I’ll never lie, Baby thinks to herself as her daddy slips a sly hand behind her momma’s waist with the wedding band missing.
Momma buries her Mary Kay cheeks into Daddy’s tailored suit, smiling with Mary Kay lips. Her hair’s done up in curls, and she’s got on the diamond earrings Daddy got her the last time he missed supper and came home smelling like cigarettes. Baby knows that her Daddy don’t smoke, and Momma’s got no business breathing in those coughing sticks with her asthma and all. Momma still just goes about her housework, folding Daddy’s drawers, and working out that smoke smell in her pa’s dress shirts.
When Baby walks home from school the following afternoon, she passes the office where Daddy works. She sees his expensive car parked far in the lot and watches as Daddy ambles on over and opens the door for an expensive looking lady. She has raven black hair, and from where she stands, even Baby can see how her eyelashes sweep her eyebrows. The lady has a blazer flopped over her arm and a glowing cigarette between jeweled fingers; Baby thinks she might be one successful business woman. Daddy cranks the car, and Baby runs the rest of the way home.
Momma’s cooking fried chicken.
“Your daddy just rang, Baby,” Momma sighs after hearing the door slam. “Workin’ late, got some business to take care of.”
Baby thinks to herself: I’ll never lie. I wonder if Momma knows she’s lying, too.
Supper is quiet. Baby set another plate out for her pa even though her Momma protested.
“He ain’t comin’, Baby. Done told ya, he’s got work to do.”
Baby pouts like Momma hates. She notices Momma looks real tired. Her hair’s frizzy at the ends. She hasn’t got a lick of makeup on, so Baby can see her freckles. Baby touches her own cherry red hair and thinks her Momma’s not too pretty, but she’s gotta nice heart.
It’s 10 o’clock. Daddy still isn’t home, and Baby’s got school in the morning, so she does the dishes fast-like and kisses Momma goodnight, who’s fretting by the phone.
“Daddy will be home soon,” Baby hopes. Her Momma attempts a smile, but it comes out a shameful grimace.
Momma slaps a hand down on her apron, laughing suddenly. Her voice is scary low. “Your Daddy ain’t ever comin’ home, Baby.”
Baby takes a step back, and then another. She thinks of what her Momma could’ve done to make Daddy not want to come home again.
“I saw him with that woman of his! He thinks I’m so dumb, some imbecile he married ’cause he done knocked me up,” Momma growls.
Baby remembers Daddy stepping into the car with the beautiful lady and smoke rings. Her heart hurts for her Momma.
“Well, I cut the brake hose. That’s right. I can’t do arithmetics too good but I know my way around some fool’s car,” Momma’s hysterical now. “He’s gonna have a hard time stoppin’ home now, ain’t he?”
Baby wants to cry. None of it is fair, but her Momma tucks her into bed just like everything is normal.
In the morning, Momma wakes Baby up for school. She’s got her hair pinned and face dolled up like she’s expecting Daddy home any second. She’s wearing the emerald ring Daddy got her the last time he missed bedtime.
This time, instead of Daddy knocking on the door, it’s the police.
“Ma’am, we’re real sorry, but there’s been an accident.”
Momma blinks hard and comes with the men to the station, Baby trailing blindly behind. They’re asking questions about Daddy’s personal habits and if they knew anything about car trouble, but Momma shakes her head sadly.
Baby knows better than to tell the truth.