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Beat Around the Bush Bertha (Chapter 2 of Candy, Too!)

Chapter 2: Beat Around the Bush Bertha

I decided to start with phase one, buttering Grandma up, trying to get in her good graces to get her to get the Internet so I can do my research and figure out how to get our blood tested before I take more drastic measures like going back to school.

I need her to love me like she loves Uncle Tommy, her adult son who just moved back in over here a few weeks back, after Daddy Bobby visited. I think he's about the same age as Dreama Mae, my oldest sister, maybe a little younger, which makes him a LOT younger than Mama. I almost said than Mama was, but that makes me sad. I don't like to dwell on Mama not being here no more. Sometimes I trick myself by telling myself maybe Mama's locked up like my brothers which is why I don't see her. Or maybe she's in a Witness Protection program because she saw someone rob a bank and has to testify or maybe she's been kidnapped by aliens. I know I saw her body in that casket, I know deep down she's really gone, but maybe this is all some sick, twisted reality show where they just say they were playing a joke on us in the end. I just don't wanna believe that my Mama took too many of her pills and went to sleep and never woke up and left me all alone in this world. That's how I feel anyways, all alone.

Grandma really loves Uncle Tommy. Reminds me of the way Mama loved us kids. There wasn't nothing she wouldn't do for us even if that meant going without herself. I remember sometimes at dinner when she wouldn't eat much at all just so the boys could have seconds, or how she sold her food stamps that one year just to buy me the pink ice ring I really wanted for my birthday. All this time I've been here already and Grandma hasn't even taken me to get new clothes even though these I got are raggedy and hardly fit anymore. I need some new bras and panties. I don't want to wear my Hannah Montana crap anymore. I want something more grown up, something that doesn't remind me of the old me before Mama died. Grandma always says we ain't got no money, makes us sit in the dark half the time and won't run the air conditioner unless it's like a 110 degrees out. Instead we set around in here trying not to die with the ceiling fans going and the fans in the windows, but it is still so hot and miserable that I feel like I can't hardly move, like my blood is a warm, gooey syrup. Of course, the no money stuff came when Uncle Tommy got home.

Uncle Tommy dragged his butt back home and I saw something I hadn't seen in a long time--my Grandma was happy. She took to fixing herself up again, putting on her makeup and carefully spraying her grayish red hair with hairspray of a morning. It was so unusual that I had to change my schedule and start getting my shower and getting ready a little later than I was used to. I even caught her whistling the other day. She doesn't think I see her when she slips Uncle Tommy money--fives and twenties. She thinks I'm absorbed in the crap that's on TV--reruns of Mash and Murder She Wrote. But I notice things. Things like her coffee being that cheap Folgers and her cigarettes being the cheap ones my brothers smoke. She ain't shopping at the JcPenney's no more, and we've been eating out of the garden most every night as she calls it, cooking up pots of her fresh vegetable soup and her fried squash and fried green tomatoes or some lima beans. It's good eating, but it makes me worry about what we gone do when it comes winter. We do still go yardsaling, and of an evening sometimes, we ride out to the lake to watch the lights from the boats on the water and listen to the frogs and crickets. One good thing about Uncle Tommy being home, though, is Grandma can't tell him no, so she's been running that air conditioner 24/7. Come to think of it, maybe that's why she's having to skimp on other things on account of the air conditioner.

"Grandma, here, sit down. Let me get you some breakfast." I took Grandma a cup of coffee I had learned to make from watching her. I felt grown up as I poured the coffee grounds in the filter and carefully poured a pot of water into the machine. The smell is something I don't know how to describe but it left me feeling energized. It really is a good way to start the day! Living here with Grandma that's something I really have come to appreciate. The routines. Her morning coffee. I'm still too young to drink it even though I'm 12 going on 13 going on 21 now as Grandma says, but there's something about sitting out here with Grandma at the table of a morning, her drinking her coffee and smoking her Virginia Slims and me just smelling that rich coffee smell that makes my soul feel at ease.

I don't hardly ever feel at ease. I'm always anxious. Anxious or daydreaming. Sometimes my mind goes in loops as I get sidetracked. Grandma used to have to make coffee with this thing she called a percolator. I can almost see it in my head, she's talked about it so much. We get to talking and she real quick always takes it back to the old days. To the yellow, ceramic percolator she'd make her coffee in, some kind of pot you plugged in and put water in but not a coffee maker like we have now she says, but then she'll get to talking about how some things stayed the same and didn't change, like how she hangs her laundry on the line still when it's warm because it's cheaper to do that than to run the dryer. Grandma likes to save her money. Says we need to be ready for a rainy day. I know she don't really mean a rainy day, that she just means when something unexpected happens and we need the money, but I still giggle imagining us out there in the rain holding her soggy life savings over our heads, trying to stay dry.

Grandma says money doesn't grow on trees. But I like to think it does. I want my very own money tree. I'm not too good to remember to take care of things like pets and plants, but I sure wouldn't forget to water my money tree, not like I did that cactus Mama bought me for my birthday one year. I didn't think you even had to water those things, so it wasn't my fault the thing dried out and died. It's not like I even wanted it anyway. Stupid cactus. Mama said it reminded her of me, all prickly on the outside but sweet on the inside where it matters. Says the prickles give me protection.

"Grandma, how would you like your eggs and bologna cooked," I asked in my sweetest little girl voice, and I even batted my eyelashes and looked up all cute like through my wheat-blonde hair. I hadn't put on any makeup yet that morning, so I knew my freckles were showing. I wanted Grandma Delray to think I am the perfect child so that later, she'd let me get the Internet out here.

I even have a plan for how we can pay for it. I've been snooping around in the storage sheds out back where we put all Mama and Daddy Bobby's old stuff from out of the bus, and I found all of these old ceramic statues surprisingly not broken. Elves and gnomes and fairies and squirrels and all kinds of cats and dogs. I remember Dreama Mae talking about how Mama and Daddy Bobby used to make all of these figurines she called them and how they would all paint them and sit up at the flea market and sell them in a booth. And that's how I got me the idea. I've still been making a lot of jewelry lately, and I can sell that and the statues and some of my good yardsale finds. And I bet there are other craft things I can do, too. Then I'll be able to pay to get the internet if I can make enough money each month for the bill. I brought the computer Daddy Bobby got Mama after Ricky Rebel and Cooter Dale were arrested again, so all I need is to be able to get online

"Fried bologna, and scrambled eggs 'll do, Sweet Candy," Grandma said, and I could tell I was making her happy. First, I cooked the bologna on medium heat in the frying pan, letting it get crispy on both sides. I liked watching it curl up, and I wondered if people curl up like that if they burn in a fire. Then, I cracked two eggs like Mama taught me, using the side of the glass bowl, careful not to get any eggshell in there. Then, I added a dash of pepper and a dash of salt and some garlic powder. A sprinkle of cheese, a third of a cup of milk, and some fluffing with a fork and I threw it in the pan, heated to the perfect temperature and smelling like the fried bologna I'd just cooked. I wondered did my Mama ever cooked for Grandma? Does Grandma knows that I never cooked for Mama once she taught me how, probably because life got crazy and chaotic and we hardly ever had a clean house of our own where I felt like I could cook, like really cook. At Uncle Ronnie's, that kitchen was so filthy and one girl cleaning up after what felt like a bajillion people was just too impossible for me to really care about, so I ate moon pies and what I could microwave usually. Is Mama in heaven or hell? Can she see me right now? and if Is she happy or sad?

I served Grandma her steaming eggs and she looked like a queen sitting there at the table in her pink fuzzy bathrobe with her grayish red hair on rollers, her cigarettes beside her, her coffee, her plate of eggs. Whoops, I forgot the toast.

I hustled and dropped two pieces of white bread in the toaster and pushed the down button, twirling to get butter and strawberry jam out of the fridge, neatly kicking it shut with my foot and putting everything on the table like a skilled waitress. Ding, the toast was finished, and I added it to Grandma's plate, right beside the curled up bologna. She likes to eat hers with a dash of maple syrup, so I got that for her, too. I think I went too far when I bowed for Grandma and said, "Your majesty," because then she narrowed her blue eyes in that way Mama used to, and then it was like I was looking in Mama's eyes. "Girl, what is it that you want from me? You're kissing my butt something awful."

I imagined me kissing my Grandma's old wrinkledy butt, which got me to laughing something awful, snorting and shrieking like a hyena my grandma calls it. I also wanted to stall for time and didn't want to answer her question, but after a few prolonged minutes of hamming it up and looking crazy, I took a deep breath in, and caught Grandma's eye.

Grandma said, "Out with it, Beat-Aroud-the-Bush-Bertha. You got something you want, let's talk. But you can keep helping out and being nice to me. Those things are expected of a member of this family."

I felt my cheeks get red as Grandma had totally just called me out. "I need to get the Internet," I blurted.

CLICK HERE to read chapter 1.


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