"I'm too dirty," Matt murmured. He had been yelled at before for climbing on Celia's bed with muddy feet.
"You can say that again," snapped Rosa. The other women opened a crisp, white sheet and laid it over the wonderful couch before Matt was laid down. He thought he could get into just as much trouble for getting blood on that sheet.
Rosa fetched a pair of tweezers and began pulling out fragments of glass from his hands and feet. "Ay!" she murmured as she dropped the bits into a cup. "You're brave not to cry."
But Matt didn't feel brave at all. He didn't feel anything. His body seemed far away, and he watched Rosa as though she were an image on a TV screen.
"He sure screamed earlier," observed María. She was dancing around, trying to see everything that happened.
"Don't act so superior. You yell your head off if you get an itty-bitty splinter in your finger," Emilia said.
"I hate you!"
"Ask me if I care," said Emilia. Both she and Steven watched in fascination as blood began to well out of Matt's cuts again. "I'm going to be a doctor when I grow up," announced Emilia. "This is very good experience for me."
The other maids had brought a bucket of water and towels, but they didn't attempt to clean Matt up until Rosa gave them permission.
"Be careful. The right foot is badly cut," said Rosa.
The air hummed in Matt's ears. He felt the warm water and suddenly the pain returned. It stabbed from his foot all the way to the top of his head. He opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came out. His throat had closed with shock.
"Oh, God! There must be glass left inside," cried Rosa. She grabbed Matt's shoulders and ordered him not to be afraid. She seemed almost angry.
The fogginess that had surrounded Matt had vanished. His feet, his hands, his knees throbbed with more pain than he had known existed.
"I told you he was crying earlier," said María.
"Be quiet!" said Emilia.
"Look! There's writing on his foot," the little girl cried. She tried to get close, but Emilia thrust her back.
"I'm the one who's going to be a doctor. Rats! I can't read it. There's too much blood." She snatched a washcloth and wiped Matt's foot.
The pain wasn't as bad this time, but he couldn't help moaning.
"You're hurting him, you bully!" shrieked María.
"Wait! I can just make it out...'Property of' -- the writing is so tiny! -- 'Property of the Alacrán Estate.'"
"'Property of the Alacrán Estate'? That's us. It doesn't make any sense," said Steven.
"What's going on?" came a voice Matt hadn't heard before. A large, fierce-looking man burst into the room. Steven immediately straightened up. Emilia and even María looked alarmed.
"We found a kid in the poppy fields, Father," said Steven. "He hurt himself, and I thought the doctor...the doctor -- "
"You idiot! You need a vet for this little beast!" the man roared. "How dare you defile this house?"
"He was bleeding -- " began Steven.
"Yes! All over the sheet! We'll have to burn it. Take the creature outside now."
Rosa hesitated, obviously bewildered.
The man leaned forward and whispered into her ear.
A look of horror crossed Rosa's face. She instantly scooped up Matt and ran. Steven dashed ahead to open the doors. His face had turned white. "How dare he talk to me like that," he hissed.
"He didn't mean it," said Emilia, who was dragging María along behind.
"Oh, yes he did. He hates me," Steven said.
Rosa hurried down the steps and dumped Matt roughly onto the lawn. Without a word, she turned and fled back to the house.
Copyright © 2002 by Nancy Farmer
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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