Shekita dialed her mother’s number again. She shook her free hand as if it were asleep. She needed her mother to answer the phone. She wanted to let her know that the letter had arrived. That she needed her support. She needed her to say yes. To be proud of her.
“Come on, Mama,” she said into the phone. “Come on and answer.”
She finally put the phone face down on the counter and sighed. This was supposed to be her spring break. Most of the Booker T. Washington High School seniors were in Italy, and she was supposed to be there, too. Instead, she was sulking about the fact that her mother had explained that they couldn’t afford the trip. That over the break she was charged with looking after her 91-year-old grandfather, Daddy Sweet. Making sure he went no farther than the porch, watching bits and pieces of his mind—of himself—slip away from him, like spring breezes.
She made her way back out to the front porch and stood just outside the door.
Daddy Sweet didn’t look up from his seat in the rocking chair. She placed her hand on his shoulder and he looked up at her.
“Mule hitch up over yonder,” he said, pointing a crooked finger toward the Lacey house. “We gots to get rid of her, though. They building, building, building.” He shook his head. “Ain’t gone be no more corn. No more cows. No more cotton.”
And she felt the porch vibrate. She could feel it before Daddy Sweet turned his head away from her. Before his eyes widened with awe as he watched the purple, yellow, and red plane ascend into the air.
As far back as Shekita could remember, Daddy Sweet had loved watching the planes come and go, but her mother hated living so close to the airport. She couldn’t count the number of times she’d heard her mother say, Can’t wait till the good Lord finally allow Elm Thicket to be rid of Love Field.
When the plane was gone and the street was once again quiet, Shekita took a seat in the chair beside Daddy Sweet and reached down to retrieve her sketchbook and pencil from the ground.
“Government hold the rights to that land,” he said, looking at her. His face was worn, but not in a wrinkled, sagging way. His eyes were glassy and blue, but not in a natural way. They were blue with age and she wondered what the world looked like through those eyes.
“Government think they hold the right to everything,” he said, turning his gaze back toward where the plane had ascended.
Shekita peered at the side of his face. She missed his wisdom. His mind. He was the one who bought her the first sketchbook and pencils. He was the one who called her his little artist and made her mother believe it.
After a while, she let her gaze move past her grandfather’s face to the house next door. While the house she’d grown up in wasn’t dilapidated, it wasn’t as updated as the one next door. The one two white women bought and rebuilt the year before.
The new house didn’t even look like it belonged in Elm Thicket. It looked something like the New York brownstones Shekita saw on television. It was a beautiful brownstone with an extravagant rooftop. It was something like the houses she looked forward to seeing when she’d applied to the New York art schools.
But her mother had said no. You ain’t getting on nobody plane. Going to nobody New York. Make art right here in the Elm, Kita. Right here at home.
Shekita had wanted to tell her that she couldn’t bear the thought of being like her. She didn’t want to spend her life watching planes fly in and out from the front porch. She wanted to be on one. She wanted to smash her face against the window from inside the plane. To scan for her mother and Daddy Sweet from up in the air.
“This home,” Daddy Sweet said, interrupting her thoughts. And then he let out a hoarse chuckle. “But this ain’t all of it. This ain’t everything. You gone be all right, little girl. Go on yonder,” he said, nodding his head toward where the planes come and go. “That’s home, too.”
Shekita nodded her head and smiled. She sat back in the chair and allowed the pencil to move on her sketchpad. And she knew that one day soon she’d get her window seat because she knew that her mother would believe Daddy Sweet’s words.
LaToya Watkins’ writing has appeared in A Public Space, The Sun, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She is a Kimbilio fiction fellow and has received support from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, and Art Omi. She received a Ph.D. in aesthetic studies from UTD.