by Brittany Stuckey
Sticks were only sticks and twigs were only twigs until they became more to me. It was a day like many others that summer. The sun beamed down on my golden skin with vengeance, but I didn’t mind, see this was the time of year that I looked forward to. It was my chance to get as dark and bronzed as my great grandmother. She was the color of a penny dipped in glitter with a smidge of honey. But what made her a goddess to me were her waist length waves as black as the corner of the attic that I avoided year-round. So I would sit and bask in the rays hoping that God would send her beauty to me in the form of warmth and wind. I would sit for hours with my eyes closed, facing upward until small droplets of sweat formed on the tip of my nose and I could feel my shoulder length locks with colorful barrettes hold the heat of the sun at their tips.
Eventually, my grandmother called me in to eat lunch. She was that kind of grandmother, you know. The ones that make sure you eat and even when you are not hungry make sure you eat. Once I went to the table there were strawberries, grapes, little sandwiches cut into fours and, of course, a salad; Grandmas cardinal rule was that, “no matter what, always have a green.”
I ate my food while listening to her sing as she cleaned the kitchen. She sang, “I told the storm, even though the rain falls.” I laughed. She had the kind of voice that could not carry a note alone but loved to sing in the choir. I began to sing with her adding on to her raspy, nasal tone. She always told me I had an old soul because I would sing old gospel songs around the house with her. It had become kind of our thing.
After finishing my food, we went outside to the garden. I sat under the big tree near her sunflowers. I loved that tree, it was strong and seemed gigantic in relation to me at the time. It was like a different place all together. I went out of the front door and could see a crackhead or my peers riding large bikes, while another group jumped rope made of old telephone cords. But that tree in the backyard with the tall wood fence surrounding the edge of our house shut me out from all of those things. It was like being in a story all of the time and the only time I was ejected was when I had to leave out of the front door.
As the sun began to go down we prepared for dinner, tonight we were going out to eat with my mom, my uncle, and a few cousins. As I walked through the dining room and made my way to the living room, I saw money folded up sitting on the mahogany end table beside my grandmother’s purse. I was so excited! I finally had something to put into my new pouch that I had worn all day. It was bright red like the strawberries I had eaten earlier, stitched in green scalloped edges with little black sequin beads placed in random spaces. Overall, it resembled a bedazzled watermelon with an opening at the top. I put the money in it and thought nothing of it.
We ended up eating at Marias’, a local Italian place. It had really eerie lighting that frightened me a little. It reminded me of when you were trying to hide in plain sight, when your eyes were closed and the lights were still on. That weird pink at the back of your eye lids that no matter how hard you squeezed you would still see the inside of them. I hated it, but the food was good enough, I loved pizza so it was worth it. We sat and laughed and stuffed our faces with pasta and bread and pizza until no one said a word.
The restaurant had an arcade so all of the kids went to play games in hopes of finding adventure. I was too small to play the games so I watched on in amazement at all of the colors and sounds as the ball bounced from one flag to the other. It was like nothing I had seen before. Finally, they grew tired of playing, I grew tired of watching, and our parents grew tired of waiting, so we went back to the table to prepare to leave. “Where’s my money?” my grandmother said! Grandmother dug through all of the pockets of her purse, her hands shaking. “I know it was here!” I jumped and said, “I have it grandma, in my purse.” Then I looked down and realized the money that I filled my little fruit pouch with was long gone. She yelled, “Why do you have it? Give it here!” in the loudest, most scary tone. My body began to feel hot, I could feel tears filling my eyes and my heart beating out of my chest. I felt like I was going to evaporate in the middle of this eatery, and I wanted to.
I told her, “I lost it.”
My uncle said, “Jackie, don’t worry about it” as he paid the bill.
She yelled at me from the restaurant, to the car, until we reached the front door of our house. Inside, she dropped her keys and purse and told me to go get in the tub. I cried throughout the whole process. As the water ran, my eyes reflected the faucet, releasing salty tears that slipped into my mouth and I gasped for air and snot ran from my nose. I felt like I was dying, or going to. She washed me up with the soft scented soap that became a part of our ritual. After she dried me off, she passed me my favorite star covered pajamas. Once I was clothed she told me to put on my shoes, I was still huffing while trying to get myself together from crying. I did as I was told.
Then she said,
“now go outside and pick a stick off of the tree.”
I looked at her with eyes as wide as the pinballs I had seen being bounced around in the arcade all night. At that moment I knew she was crazy. This could not be happening. I began to cry again; it went from faint sobs to near yells while trying to negotiate.
“Calm down, follow me,” She said.
“But I don’t wannaaaa!” I yelled.
“I’m not going to say it again, stealing other people’s property is never the right thing to do! You will learn today!”
She watched me as I walked to the big tree, I tried to find the thinnest branch possible hoping that if something was little like me it would hurt less. She scanned the branch and said that will do. We entered the house, she took a knife and skinned the branch and rinsed it. I closed my lids and remembered the sun on my face earlier that day and thought back to a different kind of heat. One that calmed me and settled my spirit, the heat that came with this night only taught me one thing. Sticks are far more than sticks and twigs are far more than twigs.