"I'm going into the dining room," I say.
"Play quiet," Dora says.
"I will," I say.
Dora nods and her face moves again, maybe a smile, maybe not. I can't tell.
Through the kitchen is the dining room, and after Momma's room, the dining room is the best place.
Our table is wood and the ends are the kind you can slide in or out so the table gets smaller or bigger. Momma says the ends are called "leaves," which seems just right since the leaves of the table have leaves painted on. The painted leaves wind up around tulips painted red and vines painted brown. The same painting is on the back of each chair, six chairs, and there is more painting on the buffet and the hutch, all the leaves and the tulips and the vines making our dining room a garden.
Under the table, I lie long, look at the underbelly, see how our table is held together. There are wood pegs and flat bands of iron hammered in with iron nails, everything together like roots.
Another thing about under the table is the smell. Dora uses lemon furniture polish so there is the smell of lemons and wood.
Diana walks to where I sit and rubs against my leg, lies her cat body in a triangle of sunshine. Under the table, I pet Diana between her ears, over her soft creamy-colored tummy, and watch afternoon shadows spread wide over the carpet.
When the shadows are almost gone, when you can see dust float in the low angle of the sun, when Diana pushes under the drapes to catch the last bit of warm light, that's when I know everything in the house on Mary Street is going to change from shadows and quiet to light and sound.
First is the sound of a car in the driveway, the engine all sputter and spit. Then there is B.J., who yells out "Dad," and the sound of Daddy, who yells for B.J. to come in the house. Last is the kitchen door, a squeak on the hinge, and the sound of Daddy's voice when he says hello to Dora.
I crawl from under the table, run into the kitchen, and jump. Daddy always catches me, swings me up in a circle, and my stomach is full of caught butterflies.
Daddy settles me against his chest and I fit just right in the crook of his arm. This close he smells like tobacco and coffee and That Man cologne and I can see how his eyes are lots of different colors of brown, like spices all ground up.
"Did you miss me?" Daddy says.
"I did," I say. "I missed you a lot."
Momma says Daddy is the best kind of good-looking, boy next door mixed with drop-dead handsome. My favorite thing about Daddy is his smile, a big happy smile that makes you feel good about everything.
B.J. pushes into the door and his face is red around the cheeks from being outside.
"Dad!" B.J. says.
"Hey, buddy," Daddy says.
Daddy puts his hand on B.J.'s crew cut hair and B.J. smiles the kind of smile that's all the way into his eyes.
The kitchen is full of thick dinner smells and Dora says it's dinnertime in thirty minutes.
"Why don't you get cleaned up for dinner, son," Daddy says.
"Okay," B.J. says, out of breath.
B.J. slams the door and runs down the hall to the bathroom.
Daddy carries me into the dining room and turns on the light.
"How is your Mom today?" Daddy says.
Daddy carries me into the sunken living room and turns on another light.
"It's a good day and a bad day," I say.
Daddy reaches his hand to the lamp next to his big leather chair, turns the switch from off to on, and now the room is all light, no shadows.
"What's that mean?" Daddy says.
I bite my bottom lip and hold my arms around his neck, the warm from his body against my hands.
"She got up for a while," I say, "but then she was tired."
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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