“I know! I know!” Becky screeched. She pulled out a shiny Swiss Army pocket knife from her stone washed cut offs and proudly showed it to Melody.
“What the heck is that for, Girl Scouts?” Melody said and fired a quick look at the front door. No mean moms in sight. Melody was all out of options and was certain bud Becky could not come up with anything that could or would change her own mother’s mind. She refused to look directly at her best bud for fear of the lump in her throat. She knew if she looked at Becky’s eyes, as brown as her own, with shoulder length greasy brown hair to match, that lump would turn into tears and drown her sherbet. So, she licked her sweet treat instead. She handed Becky what was left of the soggy cone. Becky slurped away oblivious to the imminent threat at hand. Becky’s idea had not worked and were part of the reason they were in this mess in the first place.
Last week, Becky told Melody to reason with her mother. “Just tell her!” Melody knew better. Her mom was stubborn as a bull. Melody had, in the past, tried a few of the tactics she witnessed her play mates make to sway their parents and it had not ended well for Melody. When Mrs. Pinter put her foot down, it was a Looney Tunes “That’s All Folks!” kind of thing.
The short reign of Becky Wheatly and Melody Pinter as best friends had come to a swift finale, just 2 and a half short years. They met in kindergarten and became fast friends. They played together almost all day every Saturday and in the Summer they were together daily. For hours they explored the deep woods behind the high school playing Swiss Family Robinson, they dragged buckets of crawfish from the creek near the cemetery that stunk up the garage, and they played house mostly at Melody’s because Mrs. Pinter hadn’t met Becky’s parents. Why couldn’t Becky just play at her house? But no she had to suggest to Mrs. Pinter that she meet her big brothers instead. Besides they were the ones who were home most of the time anyway. Melody had never heard about or seen Becky’s parents and Becky only talked about her big brothers. That was the meeting marked the beginning of the end. The last time Melody played at Becky’s. And the last time Becky was allowed in Melody’s house.
After the said meeting, her mother’s rampage had been seismically proportional to the end of the world. Only this time, Melody was happy that her mother’s rage was not directed at her. “Who the hell do those poor, bunch a good for nothin, low down, triflin bunch a nothin’sthink they are? Gonna have the nerve, the gaul, the audacity to open they not past a 3rd grade education, West Virginia hillbilly, trailer park, feeding Mountain Dew soda pop to newborn babies mouths to say my baby can’t play with their little beat up sister in they little, dirty, stankin beat up house? Just because you black? Paleeaze!” Mrs. Pinter paused the rant to catch her breath. She didn’t rinse the dishes before putting them in the dish washer. This was a no no. But Melody thought better of reminding her mother who glared at her like she had, “You betta not go back over there. They should be honored to have a Pinter grace that muck they call a house. You betta not go back over there. You hear me?” She didn’t give Melody time to answer. “Hell will freeze over and heaven will be one big burning bush before you EVER take yo black self over to they dirty white house! You hear me? Answer me when I am talking to you young lady.” Melody obeyed, “Yes, Ma’a-” She didn’t wait for Melody to finish, “I didn’t come all the way to NJ from the red dirt,stinking outhouse, backward, bloody handed cotton picking country for this. No sireee! And where are her parents anyway? Them boys couldn’t put together a sentence if their lives depended on it.” She wanted to tell her mother that their house was pretty clean except for that flea infestation. But she wasn’t supposed to be there when no one was home in the first place. Melody had been there when Becky was home alone a few times. She wasn’t sure what their being white had to do with anything but that was the cat’s fleas not theirs. Melody thought the flea thing, besides the red itchy bumps all over Becky, was pretty cool. The big plastic tent that was over their entire 4 bedroom Rancher house for a day looked like a super special flying saucer.
Melody cleared the table but opted to pass the dinner dishes to her mom across the white island countertop that separated them instead of walking directly into the kitchen. It was usually Melody’s chore to do the dinner dishes but she didn’t say a peep. She thought she could probably leave and go upstairs to her room and her mom would be none the wiser.
“Humph! They got some nerve! Listening to the one who got all the money, all the power and control and too dumb to realize they are pawns of their own white stupidity. I know that kind. I grew up wit that kind. Keep them dumb and poor quicker than me. Dumb is the real definition of a nigga, not black my dear. Dumb and white is worse than dumb and any kind of black in my book. Because the white man gets them to think that they better than me or you, just because they white? Paleaeze! They relax into their limitation. Lazy. Our limitations are imposed.” She mindlessly slung Melody a soaking, soapy dishcloth and without skipping a beat continued, “Systematic sins against humanity. They ain’t got no damn excuse as far as I’m concerned. No excuse! You better not go over there! You hear me? You better not! And she bette not step her licey head in my house again.” Melody wanted to ask what systematic meant and a whole bunch of words but once she opened her mouth only,“Okay mommy” came out.
Melody quietly wiped the table down and passed the rag back to her mother. Melody also wanted to tell her that the lice thing was fixed in Becky’s hair and that she had fixed it herself with some V05. Even though she was scared to spook her mom with words and even though her heart raced a little each time her mother moved somehow this tirade made Melody feel close to her mom.
After dinner they even drove to Sunnyside Farms for homemade ice cream. Mrs. Pinter got her favorite, butter pecan. Her mother always ate butter pecan when she was upset. Well, she ate it when she was happy too but she ate a little more when she was upset. Melody even got to get a cone and whole container of her favorite, rainbow sherbet to take home for later. She was planning to hide it in the freezer behind liver or something so her brother wouldn’t see it.
Melody had forgotten about the Becky pact her mother instituted by the time their red and brown station wagon pulled up the driveway. Becky was sitting on the red bench on the front porch. Melody jumped out of the car and ran to greet Becky. “Want some Sherbet?”
“Sure! Hey Mrs. Pinter!”
“Hay?” Mrs. Pinter said in her teacher voice. Melody wanted to whisper to Becky, hay is for horses but picked a red berry off the bush and squashed it in between her fingers instead. Mrs. Pinter didn’t smile but addressed her politely, “Hello Becky. Does your family know you are here?” Becky dug her hands deep into her pockets and looked down. “They aren’t, like, um home.” Mrs. Pinter towered over them and reality bore down on the two girls like the sun had moved just above their heads to incinerate them to smithereens. They were done. There friendship cooked.
“Well I don’t want you disobeying your parents.” Mrs. Pinter looked at Becky then at Melody. It seemed like she was going to say something but instead said, “Melody 10 minutes. Then you have to practice the piano. You have things to do. An idol mind is the devils playground.” The screen door screeched and the iron knocker to the door made a loud singular BANG. Mrs. Pinter was gone. But somehow she wasn’t.
The two stood across from each other and said nothing for a while. Melody looked at the sherbet stain on her shirt and hoped it would come out in the wash. It was her favorite. A pink t-shirt with a roller-skate and shoe strings hanging that you could actually tie. Becky dug deeper into her pockets and smiled. “I know I know!” Melody looked at the front door, then at the knife.
“What the heck is that for, Girl Scouts?”
“I figured out how we can still be friends!”
The door opened. Mrs. Pinter nodded for Melody to come to the door. Becky quickly shoved the knife back in her pocket. Melody opened the screen door and Mrs. Pinter handed her two bowls of sherbet. Through the screen her mother said, “After you finish you are going to have to use your words and tell your friends you have things to do.”
“Yes mommy.” Melody smiled. “Thank’s, I mean thank you Mrs. P.” Becky said. There was still hope.
The girls slurped and gobbled in silence. Their good times were being threatened by the grown ups. Melody swirled the remaining colors of the melting sherbet together with her spoon. She put the bowl to her mouth and drank the rest. Becky licked any remaining sticky drippings from her hands, wiped them on her shirt and brandished her pocket knife. “Look it.” Becky opened the blade and placed the pointy head of the knife into her tender skin.
“That your girl scout knife?”
“Yup!” Becky’s tongue always protruded out of one side of her mouth when she was concentrating. She gently pushed the sharp blade into her forearm. A bright red stream of blood stained Becky’s freckly arm. She looked up at Melody and winked. Melody wrinkled her forehead. She could hear her mother in her head, you keep making that face it will stay that way. But she couldn’t help it. Becky took the tip of the blade and lifted the thin layer of her skin that protected her muscles and blood vessels. “Ewww. Don’t that hurt?” Melody screamed.
“A little. But its worth it.”
“What do you see?”
“No silly after that.”
“Skin. Ew. It looks like meat. Like chicken.”
“Now you go.” Becky passed the knife to Melody but Melody let go of the knife and it fell on the ground.
“Nuh uh! I can’t have no marks on my body unless my mommy puts them their. And besides. Why?”
“Cuz underneath we the same silly. You not black.”
“Nope! You just got a tan is all! You not black and I’m not white. We like are like, chicken! We can play together. Here I’ll do you so you can see.” Melody jumped back.
“That’s gonna hurt.”
Becky picked up the knife and wiped her blood on her jeans. “You wanna be friends or not? Just trust me.” Melody looked at the front door. There were no signs of life.
“Okay. But after I gotta practice the piano.” Melody extended her left arm.
“No the other arm so we can be twins.” Becky was concentrating. “Gotta not cut too deep.” She placed the blade flat against Melody’s forearm. The sun caught a glimmer on the silver that reflected a gleaming light from the knife. “One, two, three.” She cut into Melody’s skin. Melody barely flinched. Her lips disappeared and her teeth bore into them. But the lifting of Melody’s top layer of skin was a different story. They both looked at the blood pouring from Melody’s arm. “Why is mine bleeding more?”
Becky shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe black people got more blood. What do you see?”
“I thought I wasn’t black?”
“You know what I mean. What do you see?”
“Blood. Okay blood and skin.” A broad smile took over Becky’s face.
“And! What color is it?”
“The meat? Ohhh! It looks like chicken too! Squawk!”
“See? I told you! Now we can be friends! You not black I’m not white! Underneath we the same!”
“Wow!!! The chicken sisterhood!”
“Best buds forever! Squawk!”
The two friends from Kindergarten danced and jumped around the porch. They made a song of the words. You’re not black, I’m not white. Deep inside we are the same. They danced and chased each other around the porch screaming, “We’re the same! We’re the same!” Becky stopped. “Lets seal it with blood!”
“Okay! Blood sisters!”
“Yeah that’s even better than best friends Melly!”
“Yeah and you got freckles. They the same color as me!”
“Yeah! God just didn’t finish coloring me in!” Brown arm and freckly peach arm merged into one bloody mess. They sealed their friendship with blood. A few minutes later. Melody was passed out on the front lawn and Becky was meekly but urgently banging on the front door.
MATTILYN ROCHESTER's most recent performance was at the Catalina Jazz club. She has performed literally all over the world: throughout the US, Asia and Africa. This excerpt is a work in progress of her memoir and solo show, now entitled, “The Long Goodbye” a mother who can’t remember and a daughter who can’t forget.