When Did We Lose Harriet?

When Did We Lose Harriet? by Patricia Sprinkle

Book: When Did We Lose Harriet? by Patricia Sprinkle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Patricia Sprinkle
I’d soon get used to the smell of sweat, junk food, and old socks.
    “I got to thinking about how long it’s been since I last saw Harriet,” Josheba explained, “and I got so worried I decided to go down to the center to talk with some of her friends. The girls were already gone, but Lewis here was just finishing talking to you on the phone. When I told him about our adventures this morning, he invited me to ride along. Now, you all talk. I’m going to sit back and enjoy this heat.”
    I saw at once what she meant. Mr. Henly’s Ford had lost one facility Glenna’s still retained: air conditioning. Even though he drove faster than the law allowed, the breeze couldn’t help but be hot on such a day. Dogs lay panting on the sidewalk, looking like they wished they could just curl up and die. Sweat trickling down my bra was soaking Harriet’s money so badly that if the ink wasn’t waterproof, I’d have Ben Franklin underwear.
    Lewis turned left in front of an oncoming car in a way that made me wonder if the next time my name appeared in print, it would be carved in marble. Josheba called from the backseat, “Now you see why I wanted to sit here.”
    I checked to be sure my seat belt was tightly fastened. “Why don’t you distract me by telling me a little bit about Harriet. What she’s like, what she looks like, things like that.”
    “Well—what was your name again?” Lewis asked.
    “MacLaren,” Josheba told him. “Call her Mac.”
    “Okay, Mac. Call me Lewis. Now, about Harriet. In the first place, she is white. Most of our kids are black. Harriet wasn’t making friends with whites at school, so she teamed up with a couple of our kids and came to the center almost every day. Until she quit, that is.”
    “Is she pretty?”
    “Not particularly.”
    “No fair!” Josheba called indignantly. “She has pretty brown hair, if she’d brush it. And if she’d wash all that vampire makeup off her face—”
    “Well,” Lewis said dubiously, “maybe so. But right now? She’s a mess. Snarly hair, black fingernail polish, black clothes with lots of heavy silver jewelry, dead white powder, black lipstick, and she’s got the personality of…what, Josheba? An armadillo?”
    “Maybe, but I think that shell’s to keep people from getting close. You don’t read romance novels if you don’t want somebody to love you in a pretty soupy way.”
    “Maybe so,” Lewis still sounded dubious, “but my experience is, ask Harriet a personal question or to do you a favor and she’ll bite your head off. If you’re up to something she doesn’t like, she’ll climb up your back and stick like a burr. On the other hand, she’s a fighter. When she wants something, she goes for it with all she’s got. Coming to the club, for instance. Her granny didn’t like it, but she couldn’t stop her.”
    “Maybe she didn’t try—figured it kept Harriet out of trouble,” Josheba suggested.
    “She’d have been right about that. Our kids don’t do much, but they don’t do much wrong, either. But I think old Granny just didn’t want to hassle Harriet. She’s one tough cookie about having her own way.”
    “Unlike the rest of us?” Josheba asked pertly.
    On the way to Ricky’s we passed three branches of Glenna’s bank. Each time, I wished I could ask Lewis to drive through to deposit that money, but since I didn’twant to tell him I’d lied, I had to endure hot damp money plastered to my chest.
    “Someone told me Harriet has a crush on you,” Josheba teased Lewis.
    He shrugged. “That’s one of the hazards of this racket—ditzy kids following you around. I give them jobs to do. They think they’re helping me, while really they’re staying out of my hair. Harriet answers the phone during hours we aren’t covered by volunteers. She can sit behind the desk reading books and feel real important.”
    “Is she responsible?” I asked.
    “Surprisingly, she is. Or was, until right about the time school let out.

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