Authors: Virginia Hamilton
“Speaking of my sister.” Before she turned back to her work at the sink, Maylene fixed her eyes on Cammy.
Oh, boy, Cammy thought.
Maylene was lean, not too tall. She had a good shape, Andrew said. Cammy liked her legs best. They had a good shape, too.
“My sister called me about one Cammy,” Maylene said. Cammy knew right away that she’d better tell the truth because there was no telling what Aunt Effie had told. So she did tell it all the way it happened. By the time she finished she was crying. “She said mean things about Gram Tut,” Cammy managed. “I mean, Patty Ann did. And she’s just as crazy as she can be. Just upchucking every day! I hate all of them. I wish they’d all die.”
“Cammy. You should have sympathy for your cousin. She’s got real problems.”
“They better just shut about Gram Tut,” she said.
“Well, you could have been nicer to your cousin, Cam. And Effie did dry your clothes for you. But you had no business over there at the Care. You know they don’t allow you there without an adult. It’s not healthy, you hanging out at an old people’s home,” her mama said.
“Who says it’s not?” Andrew said, defending Cammy. “Effie, probably, right?” he said. “I swear, Mom, sometimes I don’t believe it’s you. Cammy likes visiting Gram Tut, what’s wrong with that? Don’t let Effie influence you,” he told Maylene.
“You know better than that,” Maylene said. “I’m talking to Cammy.”
“Yeah, well, Cammy’s okay. She’s the most sane kid I know. And sweet, and got her own mind, too. Don’t you take Aunt Effie’s side,” he told Maylene.
Cammy felt like she would burst with love for her big brother. She went over and stood in front of him. She had her arms folded across her chest. She never was sure how long he would be nice to her. She stood and looked at him. He reached for her, took the top of her head in his hand and spun her around. It was just the nicest thing!
“I’m a top!” she said. He kept spinning her and she started giggling like crazy.
Finally, when she was dizzy, she knew she’d had enough. She fell on the floor, set there, moaning softly, “My head, oooh, Andrew. You about killed my head!”
And then, she didn’t know why, but maybe she thought she was helping Andrew out of something. It just came to her and she told her mama.
“It wasn’t Andrew at all,” she began. “It was Richie with the bottles. Andrew wouldn’t have any.”
Her mother turned around from her work at the sink, as Andrew jumped to his feet.
“You stupid… !” Andrew began. He gritted his teeth and stood over his sister like he really was going to kill her.
“That’s enough,” Maylene said.
“I’ll never take you anyplace again,” Andrew said.
“Andrew,” Maylene said.
“Don’t talk to me. Don’t come near me!” Andrew said.
“Andrew?” Cammy pleaded. “I was just …”
“Drop dead!” he said to her. Made her cry all at once. She sobbed there with her head on her knees, couldn’t help it.
“That’s right,” Maylene said. “Defend a no-good and make your little sister cry.”
“Don’t talk about Richie!”
“I’ll talk about him, I’ll say the truth about him whenever I feel like it.” Maylene said. “You fool around with him long enough and you’ll end up just like him.”
“Oh, man, that’s just swell. I don’t care if I end up like Richie. He’s who he is. He doesn’t pretend anything else.”
“That’s dumb, Andrew. I thought you were more intelligent than that.”
“Well, I thought you at least would feel for someone who’s got problems,” Andrew said. “Where’s your sympathy for your fellow man?”
Maylene was silent a moment. Cammy looked up now and wiped her eyes. “Don’t fight,” she said, almost in a whisper. They heard her but they weren’t listening to her. Nobody ever did. “Wish I had my own radio,” she said, wistfully. Maylene stared at her for a long moment.
She looked back at Andrew. “I have sympathy and give it where it belongs. There comes a point when a kid can’t make excuses anymore.”
“Yeah,” Andrew said. “I’d say Aunt Effie is one good excuse.”
“Yeah?” Maylene said. “And what’s your excuse? If you’re not with Richie, you’re by yourself. You have an easy job through your dad that pays you more than you give.”
“You really hate Dad, don’t you?” Andrew said, softly.
“Oh, Andrew, I don’t hate him. I know him, is all. I’m talking about what you should be doing for yourself. About getting your life together and going to college.”
“Mom, I’m sixteen years old!”
“Sixteen, almost seventeen, graduating next year. With brains for college.”
“Oh, so now Dad should send me to college. You know you won’t give me any money for college.”
“Thank you. And you know I haven’t got anything extra from what I make.”
“Mom, not everybody has to go to college.”
“‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste,’” Cammy chanted. Nobody heard.
“I don’t want you to depend so on your father. He’s here today but he may disappear on you tomorrow.”
“That was you and him. That’s not me and him,” Andrew said.
Maylene looked down at the floor. Uneasily, she placed the flat of her hands on the side of the sink behind her.
“You guys stop it, please,” Cammy pleaded. “Mama?” Cammy came over and put her arms around her mama’s waist, her head on Maylene’s side. “Don’t fight, Mama.”
Maylene ran her hands through Cammy’s hair. “Am I your baby, too?” Cammy murmured.
But her mama stayed quiet, her mind on Andrew.
“Look, I don’t want any supper,” Andrew said. “I got to go for a while. I took the afternoon off from work and I got to make it up to Dad somehow.”
“Andrew, stay long enough to eat your supper,” Maylene said.
“I’m not hungry, really, Mom. I’ll eat later.”
“What’s the point of my cooking?” she asked him. But he was going. He left.
“What about me? I’m here,” Cammy said. “You have to cook for me, too.”
Maylene sighed. “I know, baby. Don’t you give me a hard time.”
“Well, you forget all about me for Andrew.”
“Cammy, you know that isn’t true.”
“You only worry about him.”
“Cammy, please shut it. You have some answering to do to Aunt Effie. You worry me when you run off and do as you please.”
“I didn’t run off,” she pleaded. “Mama, I just went to see my Gram.”
Maylene sighed. “I don’t know which is worst, having you roaming by yourself or having you stay with Andrew when he’s driving Richie.”
“I don’t like it too much when Richie’s with us,” Cammy said.
“Did you just go out to the plant; did Andrew really leave him there?”
“Yes. He tried to get Richie in the line but he wouldn’t go. Mama, there were oh, so many people—hundreds, Andrew said. Richie just laid down on the ground. And Andrew took his bottle away from him.”
“What’d Andrew do with it?”
“Put it back in the pup, I think,” Cammy said. “Mama? Andrew and me rode around. He didn’t have a drink or anything. He was nice to me. He gave me a whole candy bar. That was when Richie—Mama?”
“Why is it that my dad won’t live with us?”
“You know, Cammy. He and I are divorced. Do you miss not having a father?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Cammy said. “Not like I miss Gram Tut.” She squeezed her eyes shut tight but that didn’t stop the tears.
“Cammy. Cammy, don’t cry. Oh, you worry me so. Why can’t you just come home after day camp and stay out of trouble?”
“Because there’s nobody here!” she cried. “Andrew’s at work!”
“But only for a couple of hours after you get home,” Maylene said. “And you know how to come inside, fix yourself some peanut butter and just rest or watch TV.”
“It’s not the same,” Cammy sobbed. “Gram Tut always had something special. Cookies, or doughnuts!”
“You know it’s been years since she made stuff like that,” her mama said.
“No, it hasn’t been, either,” Cammy whined. “Gram watched for me to come home. She just couldn’t wait to see me and hug me, and feed me!”
Maylene held her daughter close. “Are you hungry, baby?”
“Yes! I’m starved.”
“Okay. I’m making lamb chops.”
“What else?” Cammy asked. She wiped her tears on her mama’s front.
“Let’s see. How about some fast baked potatoes in the microwave?”
“And brown ’em next to the lamb chops in the oven?” she knew the answer. “Andrew doesn’t like lamb chops,” Cammy said.
“Well, then, he can eat straw,” her mama said.
“Ooh-hoo!” Cammy hooted. “He’ll only eat chicken or spaghetti with meat sauce.”
“You sound just like him,” her mama said.
“Well, it’s true,” Cammy said.
“Well, can you imagine me cooking just chicken and spaghetti all week?”
“No,” Cammy said. “But I like them both.”
“Yes, but not all the time,” Maylene said. And sighed.
“I bet Andrew went to take food to Richie,” Cammy said. She did not tell her mama that after she went to work, Richie came over and had toast and coffee and slept on their couch most mornings. She swore to Andrew she wouldn’t tell.
“Do you have any idea how exhausted I am right now?” Maylene asked her daughter.
Cammy leaned back to get a good look at her mama. She searched Maylene’s face. There was her mama, as pretty as a picture. She wished she had eyes so big. Cammy had little eyes, just like her dad’s, Andrew said. She saw her dad rarely. And since he didn’t live in town, she didn’t have to think about him, most of the time. She didn’t see how anybody could leave somebody as pretty as her mama. Divorced.
She held her mama tight. Closed her eyes. Breathed in the familiar scent of her. All of a sudden, she just wanted to go to sleep right where she was. Take a good nap. What had her mama asked her? Exhausted?
“No,” Cammy said. “Uhn-uh.”
THE WAY ALL THE
kids said the name made it sound like “L-O-D.” Like, one, two, three, L-O-D. Cammy never knew to call her cousin anything but L-O-D, which, she found out in school, was spelled E-l-o-d-i-e, Elodie. She’d never stopped to think that cousin Elodie might have other names. Elodie was just Elodie, like Cammy was Cammy. That is, until a few months ago, when her mama said something about Elodie’s name being Eloise Odie.
“That is a-a-mazing!” Cammy said. “I never knew that.”
“You probably just forgot she carries her stepfather’s last name,” her mama said.
“I mean,” Cammy went on, “here’s somebody who’s always one thing, like L-O-D, and will be forever, you think. And then, she turns out to be L-O-Weez, for goodness sakes!”
Her mama told her, “When you all start in dating and stuff, I bet L-O-D will become Eloise and you will be Camilla.”
“Who’d want to call us those ugly names?” Cammy replied. “L-O-D is L-O-D, just like I am Cammy, and forever. When do we start in dating?”
Her mama laughed at that and said, “Oh, not for several years, at least.”
But you had to wonder about parents, sometimes, Cammy was thinking now. She and Elodie were on the bus to day camp.
“With all the names in the world,” she said to Elodie, “a kid’s mom and dad have to go come up with the worst.”
Elodie nodded. “A baby don’t have a thing to say about it, too,” she said.
“We are at their mercy,” Cammy added. “I’m glad I only have a mom to worry about.”
“That don’t matter,” Elodie told her. “You know where your dad is. You can see him if you want to. And you have all us cousins and aunts and uncles and stuff.”
Poor Elodie. She had to make sure Cammy and her family included her in as a relative. Well, she really was, Cammy thought, even though she was a third cousin. She had been adopted by second cousin Marie Lewis Odie when she was seven weeks old. Third cousins weren’t close in kinship, not like first cousins. But they were definitely in.
Wish Elodie could be as first as Patty Ann, thought Cammy. She’s more of a friend than
first cousin. Patty Ann was the only one of them with a decent name. All the girls thought Patricia Ann was a beautiful, rich-sounding name. It was so unfair!
Patty Ann sat up front next to this boy, Larry, but two seats behind Ms. Devine, the Crafts instructor. Ms. Devine sat behind Tim, the bus driver and camp helper. Cammy and Elodie sat five rows back on the right, where they could get a good view of Patty Ann’s long braid down her back, which she could sit on whenever she wanted to.
They looked on with their faces full of regret. But they pretended that Patty Ann in all her glory didn’t upset them.
Between them and Patty Ann and Larry and Ms. Devine were other boys and other girls. The bus was half the size of a regular school bus.
Cammy didn’t know why she was thinking about names. Really, most of the time every other morning on the way to day camp, she didn’t think about anything that could upset her. She would sit with Elodie and feel how wonderful was the morning in summer. It was swell to be up early and ready to begin all such grand things that were to happen. Such things came after Calisthenics and Crafts were over and after they’d gone for a walk, then rested about a half hour.
They would all load up again on the bus. They’d go to another part of the State Park, down dusty roads that were so hot, the air above them seemed to bend in the light. Mirages of water lay on the gravel roadbed. Everybody saw these pools of water that just faded once the bus got closer to them. Some kids said they saw Arab guys on horseback, whole caravans. And after they drove down the roads, they’d come upon the place.
It was a big, lone place in the sun and dust. Dark brown roofs, secretlike ways to the foot pool that had special water you walked through before entering the swimming pool. Shower stalls, lockers. Cool cement floors. Just wonderful. And last, the outdoor shower right before you hit the sun-hot concrete and jumped into this glorious, this sparkling pool, so big, it must’ve been built for giants, Cammy thought. Oh, it was just so great. They would even get swimming lessons from Miss Dayna, who looked like she just belonged in water. She was so bronze suntan, and oh, so long-legged and smooth in her swimsuit. But before this happened they’d eat their lunches after they’d changed into their bathing suits. And then they’d sing songs with Tim playing the guitar while their food rested up in their stomachs.