Aileen Delahunt and her husband, Roscoe, who she calls “Scoey”, have never discussed having kids of their own, primarily because they both know neither wants kids. There’s no medical reason for this; Aileen has some trouble maintaining her weight, owing to a higher than average metabolism, but the doctors have told her that in every other respect she’s perfectly healthy and fully capable of carrying a child to term. Neither of them has any sort of problem with kids, they just don’t have much experience with children and have never thought they had room in their lives for them. It’s an instinctive thing they both know and silently acknowledge.
Early in 2009, Aileen hears from her cousin Shirley, who she’s not seen since they were children, and who mentions she’s going to be in Atlanta in a few days. Remembering the two always had fun together as kids, though not knowing much about Shirley’s adult life, Aileen invites Shirley to stay with her and Scoey. They have plenty of room and Scoey has been improving his interpersonal skills and has always said he would like to get better acquainted with people in Aileen’s life. While it has been years since they were close, Aileen remembers Shirley as a sweet and relatively quiet young girl, whose parents were extremely strict, owing to their uncompromising religious beliefs. The woman who shows up at their home seems far removed from the girl Aileen recalls.
Scoey relays to Aileen that his first thought on meeting Shirley is that she’s a lot like Aileen, only not as well-accessorized. She, too, is extremely thin, but Roscoe theorizes that it may not be due to her metabolism. Plus she has two kids, which she had mentioned, almost in passing, when she spoke to Aileen. Shirley is typically attired in short skirts or short shorts, her blouses and T-shirts are very revealing, but otherwise not very stylish, and she has quite a bit of body art, though not of a very high quality, like Aileen’s. One prominent tattoo is a so-called “tramp stamp” on her lower back that reads “Amerian (sic) Beauty”. Aileen confides to Scoey that she hopes Shirley didn’t have to pay for it. Both Scoey and Aileen have to caution Shirley against smoking in the house, and she frequently retreats to the back deck for smoke breaks, even during meals.
Shirley’s children are Tyrone, who she calls Ty, and Skylar. They both appear to be younger than school age, and are always very quiet, which worries Aileen, recalling how rambunctious she and her siblings were as kids. Both are mixed race, but otherwise don’t resemble one another, Ty being dark-skinned and Skylar much lighter, with curly red hair. Shirley speaks of their father as a single person, though, and claims to be estranged from him and that it’s this separation that’s prompted Shirley to come to Atlanta in search of a job. When Aileen asks about her aunt and uncle, Shirley’s parents, Shirley dismisses them with a wave of her hand, saying, “We ain’t really talking right now”.
As Aileen gets reacquainted with Shirley, she begins to realize the frenetic, quirky energy she shares with her cousin is, in Shirley’s case, probably drug-induced. While Aileen is cheery and upbeat, Shirley is often jittery and wired, but lacking in focus and charm. She’s excitable, going from sitting nervously on the couch to hopping up and offering frantically to help in the kitchen or clear away dishes. What most concerns Aileen is how Shirley relates to Ty and Skylar. Shirley never shows any overt affection, she’s very quick to become angry or suspicious, even when the children are playing quietly in another room or on the back deck, and often becomes defensive if Aileen or Scoey tries to learn any details about the children or their father. Beyond that, she totally ignores them. Shirley’s words cause Aileen the most concern, as Aileen notes that Shirley frequently talks about her life, her dreams, her plans, often without mentioning Ty or Skylar. While she’s never had much of a mothering instinct, Aileen begins to worry about the brother and sister and what sort of future awaits them in the care of such an unstable parent.
After visiting for several days, Shirley corners Roscoe and Aileen on the back deck one afternoon to say she’s been offered a job in Jacksonville. She gives them what sounds like a practiced spiel about how she doesn’t know anyone and will be starting over fresh and, “Would y’all mind watching Ty and Skylar for a few weeks until I get my act together down there? I just want to make sure I can get everything set up right for them.”
After a good deal of discussion, Roscoe and Aileen agree, and Shirley packs up and leaves, promising to contact them in a few weeks.