I hold on to the bars of our neighborís merry-go-round and swing my bare toes through the dirt path worn around the edge. I like to watch the dust poof. Up. Down. Around.
His. Hers. Theirs. I hear people whisper. My father isnít my real father. His other children have a different mother. I donít understand it all, except I know Iím somewhere in the middle, because he and my mother have their own children. Thatís why Iím staying at the neighbors. Mamma will call for me soon, Iím told, after she has her new baby--another one of theirs.
I grab my sides. Mamma says Iím making it up when I tell her my stomach hurts.
Sliding off the merry-go-round, I push the bars and run fast before I jump back on. I scoot to the middle and throw my head back. Spinning makes the achy feeling go away. I close my eyes and pretend we live in a big beautiful home, where we all have the same mother and father. Itís nice there. I donít feel...different.
As the merry-go-round slows down, I sit on the edge and watch the dust settle over my toes. A strong push with one foot and then the other swings me from side to side.
His children live with us. Not all at the same time. Only Pat is here now. She colors in my favorite book with me and helps me embroider the days of the week on tea towels. Her big tummy makes her walk funny. Sheís going away soon, but she wonít tell me where. Iím not supposed to ask questions, she says, but Iíve already guessed sheís having a baby, too. Her sister, Mary, comes over sometimes for the weekends. She smells like lilacs and lets me wear her jewelry and try on her party dresses and shoes. I pretend, but I wonder if Mamma would love me if I were really pretty, like Mary.
I link my arms through the bars and lean forward. The soft dust feels good on my feet.
I didnít like it when Patís brother, Ed, lived with us for a few weeks. He smelled like smoke and his hands shook. I stayed away from him after he tried to kiss me one night. He got into some kind of trouble later. I heard something about a stolen car and a bank. Mamma told Pat that she had baked his favorite cookies to take to him at the Monroe Correction Center. I heard itís a prison. I never told her he tried to kiss me.
My stomach hurts again. I jump off and push the merry-go-round faster. Safe in the middle once more, I close my eyes and pretend Mamma gives me hugs and kisses and says she loves me. I also pretend sheís baking cookies just for me. Chocolate chips are the best.
I hang my feet over the edge of the merry-go-round and drag them through the dirt as I slow down. My toes make wiggle patterns through the dust. Patís youngest brother, Bob, is Mammaís favorite. I heard her say so when she found out he was coming to live with us for good. I donít mind that he teases me, because heís smart and plays chess, and sometimes, heís even nice. He has the same first and middle name as my younger brother, so Mamma says weíll call them, Big Bob and Little Bob. Maybe if I was an older or younger boy and had a special nameÖ
I kick the dust into a big poof, just as our neighbor, Mrs. Laney, comes out to check on me. After lunch, my younger sisters threw crying fits, and my brother scribbled in my favorite coloring book. Mrs. Laney made them take naps. She must know how I feel, because she let me stay up and play outside by myself.
She looks happy. ďYou have a new baby brother,Ē she says, when she gets near. I grab my sides.
Kneeling down in front of me, her smile fades. She wipes a tear from my cheek and hands me a chocolate chip cookie. ďYou were a good helper with your brother and sisters today.Ē
ďI was?Ē I sniff.
ďYes, you were." Her voice is soft with understanding.
"Would you like me to push you?Ē she asks, when Iím done with my cookie. I nod and hang on to the bars at the edge of the merry-go-round. The middle is for pretend.
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