LILLIAN RUSSELL'S DIED!" Jill made the dramatic announcement and waited for her sister to comment. When Julie continued to wash the dishes and drop them in the rinse pan, she said, "All the wonderful women in the world are dying. First Nellie Bly and now Lillian."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Ruby May told me last night. Lillian was so beautiful, so elegant. All the men loved her." Jill lifted her arms in a circling motion. "I'm going to be just like her."
"You'll have to grow some," Julie said dryly. "She had quite a bosom. They were out to here." Julie held her cupped, wet hands out six inches from her slender body.
"And a tiny waist."
"Helped by a tight corset."
"She was beautiful--"
"And old enough to be your grandma. Dry the dishes while you're grieving for her."
Jill took a plate from the hot rinse water, dried it and set it on the table.
"The men who gave her diamonds must have liked a woman with a big bust. Diamonds show up best lying on soft white flesh."
"Soft white flesh? Glory be! Well, don't worry about it. You've got a good start for a fifteen-year-old." Julie slid a greasy skillet into the sudsy water.
"Jack said they were like half an orange stuck up there."
Julie looked at her sister and frowned. "Why would Jack be making a remark about his sister's breasts?"
"I asked him."
"Justine Jill Jones!"
Jill rolled her eyes on hearing her full name. "I hate it when you call me that."
"It's the name Mama gave you."
"I'll never know why she added Justine to it."
"She didn't. She added Jill."
"Kids at school laugh about our names. They say if Mama'd had more kids, she'd probably have named them Jericho and Jerusalem."
"And what did you say to that?"
"Nothing. Kathy Jacobs said she should've named two of us Jenny and Jackass." Jill giggled.
Julie's shoulders shook with silent laughter. It didn't bother her that all their names started with a J. She rather liked it.
"I never asked Jack about my bosom," Jill said after she placed a stack of clean plates on the shelf. "I asked him if the boys at school thought I was pretty."
"And what did he say?"
"He said... oh, he was so mean!" Jill flipped her long blond curls over her shoulder and tilted her freckled nose. "He said only the dumb ones thought I was pretty. He said my hair was like straw, my nose was so turned up he was surprised I didn't drown when it rained."
Julie laughed in spite of the serious look on her sister's face.
"Never ask your brothers if you're pretty. If you were a raving beauty they'd not admit it."
"That's when he said my breasts were the size of a half an orange."
"It's a pact made between brothers to tell their sisters that they are ugly as a mud fence even if they are as pretty as Mary Pickford."
"I hate brothers!"
"Mable Normand is pretty."
"She's in Molly O at the Palace. I want to see it, but Papa said picture shows cost almost as much as a pair of stockings and I needed stockings more." Jill sighed heavily.
"Julie, Julie, guess what?" Ten-year-old Jason came into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam behind him. He always shouted when he was excited--and at times when he wasn't. Since their mother's death four years before, Julie had become the person her brothers and sisters came to with news, hurts and needs.
Jason stumbled onto the back porch, yanked open the screen door and bounded into the kitchen, shutting the door just in time to keep the shaggy brown dog, his constant companion, from following him. Besides being small for his age, Jason had been born with a deformed foot that made it necessary for him to wear a special shoe.
Copyright © 2001 by Dorothy Garlock
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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