Their grandfather was in the kitchen when the children arrived home the next day. This pleased everyone. They all loved him, lately with a sort of fierce defiance, very like the way they had loved Rose years earlier, when she was so frighteningly impermanent. They hurried to include him in their lives. Rose brought him the Banana House picture to look at, and he sat holding it in his thin hands for a long time before laying it on the table. Caddy told him about her driving lessons. A few months ago her father had arrived from London, inspected her exam results (appalling), and announced that it was about time Caddy learned to work. He had then enrolled her to take over everything she had failed, and arranged a course of driving lessons for her.
Caddy told her grandfather how good she was at emergency stops and how bad she was at everything else, especially reversing, which she called going backward.
Her grandfather looked as if he was listening.
"Feel that!" said Indigo, pulling up his sweatshirt sleeve and putting his grandfather's hand on his almost visible biceps, and his grandfather appeared to feel it. Indigo was very pleased and went to find the picture of the ice ax he was saving up to buy.
"I want one too," said Rose.
"When you are older," said Indigo kindly.
Saffron did not bring anything to show her grandfather, or talk to him, or explain pictures of ice axes in catalogs. She just sat beside him. Saffron, who had grown up to be so fierce and alone, was always gentle with her grandfather.
Eventually Caddy kissed him good-bye and left for her driving lesson, with a hamster in her pocket for comfort. Eve came in from her shed at the end of the garden and tried to send Rose to bed.
"Without any supper?" asked Rose, and Eve said, "Food, food, I forgot about food!"
Indigo (who by necessity was growing into a very brave cook) said, "I am making fried corned beef sandwiches for everyone," and then the evening became very noisy and smoky. Indigo cut his finger on the corned beef can, and Rose had to bandage it because Caddy was out and Saffron wouldn't and Eve could not bear the sight of blood. After that there was a quarrel about who would eat bled-on sandwiches (Rose and Indigo) and who would rather starve (Saffron).
During the quarrel Eve suddenly said, "Grandad's tired!"
Saffron looked at him then and saw how terribly faded he had become. He looked narrow and lost. All at once she began to cry. She put her arms around her grandfather and cried and cried, and Eve said, "Come on, Saffy. Let's take him home."
Caddy's driving instructor was called Michael. He had been a wonderful surprise to Caddy the first time she met him. She had been expecting someone gray haired and short tempered and not at all nice. All her friends' driving instructors were like that.
Michael said to Caddy, "Now Cadmium, we are coming up to a crossroads. I should like you to take the turn on the right."
"Right," said Caddy happily, very pleased to be out with Michael again. "I'll remember!"
"You should be slowing down. Look in your mirror."
Caddy looked and said, "I don't like this lipstick."
"You don't need lipstick," said Michael, who always found it very difficult to keep up a professional detachment where Caddy was concerned. "You...turn signal! Turn signal!"
"Too pink," said Caddy.
"TURN RIGHT, CADMIUM, PLEASE!"
"But it was free. It came through the mail. A little tiny one. So I thought I'd try it -- "
"I said right! Crikey! Pull up and park immediately, please, Caddy. Please, Caddy!"
" -- on you," said Caddy, parking very neatly in an entrance marked KEEP CLEAR AT ALL TIMES. "What's the matter? Are you all right?"
Caddy had driving lessons twice a week. She had had dozens. After every lesson Michael had to drive off and find somewhere quiet so he could rest his head on the steering wheel and try to relax. He didn't know why he put up with it, and yet every week he found himself coming back for more.
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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