I tiptoe down the stairs. When I hit the third step from the bottom the wood complains in the darkness. I drop my bundle and the radio comes alive. Elvis Presley singing “Love Me Tender.” Aunt Merleen appears like a giant at the top of the stairs in a red union suit with a pair of men’s leather mules on her feet, her fine black hair hidden by a lace night cap. Long and lean with firey skin the color of Georgia dirt. She has a shotgun in her hands pointed at me.”Make a wrong move and you’re dead. Come stand in the light,” Aunt Merleen orders. Aunt Faith emerges from the darkness like a spirit in a white cotton nightgown, big and wide, silver hair wild around her shoulders. Her plump fingers aim a flashlight at the bottom of the stairs. I step into the circle of light and look down at the radio and teh stair that betrayed me. “Mariah!” Aunt Merleen shouts, as if my name was a crime. I take tiny steps backwards, away from the light. “Child, where are you going this time of night?” Aunt Faith’s voice is soft as Mama’s scarf. “My mama’s waiting on me. I’m going home,” I say to the bottom of the stairs.“Why don’t you stay here and wait for her,” Aunt Faith insists.“You don’t like me. I want my mama,” I say quietly.

Aunt Faith throws her enormous weight from side to side as she walks. Huge breasts merge with the rolls of flesh wrapped around her waist. Her thighs and legs are long and solid like the trunks of trees. She is warm beige, the color of my mother’s pressed face powder, with long, silver hair. Soft, round, and gray. She comes down the stairs and sits on the bottom step. She speaks to me from a distance. Her voice, sweet and sad, floats to me through the darkness. I almost reach out to her. I need the comfort of arms to hold me.

“We’re just old. It’s been a long time since we been around children. We’ll get used to one another. Come on back upstairs. Your mama’ll be back soon. She had some . . .” There is hesitation between the sweet threads of her voice. “Some business to take care of.” (2-3)

Georgia born writer Shay Youngblood is author of the novels Black Girl in Paris and Soul Kiss (Riverhead Books) and a collection of short fiction, The Big Mama Stories (Firebrand Books). Her plays Amazing Grace, Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery and Talking Bones, (Dramatic Publishing Company), have been widely produced. Her other plays include Black Power Barbie and Communism Killed My Dog. She completed a radio play, Explain Me the Blues for WBGO Public Radio’s Jazz Play Series. The recipient of numerous grants and awards including a Pushcart Prize for fiction, a Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, an Edward Albee honoree, several NAACP Theater Awards, an Astraea Writers’ Award for fiction and a 2004 New York Foundation for the Arts Sustained Achievement Award.

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