Treasures from the Dump
“Granny, please. Please let me go with you to the dump? I won’t tell Charlie, Wink, and Tater when they get back from the store. I promise. Please, please, please!” Tamarind said, her face contorted as if she were in pain. Both of her hands were clasped together palm to palm with fingers intertwined. Tamarind looked to be in deep supplication to God, but instead this was her extreme begging mode. She was unsure if it was having any affect on her grandmother who was sitting in the well-worn leather recliner bent at the waist tying her black boots. Whenever Tamarind saw her don these scuffed boots, she knew Granny was headed to one place, the dump. They called it the dump, but it was a landfill. It took Granny 20 minutes to get there by foot. In addition to the trash company, anyone with a means to haul their junk could dump it there. Granny treated the dump like an area flea market–her own treasure hunting ground that she visited once a week trolling for treasures amongst the trash. She mostly went alone unless she needed help with some large find. In those cases, her youngest son Dodge would drive Granny up in the truck. Her last big piece was a dark wood chifforobe with both doors hanging on ‘by a thread.’ Now it sat across from Granny’s bed, its doors rehinged and shiny with shellac.
Tamarind’s cousins, Charlie, Wink, and Tater had sneaked away to Nell’s Corner Pantry with Uncle Bill. She knew they had deliberately tricked her uncle into leaving without her. He never would have left her since a trip to Nell’s Corner Pantry was every kid’s dream. The store’s shelves were lined with the usual convenience store wares, but most importantly, there were many buckets of assorted penny candy, all varieties of potato chips, a big freezer of ice cream, and a couple of coolers full of soda.
Tamarind didn’t always get along with her three cousins, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. To Tamarind, it seemed like they were always mad at her with the exception of the first day their parents brought them to spend the summer with Granny. Tamarind would have a bag of toys to share. They’d smile and chum up to her for a while. After they had taken the toys and broken most of them, they found ways to tease and taunt her. She tried her hardest to get them to like her. She didn’t know why they treated her so badly. Was it because she was an only child? Was it because she and her mom lived ‘up the road’ in Atlanta?
They teased her because of the way she spoke. “Tamarind, you ain’t better-er-er than us ’cause you can talk proper-er-er,” they’d say before circling around her, moving their hands like they were revving up a riding a motorcycle.
They teased her because she loved to read. Tamarind often read to her Baby Doll Susan. One afternoon, her girl cousin, Tater, zipped by her on the porch reading to Baby Doll Susan. “That’s so dumb reading to a dead doll, you stupid head,” Tater said, snatching Baby Doll Susan and the book from Tamarind’s hand in one quick swoop.
“Stop it, Tater! Give me Baby Doll Susan,” Tamarind screamed. Charles and Wink came out of nowhere. Tater tossed the book to lanky Charles. Tamarind ran off the porch and flung herself in front of Wink before his chubby hands could catch Baby Doll Susan. She reached for her pink stocking leg. Tater pulled back hard and separated Baby Doll Susan’s head from her body. Beside herself with shock and grief, Tamarind ran inside the house crying. Leaving the three perpetrators sniggling behind her. They had gotten in trouble. Granny made them go to bed early and banned them from getting any rainbow sherbet that night. She’d fixed Baby Doll Susan even though her head never set quite right again.
That incident blew over, but they were still teasing her ever chance they got. She figured they were mad at her today for beating them in the last two games of hide-and-seek, winning dollars from each of them. She had planned to buy her cousins something at the Corner Store with her winnings combined with the money her mother had mailed her. Tamarind wanted a bag of Hot Fries potato chips, a strawberry crunch ice cream bar, a bottle of cherry Budwine, and a bag of penny candy. But now they were gone to the store without her and without paying up. Since it was doubtful for anyone to get back up the road after Uncle Bill returned, Tamarind was out of luck. Her hopes for buying anything that day were dashed.
Tamarind wasn’t a stranger to her share of teasing from her uncles, aunts, and cousins. But it was always done in fun. They were laughing with her and not at her. She pronounced all her syllables because that’s what Mrs. Bledsoe at the afterschool program taught her to do. She loved to read books because her mother had read to her every night. Sometimes her mother would fall asleep in midsentence. During those times, Tamarind would finger flip her mothers lips for fun until she became irritated with the unfinished story. So it became necessary for her to read to her herself if she wanted to get to the end of the book. Her family’s teasing was okay. It made her feel special. They would say things like, “Where is Tamarind…somewhere with her head in a book?” or “Tamarind, come and say your Easter speech for us?” After she recited it, they may have mocked the way she said ‘Calvary’ or ‘resurrection’ and make her perform it again just to hear it. This attention was fun. It made her feel different in a special way.
Charlie, Wink, and Tater were like stair steps in height. Charlie was the tallest and oldest of his siblings. He was 10 years old, the same age as Tamarind. The twins, Wink and Tater, were 8 years old. As an only child, Tamarind relished the summers at Granny’s house, the endless days of playing with her cousins and being in the company of all the family that visited Granny. Tamarind stayed the longest because she insisted and because it gave her mother time to take on an extra job. When it was time to return to their high rise apartment in Atlanta, Tamarind’s mom would take her shopping for new school clothes, supplies, and a new lunchbox.
“Tam Tam, your mama don’t want you going to the dump. Remember that? And why aren’t you with Uncle Bill? He took the others to Nell’s,” said Granny as she finished fastening her boots. She threw her bag over her shoulder. “You should stay here. I’ll try to find you something, baby, okay?”
Tamarind grabbed a bag from a basket by the door. “Come on Granny let me go. They left me on purpose just like they tore off Baby Doll Susan’s head. Please take me to the dump. It’s not fair that they left me–” Tamarind continued her supplication.
“Okay, Tam Tam. Let’s go. You know you can worry the horns off of a Billy goat girl,” Granny said, holding the screen door open for Tamarind who smiled broadly as soon as Granny relented. When her cousins returned from the store to taunt her with their purchases, she wasn’t planning on being there. The one thing better than a trip to Nell’s Corner Pantry was a visit to the dump with Granny.
“Granny, I can’t find anything,” Tamarind said. She circled a small heap of assorted trash, kicking at a torn trash bag whose gushy innards were slipping out. She pinched her nose to staunch the putrid sweet aroma.
“Tam-Tam come from over there!” Granny demanded, shading her eyes from the sun after she straightened at the waist. Tamarind walked over to Granny now wondering why she liked to visit this place. It was a nasty, smelly mess.
The dump sat at the end of a long and wide dirt road with tall grass. Though this was the official landfill for the small town, the roads were not paved. An old sign, “No illegal dumping under penalty of law,” sat at the beginning of the road. It obviously went unheeded because heaps of trash alongside the road. The road gave way to a large bald clearing of red clay where the mounds of trash including old furniture, junk car pieces, clothes, old papers were scattered here and there. In the center of the clearing was a grand mound that served as the real landfill. The trucks would ride upon it and discard the bags of trash over the side of it. Granny never ventured over that edge as it was dangerous. She sifted through what the illegal dumpers left behind. “ s ”
After a few minutes of foraging, Tamarind’s face held a look of disappointment. Granny tapped her shoulder.
“Tam, stop looking so down in the mouth, girl.”
“But Granny…I thought this would be different. It’s just stinky trash.”
“At first that’s all you see, but you have to look deeper. Let me do the lookin’ okay? You are just along to watch anyway,” Granny said with a smile and a squeeze of Tamarind’s shoulder.
“Okay, Granny,” Tamarind said, letting go of some of her hurt. She decided to watch Granny.
“You see I look for bags without any flies swarmin’ round. Then I tap it with my foot and give it a poke with my stick. I may open it if the feeling is right. You can be my eyes, Tam.”
They set off in the direction of a ramshackle wooden desk. Part of it looked burnt, but the side part with the drawer was not. Granny pulled it open and bent to look inside. Tamarind craned her neck in too, but she couldn’t see anything past Granny’s wide back.
“What’s in here?” Granny said, almost to herself. She pulled out a purple velvet bag that was cinched closed with a gold colored rope. Granny tweaked the tassels dangling from the bag. She turned it around, examining the bag. She chuckled and said, “Crown Royal…nobody would leave that out here.”
“What’s Crown Roll?” said Tamarind.
Granny looked down at Tamarind, remembering her presence. “Crown Roy-ul…it’s a grown folks drink that comes in a bag like this.” Granny extended it to Tamarind so she could see the ornate script bearing its name on the outside of the bag. Tamarind reached out and touched the lettering, but Granny pulled it back before she could grasp it.
“What’s in it Granny?” Tamarind said just as a fly lit on her elbow. When Tamarind turned to knock it off a white light danced before her eyes, blinding her for just a second. She blinked her eyes several times.
“Ahh!” she screamed out suddenly at what she saw in the drawer that was still opened as Granny had left it. It was the face of a girl looking back at her. By the time she’d realized it was her own expression peering back at her, the scream had already escaped.
“Tam! Girl, what’s wrong with you?” Granny asked. She grabbed Tamarind’s shoulder with one hand to shield her from the unknown cause of her distress. Tamarind moved from behind Granny and reached into the drawer for object that had startled her. It was a mirror on a white stand. Tamarind reached for it and found it was heavier than it looked. Without a word, Granny reached in and pulled it out and placed it on the top of the desk. The glass mirror was oblong shaped. The metal that held the mirror was ornately designed. It used to be all white, but now the paint was chipped, revealing silver metal beneath in places. The stand the mirror was connected to was about 12 inches in length. The base branched out into three legs that made it sturdy and resistant to toppling. It had the most rust. Tamarind pushed the mirror forward and back watching her reflection and the play of light from the sun’s reflection play across her face.
“It’s an old vanity mirror. You screamed at your own reflection, Tam!” They shared a laugh.
Tamarind couldn’t take her eyes from the mirror. She rubbed her finger along the mirror stand, feeling the smooth and then rough rusty parts, as she admired it. Her eyes settled on her reflection. One lonely drop of sweat appeared on the left side of her face at her hairline just between the start of two cornrows. Tamarind watched it stream down the side of her temple over her brown chubby cheek where it jumped off and landed on the neck of her t-shirt. Tamarind enjoyed watching the sweat’s descent down her face. She turned her head the other way to inspect for more sweat. What appeared there was a silvery metallic like fluid that performed a sort of copy cat path down the other side of her face. Tamarind gasped and bucked her eyes at the sight.
“Tam, girl you have to stop doing that. It’s just you,” Granny said. As soon as Granny spoke the silver liquid turned to sweat.
Tamarind blinked her eyes slowly. “Granny, may I keep the vanity mirror?”
“Hmm, child. You know your mom won’t like it if she knew it came from the dump.” Granny pursed her lips and changed feet.
Tamarind broke away from the mirror’s gaze and looked up at Granny, her eyes now saucers despite the beaming sun. “We can tell her that you gave it to me as-as-as a gift. How about that, Granny, please.” Tamarind hugged Granny around the waist.
“I guess so child. I don’t want you and the others fighting over it though. I can’t have no broken glass and fourteen years of bad luck. Let’s not tell the others that it’s yours until you go home else they’ll be more fighting. The will already be mad that they missed out on coming to the dump with us. So let’s say the mirror is mine until you go home, okay?”
“Okay, Granny, but fourteen years? I though it was seven years of bad luck?
“If it’s your own mirror, the bad luck is seven years. If it belonged to someone else, then it would be fourteen years,” Granny said. She lifted the mirror off the old desk and placed it in her bag.
“We should go now. I don’t want the mirror to break. We’ll have to be satisfied with–” Granny stopped because she realized now that she had not looked into the bag. She pulled the gold drawstring from its knot and opened the bag. With it in the palm of her hand, she slid her hand inside.
“Ouch!” Granny howled in pain. The purple bag fell to the ground. Granny grasped her palm between her fingers. Her shoulders were humped over as she examined her fingers and the blood streaming from them. Tamarind looked from Granny’s hand to the purple bag.
“Something cut you, Granny. It’s so red.” Tamarind was afraid because she had never seen that much blood in real life.
“It’s my damn er…dang fault. I should have looked inside before I slid my hand in. Tam-Tam. Grab a rag from my bag, please.”
Tamarind quickly complied. Granny took the rag and wrapped it around her fingers. “We better get going so I can tend to these cuts,” Granny said peering inside the bag again before walking away. Tamarind couldn’t resist looking inside, but she didn’t touch it the bag. A frightened gasp escaped from her lips a third time when she saw a pile of gold colored miniature snakes slithering around in the bag. Her eyes flashed up to Granny who had turned around.
“Tamarind, there you go again with that. Come on, let’s get home.”
Tamarind gave a quick look back into the bag where she saw assorted shards of glass glistening in the sunlight.
Tamarind sat on a stool staring into the vanity mirror. While Granny worked on mending her fingers with the help of Ms. Lily, Tamarind had pulled it out of the bag and placed it on the bureau in Granny’s bedroom. When they had returned from their adventure at the dump, Ms. Lily had been waiting on the front porch. Ms. Lily was a friend of Granny’s who often stopped by sometimes alone and sometimes with her own grandchildren in tow. They were much nicer to Tamarind than her own cousins.
For 30 minutes, Tamarind had been alone, silently staring at her reflection in the mirror until Charlie, Wink, and Tater rushed into Granny’s bedroom to entice her with their purchases at Nell’s. Each of her cousins held a brown paper bag bursting with their purchases. Their smacking and guzzling hadn’t worked. She simply looked at them with a slight shoulder shrug and turned back to the mirror.
“Why you keep looking at yo’self in that rusty old mirror, Tamarind?” Charlie said before popping a couple of Hot Fries potato chips in his mouth and taking a sip of his cherry Budwine. Tamarind saw his reflection in the mirror. She knew he preferred grape Fanta over cherry Budwine. She was sure he bought it to rub in her face.
“Yeah, Tam. You must think you look pretty or something,” Tater chimed in, the only other girl in the group.
Tamarind swiveled herself around to meet their three sets of gawking glances. This stool was another premium find from the dump. “Granny found it at the dump. That’s where we went after you all left me to go to Nell’s,” Tamarind said before swiveling herself back to face the mirror.
“You lyin’. Granny wouldn’t let none of us go with her to the dump. You just lyin’, lyin’, lyin’,” said Wink before he threw back an open box of Boston Baked Beans.
“I’m not lying. Granny cut her fingers because she stuck her hand in a bag full of snake–um…broken glass. The blood was so red. Ms. Lily is helping her bandage them up,” Tamarind explained. She shrugged her shoulders again, this time adding a head tilt and pursing of her lips before saying, “But I don’t care if you don’t believe me.”
“Get off Granny’s stool and let me look at it, Damn Tam!” Charlie said.
“Yeah, Damn Tam!” Wink and Tater shouted together.
“Damn Tam” was a moniker Tamarind’s cousins had been banned from using earlier in the summer. They had watched a zombie horror movie unbeknownst to Granny. They began luring Tamarind into the back room, an extra room where Granny kept her finds from the dump that had yet to be repurposed. When Tamarind would enter, they’d jump out and scream, “Oh Damn Tam!” to which she’d scream and run out of the room crying.
This time, though, Tamarind looked closer into the mirror and ignored them all. There was silence as her cousins recovered from their shock at her non-response. Perhaps in shock, but definitely in anger, Charlie walked up behind Tamarind, grabbed her shoulder, and pushed her around to face him. It was his intention to push her off the stool, but she grabbed his wrist and squeezed, summoning a strength she didn’t know she had. She stared into his eyes and watched as the pain of her grip lowered him slowly to his knees.
Dumfounded, no one said a word. The only sound was the guttural, painful moans coming from Charlie. Now his arm was twisted awkwardly behind him while he hunched on the floor. Tamarind was standing over him now. Her face was slack and emotionless as she held him still.
Tamarind released his arm and swiveled back around to the mirror at the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. Charlie fell over and grabbed his wrist. Wink rushed to him. Tater ran to the door, “I’m telling Granny on you, Tam!”
“Telling me what?” Granny said from the door, “What’s going on in here?”
“Tamarind squeezed Charlie’s wrist real hard,” said Tater as she ran into Granny. Ms. Lilly was standing behind Granny, but with full access to the scene. Tamarind was crying. Charlie was writhing on the floor in pain with Wink trying to help but not knowing how. Since past was prelude, Granny considered Tamarind first, assuming she was the victim. “Tamarind, what’s going on. Why are you crying?” she asked. Her fingers were bandaged in a way that made it look like she had on mittens. Tamarind’s hand gripped her own shoulder as she cried, “Gr-gr-graaaany, Ch-ch-arlie hurt my shoulder. I think it’s broken.”
“She lyin’ Granny! She hurt Charlie!” said Wink, looking up from Charlie.
“Wink, honey, why don’t you get up so I can help your brother up, okay,” said Ms. Lily. She bent over and tried to help Charlie up by grasping his wrist. He howled in pain.
“I’m sorry, honey. Where does it hurt?” Ms. Lily stood back but made a safety net with her arms in case he needed to use her to lean on. He got up and stood to his feet. Tears began to fall from his eyes. He looked over at Tamarind whose cries grew louder.
“S-s-see, look,” Tamarind pulled the neck of her t-shirt to the side so Granny could see.
“Oh my Jesus, look at this bruise! It’s all red, black and blue. Oh, Lily come look,” Granny said.
“Oh my! This is a bad place. Who did this?” Ms. Lily asked.
Tamarind quieted enough to answer, but with a shaky voice. “I was in Granny’s room looking at the mirror we found at the dump. Charlie, Wink, and Tater came in and started bothering me…”
In that moment, Tamarind accepted three things. She was about to lie. The adults would believe her. She possessed a power beyond anything she could comprehend.
By Myesha Jenkins
A little something I wrote. I have no idea if I’ll continue with it. Probably not.