Actress and writer Diane Kimbrell has lived in NYC for many years, but was born and raised in Charlotte, North
Carolina. Her literary credits include The Raleigh Review, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, River Walk Journal,
SF Writer’s Journal, Plum Biscuit, Subtletea and Muscadine Lines. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at
Greensboro, she has also attended Columbia and New York University. While attending Columbia, she was
awarded six Woolrich writing fellowships. Diane is Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine, Pages from Sages.
Through the living room window, I see Enid’s new 1959 Cadillac pulling up in the driveway, and my
heart skips a beat. Maybe it’s not too late. Enid Jackson is another one of Mama’s “best” friends. In
Bermuda shorts, Enid looks taller and gawkier than usual. Spider veins creep around her ankles and
sneak past her knees to her pale, plump thighs. Her mouse brown hair, parted and combed to one
side and held in place with a plastic barrette, always looks frizzy — like she’s given herself a home
permanent and left the curling solution on too long. I can tell by the way Enid laughs and cuts her eyes
around when she talks to Daddy or any other man, that she still thinks of herself as a sweet, young
thing. Enid has been 51 years old for ages. Unlucky in her first marriage, she claims she lucked out in
her second by marrying a man who saves his money. She knows how to spend it. Together they’ve
made a small fortune raising poodles as show dogs. Many of their poodles have been champions.
“I were a widow at 16 — one year older than Niki,” she’s saying. I’m sitting across from her in the
kitchen at our lemon yellow dinette set. To avoid looking at Enid (she talks with her mouth full), I gaze
above and beyond her frizzy head at the square piece of cardboard taped to the kitchen ceiling. But
I’m not thinking about the rat that gnawed the hole in the ceiling two nights ago or of how I screamed
when I looked up and saw those beady black eyes starring down at me. And I’m not thinking about
that crummy piece of cardboard taped to the ceiling — our landlord’s so-called repair job. I’m thinking
that Enid Jackson is my last hope. I’m also thinking that it’s not fair that this ignorant woman gets to
have money and live in a beautiful house and drive a new car every year. May God forgive me for
having such thoughts but that’s how I feel. In my opinion, Mama and Othermama are much smarter
and better looking than Enid ever could be. Damn my Daddy. It’s his fault. According to Othermama,
who is always right, Daddy’s a good worker (he’s a foreman at a sheet metal plant) but he’s also a “no
good rotter — always drinking and throwing his money away in some pool hall.”
Enid Jackson is cheap. She always visits our house empty handed. Othermama, my maternal
grandmother, would never come out and say it, but we know she is. Othermama has called her a pig
more than once but not to her face. Othermama’s a lady.
“How about another piece of my fresh coconut cream pie or a baked sweet potato?” Othermama asks.
“Like to died last night I et so much at Lila’s. My daughter’s a good cook but Othermama, your
coconut cream pie is delicious. Yes indeed, I’ll take another bite.” Othermama shovels another slab on
“Can I heat your coffee?” Mama asks. Enid, whose mouth’s too full to speak, nods. I take a deep
breath and brace myself. Any minute now, Enid’s lecture will begin.
“Niki,” Othermama says standing at the stove, “would you like a piece of pie or a baked sweet potato?”
“No thank you,” I answer. Although she seems to like Enid well enough, Othermama contends that
Enid “slaughters” the English language, and sometimes she thinks it’s funny. I don’t dare look at
Othermama when Enid’s around for fear one or both of us might burst out laughing. Enid knits her
heavy brows and blows hard on the fresh cup of coffee like she’s studying something important
though I’m not sure she’s capable of it.
“Niki, honey,” she says, between slurps, “I wish you’d smile.”
Any other day I’d excuse myself from the kitchen to avoid Enid, but time’s running out. I didn’t ask
Enid for anything. Never have. On one of her numerous visits, Enid asked me why my head was buried
in a movie magazine. She demanded to know what was so interesting, and I told her. I even showed
her the picture of the movie star, Carol Lynley wearing the double pearl ring.
“Look how dainty those two seed pearls are,” I said. “Isn’t this ring absolutely gorgeous?”
That’s when Enid said, “Niki, I’m going to give you some money for Christmas so you can go buy
yourself something you really want.”
I have to go back to school on Monday, and of course I’ll be asked what I got for Christmas. My
presents (necessities) were ordered from the Jewel Tea Company. Nobody orders clothes from a
catalogue any more like they did in the old days. Mama says I should feel grateful for Othermama’s
generosity; she’s right, and I really do. But I also feel ashamed of ordering from the Jewel Tea
Company catalogue and ashamed of myself for feeling ashamed of it. Everybody at school shops at the
mall. If Mama had any money, I could, too. Unfortunately, the clothes in the catalogue are much more
expensive than any of the clothes at the mall and what’s more, the clothes from Jewel Tea never look
as good as they do on the page. In fact, sometimes the clothes that arrive don’t even resemble the
clothes on the page. Most of the stuff Othermama orders for us (she pays the bill once a month) has
to be sent back.
“Niki’s sad today,” Mama says.
“Have you got the pip?” Enid asks.
I shake my head.
Mama says, “Vacation’s over. She’s got to go back to school and, well, you know these young people.
They ask each other what they got for Christmas. Niki wanted a pearl ring but what she got was some
new pajamas and much needed underwear.”
“Mama.” I hiss, secretly grateful that she spoke up.
“It’s hard to believe that my Niki’s in the tenth grade this year, “ Mama continues, “making straight As,
I might add. But it’s terrible how callous young people can be sometimes.”
“When I was a girl,” Othermama chimes in, “we didn’t ask each other what we got for Christmas.”
“That’s ’cause nobody had any money back then,” Enid said, and all three of them laugh.
Whose side is Othermama on? I wonder. I feel as if I could scream. I get up from the chair without
looking at any of them or saying excuse me and leave the kitchen. I know they’re going to start
clucking and cackling but I don’t care. It’s a lost cause. Enid’s not going to give me any money. She’s
probably forgotten all about it. And, I’d rather die than ask her for it.
I don’t know what got into me, but when I saw that pearl ring, I convinced my foolish self if I could
have it. I could lose weight, and if I could loose weight, I might be able to have a boyfriend. To fatten
him up for the kill, the witch in the story of “Hansel and Gretel” locked Hansel away and fed him
constantly. Every day she made him stick his finger through the bars of his cage to see if he had
gained weight. I check my fingers every day too, but no matter how hard I try to lose weight my
fingers seem to grow fatter. They look like Vienna Sausages.
If I could just have that ring, maybe I wouldn’t eat so much. After all, who needs three ham and egg
biscuits with grits and a bowl of Rice Krispies with a banana and raisins for breakfast every morning?
Kay’s jewelry store sells the double pearl ring. I saw it in the window. But a month has passed and
Enid hasn’t said another word about giving me money.
I walk in the bedroom, close the door, turn on the radio and sprawl across the bed. I know what
they’re saying. They’re telling Enid that I’m also very upset about my sister Rosebud’s collect phone
call from Canton, Ohio. They’re saying I was so upset that I cried all morning — cried till my eyes were
nearly swollen shut. We were all upset. I know they are telling that ole fool Enid what Richie (Rosebud’s
husband) did to Chanel and it’s none of her business. Enid doesn’t give a hoot about my sister
Rosebud or Chanel. She never paid one bit of attention to Chanel when she lived here with us. I know
what they’re saying and I don’t want to hear it again. Chanel’s three years old. She had an accident.
Messed her panties. It made her Daddy (Richie) so mad he shook her and began banging her head
against the wall. He wasn’t even drunk. According to Rosebud, he banged Chanel’s head so hard the
crucifix hanging in the apartment next door fell off the wall and the next-door neighbor came running
over to see what in the world was going on.
What was Rosebud doing? That’s what I want to know. How could such a thing happen? She was
there. Drunk, maybe. Maybe not. Why didn’t she stop Richie? Why didn’t she call the police? How
could she let him do that to her little girl? My Chanel. I wanted to stomp Rosebud with both feet. Since
I couldn’t get to her when I heard what happened, I bit my wrist. I almost drew blood this time. I had
to do something. I miss Chanel. When Rosebud and Richie moved way off to Ohio, my heart felt like it
had broken. I declared myself Chanel’s babysitter the day she was born and we have a special bond. I
felt a little better after I bit myself. But now my wrist hurts.
I always bite my left wrist when I get upset and always in the same place. Mama says I’m going to get
cancer if I don’t stop. Been doing it since I was a baby. She says I’m like a mad dog. Yeah, that’s what
they’re telling Enid now. They’re telling her that I act like a mad dog when I’m upset because a dog
actually bit me when I was a baby and Mama claims the dog was probably rabid.
I can hear Enid’s reaction to that, “Gol-ly!” she’ll say. I ought to go out there and bite Enid. That
would fix her. She’d never come back. I start to laugh. Laughing all by myself makes me feel crazy.
Maybe Othermama’s right. Maybe I am crazy. To drown out their voices I begin to sing along with the
Feels so good … I’m sure Othermama’s telling Enid how I’ve been holed up here in the bedroom today
listening to “trashy” music on the radio and dancing with the bedpost. I did do the Shag with the
bedpost. So what? I’ve been shagging with a bedpost since I was five years old. Rosebud taught me
how. Everybody learns to shag holding on to a bedpost. Here in the bedroom, I’m the belle of the ball
— prettier than my sister Rosebud’s ever been and just as pretty as Carol Lynley wearing that damned
They’re plotting to get me out of here to make me come eat something. Why don’t they just leave me
alone? Let me die. I could take a whole bottle of Aspirin. That should do it. I can hear Mama now. But
what if you take all those Aspirin tablets and don’t die? What if it just cripples you and makes you a
vegetable for the rest of your life? What then? Is that what you really want? Think about it. I knew
Mama’s arguments by heart. Once you do it, there’s no coming back.
That’s the point, I tell her. Killing myself is something I threaten to do when I’m desperate. It always
gets Mama’s attention. I learned the trick from Rosebud. Rosebud learned it from Mama. I really like
the song on the radio and allow it to take me away.
Swept up in the beat, my partner grabs my hand and leads me to the dance floor. The lights are low
and I’m at a fraternity party wearing white Bermuda shorts and a blue sailor top like the model is
wearing in the Chef Boyardee advertisement in this month’s issue of Seventeen. I’m tan and slender
and my long blond hair is cut in a pageboy — every hair’s in place. I’m dancing with my handsome
boyfriend that I call “Eddie Pie.” We’re in love and will marry each other some day. Our adoring friends
surround us. I’m the best dancer and the prettiest and ….
“How about you come out here with us?” Mama says, poking her head around the bedroom door. She
knows she’s supposed to knock. The party’s over and once again, I’m a fair-skinned wallflower with
pimples, red swollen eyelids and stringy hair who’s at least 20 pounds over weight — my hand
clutching a bedpost.
“What is it, Mama?”
“Honey, I want you to come out of this dark bedroom and be sociable. You’ll feel better.”
“I feel fine.”
“Enid will be leaving soon.” Mama gives me a look as if to say, this is your last chance to get the money
“Niki,” she whispers, “I know how much the ring means to you.”
Mama’s right. I should come out — chat with Enid — maybe sit down and have a bite to eat — find the
words to bring up the money.
“What if she says ‘no’?” I ask.
“Enid cares about you, honey. Give her the benefit of the doubt. She probably just forgot. It’s ok to
I let go of the bedpost and search Mama’s faded blue eyes. I want to believe her. Mama turns to leave,
and like a baby, I take a small step — hesitate slightly — then take another following close behind her.
In my mind, I can see the coconut cream pie or what’s left of it. My mouth begins to water.
Othermama must’ve added magnets to the coconut because I’m suddenly drawn like metal shavings to
the stove to get a piece. Pulled by this invisible force, I’m compelled to move faster.
As I whiz past Enid, who is still at the kitchen table, she shouts, “Niki, come sit down. Talk to me!”