Naughty Girl

You've always been the biggest liar I've ever known. And where'd all that damn lying get you? There, across the street, through a window, sitting on carpeted stairs. The snow obscures you, the dirty glass obscures you, but I can see you. I had to look twice but that shiny hair had to be your's.

You're wearing that gawdy fur coat again. Yeah, that one I said looked trashy and you said was a gift. I know where you got it, though, and it wasn't no gift. Men like that don't do gifts. Your hair's brushed, curling under your jawbone in that way you love. Like a movie star, you say. You lean over like you're lighting a cigarette and a tangle of smoke rises.

Loud men jostle on the sidewalk, shouting curses in that Brooklyn way. You never used to swear but you do now. I lean against the bricks and settle in to watch you. This is where that damn lying got you, sister – waiting on the steps of a broken-down tenement building in the baddest part of this goddamn slum. I can just imagine what it's like in there, how it smells (like cigarette smoke), the cracks in the walls (like spider webs), the sounds from upstairs (shouting and crying).

In a way me and Mama are glad you're gone. For God's sake, all we've been trying to do is get the hell out of here, this part of town, and all you've been doing is dragging yourself back down into it, even deeper. You're just part of the scenery of a downtown walk now, sister. You're just one of the sad sights along the walk from the factory to the building me and Mama been living in.

I see you all the time but I can't bring myself to tell Mama. She had so much hope for you and me. It's all that's dragged her along since Papa died. She worked her hands to the bone for us, sister, and this is what you gave her. Left home pregnant with that man's baby at sixteen, and then nothing but begging and wandering since you miscarried on that bloody Tuesday. You and me, sister. Mama left the old country to give us freedom and boy, did you ever take it. I can't. I go to the factory every day and work my hands to the bone the way Mama did before me because that thought of her on a ship bound for America, New York City, widowed and pregnant with twins, scares me. Makes me sad but I'll be a worker all my life just like Mama. She still hopes and dreams of education but my own hope for myself is almost drained.

But you, sister. You're shivering, I can see. At least, even if I'm a mere worker, I'll have coal to work my bones tonight. You'll be shivering all night, even if you've got that dirty man's arms around you.

Mama still cries at night about them awful things you said to her. You cut her deep. She can't help we're poor. You didn't have to say them terrible things. In that way I'm glad you're gone. Mama don't need that from you. She ain't your Mama anymore, sister, if you're gonna treat her bad.

Around my mama, you talk with respect or you leave.

So in some ways, I'm glad you're gone. In all sincerity, sister, I never thought you'd amount to any good. You always was a naughty girl.