It stinks of piss in the room. Sharla Cody breathes it in,
thinking it's a sweet stink. Reminds her of the little white
flowers Mum Addy planted instead of grass on the square out front
of her trailer. They keep coming up, those little flowers, year
after year. Sharla likes the notion of seeing them each spring,
like an expected but unreliable guest.
Sharla forgets the name of that piss-stink flower. Alyssum,
Mum Addy had told her, and said though it was not technically a
perennial it would surely come back, and it did. Mum Addy said
that's nature. Some flowers self-seed and that's just what
is. Only a fool would take the time to wonder about what
Once Sharla made a bride's bouquet out of the white flowers. Mum
Addy shook a yellowed curtain from her mending bin and fastened it
to Sharla's hair with wooden clothespins. They walked down the mud
lane like Sharla was the princess bride and Mum Addy was the lady
holding her train, doing that step then stop, step then stop, like
brides do. Mum Addy sang some pretty love song Sharla never heard
before or since.
At five years old Sharla still pissed the bed when she got lonely.
Mum Addy'd cluck her tongue but never smack her. Both of them half
asleep, she'd wipe down Sharla's parts with a scratchy wet rag that
used to be a brown sock, then she'd take her back down the skinny
hall to her own musky bed to sleep the rest of the night.
Mum Addy wasn't Sharla's Mum. She wasn't even a relation. She was
an old, cigarette-smoking colored lady from themud lane of the
Lakeview trailer park, twenty miles outside of Chatham, Ontario.
Sharla was sent to live with the old woman when Emilio moved in
with her real Mum, Collette. Emilio said if Sharla gave him a
thimble more grief he'd set her fat ass on the stove. After that,
Collettewalked over to themud lane and started knocking on doors.
At the third place she tried, old Addy Shadd said she'd take the
child in if Collette would give her a few dollars for food and
They never did get to the Kmart for new summer sandals like
Collette had promised. Collette stuffed a white plastic bag with
Sharla's bunched-up shorts and a couple of tops, a too-small
swimsuit, and the pajamas with the kitten on it. Collette said,
"Mothers send their kids to camp, don't they? And boarding school
if they got the money. No difference, so."
"Yeah, but it ain't camp," her neighbor friend Krystal said. "I
could give a shit, Krystal. Anyways, it's only till September and
Emilio's car accident money runs out."
Sharla knew her numbers, so there was no good reason why Collette
had to walk her all the way over to Addy Shadd's. If she wasn't
retarded, though Emilio suspected she was, she'd find number four
on the mud lane. Besides, Emilio couldn't wait to fuck Collette on
that green velveteen La-Z-Boy in the living room without worrying
Sharla'd walk in on them again.
Collette lived off welfare and whatever boyfriend.You'd guess her
about seventeen if you didn't know she was twenty-two. She was
shapely, with creamy white skin, dyed blond hair, and rare-colored
eyes that men said things about sincerely. She fucked Emilio good
after she found out how much he'd be getting from the settlement.
Emilio knew he'd be gone when his money was gone. He didn't care.
Just looking at her mouth made him throb.
When it was time to leave for Addy Shadd's, Emilio hustled Sharla
out the door."Have fun swinging with them porch monkeys."
Sharla was confused because she hadn't been told there'd be
monkeys. Collette waved, whispering sad things about sending off
her baby girl. Emilio patted her shoulder and pretended he didn't
think she was full of shit.
In spite of the name of the place, there was no view of Lake Erie
from the trailer park. And in spite of the claims, no way you could
see across the lake to Cleveland on the American side, even on the
clearest of days. Addy Shadd had settled at the trailer park in the
late fifties because it was as close to the water as she could get
on the money she had. She thought it'd just be a temporary address,
but after twenty years at the park she accepted that she'd never
have a real lake view.
The weather'd been dry. Sun baked the mud lane where Mum Addy and
most of the other colored people lived and formed it into rivulets
of hard earth. Hurt to walk on in bare feet and no good for a
bicycle tire. Between the evenly spaced white and silver trailers,
tomato and cucumber plants got ready to choke up cages of rusty
chicken wire. On most of the squares in front there were old wood
chairs and dented trashcans, a patch of crabgrass or nothing. But
Mum Addy grew those tiny, white, piss-smelling flowers on her
square and felt the better for beautifying her neighborhood.
Sharla was squatting on her haunches, picking up kernels of hard
Indian corn from a pile near a shabby trailer somewhere on the way
to Addy Shadd's. She knew she was stealing the makings of some
child's necklace because each red or purple or golden kernel
already had a neat hole in the middle from a needle pierce. She
wanted the kernels and meant to make her own pretty necklace, maybe
As Sharla pinched the corn gems out of the dust and dropped them
into her white plastic bag, she imagined her necklace and how it'd
be admired. She saw the shadow, but not soon enough. The foot
caught her in the small of her back and drove her into the ground.
She turned around to see who'd kicked her, blocking the sun with
her hand. "What, Fawn?"
Fawn Trochaud was seven years old and lived with her Aunt Krystal
in the trailer across from Sharla and Collette. Fawn had curly
yellow hair and cloud white skin and big blue eyes like a
picture-Bible angel. Sharla knew the Indian corn didn't belong to
Fawn. She also knew it didn't matter.
Sharla got up, clutching the white plastic bag, watching Fawn. She
didn't dare speak. Fawn took a step closer, kicking dust at Sharla
with her dog-chewed flip-flops. Sharla flinched, thinking Fawn
meant to hit her. But Fawn didn't strike again. She just ripped the
plastic bag from Sharla's clutches and ran away.
A couple of bored mutts started a fight on the road. Sharla watched
them, thinking she'd feel better and know what to do next if she
could cry. But Sharla didn't cry, ever, and she had no sense of
Collette knew why. It happened when Sharla was almost two years
old. She'd been an early walker but didn't get out of her crib much
so she'd lost her head start. She had a few words: Mummy,
bottle, stinky, lighter, juice. Collette's boyfriend at the
time, Wally, was a huge man with shoulders so wide he had to duck
and go sideways to fit through the trailer door. Sharla recalled
him coming into her tiny baby room, filling it up like water in a
glass, with his yeasty breath and cigarette hair.
It was a late fall day, smelling of McIntosh apples and mapleleaf
fire. Baby Sharla shuffled to the back of the crib, grinding the
nipple of her empty bottle with her tiny white teeth. Wally'd come
to get something from the room. He stumbled in, in all his bigness,
and banged his shin hard on the edge of the old crib. He screamed,
Jesus Fuck, Collette!, raised his leg and kicked the rickety
crib like he wanted to send it through the wall.
Little Sharla'd been steadying herself with her hand on the edge of
the crib, and when Wally kicked it, her chubby brown fingers got
slammed between the crib and the wall. Collette came in, fierce
about the noise and the screaming. "Shit, Wally! You fucking
asshole! Why'd you get her going?!"
"I never laid a finger! I never fucking touched her!" Collette
threw a "Shh" Sharla's way and pushed Wally out of the room,
banging the door shut behind her.
Baby Sharla screamed and tried to pull her mashed fingers out from
between the wall and the crib. She used her words. "Mummy. Hand.
Mummy. Hand. Mummy. Mummy! Mummy! Mum-my!"
Collette only came back into the room to yell, "Shut up! Shut up
and go to sleep!"
An hour passed while Sharla cried. She puked up sour milk and Chef
Boyardee supper, chewed the rubber nipple off her empty bottle and
cried some more. The sound of the television in the living room
went up, then off. There was no sound, then a click-click
and banging metal noise. Baby Sharla knew her mother and Wally'd
gone out the door and there was no one left to hear her. She
stopped crying then and never did again for a long, long
After a while, Sharla's fingers went numb. The quiet made her
sleepy. She wanted to sink down into her sour, puked-on blanket but
she couldn't sink down because of her hand being jammed, so she
rested her forehead on the soft part of her arm and closed her
In the morning, Collette was sick from too much Southern Comfort,
grateful that Sharla was quiet and letting her sleep in. Around
noon she thought she better go check though because her daughter
had never slept that late before. Baby Sharla was standing up in
the crib, her head turned to the window, runny shit spilling out
the edges of her diaper. She acted like she didn't hear her mother
open the door. Collette knew Sharla was mad about last night and
going to be a brat all day to make her pay for it.
The smell in the room made Collette gag, then she saw the puke on
the blankets and decided Sharla was going to get a smack so she'd
learn. Collette reached into the crib with her fingernails. She
took Sharla by the armpits to lift her out but she was stuck.
That's when Collette saw the arm, purple and blue up to the elbow,
the smashed fingers swollen like sausages. Collette said, "Shit,"
and pulled the crib from the wall. Sharla didn't move her hand. She
couldn't. Collette said, "Shit" again and called for Wally.
Wally was gone forever the next day. Collette took care to change
the bandage on Sharla's hand and let her have a bottle whenever she
wanted. She let her out of her crib more too, with Wally gone and
being lonely for company. Collette even brought Sharla a
present—a fat, mewling, orange and white kitten from the box
under Krystal's porch. Collette called the kitten Trixie and
thought of getting her fixed but never did. Sharla fell on Trixie
twice the first day, pulled her tail and fed her Cracker Jacks.
Trixie learned early to make herself scarce.
When a few weeks passed and Sharla could pick up a banana with the
mashed fingers, Collette felt satisfied she was healed and that was
the end of it. They never saw much of Trixie, though the bowls of
cat food kept disappearing. Collette was sorry she brought the cat
home at all, because now she had to put up with Trixie's heat
screaming in the middle of the night and all the Toms squirting on
her broken screen door.
And so Sharla stood now in the hot sun somewhere on the way
to the stranger Addy Shadd's, wishing she could cry and that
someone would tell her what to do. There was no point in going
after Fawn and the white plastic bag. The only thing she missed out
of it was the Indian corn anyway. But she felt funny showing up at
Addy Shadd's without her bag of summer clothes and didn't want to
be asked questions about why Collette would send her
Sharla started walking toward the mud lane hoping some idea would
jump in her head, and when she saw some ladies' clothes hanging
from a clothesline, one did. Sharla could hear the TV on in the
trailer beside the clothesline so she snuck over quietly and pulled
off three things fast—a pair of big underpants, a shiny
triangle-print blouse, and a blue-flower housedress with square
pockets on the front.
There was something churning in Sharla's stomach. Maybe it was her
shame at stealing the clothes, maybe it was because she was getting
closer to Addy Shadd's trailer, or maybe it was that she hadn't had
any breakfast. Sharla made a bundle out of the ladies' clothes and
squinted at the sun. She kicked up dust to amuse herself but wished
she hadn't because of the way it stuck to her damp shins. Her shoes
made scuffa scuffa sounds as she went along.
Except for the fact it wasn't paved, the mud lane was pretty much
like the rest of the park, lined with white and silver trailers,
most permanent, some ready to hitch and go. Little space to play or
have a catch except the road. Cars, some better, some worse, parked
everywhere. Sharla started at the bottom of the lane, looking up at
the numbers, knowing that twenty-eight was a lot bigger than four.
Up ahead, she could see two colored children she knew. Nedda was
the girl and Lionel Chase was the boy.
Nedda looked up at Sharla and smalled her eyes. "What do you
Sharla clutched the clothes in her hands and said, "Hi, Lionel."
Lionel looked up and said nothing. Lionel Chase hardly ever said
anything and Sharla liked him best of all the children in the
trailer park. He had eyelashes nearly as long as Fawn's, and his
lips smiled even when he wasn't happy or thinking something's
Sharla pointed at the bouquet of yellow dandelions in Nedda's hand
and said, "Know what?" Nedda sneered. "What?" "Know how you can
tell if you like your butter?" Nedda was curious. "How?" "You put a
dandelion here, under your chin, and if it shines yellow, you like
your butter. If it don't shine nothing you like your
Nedda put the dandelion under her chin and turned to Lionel, asking
in a furry purry way, "Do I like my butter?" Lionel didn't say
anything. Nedda shrugged and dropped the dandelion bouquet,
dragging Lionel Chase away from Sharla Cody.
Her stomach was empty and her legs were achy, so Sharla thought she
better sit on the big pink rock out front of the slick silver
trailer no one lived in. Sharla liked to sit on the pink rock when
she came down the mud lane. It was shaped like a catcher's mitt and
her bum felt good nestled against the hot smooth stone. She could
sit there all day if nobody chased her off.
She might have fallen asleep because of the sun and the smooth pink
rock. Maybe she didn't sleep at all and she'd only blinked, but she
thought the sun had moved in the sky and she felt shivery when she
opened her eyes and saw Lionel Chase standing there with his long
lashes and smiling lips. Lionel looked different though, a big welt
on the side of his head like he'd recently got a smack. He turned
to look up the road, and Sharla looked too.
There was a big old colored lady moving toward them, huffing and
wheezing and smoking and blowing. Addy Shadd, Sharla said in her
head. Lionel stood in front of Sharla, both of them watching the
lady get closer and closer, no one saying anything till the lady
reached the pink rock.
Sharla looked up and smiled but the lady didn't smile back. Instead
she reached down, yanked the clothes bundle away with one hand and
raised the other to give Sharla a slap. The little girl cowered.
Lionel said just one thing: "Don't."
The big smoking lady put her hand down. Then just like that she
started back down the lane with the clothes, blowing her smoke and
shaking her head.
Sharla looked at Lionel, but before she could ask, "That Addy
Shadd?" he turned and walked away.
Sharla was afraid. What if Addy Shadd was going to tell Emilio and
Collette that no little clothes thief was going to live with her
now or ever? She ran, fast as her splayed legs would allow, all the
way back to Collette's trailer. She didn't know what to do when she
got there though. Hide, was all she could think.
Sharla crouched in the trash shed behind the trailer, waving fat
black flies off the rusty pail beside her. There was a broken chair
that came from the kitchen set, some old bushel baskets for apples
in the fall, a busted-up suitcase, and a push lawnmower she never
saw get used before. Sharla kept the shed door open a crack so she
could see if Addy Shadd was gonna come smoking down the road and go
tell Collette what she'd done.
Careful and quiet, Sharla opened the metal door a little more, to
see better and to let out the garbage smell. She could hear Emilio
fart inside the trailer and a more distant sound of Collette
banging pots and dishes. She jolted when she heard Emilio shout,
"Fucking thing! You fucking cocksmoking thing!" He kicked something
hard. Whatever it was he kicked, she hoped he broke his toe.
After a while Sharla knew it must be suppertime because she started
to smell fried bologna and potatoes and orange cheese from Kraft
Dinner. She thought of her last meal, the end of the groceries so
they just had cream of mushroom soup from a can. She wished she had
a little of that gluey soup now. The push lawnmower was digging
into her back. Sharla moved the thing away, leaned up against the
garbage can, and shut her eyes.
When she woke up it was night and quiet. At first Sharla didn't
know where she was. She knew she'd had a bad dream but she didn't
know she'd missed a storm, thunder and lightning but hardly any
rain, that took out the power at the trailer park. The moon shone
full and silvery through the cracked-open door and fell on the
garbage pail. That's when Sharla realized she was still in the
It was just a little red boot, but when she saw it in the
moonlight, stuck between the bushel baskets and the broken chair,
Sharla felt like laughing. She hadn't seen the boot there before,
and to see something in the dark that you didn't see in the light
was magic. She picked up the rubber boot and held it like a doll
while she looked around for its mate. There was no second red boot
to be found, but that didn't matter because Sharla's feet were too
big now and she couldn't wear them anyway. She pulled out the
busted-up suitcase, opened it, and put the boot inside. The little
red boot gave her courage. She opened the shed door and stepped
into the night. Emilio's big gray van was gone from the driveway
but it was just as well if he and Collette were out. Sharla'd
already decided she couldn't ask to come home.
She knew it had rained. She could smell the dampness in the air,
and as she dragged her suitcase with the red boot down the mud
lane, her feet sank a little and there was no dust left to kick up
on her shins. There was no television sound and no radio sound and
no lights in any of the trailers. It made Sharla feel like she was
in a dream. She wondered if she'd wake up and still be smelling
garbage in the shed.
She was counting the trailer numbers in her head, number seven,
number six, number five, and right then a breeze snuck up behind
her and she smelled that sweet piss smell. She didn't know it was
the little white flowers. She thought it was a dog, or maybe a
trailer tank was broken because that happened sometimes. She even
put her fingers to her own parts to see if she'd pissed herself and
just didn't know it.
The moon pushed aside a cloud and it was suddenly so bright it
might have been day if it weren't night. The moonglow pointed out
Addy Shadd's long white trailer, number four, and the prim square
of white flowers in front. Sharla looked at the trailer, hoping it
There were three metal mesh steps up to the door, and Sharla could
see them clearly in the bright night. She parked her suitcase on
the ground and counted as she climbed, one, two, three. She put her
ear up against the door. There was no sound at all. Sharla'd been
told never to knock when a grown-up was sleeping, so she settled on
the top mesh step, thinking how it'd mark a pattern on her thighs.
She looked at the night sky and breathed in the piss smell she was
already starting to feel fond of. She noticed the trailer beside,
smaller than this one with torn sheets for curtains and a rusty old
stove outside that kids kept plastic toys inside.
That old stove made her think of Emilio and the first time he came
to the trailer. It was only a few months ago, Easter Sunday, but it
seemed longer. The groundhog had lied because there was enough snow
on the ground to make an angel and more flakes coming down.
Collette was mad because her new shoes were white sandals and she'd
taken the time to paint her toenails with the Reckless Red polish
her friend Krystal scoffed for her at the drugstore.
Collette washed her hair with fruity shampoo, painted stripes of
pink on her cheeks, and drew blue on her eyelids. Sharla thought
her mother looked like a clown but didn't say so. She watched
Collette pull on her soft purple sweater with the wide-open neck.
Her mother said, "Fuck Fuck Fuck," when she squeezed into the blue
jeans she used to wear before she had Sharla.
Krystal Trochaud came over from across the road to see how Collette
looked. Krystal liked to be the boss and acted more like Collette's
mother than her friend. She'd had a baby of her own last year but
it died in the night. She called it "my crib death baby" and didn't
seem as sad as you might expect.
Krystal looked Collette up and down as she puffed a Kool. "Them
jeans give you camel toe."
Collette looked between her legs at the way the seam split her
pussy lips like a cloven hoof and knew what Krystal meant. She went
to change into a different pair, but put on her new sandals because
they were just going to stay in the house all day anyway. Her heels
went click-clickety-click on the linoleum.
Sharla was watching TV and eating chocolate malt balls shaped like
Easter eggs. Krystal sat down beside her on the couch. She said,
"Emilio's got a good job. Got a van too. Wouldn't that make a
difference for getting groceries and whatever?"
Sharla pressed a malt ball to the roof of her mouth. "You better be
nice to him, Sharla. Your butt's gonna be at foster care if
Collette loses this trailer."
Sharla didn't want to be at foster care, so she sat up straight on
the couch and stopped eating the malt balls, deciding she should
give the rest to Collette's new boyfriend with the van.
The inside part of the oven was on and that was unusual because
Collette mostly used the burners. It made the trailer hot, and when
Sharla complained, Collette set her teeth and said, "Go put your
fucking shorts on then."
Emilio was late. The trailer got hotter and hotter. Whatever was
inside the oven was still pink. Sharla'd never seen it before but
it smelled good, like something cooked in one of the red brick
houses in Chatham. Sharla hoped they wouldn't have to wait till
dark to eat the meat because the only thing in her stomach were a
few chocolate malt balls.
There was no knock at the door. It scared Sharla when Emilio just
walked right in and stood on the mat looking at her like she
shouldn't be there. Emilio wasn't short but neither did he have to
duck to get in the door. His head was shiny black waves and his
facewas a good one with round dark eyes and a not-too-big nose and
thick red lips you might see on a pretty girl. Sharla liked the
look of him, but he didn't like the look of her and she knew
Sharla made room for him on the sofa, and when he sat down, she
gave him what was left of her malt balls, only four or five melty
ones because she'd gotten so hungry waiting. Emilio looked in the
bag and scratched his head, and he didn't say thank you or
wasn't that thoughtful. He called, "Collette?! Hey, Collette,
you know your kid's out here dressed like an idiot? There's snow on
the ground and she's in goddamned summer shorts!"
When Collette came down the hall, Emilio got up off the couch.
There was a mean look on his face but Collette didn't look scared.
She kissed his mouth and said she was glad he was getting to know
Sharla a little. Emilio and Collette kept on kissing, and when
Emilio's tongue wormed out between his lips, Sharla turned
All the sudden, after waiting all day, that pink meat was coming
out of the oven and set on the table with nothing else. Sharla was
hungry. "We gonna eat?"
Collette's cheeks were red under the pink stripes. She hardly
looked at her daughter. "Have a little ham to tide you over.We'll
be back in a bit."
Sharla watched Emilio go down the long hall to Collette's bedroom
and waited till the door closed. She turned the channel on the
television, wishing for cartoons but there was only sports and
news. She sat down at the table and tore at the ham with her
fingers, loving the sweet burnt taste of it.
Sharla didn't know how long she'd been sitting there on Addy
Shadd's step when the metal door screeched open behind her. She
held her breath. She couldn't see any person in the trailer, but a
voice came through the screen, deep as a man's and like she'd just
"You Sharla Cody?" was all the voice said before it opened the
screen door to let her in. Sharla rose, but her legs buckled
because of sitting so still and quiet for so long. She felt queasy,
but the feeling eased up when she stepped inside.
The trailer was dark, but warm and thick with some smell Sharla
didn't know. Sharla heard the sound of a match being struck and
then there was a flame on a candle and a big shadow on the wall.
The candle was set on the table and a chair dragged across the
floor. The lady who sat down in the chair was not the one whose
clothes she'd stolen from the line, and Sharla felt relieved.
Addy Shadd leaned her face toward the light and lit a long slim
cigarette on the candle, saying, "You don't look atall like your
"I got a Dad. He just don't live with us" was all Sharla could
think to respond.
The old lady crooked her finger at a chair across from her and
said, "Sit down, Honey," in that thick pudding voice. Sharla took
the chair and stared.
Addy Shadd's skin was the color of root beer, so wrinkled and
stretched it looked like there was enough of it to cover two
people. Her hair was sparkly white and unpinned to make a halo
around her long face. On each side of that halo was the well of her
ears, which were not just enormous, but stuck out from her head
like wings. Her eyes were hooded and rheumy. Her nose was broad,
with round nostrils that made flute sounds when she breathed out.
The lines around her lips puckered like a bum when she smoked her
Sharla liked the looks of Addy Shadd and thought how no one ever
called her Honey before. She felt like she'd like to pat down Addy
Shadd's sparkly white hair. She felt like she'd like to kiss Addy
Shadd's pucker bum mouth and to sit in her skinny lap and bury her
nose in the folds of her neck.
Addy Shadd took a long puff and blew the words out with the smoke.
"Where you been, Honey?"
Sharla was puzzled by the question because Addy Shadd had just seen
her sitting on the top step of the porch.Maybe the question was a
trick. Sharla knew about tricks and getting smacked for the wrong
answer. "Out there on the porch?" Addy Shadd couldn't tell if
Sharla was sassing but suspected she was so she didn't say Honey
this time."Where you been before that?" Sharla recalled slowly.
"You suppose to come this afternoon." "I know." "I figured you'd be
coming along tomorrow. I'd have called if I had a telephone."
"We don't got no telephone too." "That right?" Sharla nodded.
"We're getting it back though." "Where's your Mama?" Sharla
shrugged. "In Emilio's van?" "Who brung you here?"
"She said I could go by myself." "All by yourself ?" "I know my
numbers." "That may be, but I never knew a Mama to send a child out
in the middle of the night like that, did I?"
Sharla didn't answer because she didn't know what all Addy Shadd
knew of mothers and their children. The old woman brought her
cigarette to her mouth but a wracking cough stopped her from
sucking on it.
Sharla allowed her eyes to leave the candle glow on the face of
Addy Shadd and roam around the trailer. The walls were paneled in
gray barn board and there were pictures here and there but she
couldn't make them out in the dim light. There was a skinny
hallway, not as long as Collette's, that led to a bathroom and back
bedroom. The living room was up front, the kitchen in the middle,
and that was about it.
On the shelf that separated the kitchen from the living room, there
was a collection of salt'n'pepper shakers-cornstalks and green
apples and red lobsters and entwined dolphins and Mounted Police
and dancing ladies and pairs of everything under the sun. Sharla
noticed the pullout couch with a big soft pillow and blue plaid
blanket. She said out loud with a marvel Addy Shadd didn't quite
catch, "I'm gonna live here."
"Did your Mama give you the envelope?" Sharla thought of what
Collette put inside the white plastic bag. "I don't think so."
"You're suppose to have an envelope for me." "I don't have no
Addy Shadd suspected she was being played and didn't care for that,
especially not at half past midnight when she'd waited and worried
and wondered all day. She was not at all sure she wanted this fat
sassy child living in her home.
"Well, you was suppose to bring an envelope with money for your
food and your whatnot."
Sharla shrugged and tried to recall if Collette put a money
envelope in that white plastic bag, and if she did, Fawn Trochaud
Addy Shadd coiled her lips around her cigarette. "Where's your
things, Child?" "What things?"
Addy Shadd's patience was used up. "Your things.Your things. Don't
you have no suitcase, Miss Sassafrass?"
Sharla felt sick again. It took a full minute for her to remember
she left her suitcase outside. She stood up and started out the
door but came right back because she had to know, "You gonna let me
back in though?"
Addy Shadd truly did not know what to make of this child and
decided she was either simple or strange. Then she supposed simple
or strange was all right as long as she wasn't sassy. She stood at
the door and watched Sharla in the moonlight.
The child was school age, five or six. Addy couldn't quite recall
what that white trash mother told her when she came knocking on her
door just a few days ago. Collette sat down in the chair, crossed
her pretty legs, folded her arms under her substantial bosom, and
told Addy Shadd all about herself and her foreigner boyfriend but
little about the child she wished to lodge. She said her boyfriend
had been busted up in a car accident and needed time to recover.
She said, "I just can't have Sharla around making noise all day
when alls Emilio needs to do is sleep."
Looking at the young woman sitting across from her, Addy had a
sudden, staggering recollection of her own youth. She remembered
her own pretty legs and ample bosom and the certain way she'd walk
to show herself off. How long had it been, she wondered, since
she'd been admired, or done the admiring herself? "I understand,"
Addy'd said about Collette's situation, though she was naturally
suspicious of the woman and her intentions.
Collette said, "I can give you a hundred dollars for two summer
months. That's my baby bonus plus. Emilio's got his rugby Sundays
so I can take her then, but not overnight."
"Rugby? How can your man play rugby if he's all busted up?"
Collette fumbled, "Oh. Yeah. Well, he's just scorekeeping now.
Anyways, it's just till Sharla starts school and I promise she
won't bother you. Give her a bag of chips and send her
All Addy Shadd could think is what kind of Mama asks a stranger
to take care of her own baby girl? Collette knew what she was
thinking, and she put her eyes on the floor. "I don't have family
to go to or I would. My Mum died when I was nine years old and last
time I saw my Dad he got the hose out after me, so."
"Why'd he get the hose out after you?" "Him and Delia said I stole
twenty dollars from the flour jar, which I did not."
Collette glanced at her watch and knew Emilio was waiting to go
look for packing boxes. "I could probably find another fifteen
dollars being there's still a few days left in June. I was hoping
to move her over just as soon as you say. I could probably find
Addy Shadd had already decided to take the child, and though it's
true she could use the money, mostly she saw the child as a gift.
She was seventy years old and had been alone for decades. She liked
the idea of having a sweet little thing running in and out of her
But, Addy Shadd thought looking at her now, Sharla Cody was no
sweet little thing. She was tall for her age with a funny shape
to her. Her fat legs touched at the top and splayed out at her
feet. She had a big rolly stomach and shorter-than-usual arms that
stuck out instead of hanging from her shoulders. Her heavy head was
propped up by a short thick neck, and her small eyes hid in a cave
of lid and cheek. There was no sign of sweetness whatever in her
expression. The one thing you might say was cute on Sharla was her
nose, a little round button set just right over her plush crooked
Collette never mentioned to Addy Shadd what Sharla looked like and
it never occurred to her to ask. Collette also never mentioned that
Sharla was mixed, but there was no question her Daddy was colored.
Sharla's caramel skin didn't come from Collette, and neither did
her tight coils of black hair. Addy Shadd knew firsthand about
Sharla got her suitcase from where she parked it on the ground, and
Addy Shadd watched her turn around in the moonlight and start back
up the stairs. Sharla swayed on her legs. She had bubbles of sweat
on her lip and was feeling all the hotter because she just came in
from a breeze. She set the suitcase down and it fell over on its
Addy Shadd felt her smacking hand itch. "Didn't your Mama teach you
not to cuss?"
Sharla shook her head but it made her feel dizzy and confused. The
old woman pointed at the suitcase. "Open it up, Child. Likely your
Mama put my envelope in there." Sharla shook her head. "There ain't
no envelope in there."
Addy Shadd got serious. "If you did something with that money and
you are lying to me now, you're going straight back to your Mama
and that boyfriend of hers and I won't never think of you again.
Sharla said nothing, so Addy Shadd lifted the suitcase up to the
table, unbuckled the strap and opened it up. She looked at the red
rubber boot and she looked at Sharla and back at the boot. Collette
Cody was either simple or just dog mean. "That's all she sent you
with? That's all you brung? One dirty old red boot?"
Sharla was much too tired to explain about the white plastic bag
and the clothesline and the smoking lady. She hadn't eaten a thing
all day and she could feel her kneecaps shifting on her leg bones.
She looked at Addy Shadd's foggy eyes in the candlelight and opened
her mouth to speak, but she must have blown the candle out because
everything went dark.
Addy Shadd didn't have the quickness in her old body to catch the
little girl before she fell unconscious and hit her head on the
salt'n'pepper shaker shelf. She cursed Collette for knocking on her
door and cursed herself for thinking a stranger's child could bring
her anything but grief. She nearly cursed Sharla too, but when she
saw the little girl's head was bleeding, she winched herself up on
her lean old legs.
It was just a habit that Addy Shadd flipped the switch in the tiny
bathroom, but when the light came on she realized the power was
back and it felt like a miracle. She grabbed a soft, embroidered
hand towel from under the sink, then opened the medicine cabinet
and found a box of bandages and the orange iodine.
Back in the kitchen the old woman turned on the light and saw that
her Mountie pepper shaker, her wheatsheaf salt, and her dolphin
pair were all broken on the ground near Sharla's head. She got to
her knees, took Sharla's little brown hand, and was relieved to
find a strong steady pulse.
Addy Shadd guided the big head of springy curls onto her own narrow
lap, not caring about the blood on her thin nightdress. She
tunneled through the thick coils with her nicotine fingers and
stopped when she found a goose egg. There was a gash on the swell,
small but deep. She held the edge of her good towel there until the
bleeding stopped, then she dabbed some orange iodine and tried to
cover it with a medium-size bandage that wouldn't stick.
Addy Shadd stayed on the floor, absently stroking Sharla's soft
cheek. She thought of her whole long life and all the times she'd
seen a person go unconscious and tried to remember what all got
done for them. She recalled when her brother Leam got kicked in the
head by that ugly horse on Mr.Kenny's farm in Rusholme.He slept two
days straight then woke up smelling asparagus, which wasn't even in
season. She recalled when she fell out of the apple tree in the
backyard and lost her sense of words for a full day. She also
recalled, though she wished she hadn't, what happened at the river
with Chester Monk. She quickly pushed Chester Monk and Rusholme
from her mind and focused on the child.
Sharla's wound wasn't too serious but she shouldn't be moved, was
the conclusion Addy came to. The other conclusion was that she was
taking Sharla Cody back to her mother in the morning. She'd been
crazy to accept responsibility for the child, and she could see now
it would never work.
Addy Shadd rose again, and with all the up and down tonight, she
was glad she'd gotten the winter rust out of her bones working her
little garden out back and tending her white flowers in the square
out front. She gathered up the blue plaid blanket and the soft
pillow from the pullout couch and brought them to where Sharla lay
still and quiet on the kitchen floor. She tucked the pillow under
Sharla's head and put the blanket over her.
As Addy Shadd was set to rise, Sharla opened her eyes."Mum?" "Shh.
Close your eyes now." "It's hot." "I know. Close your eyes, Honey."
"Smells like Ivory soap." "Shh now, Honey. Shh."
Sharla looked at the old woman directly. "I wish you was my
"You got a Mama, little girl." "You could be my Mum though. Mum."
Sharla closed her eyes, and because it felt good rolling off her
sleepy tongue, said it once more, "Mum."
Addy Shadd cleaned the broken china pieces from beside Sharla's
slumbering head. When she was finished, the old woman pushed
herself up and sat down in a hardback kitchen chair. She watched
the big little girl sleeping on the floor, and though she knew she
might regret it, she allowed her thoughts to return to
Excerpted from RUSH HOME ROAD © Copyright 2011 by Lori
Lansens. Reprinted with permission by Little, Brown and Company, an
imprint of Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.