"Ssh," Dora says, "Momma sleep."
When Dora says to be quiet, B.J.'s face gets bright red the way it does when he's mad. He slams the door hard and tilts his chin like he can hide his angry even though there's no way to hide when your face is all red like that.
B.J. shoves himself into a chair and nods at me, just a nod, and then he puts his arm over the back of the chair. The red on his face slips away and that's when you know the angry has gone somewhere else, at least for now. D ora takes out a box of graham crackers, tears open the brown paper, sets a pile on a plate.
"No cookies?" B.J. says.
"No," Dora says, "crackers."
"Mom always has cookies," he says.
Dora shakes her head on something she won't say, looks at me, and nods a sit-down nod. I pull out one of the chairs opposite B.J.
Dora sets the plate down between us and I take a cracker off the top of the pile and lay it on the table. I push the tip of my finger up and down until the cracker is all broken in tiny pieces and then I put one piece into my mouth.
B.J. half sits, half stands, his hand around the glass of milk. He takes two graham crackers off the pile, breaks them in half, chews on a corner, and looks around the kitchen.
B.J. is eight years old, three years older than me, and he knows everything since he's in third grade. Momma always asks B.J. about school, what he learned, did he eat all his lunch, stuff like that. Clearing my throat, I push my hands under my legs again.
"What'd you learn today?" I say.
B.J.'s face is still, no kind of expression, and he looks at me for a long time. Just like that, B.J. blinks his dark eyes and shrugs his shoulders.
"Not much," B.J. says, "stuff about astronauts and outer space."
"Outer space?" I say.
"You know, the moon," B.J. says, "flying in a spaceship."
B.J. moves his graham cracker around like an airplane, crashes it into his milk. He's a dipper. Graham crackers, Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, it doesn't matter, and when he dips, his milk ends up full of crumbs. I hate stuff floating in my milk. I never dip.
B.J. pushes the rest of his cracker into his milk, his fingers dip too, milk over the side and down in a puddle on the table. I don't think B.J. likes me very much since he acts like I'm not here, even though I'm right here.
Dora makes a click sound and wipes up B.J.'s mess. She taps her finger on B.J.'s glass of milk and he drinks, one, two, three swallows, a bunch of mashed-up graham cracker stuck in the bottom.
He puts the glass down with a bang and pushes away from the kitchen table.
"I'm going out to play," B.J. says.
Dora's quiet dark eyes stop on me and she tilts her head.
"Outside too?" Dora says. "Outside play?"
When it's just B.J. and me, it's trouble. B.J.'s always looking for a dare. Dares you to drink a lid full of red stuff he says is catsup but turns out to be hot sauce. Dares you to jump off the carport to see if you can fly like a bird. Dares you to pet that big black dog next door even though that dog bit you in the face and you had to go to the hospital to get stitches. I've had enough of being alone with B.J.
I eat another piece of my graham cracker real slow and shake my head side to side so my ponytail slaps at my face.
"See ya," B.J. says. He slams the door, the hard sound through the walls of the kitchen, into the quiet of the house.
Dora's face moves like the sound of the door slam is in her body too, and she wipes up the rest of B.J.'s milk mess.
I finish my cracker and drink half the milk, no good now since it's warm. Off my chair, I take the glass to the sink, pour it out. Dora comes to the sink, rinses her dishcloth off under the faucet. I rinse out the glass and she takes it, washes it out with the washcloth. I wipe my hands on my shirt.
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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