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

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Blackbird

A Childhood Lost and Found

by Jennifer Lauck

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

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Aunt Georgia clears her throat again and I know she finally sees what I see.

"Are you all right, Janet?" Aunt Georgia says.

Momma coughs a little cough, shakes her head, and smiles.

"Just a little tired," Momma says.

It's quiet, quiet in the living room. Carrie Sue bites her fingernail and watches Jeff tear the paper off the brown crayon. Aunt Georgia looks at me, at Momma, at me again.

Aunt Georgia has eyes that know about things I don't understand yet. Her eyes move fast, but they have a quiet deep inside, like something in her hurts and it's from a long, long time ago.

Aunt Georgia squints and reaches her hand to Momma.

"It's none of my business, Janet," Aunt Georgia says, "but do you think you might need to see a different doctor? Have you thought about going to see those doctors in Palo Alto?"

Momma clears her throat, tilts her head, and cuts me a quick look. That look means this is grown-up talk and kids shouldn't be around, that look means I might get sent out of the room, that look means I should go outside and play.

Carrie Sue, Jeff, and me go out the sliding glass doors. Carrie Sue and Jeff run to the swings and laugh and yell.

I stop at the edge of the patio where the cement meets the grass, stand between the house and the swing set.

I can't hear them talk, but Momma shakes her head and Aunt Georgia goes over and sits close, puts an arm around Momma's shoulders. The two of them that close and I see how Momma is thin and small even compared to Aunt Georgia. Too thin, too small.

Carrie Sue pushes Jeff's swing and Jeff says "underdog, underdog," and then Carrie Sue runs under Jeff's swing so he goes even higher.

Overhead, the sky is forever blue, not a cloud in sight, and the only sound is Jeff's happy laugh.


After Aunt Georgia, Carrie Sue, and Jeff leave, Momma takes a nap and I watch the shadows come through the windows. I like how the shapes move around, how in the morning they're mostly along the front of the house, how by noon they shrink away and almost disappear, how when Dora comes the shadows are back again, long and lazy through the back of the house.

Dora cooks and cleans, wears a pink dress with a white apron tied tight around her middle. Dora is a brown woman from the reservation. Momma says she is Paiute and I learn how to say "Paiute" by breaking it up into two words, pie and flute.

The thing about Dora is how she moves quiet and talks quiet. Dora is so quiet, it's almost like she's not there at all. Another thing about Dora is how her eyes are like black still water. No matter how hard I look at Dora, I can't see what's in her eyes, can't see her truth.

If it's a good day, Momma cooks both lunch and dinner. Dora cleans.

If it's a bad day, Momma tells Dora what to cook for dinner.

Nowadays most days are bad days, so when Momma goes to her room and closes the door, I stay with Dora.

When it's just Dora and me, the house stays quiet until B.J. comes home.

Momma says B.J. is an All-American boy and that must mean boys are noisy. When B.J. walks home from school, you can hear him from Angus Street. B.J. yells and whistles and when he gets to our house, he stomps his feet on the floor mat and shoves the back door open with his shoulder.

"I'm home," B.J. yells, even though Dora and me are right there in the kitchen.

B.J.'s arms are full of stuff: books and papers and his Mario Andretti lunch box. B.J. throws everything on the kitchen table.

B.J. is crew cut hair so you can see his whole forehead and in the middle of his face are his dark brown eyes. The other thing about B.J. is this little black dot over his top lip. Momma says it's a beauty mark. Daddy says it's a birthmark. B.J. calls it a mole.

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Lauck.

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