Where is your mother?
His voice was hoarse and dry. I slid the book on to another chair, rose, and handed him my glass of water. He gulped it down. He didnt say those words again, but the two of us stared at each other in a way that struck me somehow as adult, as though he knew that by reading his law book I had inserted myself into his world. His look persisted until I dropped my eyes. I had actually just turned thirteen. Two weeks ago, Id been twelve.
At work? I said, to break his gaze. I had assumed that he knew where she was, that hed got the information when he phoned. I knew she was not really at work. She had answered a telephone call and then told me that she was going in to her office to pick up a folder or two. A tribal enrollment specialist, she was probably mulling over some petition shed been handed. She was the head of a department of one. It was a Sundaythus the hush. The Sunday afternoon suspension. Even if shed gone to her sister Clemences house to visit afterward, Mom would have returned by now to start dinner. We both knew that. Women dont realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on the evening.
And so, you see, her absence stopped time.
What should we do, we both said at once, which was again upsetting. But at least my father, seeing me unnerved, took charge. Lets go find her, he said. And even then as I threw on my jacket, I was glad that he was so definitefind her, not just look for her, not search. We would go out and find her.
The cars had a flat, he declared. She probably drove someone home and the cars had a flat. These damn roads. Well walk down and borrow your uncles car and go find her.
Find her, again. I strode along beside him. He was quick and still powerful once he got going.
From The Round House by Louise Erdrich Copyright © 2012 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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