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Ura Lee's Window
Ura Lee Smitcher looked out the window of her house on the corner of
Burnside and Sanchez as two boys walked by on the other side of the street,
carrying skateboards. "There's your son with that Raymond boy from out on
Madeline Tucker sat on Ura Lee's couch, drinking coffee. She didn't even
look up from People Magazine. "I know all about Raymo Vine."
"I hope what you know is he's heading for jail, because he is."
"That's exactly what I know," said Madeline. "But what can I do? I
forbid Cecil to see him, and that just guarantees he'll sneak off. Right now
Ceese got no habit of lying to me."
Ura Lee almost said something.
Madeline Tucker didn't miss much. "I know what you going to say."
"I ain't going to say a thing," said Ura Lee, putting on her silkiest,
"You going to say, What good if he tell you the truth, if what's true is he's
going to hell in a wheelbarrow?"
She was dead on, but Ura Lee wasn't about to say it in so many words.
"I likely would have said 'handbasket,'" said Ura Lee. "Though truth to tell, I
don't know what the hell a handbasket is."
And now it was Madeline's turn to hesitate and refrain from saying what
she was thinking.
"Oh, you don't have to say it," said Ura Lee. "Women who never had a
child, they all expert on raising other women's children."
"I was not going to say that," said Madeline.
"Good thing," said Ura Lee, "because you best remember I chose not to
give you advice. You just guessed what I was thinking, but I refuse to be
blamed for meddling when I didn't say it."
"And I refuse to be blamed for persecuting you when I didn't say it
"You know," said Ura Lee, "we'd get along a lot better if we wasn't a
couple of mind readers."
"Or maybe that's why we get along so good."
"You think those two boys really going to hike up Cloverdale and ride
down on those contraptions?"
"Not all the way down," said Madeline. "One of them always falls off and
gets bloody or sprained or something."
"They didn't walk like boys looking to have some innocent fun with a hill
and some wheels and gravity," said Ura Lee.
"They a special way to walk for that?"
"Jaunty," said Ura Lee. "Those boys looking sneaky."
"Ah," said Madeline.
"Ah? That's all you got to say?"
Madeline sighed. "I already raised Cecil's four older brothers and not one
of them in jail."
"Not one in college, either," said Ura Lee. "Not to criticize, just
"All of them with decent jobs and making money, and Antwon doing
Antwon was the one who was buying rental homes all over South Central
and making money from renting week-to-week to people with no green card so
they couldn't make him fix stuff that broke. The kind of landlord that Ura Lee
had been trying to get away from when she saved up and bought this house in
Baldwin Hills when the real estate market bottomed out after the earthquake.
They'd had this argument before, anyway. Madeline thought it made all
the difference in the world that Antwon was exploiting Mexicans. "They got no
right to be in this country anyway," she said. "If they don't like it, they can go
And Ura Lee had answered, "They came here cause they poor and got no
choice, except to look for something better wherever they can find it. Just like
our people getting away from sharecropping or whatever they were putting up
with in Mississippi or Texas or Carolina, wherever they were from."
Then Madeline would go off on how people who never been slaves got no
comparison, and Ura Lee would go off on how the last slave in her family was
her great-great-grandmother and then Madeline would say all black people
were still slaves and then Ura Lee would say, Then why don't your massuh sell
you off stead of listening to you bitch and moan. Then it would start getting
Thing about living next door to somebody for all these years is, you
already had all the arguments. If you were going to change each other's minds,
they'd already be changed. And if you were going to feud over it, you'd already
be feuding. So the only other choice was to just shut up and let it go.
"So you saying you going to cut them a little slack even though you know
they scored some weed and they going up to that open space at the hairpin
turn to smoke it," said Ura Lee.
"Up to the 'slack,' that's what I'm saying. How you know they got weed?"
"Cause Ceese keeps slapping his pocket to make sure something's still
there, and if it was a gun it be so heavy his pants fall down, and they ain't
falling, and if it was a condom then it be a girl with him, and Raymo ain't no
girl, so it's weed."
"And you see all that out this magic window."
"It's a good window," said Ura Lee. "I paid extra for this window."
"I paid extra for the rope swing in my yard," said Madeline. "You know
how fast boys grow out of a rope swing? About fifteen minutes."
"So I got the better deal."
"And you sure they going up to that nasty little park at the hairpin turn."
"Where else can kids in Baldwin Hills go to get privacy, they can't drive
"You know what?" said Madeline. "You really should be somebody's
mama. Your talent being wasted in this one-woman house."
"Not wasted -- I'm here to give you advice."
"You ought to get you another man, have some babies before too late."
"Already too late," said Ura Lee. "Men ain't looking for women my age
and size, in case you notice."
"Nothing wrong with your size," said Madeline. "You one damn fine-looking woman, especially in that white nurse's uniform. And you make good
"The kind of man looks for a woman who makes good money ain't the
kind of man I want raising no son of mine. They enough lazy moochers in this
world without me going to all the trouble of having a baby just to grow up and
"Thing I appreciate about you, Ura Lee, you live next door to my Winston
all these years and you never once make eyes at him."
Madeline seemed to think everybody saw Winston Tucker the way she
did -- the handsome young Vietnam vet with a green beret and a smile that
could make a blind woman get a hot flash. Ura Lee had seen that picture on
the wall in the kitchen of their house, so she knew all about what Madeline had
fallen in love with. But that wasn't Winston anymore. He was bald as an egg
now, with a belly that was only cute to a woman who already loved him.
Not that Ura Lee would judge a man on looks alone. But Winston was
also an accountant and a Christian and he couldn't understand that not
everybody wanted to hear about both subjects all the time. Ura Lee once heard
Cooky Peabody say, "What does that man talk about in bed? Jesus or
And Ura Lee wanted to answer her, Assets and arrears. But she didn't
know a single person well enough to tell nasty puns to. So she still had that
witticism stored up, waiting.
Anyway, Madeline thought her husband was so sexy that other women
must be lusting after his flesh, and she'd be the one to know. They were lucky
they had each other. "A woman's got to have self-control if she expects to get
to heaven, Madeline," said Ura Lee.
"The Lord sometimes puts temptation right next door," said Madeline
knowingly, "but then he gives us the strength to resist it, if we try."
"Meanwhile your boy Ceese is going to have his first experience with
"If heredity is any guide, he'll puke once and give it up for good."
"Why, is that what happened to Winston when he tried it?"
"I'm talking about me," said Madeline testily. "Cecil takes after me."
"Except for the Y chromosome and the testosterone," said Ura Lee.
"Trust a nurse to get all medical on me."
"Well, Madeline, I say it's nice to have some trust in your children."
"Trust, hell," said Madeline. "I going to tell his daddy when he gets
home, and Cecil's going to be sitting on one butt cheek at a time for a month."
She got up from the couch and started for the kitchen with her coffee
cup. Ura Lee knew from experience that the kitchen was worth another twenty
minutes of conversation, and she didn't like standing around on linoleum, not
after a whole shift on linoleum in the hospital. So she snared the cup and
saucer from Madeline's hand and said, "Oh, don't you bother, I want to sit here
and see more visions of the future out of my window anyway." In a few
minutes the goodbyes were done and Ura Lee was alone.
Alone and thinking, as she washed the cups and saucers and put them
in the drying rack to drip -- she hardly ever bothered with the dishwasher
because it seemed foolish to fire up that whole machine just for the few dishes
she dirtied, living alone. Half the time she nuked frozen dinners and ate them
right off the tray, so there was nothing but a knife and fork to wash up anyway.
What she was thinking was: Madeline and Winston have about the best
marriage I've seen in Baldwin Hills, and they're happy, and their boys are still
nothing but a worry even after they get out of the house. Antwon, who is doing
fine, still had somebody shoot at him the other day when he was collecting
rent, and twice had his tires slashed. And the other boys had no ambition at
all. Just lazy -- completely unlike their father, who, you had to give him credit,
worked hard. And Cecil -- he used to be the best of the lot, but now he was
hanging with Raymo, who was studying up to be completely worthless and had
just about earned his Dumb Ass degree, summa cum scumbag.
Last thing I want in my life is a child. Even if I was good at it -- no
saying I would be, either, because as far as I can tell nobody's actually good at
parenting, just lucky or not -- even if I was good at mothering, I'd probably get
nothing but kids who thought I was the worst mother in the world until I
dropped dead, and then they'd cry about what a good mama I was at my
funeral but a fat lot of good that would do me because I'd be dead.
Of course, maybe I'd have a daughter like me, I was good to my mama till
she got herself smashed up on the 405 the very day I had finally decided to
take the car keys away from her because her reaction time was so slow I was
afraid she was going to kill somebody running a stop sign. If I had taken the
keys away from her, then she'd be alive but she'd hate me for keeping her from
having the freedom of driving a car. What good is a good daughter if the only
way she can be good to you is make your life miserable?
Not to mention how unhappy it made Mama when Ura Lee up and
married that ridiculous Willie Joe Smitcher, who thought he was born with a
golden key behind the zipper of his pants and had to slide it into every lock he
could get near to, just in case it was the gate of heaven. And people wondered
why Ura Lee didn't have kids! Knowing, as a nursing student, just what the
chances were of Willie Joe picking up something nasty, she had no choice but
to protect her own health by keeping that golden key rubber-wrapped at home.
She told him that when he was faithful to her for long enough that she could
be sure he was clean, the wrapping could come off, but he chose the other
alternative and they went their separate ways with the government's
permission before she even got her first job as a nurse. And, give the boy
credit, he never came back to her asking for money. He wasn't a mooch, he
was just a man who thought he had a mission to perform, like Johnny
Appleseed, except for the apples.
It only means that I'll never have a son like him, or a daughter foolish
enough to marry a man like him, and that makes me about as happy a woman
as lives on Burnside, and that's saying something, because by and large this is
a pretty happy street. People here got some money, but not serious money, not
Brentwood or Beverly Hills money, and sure as hell not Malibu beachfront
money. Just comfortable money, a little bit of means. And only a block away
from Cloverdale, and that street have real money, on up the hill, anyway.
She only got into Baldwin Hills herself because the earthquake knocked
this house a little bit off its foundation and her mama left her just enough
money to get over the top for a down payment -- a fluke. But she was happy
here. These were good people. She'd watch them raise their children, and
suffer all that anxiety all the time, and thank God she didn't have such a
burden in her own life.
Copyright © 2005 Orson Scott Card