Fiction by Kristen Gentry
I don’t care about having to carry my candy in Mama’s pillowcase. Halloween is not about the bag you carry. It’s about your costume, but Mama and Aunty are in the living room fighting about the pillowcase anyway. I’m used to it. They always fighting. I’m thirsty, so I let them fight while I go get some Kool-Aid.
Like I said, Halloween is not about the bag; it’s about the costume and mine’s is real cute. Me and Aunty picked it out at Wal-Mart a couple weeks ago. She said she wanted to get my costume before everything was picked over. She said leave it up to my mama to get the costume and she’d send me out with a paper bag over my head with two circles over my eyes.
I’m a fairy princess with a pink, sparkly dress, shimmery wings, and a wand with a glittery star at the tip. My shoes are glittery, too, like Dorothy’s from the Wiz, but they pink, not red, so they match my dress. They click when I walk on the kitchen floor. I’m real careful drinking my Kool-Aid because Mama let me wear some of her lipstick. Real lipstick, not Chapstick or clear lip gloss, and I don’t want it to rub off on the cup. I hold the cup real close to my mouth and let the Kool-Aid fall in little red trickles. I’m real careful about that, too, because I don’t want none of my Kool-Aid to get on my dress. Aunty’s always telling me how red Kool-Aid just don’t want to come out of nothing once it gets on it.
I drink all of my Kool-Aid without spilling a drop and pour another cup. Mama makes it real good with a whole lot of sugar and lemon sometimes when she remembers. I’m about to tell Aunty to come on so we can go ahead and get started trick-or-treating, but I love the clickety-clickety sound my shoes make on the kitchen floor. It sounds just like when Mama wears heels when she’s all dressed up and pretty, so I feel pretty, too. I mean, I felt cute anyway because I had Mama’s lipstick and the dress, but the sound of the shoes on the floor just adds to it. I feel famous right down to my Barbie underwear and light pink tights, so I start tap dancing. I get into it and start jumping, kicking my feet out and making big circles with my arms like I seen some tap dancers do on TV. I forget I’m just in the kitchen until Aunty tells me to sit down and be quiet even though her and Mama are yelling over something crazy like a pillowcase.
I can’t even believe Maxine was about to send Angel out trick-or-treating with that tacky ass, leopard print pillowcase. Who does trifling shit like that? A fucking leopard print pillowcase. And a dirty one at that cause I know Maxine didn’t wash it. She ain’t been to the laundromat in God knows how long, and she ain’t been home long enough to hand wash it and let it dry. Ain’t nobody gonna care about how pretty Angel looks in her costume when she holds up that filthy thing, smelling all like hair grease and sweat. All people gonna be thinking about is grown people and all the nasty shit that Maxine done did on the sheets that go with the pillowcase, cause that’s all that jungle print shit is about—somebody getting fucked.
They gonna think about old played out ass Mr. Donahue always coming in our apartment, I’m not even gonna say like he owns the place cause he does, but like he lives here and pays the LGE and cable bills or something. Like he got the right to go up in the fridge and pour a cup of Kool-Aid like he did a couple days ago. Here, lately he’s been getting extra comfortable, coming over here taking his shoes off, watching TV, and playing Candy Land with Angel like we’re one big happy family. He needs to be home with his wife. I get sick of seeing him all the time, coming over here with fistfuls of old, melted pieces of candy and leftover fried chicken from Blue’s. He’s got all that property but he spends so much money chasing skirts that he’s got to get a part-time job at a restaurant with his crooked, perverted ass.
We don’t need his charity. Don’t nobody want to be eating chicken every day of the week, and besides, ain’t no telling where his hands and that candy have been. Soon as he slinks into Maxine’s room, I make Angel throw all those warped Tootsie Rolls and Now and Laters in the trash. Sometimes she’ll hide some pieces and I’ll have to take them from her. Lord, that girl got a sweet tooth. She don’t care about a block of Laffy Taffy being smashed and curled up like a raggedy shoe from being in a pocket all day. If she had the chance, she’d sit just as patiently and pick off every little piece of paper sugar-glued to each and every piece of candy. Tomorrow’s the first and I ain’t got one cent of Maxine’s half of the rent, so I know soon as Mr. Donahue throws his wife a couple funky breath kisses he’s gonna be creeping around here today with something else I’m gonna have to wrestle from Angel.
Everybody else doing everything for Angel—bringing candy, buying costumes, spending time—and all Maxine had to do was get a bag. She could’ve gone to the dollar store and got one of those little plastic pumpkins while she was out all night doing I already know what and God knows, too. But she couldn’t even do that. I’m not surprised. I’m not ever surprised.
Sandra got shit to holler about every damn day. I’m a grown ass woman and I don’t need it. She’s always talking about how I don’t do shit around here. Hell, if it wasn’t for me we would’ve been kicked out a long time ago. Mr. Donahue’s tired of hearing complaints from Mrs. Kramer downstairs about Sandra’s yelling. I calm him down and he helps me with some financial ends and lets us keep staying here. Sandra’s always looking at Mr. Donahue all cross-eyed, but he ain’t done nothing for her to look at him like that.
He ain’t nothing but a lonely old man who wants to be my sugar daddy. His kids are grown and moved away—I can’t remember to where—and don’t barely talk to him. They mad cause Mr. Donahue was cheating on his wife back in the day. I don’t know why. I’ve seen his wife before. She’s real pretty, but Mr. Donahue’s handsome to be in his fifties. Clear brown skin, wavy hair, bowlegged. I don’t know why most people do half the stuff they do, but I know most of the pretty men I’ve known don’t know how to sit down. Anyway, she don’t hardly pay him no attention, barely gives him any. I guess she still mad cause he cheated back then, which makes sense cause he’s still cheating, but I don’t know why she don’t just leave him. Maybe he said before but I don’t know. I be half-listening most of the time. I know he says he loves her, that he misses his kids. I don’t know how he plans on getting everything together laying up around me, but his business ain’t my business. I ain’t like Sandy. Always rummaging around in somebody else’s stuff. He brings me chicken and cheap perfume, and roses when he’s trying to be all romantic. He and I both know that ain’t even necessary. I prefer cash, and it’s hard trying to sell that funny smelling perfume. But he does it anyway, and I think it’s sweet. He’s good to Angel, too. Brings her candy, toys, and sometimes clothes. Hell, Angel’s daddy don’t do half that shit.
It don’t matter what the fuck I do in my room with my door shut or when I go out at night. Angel has a roof over her head, she always looks nice, and she has food to eat. Like I said, I’m grown, and the only mama I got died five years ago.
I don’t know why Sandra’s making such a big deal about it. Ain’t nothing wrong with that pillowcase. No, it’s not fresh-from-the dryer, spring clean, but it ain’t been dipped in shit and covered with roaches either. Sandra’s always blowing something out of proportion. Like how she’s saying I was gone all last week. Now, how I did I do Angel’s hair on Wednesday and make spaghetti on Saturday if I was gone all last week?
Sandra’s working my last good nerve. I wish Mr. Donahue would come on. I gotta get out of here tonight.
I’m not even thinking about asking Mama to go trick-or-treating again until I’m sitting and being quiet, looking out the window in the kitchen and I see Monet Stevens. When I asked Mama earlier, she said she was tired so I went on, but now Monet is walking up the sidewalk looking stupid, waving her hand like the Miss America she thinks she is for real. When I first saw her I wanted to yell “Psych!” out the window, but then I saw her mama.
Miss Stevens is standing in front of Monet, taking pictures like Monet is really somebody. I can’t even call Miss Stevens stupid cause she’s really nice. When it was Monet’s birthday, she came to class and brought pink cupcakes cause pink is Monet’s favorite color. She poured everybody cups of pink lemonade and sat in a little seat in the desk next to Monet. She stayed a long time and laughed and played games and paid attention when everybody was talking, even Stanley Bowers who’s always saying dumb stuff. For my birthday, Aunty threw me a party at home and bought me a Barbie cake, and I know she paid more for it than Miss Stevens paid for her homemade cupcakes cause I heard her fussing about the fifteen dollars that Mama never gave her for it, but that Barbie cake didn’t taste as good as those pink cupcakes.
Miss Stevens is pretty, too. Monet’s always talking about it. I tell her my mama’s pretty, too, but my mama ain’t never been to our school, and I don’t like Monet so she ain’t never been to my house so I can’t prove it. But I wanna show her today.
I run into the living room and Aunty is still yelling and cussing at Mama, first about Mama staying out all night and then about Mama eating the last piece of bologna and how come she had to go to Kroger and buy the bologna in the first place when Mama gets all those food stamps. Mama ignores her and holds her bologna sandwich in one hand. Her other hand is pointing all up in Aunty’s face while she’s telling her that she’s grown and she’ll do and eat whatever she G.D. pleases in her G.D. house.
I put my cup of Kool-Aid on the table and step in between them, feeling the thump from Mrs. Kramer’s broomstick under my glittery pink shoes, and I don’t care about staying out of grown folks’ business like Aunty tells me to or the stupid pillowcase or if I get any candy at all. Once I start thinking about it, I figure that Mama might really want to go trick-or-treating with us now since she’s up and eating and I heard Aunty talking on the phone to Miss Betty about how Mama’s always out tricking on the street and trying to get something for free, but, just in case, I tell Mama that she can have all of my Snickers bars if she comes with us. And then Mr. Donahue comes walking into the living room with a hot pink plastic pumpkin resting on a big pan of chicken covered in aluminum foil.
He didn’t even knock. That’s the shit I’m talking about. He owns this building, but he needs to respect our privacy. All Maxine cares about is getting her money, but I could have been walking around naked or something and, unlike her, I care about who sees what I got. Usually I would have said something smart, but he’s got the exact pumpkin that I wanted Maxine to get for Angel. I look at Maxine like, See? Even a low down, dirty adulterer knows that you don’t send a kid out with a leopard print pillowcase. I can’t stand him, but I’m not that rude so I thank him and tell Angel to come on.
I heard her ask Maxine to come with her, and I think it’s a damn shame that Angel has to beg her own Mama to go trick-or-treating with her, especially since Maxine’s not even tired from work or about to go to work. She’s just sitting up being trifling. It’s an even bigger shame that Angel feels like she has to offer up her candy bars so that Maxine will say yes. Because I know how much Angel loves sugar I know how much she wants Maxine to go, and I don’t want her to have to hear Maxine tell her no so I try to get her excited about Sweet Tarts and Starbursts so maybe she’ll forget about what she just asked Maxine, who’s already trying to push Mr. Donahue, big pan of chicken and all, into her room. But Angel don’t forget nothing. She won’t stop asking.
I’m getting ready to tell Angel that Mama has company, and me and Mr. Donahue have to talk, but he answers Angel before I can and tells her, “Why sure we’ll go trick-or-treating with you.” He puts his tray of chicken down on the coffee table and gives her the pink pumpkin basket. She reaches inside the pumpkin and smiles, pulling out a pair of big, red wax lips. She rips them open while Mr. Donahue digs into his pocket. He turns away from Angel, puts his hands to his mouth like a squirrel, then turns back around to show her a mouth full of fake vampire teeth. She laughs and kisses him on the cheek with her juicy wax lips. Mr. Donahue grins up at me with those vampire teeth. I guess he thinks I’m gonna laugh, but I don’t see a damn thing funny. For the first time I see what Sandy means about Mr. Donahue overstepping his boundaries. Now Angel’s all excited telling me to come on. That we gotta hurry because she wants to show me something. How’s he just gonna make plans for me and he don’t know what I was getting ready to do? Mr. Donahue digs in his pocket and hands me a pair of vampire teeth, but I am not in the mood to play.
I tell Angel I’ll be right back, then I pull Mr. Donahue into my room and tell him he’s gotta get shit straight. He’s not my man and he’s not Angel’s daddy. We’ve got a business arrangement and that’s it. I reach for his pants so we can get down to business, but he grabs my hands and stares at me like he’s never seen me before and didn’t know what we were all about all along. He asks, “Can’t it wait ‘til we go and come back?” I guess he’s talking about from trick-or-treating, and he’s thinking we, all of us, are about to go trick-or-treating, and I know he’s tripped and hit his head. I tell him I don’t have time for this shit, that he’s got a wife at home anyway, and I ask him if we’re gonna do this. And that motherfucker tells me no and walks out of the room. When I go cussing after him, Angel grabs my hand and starts trying to pull me down the stairs. She’s calling for Sandra and Mr. Donahue to come on, jumping up and down, telling me that it’s about to be too late. For what I don’t know. All that candy ain’t going nowhere.
I got a headache for real now, dealing with Sandra and Mr. Donahue’s bullshit, and don’t feel like going to nobody’s house asking for no candy. For a second, I consider going, putting on a mask and taking my pillowcase (fuck Sandy) and reselling all the candy I get, but you can’t get nothing for some half candy bars and that cheap peanut butter candy. I figure if I break up the chicken I can get more money quicker.
Mama said she’s tired, but I know she’s not. She just wants to go out, and I don’t know why she doesn’t want to go tricking out on the streets with me, Aunty, and Mr. Donahue. Well, she’s fighting with them so I know why she might not want to go with them, but I ain’t done nothing.
I’m so mad I won’t kiss her with my fake lips, and I wipe off the kiss she puts on my cheek. I say “Forget Halloween” and when I throw my pumpkin basket on the coffee table, my cup of Kool-Aid spills. Some of it gets on my stockings and shoes and I start crying. Mr. Donohue runs out of the room and Mama says “Oh” all slow like she’s worried or sorry or sad when I know she ain’t none of those things. She tries to come over to me, but Aunty pushes her back and tells her to go on. Mama she starts yelling at Aunty saying I’m her baby and Aunty tells her she don’t act like it and steps over the spilled Kool-Aid on the carpet to sit beside me on the couch. Mama says, “Whatever, Sandy. F.U.” and goes to her room. Aunty hugs me and tells me not to pay Mama no mind cause she ain’t got no sense. That I’m looking too pretty to stay in the house and not go get some candy. Mr. Donahue comes back with a wet dishtowel and a wet dishrag that he hands to Aunty. I see her look at him like, What the heck are you doing? But she takes the rag and while she wipes off my shoes and rubs at the splashed-on Kool-Aid dots on my stockings, Mr. Donahue wipes off the table, my pumpkin basket, and rubs at the Kool-Aid that spilled on the carpet. While Aunty is hugging me, the hair from her wig itching on my cheek, her Wind Song perfume all around me, and Mr. Donahue is scrubbing at the carpet, I remember what Aunty said and think about how now I can have all of my candy bars. I promise myself I’m not gonna give Mama one. Not. One.
When he’s finished with the carpet, Mr. Donahue takes the towel, all red with Kool-Aid, to the kitchen, comes back, holds up my pumpkin and tells me we’d better get going if we’re gonna get all the good candy. Aunty looks at him like he’s crazy again and asks him if he’s going for real. He says yeah. She says he doesn’t have to. He says he wants to, and she huffs like she does when he’s watching TV with us and laughing real loud or asking her if she can check the score on the basketball game, but then she says, “Yeah, I guess we’d better go.” Mr. Donahue says, “Come on, princess,” and I know he’s calling me a princess cause that’s what I am today, but it reminds me of the shows on TV when the daddy calls his little girl a princess. Just then I remember that Monet Stevens ain’t never seen her daddy cause she said so when our teacher told us to make Father’s Day cards last year. I know that Mr. Donahue ain’t my daddy and Aunty ain’t my mama, but Monet Stevens ain’t gotta know that. Aunty ain’t as pretty as Mama and her wigs be looking crazy sometimes, but she’s pretty when she smiles and the wig she’s wearing today is alright. It’s big and curly and if Monet say something I’ll say it’s Halloween and she’s Diana Ross.
I know Mama won’t be home when we get back. Fine. So what. Let her go out by herself. I look down at my stockings. They’re not dry and the Kool-Aid ain’t gone all the way, but it doesn’t stick out so much from the light pink. I don’t think Monet’ll be able to see it. I grab Aunty Sandra and Mr. Donahue’s hands and tell them to come on.
Kristen Gentry is a Kentucky girl who lives in Rochester, NY and teaches creative writing at SUNY Geneseo. She misses Louisville winters that end without a fight, being able to find cans of fried apples in the grocery store, and people who say “pop,” but she’s able to find all of these home comforts at her scratched and dented desk. “Matching Sheets” is from her manuscript, Mama Said, a short story cycle that explores three mother-daughter relationships in the same family strained by the mothers’ drug addictions.