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-- Excerpt --

The question made Sheena flip. “You’ve never heard of a lemonade stand?” But before she could possibly suggest that we immediately set one up, we heard a loud shattering of glass coming from the house.

We ran through the back door, through the utility room and into the kitchen where Mrs. Buford and my mom seemed to both be washing their hands at the sink, water streaming from the faucet.

“What happened?” Hank asked his mom.

“Nothin’, sweetie. Why don’t you and your friends go back out and play now. All right?” It was a universal misconception by parents that they could fool children into believing nothing was wrong when in fact something was. Mrs. Buford pretended to be calm, but none of us were buying it, so none of us were moving. I took a step closer toward the sink, where I could see Mrs. Buford applying pressure to my mom’s arm; blood was streaming down her wrist and spilling down the drain.

“Mom, you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine. You kids do as Mrs. Buford asked—go out and play.”

Amelia walked over to her mom, leaned against her side, wrapping her arms around her waist. “We heard a crash. What broke?”

“It’s nothing, Amy. We’ll clean it up.”

Despite the requests to the contrary, all of us kids remained, trying to piece together what had taken place. The kitchen opened up onto the dining room where we could see Mrs. McGuire peering out a broken window in front of the dining room table. Mrs. Merriweather sat motionless, with coffee cups and saucers, half-eaten cake, and shards of glass scattered on the table in front of her.

“Audrey, please stay away from there, okay?” Mrs. Buford called out over the sound of the running water. Sheena’s mom walked away from the window and stopped at the entryway to the kitchen, where Sheena joined her.

“Probably just kids,” Mrs. McGuire said. “Are you going to be all right, Ruth?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”

“What happened, Mommy?” Sheena asked.

That’s when Hank spotted the rock on the dining room rug. He tiptoed over and bent down to pick it up, but his mom spotted him. “Hank! You’re barefoot, child. Just leave it, please.” Hank did as he was told while Mrs. Merriweather continued to resemble a figure at Madame Tussauds.

“I’m so sorry, Ruth,” Mrs. Buford said as she turned off the water.

“It’s all right. It’s not your fault,” my mom said quietly with a smile.

“Hank!” his mom called out.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“There’s some gauze and a bottle of iodine in a box on the bathroom floor. Please fetch it, son. And go around the other way.”

Hank ran off through the utility room.

“We really should call the police,” Mrs. McGuire said.

“No,” Mrs. Buford said. “My husband doesn’t want to involve them.” Mrs. Buford looked down at the rock on the floor.

“I think it’s pretty much stopped,” Mom said, though I could still see blood seeping through the fingers on her hand that concealed the cut.

“I can’t do this,” Mrs. Merriweather solemnly admitted out loud to herself. We all turned toward her. “I’m sorry. I thought I could. I really did. But I can’t. And so I have to go now.” With that Mrs. Merriweather stood up, snatched her purse off the back of the chair, walked to the living room, turned back for a moment like she wanted to say something more, then turned and walked out the front door. No one said anything about it. We all just went back to attending to my mom.

“Amy, grab that towel over there on the stove,” Mrs. Buford said. Hank returned with the box of gauze and bottle of iodine and set them on the kitchen counter. Mrs. Buford turned off the water, and took the towel from Amelia, saying, “Thanks, sweetie,” and proceeded to dry off my mom’s arm. Visible to all of us was an inch-long, splitting cut that ran up the inside of my mom’s arm. The bleeding had subsided considerably, but blood still trickled out of the wound enough to make me feel her pain.

“Looks pretty deep. Maybe a doctor should take a look at this,” said Mrs. Buford.

“No, it’s fine,” my mom said.

My mother wasn’t much for running to the doctor at the first sight of blood. Once while playing in Oakfield, I made the mistake of stepping off a makeshift teeter-totter to attend to an untied shoelace. Unfortunately I bent over at the same moment Mouse chose to sit down on the opposite end. I watched the old gray plank rush toward my face, and I felt the rusty nail that was sticking out of it imbed itself in the fleshy space between my nose and my upper lip. I let out a scream so loud I’m sure that somewhere in outer space an alien’s blood is curdling in reaction to it, even to this day. And even though the nail (did I mention it was rusty?) pierced entirely through to my upper gums, releasing a gallon of my own precious blood onto my favorite shirt, my mother made the determination that I was just fine and that a visit to Dr. Weston would not be necessary.

Mrs. McGuire picked up the bottle of iodine and handed it to Mrs. Buford, who unscrewed the black rubber top, squeezed the nub to draw up the liquid, and held it above my mom’s arm.

“This may sting a bit.” She dripped a few drops of the scarlet liquid into the cut. Mom winced. I winched. Mrs. Buford took the roll of gauze out of the box and began wrapping it around my mom’s arm.

“My husband’s going to love it when he gets sight of this,” said my mother.

“Didn’t want you comin’ over?” Mrs. Buford concluded. Mom stared down at the white bandage and shook her head. “Well, it wouldn’t have taken much for this to turn out a whole lot worse,” said Mrs. Buford with glassy eyes as she looked over toward the dining room. “Maybe your man had the right idea.”

My mom gently took hold of Mrs. Buford’s hand, stopping it, for the moment, from further wrapping. She looked directly into the colored woman’s large brown eyes and said, “This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Right here. Right now.”

Mrs. Buford’s features softened. She began wrapping the gauze around my mom’s wrist again. “My Tom . . . he’s a good man. A stubborn man at times, but a good man. And a strong man. Me, I’m not so sure. Granted the good Lord has always provided strength for me when I was in need . . . brought me through some tough times, but this battle . . . I don’t know . . . could be one we just aren’t meant to fight.”

Mrs. McGuire tore off a piece of cloth tape and handed it to Mrs. Buford. “Just know, you’re not alone in this, Charlene,” Sheena’s mom said.

Mrs. Buford applied the tape to the gauze, securing its hold. “Thank you. Truth be told, I don’t blame Mrs. Merriweather for runnin’. Not one bit. Similar feelings have filled up my head since the moment we arrived. Comin’ over here like y’all did . . . Can’t say if I was in your shoes I’d have done the same. Took guts.”

I never thought of my mom as having guts. In so many ways she simply appeared to be my father’s shadow. So when it came to heroics I always saw her more like a sidekick. Every cowboy had his sidekick: Roy Rogers had Pat Brady, the Lone Ranger had his faithful Tonto, the Cisco Kid had Poncho—and my dad had my mom. The job of the sidekick, aside from adding occasional comic relief, was to just make the hero look better by not acting nearly as brave. But after what Mrs. Buford said that day, I wasn’t sure I could ever typecast my mom in that role again.

We stayed around to help the Bufords vacuum the dining room rug, and helped wash the dishes and found a piece of scrap cardboard and took scissors to it until it fit into the frame of the shattered window. Mrs. Buford took the rock and placed it in the center of the windowsill next to the broken window, in full view of all passersby.

I’m sure we all wondered exactly who might have hurled the rock through the window that day, but none of us ventured a guess; not out loud anyway. We knew that it wasn’t just one person, or a person at all for that matter, but an attitude that shattered the windowpane and an attitude that spray-painted the house. And it was still out there in my neighborhood, hanging around like a fog bank with no intention of lifting anytime soon.

Was it a fear that kept the other women in the neighborhood at home that day—to do laundry or dust furniture or wash and wax the kitchen floor until it sparkled and gleamed with their own reflection? And when each one caught a glimpse of her reflection, what exactly did she see—a woman content, at peace with herself, certain that she had made the right choice by staying home? Or a wife regretting she hadn’t either stood up to the demands of her husband or more importantly, given in to the demands of her own conscience?

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