A Lady Today
by Alysia C. Anderson
Sunni stared out Momma’s bedroom window. That Saturday morning, the backyard resembled a church congregation, except no one was singing and falling out in the aisles. People were there to help Momma with food, flowers, and blessings.
Sunni turned around and sat hunched over on a stool, looking at Renée. Renée was getting married, and that meant it was her last day at Momma and Daddy’s. Renée was moving to Johnny’s house, leaving Sunni alone in a house full of brothers.
“Everything’s gonna be perfect,” Momma said to Renée.
Renée’s hair was nearly impossible to work with that morning. Momma fought with Renée’s hair, trying to make the perfect curls she wanted, but not much could be down with her short frizzy hair. When Momma suggested plaits, Renée hollered and screamed, storming out the room in her white dress.
When Momma turned to Sunni, she smiled to disguise her frustration. “I pray to God you don’t be acting that way on your wedding day,” she said, walking over to her. “I never had no trouble with your brothers. They just do and be done with.”
Momma was right. Her older brothers were no fuss, wearing anything they wanted, not caring what they looked like. Renée liked ribbons, bows, dresses, and lace. Ladies ain’t meant to be dirty.
Momma lifted Sunni’s chin up. “Time to get you ready before your sister come back and see you not ready,” she said as Sunni hopped off the stool.
Sunni followed Momma and sat down in the chair her sister occupied before her fit. Staring at herself in the mirror, she didn’t feel as pretty as Renée, even though her Momma told her many times that she would be someday.
Like her sister, Sunni’s hair was impossible to work with. Braided tight to her scalp, the two rows go down to her neck with the end pieces curl up and out, making her look like a bug. She could hear her friends, Jimmy and Teat, repeat, “Bug girl, bug girl,” annoying her every time she heard it. After a few hard punches in the arms, they stopped, but they never learned anything.
“Stop moving, Sugah,” Momma fussed, as she unraveled Sunni’s braids. After endless swearing, Momma brushed out Sunni’s hair. Picking up the straight iron, she began to work some magic, taking small pieces of hair at a time. The heat from the straight iron burned Sunni as the steam hit her neck. She tried to pull away, but Momma pulled her right back into place.
After fifteen minutes, Momma finished Sunni’s hair, curling it under. “There you is,” she said relieved to done fighting the short, thick mess of hair.
Sunni looked at herself in the mirror as Momma stepped back. She felt the same, but just a bit different. Her hair was longer than she thought. Running her fingers through it, she was amazed feeling all the knots were gone. For once in her life, her hair held a curl. Lowering her hand, she glanced in the mirror, still not feeling as pretty as her older sister.
Standing behind her, Momma placed her hand on her shoulder. “I’m gonna get your dress, Sugah. Then, you be done with,” she said, touching the short curls.
Sunni nodded, watching her in the mirror as she disappeared. She took another look in the mirror, hoping to see something different, but she was just the same—arms and legs with a head, but she no longer looked like a bug.
Sunni admired her older sister. As the youngest of seven, everyone experienced things before she could. Renée got to be a lady first. While Sunni wasn’t quite sure what that meant, she knew it was a good thing. Renée could do grown-up things. Sunni spied on her once when she came back from a date with Johnny. They stood on the porch, and Renée giggled as he kissed her on the cheek. Sunni had never been kissed yet, but she imagined that kiss went right down to Renée’s toes. Today, Renée was marrying Johnny. The people gathering at the church would say how beautiful and grown-up she was when they see her. Sunni wondered if one day people would see she was more than the little girl standing in the background.
“Here it is, Sugah,” she heard Momma say. The pink dress reminded Sunni of roses in her grandma’s garden.
“Don’t dawdle,” Momma said as she hugged the dress tight. “Hurry up and get that on.”
Sunni unbuttoned the dress and stepped in it, pulling it up over her hips. She slipped her arms in the sleeves and reached in back, trying to button herself up, but her arms weren’t long enough to reach. “I need help,” she said.
“Come here,” Momma replied, pulling Sunni over to her. She buttoned the dress and smoothed it out. As Sunni sucked in a deep breath, she tied the ribbon in the back. When done, she checked her hair. “There,” Momma sighed. “At least one of you is done.” She stepped back, taking a good look at her. “You’s a lady today. I’m going to go look for your sister. Don’t be running off, getting dirty, or nothing like that.”
“I won’t,” Sunni replied as Momma kissed her forehead.
She stood in front of the mirror, not out of vanity but of gratitude. God had a unique way of changing her.
About the Writer
Alysia C. Anderson is an English instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University, where she teaches freshman composition and American literature. Her short stories have been published in Tulane Review, Louisiana Review, Pure in Heart Stories, and Country Roads Magazine. She lives in Folsom, Louisiana with her husband, son, dog, and farm animals.
Photo is in the Public Domain. Modified by Veronica McDonald.