Jaden looked up as momma charged into the small living room, her beige skirts flying. She almost tripped over a discarded plastic doll but hopped and regained her balance even in her glittering silver pumps.
“Jack!” she yelled. “Hon!”
The room smelled of coffee; even the blue carpet Jaden crawled on smelled of roasted beans. She collected her doll’s purple hat and stockings and apron before momma could step on the doll and crack her hat, like she had last time.
With the toys safe in her arms, Jaden sat with her back to the fuchsia sofa as daddy came out of his office and snapped, “What?”
Mom tossed her beaded black hair out of her milky-coffee-colored face. Her breasts and butt trembled as she held a paper under daddy’s nose. It looked like a magazine folded in half; the light coming in through the window behind the sofa reflected on its glossy surface.
“Hon!” momma cried. “Kedah, our café, is in Living Decadently. They say we are the “stylish yet rustic and homey attraction to enjoy great coffee and handcrafted pastries”. Momma slid her painted nail along the page as she read.
“Dolly!” daddy said. He grabbed her arms and kissed her. “That is great, babe.”
Momma passed a hand down her blouse, the buttons straining at her huge bosom. “I gotta change into something nice for the lunch crowds. Velma ain’t enough to look at behind that register.”
“What about that peach dress I bought you last year?” daddy said and winked. He smacked momma’s butt as she strode past the office toward the bedroom door.
Jaden blinked. She stuck her doll’s foot into a pink shoe and shook her to ruffle up her blonde hair.
“You okay, baby?” daddy asked.
Jaden glanced up, but daddy’s voice came from the office. “Yeah,” she answered.
Momma emerged from the bedroom and came around the sofa. Her peach dress hugged her curves and her breasts sailed high on her bosom. Her new heels clacked on the floor until she reached the pastel blue carpet. Her hair was piled atop her head and her lips shone in the light coming through the window.
Momma ruffled Jaden’s crop of black hair. “You happy for mommy, baby?”
Jaden looked into momma’s face. ‘Yeah.”
“You be a good girl now, baby. You wanna come greet customers?”
Jaden clung to her doll as momma scooped her up and settled her on her hip. Momma walked down the stairs and emerged into a wide kitchen. Jaden’s bare feet stuck out of her lavender dress and she licked her lips at the sight of golden, crusty croissants cooling on a rack and the ham and cheese melting under the sunrise-like heat in the oven.
Velma, in wide glasses and a calico sack dress, greeted momma with a nod and a crusty smile and went back to chopping sausage at the counter in front of the greasy stoves.
The kitchen smelled of coffee and sugar. Momma set Jaden down on the speckled linoleum floor and went to bang her hand down in front of Velma and wave Living Decadently. Jaden dragged her doll behind her as she tottered toward the cooling croissants. She grabbed her fat hands at the cooling racks a nail’s length out of reach until she gripped the edge and pulled it toward her.
Pastries pattered the floor and airy flakes sprinkled Jaden’s hair. She snatched a pastry and stuffed a corner in her mouth. The metal rack crashed off the counter and Velma yelled, “Gosh dang, I cut my finger!”
Tears welled in Jaden’s chocolate eyes as momma stomped around the countertop toward her. She picked Jaden up and spanked her bottom a dozen times. “Baby, you wicked girl! Now you shut your mouth now, you hear, unless you want another spanking.”
Jaden blubbered as momma set her down to the side of the scattered pastries. She wiped her chubby fist against her cheek as momma surveyed the mess. Momma scowled at her. “Jesus, girl, you gone and ruined half our lunch menu. I ought to have spanked yo ass harder! What the hell are we gonna do, Velma?”
Jaden stuck out her bottom lip and threw her doll into the corner beside the flour bins. She rubbed her sore butt.
“You don’t give me no attitude, girly,” momma threatened. “Now get!” She fluttered her hands and her scarlet nails glittered.
Jaden stamped around the countertop and plunked herself on the floor facing away from momma. Her bottom stung and a few tears slid down her cheeks before she went to pick up her doll. She shook the doll hard and smacked her against the wall.
“I ain’t buyin’ you another one!” momma yelled.
Jaden pounded the doll’s plastic butt. “Look what you did! I hate you.”
“It ain’t nothing to worry about, Dolly,” Velma soothed. She started gathering the fallen croissants into her dress. “We will hide the cracks under plenty of ham and cheese. You take care of these, hon, and I will fix the menu.”
Jaden peeked around the counter and saw momma viciously cutting croissants in half and slapping on slices of cheese. Her lips were moving, and Jaden knew she was cussing. She turned her head and looked through a crack in the colorful cloth curtains blocking the kitchen off from the dining room. Jaden saw Velma straightening her glasses and covering the blackboard she had dragged onto the countertop beside the register in new writing.
Jaden remembered that moment; her sitting on her sore bottom surrounded by hostility and felt like the cheese melting in the oven.
By the time Jaden was six, she was glad to escape on the bus to school. She could read the framed magazine articles hung behind the old-fashioned register now and wanted to tear them down. Sweet? Old-fashioned? Friendly? What did those journalists know? Nothing she was not happy to tell them.
At ten years old, Jaden heard momma and daddy arguing from her small bedroom beside the office. Most of the space was filled with boxes of coffee and a faded old carpet covered the floor.
Even though her bedroom was separated from momma’s room by the office, momma’s voice still resounded. “Her ass is old enough to pour coffee with a smile, hon. Why in Christ’s name should we pay some haughty white chick to serve customers when Jaden can do it?”
“She has school, babe,” daddy said. “Besides, you gotta pay her something.”
Jaden shut her eyes and pulled the pillow over her head. She knew who won the argument next afternoon when she got off the bus in front of the café. She could see the yellow chairs and wooden tables, and even the countertop with the register at the back of the room through the low glass windows but she went in through the kitchen door.
Momma thrust an apron at her. “Drop your backpack, baby. You gonna get to work.”
“You gotta pay me,” Jaden said sullenly. She took the checkered apron and flung her backpack into the corner with the flour bins.
Momma squinted at her. “I ain’t gonna pay you more then five bucks an hour until you get your act together.”
Jaden tied on the apron and took the coffee pot momma handed her. “Fine.” She flounced her hip and pushed aside the curtain to enter the dining room.
Jaden filled coffee cups and gathered plates as her breasts and butt grew bigger. When she was fourteen, a man grabbed her ass and grinned into her startled eyes.
“I bet you serve more then coffee with a smile, aye, baby?” he said.
Jaden wacked him with the clipboard menu she held and heard it snap against his skull. She stomped on his foot. “You touch me again and I will serve you your balls, you get me?”
“Why, you little black rat!” the man exclaimed, half rising from his seat. “Where is yo momma at?”
Jaden did not need to look far; she saw momma beckoning to her from in front of the curtain and arched her back as she crossed the floor, aware the eyes of the room scrutinized her.
Daddy grabbed her shoulder as momma walked out into the dining room. Jaden heard her apologizing to the man she had wacked as daddy jerked her behind the curtain into the kitchen.
“You ain’t never gonna treat a customer like that again,” daddy said, and shook her.
“But, daddy, he grabbed me,” Jaden began.
“I am gonna do worse to yo ass upstairs,” daddy said, and hauled her to the stairwell. “And then you gonna walk out there and apologize! You hear me?”
At eighteen, Jaden graduated high school and applied to colleges at the opposite end of the coast. At eighteen and two months, she walked home from a party and found momma lying dead at the bottom of the stairs wearing her favorite low-cut peach dress and a pair of stiletto heels.
At eighteen and three months, Jaden waved goodbye to daddy in a checkered apron and a coffee pot in one hand as the cops loaded him up and hauled his ass to jail for drugs.
Jaden ignored the fact she had been accepted at five schools, withdrew her college applications, fired Velma, and took down the framed magazine articles from behind the register. Jaden found a hammer and walked out back and smashed the frames beside the trash cans until the articles were shredded with glass.
Jaden took a bundle of roses to momma’s grave. She flung them on the headstone and returned to her kitchen to pound out chicken breasts and brew ten gallons of coffee for the morning crowds. She hired a guy who called himself Griffy to punch the keys on the register and put up with a haughty white chick to pour coffee with a smile.
Jaden kept herself in the kitchens and iced doughnuts until she could juggle an oven of croissants, scrap cream cheese onto bagels, and yell at the waitress all in one breath.
At twenty-one, Jaden married Griffy and catered her own wedding amidst the customers of Kedah. At twenty-one and five months, she framed her own feature article from Living Decadently and hung it on the hardwood wall behind the register. Sweet? Old-fashioned? Friendly? Now, that it was.
When Jaden had her first baby on the pastel blue carpet by the sofa upstairs, she gave birth screaming, told Griffy she would kick his sorry ass off the roof if he ever hit her baby girl, and called her daughter Dolly.
Dolly learned to wear her momma’s heels and ice a doughnut with one swipe of a butter knife. She smiled in photographs for magazines between Jaden and Griffy and broke a man’s toe at fourteen when he tried to pinch her left breast.
Dolly loved a good pair of pink pumps and flounced her bosom in a peach colored dress at twenty-one. She advocated to add healthy salads to the menu when Jaden hired her to cook and fought a losing battle to toss in pine nuts and bleu cheese amidst the shrimp and lettuce greens.
Jaden let herself grow old, exchanged her heels for slippers a size too small, and put her feet up on the coffee table beside Griffy.
“We done a good job, babe,” she said. “Let that girl put pine nuts and bleu cheese in our salads now and maybe she will hang the next frame on that wall.”
“I will tell you one thing, hon,” Griffy said. “She ain’t gonna tear them frames down and smash ‘em any time soon.”