“Mom, can we go yet?” I groan, hanging my head back.
“I told you, dear. We can’t for a few more hours. You do want me to have money for food, right?” She gives me the sarcastic look, the one that says she knows I’m gonna say yes.
“At least let me do something other than sweeping hair?” I sit up and look at her.
“No. No. Never. Not until you’re at least sixteen.” She puts her elbows on the front desk.
“But, Mom! I’m fourteen, isn’t that close enough?”
“No, Sam. It’s not-” She stops when she hears the doorbell ring as it’s opened and says with the biggest fake smile I can see her do, “Hello, Mrs. Pumpernickel!”
A woman with a chest larger than I could ever dream walks in fully. She has on what I hope is a fake fur coat. She’s got hot pink hair that’s curled to the heavens. Her hair already looks done, why is she coming here? I shrug and stand up, grabbing my broom. My mom shakes her head and motions for me to sit down. I grab one of the magazines to read it for the fifth time today. My mom leads Mrs. Pumpernickel to a chair and sits her down, asking, “So, what’ll it be today, ma’am?”
I recognize the woman from the newspaper. She’s the woman whose husband just died. He was a millionaire with rumors of him piling more away on some island. No one knows how he died yet but the police suspected foul play was had.
“Oh, just a shampoo, Mrs. Riley.”
“I apologize, ma’am, but again, it’s just Miss. I never married, remember?” My mother says in the most gentle voice. Why doesn’t she use that voice with me?
“Oh. Right.” Mrs. P’s face turns into one of snugness and righteousness. “I forgot you, uh… had that child out of-”
Mom quickly stops her as she nods to me, “You mean my little angel right there?”
Mrs. P blushes and looks flabbergasted, “Oh, well, I-”
I get up and stand at the chair across from the righteous woman. I say, in the most southern accent I can do, “You what, ma’am? I sure don’t want my ma to interrupt such an important woman now. That’d be mighty rude, now wouldn’t it?” I flash a winning smile at her.
She blushes more and looks to my mom, “Mrs. Riley, let’s just-”
“I’m mighty sorry, ma’am. But, that ain’t my ma’s title. See, her partner did bust right out the door the moment he saw my mug. It wasn’t cause she ain’t want to get married, ‘specially when she knew she was gonna have me. Ya see, though, that man just weren’t no prize winner.” I stand up straight and straighten out my clothes, speaking in my normal voice, “My mom respects your title and your situation, so please respect hers.”
Mrs. Pumpernickel looks at me in shock, “Well, I never-”
“Never what? Cared about someone who doesn’t fit your idea of perfect? No wonder you came to get your hair done when it supposedly already looked fine. Everything’s gotta be perfect, huh?”
I lean in close to her. “Ma’am. I understand your life must suck, especially when it comes to your husband dying and you not knowing how or why. That doesn’t give you any right to judge my mother for keeping me when my father walked out or to treat her like she’s lesser because you married someone for money and she would’ve married for love, if it had worked out that way. You know, it’s not just you. It’s my teachers, the preacher’s wife, my aunts and uncles. I’m so sick of people thinking they're better than us because we don’t fit the classic, southern American mold. My mother owns her own salon that you find worthy enough of that beehive on your head, so why is she as a person not worthy enough of your respect?”
The middle aged woman blinks at me, “I didn’t say-”
“It wasn’t what you said. It’s how you said it. And, knowing my mother, she probably would just stand and nod after correcting you twice. Because then at least that way she’d get something out of it, your unearned money. But, quite honestly, I’d rather get a job and give her all the money from that job than have her deal with another woman like yourself. You wanna know why?”
Mrs. Pumpernickel blinks at me.
“Because I hear her crying every dang night about you! You and everyone else like you! I sit in my room and I listen. Every. Night. You’re not even worth the hair on the bottom of her shoes!” I slink back into the chair, leaning my head back and draping the magazine over my head. “And that’s my two sense on you, since you wanted to give yours on me.”
I hear voices but I don’t really pay attention to them. If she’s gonna talk more smack, I don’t really want to hear it. I play a song in my head and wait for my mom to tell me that rotten old woman is gone. I fall asleep in the process. My mom wakes me up about an hour later.
“Hey, Sammy, wake up.” She says in that gentle voice from before, gently shaking me.
“What, Mom?” I say, sleepily.
She kneels next to me, “I wanted to say thank you, but you don’t ever have to do that for me again. I promise, I can handle myself. But, here. Mrs. Pumpernickel gave me this to give to you.”
I groan and take the note from her. “Do I have to?”
“Please, for me?”
I sigh and open the note, “Fine.”
The note reads:
I am sorry for how I and others treat your mom. I grew up in a similar situation to you. Except, I grew up with only a father. I remember hearing horrible things about him that I knew weren’t true. I suppose that with my new found life after my father passed and me finding Henry, I forgot what it was like to be on the other end of the judgement. This is my promise to try and stop being so judgemental. You can even have this notarized if you want so it’s official. Feel free to come by anytime for anything. Again, I’m very sorry.
I blink and look at my mother, “What’s this for, Mom?”
My mom shrugs and says, “I have no idea, sweetie. Oh, and she told me to give you this.” She hands me a $10 bill.
I shrug and take the money. This day starts my friendship with a crazy woman that would treat me like the child she never had and defended my mother no matter who it was. I would never believe anyone who would tell me it would've happened.