The feeling was just wrong. A strange pressure in her stomach and chest. It didn’t really hurt; there was no actual pain; just an ache. At the end of the math lesson, Glory asked Mrs. Stockman if she could go to the bathroom. Of course, the teacher asked her why, and all of the fourth graders waited with baited breath for Glory to say number one or number two.
“I think I’m gonna throw up,” Glory said. “I feel sick.”
“For goodness sake, don’t do it in here. Go to the bathroom!”
Glory picked up the large wooden hall pass with Room 155 painted on it and left the classroom. In the bathroom, she splashed her face with water, just like the ladies on TV. She stood bending over a toilet until her knees ached, but she didn’t throw up. When Mrs. Stockman came looking for her, she couldn’t explain what was taking so long. All she knew was she felt so bad, she wanted to cry. She spent the rest of the morning sitting at her desk with her head down.
When lunchtime came, Glory joined the throng of children who walked home for lunch. Her babysitter, Miss Joyce, would have her buttery grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk waiting for her with fruit and a piece of candy.
Glory pushed open the heavy wood and glass door and slipped into the foyer before the ancient door could smash her fingers again. Then she reached up to ring Miss Joyce’s bell. She wasn’t tall enough to listen at the talking hole above the bell, so she pressed the button three short and one long time and waited for Miss Joyce to buzz her in.
Seated at the gold-flecked table in the sunny kitchen, Glory ignored the afternoon cartoons and nibbled at a corner of her sandwich.
“Girl, why you not eatin’?” Miss Joyce asked when she came into the kitchen to light her cigarette on the stove. “You sick?”
“I don’t know—” Glory’s answer was cut off by a cough, then she burst into tears. “I just feel really bad!” she sobbed.
“Aw baby, sometimes we just feel bad.” Miss Joyce pulled Glory from her chair pressed the nine-year-old’s head to her belly. “Sounds to me like you growin’ up a little early. Yo’ mama told you about sanitary napkins yet?”
“No,” Glory cried. “What’s that?”
“Well, I’ll let her tell you about it. Got pains in your belly or back?”
“It ain’t my place to say, but crying for no reason is a sure sign of growing pains. How ‘bout you stay here this afternoon? You like that?”
“Yeah.” Glory sniffed and wiped her tears on her sleeve. “Can I lay on the couch?”
“Of course, baby.”
Glory followed Miss Joyce into the living room and laid on the plastic covered couch with her head on a cigarette scented pillow. She quietly cried herself to sleep to the sounds of All My Children and Miss Joyce’s cussing at the characters.
When Glory woke, it was nearly 6:00 and the sun was just setting. She hugged her babysitter and then walked down two flights to the Bishop’s first-floor apartment. The metal gate with the huge padlock was open. Glory knocked on the door and waited. She counted all the way to fifty before knocking again. When she turned the doorknob and pushed, the door creaked open.
“Mama?” Glory called out into the dim stillness. The drapes were drawn and the TV was off. Glory looked around the living room. The giant family bible lay on the coffee table. Next to it stood a tall glass candle with Jesus on it, his face glowing from the flame flickering in the glass. Her daddy always said the candle was a lie cuz Jesus wasn’t white, so Mama usually kept it in the china cabinet. Today was the first time it had been lit.
Glory found her mother sitting in the kitchen, in her usual seat near the back door. Mary Bishop sat smoking what looked like a brown cigarette, but it smelled like burnt paper. Beside her was a plate piled high with broken cigarettes. The other smell Glory noticed was like beer and the brown liquor that her mama sometimes drank when she thought Glory was asleep.
Mary silently smoked the paper cigarette.
“Mama?” Glory said again. She looked at her mother’s red puffy eyes and the tracks that looked like scratches in her makeup. “What’s wrong?”
“Ya’ daddy’s dead.” Mary took another drag on the piece of brown paper.
“No, he’s not.” Glory said simply. “He’s coming home today. He’s just a little late, that’s all.”
Mary reached out and slapped Glory hard enough to knock her to the floor. “Don’t call me a liar.” She said. “Bible say honor yo’ mama. Ya’ hear me?” Mary spoke just above a whisper.
“Yes, ma’am” Glory cried. She tasted blood where she’d bitten her tongue. Could it be true? Her mother would only hit her over her daddy’s dead body. The ache she felt earlier welled up again and pushed out of Glory’s throat as a retch, emptying her stomach of what little she had eaten.