I don't like to be too far from Momma when there are visitors since she gets tired and might need something. I come in from the backyard, stand next to the big purple grape, and wave at my cousins, at Aunt Georgia.
Aunt Georgia is thin, thin, bird thin, and she wears navy blue shorts and a blue and white striped tank top. Momma says Aunt Georgia dresses sportswear mix-and-match.
"I need more than a wave, little girl," Aunt Georgia says. "Come give me a big hug."
Momma laughs and Aunt Georgia puts her tanned arms wide. Aunt Georgia always gives me a hug when she comes to visit and I like that about her, like how she smells like soap and toothpaste and the same kind of almond lotion that Momma uses.
She sets me back from her then and looks at my face, really looks.
"That's better," Aunt Georgia says.
Aunt Georgia gets a cup of coffee for herself and sits on the long green sofa. I get out my crayons and color books and sit on the floor with Carrie Sue. Jeff crawls up on Aunt Georgia's lap the way little kids do and puts his thumb in his mouth.
Carrie Sue lies on her stomach, takes a brown crayon out of my crayon box, and colors inside the lines of a horse. I don't feel like coloring, just sit on the floor with my back against the big purple grape, where I can watch Carrie Sue, watch Momma, watch Aunt Georgia.
"You look thin, Janet," Aunt Georgia says.
Aunt Georgia snaps open her cigarette case, pulls out a cigarette, and offers it to Momma.
Momma takes the cigarette. "You think so?" Momma says.
Aunt Georgia takes out another cigarette, puts it between her lips, and nods.
"You've lost more weight," Aunt Georgia says.
Aunt Georgia lights her cigarette with one hand and then passes the lighter to Momma. Momma uses both hands to light her cigarette and then she passes the lighter back.
"Maybe, I don't know," Momma says, "I don't think so."
Jeff climbs off Aunt Georgia's lap, gets on the floor with Carrie Sue, takes a blue crayon, and breaks it in half.
"Yes, you do look thin," Aunt Georgia says. "Maybe a little too thin."
Momma smokes and her cheeks suck in and in and then she blows the smoke up to the ceiling. She clears her throat and smiles.
"Can you be too thin?" Momma says.
Aunt Georgia smiles too and then the two of them laugh at some joke only they understand.
Aunt Georgia is married to Uncle Charles, except she calls him Chuck and he calls her George. Uncle Charles is Momma's favorite brother and out of all my uncles, he's probably my favorite too. He talks in a deep, loud voice and his eyes are the best color of blue and they look like they have a light shining from the inside out.
Momma and Aunt Georgia talk grown-up. Aunt Georgia asks if Momma and Daddy are going to take any trips to Carmel and Momma says no, not right now. Momma says she'd like to take a day and go up to Lake Tahoe and Aunt Georgia says she's been too busy for the lake and doesn't want to spend the money since they want to save up and get a house.
After a while, Aunt Georgia does all the talking and Momma is quiet like something might be wrong. Momma smiles and nods like everything is fine, but her eyes are tired.
Carrie Sue drops the brown crayon, just half a crayon now, and Jeff takes it, makes zigzags over his page.
"Let's go play in your room," Carrie Sue says.
"I want to stay here," I say.
"Momma," Carrie Sue says.
"I don't want to play in my room," I say.
Aunt Georgia clears her throat, snuffs out her cigarette in the ashtray.
Momma's cigarette is a long ash and it's burned almost all the way down. I slide the ashtray closer and Momma jumps a little. The long ash falls off in the ashtray and Momma looks at me, smiles a tired smile.
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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