Didi worships her mama.
She always has, ever since she was old enough to sit on her lap while she hustled at Three Card Monte or the Shell Game. That had always been Didi's favorite. She'd sit there real quiet with her fingers in her mouth and watch that shiny marble spin back and forth under the cups and into her mama's palm. Sometimes Mama would even pass it to her, never missing a beat in the game.
She was spectacular. And she counted money faster than anyone Didi knew.
Mama had taught her real good as she got older; how to play the games, read a mark, pick a pocket. How to talk her way out of cops and security guards and nosy passers-by. Mama had taught her when to fight and when to run and when to just walk away.
She'd been right to want to walk away. But Daddy had other plans and Daddy was smart, too; and in the end Mama went along with him and she was the one who got caught. And all she'd wanted was to walk away.
Didi cries a lot those first months Mama's in prison. She isn't sure how Mama would feel if she knew; would she hold her, dry her tears? Or would she slap her back to her senses? Didi thinks it would be somewhere in between. She decides that's better than finding out and wanting it different.
After a while, Mama's absence becomes a twisted sort of normal, and she cries less. Doesn't let anyone see when she does. She thinks Mama would want her to be strong.
The day that Mama gets out of prison is the happiest day of Didi's life. Her Mama is back. She's alive and well and real and right there close enough to touch. She strokes back Didi's hair and calls her beautiful and it fills her up. Mama is a queen, even with her too-wide too-short ratty clothes and her awful hair, and compliments from her are like gold.
Didi is so proud of her. Her strong Mama.
The giddiness lasts until well into the night, when Mama's crying wakes her up and she finds the bottle of cough syrup. Sees the needle marks.
Everything Didi ever thought about her mama comes crashing down. You were supposed to be strong, Mama. Drugs. She's been doing drugs, all this time. It's more horrible than Didi could have imagined. Mama? Her mama? She'd never done that, not once before. She'd always been real clear on how she felt about it. “Don't you ever even think about it, Delilah Malloy. Don't touch nothin' that's gonna affect your judgment.”
She's a hypocrite.
Even though she's spitting mad, Didi covers the marks on her arm gently and dumps the rest of the syrup out the window. She doesn't want Sam to see, or Cael or Dad. What would they think if they knew?
It's better they don't find out. As angry and hurt and disappointed as Didi is, even in spite of it all, Mama is still a queen. She still worships her. And it will kill her if the rest of them start looking at Mama the way that she is right now. Didi hates her and loves her all at once; maybe she deserves to be judged, but it's not going to happen. She won't let it. She'll protect her Mama, because she's not sure that Mama will be able to protect herself.
Why does loving have to hurt so damn much?