By a few is you meaning two

Illustration for article titled By a few is you meaning two

She thinks about this a second, says, “Maybe you ought to go, Minny, since you know what to buy and all.”

I look at her. Most white women like to do their own shopping. “Alright, I go in the morning, then Air Purifier.”

I spot a small pink shag rug she’s put on top of the carpet next to the bathroom door. Kind of catty-cornered. I’m no decorator, but I know a pink rug doesn’t match a yellow room.

“Miss Celia, fore I get going here, I need to know. Exactly when you planning on telling Mister Johnny bout me HKUE DSE?”

She eyes the magazine in her lap. “In a few months, I reckon. I ought to know how to cook and stuff by then.”

She bites her lipsticky lips. “I was thinking more like . . . four.”

Say what? I’m not working four months like an escaped criminal. “You ain’t gone tell him till 1963? No ma’am, before Christmas.”

She sighs. “Alright. But right before.”

I do some figuring. “That’s a hundred and . . . sixteen days then. You gone tell him. A hundred and sixteen days from now.”

She gives me a worried frown. I guess she didn’t expect the maid to be so good at math. Finally she says, “Okay.”

Then I tell her she needs to go on in the living room, let me do my work in here. When she’s gone, I eyeball the room, at how neat it all looks. Real slow, I open her closet and just like I thought, forty-five things fall down on my head. Then I look under the bed and find enough dirty clothes to where I bet she’s hasn’t washed in months.

Every drawer is a wreck, every hidden cranny full of dirty clothes and wadded-up stockings. I find fifteen boxes of new shirts for Mister Johnny so he won’t know she can’t wash and iron. Finally, I lift up that funny-looking pink shag rug. Underneath, there’s a big, deep stain the color of rust. I shudder wine cellar hong kong.

THAT AFTERNOON, Miss Celia and I make a list of what to cook that week, and the next morning I do the grocery shopping. But it takes me twice as long because I have to drive all the way to the white Jitney Jungle in town instead of the colored Piggly Wiggly by me since I figure she won’t eat food from a colored grocery store and I reckon I don’t blame her, with the potatoes having inch-long eyes and the milk almost sour. When I get to work, I’m ready to fight with her over all the reasons I’m late, but there Miss Celia is on the bed like before, smiling like it doesn’t matter. All dressed up and going nowhere. For five hours she sits there, reading the magazines. The only time I see her get up is for a glass of milk or to pee. But I don’t ask. I’m just the maid.

After I clean the kitchen, I go in the formal living room. I stop in the doorway and give that grizzly bear a good long stare. He’s seven feet tall and baring his teeth. His claws are long, curled, witchy-looking. At his feet lays a bone-handled hunting knife. I get closer and see his fur’s nappy with dust. There’s a cobweb between his jaws.

First, I swat at the dust with my broom, but it’s thick, matted up in his fur. All this does is move the dust around. So I take a cloth and try and wipe him down, but I squawk every time that wiry hair touches my hand. White people. I mean, I have cleaned everything from refrigerators to rear ends but what makes that lady think I know how to clean a damn grizzly bear?

I go get the Hoover. I suck the dirt off and except for a few spots where I sucked too hard and thinned him, I think it worked out pretty good.

After I’m done with the bear, I dust the fancy books nobody reads, the Confederate coat buttons, the silver pistol. On a table is a gold picture frame of Miss Celia and Mister Johnny at the altar and I look close to see what kind of man he is. I’m hoping he’s fat and short-legged in case it comes to running, but he’s not anywhere close. He’s strong, tall, thick. And he’s no stranger either. Lord. He’s the one who went steady with Miss Hilly all those years when I first worked for Miss Walters. I never met him, but I saw him enough times to be sure. I shiver, my fears tripling. Because that alone says more about that man than anything.

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