Mamma brings home another black man in another pressed blue suit. My sister and I are sitting on our brown sofa, eating dry cereal and pretending to read our schoolbooks. Our bright-colored daypacks are on the floor by our feet. School papers, tests with D's and C's spill out of their open mouths like crumpled Tarot cards. We say let's go upstairs, winking at each other. But first, we go into the kitchen, where my sister takes an old metal stepstool and reaches into Mamma's liquor cupboard.

She quickly retrieves two tall plastic cups and two shot glasses while I pilfer the pink lemonade and the big jug of milk.

Hand in hand, we scuttle up the old, creaky stairs, giggling.

Sitting cross-legged on Mamma's bedroom floor, we pour white drinks and pink shots as she entertains downstairs. Soon we hear roaring laughter, Mamma's stamping church-white sandals, then her high, angelic voice, thrumming, "Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah!"

We stare at our long blond hairs flung across the wooden floor like perfect silken threads, silent as angels.

My sister gets up, says nothing, and goes to Mamma's closet.

Soon, she's back with Dad's old sport coat and tweed fedora. I wear the dusty hat and my sister dons the big blue coat. It's so large she disappears, and my face as well; my eyes covered, my nose pressed against the fuzzy, warm rim that smells old. There are little frizzes of his hair inside, dark and curled like I remember.

Now we laugh at ourselves, sit back down and soon become groggy and pour everything out onto the space between us. We watch our perfect flung hairs dissolve in flows of pink and white. Then twirling our fingertips like magical wands, we incant, "kaleidoscope… kaleidoscope… kaleidoscope" and fall over.

We laugh some more, but now we're too tired for all that. We roll against each other, sandbagging under Dad's old coat and dusty hat, smelling and giggling. We take turns, telling him our little secrets again and again. We tell him this is where we belong.

Copyright © Bill Cook 2008.

Title graphic: "Hairsplay" Copyright © The Summerset Review, Inc. 2008.