The Red Rose Box

The Red Rose Box by Brenda Woods Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Red Rose Box by Brenda Woods Read Free Book Online
Authors: Brenda Woods
want a real book like the ones at Aunt Olivia’s house, like the books in the library in Lake Charles.”
    My request was met with a smile and the next day he brought me, in his torn back pocket, a well-used copy of Tom Sawyer. That was how we came to have books of our own. I finished it in one week and after that, when he was home, he bought me a different torn, worn book. He said he bought them for three pennies each from a blind man who used to pass for white. Those books kept the ambition hovering around me. I learned many things from those frayed pages, and though the words rolling off my tongue still sounded Louisiana country, the words themselves started to change.

    Emma Snow, the girl with seven braids, taunted us after school the first day back. “Who you think you is just cuz you went somewhere on a train? Summer vacation in Hollywood. Your mama ain’t even got but one washtub and you’s still colored.” Three other girls who sat in the one-room schoolhouse with us sneered.
    One boy hurled mean words toward us and threw a rock that grazed my temple. “You ain’t no better than nobody else cuz you still gotta sit in the back of the bus just like the rest of us.”
    I hoped we weren’t going to have to fight.
    Ruth pulled one of Emma’s seven braids. “Pickaninny!”
    â€œI ain’t no pickaninny!” Emma balled up her fist.
    Ruth ducked and I grabbed her hand. We ran toward home. Fast, faster, faster.
    â€œChickens! ... Ragamuffins!” We heard them say.
    â€œDumbbells!” I screamed.
    We stopped running and Ruth said, “It’s cuz you talked about it too much during lunchtime. You made it sound like a fairy tale, like Cinderella. Now we ain’t got no friends at school. They gonna try and beat us up every day.”
    So I was to blame. “When you go somewhere nice you oughta be able to talk about it.”
    â€œNot if you got only one pair of shoes, Leah.”
    I looked down at my black patent leather shoes. Dust covered them. I reached down, took one off, shined it with my dress, put it back on, shined the other. I didn’t feel highfalutin, like I thought I was better. I just knew there were better things to come.
    Ruth made me promise never to talk about it again, even if our teacher, Mrs. Redcotton, asked. “Otherwise, we gonna have to fight someone every day.”
    I made a promise and kept it.
    By the end of the week we were welcomed back into our small circle of friends and on Friday after school, Ruth and I, Emma, Lester, and the three rust-colored girls walked to town. Emma Snow walked ahead of me with Ruth and I wanted to tell her about the dog whose name was Chili. I wanted to say to Lester, the boy with the orange kinky hair who’d thrown the rock, that there are places where women wear flowers in their hair and grass skirts. I wanted to tell the three rust-colored girls who’d sneered that one day I was going to make my mama and daddy proud. I wanted them to know that we had been to the Pacific Ocean, where there were no whites-only beaches. Instead I smiled and laughed. I never did like to fight.
    The seven of us walked through our small town and passed a dress shop that had a Whites Only sign. The others kept walking but I stopped to look at the cardboard sign and wondered what they had in that shop that was so special. The white lady who owned the shop, Miss Lucy Love, looked up from where she was sitting, resting her big feet, and yelled through the open screen door, “Get away from that window, gal! Didn’t your mama ’n daddy teach you nuthin! You kin read, cain’t you? Read the sign, gal! Whites only ... and you sure don’t look like no white gal to me.”
    I walked away slowly but I kept my head up. I wanted to tell her that God must have given her the wrong name, Miss Love.

    Summer turned into a cool fall and fall into a frosty winter.
    It was December, after Christmas,

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