Poor Miss Lundie probably didn’t have a clue what she was in for when she picked me up at the youth center that day to drive me to 70 Willow Street, my sister’s home in Monroe. I was still glad to see her, and glad to finally be out of the youth center. Only seeing my mother herself would have made me any happier. We stood under the awning in front of a door that had locked shut behind us after the loud sound of a buzzer echoed down the long hall we just came from. I was just glad to be outside. Standing there in the shade still felt like being back on the inside. I wanted to creep away just to step into the warm sunshine only a few feet away, but I was afraid the attendant standing there with me would tackle me.
The orderly wished Miss Lundie luck, as if I’d been unruly and she was happy to be rid of me, and like I couldn’t hear her. I imagined that’s the way she acted every time she got to discharge a kid from this place. One less kid to look after! That’s the way adults always treat kids; they talk about us like we aren’t in the room. They think we aren’t listening, but most of the time, we are. I had not caused any trouble while staying here. Not one fight. But just by being there, it didn’t matter if I was like the other children or not; I was still considered one of them.
In fact, I’d probably been the ideal patient, unless you compared me to those comatose kids heavily medicated and strapped to their beds, but even they couldn’t use the toilet all by themselves. And they kept them kids in another room because the unruly kids had a tendency to draw on the numb kids’ faces with magic markers when no one was looking.
I didn’t speak in the car and neither did Miss Lundie. She took me to the cabin to pack some clothes for the trip to my sister’s house. I tried to pack all my favorite things, including Momma’s Bible, because I knew I wasn’t never coming back. Just like Momma. I felt bad that Momma had lied to Miss Lundie about Daddy’s photo, but I knew why she did it. She thought people would think badly of her for taking in all those strangers and giving them overnight places to stay.
Momma had a kind heart, and I didn’t care what anybody else thought about her. It was just another lesson Momma had taught me well – never worry about what others think about you or anyone else you love. It was still nice of Miss Lundie to take the photo for me, thinking I might want it. I could see the bewildered look on her face when I told her the picture wasn’t my daddy. It had come with the frame.
My real dad, my Ghost Daddy, rode with us to 70 Willow Street. I almost expected Miss Lundie to swerve off the road when I told her he was in the car. If she didn’t crash first, maybe she’d open the car door and run screaming. But she didn’t. She stayed in the car and drove on, and she didn’t ask any more questions about Daddy. That’s another reason I knew she believed me. She had the patience of a saint.
She also seemed confused by the cow that was grazing on my sister’s lawn when we pulled into the driveway. Still, she’d come to do her job, and that was to look after my best interests. I didn’t want to live with my sister and her family, but I wasn’t about to tell Miss Lundie that.
But when I told her about Holly the Cow talking to me, I wasn’t so sure she would believe me. Animals don’t use words. I’ve always thought humans used too many. Animals talk to you with that voice in your head. I told Miss Lundie that when I touch them, I can hear them in my head just like when I’m talking to myself and my mouth ain’t moving. It’s our inner self, Momma always said, the one we should always pay attention to. All you gotta do is shut up and listen. That’s why Mr. Sook’s cow, Holly, was eating my sister’s lawn. She was just waiting for someone who would listen.
My nephew Frankie, my sister’s youngest boy, was like that in a way. He was blind. Just like I said, grown ups always talked like he wasn’t even in the room, but Frankie could hear just fine. Probably even better than some. But when my sister or her husband spoke to Frankie, they still always yelled like he couldn’t hear them.
Frankie was quiet and shy, not just because of his disability though. He was waiting for somebody to listen, and that’s just what I did every chance I got to see him. I listened. And getting a hug from him that day was like warm summer sunshine on a Saturday. It was the best feeling ever.
I sat out on the porch with him while Miss Lundie went inside to speak with my sister. Nanny, the maid, held the door open for them and then just looked at me sternly before following them in. She always did that when I came to visit. She’d point a finger at her eyes and then at me, letting me know she was keeping an eye on me for some reason.
Whenever I was alone around her, she always said things like, “You got the spell on you boy, don’t cha?” Whatever that meant. I just ignored her and never talked back, not wanting to give her any reason to tell my sister I didn’t mind her. But Nanny did make good fried chicken.
My sister had three children. Joseph Jr. was the oldest, but he was still a year younger than me. Lea, who was ten, three years younger than me. And then there was Frankie who was just about to turn seven. Since we were so close in age, Jr. and Lea treated me more like a step brother than their uncle. It was Frankie who looked up to me like a big brother, though he couldn’t really look at all.
And Frankie is the reason I lied to Miss Lundie about Holly the cow. It was sort of a lie anyway. The truth was I couldn’t really talk to animals. Only ghosts. Holly had not told me anything, but she had told Frankie. Frankie was the one who could really hear what Holly was saying, but because of his blindness he was afraid his parents would send him off to the nut house if they ever found out what he could do. And knowing my sister, that’s just what she’d do. She already shunned him for being blind, like it was all his fault cause he was born that way.
When Miss Lundie and my sister went inside, Frankie and I stayed out on the front porch and that’s when he told me what Holly had said. Mr. Sook was dead, and Holly thought someone ought to know she was getting hungry. Holly wasn’t too upset about Mr. Sook’s demise. He always pulled her teets too hard when he milked her. But she still thought someone should know, so she told Frankie.
And Frankie told me.
“What are we going to do?” he said in loud whispered panic so the grown-ups wouldn’t hear us through the screened door.
“I don’t know. We’ve got to think of some reason to go over to Mr. Sook’s. Or maybe I’ll tell Miss Lundie.”
“Tell her what? Don’t tell her about me,” Frankie pleaded, clutching my knee.
“Don’t worry, I won’t. Just let me think.”
Luckily, I didn’t have to think long. Apparently, my sister had not seen the cow on the lawn and when Miss Lundie mentioned it to her, they all ran back out on the porch in a frenzy. That’s when it came to me. I knew just what to do.
My sister asked where Holly had gone and I told her the cow had walked home. She forgot all about Miss Lundie and wanted Nanny to go after the cow. My sister ran back inside to call Mr. Sook. That’s when I told Miss Lundie that it was no use because he wouldn’t answer the phone.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Frankie was fidgety but he kept quiet, and that’s when I told Miss Lundie that Mr. Sook was dead.
“How do you know?” she asked.
It was quite a stretch, but I gave it a try.
“Holly told me,” I said.
She shook her head in disbelief and looked down at the ground.
“How do I get to Mr. Sook’s house?” she asked.
I told her I was going to go with her. Frankie said he wanted to go too, but I told him he better stay here. Miss Lundie said we should both stay put. She went back inside to find my sister and that’s when Frankie had a good idea.
“Let’s hide in her car,” he said.
“We can’t do that. They’ll noticed we’re gone.”
“Then you do it. I’ll make something up if they ask where you are.”
“Good thinking, Frankie.”
So I ran and hid in the back of Miss Lundie’s car. She had not even noticed, not even when she pulled out of the drive and started heading down the road. I startled her when I popped up and made myself known. You would have thought she’d seen a ghost.