“You know you just can’t keep showing up here.” Her grandma whispered.
Harper sat at the kitchen table doing her homework silently trying to focus. She looked up from her paper and tried to peek into the living room to the door.
“I know you told me not to come back, but I needed more money,” a woman said. Harper knew the voice well. That woman had been over twice this week and even more in the weeks before.
“I just gave you money, Char. What happened to the three hundred I gave you?”
“I needed half that to pay for rent and the other half—”
“Went to funding your addiction.”
There was silence. Harper slid out her chair and peeked around the corner.
“What have I told you Charity. If you keep up this addiction, you will never get your child back. Why don’t you go to a rehab center?”
“Are you going to pay for me to go? Because you know I can’t afford it.”
“I’m trying to think of what’s best for Harper.”
The woman’s eyes went over to her and a smile spread across her thin shiny face. Her grandmother looked back at her and Harper shrank.
“Come here, sweetie.” The woman bent over and motioned for her to come.
Harper looked at the woman and then at her grandma for approval. She didn’t want to go to get in trouble later when this lady left. To her surprise, her grandmother nodded.
Hesitantly, Harper walked over to the lady, her pigtails bobbing with each step she took. The woman took her into her arms and squeezed her. The smell of smoke on the woman made her gag.
The woman held her by her shoulders. “Do you know who I am, sweetie? Do you remember me?”
The woman looked at her grandmother through narrowed eyes.
“Don’t look at me like that, Charity. The last time she saw you, you had some meat on your bones.”
“Charity is my mommy’s name,” Harper said.
“This is your mommy, sweetheart,” Grandma said, putting a hand on Harper’s shoulder.
Harper looked back up at the lady now revealed to be her mother. She scrunched her face. “Why do you look like that?”
“Mommy has been working out and losing a lot of weight.” The woman flexed her arm a few times and chuckled.
“Mhm working out.” Her grandmother walked away and grabbed her purse.
“Are you coming to live with me and grandma?” Harper asked.
“I don’t know baby. Soon. I’ll come back to you. I promise.”
Charity held out her pinky. “Pinky promise.”
Harper wrapped her pinky around her mother’s and smiled a toothless grin.
“You lost your two front teeth. I knew you looked different.” Charity pinched Harper’s chubby cheek.
“They fell out at school today,” Harper said. “The tooth fairy gets to come tonight and give me money! I’m going to buy some cakes for my friends, Danica and Dion. They live across the hall!”
“They do? That’s great, baby,” Charity said.
Grandma walked back over catching her mother’s attention. “Here. This is all I have until I get to the bank tomorrow.”
“Fifty dollars? What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Spend it wisely,” Grandma said. She put her hands on Harper’s shoulders. “Baby, can you go finish your homework in your room?”
“Okay.” Harper hugged her mom and ran away to the kitchen. She grabbed her homework and scurried to her room. She shut her room door and immediately heard yelling. Creeping back to the door, she opened it slowly.
“How can you treat your own daughter like this?”
“Like what? You’re killing yourself. I raised you better than that.”
“So me not having money is my fault?”
“Yes! Absolutely and you can’t come in here making empty promises to Harper. She is just a little girl.”
“I didn’t make her an empty promise.”
“So you’ll get clean and raise your child?”
“I’m working on it.”
“You’ve been working on it since she was two! It’s been six years, Charity. When is enough going to be enough? Did watching Joshua die from addiction do nothing for you?”
There was more silence and then Harper sneezed. Covering her mouth, she hoped they didn’t hear her.
“You should go. Don’t come back until you’re clean. I don’t need my grandbaby watching you die.”
“So you’re just done with me just like that, ma?”
“When you get clean, then I will let you come live here. You won’t bring drugs into this house. I don’t want Harper growing up around that. She deserves more than that.”
“Fine. Whatever ma. I’m leaving. Thanks for the fifty,” Charity said. “Bye sweetheart! I love you.”
“Harper?” Her grandma said.
Harper snapped out of her thoughts and looked up at her grandmother. She wasn’t eight years old anymore and they no longer lived in the apartment building on the east side. She sat at the desk in her bedroom of their beautiful one story home.
“Yeah. I just can’t focus today.” She tucked some of her long brown hair behind her ear.
Dorothy drew her brows together. “I wanted to tell you Dion is here to see you.” Her grandma opened the door wider. Dion smiled and waved wildly at her, bringing a smile to her face. “I’m gonna go to the store. You young ladies behave yourself. I’ll be back soon. If you leave, don’t forget to lock the door.”
“Alright. Will do,” Harper said.
“Okay. I love you.” Dorothy said, walking away.
“Love you more.”
“Bye granny.” Dion said.
Dorothy chuckled. “Bye Dion.”
Dion walked into the room and sat on Harper’s bed.
“Where is Dani?”
“Doing something nerdy. Mom took her to some science decathlon for school. I hard passed on that.” Dion paused. “What’s wrong? Why the long face?”
“It’s that time of year again.”
“Oh.. thinking about your mom?”
Harper uncrumpled the program from her mother’s funeral. She had crumpled it and uncrumpled it so many times since that day that the text was hard to read and her mother’s picture had faded beyond all recognition.
“Every time this day passes it’s always painful. She told me she would come back and that she’d come live with Granny and I, but she never did.”
Dion moved to the floor in front of Harper and touched her hand.
“I know what you’re gonna say. That it’s been like eight years since then, but it just never gets better,” Harper said. “Every birthday, Mother’s day, holiday…. This day. It all reminds me of how she lied to me.”
Dion rubbed her hand. “It’s okay to let it out.”
“Yeah, but every year? I told myself I wouldn’t cry today.”
“But it’s okay if you do, Harp. She’s your mom,” Dion said. “Maybe you need to confront her.”
“How am I supposed to do that, Di? She’s dead!”
“We can go to her grave. Have you been?”
“Not since I was a kid…”
“Then let’s go. This can be therapeutic.” Dion offered a smile. “I saw it on this show mom and I were watching, except those characters travelled back in time. We can’t do that, but next best thing right?”
“If you really think it will help.”
“If it doesn’t, then when Mom gives me my allowance next, I’ll get us cheese fries from that place we love.”
The two of them slipped on their jackets and grabbed what change they could find and took the bus to the James K. Wyatt cemetery near where they used to live. It was a small cemetery, so it was relatively easy to find the marker.
Harper stood over her mother’s grave, crumpling the program in her pocket. She bit the inside of her cheek and read her tombstone over and over: Charity Rowan 1973-2015. There were no nice words or a picture like the other stones. She wasn’t a great person.
“I don’t know how to do this.”
“Just talk like she is standing right in front of you.”
“But she isn’t.”
“Close your eyes and pretend.”
Harper took several deep breaths. shook out her shoulders.
“Do you want me to pretend to be your mom? I can stand in proxy.”
“No. You don’t have to do that.” Harper shook out her shoulders.
“Just start with a ‘Hi Mom it’s me Harper.’”
Harper looked at her mother’s grave. This was silly, and she didn’t know if this would work. She cleared her throat. “Hey Mom… it’s me, Harper. For years now I have cried over you. I’ve felt bad most of my life because of what happened to you and it has not gotten easier.” She exhaled. “I’m angry. I’m angry that you lied to me and told me you’d come back. I’m angry because I wasn’t enough to make you stop using drugs.”
Hot tears flowed down her face. “I’m angry because drugs were more important to you than your family and your one and only daughter. I just want you to know that I’ll never be like you. I’ll never hurt the ones I love the way you hurt me. I’ll be the daughter grandma never had! The daughter she deserved. I’m going to get my high school diploma and I’m going to go to college with my best friends. I’m going to get an amazing education and I’m going to be the best me. A me I can be proud of.”
Harper wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. “I don’t want to hurt anymore and with the help of my friends and the ones that love me, I can get over you. I can move past this. Because I’m done grieving over someone who never loved me. I’m done!”
She let all her tears flow. Dion took her into her arms and held her tight. “Get it out.” Dion said, her voice breaking. “We have one more thing I think you should do.” Dion dug into her pocket and handed her a lighter. “Let’s just torch that program. It holds too much pain.”
Harper took out the crumpled paper and looked at it. She straightened it out and started the lighter, holding it up to the corner of the paper. She watched the flames spread over the paper faster than she expected. Once it got halfway through she dropped it and put it out with her foot, stomping it to bits.
“How do you feel?”
“Surprisingly, a lot better.”
“I’m glad. I’m gonna hold you to it, Harp. We’ll live life to the fullest. Wait til we get to college! Imagine all the hot college guys we will meet and all the parties we can go to.” Dion said.
Harper giggled and hiccupped. “Way to have your priorities Dion, but why wait til college?”
“Because we will have cars by then and can go anywhere. We just took the bus for two hours.”
Harper giggled. “You’re right. Let’s promise to take any and every opportunity we can.”
“You know I’m always down.”
“My ride or die.” Harper asked, taking Dion’s hand.
Dion interlaced their fingers. “And I die to ride.”