Later, as we roasted hot dogs on coat hangers over a fire pit, Ruth said hot dogs looked like what sheâd seen once between Nathan Shineâs legs when he ran out of the house butt naked, his wild-eyed mama chasing him with his daddyâs wide belt. I looked at the hot dog, put on some mustard and a little relish, and ate.
I thought about what Micah Shine had said, about not wanting to wind up hanging from a tree. When we got home I was going to tell him that he wouldnât have to worry about being burned to a crisp in Los Angeles, California, near Hollywood, where colored didnât have to sit in the back of the bus unless they wanted to.
The fireworks lit the night sky as we sat on a blanket in the sand and roasted marshmallows, brown, sticky, sweet.
The ocean breeze was cool and smelled of salt and seaweed. I turned to look at Mama and Aunt Olivia. They were alike but different, Olivia delicate, Rita sturdy, both quick to smile, quick to laugh.
Music played and I got up to dance under the moon.
Ruth said, âYou cainât dance. Itâs what everyone says about you, even Mama ân Daddy.â
âCan too.â I clapped my hands, keeping time, my head bobbing. Mama and Aunt Olivia, Gramma, and Uncle Bill looked at me and smiled. âSee,â I said.
âSee what?â Ruth rolled her eyes.
I snapped my fingers, âSee me dance.â I was free, at that moment, in that place.
That night, as I washed the sand and salt from my body in a tub filled with bubbles, thoughts made circles in my mind. Colored go to the back door. No colored allowed. Whites only. Nigger. Go to the back of the bus. Nigger. In Sulphur, it was the way we lived, the way it was.
The next day Mama and I sat in the backyard on the brick steps, under the shade of a tree. It was hot. She took my hand in hers and a summer breeze cooled us.
âWhy we gotta go back? I like it here.â I was looking for answers.
âDaddy ... our little house.â Her answers sounded like questions.
âDaddy would come, once we tell him bout it. He could get a job here. Daddy would wanna come. I know he would. Then he could buy us a big house and drive a fine car just like heâs always talkin bout.â She dropped my hand.
âItâs what we got.... Itâs what we got, Leah.â Nothing else was said.
All I could wonder was why any colored man or woman would ever go back to the South, below the Mason-Dixon line, after knowing what freedom felt like.
We ate lunch and drove to a movie theater where we saw Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire.
Driving downtown to Chinatown, Mama stared from the window in silence as Gramma and Olivia, Ruth and I chirped and chattered about diamonds being a girlâs best friend.
âSure wish I had some diamonds to call my best friend. A diamond necklace might keep me good company.â Gramma looked over at Olivia and smiled.
I said, âDiamonds cainât be your best friend.â
âAnd why is that, Leah Jean?â Gramma asked.
âCuz they cainât listen to your secrets.â
Aunt Olivia looked at the diamond ring on her finger and said, âYouâre right about that, Leah.â
Ruth said, âLeahâs my best friend ... and my sister. I listen to all her secrets.â
Olivia parked the car and looked over at Mama, and smiles came to their lips.
In the restaurant, I didnât know what I was supposed to do with the two wooden sticks they gave us with our food.
âTheyâre chopsticks,â Aunt Olivia said. She handled them like an expert, picking up rice that was covered with a salty brown liquid called soy sauce.
Mama, Ruth, and I tried but failed, and finally asked for forks. Gramma looked at the shrimp fried rice, shook her head, and jabbed a shrimp with the tip of the stick. Carefully she brought it to her mouth. Then she asked for a fork too. I broke open my fortune cookie. It said,
London Casey, Karolyn James