The only other time her mother acts like this is when Daddy’s away and three women come over to play bridge. Then, from her bed, the child can hear the ladies jabbering and cackling like strange jungle birds.
Usually, her mother is reserved and distant, unless it’s to tell somebody to dry the dishes or go play outside.
Now, here in Grandma’s living room, her mother and some of her mom’s old childhood friends aren’t playing cards, but they may as well be, the way their laughter ricochets off the wallpaper.
Grandma’s living room is gloomy, even on this sultry summer evening. Dark wood furniture, a giant fern shedding dead leaves onto the scratchy sofa, and yellowed drapes smelling of attic press in on her.
Observing her mother chatter and giggle is like watching a snake play the xylophone. Mesmerizing and menacing.
A surge of laughter pierces the air, startling the girl. They’re looking expectantly at her.
“Are you ready for school?” the grinning woman with pointy shoes is asking.
The question is an impossible riddle. When you’re six, there’s nothing to do to get ready. You just wait for September, wait at the bus stop, wait for the bell to ring and so on.
The woman’s Avon grin wilts. The air thickens, shrinks, hurts. Shrill laughter explodes around the girl.
“Shut up!” She knows she said it because her cheek stings where Mommy’s hand landed.
Deeply embarrassed and grateful to be released, she obeys her mother.
Lying awake in Grandma’s spare bedroom, she hears their noises slither up the stairway and under the door. She was as astonished as everyone else was when those words erupted from her without forethought or warning. She’s awed at the impact her words had.
She’s afraid, but it’s not the dark that scares her.