THE BOOK OF COLORS
How can a 19-year-old, mixed-race girl who grew up in a crack house and is now pregnant be so innocent? Yslea is full of contradictions, though, seeming both young and old, innocent and wise. Her spirit is surprising, given all the pain she has endured, and that’s the counterpoint this story offers—while she sees pain and suffering all around her, Yslea overcomes in her own quiet way.
What Yslea struggles with is expressing her thoughts. And she wonders if she will have something of substance to say to her baby. It’s the baby growing inside her that begins to wake her up, that causes her to start thinking about things in a different way.
Yslea drifts into the lives of four people who occupy three dilapidated row houses along the train tracks outside of Memphis: “The way their three little row houses sort of leaned in toward each other and the way the paint peeled and some of the windows were covered with cardboard, the row might as easily have been empty.”
She becomes an integral part of this little community, moving in with Rose who is old and dying. As her pregnancy progresses, everything changes within the three houses.
$16.00 | Fiction Paperback | 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 | 280 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60953-115-7 | Carton Quantity: 24
Rose called out to me.
“Yslea. Yslea, are you there?”
“I can’t feel my feet again.”
“You been dreaming?”
“No. I been thinking.”
“Big things. Nothing to worry your mind about.”
“What big things?”
“Don’t mind me.”
“You want me to rub your feet?”
“Maybe in a while.”
I sat down by Rose’s bed, hoping dinner cooked before the stove stopped working, and I rubbed my belly, round under the flowers of my dress. My belly button had smoothed out in the past few weeks.
I think about big things as much as anyone, maybe more, even though I almost never talk to anyone about them. I go to bed thinking about them. Wake up thinking about them. My baby for example. While it was growing it was so calm it scared me sometimes. I used to know girls who’d wake up in the middle of the night with a foot stuck in their ribs and they’d laugh telling about it. I wanted my baby to do that, just to say hello.
Rose looked up from her bed and sniffed around a little bit. “What you cooking tonight, Yslea?”
It was a wonder she could still smell with all the bug spray in her room. She had me spray it at least twice a day. “Jimmy brought pork chops from work.”
“Those gray ones?”
“They taste the same once they’re cooked. He gets them half price.”
“I’m not complaining. I’m not hungry anyway.” Rose relaxed into her pillow. That was about the only thing to tell you she was tense—watching her relax. She couldn’t move much on her own. Not that she was so big anymore. She was before, but she stopped eating enough to stay big. Somehow she still seemed big when you thought about her, though.
My own bigness was new. That was the difference. If you looked at me you’d think I was small even though my belly had started filling up my lap. I never used to think much about having a body until this other body started growing inside mine. I just wished it’d moved more. I wondered what it was gonna do when it got into the world and just laid there. That’s not how the world works.
When Rose started snoring I watched her sleeping like I sometimes did to get used to how she’d look when she’s dead. I hadn’t seen many dead people. I needed to not be scared, and Jimmy wasn’t much good except for meat from the butcher shop. And if I ever got thin again, for love. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore.
I hadn’t been with Rose long. A few months. To start with, Rose didn’t know a thing about me but she brought me in as favor to Jimmy even though she didn’t think much of Jimmy. Most likely at first she was more interested in the little thing growing in me than in me or Jimmy. That’s okay. Once I moved in we got on so well she asked me to be the one to dress her when she died.
I’d only been living with Jimmy next door for a couple of months when I figured out I was pregnant, but I’d known him for a while before I moved in and I’d see Rose on her porch. I agreed to dress her when she died because I figure that if a baby can grow from nothing in that time so can that kind of relation between me and Rose.
They say you shouldn’t eat fried foods when you’re pregnant, but that’s the only way to get the pork chops cooked since the oven in the house didn’t work so well, probably because Rose always used it too much in the winter to heat the house.
The other thing I worried about was Rose’s bug spray. They say you shouldn’t be around bug spray if you’re pregnant. For someone who keeps saying God is in control of the world Rose sure was scared of bugs. I asked her about it and she said she once woke up with a roach attached to her ear. I didn’t know roaches did that, although I did hear once of a baby dying when a roach crawled into its windpipe. That might do it. Maybe it’s better to be around bug spray than to have a roach crawl into your child’s mouth. At least that’s what I told myself.
Dinnertime is one of the times the train comes by. It’s loud enough to stir up a valley of dry bones, but Rose always slept right through it. I’ve always wondered at what people can get used to. A person growing inside you. Or the idea that you might just up and die.
Even though I’m not a Catholic I started going to the Catholic church down the street. All sorts of people come. It’s the strangest time of my week when people who I might not even be able to get into their offices kneel down beside me and we eat the flesh and drink the blood of God and I always leave feeling clean and happy. The only other time I feel that way is when I’m reading Robinson Crusoe which is the book I own.