A scorching September Saturday in 1997. There’s rowdy cheering and laughter of children running and hopping around outside, and metal squeaking of the playground equipment filtering into a 3rd floor apartment window of an East Harlem tower.
“You are very pretty” Babs blurted in a high pitch “…you remind me of my younger self” she sheepishly chuckled.
She forced her golden-brown hands into a prim fold on her lap with her back upright in a stiff hold to mirror her caramel toned guest.
“I’ll take that as a compliment” Ella replied with an obligated smile and nod.
She refrained from an expression of disgust – that questioned Babs’ gray tooth revealing itself from the right side side of her smile. Instead, she openly glanced around the room. Her eyes lead her head in turns and lifts while examining her surroundings.
“How long have you lived here?” Ella asked.
“About 27 years now” Babs replied eagerly while nodding her head up and down, “Since right afta you was born.”
The conversation pauses into an ear aching silence.
The two women sit on opposing sides of the taupe walls filled with a broken in brown and black corduroy couch, square mahogany coffee table, and the two tufted Parson’s chairs that they are seated in. A nectarine toned haze spotlights a corner of the ceiling from a table lamp’s shade. The household vacuum seems to be missing in action based on the appearance of the rundown dusty carpet.
Boiling from the smothering heat, Ella uses her right-hand index finger and thumb to pinch a black coated elastic off her left wrist. After it has been removed, she lifts her hands to scoop her long Jet Black coarse curly hair into a high bun. It sits like a disheveled crown with random ringlets springing from her temples.
“The air conditioning should start cooling the room off soon,” Babs says in an adoring observation. “I always knew you was gon have a head full of long hair Ellie,” she smiles.
“It’s El-la,” Ella snaps with an exaggerated enunciation. “No one has called me that since I was a baby,” she glares back at Barb.
“I named you Ella after my mother,” Babs says tenderly. “My family called you ‘Ellie’ to tell between the two of yous.”
Ella stares emotionless at Babs.
“Baby Ellie!” Babs continues. “…that’s what your aunts, uncles and cousins would say when dey come ova to see you.”
Ella’s frown turns to a slight delighted grimace.
“…but you got a nice upbringing with your Irish father and…,” Babs pauses in deep thought. “I’m sure Valentina let you think you was a Dominican like her all these years. I couldn’t be a rich house wife like your father wanted, but I always wanted you in my life.”
Ella releases her tense shoulders with an audible outward breath.
“I’m sorry sweetie,” Babs softly responds. “I figured… you were here to learn ‘bout your past. Do you want to know where you came from? How you got dat scar on your left arm?”
She points towards Ella’s left side while holding gaze.
“My mother told me I was an active baby and didn’t sit still while she held me, and the doctor gave me my shot,” Ella explained knowingly.
“Yes, me, ya motha, took you to the doctah,” Babs corrected proudly. “Yo daddy would call me and ask ‘bout you… I told him dat story.”
Silence swarms into the room while the two women stare at each other. Their blinking eyes are the only movement in the slowly cooling off room.
“Your father,” Babs starts to break the silence “He ain’t want no stripper raising his baby…hell…he ain’t want no black stripper to be his baby’s mama,” she chuckles.
Ella continues to listen.
“It doesn’t matter to me that you’re here to request my help for your blood transfusion,” Babs stifles on a tear. “I gave you all I got in the beginning and I’ll give you all that I have in me to make sure you continue to live your life.”
“I am…just in a world of shock. Disbelief. I thought I knew myself…and where I came from – ALREADY,” Ella chokes on a sob and holds it in. A shallow well forms under each eye.
Babs makes a quick step across the room with both hands extended towards Ella.
“I never wanted you to find out this way,” Babs says while clutching Ella in her arms. “…but it feels so good to be holding you now”
“I thought…” Ella sobs “I thought…I just… don’t understand…to find out that the woman who raised me … she lied…she’s not my mother… I feel incomplete.”
Gladys, a plump brunette with gray streaks in her hair lays strewn across a navy-blue chaise lounge. The sun gradually rises and blankets her pale skin as she slowly awakens.
“where the hell am I?” she announces in a boozed daze.
A slim caramel toned woman gleefully prances from her bedroom through her open concept home. Her shoulder length raven colored ringlets bounce with her walk as she smiles from inner thoughts. Her sashay skips a beat when she reaches the living room leading to the kitchen.
“Oh… you’re awake,” Donna replies to the disappointing image.
“Excuse me…” Gladys calls to Donna.
“…Ma’am, I didn’t have a chocolate on my pillow last night.”
“You’re lucky I gave you a pillow,” Donna remarks snidely.
She places a K-Cup in the coffee brew machine and presses the start button.
Gladys lifts her head to get a view of Donna.
“I used to look like you,” Gladys smiles. Her ear-to-ear grin reveals missing teeth on the right side of her mouth.
“…and then what?” Donna requests.
Gladys chuckles “…and then nothing. I guess that’s not a compliment since I’m old and fat now… aye.”
Donna sips her steaming coffee and stares blankly at her house guest.
“ok…I’d look like you if I was dark…like you have tan skin and I’m white,” Gladys further explained her case.
Donna swiftly stomps to the living room area, snatches up the black duffel bag from the floor near the chaise lounge. She returns to the kitchen and grabs a few items from the pantry; tossing them into the bag.
“Now, now sweetie. I don’t mean any harm. My dead husband Harvey was black,” Gladys continues while watching Donna quickly travel from room to room of the 2,000 square foot ranch.
“He left us…and then he died MOM! So, stop reminiscing like he was this great man,” Donna sneers.
She hands Gladys the duffle bag. Gladys slowly stands from her seat squinting her eyes in confusion.
She ignores Donna’s anger “You do look like you could be my daughter, but she’s a little girl.”
“…Only seven years old with nappy curly pigtails” She groans from elderly pains as she stands from her seat.
“You have to stop these antics,” Donna sighs as a tear rolls down her right cheek. “Next time I find you drunk and passed out on the side walk…I’m leaving you there.”
Accepting the filled bag and walking towards the front door “This is a rude bed and breakfast,” Gladys declares.
“Your ride back to the home will be here in 2 minutes,” Donna says over her left shoulder while walking towards her bedroom. The door closes behind her.
“That lady reminds me of my baby girl Donna. I sure do miss her,” Gladys thinks out loud.
Daylight beams through a bay window as it frames the view of the back yard of it’s neighboring home. Near the windowsill, Doris, a middle-aged blonde sits sideways hugging her knees to her chest while scowling at the children playing. She tucks her shoulder length hair behind her ears then re-wraps her arms around her bent legs.
Doris’ mind deeply analyzes the sight she is reviewing.
Hmmph, that little Mia is getting darker and darker as she plays in the sun. Don’t those Johnsons know to put sunblock on THAT child?
Five year old Mia resembles singer Alicia Keys, but with light hair and gray eyes.
Doris’ head shakes disappointingly.
Tah! She’s just full of joy playing with her older black brothers and sisters like they all belong together…like they belong in this neighborhood.
Ha! Those kids…and their fake lawyer parents…
Her lips frown as if she smells a rancid stench while her head nods side to side.
…they throw backyard parties and blasting that hip hop music.
Her expression changes to cheerful as she thinks of her offspring.
MY Bethany has gone on to Grad school with an amazing life ahead of her.
She’s come a long way, and I’m so proud of her. Why, my darling already has a promising job lined up in New York City. I’m so glad she’s made good decisions. Her life’s choices were even better with my guidance – I’m sure.
It will be a true delight when my Bethany comes home this weekend. She usually comes home with flowers and a balloon that says “Happy Mother’s Day!”
Doris smiles while stuck in deep thought.
Last year, Mia and her siblings gave their mother, Mrs. Johnson a gold necklace to celebrate her. She’s a good mom.
Doris releases a huff as she disappointingly admits to Mrs. Johnson being a good parent.
Mrs Johnson was busy being so delighted with her new new jewelry…
she sent the kids over that Sunday afternoon with cookies to say “Happy Mother’s Day!”…
…It was thoughtful of them.
Her face turns to a grimace.
The kids don’t like me.
They think I’m the mean old lady next door. So, of course they didn’t want to even say “hi” to me let alone show up at my front door to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.
Doris reflects on the last Mother’s Day.
“Happy Mother’s Day Mrs. Smith!” the older kids said in unison while Mia chimed in late with their practiced announcement. The oldest boy handed me a tray of cookies, but I couldn’t stop eyeing Mia. I could feel her honey brown gaze see into my core. Time stood still as I admired her silky caramel coiled hair and her chick-let toothed smile. If only Bethany was older and settled in her life… she could’ve been a better mother to her half-breed baby, sweet Mia.