Sali at Seven
By Tuere T.S. Ganges
I never knew how big my feet must have looked in my shiny, white patent-leather flats with near a ballerina bow, until I saw them on my cousin as her body lay in a casket. She looked like a black Sleeping Beauty and it wasn’t fair. Not that she and her two younger brothers died of smoke inhalation in the apartment fire while their mother intentionally inhaled crack smoke, leaving them to fend for themselves; but because those were my princess-like, fancy slippers being closed in the casket and I was told I wouldn’t get them back. Mommy wiped her nose on a crumpled tissue and said, “This is what family does.” I, too, shed tears—for my shoes.
“Sali Gia Grace, she two-face, she say she yo friend but she’ll steal yo shoelace!” The mob of children sang and stomped their feet as they marched across the courtyard between buidings E and F. I ran up the stairs to E6 and watched them from the balcony. I didn’t mean to drop Keisha’s Slinky down the storm drain. I’d only wanted to twirl it over the grate to see how long it would take to touch the sludge and colorful array of Hubba Bubba gobs we’d spat down. How quickly they turned on me. I spit fresh gum on them, and hoped it stuck in Keisha’s hair so her mother would have to cut off her shiny bangs and remind her that paybacks are a bitch.
Rocks, paper, ketchup
Like the boys, I threw rocks, trying to find a place where my fat ass fit. Playing dolls with the girls was fine until they wanted to jump double dutch. I pulled the head off my black Barbie and threw that first. Next, the rocks: I had to throw the highest. One soared down onto Jabari’s knobby head. The thick, gushing blood looked like ketchup. I wanted to catch it on a white paper plate and dip golden, crinkle-cut fries in it. Grandma made some for lunch; lightly dusted with salt and pepper. I was hungry all over again.
What is…, Alex?
Before digital TV, but after cable; when home satellite dishes were bigger than open beach umbrellas; and fiber optics, was watching dust and lint dance in rays of light creeping in through half-closed curtains: I watched Jeopardy on Channel 5, in the den, on the console TV with cherry wood veneer. I then ran into the living room where Nanny watched it on Channel 6, on the 40-inch RCA with a yellowing coaxial cord looping into the cable box with 20 buttons, to declare the answer to Final Jeopardy. So amazed was she that I, a child, knew adult things. My genius was noticing that between cable and local programming, there was a 10-second delay.
My bath water turned a dingy gray and as I sloshed about, I noticed a dark ring of dirt had formed around the walls of the tub. “That’s from a hard day’s play,” Mommy said, as she shampooed my hair up into a Dairy Queen curlicue. I wanted her to be right. Lori and Jo said I wasn’t invited to Jo’s pool party because black people were like tea bags and one dip would make the water brown. If Mommy was right, it meant I was just having more fun than Lori and Jo.
The Casualties of Kickball
After careful campaigning of giving away fruit cups at the lunch table; I was no longer picked last for kickball. I couldn’t wait to get my chance to pound the red, rubber ball so high and far, I’d be first in the minds of future team captains. I watched and waited for those with turns before me. I groaned when we made our second out with only two kickers to go. The anxiety welled up inside me so much, the impression I had to make: I didn’t dare excuse myself to the restroom. Finally, with squeezed knees, I kicked as hard as I could. The ball soared in the breeze that chilled my damp inner thighs.
The Sunday-School teacher told a story about Achan stealing stuff so I shoved cookies in my mouth and slipped out of the basement with a Dixie cup of apple juice. I went upstairs to sit between Nanny and Sister Ruby, but then Sister Ruby caught the Holy Ghost and I was scared I’d get crushed. I crouched beneath the pew and watched Sister Ruby’s plump feet leave the red carpet and return again. “Glory, glory!” she screamed and knocked over her purse. Hard candies wrapped in colorful cellophane scattered to the floor like precious jewels from a pirate’s bounty. I swiped them all and ate them before anyone called me “bad girl.”