When I got back home, mama asked me what I had been up to. I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell her that I had been up to the haunted house on the hill so I lied and told her that the twins and I had just been out exploring.
She surprised me when she gave me “that look” and asked me what we had been exploring, like she knew exactly where we had been. Mama had a way of somehow knowing everything and I didn’t doubt for one second that she did indeed have eyes in the back of her head, as she kept telling me.
I was caught and I knew it so I told her I had been to see Miss Emmogene Cook. Mama laughed and said “I thought you boys were afraid of her.” Her response put me at ease and I started telling her about the cookies and “the brew.”
“Mama, she puts teabags out in the sun and it makes brew,” I said.
Mama chuckled. At the time, I didn’t know that people often referred to beer as “brew” and mama didn’t choose to tell me any different. She did though, ask me what it tasted like. “It tasted like real sweet tea,” I said. Mama smiled.
She asked me what we talked about. I told her that Miss Cook told me some black cat jokes. Mama smiled that same smile and said “such as?”
“What do people in England call small black cats?” I asked. Mama put her finger on her mouth and said “hmm. Kittens?” I laughed and said “you’ve heard that joke!” Mama said “maybe. Or maybe I’m just smarter than the average bear.”
She told me to go get cleaned up for supper and said “you better not have ruined your appetite with those cookies!” I turned as I was leaving the room and said “I didn’t but can I go visit Miss Cook again?”
“I guess it’s okay,” she said. “But mind you. I don’t want you bothering her or worrying her to death. And for heavens’ sake, keep those terror twins away from her. There’s no telling what those two will do.”
The next day, I walked up the hill and I didn’t wait for Rick and Mick. I remembered what mama had said and I also remembered what they had done to our cat. I didn’t see any cats at Miss Emmogene’s house but she might have some pet bats or something.
I knocked on her door and when she opened it, she again smiled broadly and said “come on in, J-Lee and I’ll get the cookies and brew.”
The first time I was there, I was focused on not getting killed or having a spell put on me. This time, I looked around. Her house reminded me of my granny’s house. Above the mantle piece, hung a picture of Jesus and John F. Kennedy. I had seen those two pictures in so many old people’s houses. I used to think they were saints or something. I mean, I knew who Jesus was and I guess I thought that maybe John was his brother.
Her house was tidy and not at all what I expected. There was not a huge cauldron with bones beside it and there were no cages with imprisoned children peeping out.
Just as she came back with the tray of cookies and brew, I noticed a picture sitting on an easel. I asked her who it was. “That’s my beau,” she said. “His name is Hadley Langston Thackeray, III. Remember? I told you that my beau was also a third.”
“Where is he?” I asked. “He’s traveling the world, seeking his fortune,” she said. I asked her why she wasn’t with him. She said “he’s returning for me as soon as he makes his first million!”
“How long has he been gone?” I asked. She stood up, ran her fingers across the portrait that she herself had painted and said “it’s been a long time but I know as soon as he returns for me, it will seem like yesterday.”
She pulled a chain up and showed me a locket. “He gave this to me before he left,” she said. “See? That’s me and that’s him.” I looked at the pictures inside the locket. It was a real picture of her in her younger days but the picture of him was another painting.
“You’ve waited on him all this time?” I said. “Oh, yes,” she said.
“Well, do you ever think about giving up?” I asked. She quickly said “oh no. You must never give up. Hope is the last thing to die so you must never give up hope.”
She left the room and came back with two more paintings. “See? Isn’t he handsome? Oh! If you could have seen him in his heyday.” Her voice trailed off but then she said “I don’t know what he looks like now. It’s been a while, like I said but I imagine he’s just as handsome as he was the day we first met.”
There was a sadness in her eyes but it quickly left when she asked me how I liked the cookies. “Those cookies were made from my granny’s favorite recipe,” she said.
“I have a granny and she makes cookies too,” I said.
She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
To be continued____________