“I’m okay,” I say, although when I get inside, I damn near collapse into a chair. It feel so good to get off my feet.
“It ain’t safe for a young girl to be comin’ home so late,” Mama say in her scolding voice.
“Charlie, he walk me.”
When I mention Charlie, Mama’s whole face brighten up and some of her wrinkles disappear. “I like that Charlie. Why you don’t let him take you out?”
“You nearly twenty, Rosie!” Mama say. “Don’t you want a man? And to have chil’ren?”
“I do,” I say. “But I don’t want Charlie!”
“Too stubborn for you own good,” Mama huff.
We had this conversation many times before. Mama want me to get a man something awful. But that man ain’t gone be Charlie. Anyways, I know it ain’t really Charlie that Mama worried about right now. She be thinking ‘bout Bobby. Charlie just something to distract her.
Finally, Mama sit down next to me. She got this anxious look on her face. “So… Bobby got home?”
“And… he okay?”
I could keep it from her. She’d never find out Bobby done lost his legs. But I can’t lie to my Mama. That ain’t how she raised me, so like or not, she gonna get the truth. “He lost his legs,” I say to her.
Mama stare at me. “Both of them?”
“Ayuh,” I say. “Both, almost up to the hip. He usin’ a wheelchair.”
Mama quiet for a second, then she start to cry, just like Miz Corliss did. She put her face in her hands and her shoulders shake. She love Bobby. He never had a son, so he her little boy.
“Oh, Bobby,” she whisper, her voice shaking like a leaf on a tree in the fall. “My poor boy…”
“He okay though,” I say. “He still actin’ happy. And Miss Cecelia gone come visit him this week, Miz Corliss say.”
“Miss Cecelia…” Mama get this sneer on her face. “She ain’t right for him. I raised him better than to marry the likes of her.”
“She sure pretty though.”
“Rosie, you is ten times prettier than her.”
Of course she’d say that—she’s my Mama. And even if it were truth, Bobby Corliss would never fall in love with the likes of me. It just don’t happen that way. He gone marry Miss Cecelia, legs or not, and they gone be happy together. Happily ever after.
Next morning, I get to the Corliss house bright and early. Charlie working the backyard and he still mad at me. I say, “Hi, Charlie!” And he don’t give me that bright smile like usual. He just keep on raking.
Well, let him be mad. I ain’t gone be bullied into going on no date with nobody.
When I get inside, I hear loud arguing coming from Bobby’s bedroom. I remember Mama’s warning not to eavesdrop on Miz Corliss, but you have to be deaf not to hear this. Miz Corliss saying, “We don’t have the money, Bobby. That’s all there is to it.”
“How much could it cost to widen a door?” Bobby say, sounding right angry. I get closer to the bedroom and can just barely see Bobby sitting in his wheelchair. He wearing a different shirt today, a white undershirt I remember washing a week past. His legs may be gone, but he still got good, strong muscles in his arms and in his chest. I see he tucked his pants legs under his stumps, and they all bunched up.
“It doesn’t matter how much, because we just don’t have it,” Miz Corliss say. “And anyway, you have Rosie to help you.”
“I don’t want Rosie helping me onto the toilet every day!” Bobby say. He really sound mad.
“What’s so wrong with that?” Miz Corliss say. “It’s her job to help you.”
Bobby’s next words come out real strained, like he talking through his teeth: “I don’t want Rosie helping me with that.”
The way he say it, it almost sound like he really respect me. I grip my handbag, waiting to hear what his mama have to say to that.
“Don’t be silly, Bobby,” Miz Corliss say. “She’s just a servant. What’s the difference?”
There’s this long, long silence. Finally, Bobby say real quiet, “Mother, I just want to be able to use my bathroom.”
The handbag fall right out of my hand and land on the floor loud enough to wake the dead. Miz Corliss and Bobby look up and see me standing there. “Sorry, ma’am,” I say to Miz Corliss. Then to Bobby: “Mister Corliss.”
Bobby, he look a little embarrassed but he don’t say nothing. Miz Corliss though, she look angry to see me standing there. “Rosie!” she yell at me. “You spying on us?”
“No,” I say quickly. “But… I just… I mean, if you really want to fix that there door, Charlie could do it real cheap.”
Bobby’s eyes get real wide, but Miz Corliss say, “And you really think I’d trust a colored man to do construction on my house? Absolutely not.”
“Mother,” Bobby say. “If he could really fix it…”
“He could,” I say, nodding my head. “That Charlie real good with tools. He could do it lickity split.”
“Lickity split,” Bobby say, flashing me a big ol’ smile. “That sounds good to me.”
Miz Corliss don’t look happy at all. “Bobby, I really don’t think—”
“Ask him,” Bobby say, and I know by the tone of his voice that I got to do it.
I go on back outside and Charlie still raking the leaves. He doing it slow, taking his time so Miz Corliss think it more work than it is. I clear my throat real loud so as to get his attention but he don’t even look up. Finally, I say, “Charlie!”
He lift his eyes and frown at me. “What you want, Miss Rosie?”
“Miz Corliss got a job for you,” I say. I hope he be happy I got him work and he stop being so angry at me. “She pay you extra.”
“What’s the job?” he ask, squinting at me with his dark eyes, all suspicious.
“She want you to make the doorway to Mister Bobby’s bathroom wider so he can get in with his wheelchair.”
Charlie leans his rake against a tree. “You sayin’ Bobby Corliss can’t get into his own bathroom?”
Charlie get this big grin on his face. “So how he going?”
“Well, he be going in a jug,” I say. Charlie look at me and he start laughing like I just said the damn near funniest thing he ever heard. He smackin’ his knee and everything. “Charlie Jones, it ain’t funny!”
Charlie wipe a tear from his eye. “Rosie, you tell Mister Bobby Corliss that I ain’t fixing his doorway for a million dollars. So he can go right on making in a jug.”
I know Charlie need the money. Why he be turning down an easy job? Just ‘cuz he don’t like Bobby? I knew that boy had no sense.
I just about turn ‘round and go back in the house, but then I think of the look on Bobby’s face when I told him Charlie’d fix the door. I ain’t going back in there with bad news. “Charlie,” I say. “Please fix the doorway. Don’t be a fool.”
Charlie get serious now. He look me over and say, “All right, Rosie, I’ll fix Bobby’s door for him. But you gotta go out to dinner with me tonight.”
He got me. I can’t be saying no or else Bobby will have to keep on peeing in a jug. He don’t deserve that. “Fine,” I say. “One dinner. That be all.”
A big smile spread across Charlie’s black lips. “We gone have a great time, Rosie. You won’t be regretting this.”
I is too angry to say nothing back to him. I march back in the house and find Bobby in the living room, a newspaper spread out over what left of his legs. One of his pants legs has worked its way loose and is hanging down empty. “He gone do it,” I say.
Bobby smile at me. I have to tell you, Bobby’s smile puts ol’ Charlie’s to shame. It’s like Bobby’s face was made for smiling. “You’re the best, Rosie,” he say. “Thank you.”
I don’t mention what I had to do to get the bathroom fixed up for him. Truth is, I don’t want him to know.
Charlie go fetch his tools from his home and he manage to fix up the door real fast. Miz Corliss don’t like it because it don’t look pretty since he removed part of the frame and all, but Bobby, he real happy. “You did a great job, Charlie,” he say.
And Charlie just grunt and take the money. I still don’t get why Charlie hate Bobby so much but he sure do.
Bobby still messing with his pants legs, trying to get them tucked under. Trouble is, his legs too short and the pants, they too long. Whenever he tuck them, they just bunch up or fall out. I don’t get why Bobby don’t let me fix them up for him. I offer again, but he just say, “No, Rosie, that’s okay.”
“It won’t take me long,” I say. “Let me do your pants for tomorrow. Miss Cecelia coming tomorrow, ain’t she?”
Maybe I be imagining it, but Bobby’s face gets a little pale when I mention Miss Cecelia. He look down at his legs and he say, “No, Rosie. I’ll be fine.”
That afternoon, Bobby get hisself a visit in the form of Edward Dixon. The Dixons and the Corlisses been old friends for a long time, and Miz Corliss always be getting visits from Miz Dixon. Eddie Dixon’s one of Bobby’s oldest friends, and he been at the war too, although I overheard Miz Dixon saying they sent him up to Alaska to the Aleutian Islands, wherever that is. He come back whole, anyways. Eddie ain’t never was as handsome as Bobby, but he seem nice. A little short, but always got a big smile and too many freckles. Maybe that why they sent him to Alaska—thought he needed to go somewhere cold with all them freckles.
When I open the door and see Eddie standing there, I give him my best smile but I don’t say nothing but hello, because that wouldn’t be proper. “Hi, Rosie!” Eddie say.
“Hello, Mister Dixon,” I say.
“You can call me Eddie, you hear?” he say. Excepting he knows just as well as Bobby that I can’t.
Bobby be wheeling out of his bedroom and he raise his hand to greet his friend. When all of him get in view, I expecting Eddie to get all upset like Miz Corliss, but Eddie, he don’t bat an eye. He keep that smile on his face and he say, “Bobby, don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re missing a pair of legs.”
Bobby snort with laughter. Then they hug, which is kind of sweet, if you ask me. I hope Miss Cecelia will be so understanding.
“Can I get you anything?” I ask them.
“No, Rosie,” Eddie say to me, and he looking at me like all the boys do. “Don’t you bother yourself. Bobby and I will be in his room.”
Eddie and Bobby go into his bedroom and shut the door behind them. But I still be working in the living room, and the walls in this here house is paper thin, so I can hear just about everything they saying. And you know me, I can’t help but listen.
“Woo-whee!” Eddie be saying. “That Rosie, she’s something else, ain’t she? Almost makes me wish I was colored.”
“Yeah,” Bobby say. “I know what you mean.”
My face flush. I heard white boys talking ‘bout me that way before, but not boys like Bobby and Eddie.
“I don’t know how you stand it,” Eddie say. “Her going around in that cute little dress.”
“Hush up,” Bobby say. “You know my mother would go crazy if she heard you talking that way. Don’t you know any other girls who don’t work for us?”
Eddie make a huffing noise. “It’s easy for you to say. You got CeCe.”
“Yeah,” Bobby say, his voice real quiet.
“Has CeCe come by since you been home?”
“She’s coming tomorrow,” Bobby say.
“You lucky dog,” Eddie say. “You must be excited as hell.”
Eddie cough a few times. “She knows about… what happened to you, don’t she?”
“Yes, she knows,” Bobby say. I got to wonder how a girl like Cecelia took the news that the boy she was marrying had his legs blown off. Wish I could have listened in on that there conversation. “I just… you know how CeCe is, Eddie. She likes everything just so.”
“You worried she ain’t gonna like you anymore?”
“No, I’m not.” But I hear that quiver in Bobby’s voice and I think he very worried. “It’s just been a while seen I’ve seen CeCe, that’s all.”
I remember what Mama said, about Cecelia being all wrong for Bobby. I don’t know if Cecelia’s wrong for Bobby, but he’s right about her wanting things just so. All’s I know is that if Cecelia go and break Bobby’s heart, it’d just about kill him.
To be continued....