Miss Lou glanced at me when Rachelle and I stepped through the front door into the kitchen, but she didn't speak to me. Her thin red hair hung in her face, and I didn't think she brushed it anymore than she brushed her daughters' hair.
Rachelle's mama wasn't very pretty, even though she was much younger than my mama. The lady was too skinny, and she stood with her shoulders hunched over and her back humped like an old lady, as if her chest hurt.
Next to me, Rachelle stood with the burlap bag in her arms. She was strong for a girl the same age as me, or she was just over-excited to have another load of dresses to share with her sister.
"Look, Mama! Madge brought me some more clothes!" she said, dropping the bag on the dirty linoleum with a loud thud. "And some blackberries, and some shoes for you, too!" She shoved the tan heels against her mother's stomach.
Embarrassed, I said what Mama told me to say. "Mama says you can have 'em if they fit ya."
Miss Lou dropped the shoes onto the floor one at a time, turning the left one from its side with her dirty toes. She waivered on one foot as she brought the other off the floor.
"Come 'ere, Rachelle," she mumbled. Her voice was low and husky, like a man's. Or like somebody who either smoked too much, yelled too much, or both.
She grabbed onto Rachelle's shoulder for balance and slipped her feet into Mama's town shoes. They fit perfectly.
Rachelle sucked in an awe-filled breath. "Those are so pretty on you, Mama," she said. "Keep 'em on."
The shoes weren't pretty on Miss Lou. They were pretty on my Mama, and they should've been on my Mama's feet.
Miss Lou yanked the shoes off and shoved them back at Rachelle. "Go put 'em under my bed," she said. She didn't even say thank you, but I'd tell Mama she did.
Rachelle grabbed me by the arm and dragged me toward the back of the house. I did not want to go there with her, but staying alone in the room with Miss Lou would've been worse, so I let Rachelle pull me in one hand and the burlap bag in the other. I didn't offer to help.
Through the fading light in Miss Lou's room, I traced the sleeping form of a man on the bed. I had no idea who it could be. I never saw anyone around Rachelle's house, much less a man. But Rachelle seemed to know who he was. She tiptoed into the room, slipped the tan heels under the bed, and tiptoed out, shutting the door behind her.
"I got something to show you," she whispered, padding off toward the room she shared with her sister.
"Where is Beverly?" I asked, realizing I hadn't seen her yet. Rachelle shrugged her shoulders.
In the bedroom, I stood in the middle of the floor with my arms wrapped around me, careful not to touch anything.
"You can sit down," Rachelle said as she layed on the floor and scooted on her back beneath the bed. As she fumbled with something in the boxspring, I glimpsed under her dress the pair of bloomers with the rose at the waist. I winced.
Rachelle crawled out from under the bed with a large book in her hands. "I have something for you."
I sniffed. "I don't read much."
"No," she said. She opened the pages and pulled out a folded piece of wax paper. "Here. The edges of the paper are stuck together, so you gotta be careful opening it."
I gently peeled the corners apart, and there, pressed between the folded sheet was a large monarch butterfly, perfectly intact. The black on the wings was as soft and fine as velvet, and the colorful markings were so bright, they looked handpainted.
Despite myself, I was delighted. I couldn't have found a more perfect butterfly, and I wondered how Rachelle could've caught it and pressed it with such expertise, not one part of the creature was bent or broken.
"Where did you find it? Did you catch it yourself? Did you kill it?"
"Oh, no," Rachelle said. "I tried to save it. I found it on the car outside and I was watching it and waiting for it to fly away, but it never did. And when I finally went to touch it, it didn't move. I think it died like that."
I peered at Rachelle out of the corner of my eye, unconvinced.
"It's true," she said. "And I wanted to save for you, but I didn't want to stick a needle through it like they do in school, so I put it inside a book instead. Do you like it?"
I did like it. And I didn't like how much I liked it. So I lied.
"I don't like dead bugs," I said.
I expected for Rachelle to pout or cry, or snatch the butterfly away and keep it for herself. But she laughed. "It's not a bug, Madge. It's a monarch. Take it home and put it in one of your books. You'll get used to it."
Rachelle walked with me back to the lane, pushing the wheelbarrow and chattering about the blackberries and how she wished her mother would bake some time. The sun was already setting, but I still had time to make it home before it was too dark to see.
"Maybe we can play tomorrow?" she asked.
"I'm gonna be busy tomorrow," I said, which was the God-honest truth, but it felt just like a lie.