author bio

image for storyHooked On Sugar

Dona E. Bowens

It had come to this, a Mexican Stand-off of sorts. At one end me: seven years old, dressed in ruffles with my eyeballs nearly floating because I had to go to the bathroom so bad. But between me and the commode at Dead Cousin Lucy’s house stood Uncle Albert: stinking and evil, 937 years old, give or take a century, dressed in the latest synthetic fabric and angling to get a kiss off little ole me.
      At the top of the steps he waited for me to ascend but I was having no part of it, even with my eyeballs floating like they were. Figuring a retreat was better than taking an “L,” I backed up and tore breakneck for Dead Cousin Lucy’s teeny backyard where out of earshot and eyeshot I dropped the ruffles and watered the prickly bushes. Uncle Albert had reduced me to peeing in bushes because ours was a struggle between the righteous and the evildoers of the Borders clan.
      Because you see this is all about jail and bail and wayward women and lust and intrigue and crime and passion and it’s all within my family. Ah, but we’re a clan of contradictions to be sure, God love us. I grew up in Akron, Ohio. To put it simply, I grew up in Midwest hell with big city delusions like everybody else from my hometown. Not that Akron isn’t a real city with its two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, but New York it ain’t.
      Lying twenty-eight miles south of Cleveland, all Akron has is the distinction of being the former rubber capital of the world, producing millions of tires each year—but not anymore. My entire family is still there waiting for the jobs in the rubber plants to come back. But in the meantime most have moved on to other professions—falling into either the law or the lawless.
      That seems to be how it’s been with my people for as long as I can remember. Cops and robbers right at the dinner table—breaking bread, hugging and kissing, sharing a common history and genetics. My Mom was a cop long before it was routine to see honeys on the beat. It always shocked people what she did to put food on the table and in my belly.
      To look at my Mom you would’ve thought her better suited to be a beer ad spokes-model maybe. The only DNA she passed on to me seems to be contained in our slanty eyes. I didn’t get the svelte yet hideously voluptuous DNA that caused everyone to question whether or not she was a real cop. My Pops had coined a term for Mom’s looks that, while lacking in cultural accuracy, was right on for descriptive purposes. The term was “Japtalian.” Half Japanese and a smattering of Italian, though Mom never claimed anything other than Black. Mom was about the color of raw pinewood with high cheekbones that she blamed on a rogue Choctaw deep in the roots of the family tree. She even had the nerve to have a freckle or two, and on her five foot three inch frame she hoisted an enormous pair of 36DDD’s that made strange men shout nastiness at her in the streets.
      So I’m a “PK.” You’ve heard of Preacher’s Kids and Policeman’s Kids. Supposedly we’re the worst. I don’t know about the veracity of that belief but I do remember one time when the department updated their ticket books, instantly making the old ones obsolete, Mom passed on the old ticket books to my big brother and me for our amusement, saying, “Now don’t put those tickets on anyone’s cars. They’re just for pretend.”
      Can you guess how long that instruction lasted? I became the Gestapo on a Schwinn in my neighborhood issuing tickets for the minutest infractions. Like Mom I had a talent for bluntness and I relished in issuing tickets for ugly shoes or just god-awful stupidity. To say the least, until the tickets ran out, I wasn’t very popular that summer.
      Then there was the time when Mom bought us T-shirts that read, “My Mom’s A Cop.” Vibrant red T-shirts with a Magnum .357 silk-screened in the center. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d had them made special as kidnapper repellent. It worked. I was never stolen. Except unless you count all the times that Uncle Albert tried to steal me.
      Uncle Albert was from the other side of the dinner table if you know what I mean. Relatives on that side played the numbers, knew more than one meaning for the word “hot” and smoked weed because crack hadn’t come to Akron yet. Mostly I saw Uncle Albert at weddings and funerals. I was OK with this but he was creepy in that way that keeps children checking under their beds at night. In addition to being a freak he also had the distinction of being the only man I ever knew to wear an Afro-toupee. What? Bet you didn’t think they made such things as Afro-toupees. Not unlike the Grand Canyon, it had to be witnessed to fully appreciate the enormity. I’m certain he’s the reason that toupees are dubbed divots. But his was a divot from the tall cut of the golf course, perched ramshackle-like on his head and begging to be weed-whacked.
         I took pity on the toupee being attached to Uncle Albert like it was—at the mercy of his cigar smoke and not allowed to mingle with the other hair on his head. Uncle Albert wasn’t a stickler for details and so the toupee sat tall on the crown of his head separated from the original hair by a moat of skin. The organically grown hair occupied an inch strip of borderland near the ears and around to the nape of the wrinkly neck, fighting a battle of attrition against the superior positioned toup. Uncle Albert refused to unite the two hair factions. His baldness might have been so much easier to accept had he just gone with it instead of insulting it with the fake Afro.
        Like I was telling you, Uncle Albert and I squared off at Cousin Lucy’s funeral one time. Now Cousin Lucy was one hundred and four when she crossed over Jordan so you’d think that the family would’ve been prepared for her peaceful parting. We’d had well over a century to get it together, but no, leave it to us to be caught way off guard. That’s why as a kid I loved the funerals so much more than the weddings that would bring us within swinging distance of each other. At a wedding the prescribed mood was a jovial one. However, bring a pack of Black folks together to put one of their own in the ground and you’ve got the makings of high drama on your hands. Anything goes when the grief gets a hold of you. My people would take turns spontaneously combusting from the tragedy of it all. A phenomenon I found endlessly amusing and worthy of imitation.
       And so it was when Cousin Lucy checked out that Mom didn’t have to do too much battle to get me into my funerary ruffles. Usually I preferred a uniform of cut off shorts and, if I had to wear a shirt, it had better be touting my team the Pittsburgh Steelers or you could forget it. People on the block were always confusing me for one of the mob of ragtag boys tossing footballs around. Never was I more honored.
      However, if it was time to grieve then the Steelers jersey would have to air out for a few hours. There was entertainment to be had! Mom got no lip from me when she pulled out the lacy anklets that itched without mercy. I stood relatively motionless as she worked the kinks and snarls out of my hair and gave me the instructions for that day’s behavior. It seemed Mom was never quite certain that she’d raised me properly and going out in public demanded these cram sessions on etiquette.
      “Debbie, I’m only going to tell you this once. There is no laughing in the church. We don’t laugh at other’s grief. Do you understand?”
      “Yes Ma’am.”
      “And if I catch you laying down in that pew again during the service I’ll brain you. Do you understand?”
      “Yes Ma’am.” When your Mom’s a cop you don’t do too much arguing because punishment can be swift and thorough. Follow me?
      “And act like a young lady today, please. You have on a dress and that means your knees should always be together. That also means no cartwheels and no rough housing with the boys. Do you understand me?”
      “Yes Ma’am. Are you almost finished?” I asked, cringing beneath her braiding fingers. My scalp was taking a beating from all the excessive attention as she pulled my hair into neat cornrows. The plaits were so tight I had to keep my eyebrows raised to relieve the tension in my scalp.
      “I’ll tell you when I’m finished. I want you to be respectful to the grown people today, especially your Uncle Albert. He means well and I don’t want to hear anything about you telling him he stinks or anything like that. Do I make myself clear?”
      “Yes Ma’am, but last time he kept blowing that smoke at me…”
      She gave my last braid a warning tug.
      “I said, do I make myself clear?”
      “Yes Ma’am.”
      If I do say so myself, at the church service for dead Cousin Lucy, I performed splendidly. The only snafu came when I called the church “Cemetery United Methodist Church.” The actual name is “Centenary United Methodist.” Even Mom could overlook this mild mix-up considering my only exposure to the higher power came at times associated with cemeteries. Mom gave me a wink of her chinky eye and pulled me snug against her full boob in the pew.
      With Lucy in the ground, after 104 years of fighting the good fight, we adjourned to her home where someone had the foresight to take the seven cats to the pound; or possibly to the lake depending upon who was charged with the task and what side of the dinner table they hailed from. That way we only had to deal with the aroma of felines and not so much the actual cats trying to eat out of our plates.
      See, part of the fun of the funeral is the eating. Friends and neighbors sent platters, casseroles, salads, cobblers, slabs of ribs and pounds of cakes to the house. I liked to exercise my newly found literary prowess by reading aloud to the family the many notes that accompanied the food meant to ease our grief. Standing on a chair in dead Cousin Lucy’s cramped kitchen, surrounded by aunties with aprons covering their black mourning dresses trying to make heads or tails of all the accumulated bounty, I read in a voice meant to carry to all the rooms,
      “This is from Mrs. Hattie Jenkins and she wrote…”
      “Oh Lawd, is that from Hattie?  How Hattie loved Lucy. We all loved Lucy but Gawhod loved her best. Bless Hattie’s heart she nearly blind and still making them lemon pound cakes. What she write in her note baby?” This was Aunt Eva interrupting my performance with her two-syllable pronunciation of “God” and her short biography of each and every person who sent a delicacy.
      Aunt Eva was old enough to have graduated from kitchen duty at such events and so sat in Cousin Lucy’s old La-Z-Boy spontaneously combusting and shouting her epitaphs to the living room ceiling. Clinched fist and all. She had her feet up to the point that you could see her pantyhose were rolled into big donuts at her knees. Aunt Eva could’ve benefited from my mother’s talk on keeping your knees together. You could tell she was married to Uncle Albert because she wore a wig in sympathy to his toupee. While everything about Aunt Eva hinted that she was an old lady—the tissue tucked in her sleeve at the wrist, the face creased like the shell of a walnut, the lingering aroma of Ben-Gay wherever she passed, her penchant for all things polyester—her hair was jet black in defiance to all of this. I continued:
      “Mrs. Hattie Jenkins wrote ‘My deepest sympathies on the death of Mrs. Lucy Borders. Please return my plate right away along with all the other ones Lucy never returned over the years. All my plates are cream-colored with a red rose in the middle. Respectfully Mrs. H. Jenkins.’”
      Aunt Eva snorted loudly when I came to the end of Mrs. Jenkins note of condolence.
 “Mommy, I’ll take her plates back. She’s right up the street,” I volunteered, figuring I could dawdle a bit until the real eating got under way while simultaneously escaping the greasy gaze of Uncle Albert leaning in the doorway of the tiny kitchen.
      The toupee had a high sheen that day as if he’d recently had it re-tooled just for the occasion. Out of one side of his mug hung the cheap cigar and he smiled from behind the opaque glasses showing the gold tooth in his dentures. Like his wife he put all his faith in polyester and in spite of the fashion liberalness of 1978, he still managed to come across as tacky.  Having no shame in the face of the death that bought us all together, he wore a pea green suit instead of black, with a white belt coordinated perfectly with his white boots. Boots shaped into a painful point at the toe that could only have been useful for killing roaches in crevices. Though a man of seventy at least, he’d given up believing in his age at around, oh, I’d say, nineteen?
      “You don’t need to be traipsing up and down the street right now young lady. I’ll get your brother to carry the plates to Mrs. Jenkins when the time comes,” Mom said.
      With so many adults present in addition to my mother I knew better than to voice my disappointment. Where I came from anyone of voting age had license to take a whooping to you for infractions. But Uncle Albert, watching me like he always was, sensed my displeasure and seized the opportunity to bond with me.
      “You don’t need to be carrying them heavy plates up and down the street baby girl. That’s boys work.”
      Yeah. So?
      “And you look so pretty in your dress today,” he continued. “What’s it been, near ‘bout a year since I last saw you? You done grown so big. I guess you think you too big to give Uncle Albert some sugar, huh?”
      If what’s past is prologue I should have known that he would grab the first opportunity to start with his demands. This was the way it was between Uncle Albert and me. A delicate dance of him seeking the kisses, or sugar, and me dodging, running, screaming, telling him how much he stank. He had age and position in his favor while I had youth, and with youth came a determination to hide under a bed if necessary.
“I probably am too big for sugar. I’m almost eight now.” At least I hoped I was too big. At what point is the perfect degree of bigness breached to avoid kissing an old skunk?
      My Mom turned from the cupboard where she was fishing out all the cream-colored plates with roses. Her eyes were narrowed to dangerous slits when she said, “Give your uncle a kiss Debbie and less lip. Pardon her, Uncle Albert, her mouth is growing faster than her brain.”
      “She’s a little big for her britches, yes indeedy,” he agreed. “But then again, so were you Jacqueline. When you not looking I’m a steal her from you.”
      Then, stepping inside the kitchen, he gave me a smack on the lips right where I stood on dead Cousin Lucy’s kitchen chair. I swayed with the vigor of it, nearly falling into the table and crushing Mrs. Jenkins’ lemon pound cake along with the plate it came on. Uncle Albert caught me by the arm before I could further dramatize my displeasure, and sweeping me up into his bony old arms, he planted another one on me coating my lips in saliva and remnants of his cheap cigar.
      “I just saved your life,” he said. He was smiling proud of himself for having got two for one.
      “I need to go to the bathroom,” I pleaded. The ruffles of my skirt had crept up to my chest in his embrace and my legs hung stiffly, kicking ever so slightly in hopes of freedom. He let me slide down his body slowly until, by the time my patent leather shoes met linoleum, my ruffles had been pushed above my head. Yanking the dress back to where it was made to be, I ran break neck for the bathroom on the second floor. I was so sickened that I forgot to be properly frightened about the dim upstairs corridor where certainly the ghost of Cousin Lucy lurked waiting to steal my soul.
      In the bathroom, with a pile of Jet magazines dating back to the Johnson administration, I splashed Uncle Albert from my face the way I’d seen them do it in movies. With both hands under the tap I threw water into my face until memories of tobacco, saliva and “Give me some sugar” had all been purged down the drain. By the time the job was done my mourning ruffles hung damp and limp and I stood in a small pool that would be hard to explain.
      My love of the Pittsburgh Steelers had taught me how to take an “L” with a sense of revenge. Uncle Albert had won the battle at Cousin Lucy’s, for sure, I admit it. I began to freak knowing that if people kept dying in my family that I would probably never escape the sweet wrath of Uncle Albert. In my mind he materialized from behind doors, at the top of the stairs, and I swear one time he even rolled from underneath the Davenport. Mom cautioned me against fabrication when I told her that one. My only hope was to achieve the proper level of bigness, at which point giving sugar would no longer be required.
      You never know from whence cometh your savior. How was I to know that when my Mom became a hooker that my Uncle Albert problem would be well on the way to remedying itself? That’s right. Sometimes dear old Mom dolled up her face and put her hooters on display all in the name of the world’s oldest profession—a role she seemed to relish. She sparkled, she glowed, she danced in platform sandals and platinum wigs. She went on shopping sprees to cheesy stores buying hot-pants and genuine faux fur coats. She saved the receipts because the police department reimbursed her for all this gaudiness. Ok, so she wasn’t completely lawless since she was whoring in the name of the law, catching men on the make for a date. But you would’ve thought this was her bread and butter the way she threw herself into her work.
      Mom’s prostitution provided such lovely bonding moments between us. Such rich memories of watching my Mom morph from the Madonna to the Whore! We had developed a ritual in which I’d lie on the bed and critique as she dressed for the evening. The woman who came to replace my Mom as she laid aside her usual overalls in favor of Spandex strangely fascinated me. The final look can best be described as “cliché,” with a mole drawn on her cheek and her eyelids painted neon blue. Mom walked differently when dudded up for her dirty deeds. Normally her walk was purposeful, nearly marching; however, once festooned in the fur, she slowed to a seductive saunter—though in actuality the hooker stroll may have been a product of the five-inch platforms.
       You’d think that Mom would’ve sought to shelter me from the tawdry side of the world. But no, Mom operated under the notion that knowledge was power. Indulging my love of reading, she granted me access to the reports she brought home that chronicled her street corner hustlings. Lying on the bed kicking up my heels, I asked questions like, “Mom? What’s a ‘golden shower’?”
       Once she’d told me, without batting a fake eyelash, I’d looked back at the report and asked completely perplexed, “He wanted to pay $15 for that?”
      To say the least, for a kid not yet ten years old, I had a rather intriguing vocabulary. Once she was done dressing she would allow me to inspect her. For once the tables were turned.
      “I don’t like that wig, Mom. It’s too blond. You look really yellow.”
      She adjusted her red micro-mini skirt tugging it higher, providing more exposure
      for her muscular legs. As if my opinion meant something she countered, “Well, that’s the idea Debbie. I don’t want to look like myself in case people recognize me. What about these beads? Too much?”
      She tossed around her neck a set of plastic Mardi Gras beads that collected mostly in her cleavage. The snug black blouse she’d chosen was open nearly to her navel, exposing the red lace bra underneath that could hardly handle the job of containing her massive melons.
      “I like those. Can I have them when you’re done?”
      “I’ll think about it. If I get a good report from the babysitter tonight you can have them.”
      “Mom, are you working with Miss Matthews tonight?”
      “Probably. Why?” As if her eyelids weren’t blue enough she re-touched them in the mirror over her dresser, adding a fresh coat.
      I flopped onto my back, picking up my reports again, searching for new words.
      “I like Miss Matthews. She’s cool.”
      Miss Matthews was my favorite with her blond hair, blue eyes and peaches and cream complexion. She’d been a teacher before she became Mom’s partner. Miss Matthews gave me presents of books and colored pencils for my birthday and Christmas.  With her cheerleader good looks, Miss Matthews had a tendency to wrestle full-grown men to the ground if they gave her any lip while under arrest. To say that I believed Miss Matthews to be all the way cool in a Charlie’s Angels sort of way would be a tragic understatement.
       I knew Mom was playing a treacherous game of bait-and-switch along with the other ladies on the City of Akron Police Department. Ladies I knew from softball games and picnics, they were ordinary enough, except that they had pistols in their purses and were dead on aim.
      It was together that Mom and Miss Matthews, with microphones taped to their bellies, set out to try their hand at hooking. It was a competition, a walk on the wild side—danger, business and fun all at once. And Mom never knew who she might meet pounding the pavement after midnight. Together with Miss Matthews they worked a block just off the main drag where those who traversed it only had one of two objectives in mind—to sell a body or to buy one. 
      Many husbands of neighbor women were out after the witching hour, as well as our dentist (we had to find a new one after he and Mom met on such unfamiliar territory), and once the brother of the Chief of Police. Mom and Miss Matthews had a business policy that everybody was fair game; send them to jail and let the courts sort out the rest.
      That was how Uncle Albert found himself in the lurch and I was supposed to be none the wiser. However, with everything that cluttered Mom’s mind—tuition, groceries, electric bills, whether would Jimmy Carter be re-elected—she forgot to filter the reports before they landed in my hot little mitt. Once I spied “Albert A. Borders” under the title of “Defendant” there was no turning back.
      We were in our yellow Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, all on a Thursday morning, headed for Our Lady of the Oaks Elementary School. Mom had been so late typing the previous night’s reports that she’d had no time to completely remove the blue eye shadow before escorting me to school.  Her defenses were down when I asked, “Is that our Albert A. Borders? As in Uncle Albert?”
      The heavy sigh that followed the question let me know it was so, and as Mom told it, she thought the green Buick Electra 225 looked rather familiar, circling the block slowly and apparently deciding which of the ladies on display could be of service. Mom and Miss Matthews worked alongside the regulars so getting arrested was really just random chance and bum luck. Beguiled by the blondness of Miss Matthews, Uncle Albert pulled the Buick alongside the curb and rolled down the window, letting a cloud of cigar smoke escape.
      “Come’re girly. Al got a little something for ya if ya got a little something for me,” he was to have said.
      I can see Miss Matthews leaning in the window giving him a cleavage shot and trying not to laugh at the towering toupee.
      “Whatcha need daddy,” she said ready to help, seemingly.
      “I like that already—calling me ‘daddy’. I’m a treat you right girly.”
      I’m sure he gave her a flash of the false gold tooth and a gust of the cigar breath as he put in a low bid of two dollars for a lowly act. Getting into her role, Miss Matthews told him that two dollars was a waste of her time and an old geezer like him couldn’t hope to get that for less than twenty. She flounced away on stiletto heels in cut-off jeans that allowed the cheeks of her ass to get plenty of air.
      Uncle Albert, I can attest, was never one easily dissuaded and he bucked the behemoth car forward to stop the young blonde chick from sashaying out of his life and his fantasy.
      “Wait! Wait!” He shouted across the passenger seat through the open window. Knowing he’d taken the hook, Miss Matthews returned to the window feigning annoyance. Her eyes were shifty in that whorish kind of way, on the lookout for a better offer. In actuality she needed to hook him because as it stood that night she was down ten johns to Mom’s twelve. They were neck and neck in total money. The cheapest whore had to spring for breakfast in the morning.
      “Are you wasting my time old man?” she asked.
      “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you twenty and I’ll throw in another five if you give me some sugar with it.” He massaged his crotch in anticipation.
      The first rule of prostitution, as Miss Matthews and Mom learned from the pros, was that kissing was never an option. It’s part of the strange rules of engagement and seeking authenticity Miss Matthews hurt Uncle Albert’s feelings.
“I’ll take the twenty Pops. Meet me behind that storehouse over there.”
      Tossing her goldilocks she pointed across the street to a warehouse behind which was stashed the two paddy wagons, burgeoning with twenty-two other men, all named “John” for convenience sake until they sorted things out at the station.
      The boys working the wagon that night said poor Uncle Albert wept at the wheel of the Buick. They had to assist him out of the car, as only police officers can, foregoing gentleness in favor of effectiveness. His divot became dislodged and lost in the process. I wept for the lost toupee as I suspected it was a one-of-a-kind article.
      Uncle Albert pled for his freedom, saying, “But my niece is one of y’all. I swear it. Do you know Jacqueline? I ain’t lying. Dear Gawhod I can’t go to jail.”
      Mom saw him back at the station in the holding cage with the bright lights glinting off the bare cranium. Mom said he looked scared and puny the way he clasped his hands between his knees avoiding eye contact. She felt almost sorry for him and so said, “You want me to call Aunt Eva?” Mom’s make-up was melting from the heat and the excitement of the evening.
      He came over to the bars hefting the weight of the world with him. Still not looking at Mom he said, “No. Don’t call her, Jacqueline. I’ll be out of here soon right?”
“Yeah. A couple of hours so they can give you a court date and whatnot. You’ll probably get a fine. This isn’t like a felony or anything.”
      She said he shuffled back to his place in the corner where he wedged himself amongst the other guilty dates, the toes of his white boots pointing inward. He pretended he didn’t know her after that. Which was fine with Mom. Rarely had the lawful and the lawless met head on in the Borders Clan. In the end the law won.
      My memory was strong for all things except long division. And I bided my time, rubbing my little palms together in anticipation of seeing Uncle Albert again. I plotted and planned, logic-ed it out as only a seven year old can without concerns of mortgages and work to clutter my head. And so it was two months after Uncle Albert’s walk on the wild side that Aunt Ramona bid us a fond fare-thee-well.   
      We gathered at dead Aunt Ramona’s house, with the doilies on the arms of the couches, to eat fried chicken and lemon pound cake in her memory. The green Buick was there by the time we rolled up in the Olds and Mom felt the need to remind me of our agreement.
      “You know, I think I tell you too much sometimes. But what did we agree upon young lady?” She raised an eyebrow that let me know this was serious business.
      “You said that I’m not to tell anybody that Uncle Albert was hooking and crooking,” I said.
      “Geez,” she breathed. “You got to stop reading those reports. ‘Hooking and crooking.’ Just remember that what happened to Uncle Albert is his business and not yours.”
      We got inside the house and after enduring the gauntlet of hugs and kisses (Aunt Eva was already cursing the ceiling with clenched fist calling on the mercy of Gawhod), I was dismissed to the matchbook-sized backyard to sit in the sunshine and stay away from the dirt until lunch was served. Even through my reading of the condolences I saw neither hide nor hair of Uncle Albert. Somehow I felt insignificant without his gawking.
       I wonder if he knew that I’d be sent right into his web; in the backyard he stood with his back to me, smoking a cigar, peering over the hedge to the neighbor’s yard. He must’ve bought out the last supply, in the whole world, of Afro-toupees because one was perched on his head as if it’d never been divorced from him. I found this tremendously disappointing. I needed tangible evidence of his ordeal.
      The screen door slammed and he was jarred back to reality. Seeing me coming to sit on the back steps, he smiled with the side of his mouth not clamped around the cigar. The sunshine bounced off the opaque glasses and I could see clouds reflected in the lenses as he strided towards where I sat saturated in my mourning ruffles.  He bent himself double to get in my face.
      “Well hello sweet thing. Do you have any sugar for Uncle Albert,” he asked like his old self.
      To his astonishment I gave him a kiss full on the lips without any prodding. He lifted his dark glasses and looked at me with eyes reddened with cigar smoke. I swiped my mouth with the back of my hand and asked, “Can I have five dollars?”
      Uncle Albert was struck dumb and frozen in that bent over position. All I knew was that his going rate was five dollars and payment was long overdue. He straightened slowly, sighing deeply as his bones creaked, bringing him back to upright. In his silence I was suddenly shamed and made a distraction out of my ruffles.
      Sitting on the step, my eyes zeroed in on the cracked white leather of Uncle Albert's boots before the crisp green bill he waved beneath my chin obstructed my vision. Using the five-dollar bill, Uncle Albert coaxed my chin upward until my gaze met his.
      "Use this for your college fund," he said. "Because all those smarts of yours shouldn't go to waste."
      "Thank you, Uncle Albert," I whispered, taking the money, not completely certain that I should or if I had earned it.
      My body vibrated with Uncle Albert's heavy steps as he climbed the wooden stairs. He palmed my head, cornrows and all, before disappearing into the house letting the screen door on rusted hinges bang to a close behind him. I made a double-fold across Lincoln's face and tucked him into the band of my lacy anklet for safekeeping. I could hear Uncle Albert calling to my mother as he walked through the house. I took that as my cue to go frolic in the dirt beneath the prickly hedges that marked the perimeter of the yard. Dirt and ruffles don't mix too well but ruffles be damned! If I was going to be in trouble, I endeavored to make it worth my while—just like my Uncle Albert.

Author Bio

Donna E. BowensDona E. Bowens was born in Akron, Ohio and studied Psychology at Syracuse University. After many years working as a counselor in the Mental Health field, she returned to graduate school at Dartmouth College where she completed a Master’s degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Creative Writing. She currently resides in Barcelona, Spain, where she teaches English to the natives while working on completing a novel. This is her first publication.

Contact the author