The Queen of Kansas
When the lady flies by, I'm sitting at the table facing the window. Sophie's making lunch so her back's to it. She's telling me about this boy she likes. As if I care. The rest of them, Momma, Papa, Morris, Rose, and Dorothy are at work. It's summer and Sophie and I don't have school. It's hot and the window’s open. I'm bored and hungry. And then, this amazing thing happens.
"Sophie. A lady." It's so fast, if I'd blinked, I’d have missed her. I point to the window.
Sophie stops mashing the cold potatoes and turns slowly to look. She's 15 and I'm 8, so nothing I say gets her excited. She turns back to me, a disgusted look on her face, and sighs.
"Shosh. There's no lady. Why do you do that?" She goes back to her potatoes.
"Sophie. I saw her. Go look."
Curiosity gets the best of her 'cause with an even louder sigh, she bangs down the fork and takes the one step she needs to get to the window and stick her head out. We’re on the fourth floor. She makes a big deal of looking left, right, up, and straight ahead.
"Nothing. Told you." Then she looks down. Sophie gasps, puts her hand over her mouth, spins away from the window and back to me. "Stay there, Charlotte. Don't move."
"But I saw her first. Lemme look."
"I said, 'No!'" Sophie slams the window shut and pulls down the paper shade. Her face has turned as white as the cold potato she goes back to fixing. Now she’s scooping it onto our plates, not bothering to make it into the nice smooth round mound she knows I like. She takes saltines out of their tin, crushes them in her fist and sprinkles them on top. Then she slides my plate across the red and white checked oilcloth Momma bought this past spring.
When Momma smoothed it out over our cracked old table, she said, "So fancy. Like a restaurant. Tonight we eat special."
Whenever Momma was happy or worried or sad, we knew that night we’d “eat special.” Momma’d put on her high-heeled shoes, her pretty dress, her lipstick, and her makeup and pretend we were customers at a fancy restaurant. Even if all we had to eat were beans or watery soup, she'd act like it was a grand feast and she was our beautiful hostess. She’d even take our orders. It didn’t matter if all we were gonna have was watery soup or beans, we could order whatever we liked and she’d pretend to write it down. I usually ordered pot roast with ice cream and cake.
"Very good, Miss. Anything else?"
It was funny because when she'd do that, even her thin soup tasted better and filled us more.
The night of the new oilcloth we celebrated with ptcha but not even Momma's make-believe could improve that.
As Sophie and I eat our potato, we hear the gong-gong-gong of the ambulance and the shouts and wails and sobs of the people in the street below.
That night, one by one, Papa, Momma, Morris, Rose, and Doris come home from the different places they work. Papa rolls cigars. Momma sews men's caps. Rose is a milliner, Doris's a typist. Morris sells blankets. They're all exhausted.
As they drag in, I try telling them about the flying lady, but nobody wants to know. They tell me not to talk about it.
Later, after Sophie and I fall asleep in the bed we share, I dream I’m flying down our street like a giant bird. I soar. I dive. I flap. I glide. I sail past windows of tenements just like mine, tenements where little girls pull their window shades aside so they can peek out. I hover like a hummingbird outside each window and look in at the girls looking out.
Next morning I want to tell Momma, Papa, my sisters, and my brother about my dream but I remember nobody wanted to hear about the flying lady and I’m pretty sure if they didn't want to hear about that, they sure won't want to hear the dreams of a naughty girl.
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|The Queen of Kansas||A Day in the Life of Fort Ross|
|Sample Text||In Defense of Beauty|
|Learning to See Fish||Abuelitas Tango|
|Sample Text||Oakland Triptych|
|Reading||The Whole World of Miss Buhai|
|What Readers Say||Consumption|
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|Sometimes I See You|
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|A Circle of Elephants|
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