While Mom slept, I slipped out of the house to go on a searching mission. I needed to make contact with Madame. I couldn’t stay here any longer without letting her know of my presence in Chicago.
After arriving at her fabulous apartment on the Magnificent Mile, the Desk Attendant I persuade to allow me to just go straight up without an announcement. This I managed, based on his wrong conclusion that I was one of her constant stream of young visitors; though he mentioned that they were usually male. I know I should have, but for some reason, I had no desire to correct his misinterpretation.
Maybe on the way out, I rationalized.
Upon reaching the thirtieth floor, I braced myself for whatever. I felt neither anxiety nor anger. But, by the expression on Madame’s face when she opens the door, I think: She feels only anger.
“Somehow I knew you would just show up here, uninvited. But, since you are here, the news must be good. So then this visit should not take too long. The condensed version please. I would invite you in, but I have company.”
Her manner swiped away all intentions of lying. And actually I decide, the truth is better. So, standing in the hallway I explain.
“No Madame. It wasn’t a success. Yes, I did find him, but he thinks I’m trash. Actually he thinks you and Crystal are trash too.” That bit of information, while lifting my spirits, inspired her further anger.
“Oh, he does; does he?”
“Yes. He said ‘trash begets trash.’ Just what does he mean by that, Madame?” I ask, enjoying, at least this bit of conversation.
“Why didn’t you ask him? Surely, you are not here as if I owe you anything, are you? After all I’ve done for you. . . Do you think you could have lived as well as you did without me? Notice, your mother’s life is nothing in comparison. She has never even left the city. And, if you did find him, that means you have visited some interesting places. Saw a bit more of life than you would have by staying here.”
I have to agree there. Still. . .
“Thank you. I have enjoyed my life. That is why I plan on returning to it tomorrow. I just stopped by because I don’t understand what this was all about. I have the feeling that you knew things would fall apart.”
Why did I lie?
“No. There is where you are wrong. I thought you would be successful. You were always a bright child. I had hopes for you to be able to make it. All my life I’ve struggled to make sure that we had a roof over our heads. At times, by any means necessary. I’ve succeeded. But I had no intention of forever carrying you girls. You needed to be self-sufficient. Unfortunately, Crystal is not. Her every move is dependent upon a man. I tried to show her otherwise, but you see how that turned out. Anyway, I am actually sorry to see that you have failed. Hopefully, you have not gotten yourself evicted.”
“No! Of course not. Why would you think that?”
“I didn’t. I just hoped you hadn’t. The apartment has been mine since the ‘80’s,’ even though it has changed hands. I’ve heard that the value of it has increased. Unfortunately, my sister almost lost it when she allowed her unruly charge to live there. That is also why I sent you to live there. Let the new owners see that they did not make a mistake in allowing us to maintain occupancy.”
“No wonder. . .”
“As long as we maintain a good working relationship with them, the apartment can still be ours at a reasonable rate. And you must admit that the quality cannot be compared to any other. Especially at that cost.”
No. She had a point. My friends were amazed by my place. Probably, why they were my friends.
“Seneca, would have been icing on the cake. An opportunity to show your mom that you can succeed without dependency on a man; yet, still have one.”
“But how would she have known?”
“You would have kept him a secret?”
Madame must have forgotten that Mom and I hadn’t spoken before in ten years. Did she really think that I would reappear just to spite her? . . . Was that what she had hoped?
Somehow I think Madame’s explanation is much too simple. . . But how do I get at the truth?
“Madame, Crystal thinks that you hate her. If I would’ve got back with Seneca, don’t you think that would have just validated her opinion? Do you think that she would’ve learned a lesson?”
“What are you saying? . . . Crystal knows I love her. I do not NEED to say it! Just like I do not NEED to say it to you. My actions over the years have shown it. That is what’s wrong with young people. Always wanting more. Never appreciative of what they have. I did not have. I MADE my way. I DID NOT have the backing of any man to support me. But I made it and will continue to do so.”
“But the house, Madame. Where did the house come from?”
“Just what are you asking?”
“Crystal showed me pictures of when she was young and it looks like the same house I grew up in. She said you hated her because you felt she was responsible for her father’s death.”
“And she was! If she was an obedient little girl he would still be alive . . . then I would have married him. Instead he died without us having any security! Just what was I supposed to do? Who would’ve looked favorably upon a black woman with a white child? I was on my own. I left your great-aunt, aunt, behind in New York to keep the rat-infested apartment, while I traveled here to be nurse-maid to an ailing woman! I couldn’t live on the premises, so I lived close. But she died and I had a child.
What do you think would have happened if I were not an intelligent woman? Do you think that I would still have a house, this place and an apartment without any money? One must use their brain to make it, young lady. Beauty is fine, an asset; but it fades fast. In the end, without brains you’re lost. . . Now if you will excuse me, your lesson is over for the day. In the future, I would prefer you call me before just showing up.”
With that dismissal, I exit the building thinking . . . so Madame did hate Crystal.
Suddenly, I feel sorry for Mom. . . And extremely guilty.
“Diamond, I think I’m ready now.”
I pause mid-chew, the last bite of toast scraping the roof of my mouth.
Ready? . . . For what?
Looking across its grainy surface at Mom, my eyes glued to her face, waiting apprehensive for the explanation, my tongue toying with the abrasion.
Seated at the kitchen table, the sun tries to force its presence despite thick clouds. That’s sort of how I feel this morning with Mom’s reappearance to the breakfast scene—strained cheer amidst gloom. Through necessity I got reacquainted with isolated meals. Now she sits across from me sipping a cup of tea—without addictives I presume, like this ritual had never stopped.
“I’m sorry Mom, what are you saying? My mind was somewhere else.”
Maybe she didn’t say what I think she said.
“I can take that job off your hands now, Diamond. I’m sorry I didn’t step in sooner,” she continues placing the cup daintily in its saucer on the tabletop.
I think, really? shocked, but more irritated by her faint smile and brown eyes gazing steadily at me. No. The news doesn’t thrill me.
Why now? I want to ask, at the same time wondering: what’s the matter with me? Why am I overreacting?
Or am I?
What I think I resent is her snapping her little fingers and expecting everything to fall into place; especially when I practically begged her to step in weeks ago.
“But what about your accident? . . . You’re not well yet.”
“Oh, it hurts a little, but you’ve been so good to me, that I’m sure it won’t give me any problems. I’ll take it slow.”
But I just can’t leave now. Cowen gave me an assignment; one that I liked. I love the direction in which he’s taking the agency, so I want the responsibility of redecorating the office. I take that seriously; how your establishment looks can make or break your business. It’s the least I can do, especially with my previous behavior and all the negative insinuations regarding my capabilities in the office.
Now Mom wants to take the job. I’m going to need a little time to digest; I have to introduce the idea to Cowen.
“Sure Mom. I’ll start working on the transition right away.”
Funny. Before I left I wanted to dump the job right into her lap and now. . . .
“So, Diamond. How do you think this will work? Should I review the forms and things again, or are you doing something else?”
“Oh, we’ll go over the forms again. Those are pretty necessary.” And I’m not sure about my giving up the decorating--.
But I did take on this job for her, didn’t I?