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How to Be Cruel

Sandra Beasley

I learned from Grandma, who rarely turned to face me as she stood griddling eggs, apron same green as the saggy linoleum, feet in terry socks with pom-pom heels. This was the quiet sliver of day when I’d color at the kitchen table before my uncles came down, all plaid and denim, shoulder slapping: Mama, we’ll be home late tonight, leave some ham in the oven. When Grandma was girl talking she used the spatula for emphasis. Boys make trouble, she’d say, flicking grease, and you’ll love them for it. Sure enough that night they’d stagger in, one, two, three. She’d get up to pour a glass of cold water. She’d make sure the blankets were out. They’re like puppy dogs, boys are. She only spoke of them in the plural. Even their messes are cute. Her shoulders shook as she dashed yolks with cayenne. The wrapper on my yellow crayon never tore down past the nub so I’d make suns red, days hot. You’ll understand when you’re older. On Sundays we’d have French toast, spat butter, Cinnabear sugar, some sleepy girl at the table in tired blush and a man’s robe. Uncle Pete would introduce her as Sandy or Patricia. Didn’t matter. Grandma called them all Sarah and meant it. Those girls were nothing but trouble, and now the front porch stinks of smoke. My uncles laughed. By fifteen I’d stand at the stove, frying hash. Grandma would sit, fold laundry, confide: That Sarah’s hair color rubbed off on this pillowcase. Look here. I’d just focus on the constellation of wall spots, imagining how I’d look with a cigarette in my hand. How boys’ faces would loosen as they leaned forward, trembling, to light it.

Sandra Beasley

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