“BEANIE…BEANIE…WAKE UP” I hear a high pitched cry, sitting up and I can barely open my eyes. But when I do, I see the kids standing in the doorway.
“Purple, get up Beanie won’t wake up” Jackson urges. I jump up and hurry down the stairs, through the hallway and into the living room, where Beanie usually fell asleep. She loves the big, brown couch and would rather sleep on it than in bed. Mama’s clutching her, crying, and Winston isn’t around.
“What happened?” I ask.
“She won’t wake up” Mama’s screaming. I hear the sirens but continue to stare at Beanie lying peacefully in Mama’s arms.
“Excuse me” I hear and I’m shoved by the EMS worker, who argues with Mama.
“Purple” Jackson yells in my face.
“What?” I mumble still staring at Mama; he turns my body to the hallway Billie and Franklin stand sobbing staring at the scene before us. I rush to them, shielding them from what I know they won’t understand.
The doctors are making Mama cry and there’s a police officer standing next to them. A woman wearing a suit with a stiff hairstyle watches with a disapproving look. My aunts and uncles, now sober, are enraged. I don’t understand. Jackson is leaning on the wall staring at the floor. This cold, hard, floor. Green walls with plastic flowers hanging from the ceiling. Mamas in handcuffs and sobbing; we catch eyes but I look away. She’s being drug away like a dog on a leash that won’t move. Franklin jumps up as if he wants to save her, but Jackson holds his arm.
“Sit down” he says as I glance their way. The way everyone is crying I can’t help but realize the truth, something happened to Beanie. I can see their lips moving but nothing is coming out. Pills. Mama tested positive for drugs. An investigation is going on at our house. Our uncles and aunts aren’t real so we have to wait at a foster home.
“What they mean Uncle Ronnie ain’t my real uncle?” Franklin asks, because they’re close. I know that Uncle Ronnie, Aunt Lee-Lee, Butter, and Aunt Vicki aren’t our relatives but Mama’s closest friends. Our real family hasn’t been around for years and I don’t know if they’re dead or alive.
“Just be quiet” Jackson tells him. I can see the hurt on his face. Beanie called him daddy and he’s worried. Billie has cried herself to sleep and rests heavily on my lap. Stiff Hair walks our way and I tense up; I don’t want us to go to foster care or to be separated.
“Come on children, you can go with me now?” she says with a polite smile. I hesitate, and Jackson exhales, shaking his head. Before we can answer, three very well dressed people step off the elevator.
“Is that Maureen?” Jackson asks, and I freeze because I didn’t recognize her.
Maureen Portier is our maternal grandmother, Jackson and I are the only ones that have ever met her or seen pictures. The sight of her, nose in the air, poncho thrown across her chest and a Louis Vuitton purse on her arm makes us sit up straight. Stiff Hair turns to see where our attention has turned. I watch the three of them. Neat hair. The women wear makeup and perfume. But all I can smell is money.
“Oh hello” she greets.
“Hello, I’m the children’s maternal grandmother,” she announces loud and clear, making Billie shift.
“Our what?” Franklin says as Jackson nudges him. The young woman with her is looking at each of us slowly, a look of disgust on her face. She’s wearing real gold earrings, a huge wedding ring and a short stiff haircut. She reminds me of Halle Berry, but real.
“Oh. You must be…” Stiff Hair’s voice trails off as she looks through a folder.
“Maureen Portier,” she says with attitude.
“Yes, nice to meet you Ms.-“
“Mrs.,” she corrects.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Portier,” Stiff Hair apologizes.
“Who do I speak to about my daughter and grandchild. I understand something has happened,” she asks, as Stiff Hair leads her to the nursing station with the man she came with, Halle Berry follows. Mrs. Portier walks over to listen to the mumbling. I keep quiet and stop breathing to eavesdrop.
“Ecstasy….dead…maybe thought they were M&M’s….our condolences.” Those are the only words I make out as my heart drops. Beanie always loved M&M’s and I would have to take them out of her hand if she found one on the floor or in the couch.
“Who are they?” Franklin asks as my eyes water.
“Mama’s family,” Jackson says. I know that sitting still is killing Franklin so his mouth is about to run.
“I never seen them before,” he states. “I ain’t going with no strangers” he says folding his arms.
“Shut up, you’re going wherever they tell you to.” We stare at the small crowd of people. Halle Berry is holding her chest and has a tissue in her hand. The Suit has his hand on Maureen’s back with his head down. Maureen is still keeping eye contact with the nurses. My mind drifts as Billie turns to a more comfortable position. She won’t understand when she wakes up. Poor Beanie. Lying somewhere by herself calling me.
“I’m here” I whisper closing my eyes picturing her smile.
“Well children you don’t have to worry about going with me, your family is here” Stiff Hair says with slight cheer in her voice. I’m relieved; I didn’t care where “the family” was taking us as long as we weren’t being separated.
“I don’t know them,” Franklin tells her.
“Me neither,” Jackson speaks up with a scowl on his face. I glance at both of them because I’m surprised; usually Jackson understands things and agrees with me. Apparently he hasn’t grasped this situation.
“I’m your Uncle Francois, your mother’s older brother,” The Suit says, finally coming over so that I can see his face. He looks like Michael Ealy except with a clean cut. His shoulders are filling out the suit and I can tell that he works out. Up close Jackson resembles him a great deal.
“And I’m your Aunt Dominique, you’re mother’s little sister,” Halle Berry says, forcing a smile. Her nose and eyes are red. She cried about Beanie without even knowing her.
“Franklin, and that’s my twin Billie”
“I’m Purple, I mean Pierre.” I speak up not wanting to say Purple because I hear Beanie’s voice when I do.
“Pierre, you’ve gotten so big and beautiful,” Aunt Dominique says with a big smile. She remembers me and I can’t place her face from anywhere before.
“And look at Jackson, how old are you now, thirteen?” she asks, turning to him.
“Yeah, fourteen in July,” he says with a fake deep voice. He’s going through puberty and has this annoying, scratchy voice.
“Wow, it’s been a long time,” she continues, but my focus moves to Maureen who is now sitting down. She’s talking with a doctor. Her face is tight and she’s nodding, staring at the ground. Details about Beanie. She’d only seen four years and now it’s over. Another tear.
“Pierre,” I hear I look up and brush it away. It’s Jackson who has called me but when I look at him he’s nodding at Aunt Dominique.
“Yes,” I ask.
“I asked how’s high school?” she repeats.
“It’s good,” I lie to avoid the ugly truth. Detroit Public School. Lazy welfare mother. No new clothes. Taking care of four children, now three.
“How about you Freddy?” she asks, looking at Franklin.
“That’s not my name, lady,” he says, as Jackson nudges him.
“I am your Aunt Dominique,” she says in a snappy way that made me look at her. I know how Franklin is but I’m not used to people talking to him with attitude.
“Well, I ain’t neva seen you before,” he adds. He’s like Mama once they get started it’s hard to stop them. Mama once argued with a grocery store clerk until her voice went out and we still had to leave.
“I know and I want to apologize” she says just above a whisper. I watch the way she shuffles her feet.
After Franklin set her straight she walks over to Maureen and Uncle Francois. I remember him. I was five and Jackson was four. He held me as Mama argued with Maureen and rushed our things out of the house. I remember him trying to calm her down, and when he couldn’t, he looked in my face and smiled at me.
“Why are we still sitting here, I’m hungry?” Jackson mumbles.
“Me too, and what about Beanie are we supposed to just leave her here?” Franklin asks. I look to see that he’s serious; he’s always been protective of her.
“She’s not coming home with us, Franklin,” I tell him using my hand to cover Billie’s ear.
“She died,” Jackson says as we look at him. I wait to see his face drop and his eyes water as Jackson grabs him. I can’t look. Beanie made all of us happy when we were sad. She was our cheerleader. Mama called her “Love” because that’s what it felt like when she was around. Whenever one of us was sad or upset, she would give you a hug or kiss. She used to say everything with a smile when she wasn’t sucking her index finger. I would miss that wrinkled finger and the way she avoided touching you with it. I smile because I can see her switching hands while we cross the street.
“Children,” I hear, looking up to see Maureen in her shiny shoes and heavy perfume. The look in her eyes makes us once again straighten our backs.
“Yes,” I say.
“You’re going to come home with me,” she says nervously as we all look at each other.
“Okay, but who are you?” Franklin asks, exhausted with our new family introductions. A smile slides across her face. It’s my smile, the one I use after a sarcastic joke.
“I’m Mi Mi, your grandmother” she tells us.