The room settles for a moment on the stupidity of these two people, and there is the sense that it is a very stable and big platform, their stupidity. The blame is not that these two should have known better than to taunt each other that way, even as friends, but that they are responsible for the birth of another committee. One man in the last row mutters, "Sheez.
Sipe unfolds his arms. He holds up his hands. Clare sees they are callused.
"All right," Sipe says. "Okay, look. We been told to form this committee and that's what we're doing. Our goal is for us as a group to explore ways to coexist with each other as well as we can. We're going to talk about topics, put together a diversity newsletter and workshops, and after a couple months we'll take what we learn in here out to the mill at large and it'll be a big help. Because I'll tell you for one, I missed my guess at how big this thing is to some folks.
The woman who wore the Black Thang T-shirt says, "And people, it's not just black and white. It's men and women, too.
"That's right," says Sipe, and nods, refolding his meaty arms. "We need to find ways to be more sensitive to each other. And it's not just for the mill. It's the whole community." Clare thinks that this man has had his ass chewed out bad to be talking this way.
Then Sipe points at Elijah and says, "We all need to find ways to be more like Clare and Elijah here. More accepting. Like them.
Elijah's hard hat dangles from his fingers between his spread knees, his eyes turned to the floor. The hat spins a revolution in his hands. He catches it. He stands. The hard hat goes on his head.
Looking at no one, not even Clare, he softly says, "This is y'all's problem.
Knees and legs slide out of the way, allowing Elijah to exit his row. No one looks up to his face moving past them as though fearful his face is where he keeps the blow he would throw at them if he were to throw one, because it wasn't in his voice.
The trailer door opens with the break of a seal and Elijah closes it gently. When he is gone, again the room ponders on something and now it is Clare. But she has a baby in her belly soon to be born and so she is not disposed to carry the weight of their inquiry. She will not explain Elijah to them, he is her husband and the father of her child and they all, all of them in the world, are not.
Clare stands. She wishes she had her own hard hat to put on. To get to the door she has to pass only one set of legs in her row.
"Look," she says, walking, "you all know him. He's got a mind of his own.
Clare grips the trailer doorknob. Her back is to the committee. She turns fully to them. The globe of her coming child is included when she says before leaving, "I'm sorry, but we are not your damn role models.
Clare and Elijah do not like being made to feel they love each other
despite something. They are not better people because they have married
someone outside their own race. They are not tolerant because the other is
of a different color.
They do not in this first year of their marriage discuss race, in the same manner they do not discuss gravity. That he is black and she is white is a subject for others, who once in a while try to hold the matter up to Clare and Elijah with curiosity, seeking feedback and impressions, postcards from someplace exotic and perhaps taboo they themselves will never go.
Excerpted from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins. Copyright 2002 by David L. Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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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