“Lilly?” The woman spoke into the screen door before she pulled it open to let herself in. “You need to keep this locked, missy.”
Lilly draped her magazine over the arm of the couch. “Oh, mama, nobody locks doors around here.”
As her mother limped into the room on thick legs, she gave Lilly a familiar look, narrowed her eyes beneath the stray locks of white hair littering her forehead. “Nobody’s you. And nobody else is married to who you’re married to.”
Lilly picked up the magazine again and thumbed through it. “How about your coming over tomorrow and bleaching my hair?”
The woman sank into the squeaky rocker near the door. “Now what gave you that idea? Bleaching out your hair? You want to give Sonny even more reason to set you straight?”
Lilly turned the magazine toward her mother and flashed a photo of Marilyn Monroe. “No, ma’am. I just want to be as pretty as she is.”
Her mother scowled. “What you need to do is settle down. Have you some babies. Lord, it’s been over three years.”
Her mama didn’t know what Lilly knew—that she’d never have babies, that her womb was solid as concrete. Sonny even pissed cement when he got home from each construction site. It stiffened his hair more than the hair cream they could always afford, even if they couldn’t afford her hair spray.
Why can’t I be blond and pretty just for myself?
Lilly leaned her head back, threw her arm over her face, then dropped her hand back into her lap as if it weighed too much to hold up. “It’s burning up in here already. Sonny told me that if they keep him on another couple of days he’ll buy a window unit.”
Her mother lifted one of the yellowed slats of blinds and looked out. “What’s that boy doin’ comin’ through here? He ought to know better.”
“That’s just T-Roe. It’s the quickest way to his plot down the creek. He don’t never bother me.”
“Your husband know he comes through here? Especially when he’s not at home to keep an eye on things?”
“T-Roe waits ‘til Sonny’s gone. He knows not to let Sonny see him come close to the house. He don’t have no other choice.”
“I don’t like it at all.” The old woman let the slats shut and fanned herself hard. “I didn’t see you in church on Sunday.”
“Didn’t feel good. I been every other Sunday this month. You want some ice tea?” She got up from the couch without waiting for an answer.
On the way to the kitchen, Lilly navigated her way around wooden crates filled with tools and stepped around the hole in the hardwood floor that one of them had covered until Sonny kicked it out of the way the night before.
The refrigerator clattered and hummed as she pulled open the door and took out of it a large jar full of tea, followed by a metal ice tray wedged into the freezer above the box of Neapolitan ice cream. The ice cracked loose and she dropped the cubes into mismatched jelly glasses, poured the tea over the top. Chipped fingernails plucked a few leaves from a mint bouquet in a glass of water on the counter top.
The wood creaked under her mother’s feet as she rocked. “Is it sweet?”
“You know with your sugar you shouldn’t drink it that way.” Lilly dropped the mint into the glass and brought it to her.
The old woman grimaced. “If it ain’t sweet, it’s just dark water. Now bring me the bowl and a spoon so I can do it up right.”