Dana L. Davis
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
“No, no. Please don’t call me ma’am. It makes me feel a hundred years old. Call me Margaret.”
Margaret’s white and maybe in her forties. She’s not really pretty as much as she is very put together. Conservative and classy looking with the kind of clothes that look expensive and meticulously tailored. A pearl-white, high-waist pencil skirt, silky black blouse and matching heels. Certainly not the kind of lady you’d find in my neighborhood back in Chicago. She’s got brown shoulder-length hair and dark eyes. Wait—dark eyes? Shouldn’t they be blue, like all the girls?
“Are you my sister?” Pumpkin screams.
“Pumpkin, not so loud! Inside voice.” Margaret turns back toward me. “This is Pumpkin. We call her Pumpkin because she was born with this wild auburn hair. Some sort of recessive gene, I guess.” She laughs nervously. Actually, nervous is an understatement. Margaret is literally shaking. “Your dad just called. Surgery went well. He should be home soon.” She sets the squirmy two-year-old down and Pumpkin races off around a corner like a magical gnome. “We’re going to eat on the terrace to celebrate. Made a cake from scratch. Got the fancy dishes out and everything.” I notice Margaret eyeing my attire.
“I didn’t know about the dinner. Sorry. I would’ve worn something nicer. I swear.”
“Oh, it’s fine. We bought you some beautiful dresses.”
“You guys bought me dresses? You didn’t have to do that.”
“Are you kidding? It’s so our pleasure. Do you like Anthropologie?”
I look into Margaret’s eyes. Stretched wide, furrowed brows, pained expression. Crazy eyes for sure. There’s also something about her that comes off as not quite genuine. She’s got a syrupy sweet voice and that polite tilt of the head. I imagine she’s one of those “nice” people that have a special way of getting on my nerves. Disgustingly polite, when you know, somewhere deep inside, they’re screaming, Fuck this shit!
“Never trust a person who’s always smiling,” Mom used to say when I was small.
“How come?” I’d reply in confusion.
“Because, Tiffany,” Mom said seriously. “Smiling is the easiest way to lie. And nobody, not even Jesus Christ himself, was always walking around happy and smiling.”
I shift, suddenly uneasy in Margaret’s presence. “Anthropology? Isn’t that the study of humans?”
Margaret smiles. “Oh, my goodness. How cute are you? No, no. The clothing store.”
“Oh!” My cheek starts to twitch and I scratch at it to hide the tremble. “Yeah, yeah. No doubt.” I make a quick mental note to Google Anthropology the clothing store.
“Can I get you anything to drink before dinner?”
“Pop? That’d be cool.”
“Pop?” Margaret gives me another polite tilt of the head. “I’m sorry?”
“That’s how they say soda in Chicago.” Nevaeh appears on top of the long, curving staircase, leaning casually over the railing, her voice echoing in the giant space. “But we don’t drink soda, Tiffany. Mom says it’s too much sugar.”
“It’s Pumpkin,” Margaret explains. “She’s on the autism spectrum and the sugar...it makes her a bit off balance.”
“It makes her crazy,” Nevaeh explains seriously. “I mean, she’s already crazy but sugar makes it worse.”
“Nevaeh, don’t say that. Please don’t refer to Pumpkin as crazy.”
Nevaeh shrugs. “Come up, Tiff! I can give you a tour of the house.”
“Sweetheart, I actually need you to help me set the table out back. Besides, Tiffany needs a chance to breathe and settle in. Right, Tiffany?”
A chance to breathe and settle in. I exhale appreciatively. “Yeah. That’s cool.”
“How about a tea? We have herbal tea,” Margaret offers. “It’s a rooibos and chamomile blend. It’s very nice.”
“Mom,” Nevaeh declares with an exasperated sigh as she moves down the staircase. “You think she wants a hot cup of herbal tea? She’s moving in, not retiring.”
I bite my lower lip to conceal a smile that’s trying to form. “Water’s good. I’ll take water.”
Margaret exhales, relaxing somewhat. “I’ll have one of the girls bring a bottle up to your room. I hope you like your room. And listen.” Margaret wrings her shaking hands together. “I’m so sorry about your mom.”
I lower my eyes again, pulling tightly on the strap of my guitar case, desperately hoping this part of the conversation ends quickly. “Yeah.”
“Me, too,” Nevaeh adds. “How did she die?”
“Nevaeh, sweetheart. That’s not polite.”
“Mom, omigosh! You say everything’s not polite. It’s a simple question.”
“Sorry,” I interrupt. “You say the room is upstairs?”
“Up the stairs, turn right. At the end of the hall. I had the driver put your carry-on right outside the door.” Margaret smiles brightly again. “I’m so glad you’re here, Tiffany. We’re so lucky to have you.” She gently grabs Nevaeh by the elbow and they both disappear around the corner.
* * *
My room. I blink in disbelief. It looks straight out of the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog. And bigger than our entire apartment back home. The floor is dark mahogany wood, and there’s a narrow wrought iron spiral staircase leading to a loft area. A loft. An actual loft in my bedroom. I slide my guitar off my shoulder and set it carefully beside the wall.
The room is almost in perfect symmetry. Two full beds with matching white upholstered headboards. Two white bureaus set on opposite sides of the room. Two nightstands with matching lamps shaped like pretty sunflowers that emit a soft, golden glow of light.
One bed is decorated with gray bedding: duvet cover, fluffy throw pillows and sheets. The other bed has yellow-colored bedding. I assume the gray side of the room is mine since gray is my favorite color. Like the Chicago sky. A city shrouded by a blanket of silvery gray clouds eight months out of the year.
“I love when the sun disappears,” I would tell my mom every October when the weather would start to turn. “Don’t you?”
But Mom would shake her head in horror. “Girl, please. When we win the lottery, we’re moving to Hawaii, where there is no winter.”
“No,” I’d plead. “When we win the lottery, let’s move to Ireland!”
Mom would scoff. “Ireland?”
“We’ll move to the countryside!” I’d say dreamily. “Have an herb garden and eat cakes and custards and take long walks in the rain!”
Mom would laugh. “Okay, Tiff. When we win the lottery, we will officially be the only African Americans living in Ireland. Lord help us.”
I run my fingers across the duvet cover. The bedding has that fresh-out-of-the-box look. Pristine and untouched. Like someone took a hot iron to each sheet and pillowcase. At the far end of the room are stunning glass French doors. I move toward them and stop to catch my breath. Our room is overlooking a tennis court. These people have a tennis court in their backyard?
I open one of the doors and step out onto the small balcony, admiring the nighttime view. The house is nestled at the base of a hill of giant boulders so the entire backyard perimeter is enclosed and completely private. To the left of the tennis court, I see a hint of their pool that seems to be cut from stone so it looks like it’s blending in with the rustic scenery of the hills. Bright fuchsia and purple lights glow from somewhere deep within the water and there’s a water slide! Amazing. This is better than the houses I’ve seen on MTV Cribs. How can they be this rich?
I step back inside and notice a vintage record player set beside a wicker basket filled with records on top of my dresser. I move to it and sort through the music.
Led Zeppelin: Live at the Royal Albert Hall.