Stella had never seen someone eat so fast. It was as if he hadn’t had a meal in days. Looking at his scrawny frame, maybe he hadn’t. He had been a husky boy since birth—all those powdered donuts his mama guzzled down while pregnant with him. Now it looked as if he weighed no more than 150 pounds. It terrified her.
She considered calling Leslie, but decided against it. That woman would be flying down the road like a bat of hell to get here, not caring whose car she sideswiped, how many cops were on her tail. If Gregory wanted to see his mother, he would’ve called her. Instead, he called Grandma, and lucky for him, she was just putting up the leftovers from Sunday dinner.
“We missed you at church today,” Stella said with her back turned to him. She wrapped a plate of baked macaroni and cheese in foil and put it into a plastic bag. Her prayer partner, Wanda, had finally caved in and given her the family recipe. The secret ingredient: almond flour. That would explain why some church members suddenly broke out into hives whenever they took a bite.
“You know I don’t live in the city, Grandma.” His voice was muffled for all the food crammed in his cheeks. Stella resisted the urge to chide him for talking with his mouth full. She was thankful just to have him here, talking with her at all.
“You’re not still at that nasty trailer park, are you?” When Gregory and Tanisha first met, she was living in her parents’ mobile home, across the street from the old landfill that had been shut down after reaching capacity a few years ago. Stella didn’t have anything against people who lived in mobile homes—some mobile homes looked nicer than the ones on foundation—but the neighborhood was complete trash, and that had nothing to do with the landfill—the people were trash.
She watched the ten o’clock news every night before bed, and she couldn’t remember a time when there wasn’t a report of a mugging, or a rape, or a gas station robbery in the area. A few years ago, when the city began building a greenbelt through downtown for joggers and bicyclists, they tried to extend the trail to that part of town, as a way to clean up the streets. The expansion was immediately tabled when a woman on an evening stroll sat down to rest on a park bench and while leaning back, planted her hand on top of a used condom, semen still inside. That night, the evening news showed graphic footage from the traffic cameras nearby of a man having sex with a girl barely of age just hours prior, in broad daylight.
Stella was so disgusted when she’d found out that Gregory had been living there with Tanisha and her parents. She’d blessed Leslie out when she finally came clean about it after three months.
“Why don’t that boy want to come home?” she’d demanded.
“I don’t know,” Leslie’s response.
“Where’s her mama? She let him shack up with her like that? She don’t have no more respect for her daughter? For herself? There can’t be no room in there— they sleeping in the same bed?”
“I don’t know.” It had become Leslie’s answer to every question concerning Gregory. A shrug, a sigh, a rolling of the eyes, an “I don’t know”—it was as if she had given up hope on ever reconciling with Gregory.
“We got an apartment,” Gregory said after washing down his food with sweet tea in consecutive gulps. Instinctively, Stella walked to the refrigerator, took the pitcher and refilled his glass. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
At least he still has manners, Stella thought. She returned to packing his to-go bag, arranging a large barbecue chicken breast and leg and thigh in a Styrofoam dinner tray, along with wild rice and collards, because Lord knows the boy needs his greens. “Just you and her, right?” she prodded. “Her mama not living with y’all, is she?”
“Sometimes it feels like she is. She don’t never go home, and when she does, she takes half of what’s in our fridge with her.”
“That woman,” Stella began, but she stopped herself, remembering the morning’s sermon about having a slanderous tongue. “And what does her husband do?” she asked instead.
“Sit on his ass.”
“My God.” Stella tapped her foot, looking toward the ceiling. She prayed Gregory’s eyes would open to the hell he was living. Couldn’t he see that nothing about his relationship with Tanisha was normal? Toxic was more like it. As toxic as the air surrounding that landfill.
Only one thing could possibly be keeping him with that girl, and when she realized what it meant, she both praised and cursed Antonio’s teaching him of a man’s responsibilities before he died—this being the one exception when she would not only condone Gregory for bolting, but commend him, to save his own soul. But she knew she couldn’t keep him here. No more than Leslie could keep him in her own home. Even if she made a bed for him, he’d be gone by morning. So she opened the refrigerator and took out more leftovers. “What does an old woman like me need with all this food anyway?” she said.
Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches (2) and character monologues, brainstorming, outlines, backstories (2), and more. Today’s post is an other backstory. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!