“So Mr. and Mrs. St. Fleur thank you for letting us evaluate your child and we will be sending the teacher on Tuesday.” said a cold monotone female voice from the front room. I was hiding in the hallway on my bare tiptoes trying to hear what Pops was going to say since he was God’s boss and I didn’t want to get into trouble and get kicked out of his house.
I was worried. Earlier in the day I’d spent time with a red headed crooked nose yellowy-eyed scrawny lady who smelled like Aqua Net and day old Canter’s chicken noodle soup. No doubt she was from the West Side. She kept showing me books and stuff and kept pestering me to tell her about shapes and numbers and sequences and nonsense. I wasn’t telling her anything. I was only six and had limited skills.
I took the big fat blue Ticonderoga pencil and wrote offers down for her. I wrote my ABC’s, Roman numerals and some fractions and polynomials, it was like algebra my Gjeo would say. I would never tell her that Tio was a math wizard and he taught me formulas and how to cut wood and fix cars. Her mouth twisted and twitched on her pruny face. She was upset, and in my head I was naughty and told her piss off! I’d heard people say that at Gjeo’s house all the time. It was like the F word.
“That’s not what I’m asking honey, can you read the letters to me?”
“Can you count out loud?” she sighed.
Not a peep.
“O.K. sweetheart we’re done for now. Thank you.”
The red haired lady slammed her coil bound books with letters and blocks and sequences, still twisting her slitty thin lips. I’d picked up that she thought I was dumb. But, I would never let her know that when I was a little kid back in the day, Maggie would read Dylan Thomas to me and that I knew about Wales and Shakespeare and some man from our neighborhood called Hank who wrote in a paper Maggie and Tio read and laughed at because “it was true about the drugs and hookers and beer,” Tio would say. She didn’t know that Maggie would fight with my daddy because he’d just leave me alone and she’d take me to her house and she’d tell me about Kenmare, Ireland, that’s where she grew up and then she’d get sad and drink a little. But she was never mean to me, ever and taught me to read.
I would never ever tell Dr. Prune Face that when my mommy was happy, she would show me how to bake and put make up on and let me braid her hair and that she would tell me about the God of Abraham, the Jewish diaspora and cleansing rivers and how she wanted to live in Israel. Never, those were my good secrets, mine alone.
“Thank you for comin’ out.” answered Pops.
“Well, James? What now?” said Momma in a worried lament.
“The child is just scared, she needs love and patience.” answered Pops eagerly.“And prayer! That poor little thing James, I don’t know what her people done to her, but the way she stays up and when she wakes up is’ like she poisoned all tremblin’ and crying. I can’t hardly stand it.” I could hear Momma sniffling a little.
“Ya gots’ to ask our Lord for strength woman. These kids need you. You grab hold of them tears and you turn them into weapons of mercy, ya hear.” Pops words tapered off to whispers and my imagination thought of Momma in a yellow rain slicker squishing tears with her hands and those tears turning into kisses and dandy lions covering me. Then I snapped out of the vision.
“Grady?! Honey, can you please come out here to da parlor?” Momma called out.
As I began to walk into the front room I counted seven seconds between taking a step. I didn’t want them to know I had heard most of the conversation they had had. I was dying to know who this new “Lord” person was and were they going to be the boss of Pops, but I wasn’t going to ask because I didn’t want Pops and Momma’s Lord to move me from their home. Maybe this Lord could read minds and he would know I was spying and plucking forbidden secrets.
“Hi little girl, and how are you?” asked Momma.
I smiled a little. My lips folded into themselves and I shook my head indicating “yes”. Since I could remember, I’d always folded my lips when anticipating something unpleasant and to keep my terror from jumping out of my throat.
“The school psychologist says that she is gonna send you a teacher to come every day and home school you. Is that fine with you?” her big hazel green eyes glistened with warmth.
I looked for Pop’s expression of approval. I caught his eye and he smiled real wide bringing his beard down from his collar bone to the middle of his chest. I looked at Momma and shook my head up and down in approval too. However, I had not forgotten about their Lord and how fearful I was that I would be moved to another home. My whole existence was secondary to the impending peril of possibly leaving them. I loved them. They kept me safe and they wanted me. I felt it, they really wanted me. I was a real child to them. Finally, I mattered, like when Maggie wasn’t drunk or mommy wasn’t mad. In an expression of good will I took Momma’s soft doughy hands, lifted them from her lap opened her arms and hugged her so hard as if in that moment I wanted to merge into her and never come out. Momma reciprocated with a warm embrace. Pops contributed to the safety of the juncture by placing his hands on Momma’s shoulders and reminded her of what they talked about.