“Hi, sweetie.” Aunt Norma plants a big, wet kiss on my cheek. I try to squirm out of her embrace. I don’t know why, but she makes me nervous.
Others, especially when Mama takes me to the doctor, speak around me in hushed voices, whispering, “He’s mentally disabled,” and then talk to me very slow and loud. Maybe that MD thing is why I can’t understand why Aunt makes my stomach flip-flop.
I go out the back door, onto Aunt and Uncle’s patio. Their little dog, Cocoa, barks and run circles around my legs. Most dogs scare me, but not Cocoa. She listens when I talk. I like Cocoa and I know she likes me.
I walk over to Uncle Charlie, who is guarding the grill. He moves meat around with a long handled spatula. Soon, we’ll be eating my favorites: hot dogs and baked beans.
“Is it done? Is it done?” I ask Uncle.
“In a minute,” he laughs, waving me away with his spatula.
I flop down on a lawn chair; close enough to keep an eye on Uncle. I want to know the exact moment my hot dogs are done. Cocoa jumps into my lap.
Aunt Norma flits around like her parakeet. Mama calls him Nervous Norvus. She’s fussing over dishes and napkins and forks and stuff.
“Want some sweet tea?” she asks.
She hands me a tall glass. “Careful you don’t spill,” she cautions.
Aunt and Uncle’s neighbor, Mr. Barnes, comes out of his house. Mama waves at him. I do too.
“Sarah,” Aunt B says, “don’t do that.”
“Why not?” Mama asks.
“He’s a drunk,” Aunt Norma says, lifting her nose. “I don’t want him coming over here and ruining our cookout. Besides, Rick and Jane are coming over and what would they think?”
I look at Aunt Norma, and Mama and back at Mr. Barnes.
“He nice,” I say.
Aunt Norma snorts. “He drinks.”
“What that?” I ask Mama. “I drink.” I hold up my iced tea.
Mama looks at me, then her sister and sighs.
“It means he drinks stuff that makes him do strange things,” she explains.
I look at her, not understanding. Maybe it’s that MD stuff.
Mama shrugs. “It makes him … ummm ….
“It’s evil,” Aunt Norma snaps. “Bad. Sinful. You should stay away from him.”
Confusion assaults me as I try to figure out what is evil about drinking and Mr. Barnes. I think about how he talks to me — like a real friend. Not like he’s smart and I’m dumb. He talks to me in a normal voice, not hushed and awkward. He plays ball with me and even sneaks me peanut butter crackers — my favorite.
“How come he bad?” I feel like crying because I like Mr. Barnes.
Mama comes over and hugs me. I see sadness in her eyes. I don’t understand that either.
“We’ll talk later, son,” she whispers.
A car pulls into the drive.
“Rick and Jane are here,” Aunt Norma announces, hurrying over to greet them. She ushers them to the table. “We can get started now,” she says, smiling. “Rick, will you ask the Lord to bless the food?”
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