"To make her let go of the Chinese White," said Caddy.
"Chinese White's sweet," explained Saffron, and then there was another fuss. While it was going on, Indigo got bored and went back to his gold hunting, bashing a lump of coal so hard that pieces flew everywhere, and the baby got a chunk to suck, and the hamster jumped in fright into the health visitor's bag, and the health visitor said, "Thank goodness my twins...! If that hamster has made a mess...I suppose this is what they call artistic...."
"Yes," said Eve eagerly. "They are all very -- "
"You need the patience of a saint in my job!" said the health visitor as she left.
After she had gone, the children's mother hunted through the kitchen cupboards looking for something for supper. While she was doing it, she cried a bit because it was so hard being an artist with four children to look after, especially in wet weather, when rain blew under the kitchen door and down all the chimneys and into the hood of the car so that it would not start and she could not get to the supermarket. She thought wistfully of the shed at the end of the garden, her favorite place in the world.
Only Rose noticed she was crying. Rose watched her with unsurprised blue eyes, enjoying the sniffs.
The kitchen cupboard was full of nonfood sorts of food. Lentils and cereal and packaged sauces and jam. Eve had almost given up hope when she unearthed a large and completely unexpected can of baked beans, the sort with sausages in it, a small miracle.
"Daddy must have bought them!" she exclaimed, as happy as she had been miserable a moment before.
The beans changed everything. Saffron took over the toaster. Caddy put the hamster into its cage and cleared the table. Indigo picked up his lumps of coal. Permanent Rose sucked a crust of bread and smiled at everyone and waited patiently until someone should think of scrambling her an egg. Eve stirred the beans and sausages and was grateful to the children's father. He was a real artist, not a garden-shed one like herself. He was such a very real artist that he could work only in London. He rented a small studio at enormous expense and came home only on weekends. Real artists, he often explained to Caddy and Saffron and Indigo, cannot work with three children under their feet and a baby that wakes up several times every night.
"Clever, clever Daddy, buying beans!" said Eve.
"Rose could have an egg," suggested Caddy, reading Rose's mind.
"I wonder if Dad bought anything else," said Indigo, and he and Saffron at once began searching the kitchen cupboards themselves, hoping for more surprises. A lump of coal turned up, with a glitter of gold on it, and a bag of squashed pink and white marshmallows, which they floated on hot chocolate and shared with Rose from the end of a spoon. It was a very happy evening and bedtime before Saffron asked again, "Why isn't my name on the color chart? Why isn't there a Saffron?"
"Saffron is a lovely color," said her mother evasively.
"But it's not on the chart."
"The others are."
"But not me."
"I thought of calling you Siena. Or Scarlet."
"Why didn't you?"
There was a long, long pause.
"It wasn't me who chose your name."
"No. Not Daddy. My sister."
"Your sister who died?"
"Yes. Go to sleep, Saffy. Rose is crying. I've got to go."
"Siena," whispered Saffy.
Saffy had a dream that came over and over. In the dream was a white paved place with walls. A sunny place, quiet and enclosed. There were little dark, pointed trees and there was the sound of water. The blue sky was too bright to look at. In the dream something was lost. In the dream Saffy cried. In the dream was the word, Siena.
Copyright © 2001 by Hilary McKay
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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