What A Character!

It's May 1st, time for the final guest blogger of my upcoming mainstream novel, If These Walls Could Talk, which goes on sale on May 29th. Enjoy!

Character: Veronica Lee of Washington Heights, New York

Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, coming May 29th from Dafina Books

Setting: Washington Heights, October 2001

I find myself moving slowly as I push the shopping cart along Amsterdam Avenue. I have it upright because I’m also balancing a plastic basket full of clean clothes on top of the thick black plastic bag full of clothes that’s inside it already. Fortunately, my shopping cart has two small wheels on each side in the front, so it will roll without me having to tilt it on back wheels only.

I’m Veronica Lee, and I’m tired. Walking a block-and-a-half with laundry for a family of four is no picnic. I do it every single weekend.

My husband, Norman, helps me get the clothes from home to the Laundromat. It’s a real pain in the ass getting all that down the stairs from our third-floor walk-up. It's a weekly ritual for us. He walks me to the Laundromat and then runs back home, where our two girls, Lorinda and Simone, are just waking up. Sometimes when I’m finished I’ll call him, and he and the girls will come and walk me home. But today it’s raining, and Norman was coughing this morning. I told him to go home and get back in bed. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get somebody in the building to help me carry the clothes upstairs. If not, I’ll just do it myself and make two trips, as women in these walk-up apartments have been doing for the last hundred years.

As I continue my slow walk, keeping my umbrella poised over my basket rather than myself, I can’t help thinking about those houses Norman and I looked at last year up in Northern Westchester County, in a Hudson River town called Peekskill. We saw one in particular that was really nice, with good-sized bedrooms and a great yard for the girls, and even for Norman and I to hold barbecues in. The price wasn’t bad, either. We made an offer for less, hoping the seller would come down a little bit.

The moment our offer was in I started having second thoughts. What would we do all the way up in Peekskill? We didn’t know a soul who lived there. All our families and friends live here, in the city. I kept my fears to myself, not saying anything to Norman until the sellers rejected our offer in favor of one that was higher.

Norman was disappointed when we didn’t get the house. He said he definitely wants us to get out of the city. He’s been real gung-ho about it ever since last year, when he was mugged at gunpoint right here on Amsterdam Avenue, in broad daylight. I could have become a widow that day, and my daughters fatherless. Yeah, I’d like to get out of here myself. I know no place on earth is completely safe, but New York has become a lot less so since September 11th. Norman and I both work as nurses up at the Presbyterian Medical Center here in Washington Heights, well away from the Towers, but that lockdown they put on the city’s bridges and tunnels caused a whole lot of grief. You have to remember, Manhattan is an island. There’s no way to get off it without taking a bridge or a tunnel. A whole bunch of folks couldn’t get home ... or get to work.

Sure, I’d love to live in the suburbs someplace, where it’s all green and leafy, and where kids can ride bicycles on the sidewalks. I can’t even send Lorinda and Simone outside to play because there is no place to play. No wonder kids are getting fat. In the city it’ll soon be an epidemic.

One more thing about having a house. We'd be able to buy a washing machine and a dryer, and I wouldn't have to schlep in the rain, the snow, and the humidity to wash our family's clothes and linens.

That's a beautiful thought, but Norman and I have a better chance of winning the big Lotto jackpot than we do of being able to buy a house in the general vicinity. New York may be the world’s most exciting city, but damned if it ain’t one of the most expensive. Everyplace that’s not too far, like Jersey or Southern Westchester or Long Island, is priced way beyond our means. I mean, four hundred thousand dollars for a house older than we are, and with one lousy bathroom. And the neighborhoods aren’t all that fabulous, either. The one in Peekskill sure wasn't. Of course, we're probably priced out of there by now. But on TV or in the movies, I'm always seeing black people living in neighborhoods that look like they’re no more than three years old, with two cars in every driveway, sometimes three, if they have kids old enough to drive. Whenever we see that, somebody always says with a loud suck of their teeth, “Black people don’t live like that.”

From what I’ve seen in those black lifestyle magazines that I read at the bookstore, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve seen everyday people, not movie stars or people like that, featured living in gorgeous houses. Sometimes they’re even single women with homes of their own. But none of them live in New York.

When I see that it makes me think if leaving New York isn’t the answer. Because my kids deserve better than what they’ve got.

And, I think as I park my shopping cart in a corner of the vestibule and begin the long trek upstairs with the basket, so do Norman and I.
Keeping House

I'm in what I call the home stretch of writing my next mainstream (for a 2008 release). This is the time when I'm supposed to cross all the Is and dot all the Ts. And when I have to get everything organized.

I don't write in sequence. Never have. Sometimes a scene niggles and nags at me until I get it written. So I write it and get it out of the way. I do try to keep the scenes organized in my manuscript as I work on it, but this doesn't always work out. What's more likely is that the end of my manuscript file is a jumble of unrelated scenes, sometimes single lines of dialogue that I decided will have a place in my finished manuscript . . . I'm just not sure where. I'm always glad I wrote them, but trying to decide where to put them is frustrating.

How about you? Do you write your novels or works in progress in sequence?
Ask A Simple Question . . . Again and Again

Today, right on schedule, I followed up with a bookstore in the Chicago train station whose manager wanted me to come in for a pre-Mother's Day signing, when she is expecting an inflated number of shoppers. The manager wanted to make sure she'd be able to get my book, a May release, in on time (I've been screwed before when new releases didn't arrive on time, but that's a column for another day). After that was confirmed I looked up train schedules on the Internet, then called the train station to find out about parking, since I've been up here long enough to know that it probably isn't free. I'd prefer not to get hung up arranging for where to leave my car and possibly miss my train in the process.

"I'm sorry," the woman who answered the phone told me. "I know our number is on the Metra website, but the parking lot is actually owned by the city of North Chicago." She apologetically added that she had no information to give me, not even a telephone number to call.

Thoroughly unimpressed, I looked up the number of the City of North Chicago. It took a full three minutes for someone to pick up once I said I needed information on parking at the Great Lakes Train Station. I asked if the parking was metered, or if there was someplace I could purchase a card for my windshield.

"I'm sorry," the woman said. "I don't know why those Metra people keep referring people here. I really don't know about how the parking works." She politely suggested that I go down there in person before my trip and check things out.

By now I was feeling fed up with being tossed about like a rubber ball by people who don't know shit. But since the station is right around the corner from where I work, I drove there after I got off. The station consisted of a parking lot and a building that looked like it contained a couple of vending machines and not much else. I didn't go in; it was set up in a convoluted fashion that required a hike to the end of the platform to go up the ramp to get to that side. I'm sure all those daily commuters curse whoever designed this on mornings when it's raining, snowing, cold, or just plain windy, which, considering the station is very close to Lake Michigan, is probably pretty damn often.

I got back into my car and drove home, deciding that my next effort at solving the riddle will be a call to the North Chicago Police Department. Since they're the ones who will undoubtedly give me a ticket if my car is without the proper authorization, they ought to be able to tell me the information I need to know.

But, you know what? It shouldn't be this damn hard.
There's More To Writing a Book Than Just Writing

My writing output has been a little ragged lately.

I give myself plenty of time to complete a book. I also keep myself on an easy schedule – produce 1,000 words a day, seven days a week. Once I get going, it's pretty easy to surpass 1,000 words. If I miss a day or two here and there, I don't worry about it. I have enough days where my output tops 3,000 words to make up for it.

But lately I've missed A LOT of days.

There are the usual interruptions when you write more than one book a year. The copyedited manuscripts to look at. No sooner do I get one completed when the next one comes in. These have a knack for being delivered just as I am preparing to go on vacation. I worked with the copyedits for If These Walls Could Talk while on my Florida vacation over the holidays, punching holes in the manuscript pages and putting them in a large binder that I carried with me. A few weeks later, the galleys for A Love For All Seasons arrived. Then there are interviews, promo material to send to conferences, a couple of signings during Black History Month . . . all of which take time.

With all that behind me now, it's nearly May and the books will be out soon (A Love For All Seasons is already on sale in many areas), so it's time to get the word out. Over the years I've amassed quite a mailing list, which has been rather haphazard, at least until now (many names are on the small forms people have filled out at my book signings.) As I inform everyone who has e-mailed me over the years about my new releases I am finally getting the list unified and in order, to prevent me from sending out duplicate notices and annoying people (okay, if any of these people also belong to my website mailing list they might get two, but hey, nothing's perfect.) This is such a huge undertaking that some days go by without me writing a word. But hey, what's the point in writing a book if I'm not going to tell anybody about it?

Fortunately, even with all that's going on, I'm still on schedule with the mainstream project I'm calling The First Fifty Years. It's due in New York on July 1st, which by coincidence is the day I wrap up my own first fifty years. My 50th birthday is July 2nd.

This business is definitely not for the easily fatigued.

Movin' On

Last weekend I saw my 10th romance novel, A Love For All Seasons, at a Barnes & Noble in a nearby town.

I always get a rush when I see a new book I’ve authored on the shelves for the first time. It’s one thing that still thrills, even after 13 novels (technically 12; the 13th doesn’t come out until the end of May). This one is rather bittersweet.

This is my 10th Arabesque romance, and also my last.

I’ve been dropped by my publisher like a proverbial hot potato.

The reasons have not been explained to me, at least not yet. I’ve known about this for some time now, and at this point I’m not holding my breath waiting for an explanation, although I feel I deserve one, just for courtesy's sake. In all honesty, even if I did know the reasons I wouldn’t announce them. There’s a fine line between being open and honest about their dropping me (because, after all, I really don’t have to prove anything to anybody) and putting out my personal “bizness.”

But, forthcoming explanation or not, the end result is still the same.

Time to move on.

The Critics Have Spoken (at least some of them)

Here's what Booklist magazine had to say about If These Walls Could Talk:

Following the tragedy of 9/11, three African American families contemplate moving from New York City to the suburbs. As different as they are, when all three families see an ad on television promising affordable new homes 100 miles away in Pennsylvania, it seems like an answer to their prayers. Milo and Dawn Young have good jobs, and they jump at the salesman’s pitch to upgrade their dream home without investigating anything regarding construction, financing, or the commute. After inheriting money, Reuben and Camille Curry also succumb to the persuasive salesman, but Norman and Veronica Lee take their time, looking into the job situation and financing. After moving, all three families meet on the bus, having discovered the harsh realities of their long commutes. Griffin offers a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of hasty home ownership in a compelling drama about three families striving for the American dream. —Patty Engelmann

And here's what RT (Romantic Times) Bookclub magazine had to say about If These Walls Could Talk:

The pace of Griffin's latest is slow for the first half of the book. Fortunately, the second half shows more spice, complicity, dysfunction and perseverance as we follow three couples who leap from renting in the inner city to owning in the suburbs. Once the uniqueness of each family's situation becomes more notable, this evolves into an enjoyable novel.

Summary: While paying rent for apartments in New York City, Reuben and Camille, Milo and Dawn, and Norman and Veronica see the same commercial for affordable homes in the Poconos and decide to buy. But all is not paradise. Hours of commuting takes a toll on their finances and marriages. The cracks that quickly surface in Milo and Dawn's backyard spread to their home. How prepared each of the three couples is to face the nightmare that sometimes accompanies the American dream determines whether they move up or just out. (Dafina, Jun., 320 pp., $14.00) ‹Robin R. Pendleton
I'm feeling pretty good about these. Now I'm off to see how I can master the art of establishing "the uniqueness of each family's situation" without slowing down the pace!
Writing. It's an ongoing evolution.
I love it.
I Still Believe People Are Good at Heart

Some years ago, my father, who passed away eight years ago this week just shy of 88, watched a news story and remarked that he was glad he wouldn't be around to see the next generation.

I remembered those words of his when I heard about the shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech. It's too tragic for words. Every one of those victims, as well as the perpetrator, had family and friends who loved them and are surely devastated and baffled about this murderous rampage. That adds up to a lot of shattered lives.

Maybe it's not right for me, as a strict bystander to this carnage and not affected by it personally, to paraphrase Anne Frank's famous words near the end of her diary, expressing hope for mankind before she succumbed to an evil extermination, but, like her, I believe that most people try to live their lives under a shroud of decency and within the limits of the law.

My condolences to the loved ones of all the victims.
Talk about Exhaling

I sat down at my computer at 6AM yesterday morning with the intent of filing an extension for our 2006 tax return. When the software started prompting me for our total tax payments and our tax obligation, I realized I'd have to do at least part of the return to get a better idea of this.

At 10PM last night I went to bed, exhausted but still not finished.

I started again at 6AM this morning. By 10AM I was done. Eighteen hours total, of which 17-1/2 was spent working on the Federal return. I did the state in 30 minutes, probably less.

I haven't been outside since Sunday. I didn't know about the terrible events at Virginia Tech until my husband came home at 5:30PM.

I guess if I could write like that I'd be a lot more productive. But who wants to cut themselves off from the world?

Anyway, I'm glad it's done. I'm off to the post office!

"We Must Rid Ourselves of These Linguistic Shackles"

So went one of the most memorable lines in cinematic history, in the humble opinion of yours truly. This excellent piece of dialogue was written by screenwriter Richard Wesley for the 1973 hit comedy Uptown Saturday Night. It is as timely now as it was then - the actor who delivered it was chiding his wife for using street slang. I'm sure that every screenwriter dreams of having the perfect performer deliver the lines they labored over. In this case the dream came true, for the actor who spoke this dialogue was the magnificent Roscoe Lee Browne.

Mr. Browne's death from cancer at the age of 81 was announced today. One of his last appearances was on the television show Law & Order, in which he played a presumably retired defense attorney who took a case for a colleague. The arraignment judge, who was still working and looked 90, greeted him by saying, "I'm happy to see you're still alive!"

I'm sad to hear of the passing of this gifted Shakespearean actor. May he rest in peace.

And may black people everywhere finally rid ourselves of our linguistic shackles.

They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore
I always bring a supply of CDs with me to work, since my work calls for deep concentration and my wearing headphones does not interfere.
My favorite CDs are the ones I make myself, because I don't have to include any selections I don't particularly like. That's my problem with CDs, I usually find myself having to fast forward through a one or two songs that just don't do anything for me.
One of the CDs I brought to work today was one of the early releases by the Temptations, called Temptin' Temptations. It came out about 1964 or '65 (they wore short pants and processed hair, for heaven's sake!) I remember one of my siblings bringing it when we went to visit family out of town, and I fell asleep and dribbled on it, much to their annoyance. The CD is short - most songs from 40 years ago ran three minutes in length - but it's a good one. Every song is wonderful. And the harmony of these five young men from Detroit was in its finest form. Damn, those boys could sing! Who could know at the time, with their future looking so bright, that four of the five would die before their time, of a possible suicide (Paul Williams), lung cancer (Eddie Kendricks), drug addiction (David Ruffin), and complications of rheumatoid arthritis (Melvin Franklin). This was the original Temptations at their very best.
I started thinking about what other CDs that are no short of perfection, and here are some of my choices:
Stephanie Mills's first album, produced by Mtume and Lucas (the one with her first hit, "What'cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'")
Joe Bataan, "Singin' Some Soul"
George Benson, "Breezin'" (his masterpiece, in my opinion)
Vanessa Williams, "The Sweetest Days"
Marilyn Scott, "Take Me With You"
Kenny Rankin, "The Kenny Rankin Album"
Do you know of a perfect CD? Let's hear about it!
"I am not a racist" (continued from the last prominent person's foot-in-mouth incident)

First, let me say that I have little interest in anything Don Imus has to say. I never liked the man, even back in the day when I lived in New York. I found his TV commercials for his (with a group of black people dressed in choir robes singing behind him) racially offensive. I wasn't too thrilled with the singers who took that job, either.

Second, I'm all for freedom of speech and all that, but I do feel that children and students should always be off limits from nasty remarks. To call any group of females ''nappy-headed ho's" ranks among the lowest of the low. To refer to students - young college athletes - in that manner is just abominable. It was so vile that most news programs didn't dare repeat the phrase. If I had a daughter on that team I'd want to run him down in the street and spit on his body.

I'm rather enjoying his humble attitude - I don't believe for one minute that he's remorseful about what he said, just that he truly fears he'll be fired. (Personally, I can't figure out why he just doesn't retire; he looks like Mick Jagger's older brother, and Mick looks like he's 80.) But will he really lose his job over the flap? Don't count on it. He's worth too much to his employer in terms of ad revenue. I won't be upset if he is let go; however, I think a suspension with no pay for 60 or even 90 days should suffice. Hit the shock jock with a shock to his wallet.

But don't count on it. Money talks.

To be continued, not with this issue but the next time somebody puts their foot in their mouth
. . . .

The First Review for If These Walls Could Talk

From a reader who read an advance copy, soon to be posted on review web sites:

"If These Walls Could Talk by Bettye Griffin

5 out of 5

Be Careful What You Wish For

I've been a fan of Bettye Griffin's for years, and I have finally found a book that tops my fave of hers (for those who want to know my PAST fave, it's STRAIGHT TO THE HEART): The latest fave is If These Walls Could Talk. This is a story about having dreams and pursuing them, but not seeing the devastating consequences of your pursuit until it's too late. The novel centers around three New York families who all have one dream, an American dream: having a home of their own. Each family has its reason for wanting a home: more space for their children; the appearance of moving upward, of succeeding; safety; affordability. Enter Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, a community where families can come and buy newly developed homes, affordably, and live the American dream. Two of the families are drawn to the shiny brightness, newness to the community and are quickly lured into buying homes in the development; the other family opts to buying an older, less expensive home in the area - all three of the families, as they move into their journey of being home owners, are in for a rude awakening as they realize that sometimes dreams can turn into nightmares. This is a novel that I think will resonate with readers of all kinds. It's a book that teaches patience because none of the characters had it; they wanted their dream, and none of them took heed to the WHAT IFs of home ownership.
I liken this book to that old saying, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach." These characters' eyes are wide to the positive possibilities of owning a home. Their eyes are bigger than the WHAT IFs, bigger than the consequences, sometimes negative ones, that can occur because of home ownership. None of them thinks their relationships will end, or their homes were built shabbily, or they will have to foreclose, or they will gain weight, or they will lose their jobs, or they will have to live - for a while - without their children with them. Don't understand how some of these things can happen? Then you need to read If These Walls Could Talk because as a future homeowner, it opened my eyes to what can happen if your dreams block your common sense. Griffin did a great job in taking a serious issue and planted it within solid, credible characters that you feel for, that you want to see succeed. I truly enjoyed this story on several levels: it's a great story, it has good characters, it has great subject matter, and just as important as these, it taught me something. When a book can do that, I'm sold. I hope you are, too. "
Needless to say, I'm pleased with this reader's take on the book. It's a wonderful feeling when readers "get it."
Hope that whets your appetite! If These Walls Could Talk hits stores on or after May 29th.
Good Help Is Hard To Find

I went to the post office the other day so I could mail out some ARCs, a book to a prize winner, and a couple of gift CDs. I realized at the last minute that one of the packages had an error in the address line; part of it was missing. I suggested to the clerk that she simply affix the postage to it in stamps rather than meter it so I could mail it at a later time after fixing the label (metered mail is supposed to be sent the same day the dated meter strip is applied.)

The clerk, a female, immediately began scribbling numbers down on a pad and adding them up. It was clear that she didn't have a clue how to calculate $1.35 worth of postage. "Let's see, three stamps are $1.17," she muttered. "I need . . . ah . . ." she stopped to scribble the numbers and calculate the difference. I'm no math whiz, but I did that sum in my head in a flash. I politely prompted her that the difference between $1.17 and $1.35 came to 18 more cents and reminded her that the 24-cent stamp covers each additional ounce of postage. Therefore, if the package weighed 5 ounces, it would be one 39-cent stamp plus four 24-cent stamps for each of the additional 4 ounces.

Simple, right? Well, Ms. P.O. Clerk looked at me like I came from another planet, then went back to her pad and paper, trying to figure how she could come up with 18 cents postage. I guess she didn't have odd stamp amounts like that. But surely she had 24-cent stamps? People send mail over 1 ounce all the time. Lots of those Hallmark cards require extra postage. What does she do in a case like that, sell them two 39-cent stamps?

In the end she put two 10-cent stamps on the envelope. I questioned why she put 20 cents when 18 would have done it. She refunded me my 2 cents (a matter of principle rather than money; since I told her how to do it and she chose to ignore me and do it in a way that cost me more money,) and thus ended our transaction.

Some things in life aren't surprising (like the stripper who called in to a radio talk show, when asked if stripping was a lucrative profession, replied, "What do you mean?") and are almost to be expected. But I'm amazed that a bona fide U.S. Postal Service employee can't figure out what to do when she has to sell postage stamps in denominations other than the value of a current first class stamp. I've sent out enough partial manuscripts over the years to know how the additional ounce postage works, but this woman was my age or older and has probably worked at the post office for many years. I find it appalling that she didn't know something so basic. How did she ever pass the exam? I can just see her writing down "Arkansas" as the state abbreviated "AK" (Arkansas is abbreviated AR; AK stands for Alaska.)

There are a million stories about the sad state of customer service in America today. This has been one of them.
Artists Beware

I was saddened last year to hear that singer Angela Bofill suffered a massive stroke that left her partially paralyzed. She seemed rather young to have suffered a neurological insult of this magnitude, only in her early 50s. Yes, Luther Vandross was about the same age when he was similarly stricken, but while this also saddened me, frankly, the news did not come as a surprise. Wildly fluctuating weight and crash diets work against robust good health.

While Luther received top-notch medical care for the remainder of his life, Angela has not been as lucky. I was shocked to learn that she had no health insurance. Benefits have been held to aid her with paying her medical bills, and donations are being accepted (if you'd like to contribute, visit www.angelabofill.com.) Her fans all hope Angela will make a full recovery and sing again.

This is not the first time I have heard of fundraising efforts on behalf of an artist with a loyal following who became ill and did not carry health insurance. Over the years I've seen numerous posts for fellow authors stricken by cancer or other ailments. Health care coverage is extremely expensive in this age of skyrocketing medical costs, and if sought after an individual has already developed health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes, it might be impossible to get.

Luther Vandross, of course, sold millions of CDs and was a household name, with monetary holdings befitting someone who attained such great success. Angela Bofill's hot streak ran from 1978, the year she released her first album, to the mid-1980s, a short span of six or seven years over two decades ago, and her level of fame (and her finances) never came close to matching the millions of dollars earned by Luther. Fortunately, after her career cooled off, Ms. Bofill continued to release CDs and has remained a popular draw in urban theater and at concerts all over the world.

Naturally, I'm not privy to Ms. Bofill's personal circumstances and don't know why she did not carry health insurance coverage. I do feel fairly certain that she will not be able to get it at this point; insurance companies like to write policies for the young and healthy, certainly not for people who might need to use it unless they've had an opportunity to collect 20 years or more of premiums. The bottom line is that people do become more prone to illness as we age, even during our middle years. Anyone, whether in the performing arts, the literary arts, or any other field, weighing the decision whether or not to chuck the day job and go solo with no spouse to cover you, please consider the cost of health insurance when considering whether you can afford it.

Or else there might be some future benefit out there with your name on it.

What a Character!

It's April 1st, and that means it's time for another guest blogger. Following is a sketch of one of the major characters in my upcoming mainstream novel, If These Walls Could Talk, which goes on sale on May 29th.


Character: Camille Curry of the Bronx, New York

Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, coming May 29th from Dafina Books

Setting: The Bronx, NY, October 2001

My name is Camille Curry. I’m a lifetime New Yorker, first in upper Manhattan, then I moved to the Bronx when I got married. My husband’s name is Reuben, and we’re the parents of two great kids: Mitchell and Shayla.

My family means everything to me. I wish my mother could have lived long enough to see my husband and kids, but she passed away when I was nineteen, a couple of years before I even met Reuben. My father remarried, but I’m not really close to my stepmother. Nothing against her, you understand. It’s just that I miss my mother so much, and I feel cheated that she died without meeting her son-in-law or seeing her grandchildren.

My own in-laws are all right, but they’ve been getting on my nerves lately. Reuben has two sisters and a brother, plus his mother is still alive. I used to be real close to his youngest sister, Arnelle. We aren’t that tight anymore. She’s always asked to borrow money every now and again, and I never minded, if I had it – after all, I’ve got a family of my own – because I know it’s hard out there for single parents, but then she started taking advantage. She stopped volunteering to pay me back. I hate having to ask for money, but I can’t afford to donate fifty dollars here and eighty dollars there. Then, when she *did* pay me, she’d make snide comments like, “At least you’ve got a husband to help you out, Camille.” Like I owe her something because her baby’s daddy ran off. She should have chosen somebody more responsible to get knocked up by.

Anyway, I’m walking around now with hair that needs a touch-up so bad that even my wide-tooth comb is screaming, and here comes Arnelle asking me for fifty dollars so her cable doesn’t get shut off. I told her I’m sorry, but I can’t help her. Not only do I need to get to the hairdresser, but Mitchell and Shayla are due for their dental checkups. Shayla is a picky eater, but her teeth are in pretty good condition. Mitchell, on the other hand, has a real sweet tooth, and I’m always after him to brush. He’s usually good for a couple of fillings. Arnelle whined about how Cablevision was going to cut off her service. I told her that not having HBO didn’t mean the end of the world.

Arnelle might be the only one who asks to borrow money, but the rest of my in-laws have been annoyed with Reuben and me because their aunt recently died and left Reuben fifteen thousand dollars, but didn’t leave anything to them. I mean, are they expecting us to offer to share? I don't see why. Reuben always looked out for Aunt Mary since her only son moved out to Long Island. She was a lot older than my mother-in-law, who was actually a change-of-life baby. Somebody had to look out for her. You just don’t leave a woman in her eighties to fend for herself, especially in the Bronx.

I’m excited about the money. I never imagined in a million years that someone would die and leave us fifteen thousand dollars. That whole thought has become a stale cliché, something out of an old melodrama. And Aunt Mary never said a word to us about her plans, she’d just hug us and say we were such good children. I always thought it was terrible how Harvey, her son, left her high and dry, and I wonder if this was her way of sticking it to him. Her policy was only worth thirty-five-thousand dollars, so Reuben and I got nearly half of it. Reuben’s cousin clearly expected the whole enchilada. Who knew Aunt Mary could be so sly?

Reuben and I are still numb about it. We haven’t really talked much about what we’re going to do with it. Well, he does want to take the kids on a nice vacation to Disney World. I don’t have a problem with that. They’ve never been there, and at six and nine they’re the right ages to go. Reuben and I will enjoy it just as much. We already decided that we want to stay in one of those furnished apartment hotels they have down there, where we’ll have our own bedroom, instead of a typical hotel room with all four of us crammed into it, me bunking with Shayla and Mitchell with Reuben.

But that will only take a small portion of our windfall, maybe two grand. That still leaves a whole lot left.

I know what I'd
like to do with the money. All my life I’ve lived in apartments. I’ve always dreamed of having a house in the country with a yard the kids can play In, on a nice suburban street where they can ride bicycles on the sidewalk. Mitchell wanted a bike really bad last Christmas. It really hurt Reuben and I to tell him he couldn’t have one. Not because we can’t afford it, but because there’s no place to ride it.

We live on a commercial street near Yankee Stadium, right over a sheet metal shop. It’s noisy as hell down there., including a lot of Saturday mornings when I’d like to sleep past 8AM. Half a block down is a junkyard, complete with mean dogs who bark at all hours. Walk in the other direction and you’ll see the Lexington Avenue El rumbling past, but you’ll probably hear it before you see it. I can't even send the kids outside to play. There's no playground anywhere around.

Our apartment is pretty nice, but small, only two bedrooms. Mitchell and Shayla are sharing a room. I always dreamed about a boyish room for my son, all plaid bedspread and curtains and a nice walnut desk; and an all-frills room for my daughter, all pink and white, with a canopied bed. Instead they’ve got an androgynous space done in primary colors, with Shayla’s stuffed animals propped up in front of her pillows.

Reuben and I make fairly decent money – he’s the Grocery Manager at a local supermarket, and I’m a secretary in Marketing downtown – but the prices of houses here in New York are outrageous. And now there's talk of a recession in the wake of those horrible attacks on the World Trade Center last month. We can’t even afford to buy a co-op apartment, which in most cases are just rental buildings that have been converted. In other words, the bathroom is still in the hall and the kitchen is windowless. What I wouldn’t give to have a bathroom of my own. Well, to share with Reuben, of course.

Thanks to the money we inherited, there's a chance my dream will come true.

First chance I get I’m going to talk to Reuben about it.

Read more about Camille Curry in my upcoming novel, If These Walls Could Talk, coming May 29, 2007 from Dafina Books.