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Book: Sugar by Bernice McFadden Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bernice McFadden
    Joe was nice too, she felt an instant respect for him. Something she had never had for men. Something about his posture and slow, careful talk.
    They went to town together. What a pair. Pearl always in one of her starched cotton dresses with the small, white, delicately embroidered collar and Sugar in a glaring, red, hot pink or orange dress that sat dangerously above the knee, revealing a hefty portion of thigh that was accentuated with spiked high-heeled shoes. Red, black or blond wigs stretching down her back and bouncing happily up and down on the rise of her backside. She smiled at no one when she turned her heavily powdered, blue eyelidded, crimson lipsticked face on them.
    “Why do you hide yourself under all of that . . . makeup?” Pearl often asked. Sugar never answered, just snorted air out her nose, sucked her teeth or lit a cigarette.
    People stared blatantly. Not caring if the two women saw. They approached them from behind, making their presence known with loud, stringent greetings that were directed at Pearl. Small tiny words passed between them, dainty chitchat that was weighed down with spitefulness. They ignored Sugar, pretended that she was nothing more than air. Foul air. With noses held high and eyes boring in on Pearl, they really wanted to ask what would drive her to associate with trash?
    Pearl would entertain them in conversation, uneasily, always aware of Sugar standing nearby. She tried once or twice to include her in the conversation, but the women as well as Sugar always seemed to walk away just as Pearl’s words of introduction began to verge upon them.
    “Don’t you want to meet people?” Pearl, exasperated, would ask Sugar.
    To the women, Pearl would say: “She’s really very nice.” The women didn’t want to hear any more. They’d been hearing talk, seeing things that didn’t sit right with them, things that should not be going on in Bigelow. Things that hadn’t started happening until Sugar’s arrival.
    The men, however, were more accommodating, friendly even. They always spoke, went out of their way to do so. Came toward Sugar and Pearl with large, all-consuming grins. They tripped over themselves to get to Sugar—tipping their hats as they came, greetings rolling from their half-open mouths and a sparkle of desire in their eyes.
    Very interesting.
    Pearl wanted to ask Sugar where her money came from. She seemed to be available at any hour of the day. Most times. Maybe, Pearl contemplated, she was a wealthy heiress hiding out among simple folk for a spell or maybe she was a criminal doing the same.
    A lot was absent from their conversations despite the friendship that was growing between them. Some things can’t be broached so soon. Some things must be left unsaid for a while. Two months is not long enough to peel back the skin and reveal the truths that hide beneath it.
    Sugar saw the curiosity in Pearl’s eyes. It was growing more and more every day. Expanding, lengthening and maturing. Sugar was trying to avoid it. She did not want to reveal her life before Bigelow and she convinced herself that she wouldn’t, no matter what. But something inside of her was weakening and she found the words of her life sitting on the tip of her tongue when she was close to Pearl and their hands brushed when planting or mixing dough for bread. Those words almost spilled out and she had to swallow quickly to keep them inside of her.
    “Tell me ’bout up North. That’s where you were before here, right?” Pearl asked one day as they sat at the kitchen table separating field peas. The morning was wet and by afternoon an uncomfortable gray heat had settled in Bigelow, pulling buckets of sweat from foreheads and underarms, sending the mosquitoes on a feeding frenzy. Sugar’s hand slowed when the question was asked. “Oh, tell me about St. Louis. One of my childhood friends moved there,” Pearl continued. Sugar rolled one lone, brown pea beneath her index finger and then she

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