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Hen’s Teeth (excerpt)

My mother is not a liar but sometimes I wish that she could be. At school I tell a lie or two ocassionally because it changes how the girls feel about me, what they think. I don’t tell bad lies, you know, brag about things I don’t have and will never get. Or invent stories about special places I’ve been. But I will tell a good lie, and mostly they are about my father. I’m thirteen and I don’t know my father. How could I after only meeting him once? To the girls at school, he works very hard. Every nice thing I wear he bought. Every funny joke I overhear from David Letterman he told me. He moved away from Arkansas to Louisiana because he found a better job down there. All lies except for the bit about Louisiana. When I begged Momma to tell me something about my daddy she said, “He’s in Louisiana.”

“That’s all? You don’t know any more than that?” I said, regretting my tone.

“You want me to lie? That’s all I know, Mavis.”

That was over a year ago and I haven’t brought him up since. Right now while we braid the jump ropes so we don’t have to waste so much time untangling them tomorrow, Danielle says she’s got to hurry up because her daddy’s grilling tonight and he lets her light the charcoal. No time to make up a meal prepared by my invisible dad. One of the girls says it’s five after seven. And, I’m late.

I was out of breath from trying to beat the sun going down, and on top of that, the screen door slammed behind me after I ran through our front door. Momma was in front of the stove frying hamburger patties. I gave a cheerful “Hi, Momma,” to disguise my guilt. If I was grounded I promised myself never to speak to Tamara Green anymore. She just had to show off her crisscrosses when we jumped double-dutch. Since she did the crisscrosses, when it came my turn I had to do the roller derby. The roller derby is when you jump sideways and kick your legs out one at time. If you do it right, it kind of looks like you’re roller-skating. Well, when I did the roller derby all the girls gave me my props and I showed Tamara who the real double-dutch queen is. But then, everybody wanted me to teach them how to do it and before I knew anything it was five after seven and Danielle was talking about her father grilling their supper. I’m supposed to be home at seven o’clock. “And home means inside the house, not on your way,” Momma would say in her most serious voice.

“You have a nice day, Momma?”

“My day was fine, Miss Seven Nineteen.” She rolled her eyes at the clock on the wall. “Any money you earn this summer from babysitting or lawnmowing you be sure to buy yourself a new watch since the one you got don’t seem to work. French fries in the oven. Wash your hands and take the paper plates down. You’re going to Louisiana to stay with your daddy this summer. For once, somebody else can put up with you breaking the rules.”

I was on tippytoe, reaching for the paper plates and full of so many questions I didn’t know where to start. Momma didn’t exactly seem like she was in the answering mood so I kept it short. “When am I leaving?”

My last day in Hot Springs Momma and me went shopping. I had never owned a robe before and questioned why I needed one now, especially since I was going to Louisiana where the summer heat would beat Arkansas’s. Momma said young ladies couldn’t walk around menfolk in just their nightgowns. She bought me slippers and a new sundress in case my father took me someplace special. She doubted he would but wanted me to be prepared to prove what nobody questioned anyway—that she was the responsible parent. When we pulled into the parking lot of Kroger I begged to stay in the car. Grocery shopping with her was a drag since she took everything out of the cart that I put in, saying, “That ain’t good for you” or “You eat too much junk.” But she insisted I go in.

Side-by-side we stood in an aisle facing shelves of feminine products. She asked me which of the sanitary napkins I thought I’d like.

“I don’t get a period yet,” I reminded her.

“But you might start this summer. Just in case, pick one.”

I rolled my eyes at her. As usual, I felt she wasn’t telling me something.

“I don’t know which ones to choose.”

“Choose the ones you think might be comfortable. They all the same.”

“Well, then these, I guess.”

I pulled the same box of Stayfree I knew were at home in our bathroom. Before we left the store I asked Momma if I could also buy a new notebook. I kept a journal about humdrum life in Hot Springs so I would definitely need one for the adventures with my daddy.

{To read the rest of this piece, please purchase Issue 39.1.}


LaShonda Katrice Barnett is the author of the story collection, Callaloo, and editor of I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters On Their Craft. She is a past fellow of the Sewanee Writers Conference and Provincetown Fine Arts Center. She teaches writing at Brown University.