Posted on December 23, 2014 by Patricia Ann McNair12.23.2014 Journal Prompt Photo by August Sander December 23, 2014: We called her Queenie. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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When mam opened the door she sucked in breath and held her hand flat to her chest, her fingers spread wide. Then she said, ‘Queenie,’ saying it so small it was as if she was testing to see if the air would hold the weight of it.
There on the doorstep stood a girl of maybe ten or eleven. I looked past the bulk of our mam and saw the girl was skinny like broomsticks or hoe handles, and her hair was long and limp and the colour of old straw or string. Her skirt and her blouse was all tucks and frills and she did not wear shoes on her feet.
‘Queenie,’ said mam again, this time her words heavy and slab.
Nobody knew. Not at first. She was just a stray that mam took into the house. Like a bird we kept once and its wing was broken and we made a soft nest of pink toilet tissue in an old shoebox and we dug for worms in the backyard and picked greenfly off of mam’s roses. Or a kitten once that was blind in one eye and small as a pocket and mam found it in a shopping bag at the park and we looked after it till it was big enough it could leap over walls in a single bound and one day it was just gone. And now a girl called Queenie and mam said I should give up my bed and it’d just be for a few days.
Thing is, Queenie didn’t ever sleep in my bed. Not even though mam tucked her in at night and mam said to her what she says to us mostly which is about sleeping tight and not letting the bed bugs bite. Queenie lay in the quiet dark till mam was gone to her own room, and then Queenie’d crawl belly-down into the black under the bed and she’d sleep there, not even a pillow to lay her head on.
She didn’t have no table manners neither, made noises like sucking and blowing, noises mam would ordinarily pull us up for but she never said a word ‘gainst Queenie doing it. And the girl swore sometimes and all mam said was we was to close our ears ‘gainst those words. And she smelled of wee and sweat and earth.
A few days stretched into a week and one week spilled over into the next and Queenie was still there. I saw mam one day sitting beside the girl on the sofa and mam was stroking her hair and making noises like a cat mewling and saying how Queenie was pretty like her da was.
It was about then I found a picture that explained some but not all of what was going on. I was looking through a cardboard box of letters and old keys and photographs that were crumpled and bitten at the corners. There was a picture of our gran, before she was grey and old and her teeth crooked or lost. You could still tell it was gran by the eyes. And a child was holding gran’s hand, and on the back it said the child was our mam, only in the picture mam was a girl of fourteen and she had her hair long and loose and I thought there must be some mistake cos she looked the spit and lick of Queenie.
The broken winged bird we kept in the shoebox, well, its heart beat so fast it was always shaking and its black eyes was sharp as pins to every small movement we made. It died after a week. Mam said it died of a broken heart. You could tell it was dead cos its neck was slack and its head drooped and its eyes were shut tight. And like I said, the stray kitten leaped one day into being a stray cat and was gone. So came a day when Queenie was not sleeping under my bed no more and mam’s purse was empty and all her jewellery gone, too. Mam cried for days after and she said it wasn’t about the missing bracelets or rings. She said it was something else and she held one hand flat to her chest and her fingers spread wide, and I thought maybe she was crying cos her heart was breaking.
So rich, Lindsay. Thanks.