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Kristen Konop


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The Color of Honey

Standing at my kitchen sink, cleaning the last dish, I hear the gruff rumbling sound of my sister’s old Volkswagen Rabbit pull up in the driveway. I quickly dry my hands on the cheesecloth dish towel by the sink and make my way to the front window. I get there just in time to see café-colored curly fluff running past the window far ahead of my sister who is still closing the door to the car. It’s about to be “our time,” just my nephew, Maalik, and me.  

He comes bursting in the front door, arms and body flailing out of control, gleefully yelling, “KK!, KK!”

“I’m here!” I happily shout back. He stops himself just short of the front hall carpet and throws his shoes off, landing them somewhere around the front door. As his body moves forward, he jolts himself back, giggling, “Oh my jacket.” He grabs the handle of the hallway closet door, which he almost always forgets does not need to be turned to open. He struggles with it for a few seconds and, pleading, yells, “KK the door…”

“Don’t turn. Just pull, remember?” I remind him.

“Oh yeah!” with a quiet giggle.

By the time he gets his items settled, my arms are wide open, ready to scoop him up saying, “Leeky, Leeky, how is my favorite, favorite?”

“Good, but you can’t box my tummy!” daring me to do so as he crosses his arms tightly over his white school uniform shirt. This is my cue to grab him, cradle him with one arm and push my fist softly into and out of his small, but still toad-shaped belly. The giggling ensues. His gapped, baby teeth smile goes from corner to corner of his mouth. His bronze dimple appears and disappears as his laughing speeds up and slows down. I feel the long lashes of his gorgeous coffee-colored eyes on my cheek as I kiss him all over his face, while I continue to “get his tummy.”

My sister peeks in the door and meets my eyes but sees Maalik and I are already in the middle of “Maaleeky and KK time.” She mouths, “I’ll be back in a few hours,” blows him a kiss, and closes the door.

After our greeting, it’s time to make a snack. Being of limited skill in the kitchen, we stick to easy recipes the two of us can make together. Today is pancake day; I quickly pull out the necessary items so we can begin cooking. His conversation with me starts as soon as we pour the first ingredients.

“Maalik, pass me the egg, please.”

“Sure, Juno wouldn’t pass me the glue today.” He says as he passes me the egg.

“Hmmm, how did that make you feel?” I ask him (as usual).

“I dunno, mad. Do you want the milk, KK?”

“Yes, please. What did you do about it?”

“Well, I got out of my chair and got the glue myself.”

“I bet that was frustrating?”

“Yep, it was fuss-terating, but we played at recess. What’s next?”

“Umm, let me look. We need the pancake mix and a major amount of chocolate chips.”

Maalik, just about to say something, looks at me and says, “What means major?”

“Major means a lot, a huge amount,” I respond.

Maalik innocently shoots back, “Well, then, we had major problems in school today. Keisha used the f-word.” In a mixing bowl, I stir the mix, egg and water; as Maalik adds the chocolate chips, he continues. “Keisha had to sit at silent lunch. Nobody talks to you at silent lunch and nobody can play with you at recess.” When the batter is ready to pour on the griddle, we continue our talk.

“Why do you think Keisha used the F-word?” I ask.

“I dunno. She’s gotta potty mouth?” Maalik guesses. Together he and I flip the pancakes over.

“Did she say it to be funny? Was she angry? Was she sad? Was she frustrated?” I ask.

“Oh, she was frustrated because Ambrea took her spot on the carpet.” Maalik informs me. Once again, as a team we scoop up the pancakes and put one on each of our plates. I go to take the maple syrup out of the refrigerator. Maalik blurts, “No KK, honey, not syrup.”

“That’s right, I forgot, you are my little honey bear. Honey on everything.” I say as I smile and wink at him. I go to the lower cupboard of my kitchen and take out the bear-shaped bottle with the yellow top and hand it to Maalik. He drizzles honey all over the freshly made pancakes. I ask Maalik another question about the Keisha situation, “So, what do you do when you get frustrated?” Maalik breathes in and out heavily, looks at the pancakes and then looks back at me. This is the signal. He is done talking about Keisha and the f-word; he just wants to eat.

I enjoy this time with Maalik. I love the free flowing conversation that comes during our afternoons together. We discuss the concerns of a 5 year old and eat our homemade concoctions. It seemed easy, until a few weeks ago. There was nothing that could have prepared me for this conversation.

When Maalik arrives I hear the engine of my sister’s car pull up in the driveway. I peek out our front window to see Maalik sauntering up to the house, no bouncing curls. He stands waiting at the door for my sister to open it for him. He sets his bag down and sits on the floor to take off his shoes. He then asks me to hang up his coat. “Who is this kid?” I thought to myself. My eyes meet my sister’s concerned gaze at the door. She shrugs her shoulders and throws one hand in the air as if to say, “Something’s up.” I glance back at her, confused, but not alarmed, give her the head nod to let her know I notice it too, but it will be okay. She seems uncomfortable leaving Maalik. I tell her, “If he gets sick I’ll call. It’s not like he hasn’t puked here before.” She gives me a half attempted smile, brushes her hand across Maalik’s cheek and then his forehead, gives him a big hug and kisses him on top of his cocoa colored curls. She looks at me one last time. “He’ll be fine,” I say reassuringly. Reluctantly, she leaves, closing the door softly behind her.

I open my arms up wide to give Maalik our usual hug and tummy tickles. He gives me a quick lean in hug, allows me to kiss him on the top of his head, and then walks toward the kitchen.

“What’s for snack?” his raspy, high-pitched munchkin voice says. He must be feeling alright if he wants to eat, I thought.
“Umm, I just bought some fresh raspberries. How about smoothies?”

“Okay,” is all he says.

I set up the blender and read the list of ingredients as Maalik pulls the items out of the refrigerator.

“Raspberries,” I say.

“Got it,” he responds.

“Apple juice and an orange.”

“How many oranges?” he asks.

“Just one.”

“Ok, one orange and the juice.”

“Yogurt. Grab one blue container with the brown beans on the front,” I tell him.

“You mean the banilla yogurt, KK?” as he gives me a look of disdain that only a 5 year old can give when he realizes you’re talking down to him.

“Yes, the banilla yogurt,” I giggle, answering apologetically. “And the bag of frozen pineapple; it’s in the freezer door.”

Maalik puts each item on the kitchen counter as I pull up a wooden kitchen chair, so Maalik can reach the top of the blender. I peel the orange and hand it to him. He puts it in the empty blender. I grab the small pot of yogurt, take off the protective foil and give it to Maalik. He is about to dump it into the blender, when he turns to me and says, “KK, I want a chocolate Mommy.” I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

“What was that, hon?”

“I wanna chocolate mommy,” he repeats.

I was shocked. I tried to keep the alarm off my face; for some reason, my heart hurt. I thought for just a minute and asked,“Are you mad at Mom?” my throat dry and lips tacky.

“No,” he says, matter-of-factly. He continues to spoon the yogurt into the blender.

“Oh,” I mutter.

He went on. “AJ, at school has a chocolate daddy and a chocolate mommy and so does Cam and so does Juno and so do alotta kids at school. I have a chocolate daddy. I want a chocolate mommy like they have.”

“Hand me the pineapple, please?” I ask.

“Okay,” Maalik responds.

“So, if you had a chocolate Mommy what could you do?” He looks at me as if I am the most ridiculous adult he has ever met. “I don’t wanna do anything with her.” His majestic brown eyes read, “You’re clearly not getting this.”

“I want to be same, same as her.”

Another, “Oh.” This one more affirming. I think I was starting to understand. Maalik went on.

“You’re banilla n’ Dave’s banilla. You’re a banilla family. I wanna be a chocolate family.”

I decided to just go with it. “You want a chocolate mommy, because your skin doesn’t match your vanilla Mommy, is that right?”

He nods his head in agreement. I continue, “Do you match your daddy?” He starts to answer, then pauses, “Well, I sorta do and I sorta don’t.”

He adds the raspberries. I pour the apple juice.

He continues, “I’m not banilla. I am not chocolate.”

We blend the ingredients together. “Let’s take a taste.” I say. I take out two spoons and we dip them into the blender. His face squinches up. Maalik climbs down from the kitchen chair, bounces over to the cabinet, pulls out the beloved bear-shaped honey bottle with a bright yellow top and skips back to his post. He takes the cap off of the plastic bear to expose an overly cut spout that oozes out honey as Maalik hangs on to the bear’s belly.

“Flip it over the blender, Leeky!” I excitedly say, hoping to avoid a honey mess. Maalik turns the bear upside down, just in time, saving me from extra cleaning, and then gives the bottle another bear belly squeeze. Maalik puts the top on the blender and I turn it on. We watch as the golden streaks slowly make their way into our concoction.

When we think it has mixed long enough. I ask, “Are you ready to taste again?” Maalik grabs our spoons. He looks back and forth seemingly trying to figure out which spoon belongs to whom, shrugs and hands me one them. We dip our spoons in again for another try. 

“Perfect.” I say. “Just the thing our smoothie needed.” I looked over at Maalik with his spoon still in his mouth he gives me a thumbs up. I pour two glasses. Maalik takes a big gulp. With a pink mustache around his full lips he smiles that gapped toothed smile.

“Can I have more, KK?”

“Of course. How do we ask nicely?” I say.

“Please,” he says, holding up his cup while wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

“We need to clean up our mess before we have anymore,” I remind him.

With a small but compliant groan, “Oooh-kay,” he agrees. I start putting away the fruit as Maalik grabs the capless honey bear so it squeezes up out of the bottle and oozes onto his hand. He looks up at me half giggling and says, “KK, I’m the color of honey.”