With the Fire on High(2)

I pull the straps of my backpack tighter. Give myself that same pep talk as I race down the stairs: Okay, Emoni. Today? Time to be a big girl.


I wanted to give Babygirl a nice name. The kind of name that doesn’t tell you too much before you meet her, the way mine does. Because nobody ever met a white girl named Emoni, and as soon as they see my name on a résumé or college application they think they know exactly what kind of girl they getting. They know way more about me than they need to know, and shit—I mean, shoot—information ain’t free, so my daughter’s name isn’t going to tell anybody any information they didn’t earn. That’s why I fought Tyrone tooth and nail to name her Emma.

“You just want her name to have the same letters as yours.” Tyrone is a whiner.

“No. I want her name to sound less like either of ours,” I said, and I don’t remember if I kissed Babygirl’s infant cheek or not. But I know in that moment I felt this huge emotion; I wanted to do whatever I could to give my daughter the best opportunity in the world. And although our names do have similar letters, mine is full of silverware-sharp sounds: E-Mah-Nee. Hers is soft, rolls off the tongue like a half-dreamed murmur.

Anyhow, Tyrone was late on the day I filled out the birth certificate, so Emma it was. I know a name alone can’t guarantee new opportunities, but at the very least it’ll give her a chance to get in the room, to let other people realize she’s someone they want to learn more about.

Sister Friends

Angelica waits on the corner for me the way she has since elementary school. Her long dark hair has streaks the same bright red as her lipstick. She shuffles from foot to foot in the tightest leggings I have ever seen on a body.

I stop halfway to her and pretend to do a double take. “Girl, you about to give these boys a show! And it’s only the first day,” I say as she swoops her arm through mine and we walk in the direction of the bus stop.

“Girl, you know I ain’t concerned with those boys. The ladies, on the other hand? I was social-media creeping and the summer did wonders for a lot of these jawns!”

I laugh and shake my head. “Does Laura know what she’s gotten herself into?”

Angelica smiles and for a second she looks like the angel she’s named after. “Aww, my boo knows I only look and don’t touch. I just want her to know I can leave if I want to. I got options!”

Angelica officially came out last year and once she’d dusted the closet lint off her Air Maxes, she never looked back. A couple of months after coming out at home and at school, she met Laura at a graphic design workshop held for teens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her girl Laura is built like the Vikings she says she’s descended from: tall, thick-shouldered, and with an artist’s gentle hands that I knew would take care of my best friend’s heart.

“Man, whatever. I see all your posts about Laura. If you and that girl take another cutesy kissy picture, I’m going to delete my account. Actually, I’m going to hack in and delete yours!”

“Don’t hate, Emoni. Is Tyrone still being a dick?”

I swat her on the arm. “This is why I don’t let you around Babygirl; you have such a potty mouth.”

“And you don’t?” She gives me one of her pursed-lips looks.

“Yes, but I picked it up from you. And I’ve been working on it.” I accidentally slipped in front of Babygirl a few weeks ago and almost died when I heard her saying “sh-sh-sh” as if practicing the word. I’ve cut out my cursing since.

“How is my niece? I haven’t seen her since . . . when? Saturday?” We laugh. Despite her potty mouth, Angelica is great with Babygirl and always comes in clutch when either ’Buela or I can’t watch her. Now that Babygirl’s two, ’Buela insists that I have to take on more responsibility in raising her. Which I don’t mind, since Babygirl is the coolest kid on the block. It’s just hard juggling work, her, and now the new school year, without ’Buela taking on the big role she took the first two years of her life. And although I don’t say it, I don’t have to; Tyrone is still being a dick—an ass—a prick. Who uses the word prick?

“Hello! Emoni, are you listening?” Angelica snaps her fingers in my face.

“Sorry . . . I spaced out for a second. What’d you say?”

Angelica sighs dramatically. Anytime Angelica sighs, it’s dramatically. “You never listen to me anymore.”

I unhook my arm from hers. “Get out of here with that mess. All I do is listen to you.”

“I was asking about the dinner you left for me and Babygirl when I babysat. What’d you call it?”

“Pollo guisado—stewed chicken. Was it good?” Angelica’s been eating at my house since we were little girls, but since I always tweak what I cook, it’s never the same thing twice. “I thought I might have messed up when I added in the collards at the end. They weren’t in the original recipe.”

“It was so good. I was wondering if you could make it for Laura and me. Six-month anniversary coming up in a month! I was thinking we could do a romantic dinner at my house since my moms is going to be out of town.”

“Dinner at home is never romantic, Gelly,” I say. The bus pulls up and we climb on with the rest of the people who, like us, are going to school and work near Yorktown and Fairmount and even farther south into Center City.

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