“Sweater Girl” by Darlene Taylor
I rocked my knees, trying not to pee on myself. Thunder rattled the basement windows. Rain seeped through cracks, glistening on the wall like wet glue. I crossed my legs, uncrossed them, and crossed them again. Unable to hold it any longer, I stood.
Girl, Mama said.
I need the bathroom, I said. It was a good excuse. When the lady at the Woolworth counter in Richmond said toilets were for Whites only, I heard Mama say children can’t hold their fluids.
I let my eyes drop and bent my head like at the church altar.
Sit down, Mama said. Lord doing his work.
I flopped into the chair beside my brother Todd. A blast of thunder knocked at the windowpane. I covered my ears, and asked, what’s he working on?
Irritated, Mama pointed to the bathroom.
I ran in case she changed her mind and did my business quick. When I returned to the room, Mama’s head was down, her hands rested one across the other in her lap, palms upwards as if holding a communion wafer. The overhead light shone on mama’s pressed hair. A curl pulled away from her temple as if it were too tired to hold its place. Occasionally her head jerked up.
Todd rolled a toy tractor back and forth across his knees, puffing his cheeks out in play. As soon as I sat, Todd tossed the truck to me.
Devil child, Mama said to me.
I’m sorry, I said to Todd, Mama, and God. Silently I asked God to put it in Mama’s heart to buy me the new sweater I wanted.
Hissing, his eyelids folded back, and top teeth exposed like a vampire, Todd teased me.
Mama’s quick hand squeezed his knee. I knew that hold. He wouldn’t move again. Not until the storm ended.
You think I don’t see you? Mama asked.
I knew Mama saw things even when she wasn’t there. She said children needed watching. So, God watched and told her everything. God was everywhere.
Wind whipped outside the window; God’s whisper. God, I whispered back, I need a sweater. Pink like Santa’s cheeks. A pretty pink sweater to wear to school. Pink, fastened with pearl buttons like the ones the white girls wore. If I had a pretty pink sweater, they wouldn’t make fun of my clothes and wouldn’t call me mean names.
I watched the window and listened, my arms crossed my chest, warming me. If I’m good, if I’m good, maybe I can have that sweater.
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Darlene Taylor’s Artist Statement: “Sweater Girl” is a wish for a pink sweater for a young girl attending a newly integrated school.
Darlene Taylor is an advocate for cultural arts and public affairs advisor from Washington, DC. Taylor builds connections with people using literature as a framework for cultural exchange. A recipient of an American Association of University Women grant, Taylor’s work has appeared in Kinfolks Quarterly and Blackberry: a magazine, Public History Commons, a KY Stories anthology of southern writing, and the magazine of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.