know," I say, "but how come?"

"The pain is from nerve damage," she says, "from the operation where they took out the tumor but cut some nerves to my legs and my tummy. That's why it's hard to walk. Okay?"

Momma's hand tries to close on the pills, but I keep her fingers open, point to the purple pill with the white line around the middle.

"What's purple for?" I say.

"For the infection where I pee."

"Will the pill make you better?"

"We'll see," she says, "I hope so."

Momma always says that, says she hopes she's going to get better.

"What are those ones for?" I point to the red pills, smaller than all the others.

She takes a deep breath and closes her hand around her pills. I let go of her fingers.

"They are a laxative."

"What's a laxative?"

"Your questions are making me tired," she says. "Go get dressed in your play clothes now and we'll go out to the living room."

Momma takes all of the pills in one swallow, wrinkles her nose, and closes her eyes, like closing her eyes will make the pills go down easier.

You have to step down into the living room and Momma says a step down means the room is sunken. In the sunken living room is a new color television and Daddy's brown leather chair positioned right in front. His chair leans back, opens up, and lets him sit with his feet off the carpet. When Daddy's not here, I climb up on his chair and lift the headrest cushion up over my face. The smell is fabric and leather and Daddy and I love how it's always the same.

Across from the chair is a long green sofa and a wood coffee table. On top of the coffee table is a big bunch of fake grapes made from hard plastic and next to the grapes is a bowl of rock candy, where each piece looks like a rock you would find outside.

The only other furniture is a round sofa that Momma calls a lounger. I call it the big purple grape since it's a perfect round shape and the color of purple grape juice. The big purple grape is arranged near the sliding glass doors that lead to the backyard, and from there, it's the best view of the swing set on the grass, our big trees, and the roses and mint plants that grow near the patio.

After getting put together and morning pills, Momma uses her crutches to come into the living room and sit for a while on the big purple grape.

I run out back and swing on the swing set, pick dandelions, rub the soft part of the mint leaves so I can smell mint on my fingers. All I have to do is take one step to see Momma on the big purple grape, where she flips through a fashion magazine. She smiles when I do that, when I come to make sure she's still there. Momma smiles and squints, her hand up over her eyes like I'm a long ways off even though I'm right there in the backyard.

No one comes to visit until after ten in the morning.

That's the rule.

Momma says visitors before ten is uncivilized.

Most days, Momma's not up to visitors anyway, but that morning, just after ten, it's Aunt Georgia, Carrie Sue, and Jeff. Both Carrie Sue and Jeff are blond kids, white blond, and it's okay to play with them, except Carrie Sue is a tattletale.

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Lauck.

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