biscuits. by Zaria Ware

Mama's scent is a mixture of lilacs and daisies with a hint of fresh dirt and trepidation. I learn to love her for it. She teaches me and my little sister about cooking biscuits after I turn fourteen and try to deny my country roots when I meet the new city boys down the street that talk about street lights that aren't ten miles apart.

"Get the flour Lizzie," she says to my little sister, "and tell that sister of yours to get her tanned butt into this kitchen. She's not any better than the rest of us, and she ain't from no city."

I hear her say this since our wooden porch is only divided from the kitchen by a screen door. Mama spoke loud because she wants me to hear. The door opens. Elizabeth looks down at my scrawny body and meets my eyes as if to secretly take my side against Mama. It is a small act of defiance and I accept it. She is eleven and obedient to the only teacher she has ever known. I pat the wood beside me and Lizzie sits. Her arm brushes against mine.

"You know Mama is only set in her ways Ames," she says with half of a smile, "and she only wants the best for the both of us. Don't get mad."

But I want to get mad. I am mad. I am angry that she doesn't understand why I want out of biscuit making and matrimony. I am mad at Lizzie for telling me to not get mad. I am angry at the city folk for making me so self-conscious. I'm just mad and I tell Lizzie that by my eyes and the clench of my jaw and the lack of response and by ignoring Mama's request of flour. She is not set in her ways, but suffocated. Now the suffocation must take us.

"I'm not mad, Lizzie."

"Then what are you?"

"I'm mad."

She grins. I laugh softly. The screen door is still there, and Mama can still hear us. Lizzie leans into me and whispers, "Me too. But at daddy. He's the one that makes her so angry all the time."

And she's right. Daddy up and left us for more work in the city. The checks come for weeks and then suddenly they don't. We are happy and then we aren't. I still have his face in my brain. Eyes the color of freshly cut grass, like mine. A nose that juts out purposely. Hands with blue veins that travel up to his fingertips. And his lies.

"But she's the one that made 'em leave," I say quietly, fists balled up and then let go, "with her constant fussing and complaining."

Lizzie frowns. "You don't mean that. You can't mean that."

The screen door opens and then Mama is there with her lips bent down and eyes sharp.

"Amelia Marybell Weston, stop lollygaggin' with your sister or I'll beat you within an inch of your life. I'm telling you we're making biscuits, and that doesn't mean you just ignore what I say and whisper and chatter on about boys."

I am fighting with my insides. I want to scream into her face and scratch her arms with my fingernails.

"Yes Ma'am."

The screen door mesh is torn and I keep my eyes on it. I can't look at Mama, but I can smell her. She smells of freshly churned butter that drips off fingers, anger that comes from eyes, sweat sticking onto pale skin.

Just like Daddy left her.

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