Lemon-Scented Guilt

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Judy Mae Jamieson was fifteen. It was the summer between her junior and senior year, and the Southern sun was warm and inviting. Her horse, Buck, lingered in the pasture, ready to run on the levee. The inviting waters of Blue Lake called her name in rhythmic ripples. Her younger sister, Sondra, had already escaped the house and entered into summer, but Judy had stayed behind. It was the summer of 1960, and today Judy would be trained on how to have a coloured housekeeper.

Esther and Oodie had one daughter, Baby Sister. She was around Judy’s age. Her skin and eyes were as dark as Esther’s, but her tall, slender, silent nature was like her father. Usually, Baby Sister stayed with Oodie’s mom, but today she had come to the Jamieson’s house with her mom. Esther and Alice had decided that this was the day both girls should get a glimpse into their future.

Judy showed Baby Sister how to use the vacuum and explained what was expected with the mopping and furniture cleaning and base board scrubbing and light fixture dusting and ceiling cobweb removal. Baby Sister towered over Judy, nodding, with the occasional “yes’m” escaping her lips. The gentle words would flutter through the air, causing ripples that carried a heavy resentment which settled over Judy, making her flesh feel tender and raw. It was obvious Baby Sister had no intentions of being a Southern housekeeper. Judy hoped Baby Sister knew she had no intention of keeping her, but Judy said nothing. Instead, she showed Baby Sister where to find the cleaning supplies and thought of Buck alone in the pasture.

Hours passed, and the aroma of lemons filled the small white house. It clung to the lingering resentment, which Judy inhaled with each breath. She couldn’t wait to spend the next day at Blue Lake, drowning the guilt in the wild summer waters. Eventually, Baby Sister came to her, finished and ready for her work to be inspected. Her fingers were pruned with cleaner, her knees tender, her pride tarnished. Judy inspected the cleaning to ensure it was immaculate. She knew that after Baby Sister left, her mother would retrace every step to be certain it kept with her standards. Alice would not only be critiquing Judy’s ability to handle a housekeeper, but would be reporting back to Esther on Baby Sister’s work. Judy had to make sure it met the standard.

That night Judy lay in bed, grateful that the day had passed and grateful that the next day began Esther’s vacation. She was grateful that she would be spending the next day at Blue Lake cleansing the lemon sent from her flesh and the day after that riding Buck far into the future, where she wouldn’t own a housekeeper . . . at least not for many years.

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