Rose had been working at the time as a waitress for the Anchor Grill, 3 a.m. to noon shift--a job from which she'd come and gone for years. Bad hours, good tips. Petie had been cleaning motel rooms at the Sea View Motel: bad wages, good people, good location. In either case, cooking sounded better and the money was only slightly worse. Plus as long as they could stand a steady diet of soup, they could feed their families for free.
The Coolbaughs lived in a shabby little rental on the north side of town, on a dead-end road called Heyter Place. The house was old and had been no good to start with, but Petie knew how to put a good front on things. Small, exquisite watercolors hung on the walls: still lifes of balloons and baby toys; wildflowers and action figures; cooking utensils, bouquets of keys. She'd painted the kitchen walls and ceiling brilliant white with lemon yellow trim, and even the sickly sun of winter seemed to try a little harder there. Now, in robust late September, the cheap white curtains were so saturated with light they seemed incandescent.
While Petie diced fifty carrots, Rose read aloud from the weekly newspaper about old Billy Wall, who had just been indicted on sodomy charges.
"You know what I think? Hand me that peeler." Petie weighed it thoughtfully in her hand, then pointed it at Rose. "I think if he did what those kids say he did, the guy deserves to have a bad thing happen to him. I mean worse than shame and a jail term. I mean something bad. They should take him just like you'd take a carrot, and peel him down real slow, you know, real careful, layer by layer until you've got him peeled naked as an egg, and then you bring him to Hubbard Elementary and you lock him in the gym with twenty mothers with baseball bats. You put some Gatorade in there, and some high-nutrition snacks, and maybe have an alternate or two who can substitute when one of the women gets tired." She traded Rose the peeler for a paring knife. "The son of a bitch."
For several minutes Petie's knife made sharp regular reports like gunshots on the cutting board. She had thick, strong, shiny black hair--Indian hair, although she was no part Indian--that she'd tied back from her face with an old rolled-up bandanna. Stuffed under it were some straggly ends, old bangs. She was always trying to grow out old bangs or some other hair fiasco. Once, Rose remembered, she had bleached out a central stripe in her hair. She'd looked strange as a skunk with the jet black running up against the peroxide yellow with no warning and no apology. That was back in high school, in their freshman year. Petie's mother had died four years before, and she and her father were living up at the top of Chollum Road in a twelve-foot camp trailer. Old Man Tyler had always been mean, but after Petie's mother died and he had to declare bankruptcy, he'd been even worse. But as far as Rose could tell, even before Petie's mother died, the only time Old Man Tyler had really paid attention to her was when he was yelling at her; otherwise, he took no notice. Petie swore she didn't own a dress until she was twelve, and by then it was too late to get a feel for them. She'd have gotten married in pants if she'd had her way, but Eddie Coolbaugh had balked so she was married in a homemade lace sheath Eula Coolbaugh made for her, a dress that showed how essentially boy-shaped Petie was. And how small. Everyone thought she was bigger, including Rose. In her own way, she took up a lot of space.
"What are you thinking about?" Petie said, scraping the cut carrots into a big plastic Tupperware container to use tomorrow morning.
"That time you bleached your hair out."
Petie chuckled. "I looked just like a skunk."
"That's what I was thinking. I never thought it bothered you, though. You didn't show it."
"Of course I didn't show it. I didn't tell anyone Old Man beat me over it, either."
Excerpted from Going to Bend by Diane Hammond Copyright© 2004 by Diane Hammond. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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