Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Writing checks to my family felt cold and heartless at first, but I soon got used to it. Even the coldness of hard cash doesn’t weigh me down anymore. Plus they never send Emma or me anything, other than Christmas and birthday cards with a note on the inside of the card that always said, “Didn’t know what to get you since you have everything.”

            In spite of my success, I am still Gracie Mae from Bone, Alabama: dark-skinned, country, tall and quiet, smart but nice, and too serious for my own good. But nice, dark-skinned girls could never be pretty. Yet, away from Bone, I am stylish, sophisticated, and still smart. And no one thinks of me as being tall or quiet. I am 5’5” and have been since I was twelve years old. Some even call me beautiful. No one knows that after Emmett’s death I stopped talking to anybody except Emma. I’ve been afraid all of my life; I’ve never known another way to be in the world. My life is about to change again, and if I understand nothing else, I know I have to come home and begin where it all started.

            My green linen slacks feel clingy even through the lining. I tried to dress up some, which I hope will be one less issue with Beauty, who has some image of me wearing pressed hair, high heels and box-pleated skirts with silk blouses and expensive jewelry. If she or Ruby bothered to visit us, they’d know I wear casual clothes because my work entails picking up heavy containers and running around delivering flowers.

            For a long time I wore only red and black to rebel against being told that I was too dark-skinned to wear red; and folks only wore black to funerals. Maybe the funeral was mine, but like a perennial, I had come to life again. Not wearing high heels hadn’t bothered me, since tall girls weren’t supposed to wear high heels anyway. Why are there so many rules about clothing? And they are all about what I’m not supposed to do. The only things on the to-do list are pray, respect your elders, and keep your skirt down.

            When I started to work with flowers, I fell in love with pastels; and trusted them more than people. They could not cause pain; even when they died, they returned more beautiful than ever. Ruby thought I should dress sharper and shows some cleavage, which I don’t have, since I wear a size eight and had money. I spend less money on clothes than any of my friends, but none of them know. Dressing well with little money is one of the most valuable skills I’ve passed down to Emma, but she thinks I am just cheap.

To Be Continued