Mama laid a fancy, white tablecloth out on the dining room table. I ain’t never seed such a thing before, and I wanted to touch it, to see if it felt as soft as it looked. But Mama yelled stop, said she didn’t want no one to touch it and get it dirty. So I just stared a hole in it as Mama went back in the kitchen to cook.
Onions, garlic, beans - smells came out of Mama’s kitchen that made my mouth water. I stopped staring at the tablecloth and went into the kitchen. Mama told me to peel some carrots, cause if I wanted a taste I had to help. So I peel every carrot that Mama wanted, and she gave me some food to taste.
Then I follow Mama upstairs, watching her as she gets all gussied up. I never saw Mama looking so pretty, I tell her. Mama smiles at me, and tells me to get a pretty dress on, too. I do, and Mama braids my hair. I feel like a princess. I ask Mama why we getting so pretty. Mama says that Death is fixing to visit, so we need to look nice and have a good dinner on the table.
The doorbell rings. Mama rushes downstairs. I follow her, not sure if I wanna meet Death. A man walks in the living room. He is a giant, with long black hair on his head pulled back in a ponytail and short black hair around his mouth. Mama tells me not to be shy and shake the man’s hand. His hand swallows mine, and I almost forget to say hello when I see his eyes. They are a bright blue, and stand out from his brown face. He asks me how I am. I say fine, but I ask him if all deaths are as big as him. Mama tells me to hush, but Death throws his head back and laughs at my question. He says that he is only a little Death, but I think he is a giant Death.
We go to the dining room table. Mama shows Death to Daddy’s seat, then goes into the kitchen to serve the food. I follow Mama, and help. We sit down, and Mama bows her head. But Death stops her, and asks her if we really want to ask the Lord for help. Mama says no, and starts eating. I never saw Mama not pray before eating, so it takes me a minute to get a biscuit and pass them to Death. Mama and Death talk about the weather while we eat. They talk about the local baseball team, and other stuff that I don’t understand.
When dinner’s over, Mama asks me to clean off the table. Then Mama leads Death upstairs. I don’t know why Mama took him there, only family goes upstairs. But then I look at the table. Nothing spilled during dinner, and I don’t want to spill anything as I clean it off. I carefully pick up the plates. I hear noises from upstairs, but I don’t listen because I want to keep the table cloth clean. I get the plates in the kitchen, then the water glasses, forks, knives, and spoons. I take the napkins off, and put them in the basket to get washed. Finally, I take the serving plates and bread basket off. I feel so proud of myself - the tablecloth looks perfect! Then I spot some crumbs, and I rush over to brush them off.
Mama and Death are still upstairs, making strange noises, so I decide to wash the dishes. I get a stool, take out the drying rack, and get the water as hot as it gets. Mama says we need a new hot water heater, but I don’t think I want water to be any more hotter. I wash the plates, glasses, and start on the forks when I hear Mama and Death come downstairs. I run out of the kitchen, soapy water dripping from my hands.
Mama, I call, I am washing the dishes all by myself. But Mama’s not wearing her pretty dress, she’s wearing her nightgown. Death smiles at me, and tells me I’m a good girl. He tells me to take good care of Mama. I tell him I always take good care of Mama, we care for each other. Death nods, yes you do, he agrees with me. Then Mama opens the door. Death looks at Mama and says he’ll get it done right away.
Death leaves. I ask Mama if I should get a plate ready for Daddy. She laughs. Daddy’s not coming home, Mama tells me. Daddy’s never coming home again.