An Afternoon

An Afternoon

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The sky, mid-afternoon, a beautiful canvas graced with sky blues and pure milky whites. The blue in the depths beyond and the smooth, rounded, sugary sweet clouds in the foreground; February mornings were made to be like this. Stained white wooden porches, green plastic lawn and garden chairs and a yellow butterfly dancing above the steamy urban pavement with an invisible partner to a made up song.

Sitting on the porch waiting for Michele, tall, southern, red haired and fiery, I have to do much needed laundry at her house where the wash is free and the dryers do not charge by the minute. I am down to my second and third wearing of jeans and socks are scarce so sandals in cool weather are necessary. Basking in the delicious intoxicating sunlight, this is one day in the unusually cold Florida February that my toes are not blue and numb from wearing sandals. I rest my twenty-two-year-old English filled head against the siding on the porch and wonder; “Does it get any better then this?”
A little girl appears, frolicking, bursting with energy like a quarter machine bouncy ball, going every which way on the narrow street past the once beautiful two story houses, faded paint peeling in corners and cracks, old rusted bicycles litter dying grassy patches. The child, five, black hair adorned with beads of every color, a faded blue jean dress, yellow shirt underneath, bounds down the gravel street muttering garbled nonsense to her older sister, around seven years old with short hair--so short it was hard at first to discern whether she was girl or boy; puffy and crinkled to her head, shorts of blue cotton, a green plain shirt with a 7-up logo printed on it. She carried only one telling factor, a pink backpack, stuffed to the brim with who knows what odds and ends.

Their mother, hobbles behind limping slowly, with a brown, worn, wooden cane, a young woman made old by the hardships, which adorned her chocolate, wrinkled, worried face, wearing a sleeveless bright pink top and tight faded jeans with leather laces on the sides following the seam, both contouring a voluptuous figure, her black hair styled short, flat and to her shoulders.

The trio passes my place of observation on the graying porch and yell,

“Daddy!” I yell excitedly, “This bike is so pretty!” The bike is all mine and my Daddy’s secret.

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Momma would never let me ride it imagining my five-year-old body flying down a steep hill into oncoming traffic or riding straight into a patch of slippery sand and sliding straight into a tree or rough gravel.

Both girls bolt towards their father, long hair dreaded and braided with baggy clothing to cover his meager figure. Concealed in an old beat up bright blue Cadillac in front of a small graying house across the street.

My pink Barbie bike was mine and I loved the tricycle wheels my father fastidiously attached while I stood nearby tapping my feet, waiting for the moment when I could fly in the wind like a bird and show off what a big girl I was to everyone who seemed to think five wasn’t that big at all. Five was huge!
The little one jumps in the car and talks in excited tones, the older girl approaches cautious and meek. He looks at her with a sidelong glance:
Raising his voice, he asks, “Whad’ya do to yo’ face?”
“Who did that to you?”

Every morning Daddy woke me up at five thirty so I could practice in the front yard on my new wheels. Daddy always warned me though, stay away from that hill, he would say, “Mandee, you have to wait until you’re taller before you can tackle that mountain.” This, of course, made me want to dive down the hill even more.
“My oldest daughter comin’ home from school with scratches…. Who been scratchin’ you girl? Nobody better be scratchin’ leavin’ marks on my baby girl!”
Well, one morning I decided I was old enough to take the hill on. I can do this I said to myself…so the moment my father wasn’t looking I braced myself at the top of the mountain.

The little girl replies timidly, “Daddy, it was an accident, my friend did it but she didn’t mean to”

“Girl, you don’t need be havin’ friends like those. Come inside and I will get you a Band Aid and tell…”

The woman, finally catching up to her daughters yells, “Come on girls,” not even glancing up at the children’s father, “It be gettin’ late.”
The little girls scurry away from their father to their mother’s side across the street; the littlest grabbing her mother’s free hand as she looks back, stumbling as her mom yanks her along.

“I can’t ‘lieve Divinia would let my babies be scratched like that!”
The women in the car with him makes her presence known, “It’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal! My babies ain’t gonna have fights and all…if those little kids want to fight and bully my baby I’ll do somethin’ bout’ it. You can be sure that! Nobody picks on my baby girl. One time, at the park and this little punk put his hands on her! I saw it with my own eyes Dawg! I went over there and let me tell ya’ that kid won’t ever touch my girl again. No…never ‘gain.”

I looked down the tall gravel hill; my breath became stifled and heavy in my chest, scared to death I thought, oh no, I am going to die. I braced myself and with a carpe diem attitude and braced both feet on the peddles and with all my might bolted down, loosing control of the handles screaming “Daddy!” CRASH! He raced down the hill to where I was bawling with a bleeding knee and carried me inside… Your mother’s going to kill me is all he said while he repaired my wounds: Band Aids with Strawberry Shortcake prints and Neosporin.

My father, leathered and roughened, familiar and forever locked in my idealistic, perfect memories of him; he healed everything. His arms, strong and stable encompassed my fears and sobs and exiled them to a place far away where dragons lurk and monsters exist. A sense of understanding came over me as the oldest girl met my glance with her big, sad, brown eyes as if to say, “Over protective fathers are a hassle at times but once they are gone, boy do you sure miss them.” There is no racial gap to fill, no definitive line and no classifications, just fathers and their daughters.
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