Recently, my round one piece titled “Mama’s Fakery” won 5th place in its heat. The assigned genre was “Crime Caper”,
the location was a bakery, and the subject was a forgery. I am very excited and proud to be one of the few who are advancing to round two in this competition.
For a detective, she sure seemed more like a lawyer or something, I mean, there she was, dressed up in some type of suit with slacks and stuff, not a uniform, but then again, maybe detectives didn’t wear those same type of uniforms like the police officers who arrested my momma had.
She smiled, big and wide, right at me before stating. “I’m detective Alicia Barnes, and behind you is Ms. Evans. She is your court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem.”
I turned to look at Alicia Barnes who looked every last bit of courty. I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept my mouth shut, like Gramma used to tell us, “quiet as a church mouse.” Well, that’s what I was that afternoon.
“For the record, please state your name and age.” That was Detective Alicia and since I was the only one in the room, I reckoned she was talking to me.
“Nicky Graves. My age is eleven-years-old.”
“And your mother is Annie Graves, owner of Annie’s Bread and Baked Goods. Correct?”
“Yep, that’s her. That’s my mom,” I answered, and I wasn’t even sure why she’d ask but she did.
“Okay, Nicky, can you tell us what happened this afternoon?”
I always like to give a clear answer, ‘cause Daddy always said there ain’t no use in giving a muddy one. “Just the afternoon or all day?”
Detective Alicia gave me this look, and by “this look”, I wasn’t real sure what kind of look it was and since I don’t know I’m just gonna go ahead and call it “this look”. Anyways, that’s the look she gave me and answered, “All day is fine. Just start from what you remember.”
“Well, we always start the day by getting up good and early, and if you’re gonna ask me why, I’ll say now that I don’t know other than Momma wants to go to all the stores over in Clarkesville. She says ain’t no one gonna know us there. So that’s where we go, and we buy up all the breads, and when I say all, I mean ever last one, and—”
Now, I’ve never liked being interrupted and surely not when I’m telling a story. So, I made sure to pinch my whole face together until my lips and nose were all tight like that one time I tried asparagus which was bleh! “Do you know why you’d buy the bread?”
An eyeroll oughta done it; I hoped. “I was getting to it.” I sighed for effect. I’d always wanted to sigh for effect and that was my chance. “Momma owns a bakery. She gotta have something to sell in the store.”
“So, what you’re saying is, your mom would wake you guys up early, drive out to Clarkesville, purchase factory-made loaves of bread to sell at her store under the guise of homemade bread?”
“And she told you all not to say anything.” Detective Alicia looked up from whatever she was writing. “Correct?”
“Well, no sense in tellin’ all the secrets. We gotta have something to sell at a bread store, after all.” I paused for a minute, making sure she wasn’t gonna interrupt me again, because I hate that—when I’m telling a story and someone just butts in. “So we get home and I put Maddie in my room to play on the floor with toys while me and Momma and Aunt Kim take all the breads and put them on pans and put ‘em over there on that heating thing for a good long time. We let them get nice and heated up and the whole place just smells right like bread. Then, we take the clear bags out and put the warmed-up bread into them. Aunt Kim always goes and drives the old bags out to the dump.”
“And you have seen your mom actively committing this forgery with paying customers?”
“Forg-a-whatey? Folger’s Coffee?” I freaked out at big words. Like, what is a “frogey”.
Detective Alicia caught herself and explained, “For-ger-y, but never mind. What I am asking is, have you seen your mom, on any occasion, sell the bread from other stores to customers?”
“Not ’till today. And before you ask, ‘what was different about today?’ Shh, I’m gonna tell you. Now, usually I take Maddie out to play before we open. It’s a small store and Momma says we’re worse’n two bulls in a china cabinet. And don’t go asking me what a China cabinet is, because I’ve never been to China to see one. But there we are, outside playing today, and it starts pourin’ rain something awful. Them drops just coming down on me and I know little Maddie will take the cold. Usually I got some dollars to take her to a movie or even to get ice cream down at Walentine’s Pharmacy, but today I was empty-handed, not a nickel to my name.
So, I take Maddie on into the store just in time to see Gretchen Murphy, you know the lady with the big no—.” I was gonna say nose, big nose, because she has the biggest nose that ever was big, but adults don’t like tellin’ the truth about other adults, so I stopped right there. “She was in there, and just about to set her purse right on our bread heater. So I pulled Maddie into the store so she wouldn’t get wet and hollered, ‘no! don’t put your purse on the same place we cook our bread. Your purse is sure to burn, and momma says that that heater gets hotter’n Hell!’ See, I thought I was in big trouble for saying a curse word, ’sept, Pastor Johnson said Hell the other day in church so I don’t see why I couldn’t say it. Well, that’s when Miss Gretchen went off something terrible, said a lot worse words than what I’ve heard before. And she left faster than a tornado crossin’ a prairie. Next thing I know, police were comin’. And that’s how I got here.”
“I see.” Detective Alicia was writing real real fast and I hoped that she could read it when she was all done, but that wasn’t none of my nevermind. “So this was daily? You’d go with your mom and sister to the store and buy this bread and sell it as freshly baked bread?”
“Everyday except Sunday. We sell sweetbread on Sunday and we have what Momma called ‘special shoppers’.”
I caught Detective Alicia staring at Ms. Evans. “Is it okay to ask about this sweetbread?”
To which Ms. Evans asked me—like I wasn’t sitting right there!—“Nicky, are you comfortable talking about Sunday and the sweetbread? You don’t have to say anything more if you don’t want to.”
Now, I coulda played stupid, like I didn’t know anything, but, “ ’Course I will. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Serves my momma right for paddling me so hard the other day over Maddie. I ain’t Maddie’s momma and I shouldn’t have to act like it every day—changin’ her pants, bathing her up right, feedin’ her, tellin’ her no when she’s acting all bad and embarrassing me in town.”
It was Ms. Evans’ turn to ask the questions, I supposed. “She paddled you hard? How hard? Over what?”
“Oh,” I pursed my lips together. “Right good and hard. I’m still madder than a boiled owl over it; right before we opened and I was supposed to take Maddie outside for the day, I’d sat her down on the floor to color a color paper so I could help with the bread. Next thing I hear, ‘Lord have mercy! Nicky! Get in here!’ So I got in there to see Maddie up and scribbling all over the walls. And Momma yelling like, ‘this ain’t Ancient Egypt! Look she’s ruining my walls, scribbling all over ‘em and you weren’t watching her!’ Then she paddled my butt good until it hurt to set down. It hurt bad. Still does.”
I turned in time to see Ms. Evans shaking her head. But Detective Alicia was the one to talk. “So, about this sweet bread. What happens on Sundays?”
“Well, on Sunday morning we get up early and we take all the bread from the whole week we didn’t sell. Now then, pay attention ‘cause this gets confusing. Momma has these bags of sugar down there under the floorboards. Lots and lots of sugar bags, I guess it’s that funnel cake sugar, all thick and white and they sprinkle it on thick every year at the fair, must be that sugar. So we take out one bag for ever loaf. After that, we take the breads and scoop out the middle. Once we do that, we put the bags of sugar down into the bread and then put all that middle part back over it. Momma says it makes it all nice and sweet like cake, but she ain’t never let me try none of it.”
Detective Alicia just wrote and wrote and Ms. Evans left the room and a long time passed and we just sat there, and when I say long time, I mean like P.E. class long when they make us do them tests about sitting against the wall, legs stretched out, hands to our sides. It was that kind of long, and I did lots of stuff to try to make the longness seem shorter. I made faces, rolled my eyes around, rocked in my chair ’till Detective Alicia told me, ‘four on the floor’ which is something I thought only teachers like Mrs. Vickson said to us in class, but that just goes to show what all I know. So I just kind of sat there in that little room. Staring at the wall, butt still kinda sore enough to make me wonder what ancient Egypt had to do with little Maddie and crayons and scribbles on a wall and what in the hell—hell, because Momma ain’t around to stop me—I had to do with anything at all.
At first, and this was right after Momma’s trial when she got put in a jail for that Forg-a-thingy and then something to do with those bags of sugar, Ms. Evans put me and Maddie in a house together with some family who already had a bunch of kids. They also had dogs, and I carried Maddie everywhere ‘cause they’d make out like vermin and bite her legs ‘till she bled, and I didn’t wanna hear her crying because it made everyone mad.
It wasn’t long ’till Ms. June, and Ms. June was the lady at church who always had snacks and that’s just how I knew her, well she took us into her home, done talked to Ms. Evans and everything. She said we could call her Amy or Ms. June or even someday if we was comfortable callin’ her Momma, we could call her that. But I told her I thought she was right nice and wouldn’t wanna insult her because she wasn’t nothin’ like my momma.
A lot of things changed after all that happened, sometimes kids at school would laugh at me, tease me about the forger-thing, say I was a crook just like my momma. Even this cafeteria lady gave me some looks—and she was serving me up a roll while she was a doin’ it.
The whole while, Ms. June told me that just like a big ol’ thunderstorm, these things, all the bad things would just pass by, that folks would go and put their energy on something else bad that happened. “Jesus loves ’em, but that’s about it,” she’d say.
Sometimes though, all that anger I had would just come right up on in me, everything I felt about what Momma did to me and to little Maddie, all her lies and plain right thieven’ from folks in town, and one day, and this was on a Sunday after church, when me and Miss June and Maddie were all walkin’ home. And this was just like every other Sunday, so I can’t say what come up over me; but it was just that Sunday when we passed the old bakery, which had never been resold or reopened, I reached right down into the dirt and picked up the biggest rock I could find, leaned back, and hurled it right at that old building. Must’ve been a hard throw because it broke out the front window. I didn’t stop. I picked up another rock and ran to get closer. Darned thing hit the side, so I tried again, but someone caught my hand.
I turned to see Ms. June, standing right behind me, arms spread and ready to catch my little body and pull me into her. And I cried. Right then and there, for the first time since the police done came and took my Momma, I cried at Momma’s fakery.