EXCERPT FROM ONE GOOD THING
The torrential downpour hit the roof with force. Madelyn almost fell on her backside as she slid, teetering back and forth to place a bucket for the water that was trickling from the cracked ceiling above. The house had been her grandmother’s for thirty plus years and now, six months after her death; she was there, trying to figure out what the heck she was going to do with it.
“I can’t believe I have two sisters, acting so high and mighty, they won’t help me fix up the place,” Madelyn mumbled. “They the ones with the money.”
Georgina and Nola left the small town of Lula, Mississippi, five years ago, moving up north to Harlem, New York, to pursue singing careers. Madelyn, the youngest sister, was left the responsibility of caring for their mother Ophelia and Grandmother Estelle.
"I’m sick of this." Madelyn thought while mopping the large puddle. It was hard to believe she was just thirty for how beat up she felt from working her fingers to the bones trying to keep things afloat. Her beauty was hidden behind the dingy white uniform, old nurse shoes, and untamed thick black hair that she kept braided under a scarf. Her body was a shapely size twelve on her five-foot-six frame, and her dark skin shined with Vaseline. People said she looked like the actress Cicely Tyson.
Madelyn worked as a seamstress for Miss Bessie’s Boutique in town, a job she’d had since the age of sixteen, and she was one of the best at it. She also cleaned houses on some weekends and did ironing for a couple of white families her mother used to work for on the outskirts of town. It was back-breaking work, but Madelyn had to support herself and take care of her mother. She didn’t even have a high school education, dropping out in the tenth grade to work for Miss Bessie full time. If she could get the house fixed up a bit, maybe it could be sold, or even rented out so she could make some kind of profit. Nana didn’t owe anything on it, so that money would be hers straight out. But Mama said no matter which way it went, the profits would have to be split between everybody, and that included her nowhere to be found sisters, unfortunately.
The forest green Chevy came to an abrupt stop, smoke coughing from the exhaust. Madelyn jumped out and rushed to the mailbox. Her sisters promised to send a money order for one-hundred and fifty dollars to help with some repairs she’d done to their grandmother’s house, specifically patching up that leaky roof. She really needed that money to pay her own bills because that’s where she took it from. Opening the rusty flap, she pulled out the small stack and anxiously thumbed through what was there.
“Where is it?” Madelyn panicked. There was nothing from her sisters, and she was fuming. “This is gonna be the death of me."Storming inside the three-bedroom red brick ranch house that she grew up in, she threw the mail on the kitchen table in a huff.
“Georgina or Nola won’t even return my calls. And where is that money they was supposed to send over two weeks ago, Mama?” Madelyn’s voice rose a higher than normal octave.
All Madelyn’s complaining annoyed her mother Ophelia.
“Oh girl, hush! You know they not gonna do a darn thing!” Ophelia said matter of fact as she swayed back and forth in her old rocking chair. “When they left Lula, they left everything behind that reminded them of this place and that included me, and you. You just dumb enough to keep thinking they gonna drop their high and mighty lives for us. They don’t call me on a regular. What make you think they gonna keep their word to you?”
Ophelia Johnson, formerly Ophelia Chatard, a petite, five-foot-tall, light-skinned woman with snow white shoulder-length hair that still showed remnants of the burnt orange red that it used to be and greenish colored eyes was from Louisiana. Born to a Creole mother and Black father, who was originally from Lula, they would send her to spend the summer with Julie, her first cousin on her father’s side. Something she’d done since they were children.
Ophelia was eighteen when at Sunday church service she cast eyes on Charlie Johnson, a dark-skinned, tall and slender man, who was a janitor at Nelson Boyd Elementary School. He was singing in the choir. His baritone voice sounded like the soothing rhythm of a saxophone playing. They fell in love, married a year later, and together had three daughters, Georgina, Nola and then Madelyn, who she gave birth to years later at the age of forty-eight.
The couple was married forty-five years when Charlie passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was outside working on his old pickup truck when he collapsed to the ground. It was a devastating blow to the family but it didn’t stop Georgina and Nola from leaving not long after. Madelyn had to give up her small three-room apartment she rented over Miss Bessie’s and move back home to care for her mother and grandmother. She never felt the same about her sisters after that.
“So what I’m supposed to do, Mama? I can’t do this all by myself. We can’t afford to take care of this house and Nana’s even with both our incomes. I could only get that roof patched up and it’s only temporary. I need to get the house rented or sold before we go broke. Georgina and Nola don’t care about nobody but themselves.” Tears threatened to fall from Madelyn’s eyes from the thought.
Ophelia watched her daughter feeling a sense of guilt. She desired much more for her baby girl, but Madelyn was always the responsible one, the one she could depend on. Her daughter was right, those two did leave without a thought or care, but it was their decision, right or wrong.
“Well, Maddie ain’t like you can’t find a nice man and build a life around these parts. If you fix yourself up some and stop putting all that grease on your face, you could catch the widower Wilbert Truce, Ophelia said trying, unsuccessfully to smooth things over.
“Mama, please. I ain’t got no time to worry about how I look. All I do is work and come home to more work. Wilbert may like me, but I don’t care about him with his old self.” Madelyn frowned.
“So you say. Remember, Wilbert, got his own. He’s established, got a big home, a nice one I might add, got his own business, and he’s sweet on you. So what he’s a bit older? You thirty- years-old, Maddie. Don’t you want to get married and have a family for its too late?”
“A family with Wilbert, Mama? Please stop talking about him. He’s not my type, anyway.”
“What do you know about your type?” Ophelia laughed. “You act like Wilbert is a hundred years old. He only in his forties and you need to give him a chance. He ain’t interested in those single women from church who chase him around town, especially that Savannah Moses. She ain’t right upstairs if you ask me. Anyway, Wilbert only got eyes for you. Plus, he’s a nice looking, dark skin man. Reminds me of your daddy. And those eyes…” Ophelia smiled in remembrance. “You stubborn like that man was, girl. Don’t miss out on a good thing!”