(written for the Patti Abbott Flash Fiction Challenge)
There was a time when walking up on Bebe Pink’s right side—the side with her glass eye—would get you her fist in your gut or worse. I know she can’t see me but I can feel her watching all the same.
Today, I amble up and set down the case of Coors and the present wrapped in tissue paper. “Hey, Bebe. Big day today, huh?”
Today, she’s not watching me. She’s watching Bella. Her daughter is running around on the newly paved street, waving a sparkler that matches her pink plastic tiara.
“Bigger all the time,” Bebe tells me, and neither eye—not the hard, hazel one or the cheap black glass one—shifts from Bella’s orbit.
I sink onto the steps of the Projects building beside her, paint settling soft under me. Neither of us talks. Back in the day, Bebe always had her say. She told everybody who ran what corners, who was untouchable and who was getting an after-midnight visit.
Now, it’s like she’s got nothing left to say. This is a peaceful day among peaceful times. We smile and watch Bella, and breathe the Ninth Ward smells of juniper sleeping with gasoline under blankets of swelter.
But silence always gets to bothering me. “How you doing these days, Bebe Pink?”
“I get by,” she says, but she shifts a little as her wiry body, notched up from the early 00’s and 90s, argues the point.
“How’s your knee?”
“Knee’s fine.” The grapefruit of mashed tissue there has been with her since she was a girl.
“It don’t bother you none with this humidity?”
Bebe slides half a smile at me rather than look. Bella is talking to some bushes, the little princess as always, giving orders to the elves or goblins there.
“It don’t matter so much as that the motherfucker that busted it don’t bother me any more.” Bebe pats the ruined knee. “Lieutenant Mahoney was a mean, old buzzard in his day, but his day got done before he could make due on his promise to beat the baby from my belly.”
“Sure enough,” I tell her, even though I was young when Durham Mahoney caught a bullet in his beard from his partner.
“And before you ask,” Bebe traces the coffee-colored craters that show under her cut-off tank top, “these war wounds ain’t bothering me none either.”
I could have figured that myself. Bebe Pink never had a problem standing up straight, even with four AK rounds through her middle. “They never pain you, right, Bebe?”
“From time to time, I can’t eat like I used to could.” Bebe frowns. “But Crush got his too.”
“Right from your hand.”
“Right from my motherfucking chopper.” Bebe holds out her hand. “Hook a girl up with one of them beers, Ryan.”
I do and she drinks and she shows her teeth with the bitterness.
“How long you battle that lanky son of a bitch?”
“Well on four years.” Bebe pulls more beer. She twirls the can and I hear there’s not enough drink left to slosh. “And no matter how many times he threw lead in my direction, he never hit Bella.”
“Nobody hit Bella.” I crack one open. “It just ain’t done.”
Bella’s bouncing on and off a curb and Bebe’s concentrating hard, like her stare could put gravity on a leash. Bella stumbles and Bebe’s on her feet before the girl can fall.
When Bella rights herself, smoothing her dress and straightening that Winn-Dixie tiara, Bebe settles back down.
“There was that other fucker, too,” I say. “The one with the necklace of teeth.”
“We don’t say his name.”
“No we don’t,” I wash the subject away with the rest of my Coors before it can turn my tongue into a desert.
I decide to defuse it with something sweet. “Your daughter grown up good, Bebe. No doubt.”
“We don’t say his name because what he did, didn’t happen.”
I double over a bit. It’s the memory of her punching me when I came up on her right to drop off earnings from a week on the corner. I hadn’t even heard about what Clementine did to her and Bella then.
Bebe taps her glass eye. “The Lord reminds me to keep a better eye on her by taking one from me.”
“You only need one to take your blocks and rule them, Bebe,” I toast her. She smiles. But it’s because Bella saw her watching. Bella rises up to her nine-years’ height and bows.
“Mhm. I really don’t mind the scars,” Bebe opens her arms for her daughter to come running. “Other folk put notches on doorframes, but houses can get swept away here in New Orleans. We find other ways to mark our kids growing up.”