"Where was I? Did I see her dead?"
"No," said Eve with relief. "You were at home. At your home in Siena. With Grandad. He was visiting."
"Yes. He was there when it happened. He brought you back here to us."
"Yes, Grandad did. He wasn't always like he is now, Saffy darling."
The Casson children's grandfather was like nothing at all. He lived in a nursing home. He sat. Sometimes in summer he sat in the garden, guided there with a nurse at each side. Sometimes he sat in a lounge and looked at a television set that was not always switched on. Often Eve would collect him and bring him back home with her, and he would sit there instead.
Only once, in all his years of sitting, had he said a word to show that he remembered anything at all of his previous life. He had said, "Saffron."
Everyone had heard.
"Is Grandad still my grandad?" Saffron asked Eve, when it seemed that the whole pattern of her family was slipping and changing, like colors in water, into something she hardly recognized.
Eve said that of course he was. Just as he had always been. Exactly the same.
"But was he my grandad right from the beginning?" persisted Saffron, determined to have the truth this time. "Like he was Caddy's and Indigo's and Rose's?"
"Yes," said Eve at once, and Caddy added, "He is just as much your grandad as ours, Saffy. More."
"More?" asked Saffron suspiciously.
"Much more," said Caddy, "because he remembers you. He knows your name. Everybody heard. He said, 'Saffron.'"
"Yes, he did," Saffron agreed, and allowed herself to feel a tiny bit comforted.
Caddy was the only one of the Casson children who could recall the days when their grandfather could drive and walk and talk and do things like anybody else. She told Saffron about the evening when he had arrived at the house, bringing Saffron home.
"He had a green car. A big green car and it was full of toys. He'd brought all your toys, he told us. Every crayon. Every scrap of paper. You used to pick up stones, he said. Little bits of stone. He brought them all. In a can."
Nothing was ever thrown away in the Casson family. Saffron went upstairs to the bedroom she shared with Caddy and Rose and raked around until she found the scratched blue coffee can. The stones were still there, bits of gold sandstone, marble chips, and a fragment of a red roof tile.
"Grandad said, 'She's cried all the way. Not for her mother. For something else. I should have managed to bring it somehow. I promised I would. I shall have to go back.'"
"What was he talking about?"
"I don't know. He went away that same night. We didn't see him again for ages and ages, and when we did, he was different."
"What sort of different?"
"Like he is now," said Caddy.
The Casson house had been chosen by the children's parents before Caddy was born. They had liked it because it was unspoiled. Unspoiled meant no central heating, coal fires in every room (even the bedrooms and kitchen), and its own particular smell, which was a mixture of dampness and soot and a sort of green smell that came in from the garden. The garden always seemed to be trying to sneak its way into the house. Ivy crept in through the cracks around the windowpanes. Wood lice and beetles and ants and snails had their own private entrances. In autumn dead leaves swirled in every time a door was opened, and in spring live birds fell down the chimneys.
The house had a name. The Banana House. It was carved onto a piece of sandstone above the front door. It made no sense to anyone.
It stood at the middle of a long road. At one end of the road were fine houses with graveled drives, but the Banana House was not one of those. At the other end were little cottages with bright new paint and tidy gardens. The Banana House was not one of those, either. It was quite alone in the middle.
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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