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Excerpt From The Truth About Grace

September 2, 2018

1 – Grace

What the hell does she want from me? That’s what I wanna know. Am I supposed to throw my arms around her neck and shout hallelujah?

I gotta stop thinkin’ about all this. It’s exhausting. Here I am, the mornin’ after we buried Mr. Pecan, alone in a white woman’s kitchen. Kinda feels like home somehow, or at least familiar.

I put on a pot of coffee and sat back down at the table to rest my eyes. I was still sitting there, my head on my arms, when I heard her tiptoeing down the stairs. Her house so old, all the floors creak no matter how soft you step.

Miss Ora don’t weigh a minute; she tiny and shriveled up even more than I remember. “I smell coffee,” she said.

Her kitchen ain’t changed much over the years. The cabinets are still the same – solid wood doors painted white. But I can reach the ones above the counter now. Those thin china plates with the silver and white flowers are no longer off limits to my wandering hands. I made jelly toast this mornin’ and used what Mama called Miss Ora’s “good china.” There was a part of me wanted to drop it into her porcelain sink, just to see it shatter. I could have lied and said it was an accident. Wouldn’t be the first lie told in this kitchen.

After I washed and dried that little plate, I traced my fingers over the tiny flowers, felt their thin outlines rise up off the plate. I looked closer at it then and saw my own face staring back at me. My eyes were wide like I was surprised to see myself. I hugged the plate to my chest and put it back in the cabinet where it belonged. Decided I didn’t need Sister griping about me messin’ with Miss Ora’s things. She and Aunt Tressa are coming back sometime this morning. They told me last night before they left.

I don’t remember everything that happened last night, but I know one thing. I don’t ever want to feel that way again – like the room is closing in on me – like all I gotta do is let go and it’ll swallow me up. There been times I didn’t wanna live no more – even thought about killin’ myself – but I’m scared I’d mess that up too.

I lifted my head from my arms and studied her. Then the memory just about knocked me over. Me sittin’ here in her kitchen the day after I was raped. This right here is where my whole life shattered. Not out there in the woods behind town where that white boy raped me, though that didn’t help none. No, it was right here where my mama broke me. Just a dream, my ass. I was a baby, barely six years old. I remember wakin’ up and wobblin’ into the kitchen. It was the first time I’d ever spent the night at Miss Ora’s house. Mama was there cooking breakfast, so I sat down at the table and fell back asleep until Miss Ora came down and woke me up. I was sore all over, including in a place I ain’t never felt pain before. Sittin’ here now, the pain was so real I almost flinched.

“Are you all right, Gracie?” I took the cup she offered me. Her hands were shaking.

“Fine, thanks,” I said, but I didn’t really mean it and she could tell.

“You stayed the night,” she said. She has a habit of sayin’ what’s obvious.

“Patrice made me. I didn’t want to.” I wiped at my eyes with both hands. I’d cried so much the night before, they were dry and crusty and itched like hell.

“I’m glad you did. I rarely have the pleasure of company in the morning. I was so used to Blanche being here…” She caught herself then. I could tell she was embarrassed. “I miss her.”

I nodded. I miss her too, but I wasn’t in the mood for bein’ sentimental. She raised her cup under her nose and said, “Smells just like your mama’s.”

“Huh,” I said. “Not like the kind she made at home. Smells like your coffee to me.”

“Grace…” She sat down in the chair beside me. Her cup rattled on the saucer. “Grace,” she began again, “I want you to know that I’m sorry for what happened. No, let me say that differently. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry you were hurt by it. I’m sorry we let you down. I want to tell you the whole story, but I’m also very torn by what I believe is an obligation to your mama…”

“My mama is dead.” I sat straight up in my chair and pointed my finger first at her, then at myself. “You don’t owe the dead, Miss Ora. The way I see it, you owe the livin’, and that’s me.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “What do you want to know?”

Every time I think I have my head wrapped around the truth, I find something else to twist back in shape. “Why’d y’all lie to me? That’s the first thing. I tried to ask Patrice about it last night, but she swears she didn’t know.”

“She did not know.”

“Because if she did, then even her taking my children when Mama died takes on a whole new meaning.”

Patrice has been mad at me for so long, it just feels like part of who she is. Who we are. I always felt like I was raised by two mothers, and I disappointed ’em both. Miss Ora shook her head back and forth a long time.

“She absolutely did not know. We told no one.”

“That judge asked me about it, too. Did he know?” I asked.


“Say what?”

“Judge Odell. Poopsie is what I called him.”

“Yeah, Odell. You know he paid for me to go to rehab one time?”

She nodded. “I did know. I had a trust fund set up for you and he was the overseer. I rescinded it when we lost track of you for so long.”

I had to sit with that one for a minute to figure out what it meant. This is what I’m talkin’ about – I have to rethink every truth I thought I knew. Can’t rely on a damn thing. “You mean you the one paid for my rehab?”

She nodded. “And all this time I thought he was just a nice man.”

“He was a nice man,” she said. “He was a good friend of mine, and he had suspicions, but he never knew what happened to you.”

“Was? He dead, too?”

“He is,” Miss Ora stood and picked up her coffee cup. “A lot of people had to die before I could tell this story.” She walked into the kitchen and slid her cup and saucer into the sink. Then she turned around and faced me. “And the truth is, I could go to jail for telling it, so don’t just assume I’m doing this for myself. For my conscience? Maybe. But more likely for my eternal soul. It’s certainly not a convenient story to tell.” She came back to the table and sat down beside me. “Grace, honey, we can’t go back, but we can go forward. I’ll do anything I can to help you get well, as long as you are trying to get well.”

“I ain’t tryin’ to be sick, that’s for sure.”

“Are you staying at your mom’s house still?” she asked.

“Yeah, Patrice had it fixed up for me.”

“Could you do something for me? I mean, could you consider doing something?”

This woman takes the cake, I’m just sayin’. I swigged the last bit of cold coffee from my cup. “What is it?”

“Could you stay here a while? I mean stay here. Could you move in here for just a couple of weeks until we see what happens?”

“I don’t need to be babysat, Miss Ora. I ain’t using.”

“I didn’t say you were.” She stopped and wrung her hands like she was putting on lotion. “I just… I mean, for once in my life I don’t want to be alone. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and I know that sounds selfish, and way too much to put on you, but still…would you?”

I was still shaking my head over this when I went back to my room. I’m still mad, too. But, I spent a lot of time at this house when I was a girl. It was Miss Ora got me hooked on reading. My very first addiction, I guess you could call it. That ain’t even funny, but there it is. I guess I’ll get Patrice to take me back to Mama’s house this afternoon so I can pack my bags. Looks like I’ll be moving in with an old white woman for a while.

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