Starting Here The smell of frying bacon drifted beneath the gap at the bottom of the bedroom door

and moved with tantalizing slowness across the floor, lingered at the foot of the bed before floating over the thin blue sheet and then settled for an instant beneath Marcus’s nose. It slid up his nostrils and got all tangled up in his dreams, shifting and changing them from the now to the then, to a distant memory that made him smile in his sleep and burrow deeper into the downy thick pillow. He could see the room now. It was his grandfather’s kitchen. It was the same but different. There was a woman at the stove about the same height as his mother, but it wasn’t’ her. He could tell. She was heavier than his mother and her hair was thick and knotted into a tight ball at the back of her neck. His mother always wore her hair loose and to her shoulders. Grandpa Willie stepped into his line of vision and snuck up behind the woman at the stove. He gave her a kiss behind her ear that made her giggle like a schoolgirl, and she slapped him on the hand that snaked around her waist. “You need to stop that Willie Hicks, for you give my grandbaby bad ideas about his grandma,” she said with


laughter in her voice. She looked over her shoulder and her shiny brown eyes and wide mouth that was lifted in a smile settled on him and somehow he understood that she cared about him. “Right baby?” she asked him.

“Right grandma,” he heard himself saying. Grandpa Willie shook his head that wasn’t gray but covered in dark swirling waves. He leaned against the counter and took a piece of toast from the platter. He waved it as he spoke, taking bites in between. “Now see there you go again, siding with your grandma.” He came over to the table and scooped the boy up out of the chair and tucked him under his arm like a football. “We men gotta

stick together,” he said, wiggling a finger in the boy’s side making him squirm and giggle. “I work hard. Don’t you think I deserve some sugar from my woman,” he asked, punctuating each word with a playful finger in the boy’s side that sparked another flurry of squealing laughter. “Willie!” she popped his thick arm with a red and white striped dish towel. “The boy just ate. You gon make

him lose his breakfast all over my fresh washed floor.” She snatched the boy from Willie and held him tight against her warm body. He smelled the soft scent of flowers and springtime that always clung to her; in the morning when she got him


off to school, in the afternoon when he stepped off the yellow school bus and in the evening when she read him a bedtime story cause his mother was doing ‘homework’ of her own. Grandma Celia. The name came to him in his dreams, distant but close. It was the face of the woman whose picture sat on the mantle and tabletops, the pictures that Grandpa Willie stood in front of too long on some days. was his mother’s face, older, happier. But there were no pictures of Grandma Celia at the house in Chicago. She It

didn’t smile at passersby from mantles or tabletops. Her name was never spoken, not even in whispers as Grandpa Willie often did when he thought no one could hear. The only image of Grandma Celia at the house in Chicago was his mother, a shadow of the round-hipped, smiling woman that always smelled like spring. was narrow and smelled of smoke. He tried to see if her eyes smiled when she stepped into the kitchen and saw Grandma Celia holding him to her chest. But they didn’t. They kind of turned down at the ends, like the corners of her mouth. “You gon eat some breakfast before you go to school, Lena?” “I’m late.” His mother


“Shoulda got some sleep last night so you could get up on time,” Grandma Willie said in that voice that rumbled in the pit of his stomach. His mother’s unsmiling eyes turned to her father. “I had homework to do and a baby to take care of!” She grabbed him from her mother’s arms and set him down on the floor. “Go head and get your jacket. I’m taking you to school today.” She raised her chin, looked from her mother to her father and walked out. “Come on boy,” she kept saying as she tugged him down the street, his legs barely able to keep up without tripping and that set off a string of muffled curses. He remembered that he wanted her to pick him up like Grandma always did when she was in a hurry or if they had to cross a busy street. But his mother, who looked almost like his grandmother, didn’t do that. She never did that. She always said, “You big enough to walk, Marcus. Now walk.” But this day was different. When they got to the corner she scooped him up in her arms and ran across the street to the public school and she didn’t put him down until she’d run up the front steps, walked down the noisy hallway and stopped in front of his classroom. Finally she put him down and knelt in front of him. “Soon, we’re gonna have a place of our own. Just me and


you. And I’m going to be the one to take care of you and take you to school and read to you at night.” She kissed the top of his head and held him against her narrow body. “I promise.” And for a minute her eyes were bright and shining like Grandma Celia’s. He never understood why his mother wanted to leave Grandpa Willie and Grandma Celia. One day he was sitting at the kitchen table eating bacon from a bowl and the next day he was in a new place where there were strangers that lived upstairs and downstairs and nobody smelled like springtime and the only people that Marcus and his mother knew were each other. The screech of the garbage truck rumbling to a stop below his window pierced the last bubble of sleep. The memory popped and disappeared. The scent of frying, sizzling bacon was stronger now, no longer subtle and tempting but demanding. He tried to hold onto the images, to remember why but he couldn’t, the scent was too strong. It was all mixed up now. Marcus stretched and flipped onto his side, blinking against the streak of sun coming through his window. Slowly he sat up and swung his long legs over the side of the bed and stood. There was something nagging him, something just out of reach. He frowned and loped off to the bathroom.


Staring at his reflection in the mirror he tried to remember what his dream was about. He could only catch snatches of it and what he did catch he couldn’t piece together. Yet the sensation of it clung to him. When he came downstairs, Grandpa Willie was at the kitchen stove. His back was turned. His hair wasn’t dark and wavy. It was gray and short with a shadow of his scalp His shoulders weren’t as

peeking out from the middle.

straight. They curved just a little. He could almost see his grandfather sliding his arm around his grandmother’s waist and stealing a kiss. Distant laughter. A child and a woman mixed up together. They both seemed to hear it at the same time. Willie’s head lifted and tipped to the side. He turned from the stove and for a moment looked surprised to see Marcus standing there. “Mornin’, son.” He cleared his throat. “Breakfast is almost ready.” Marcus pulled out seat from beneath the table and sat down. “Need some help?” Willie glanced over his shoulder, stared at his grandson. “You know how to scramble eggs.” “Yeah,”


Willie pointed the spatula at the refrigerator. “Take them eggs out and get a bowl from up there.” He pointed to the cabinets next to the sink. Marcus pushed back from the seat and got the eggs and bowl. He didn’t wait for his grandfather to tell him what to do next. He’d been making his own breakfast for years. Most mornings, by the time he woke up for school his mother was gone to work. She’d always leave out a box of cereal on the table. But after years of only having cold cereal in the morning and being hungry all day he started learning how fix different things. He still couldn’t cook grits but he was pretty good with eggs and bacon. Marcus wiped the eggs added salt and pepper and a little milk. He’d learned that from watching some cooking show on television. It made the eggs fluffier the woman had said. So he’d tried it, liked it and had been making his eggs like that every since. “Where you learn how to do that?” Willie asked. Marcus shrugged. “Around.” “Here try some of this bacon.” He held out the plate that was lined with a paper towel to soak up the excess grease. Marcus lifted a slice of bacon from the plate and took a bite. The taste exploded in his mouth. All the pieces of


the dream scattered then fell back together. He could see it now. He could see this room and his grandmother and

grandfather. Bacon frying in the pan and his mother, sad and angry that Willie and Celia loved him. He swallowed the bacon. “Something wrong?” Marcus looked at his grandfather and for a moment saw him as he did so many years ago. “Why did my mother take us away?”


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