By Andrea Jefferson
THINGS WE BELIEVED IN
A cat, black as tar, with menacing blue eyes, leaps in front of the vehicle and stops to clean a paw before sashaying to the nearest ditch.
“Son of a bitch!” Lola slams on brakes, knocking Greta’s face into the dashboard. Paying no mind to the blood gushing out of her daughter’s nose, she runs out of the vehicle and kneels in front of the car to pray, her brown hair highlighted by the headlights. Greta watches Lola rise slowly, dirt caked on the knees of her jeans and looks to the effulgence of the stars overhead casting light in spite of her. She takes her place back at the driver’s seat and by this time Greta is wailing and nursing her nose. “What happened?” Greta doesn’t answer, and Lola’s eyes follow from Greta to the dashboard. “How many times do I have to tell you to wear a seatbelt?” She pulls some already used Kleenex from her leather handbag and wipes Greta’s face. The bleeding has stopped; the stains remain. Greta cannot stifle her crying. “Hush. Stop,” Lola demands. “You’re okay. There. Now when we get to your aunt’s house, I want you to put your things in your room closet, take a quick sink bath, and go to bed. Don’t make any noise and don’t be up moving around. Marcie has extremely bad nerves, but she’s the only one that would take us in, so don’t do anything stupid, understand?” Greta sniffles. For her, everything tastes and smells like blood.
The headlights shine on cracked bricks surrounding what may have been a flowerbed, but is now just littered mulch. The grass is golden in more places than it is green from what they can see and a red garden hose lies against the ground in a way that makes Greta think of slain dragons. Lola stops the car and takes two cloth shopping bags out of the backseat, one for some of Greta’s clothes and shoes, another for her toys. “Here, hold this one.” She hands Greta the toy bag. They walk to the front door, which is dingy white and holds an opaque glass at the top. Lola knocks against the door one time…two…three taps very spaced apart. After a few breaths, Marcie appears at the door, her eyes and cheeks existing in the same downward plane, her lips sunken and morose. She doesn’t say a word, leaves the door open, turns around and heads further into the house.
Lola and Greta look at each other, in sync for the first time since leaving Sienna, and follow behind Marcie. Her house is pitch black with the exception of a light on over the sink where the dishes are piled nearly to the windowsill. The squeal of rats is heard somewhere beneath the sheetrock as Greta pulls more closely to her mother.
Lola says, “Marcie, do you mind if maybe we turn on a hall light later? Greta has trouble sleeping without it.” Lola forces a trembling laugh. “Remember when I was like that? Still am to a degree.” She pulls Greta’s head into her hip. “Plus a little light wouldn’t hurt you either. Might stop you from breaking your neck in here.”
Marcie finds Greta’s eyes in the dark and looks down at her for a long time. Somewhere behind the premature aging and dullness, their faces are similar.
“I like the dark,” Marcie replies and leaves them in front of the door to what will be their new room. Once she’s certain Marcie is well out of sight, Lola bends down to brush Greta’s hair out of her face.
“I’m going to be back sometime tomorrow to check on you. Your Aunt Marcie is doing us a really huge favor. Be good, okay? Remember what I told you. Don’t make a lot of noise.” She kisses Greta on the forehead and after some rushed footsteps, the front door closes gently, the car starts with obvious effort, then silence.
“You’re too old to be scared of the dark,” Marcie says from the doorway. “I’m sorry your house got broken into. Are you okay?”
“No one broke into our house.”
“Your mom said that’s why you’re here.”
“Daddy said Mom put her blood in his food.”
Marcie’s entire body tenses up. “Go to sleep.” She cuts off the light.
The blackness crawls into bed with Greta. She closes her eyes, only to trade one heaviness for another. What her eyes don’t see, her ears still hear from earlier in the day: strained voices, “voodoo,” struggles, and then the ringing gunshot that she knows is the reason her father is no more.
She creeps out of bed to find Aunt Marcie huddled over a newspaper at her kitchen table. “You’re too old to be afraid of the sound,” Greta says bitterly. Marcie flinches at the words.
“Please go back to bed, Greta, or I will have to tell your Mommy what a bad girl you’re being.”
“She’s not coming back.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she’s coming back. She can’t just dump you here.” Greta says nothing. She already knows that grown-ups always downplay children’s complexity with an almost absurd insouciance. “Now go back to bed, and don’t get up again.”
Greta reluctantly walks back to the bedroom, eyes still unadjusted to the pitch black cloaked around her body. She tucks herself in wondering if the blue and red lights will find her mom in the dark.
ANDREA JEFFERSON is a graduate of the Mississippi School of the Arts where her writing craft was nurtured by Drs. Jeanne Lebow and Caleb Tankersley, and where she won accolades in the national Scholastics Art and Writing Contest. Her work has also appeared inLiterary Orphans Journal, Eunoia Review, and What Can We Do for Our Country? When she isn't working, writing, or procrastinating assignments, she can be found in Louisiana scarfing down crab burgers.