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During the annual summer fish fry, women show off their baking and men fish in the nearby pond. Music and the noises of children’s games fill the air. Maya wanders into a secluded clearing to sit on a tree and stare at the sky. Louise Kendricks, a pretty girl of the same age, comes upon her. At first shy toward each other, they soon hold hands and spin around while looking at the sky. They become best friends and spend hours trying to learn the complicated “Tut” language because it is even more esoteric than pig latin.
While in the seventh grade, Maya receives a note from an eighth-grader, Tommy Valdon, asking her to be his valentine. She shows it to Louise, and Louise explains that valentines mean love. Maya says aloud, “Not ever again.” She does not explain what she means to Louise. They tear the note into tiny pieces and throw it into the wind. The day before Valentine’s Day, Maya’s teacher calls the children by name and reads aloud cards sent to them from the eighth-grade class. Tommy sends another letter to Maya, stating that he saw Maya and her friend tear up his note, but he does not think she meant to hurt his feelings. He still considers her his valentine even if she does not answer his letter. He signs the note with his initials. When Maya decides to throw caution to the wind and flirt with him, Tommy’s crush has already begun to wane.
Bailey constructs a tent in the yard and begins playing sexual games with girls. Bailey plays the father, the girl plays the mother, and Maya plays the baby, sitting outside to stand guard. After six months, Bailey loses his virginity to Joyce, an older, well-developed girl. Bailey begins stealing things from the Store for her. After a few months, she disappears. Her aunt later tells Momma that Joyce ran away with a railroad porter whom she met at the Store. Momma becomes flustered thinking that something upsetting like that occurred under her nose. Bailey is heartbroken. Maya never liked Joyce, but she hates her for leaving and hurting Bailey. When Joyce was around, Maya notes, Bailey did not use sarcasm.
One stormy night, a fellow townsman named George Taylor comes to the Store and stays the night, still heartbroken over the death of his wife, Florida. Momma urges Mr. Taylor to be thankful for the forty years he spent with Florida, although, Momma says, it was a pity they never had children. At the mention of children, Mr. Taylor replies that Florida appeared before him the night before and told him that she wanted children. Momma and Willie ask if he had been dreaming of Florida, but Mr. Taylor insists that he was awake. Maya has always hated the custom of telling ghost stories, but Mr. Taylor’s account scares her even more because he insists it is real.
To occupy herself otherwise, Maya remembers that she went to Florida’s funeral. She did not want to go, but Florida had left her yellow brooch to Maya, and Momma insisted that she attend the services. The experience turned out to be Maya’s first confrontation with mortality. At the funeral, Florida seemed to her like the short-lived mud sculptures so often made by children playing in the summer.
Returning from her memory, Maya cannot help but hear Mr. Taylor narrating his experience. The night before, he saw a fat, blond, blue-eyed baby angel laughing at him. He heard his wife’s moaning voice, and the angel laughed harder. Eventually, Mrs. Taylor’s voice moaned that she wanted children.
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