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MANA SHORT STORY SERIES: "FAMILY – THAT SAYS IT ALL!" By CAROL BROWN

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BY CAROL BROWN 

“That man is fine,” Tanya said mimicking her daughter, adding sternly, “for a white man. A married white man who is older than your daddy. What is your point?”

“My point is he is the kindest man I have ever met other than granddad and daddy and he is handsome.”

“He’s a doctor. They are supposed to treat their patients kindly. You are reaching to assume he’s like that all the time. Don’t ask me why Dr. Jones picked him for that practice. Did he come on to you because if he did I am sending your Daddy up there right now to speak to Dr. Jones?”

“NO! That is exactly my point, mama. I don’t want to date him; I was describing him. Every time I mention a man who is white you go off assuming he’s been inappropriate, or is too old for me, or too whatever, and it boils down to his just being white that upsets you. All through high school it made you crazy when the boys came over.”

“Did not.”

“Did, too.”

“Did not.”

“Did, too. Do you want me to get Daddy in here? You treat Deidre’s husband like he is the bag boy at Kroger. You even managed to miss their wedding reception and both of their baby showers. Those are your nieces and nephews, my cousins! And you wonder why Aunt Bea doesn’t visit like she used to. You’re prejudice, Mama.”

“I am not prejudice. I just have concerns when it comes to strangers. Men strangers. You are a beautiful girl who is still too trusting. Bad as your father. Lends money to fools then wonders why they don’t pay it back on time.”

“Wait a minute, Mama, now I don’t have good judgment regarding men? I am 29 years old with 2 degrees, no children or ex-husbands. I’ve passed girlhood, Mama. My judgment has been great so far other than the normal bumps of heart break.”

“I still don’t understand what happened with Eric?” Tanya said irritably.

“Don’t even go there, Mama. I am not revisiting that debacle. You date him,” she burst out laughing imagining her mother with Eric. That would be a battle of the bullheaded. Mama loved being queen with Daddy. Her dad was a saint. He indulged her mother’s bossiness until she crossed the line; then, “Queen Bee” backed up real fast. He was laid back, but he didn’t lack a spine. If she ever found a man like Daddy she’d marry him even if he were ugly, she giggled to herself.

“What’s so funny, Elaine?” asked Tanya tersely.

“Oh, nothing, mama. All I’m saying is it’s a new day. It’s not as simple as black and white. You know what we need in addition to 'Bring Your Child to Work Day?' We need a 'Bring Your Mother to Work Day!' You want to come spend a day with me at work and meet every kind of person under the sun? That University is so huge. I bet there are at least two of every kind of people on this earth who work there.”

Lord, this child burned her when she called her out on this white-people thing. She didn’t know the half of it. Growing up dark-skinned in Louisiana in the late 50s and the 60s was something her daughter had no understanding of except on an intellectual level. 

She remembered each day walking to school past the gang members who touched them or said dirty things and, then, laughed when they cried or ran away, knowing tomorrow they would be walking past again. She continued arriving at the schoolhouse that was the second leg of the obstacle course. The white nuns sat us dark-skinned kids in the back row of the classroom and the lighter kids up front. The nuns never hesitated to slap or hit us for any behavior they deemed wrong, which was everything we said or did. God forbid being sent to the Priest who put his hands on our private places. Yes, we learned to speak and write properly but at what cost? 

So, Elaine was right. It made her skin crawl when all those teenage boys of all colors were in her house with her babies. She kept an eagle eye on them until Cliff insisted she go shopping or visiting, promising he would keep watch on those boys. Wonderful Cliff. He kept her sane when her fears got out of hand. He liked those boys. He knew all their names and what position they played on which team. He did keep their daughters safe. He understood her fears. They grew up together. He knew. If she could only find Cliffs for her girls, her life’s work would be complete. And, she would be surrounded by little deep brown grand babies. 


Part 2


“Cliff, do you have any idea what your daughter just said to me?” Tanya called.
“I’m in here, and, no, I don’t know what Elaine said to you, Tanya,” he replied in a measured tone. He and Tanya had three grown daughters. Without a doubt, if Tanya were having a fit over one of them, it was Elaine, the oldest. She and her mother had been going at it since Elaine was born. And, he had learned long ago not to get caught up in their bickering. 
“Well, let me tell you, Clifford, she may be 29, but that girl goes too far sometimes. I am her Mother, and she’s telling me about the world! She doesn’t know everything about the world. She doesn’t know the half of it, Cliff. We made it too easy for her. I’d like to drop her off in a ghetto for a couple days. Not that I really mean that, but you know what she called me? I’ll tell you what she called me: prejudice. She called me prejudice. If she knew what I knew she’d shut her mouth. Cliff, I swear, I had half a mind to slap her silly. My mother would not have stood for that mouthiness when I was 29. Shoot, if I talked to her like that now she’d tell me to go get a switch out of the yard and I’d do it. I’m rethinking the way we raised our kids, Cliff….”
When he heard his full name, Cliff knew what he’d see if he moved his eyes from the TV. One hand would be on her hip. Her foot would be tapping; and she would be pointing a finger at him and shaking it like this was all his fault. She would almost be levitating with heat. Normally, he’d just let her go on until she wore herself out, or she thought a girlfriend would be a better listener. But, this was one of those rare occasions he and she had the same issue as she and Elaine. 
“What brought this on, Tanya?” asked Cliff as he clicked off the TV.
“What brought this on? I just told you what brought this on? Cliff, honestly, were you listening to me at all? I am so mad I could throw a shoe through that TV! 
“Baby, come sit down. Take your shoes off, but please do not throw them through my big TV. I will get you a glass of wine. Just breathe a little. Here, I’ll take your coat. You have to let go of your purse in order for me to remove your coat, Tanya.” She had to laugh at that because she realized she had a grip on that big bag of hers like she was going to beat someone over the head with it. She gave up her bag. Cliff did that for her. He had his ways of calming her down.
“Okay, I will breathe a little. Make it a large glass of wine. Cliff,” she called to him, “Baby, I’m sorry I went off before I even said hello.” 
He returned, handed her the wine, kissed her hello, and said, “I can forgive about anything but a shoe through this particular TV.” He’d give her some time to relax, get a few sips of wine in, before he pursued his agenda. They were discussing other parts of their respective days when Tanya interrupted with, “Cliff, do you think I’m prejudice?”
And there it was. She opened the door, and he stepped right through it. “Tanya, do you remember a couple weeks ago when I was talking to you about Deidre and Paul?”
Oh-oh, that was the conversation she’d been trying to recreate in the car and couldn’t. In fact, the only thing she remembered was he said something about Deidre and her white husband. “Actually, Cliff, I don’t remember it other than you mentioned them. Why?”
“Well, what I had said was your Mother is coming to town, and there will be ramifications if things aren’t right between you and your sister.”
“Cliff, my mother knows Deidre and I never lived under the same roof because of the age difference; you know that. She is used to us doing how we do. We aren’t close. We don’t always get along. Nothing new. What is your point?”
“My point, Tanya, is you have a problem with Paul and Deidre because Paul is white. They just had twins, and you managed to miss every celebration leading up to the birth of these children. Did you even send a gift or card? I know you didn’t go to the baby showers. As her sister, weren’t you supposed to have a shower? You haven’t even been to see these babies, Tanya! Now, your Mother is coming to stay at our house while she visits her new grandchildren, and just what is she going to do when she finds out you have turned your back on her grandbabies because of the color of their daddy? Baby, there’s some meanness in all this.”
Tanya looked at Cliff, tears piercing her eyes. Had she heard him right? She peered at him through her blurry eyes. He stared right back at her. Cliff had just called her “mean.” Why, he had never in 30 years talked to her like this! It went straight to her gut, and it hurt. 
Then, Tanya knew that her Mother would never turn her back on a grandbaby, not ever. She was like a mother bear with cubs. It was not in her DNA, but Tanya had turned her back on her mother’s grandbabies, her sister’s babies, on two little babies before they were even born. 
Tanya asked herself what was she thinking to do such a thing! Cliff, the man who made her life happy every day and for whom she would do anything, thought she was mean. By the time these thoughts had passed through her consciousness, she was sobbing, 

“Oh, Cliff, what was I thinking? I am so ashamed. I did it. I turned my back on those babies.”
Cliff put his arms around his wife and pulled her close. She sobbed into his shoulder. He kissed her forehead. He didn’t interrupt her. He just whispered he loved her. Tanya didn’t cry often, let alone sob, but, when she did it was a waterfall. 
Cliff dug out his hanky for her when she slowed down a bit. 

“You know I hate those. I need Kleenex.” He reached behind her and grabbed the box off the end table.

Part 3



Tanya sat in her car outside of Deidre’s house. 
Lord, what am I going to say?” she said aloud. She felt scared. “Okay, I’ve been wrong to treat you and your babies so poorly. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” 
Succinct but that didn’t begin to touch on how badly she really felt: ashamed, horrified, low as dirt. Oh, hell, it doesn’t matter how I say it that girl is going to go up one side of me and down the other and I deserve it, she thought. 
No matter what Dee came back with, she’d take it. She just wanted out from under this feeling of self-loathing. Whatever she had to do or take, she was willing. She got out of the car, head hanging, and walked up to Deidre’s front door and rang the bell.
Deidre heard the doorbell. “Shoot.” She looked down the front of herself, orange and black plaid pajama bottoms and a purplish turtleneck. She didn’t know what she was thinking when she put that on this morning: a turtleneck on a breast feeding Mother? But she wasn’t thinking this morning when both babies were crying, hungry, and needed changing. 
As a new mother, they had the advantage over her. They were leading, and she was always on a dead run to catch up. Glancing in the mirror reminded her she hadn’t gotten to comb her hair either. She ran her tongue over her front teeth to make sure she had at least brushed them and was relieved to find she had. 
Motherhood. She had been so afraid it wasn’t in the cards for her by the time she was in her late 20s. She wasn’t going to do it alone. She wanted a loving, responsible husband like her father, who wanted children as badly as she did. 
Just as she was giving up hope, along came Paul, the new guy in the cubicle next to hers. He came in looking like a real estate agent with nice suits and good manners, but he didn’t last long. 
Paul’s way of communicating was saying exactly what he was thinking which was in direct conflict with the goal of building a dream in someone’s mind, enough so they wanted to commit to a mortgage which after the collapse of the housing market and resulting recession, made even financially sound people feel downright frightened. Saying exactly what was on your mind, nothing more and nothing less, was not how you sold houses. Maybe because he was a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he’d learned to get right to the point quickly, but, in any case, he was in the cubicle right next to her long enough to make her laugh. 
He was different from any other man she had known because he didn’t talk just to hear himself talk. He frequently surprised her when he popped up with an unadulterated comment that was so true that it made her laugh sometimes until she had to wipe tears from her eyes. At the same time, he was equally apt to stand up and address an inequity, startlingly so. 
When she found out they’d grown up within miles of each other, it explained in her mind why they had developed such an easy camaraderie so quickly. Not to say he couldn’t talk shit with the best of them, but he didn’t do it with women, not with her. If she had to describe him, she would have said he was a gentleman. 
The day he left their office for good, he called to tell her he missed her. She had to admit she’d begun to miss him by mid-afternoon. The day after that, he called to say he thought they should get married but only if she wanted children. She laughingly offered to go out to dinner with him to help ease him through this transition, and the rest was history. So, here she was a mother not of one but two brand new little boys and far too much of a mess to answer the door.

She decided to peek out the bathroom window to see if she even needed to be bothered. Her eyes landed on Deidre. Good Lord, what does Miss Thang want? She’s got some nerve showing up here. OH NO! Mama! Her heart filled with dread. Has something happened to Mama? It must be to bring Tanya over.

She yanked opened the window and called down to Tanya panicked, “Has something happened to Mama?” 

“No, no, Mama is fine” replied Tanya.
Switching tones like a flipped light switch, she asked coldly, “Who might you be?”

“I know, Dee. You have every right to be ….” 

Deidre interrupted her, “Mad as hell at your sorry ass? I don’t have time for it” and slammed the window down. Tanya rang the doorbell again just once in case the babies were sleeping. When no response came, she left. 

Later that night over dinner, Deidre told Paul they’d had a visit from the local Black Panther representative. 

“Excuse me?” he pulled his head back and turned to her with one eyebrow raised.

“Tanya was here.”

He laughed. “Dang. What did she want?” he said between bites.

“I don’t know. I slammed the window down after I made sure nothing had happened to Mama.

He continued shoveling food in so that he could get to his Daddy time. She couldn’t help but notice and be grateful for the way he’d started cooking dinner faster and eating faster, so he could take over with the boys. “I wonder if that’s why she was here, Dee?” 
“Huh?”

“If she were here ’cause your Mama is coming to town and she wants to make nice to you so your Mother doesn’t find out what a bitch she’s been?”
“I told you don’t say that word in front of them, Paul,” she responded and gave him the eye, and he got the message. She was not going to have her children, especially her sons, hear that word or some others Paul let slip occasionally, in her house.
  “Oooo. I bet you’re right about that. Mama would snatch that girl bald-headed if she knew Tanya had boycotted our baby showers! I should tell Mama. That would serve Tanya right.”

Paul immediately knew he should have kept his mouth shut and backed up. “Wait. Hold up. It was a question, Dee. Your poor Mother would be deeply hurt to know you girls were this far apart from each other.”

“The way you say that makes it sound like I’m partially responsible for the current state of affairs. All I did was fall in love with a white boy from the neighborhood instead of a black boy from the neighborhood like she did which I’m double thinking at the moment.”

“That’s not all, Deidre LaFontaine Streeter,” he looked at her dead serious.

“I’m about ready to throw this spoon at your head, Paul Streeter, so you better explain yourself right quick.”

He broke into a smile and replied, “You got two beautiful babies with that white boy.” He got up and wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her neck.

As irritated as she was with him, she had to agree with that and be glad that Paul didn’t let her sister get under his skin. Tanya irritated her mostly. It was embarrassing to have your sister be so backward she didn’t show up to celebratory events causing folks to ask about her. Deidre didn’t make excuses for her.

 “My sister does not approve of my marriage to a Caucasian.” What a stupid thing to have to tell people. Flat out embarrassing.  On another level, Deidre felt abandoned by Tanya. Deidre really didn’t have a clue about babies, and having her experienced sister available would be very reassuring to her. 

They could use some help which in a normal situation a sister would provide. Since she and Tanya and two of Tanya’s girls lived in the same city, you’d think some family support would be forthcoming which Deidre knew her Mother expected was happening.

Part 4 



The next day, Tanya returned to Deidre’s and rang the bell. Deidre stepped out on the porch like a soldier on guard duty confronting an intruder other than she had a baby against her shoulder.

 “What is it you’re wanting other than to cover your holier- than-thou ass before Mama gets here?” she hissed at Tanya. 

They were eyeball to eyeball. Deidre’s eyes filled with justified anger and a glimmer of enjoyment. But, her neck was rolling and her hand on her hip when she continued, “My husband is still white and my babies aren’t pure, Tanya. Nothing changed here!” Tanya broke at the pure comment. 

“Dee, I am so sorry,” as her tears began to flow. “You are absolutely right to be up in my face for what I’ve done. It’s not about Mama. Well it is about Mama but it's Cliff who told me the truth, how I have let my prejudice blind me to welcoming my own sister’s children into the world. Mama’s grandbabies! Anybody’s babies! I just came to say I was so wrong. Elaine told me I was wrong. I don’t know what else to say, Deidre, except I hope you can forgive me at some point."
“I’ll tell you what you can say, Tanya, my husband’s name! You have not once mentioned Paul. Girl, come back when you see we are a package. He is your issue, Tanya. You can’t just cut him out of the picture. He is the family. He’s my Cliff. He’s a wonderful Father to our children. You aren’t coming in this house till you buy the whole package."
With that she went in the house and firmly shut the door behind her, not slamming it only because of the babies.
Tanya was dumbstruck by her own stupidity. Now what? She hadn’t even thought of Paul other than in a general sense. Paul is the problem. Okay, my problem. She had been completely focused on the children. She could hear Cliff now, “Shit, Tanya, he’s not a sperm donor.” Lord, deliver me from myself, she thought. I have got to make this right. She rang the bell again. She heard a baby crying and the door swung open. Deidre just looked at her. 
“I’d like to invite you and Paul to dinner next week. You can bring the babies or I’ll see if the girls can babysit. I know they want to. I am really very sorry, Dee. Call me after you talk it over with Paul."
 Then she turned and walked to her car because Deidre’s face was a blank canvas signaling no interest in further conversation. She heard the front door close.
"Well, I’ll be damned," Deidre thought as she walked down the hallway, Paul is going to get a kick out of this. She looked at the sleepy little angel in her arms, “Your cousins are just going to love you and your brother.”
That baby has kinky hair, Tanya thought, as she got in the car and smiled. She’d seen the back of a tiny little light brown hand with perfect little fingernails. Her heart melted with desire to hold a baby again. To smell the top of a baby’s head and feel the softness of baby skin against hers. Deidre has two of them. How wonderful…Oh My God!..two of them! How was Deidre doing that? Two children to get through the night. Two to change. Two to rock and sooth. Two to feed. No wonder the girl looked wild eyed. 
Thinking back so many years ago, she remembered Mama having the newborn, Deidre and taking Elaine while Tanya was at school. It all came back to her. Her parents’ shock to find themselves pregnant 10 years after they thought they were done and at the same time she and Cliff found out they were pregnant! 
Tanya was 19, Cliff 21; newly married. He was working at an insurance firm as an assistant. Daddy owned his own gas station and garage by then. Tanya was attending Clark College by dropping Elaine off at her mother's, picking her up after classes, cooking dinner, and then giving her to Cliff when he got home so she could study. 
When her second daughter made her presence known, Tanya quit school and became a full-time mother. She’d had 3 girls in 6 years and had had her hands full even with her mother close by for back up. Deidre was a first time mother with two babies and no back up. I’m supposed to be the backup! Good Lord, I have let Deidre down in every way possible. If they come to dinner it will be a miracle. She was half tempted to turn around and go back to Deidre’s but thought better of interrupting her one more time. 
Cliff was still home when she arrived. 
“How did it go this time?” he asked.
“Cliff, you aren’t going to believe what I did this time. Or worse, you will,” she looked at him sheepishly. Tanya knew she suffered a character flaw of letting her mouth get ahead of her thoughtfulness. The kids told Cliff things first because he listened. If they told her first it was to get her going for the pure enjoyment of her reaction. After years of being played, on occasion, she could laugh about it. Mostly, she hated it. Cliff knew she had tried to rein in her reactions due to painful consequences just like she knew his tendency to listen and not act had caused him some problems. After this many years of marriage, they didn’t hide their failures from each other the majority of the time because they were each other’s sounding board. Not fessing up early made fessing up later way too painful and complicated. 
“Cliff, I have been so focused on how badly I have treated those children, I haven’t even thought about Paul which Dee made abundantly clear to me today. Then to top it off, I completely failed to realize that girl is over there by herself all day trying to take care of two newborns when she probably has never changed a diaper before now, while her sister, me, does nothing to help.
“Well, shit Tanya, he’s not a…..”
“Don’t say it. I know. He’s not a sperm donor.”
“Cliff, I didn’t know what more to say so I invited them over for dinner next week. Oh, and Cliff, Dee came to the door with one of the babies! I can’t wait to get my hands on those babies. I’m not sure if the dinner is an apology enough or if I need to explain myself to them. What do you think? Shoo, I don’t even know if they will come. Cliff, what are you doing home? You should be at work.”
"I’m home because I thought I should give you this message myself."
“What message, baby?
“Your Mother called. Your Dad surprised her with an anniversary cruise in two weeks so she will be here on Monday instead of two weeks from Monday.”
“Dear Jesus.” Tanya sat down abruptly. Silent for the first time since she walked in the door.
“You ok?”
“It’s Thursday”
“Yes, it is” Cliff said sardonically.
“Cliff, I am on the edge, please do not play with me.”
“I just don’t see why you are…”
“Because, if you must know, now that it’s come down to it, I don’t want my Mother to know what I’ve done. I’m embarrassed and you know she will not let it be. Or worse, she will shake with rage and excuse herself.” 
She did not add on her last thought: And Deidre knows it and is enjoying this.


Part 5

Cliff went off to work shaking his head. His mother-in-law was a formidable woman, as were all her daughters. Tanya and Deidre didn’t fall far from the tree. He figured it was the age difference which had always led to conflict between the two and being so much alike. 

Tanya had grown up with essentially different parents than Deidre. Tanya was the oldest of the six kids, 20 years older than Deidre. Her Dad, Herbert, was always a hard worker, but, in Tanya’s younger years, there were nights Mary had to gather up the children and find the watering hole Herbert had stopped and stayed at. Money, no matter how hard he worked, didn’t cover all the bills. They were living hand to mouth in Louisiana, neither mature enough to avoid loud fights when the stress got to be too much. By the time Deidre came along, Herbert and Mary were best friends, on stable ground financially, living in Atlanta, and it was Cliff and Tanya struggling along. 

Tanya sat in the same place where Cliff had kissed her goodbye and wished her good luck in resolving the situation. What to do? What to do? Her sister was secretly gloating that she, Tanya, was sunk. She is so childish she wants to see me get in trouble with Mama. And I’m so childish; I don’t want to get in trouble with Mama. This is crazy. I’m going back over there to tell her to grow up. I’ll kiss her ass if that’s what she wants but being blackmailed with Mama? I’m not having that. I’ll fall on my own sword before letting Deidre play tattletale. 

She winced at the idea, but what choice did she have? She’d just call Mama and tell her everything over the phone. It would be ugly, but Mama would have a few days to collect her thoughts and, hopefully, cool down by the time she got there on Monday. She grabbed her purse and car keys and headed out the door. 

When Tanya pulled up, she found Deidre putting two howling babies in the car, her backside to the street where Tanya had parked.

“Where y’all going?” 

Tanya’s voice startled Deidre causing her to bang her head on the car hard. “Shit!” She turned to Tanya with a hand on her head where she’d hit it. 

"Girl, are you crazy scaring me like that! I’m busy! I have to go to the store because I am out of diapers! And I’m exhausted. Anything else you need to know?”

Tanya had not seen Deidre in the full sunlight on her recent visits. The woman before her looked exhausted. She had circles under her circles. Her eyes were red from crying. Before she could stop herself, out popped, “girl, you can’t go to the store lookin like this …why….”

Deidre let out a string of expletives at her sister ending with “my children need clean diapers, and I am the only person available to go get them, Tanya” then plunked down in the well of the car door opening, put her head in her hands and cried.

. “Get in. I’ll drive y’all. Maybe the car ride will soothe the babies. Here, let me help you up. You are exhausted, baby. I remember how that feels.”

Deidre didn’t have the strength to resist. She got up with Tanya’s assistance and walked around to the passenger side and got in. Tanya drove them over to the grocery store. The children’s cries which had stopped halfway there began again as soon as the car stopped. 

“Is there anything else you need besides diapers?

“Yes, wipes,” Deidre said quietly.

Tanya got out and went shopping. She came back with plenty of diapers and wipes. “I don’t suppose you could have too many of these,” she announced cheerfully.

Tanya continued by asking, “Have you eaten anything yet?”

“No”

Tanya drove through McDonald’s and got them both lunch.

Tanya carried one baby into the house and Deidre the other. Tanya returned to the car for the diapers and wipes. 

“Just sit there and eat your lunch. I can change them,” as she picked up one crying baby from his carrier.

Deidre sat on the couch devouring a bag of fries, then her Big Mac.

“There, all changed! Are they fed?” Deidre nodded. “Bathed?”

“Not yet”

Tanya rocked the two carriers simultaneously. “Now, you go take a nap. I’m going to stay and keep an eye on them. What are their names? They are beautiful, Deidre.”

“David and Dante. David has the red dot on his big toenail, and Dante has the green dot. We can tell them apart, but the polish hasn’t worn off yet.”

As soon as Deidre was out of the room, Tanya picked up David, cradled him in her arms and inhaled the sweet smell of baby. She gently tapped the tip of his nose and whispered, “You are a precious child, David.” She spent the next two hours holding and stroking each sleeping child. Dante woke up first. “Hi, there, sweet Dante. Don’t cry, baby. Aunt Tanya is here. Let’s just check the refrigerator before we wake Mama up. Oh, lookie here, breast milk just waitin’ to be warmed up for you and David. How about we get this ready for you now so you’ll be all done by the time your brother is ready for his. “

Tanya fed both boys and gave them baths. She hadn’t felt so happy and engaged like this in such a long while. Deidre began to stir then came rushing out in a panic. 

“Hey now, girl, slow down. Aunt Tanya’s got this covered. These precious babies are fed, washed, and changed. Now, we are just hanging out” as she reached over and rubbed Dante’s belly. “Deidre, can I come and do this again if I apologize to Paul?”

“Oh, just give me a minute, Tanya. I’m not even awake,” she said irritably. 

She took a few sips of her leftover drink, thought for a moment and said, “Nah, I’m still mad. Why do you have to act like this, Tanya? Make this so hard? Huh? Paul couldn’t care less. The only care he has is me and now them,” pointing at the babies. “You’ve treated me badly, Tanya. You skip out on my wedding reception, miss my baby showers. You’ve always basically ignored me which I guess I understand because I’ve basically ignored you because you act so high and mighty. But, I always come to your stuff. I love Cliff and your girls. But, my stuff you just blow off.”

“First, I don’t ignore you. I just don’t know you. You’ve always been so spoiled by Mama and Daddy; you didn’t need me, too. My history with strange men, white men, well, I just don’t want anything to do with them. I sure didn’t think it was a good idea for you to marry one. 

“I didn’t marry a strange white man. I married a white man I dated for a year and a half” retorted Deidre.

“You know what I mean. If you’re just going to make fun, then forget it.”

“No. What you’re saying is because Paul is white and you don’t trust white men, I shouldn’t have married him if I wanted a relationship with you which I didn’t have in the first place. By the way, our sisters married men, and you went to their receptions. Do they qualify as strange men, or only Paul?

“I wasn’t making a choice about you! I thought it was a bad choice! I didn’t want to be part of it. My thinking was it was going to end badly, and I didn’t want to watch.”

“What in the world? Whoa. Come again. Are you listening to yourself? I ought to kick you outta my house. You insult my intelligence. I didn’t marry a crazy man! His skin is white, Tanya. That’s all. You didn’t want to watch me be what, beaten, raped, divorced, or whatever your ‘ends badly’ means? Does this really have anything to do with me? This is just plain crazy. Part of this goes back to those priests, doesn’t it? You know, I’m really sorry that happened to you. Have you ever considered changing that equation in your mind from white men aren’t to be trusted to pedophile priests can’t be? But, the fact of the matter is you could have come to my reception. You had Cliff. Our whole family was there. Paul’s family is so small; you would have been in a sea of blackness with a few white dots just like at the wedding. There weren’t any men at my baby showers, Tanya. Did Elaine mention that to you?" 

“No, she didn’t mention it, and I never even thought about that possibility. I never…. She didn’t finish her sentence because it was dawning on her she had no defense for her actions in this light. She threw out her mea culpa, “I do know now you’ve been over here with these kids by yourself, and, as your sister, I should have been over here showing you and helping you.”

“That sure would have been nice, Tanya. All I know is: 1) you have no interest in me as a person; 2) you’ve let what happened to you turn you into a run of the mill prejudiced person simple as that. And 3) I don’t know that I want someone like you around my children. Whatcha’ gonna teach my children the way you think? Naw! You’d have to be doing some mighty changing to be around my family.”

Tanya stood up, stung. The color drained from her face. “I gotta’ go. I have to think.” She began to gather her things to leave then turned back around and said, “You’re right, I never thought about ways I might support you; that is the sad truth, Dee. I’m sorry. I’m sorry about everything.”

“Look it, Tanya. I am bone tired. I’m not even sure of all I’ve been sayin’. Let’s talk more just not now, today. Thanks for helping me today,” she said wearily.

Tanya, got in the car. She’d vowed to take whatever it took to make it right with Dee, but she didn’t think it would be this personal or this difficult. I feel like a filleted fish, she thought laying her head against the head rest. I can’t argue with Deidre’s logic. My fears do drive me. Elaine, Cliff, and, now Dee, all pointing it out. I don’t want to be excluded from these little ones’ lives. This is the best afternoon I’ve spent in I don’t know how long. I want to know Deidre; she reminds me of a younger me, fiery. She wouldn’t marry someone who treated her badly. She’d have the opposite problem, finding someone her equal. Now, I’m a little bit curious to meet Paul. Something in her began to feel lighter, less burdened. At the same time, she felt genuinely sad she had missed Dee’s important occasions. I need to go home to Cliff. She looked at her watch to make sure he’d be home by the time she arrived.


To be continued
































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