And you know how Bernita is. Making jokes about people so everybody still know she the Queen Bee. ’Cept everybody else get they jokes to they face. She go behind Kandese back to clown her. Kandese say one of them New York phrases like that’s OD or it bees like that and Bernita wait til we leavin the porch for the day and start makin fun of the way she talk, sayin she sound like a man.
Now look at her ringin Miss Bristol bell, crackin jokes before Kandese come out. Narely she jus go along. She crackin up, snortin and shit, tryna get me to laugh, too, so Bernita don’t get mad. Bernita go to Narely and say that’s funny, right? and punch her on her shoulder hard, and Narely automatically start laughin harder. Bernita lookin at me tryna to get me to laugh, tryna sound hoarse like Kandese. Her fat ass is on the railin tryna lean on it, but she eyin me to make sure I laugh so she be happy and know she still the Queen Bee of the South. But she know I know her secret. She know she been makin fun of people to they face ever since we was all at the cafeteria at Ida B. Wells and the lunch muhvas wasn’t lookin and the other girls was sayin ooooh. She know Kandese the only girl who don’t get her jokes to her face, that she the only girl Bernita trade lip gloss with say hey girl to. She know I heard her the one time she ask Kandese what we was gonna do with our money and Kandese said let me handle it and Bernita said okay. She know the only reason I ain’t say nothin to her about any of that is because she got a rep. But reps only go so far. Specially when you can see right into someone’s gut and you realize the stuff they got in it ain’t as tough as you thought.
Hehe, hehe, I go and she keep tryin harder, scrunchin up her face like Kandese do and talkin with her fingers like Kandese, but all I see is Bernita’s overweight self and that extra skin on her booty hangin over the top of her jeans and her stubby fingers and the nasty spit comin out the corners of her mouth and I get mad at myself for even givin her the hehe. And she know that too. She know unless Kandese hearin these jokes, she ain’t foolin nobody.
The screen door pop open and Kandese come out with all the candy and that long m-word she be usin. Bernita say hey girl and I shake my head at her. Kandese got all the stuff in a duffel bag. She unzip it like she done all summer. The Blow Pops is all in a small cardboard box that used to be for her grandmuhva’s medicine. Same for the taffy, the Slim Jims and the hot cheese popcorn, all sellin for a quarter more than Old Man Duney sell dem for at the general store across the tracks. Kandese had glued some nice color paper around it and wrote the prices in black marker all straight like she had dotted lines to help her. Narely, she stop her fake giggles right when the screen door opened, and now she grabbin the cartoon drawings and helpin Kandese hang dem up. Bernita, she wait for a little bit to show us she can do whatever she want and then set up the combs and scrunchies, too.
Kandese do things smart and speedy. Like she got little signs that say sale on dem and she already know where she wanna put those. She thumb-tackin dem on the porch railin and flingin her hair every once in a while to get it out the way.
That weave get longer and longer every time I see you, Bernita say.
For a second I think she talkin to Narely cuz that sure sound like a somethin-starter.
Haha, you funny Bernita, Kandese say the same way grownups say it when they pattin you on the head. But this ain’t a weave. I told you I gets it straightened.
Then she twirl like the skinny models in them magazines she be readin and I hold my smile. I wish I could snap back at Bernita fast like that, but every time she crack on my cornrows I jus freeze up.
Bernita look at me and Narely, see if we know she jus got sonned, and we pretend we still fixin up the candies on the porch. Then she put all her weight on her right foot and she ask, When we gettin our share of the money, anyway? We sold all this candy and we ain’t seen near a dime, yet.
Then she look at me.
Be patient, girl, Kandese say to her. I told you I got stuff cookin. Mattafact –
She go into that duffel bag and pull out a tiny folded up sheet with an address on it. The handwritin look jus like the one on the sale signs.
This is the address to the station that be playin the news, she say. Imma write to them and they gonna do a story on us.
I’m like, Yo Kandese that’s a good idea.
Even though I know personally my night is over when my mama put on the news. I jus didn’t know you could send them letters cuz I didn’t know they had a house. And if they had a house, I thought only white people could send letters to it.
Ain’t no news cameras comin down here, Bernita say. Cops don’t even come here.
She love rainin on parades.
If we write the letter, they will, Kandese say. girls start business and make money. That headline is hot. News people love when people start suttin new and they the first to cover it.
Well, you write your letter, Bernita say. Jus give me my share and Imma buy me my stilettos.
Didn’t I tell you Imma handle the money, Kandese say. I ain’t gonna cheat nobody.
Bernita get quiet and everybody know who in charge again. The convo stop cuz some girls from down the block come thru askin for Blow Pops. Kandese say fitty cent. Narely cut on the radio. We officially open for business.
Every black girl on my block was waitin to get a look at Kandese when she first come for the summer. Her grandmuhva told us she hit a teacher with a ruler and got kicked out of her school in Harlem. I ain’t even gonna front, I was sitting in the grass with the rest of the girls my age that sunny day when Miss Bristol’s beat up Oldsmobile pulled down our road. I wanted to see what she lookded like. I thought she was gonna be huge like Bernita and jus as fat, seeing how Miss Bristol say her teachers was afraid of her.
I damn nearly had to clean my eyes when I saw this lil ass girl step out of Miss Bristol’s car. Girl was like only three inches taller than me and I’m not even thirteen yet. She was poutin by Miss Bristol’s raggedy mailbox in her capris and sunglasses and I jus kept thinkin, this is the eight grader who told the teachers to go to hell?
When she got there, everybody was jus watchin her, waitin for her to say suttin evil. She lookded like she wanted to be anywhere but here. She had some notebook under her arm and her thumbs on her cell phone busy typin a convo to somebody more important than us. So that’s how those glamorous New York City girls are, I thought. I wish I had a cell phone too so I could call my girls and say things like girl wear your heels tonight, we goin out to Times Square! But, my mama would never let me have no phone. She don’t even ’low me to use the cordless after a certain hour.
She ain’t even look up once, I said to Narely.
Big Bernita butt in the way she do.
Bitch thinks she too good for the South, she said.
That was when she thought she could jus bully Kandese on some size shit.
But Bernita was right or at least that’s what it lookded like for the first couple of weeks. She was witnessin some class-A drama and actin like it wasn’t no thang. Like when Toya mom bust out the house chasin a naked dude down the street. She was runnin faster than the devil with a slipper in her hand and the dude who was twice her size was tryna run with his pants in his hands. Everybody on the block who seen it was laughin. Later on, we found out that Toya mom had came back home thirty minutes after she left cuz she forgot her factory keys and heard that baby-makin Jodeci music comin out the one room she told Toya to always keep open. Everybody was screamin for Toya mom to catch the guy. It was like the Olympics. Except for Kandese and she seen the whole thing from beginnin to end sittin on her grandmuhva porch rockin back and forth.
Same thing when the tall bitch was chasin us, which is how this whole store business started. Everybody knew we stole candy from the general store across the tracks. It wasn’t even a crime no more. We must had done it so many times. Bernita would go to the front counter and talk sex to Old Man Duney. Me and Narely jus dumped Cheetos, hot popcorns, Slim Jims and strawberry shortcakes in a sack.
But the last time we stole candy from Old Man Duney, none of us knew his grown ass granddaughter was in the back room watchin us. Narely slid a whole row of hot cheese popcorns in the sack and the tall bitch came out the back with a hot comb. We was out.
Normally we put all the candy in the car on cinderblocks by Narely house, but when you bein chased and you runnin through shrubs and hedges, you ain’t got time to think. Narely seen the New York City girl on her porch and said, Hold this, and we was gone.
We couldn’t come outside for a while cuz it turned out that tall bitch knew our muhvas, but when we did, Bernita made us walk over with her to get the sack back. Nobody take Bernita shit or she come stompin for you. She stomped all up in Kandese grandmuhva’s yard even though it was mostly weeds. I wanted to yell, Kandese, she gonna come beat you up, run inside! But I was still into frontin like I was on Bernita side back then. I shoulda known Dese had spunk cuz her porch make some loud creaks specially when you got sumo wrestlers like Bernita walkin up dem. She kept rockin in her grandmuhva chair even when the plant pots started rockin and her lemonade started swooshin.
Where the candy at? Bernita asked.
Sold it, Kandese said.
I said where’s the candy? Bernita repeated louder.
Only three candy bars left. All Almond Joys. Buy it next time, Kandese said.
Bernita grabbed the sack next to the rockin chair. Jus like Kandese said there were three Almond Joys. Me and Narely looked at each other waitin for Bernita to blow up. We seen her snatch weaves, bite necks, stomp chicks out, all that. But she jus nodded and folded her arms on some who do she think she is shit. The dollar bills was layin there right next to the sack jus in case there was more questions.
Miss Bristol got diabetes. Now that Kandese here, she help out with that. Sometimes it seem like her grandmuhva forget why she got sent down in the first place, Kandese say. Her grandmuhva happy she got somebody to find the remote for her so she can watch her stories. She roll the cart for her grandmuhva when they at the market and her grandmuhva only stop when she see a member of her church group or someone she can share pumpkin pie secrets with. That sound like Miss Bristol all right, I think. Always tryna get a chore out somebody.
Today, I decide I ain’t gonna wait for Bernita and Narely slow asses. Imma talk and help her set up the candy. It’s one of dem really hot days and Kandese got a dirty fan stickin out of a window, but it’s jus a slap in the face. I shake my head though cuz I used to look at this house as the oldest one on our block. Some people say it been there since the slavery war and I believe it. Yellow paint don’t jus chip like that overnight. And it’s the only house on this block that got a chimney. But this summer, it don’t look old. It look like it got character and history and we addin to that history.
Kandese say she miss Harlem, but she needed to get away even though it wasn’t her choice. She talkin to me like I’m her therapist and I’m noddin my head up and down, but not too fast cuz she might jus realize what she doin confessin to a little girl who ain’t seen a quarter of the fast life she seen. So I’m keepin it cool but I’m lookin at her long hair and how she chew her gum all strong and confident and I’m thinkin about how many boyfriends she must got at home.
I had a hard year, she say, and I wanna ask, Why come you hit that teacher with a ruler? But instead I ask, Is you really gonna send a letter to them TV people?
She go, Yeah, but I get the feelin that Bernita ain’t too fond of the idea, and I go, Bernita, Schmernita.
She laugh at me, run into the house, and come out with a piece of paper.
Read this, she say.
Dear TV Station,
Me and my friends got a business and we only thirteen and fourteen years old. We sell candy, combs, pitchers of famous people, CDs, scrunchies and some fruits. We poor and everybody we know is poor, but we doing something positive for the community. I beleive you should videotape us and put us on TV cause we got 4396 and we aimin for 41000.
We all respectful girls. Kind and got manners.
Wow, I guess that’s how easy it is. You can jus send a letter and get put on TV. I never really thought about how the TV people find the news, but I woulda thought it’s be suttin more complicated than that. Like somebody get shot and a satellite from the moon go beep, beep, beep, and then someone at the news people house go we got some news and they jump in the van with that long microphone that they put over your head. But that don’t make sense cuz Jamel got shot by the tracks two summers ago and a lot of people was standin at his funeral cuz they wasn’t enough chairs and I kept expectin the news people to show up but they never did.
This is a good letter, Kandese, I say.
She say, I made sure I wrote it in my best script to let them know –
And Bernita come bubbling up the stairs with Narely and her stretched out forehead lookin like radiator rust. I freeze up, but Kandese is chillin. She hand Bernita the paper and say, Here’s the first draft. Bernita read it, stay silent, and then scrunch up her face.
You spelled ‘believe’ wrong, she say. She only know that cuz of the song Ms Tingdale teach us.
Oh, Kandese say. She take her pen from her rocking chair and correct it. All better, she say.
Why you wastin your time writin letters anyway, Bernita ask. When the last time you seen teenagers on the news sellin candy?
She sound like a hater, but I know where she comin from. Every time we wrote letters in school, nothin happened. Ms Tingdale say if you could have dinner with anybody famous who would it be? She say write about it and we smile and put our pencil erasers on our lips and go hmmm and write a whole paragraph and she collect it. But we never get to have lunch with our person. She tell us come up with stuff to do that will make the neighborhood better and she say start the letter with ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and we write it and we fold it up and put it in the envelope, but Whom never write us back.
This is different, though. Kandese got a real address and a real station. Plus we got four hundred somethin dollars and countin. Them news people would be silly if they don’t put us on the TV.
Any other corrections? Kandese ask and Bernita go, humph. Kandese say, I’ll take that as a no.
Bernita start tappin her toe. Well, I don’t care about bout TV or none a that stuff. Jus gimme my share so I could get them stilettos I seen in the window. Sides, they wouldn’t want my loud ass on the news anyway. Then she start laughin like it’s the funniest joke in the world.
By loud ass, she mean, fat ass. She jab Narely to force her to agree and let her know she fat too. But don’t nobody call her on it. We know that got a lot to do with why she mean in the first place. Narely smile anyway, and it’s a smile that say yes ma’am, but when Bernita ain’t lookin, she smile another smile that say I’m not as fat as her.
Jus let me get my stilettos, Bernita go.
Then she pretend she a model goin down a runway, but she stop as soon as she realize she got earthquake steps. That’s when she go where that money, anyway? All playful. Is it here, is it there? She grab Kandese bag. Is it in this?
Kandese grab Bernita hand. My eyes want to jump out and pull Kandese hand away. Don’t nobody do that to Bernita and live to tell the tale. Bernita keep laughin cuz that’s the only thing she can do, but Kandese is holdin her and the porch ain’t creakin no more. Kandese get high and humpy shoulders and the whole situation feel like thorns gonna start poppin out of dem. I’m lookin at Kandese up and down, tryin to see if I can see the ruler girl in there and I swear I see it even if it’s jus a little bit. My armpits start ticklin and I almost get scairt for Bernita. But Kandese shoulders go down again and the porch start creakin and she let go. She take the bag away from Bernita and pull out an envelope and a stamp. She lick the stamp mad slow in front of her, walk down the stairs, half a block to the nearest mailbox.
Me and Narely stand waitin for what Bernita gonna say.
She walkin around like she gonna give the South a makeover. Like she Mary Poppins and shit, bringin the hood joy, Bernita say.
Too many beats go by without nobody sayin nothin. Narely start laughin, huffin like an engine and the beats go away and Bernita happy for the moment.
Latoya come thru on Saturdays, see how her drawings sellin. Truth be told, nobody was touchin them papers with her little gods and goddesses on horses until Kandese started callin them classical art.