March 04, 2016

she’ll say with kind of a sick look

I don’t know what she does for five minutes on the second floor. I don’t like it up there though. Those bedrooms should be stacked full of kids laughing and hollering and pooping up the place. But it’s none of my business what Miss Celia does with her day, and ask me, I’m glad she’s staying out of my way. I’ve followed ladies around with a broom in one hand and a trash can in the other trying to keep up with their mess. As long as she stays in that bed, then I’ve got a job. Even though she has zero kids and nothing to do all day, she is the laziest woman I’ve ever seen. Including my sister Doreena who never lifted a royal finger growing up because she had the heart defect that we later found out was a fly on the X-ray machine.

And it’s not just the bed. Miss Celia won’t leave the house except to get her hair frosted and her ends trimmed. So far, that’s only happened once in the three weeks I’ve been working. Thirty-six years old and I can still hear my mama telling me, It ain’t nobody’s business. But I want to know what that lady’s so scared of outside this place.

EVERY PAYDAY, I give Miss Celia the count. "Ninety-nine more days till you tell Mister Johnny bout me.”

"Cat got on the porch this morning, bout give me a cadillac arrest thinking it was Mister Johnny.”

Like me, Miss Celia gets a little more nervous the closer we get to the deadline. I don’t know what that man will do when she tells him. Maybe he’ll tell her to fire me.

"I hope that’s enough time, Minny. Do you think I’m getting any better at cooking?” she says, and I look at her. She’s got a pretty smile, white straight teeth, but she is the worst cook I have ever seen.

So I back up and teach her the simplest things because I want her to learn and learn it fast. See, I need her to explain to her husband why a hundred-and-sixty-five-pound Negro woman has keys to his house. I need him to know why I have his sterling silver and Miss Celia’s zillion-karat ruby earrings in my hand every day. I need him to know this before he walks in one fine day and calls the police. Or saves a dime and takes care of business himself.

"Get the ham hock out, make sure you got enough water in there, that’s right. Now turn up the flame. See that little bubble there, that means the water’s happy.”

Miss Celia stares down into the pot like she’s looking for her future. "Are you happy, Minny?”

"Why you ask me funny questions like that?”

"But are you?”

"Course I’s happy. You happy too. Big house, big yard, husband looking after you.” I frown at Miss Celia and I make sure she can see it. Because ain’t that white people for you, wondering if they are happy enough.

And when Miss Celia burns the beans, I try and use some of that self-control my mama swore I was born without. "Alright,” I say through my teeth, "we’ll do another batch fore Mister Johnny get home.”

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