Daddy has the kind of eyes that tell you exactly what he thinks even when he won't say it. Most of the time, he thinks about work and money and important things I don't know about. The way he looks now, I know bad days make him nervous and restless, make him look like a trapped animal.
Daddy coughs a little cough, rubs his hand over his five o'clock shadow, and makes his face smile.
"Well, let's go see for ourselves," Daddy says. "Maybe she is all rested and ready to go."
In their room, Momma sits up in the California King and she has her pillows behind her back. When she sees Daddy, her dark eyes are full of that special look and Daddy leans down, kisses her on the lips. They talk to each other, voices low, hi's and how are you's and stuff like that. I hear Daddy ask how she feels and Momma says she's just fine.
When Daddy is home and all of us are in their bedroom, that's when I know something is wrong. It's the sound of Momma's voice, high like a hostess who says one thing but means another. It's the way Daddy holds his breath back and gets that pinched-up skin between his eyes when he thinks too hard. It's how B.J. hits his fist into his open hand, over and over and over. I don't know what's wrong, but all over my arms and legs, I get a bad feeling.
Daddy takes his wallet, keys, and extra change out of his pants pocket, winds his watch, loosens his tie, and the whole time he talks about work and being busy and investments he wants to make, says how he is either going to be broke or rich by tomorrow.
Momma watches him move around and she just listens.
B.J. sits on the end of the bed, pushes his finger into Diana's side, and he talks about school and astronauts and what kind of bug he caught outside.
Momma smiles a hostess kind of smile and listens.
Daddy takes out a pack of Marlboros, lights his cigarette with a match, lights a cigarette for Momma, and then he and B.J. talk to each other about homework and tests and grades.
Momma smokes her cigarette and listens.
Maybe it's being tired, maybe it's not feeling so good, maybe it's how she's hungry for dinner. All you have to do is really look to know something else is going on inside Momma's head. When she looks that way, I sit as close to her side as I can and she smiles a real smile and blinks her secret thoughts away.
Momma says dinner in the dining room makes it special and that's where we always eat, at least when we are all together.
B.J. does the plates and glasses. Milk glasses for us, wineglasses for Momma and Daddy. I do napkins and silverware, fold the paper napkins in triangles and then set the fork on top, knife and spoon on the other side.
Presentation is everything.
Dora puts the food on the table and there's mashed potatoes, meat loaf, a bowl of green beans, and a bowl of applesauce. She puts them on one side of the table, closest to where Momma sits. Dora pours B.J. and me a glass of milk, fills Daddy's wineglass just halfway, and then makes a pot of coffee for after dinner.
After everything is ready, Dora puts on her coat and leaves out the back door, so quiet you don't even know she has left.
Daddy helps Momma out of their room, her arm on his arm, and she's all dressed like it's a good day. Momma wears a pair of light pink pants and a pink and green sweater set, the top button of the sweater done up. Daddy pulls out her chair, the one right next to him at the head of the table, and she sits down slow and careful, her face with that smile like everything is just fine. Daddy helps her scoot her chair in and she takes her napkin, unfolds it, and lays it in her lap.
B.J. sits across from Momma and I sit next to her. B.J. and me unfold our napkins, lay them on our laps. That's the rule.
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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