When the big man stepped around the couch, Adria let out another shriek, but her mother didn't make the first sound. The man stared down at Adria. Sweat made tracks down his black face and he looked like a giant looming over her. She scrambled away from him, but moving made her sick again. She tried to get to the basin, but she didn't make it.
Big gentle hands reached down to hold her. "There, there, missy. It's done gonna be all right." He stroked her hair sort of the way her daddy did sometimes when he was telling her good night.
When she was through being sick, the man wiped her mouth off with a handkerchief and gathered her up in his arms as though she wasn't any bigger than Eddie. She forgot about being afraid and laid her head against his chest. His heart was beating, steady and sure. It was a good sound, and even his sweaty smell was better than the smell from her being sick.
"What's your name, child?" he asked.
"Adria," she whispered, a little surprised the sound came out of her dry lips.
"Adria," he echoed her. "That's a fine name. I'm gonna take you back to Mr. George's hotel where we can see to you."
"What about Eddie?"
"That your little brother there?" The man's voice was soft. "You don't have to worry about him. I'll come back and do what needs doing."
Adria didn't want to, but she couldn't keep her eyes from peeking away from the man's chest toward Eddie beside her mother. He wasn't moving and her mother's eyes were staring up at the ceiling. "What needs doing?"
"Well, it ain't an easy thing for a little missy like you to know, but your mama and li'l brother done gone on to glory. All's can be done for them now is a proper burial. I been doing it for all them that got took by the cholera." He rubbed his hand up and down Adria's back and turned so she couldn't see her mother anymore. "What about your pappy?"
"He died first." Adria pointed toward the bedroom.
The man nodded. "It's a sorrowful thing."
"Am I going to go to glory too?" Glory seemed easier to say than die.
"Only the good Lord knows our appointed time to leave this old world, but I'm thinkin' that you might have to wait a while to see glory. Could be the Lord has more for you to do down here like he has for me."
"Hard to say. But time will tell, missy. Time will tell. Now you just rest your head down on my shoulder and let ol' Louis take you on up the street. Matilda, she ain't bothered by the cholera, same as me, and she's got a healin' hand. Me and her, we'll do for you and chase that old cholera out of you."
"I want my mama." Adria was crying inside, but her tears had all dried up. Her eyes felt scratchy when she blinked.
"Ain't that the way of us all. To want our mammies." He carried her out the door.
Night was falling, or maybe day was breaking. Adria didn't know how long she had lain there by the couch afraid to look at her mother. And now she would never see her again. Not unless she went to glory.
She ought to want to go to glory along with her mother and father and Eddie. They were a family. Her mother said that all the time, and then she would pick up Eddie and pull Adria close to her in a hug at the same time. If Daddy was there, he'd put his arms around them all and make what he called a family sandwich with his children in the middle. That always made Adria giggle. She liked being in a family sandwich, and now that was gone. Unless she went back and lay down beside her mother to let the bad air get her too.
But she didn't want to do that. She was glad the big man was carrying her away from her house. Away from the bad air. She thought she ought to be sorry about that, and she was sorry. Very sorry and sad her family was gone, but she wasn't sorry she was still breathing. She wanted to believe it was like the big man said. That the Lord wasn't ready for her yet.