Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: Natalie Tiptoes
By Jan Ackerson
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Grandma Phyllis is older than Nana Dot, and she has a small brown mole near her lip that disturbs Natalie. She can’t find a way to talk to her grandma without seeing that mole, which looks like a cookie crumb that should be brushed away. And Grandma Phyllis’s perfume smells too strong, and she talks funny, with vowels drawn out like they’re melting. She’s from far away, says Natalie’s mother, from Louisiana, and even her mother’s voice takes on a hint of that slow and liquid speech when she speaks of her old home.
Also, Grandma Phyllis gives bad presents. When she came last winter, near Natalie’s birthday, she brought a baby doll with a frilly pink dress. Natalie stared at the doll and choked out a thank you, Grandma; but she was eight, far too old for a baby doll.
Now it is Easter, and Nana Dot has already brought a basket filled with chocolate bunnies and pretty pastel eggs with sugary shells. The basket sits enticingly on the coffee table; Natalie knows she mustn’t look inside until after church on Easter morning. She’s sure that Nana Dot has hidden something wonderful in the green plastic grass; last year there was a five dollar bill.
When Daddy opens the front door, holding Grandma Phyllis’s suitcase, Natalie remembers to be polite. She waits while her grandma slowly climbs the porch steps and drops her big purse just inside the door, then she lifts her cheek for Grandma’s kiss and hopes the mole doesn’t touch her.
Grandma Phyllis gives her coat to Daddy and sits on the sofa with an oof. Natalie’s mother settles in close and they talk and talk and talk. Natalie scratches her nose and wishes she could go get her potholder loom, but Daddy has already taken Grandma’s suitcase to her room, and it is off-limits for two long weeks. She sighs.
Grandma Phyllis stops talking and beckons to Natalie. “I just remembered I’ve got something for your Easter basket, sweetie,” she says. “Can you fetch my pocketbook? That’s a good girl.”
With a sliver of hope, Natalie lugs the heavy purse to her grandma and plops it in her lap. Grandma Phyllis rummages around, and finally produces a baggie of jelly beans—of icky, black jelly beans. Black ones are the worst, everyone knows that, and Natalie understands now that Grandma Phyllis is being mean. But her mother’s eyes are warning her of dire consequences, so Natalie mumbles thank you before dropping the bag of horrible candy beside her Easter basket.
Her mother nods. “Why, mama, that reminds me! I bought some Easter candy to put in that pretty cut glass candy dish. Just sit tight, and I’ll go get it.”
Natalie hears her mother opening kitchen cupboards and the sound of candy tumbling into the dish, and her mouth starts to water. She longs for a yellow jelly bean—her favorite—or a rare purple one, but when her mother sets the dish next to Grandma Phyllis, she waits politely for her grandma to take one first. To her astonishment, her grandma takes a whole handful, then picks out the black ones and drops them back into the dish. Grandma Phyllis hates the black ones, too. She gave me a bunch of picked out black jelly beans. She’s really mean. When Grandma Phyllis starts to talk again, Natalie digs around for three yellow jelly beans, ignoring her mother’s sideways glances.
Later that night, Natalie creeps upstairs from the basement to use the bathroom. She is very, very quiet; her mother has told her not to disturb Grandma Phyllis. At the entryway to the living room, she stops—a light is on, and her grandma is reading. She does not want to talk to mean Grandma Phyllis so she tiptoes toward the bathroom, when she sees Grandma’s hand move and she freezes in place. From that frozen position, Natalie is able to watch as Grandma Phyllis deliberately searches out a single black jelly bean in the candy dish. Grandma’s eyes close, and she pops the jelly bean into her mouth with a soft, contented mmmmm.
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