Flowers Out of Bone
by Ethel Morgan Smith
I love wearing Big Mama’s pearls. I run my finger around the rough edge of the faded beads hanging around my mint-colored silk blouse. I should’ve dressed more causal. Don’t they want to see the life I’ve built for Emma and me? How we live? It’s not like I’ve asked them to come across country, only get in a car and five maybe four or five hours. I would even have a driver to pick them up.
In 1942, Big Mama put the pearls on layaway at Grant’s Department store and paid two dollars a month on them for three years. Old Man Grant let the church ladies use layaway but wouldn’t extend credit or let them try on clothes in the store. He said it would insult the white ladies. To protect the beads, I had them restrung. The jeweler told me I was paying more for the restringing than they were worth. I told him I didn’t think so. My diamond studded earrings and a Timex watch are the only other jewelry I wear. Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel reminds me that I should‘ve gotten a manicure. My ashy hands are cold and rough.
I shift my focus onto the gray highway and remember that I have to deal with Beauty. I was surprised when Ruby called to say that Beauty wasn’t feeling well. When I asked what was wrong, she said nothing in particular, but she seemed to be aging quicker than normal. I’m not sure what that means. I asked her if that was what her doctor said, she snapped, no. “I’m the one who spend everyday with her. I can see.” Ruby can be such a drama queen; maybe it’s her way of getting me to come home. Why hadn’t they just asked me to come home? After about five years of not visiting my family, they started asking me when was I coming home. I said I couldn’t. No one said a word after that; they would continue the conversation by telling me what they were cooking for supper. When they continued to whine about me coming home, I told them not ask me anymore unless they were willing to talk to me about Emmett. They never asked.
I hope my long absence will make it easier for us to get along. Before Big Mama died, it hadn’t mattered much whether we got along; Big Mama mothered everybody. Ruby and I hadn’t needed to call our mother anything other than her pretty name, Beauty.
To Be Continued