“Bar, go on down to Bo’s and grab some milk,” I hear daddy yell from inside the house, “Tell Bo to put it on our tab.” I know we got milk already, but I better keep my mouth shut.
“Alright daddy, I’m going…” I throw the rocks down that I was playing marbles with and look back at the house. Daddy’s already taking off his suspenders, so I best be gone at least an hour. I’m careful not to look back. I did that once and saw her looking back through the window. I froze right where I was. I almost ran back for Peach, but I knew I’d make it worse, so I kept on walking. There was one time I didn’t leave right when he asked me to. His eyes stared me down so bad I almost peed on myself. But, I decided for my mama I was gonna take Peach with me. I walked right up to the door and looked him in his face. I could barely get my words out. I asked him to let her walk to the store with me just this one time. He reached his hand back so far I could hardly hear for the next three days, he hit me so hard across my face. After that, I just keep walking and I never look back. Anyways, I don’t think she looks out the window anymore.
Things change after your mama dies. First everyone feels sorry for you and brings you food for days. Even daddy wasn’t too bad for awhile. He came home quiet. There wasn’t any fussing and hollering. Me and Peach stayed out his way though, just waiting for things to get back to the same. That was two years ago. I was eight then. My mama would be proud of me for helping keep things quiet around the house. But, Peach is the one that keeps daddy from coming undone and that ain’t an easy thing to do.
“Hey Missy, you sho’ is getting big. How your daddy doin’? How’s Peach?” Ms. Irene asks as I walk toward her place. If I could figure a way to Bo’s without passing Ms. Irene’s that’d be just fine. She’s nice and everything. But, I know she really don’t like us. She knew my mama though and she’s just as nosy as they come.
“We all just fine Ms. Irene,” I shout knowing she got more to say.
“Who the hell you yelling at?” Ms. Irene barks. I shrug my shoulders.
“Well? And where you going so late in the evening? You ain’t but an itty bitty thang. You need to put some meat on them bones before the next twister blows you right on away from here!” I find it funny Ms. Irene is talking about me when I can wrap my hand around both her boney wrists.
“And you just as black as they come. Thank God for Peach.” I just nod my head, careful not to linger too long. I like that word “linger.” The last time I lingered, I ended up wanting to stay right where I was and not make my way back home.
“Bar, where’d you say you was going?” Ms. Irene asks me again.
“I didn’t,” I whisper.
“Excuse me little girl?”
To get milk for daddy,” I say just as miserable as I can without disrespecting Ms. Irene. She looks at me cross ways like there’s something she wants to say. She don’t say it though.
“Here child, take this with you,” she hands me what I’m guessing is cornbread and some slices of meat. It’s wrapped in newspaper and I know better than to ask what it is. “Thank you Ms. Irene. You don’t have to—“
“Hush up! I know I ain’t got to do nothing, but you best take it and get! And don’t give none to that daddy of yours. It’s for you…and for Peach.”
Ms. Irene don’t say too much else, but I catch her shaking her head and I hear her whisper something under her breath about the devil and my daddy.
I finally get to the store, hoping I can get Bo to let me put some licorice sticks on our tab. Sometimes he’ll even let me have two. He knows I like to take one back for Peach. I heard Bo was my mama’s sweetheart a long time ago, but I can’t quite imagine that. He’s always been extra nice to me and Peach. That don’t make my daddy feel too settled for some reason. But it ain’t like he’s settled much anyway.
“How you doing darling? What you needing today?” Bo’s smile reminds me of something I can’t quite put my fingers on, but I sure do enjoy it. Smiling ain’t really something I see too much around my place.
“I’m fine Bo, my daddy wants a bottle of milk,” I say as I ease myself around the barrels filled with corn and flour, making my way to the licorice sticks. Bo keeps the candy in tall glass jars in the back of the store perched up high on a shelf. I always have to hint to him that I want a piece before he brings it down for me.
“Is that right,” Bo says, “Your daddy needs some milk?” He asks me as if he didn’t hear me correct the first time.
“Yes sir. Bo why you keep the licorice so high up?” I notice that Bo refilled the licorice jar since I was here last. He’s sure to give me a few pieces to take with me.
“Where’s Peach?” Bo asks.
“Peach is at the house,” I say. “She’s with my daddy,” I say that part as fast as I can get the words out. I catch his eyes and they start to look out the store window like he can see something nobody else can. Peach sometimes does that. Mostly when daddy ain’t around.
“I thought Jimmy was going down to work the railroad,” Bo says. Even though I can hear Bo asking me about daddy and the railroad, all I can think about is how I don’t like the sound Bo’s boots make on these floors. It sounds like a tap on the door when somebody wants you to know they’re coming in the room. He walks toward me slowly like he’s thinking about something too. He looks like he just tasted something sour.
“Milk…” Bo says to himself and then he makes a noise with his mouth like somebody just cut him down or something. I wonder if I said something to hurt Bo’s feelings. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked about the licorice.
“What about the milk I sent with you on Wednesday?” Bo asks me, his eyes all of a sudden getting bigger. He’s so close to me now that I almost want to run out of the store. He’s wringing his hands and I almost think I see a tear in the corner of his eye. I don’t want to lie to Bo.
“Peach made some biscuits that night and then yesterday we had dumplings with dinner,” I say looking down at my feet, all dirty from being outside in the dirt all day. My mama would whip my hide if she knew I came in Bo’s store barefoot tracking dirt on his nice wood floors. He built the store with his uncle she told me once. She thought his store was the finest thing she’d ever seen. She said it just like that too. He even made the shelves she told me. Even though I was a kid then and she used the word “finest,” I didn’t like to hear her talk about Bo.
“Umm hmm. Biscuits? Tell your daddy that this is it for this week. Tell him I said not to send you back.” Bo’s light yellow face turns red and I hear him curse under his breath. “He send anything for his tab?” Bo asks in a softer voice, knowing I’m starting to feel uneasy.
“No sir,” I almost whisper, knowing I best not mention licorice now. Bo goes for the bottle of milk and I try really hard not to look at the full jar of licorice. Peach would feel better with me bringing her some licorice. Peach loves licorice probably more than I do. I only love it because she does. And it makes her smile and anything to make her smile… If only that jar wasn’t high up on that shelf, I would get that licorice for my Peach. Mama used to call her “My Peach.” Mama would beat me good if she’d ever thought I’d steal anything, especially from Bo, but she ain’t here.
“Barbara, here’s the milk and here’s a note for your sister,” Bo says and hands me the milk with an envelope. Nobody but my mama called me Barbara. She said my name came from someone special to her, but she never told me who it was. I hold the envelope in my hand, shifting Ms. Irene’s meat in my arms. The envelope feels wet. I can make out “For Peach” written across the front of it in real nice handwriting. Maybe I’ll scratch it out and write “For My Peach.” She’d like that.
“Bo you went to school didn’t ya?” I ask him.
“I surely did,” he smiles again and I see something in him that reminds me to get on home to Peach.
“Well I best not linger. Thank you Bo,” I say feeling real sad for some reason. I’m not looking forward to going back, but I know I ain’t got a choice. I look back down at my feet wondering if daddy might be able to get me some shoes in time for winter. It sure would be nice to come in Bo’s store with shoes on next time.
“Where you going so fast gal?” Bo asks me laughing right as I get to the door. Before I can turn around, Bo is handing me a bundle of licorice. “For you … and for Peach,” he says real low.
“Bo, Peach is going to be real happy for this licorice. It’s her favorite,” I say in my happiest voice. I usually save that happy for Peach.
“You know something,” Bo says, “Licorice was your mama’s favorite too. I always saved up my pennies so I could buy her some. When she had that licorice, she smiled like somebody had just given her a bag of gold,” he chuckles. Something makes me want to cry, but I don’t.
“Peach smiles like that too,” I say standing in the door waiting for his goodbye so I can run on home and give Peach her licorice. Bo’s yellow face turns red again and I know something ain’t quite right with him. I sure hope daddy doesn’t send me back no time soon.
“Well go on then before it gets dark and make sure you take that note to Peach,” Bo says with firmness.
“Yes sir,” I say and close the door behind me. I don’t know why, but I turn back and there Bo is, standing in the doorway looking out after me as I walk away like he forgot to tell me something. I stand there a minute wondering if I should run back to the store, but running back always gets me in trouble so I keep on walking. Peach is probably waiting on me anyhow.
As I walk past Ms. Irene’s house, I’m glad she’s not outside. She’s probably eating her dinner, so I slow my pace knowing that I don’t have to rush past her house. “I’m almost there Peach.” The sun isn’t quite setting yet as I see my house approaching. You wouldn’t know that our house used to be white. It’s gray now, almost brown since mama passed. It’s like the sun stopped shining on it.