Sara has a lawyer Abby had found a woman at a Newton adoption agency named Margaret Robins. Every time Margaret talks to Sara, she asks pointedly, "Do you understand?" Abby asks that same question, too, but Jack won't discuss anything with Sara anymore, not even a thing as simple as how he feels. Instead, he's gone mute.
The car bumps, a reproach from her father, and Sara winces at the flash of pain. Abby rubs her back. "It'll be over soon. Think of your future. Think of school."
Sara is an honor student. Sixteen years old and her guidance counselor already is pushing early admission to Columbia. To Harvard. She loves to say Sara can write her own ticket, which is something Abby repeats like a mantra. "You're smart," she says, but what Sara hears, is that Sara may be smart, but she isn't smart enough not to be pregnant.
Sara used to have her life planned. She used to want to be a doctor-or a psychiatrist--a decision she made the first time she picked up an issue of Psychology Today and couldn't stop reading it. When she was twelve, Abby gave her own subscription, which Sara devoured, saving all her issues on a special shelf, highlighting the articles that caught and held her interest. Abby loved to leaf through the issues herself. "Nothing wrong with improving my mind, too," she told Sara. "It's terrific you know what you want now. A girl has to know what she wants early and stick to it, or she can get robbed of her life."
"Robbed?" Sara had looked up from the article she was reading, "Body Talk!" She glanced at herself in the mirror to try and decipher her own string-bean build.
"Oh, I'm just being melodramatic," Abby said, waving her hand, but Sara studied her mother. Abby was folding towels, her prim white lab coat over a shocking-pink dress with a ruffled hem. Her back was hunched, her mouth tense. Abby used to want to be a dentist; she had finished a whole year of dental school when she met Jack. She had shown Sara the photograph of her in school, standing in front of a big brick building, her arms loaded with books, her red hair flying, her face flushed with joy. "Why'd you give that up?" Sara had asked her, and Abby had shrugged and continued folding. "Easier," she said. "I met your father and got married, then you came along, and who else was going to stay home and raise you? Your father didn't trust anyone else but me." She smiled, remembering.
"You could go back," Sara said, and Abby shrugged. "Now? How could I do that?" Sara looked at Abby with interest. "Why are you looking at me like that?" Abby asked.
Sara held up the magazine. "I was just trying to read your body language.
"I'll translate for you," Abby said, rubbing at her temple. "I'm fluent in headache."
Sara no longer knows what her future holds. Psychology Today comes in the mail, the cover so glossy it reflects light back at her, and she doesn't even open it to see what's in the table of contents, because, really, what does it have to do with her now?
Shortly before her stomach started to swell, she went to a fortuneteller, one of those five-dollar places with a turbaned woman on a ratty couch. All Sara wanted was to be told good news. She walked inside and sat on the edge of the couch and the woman gave her a cup of tea that tasted like dishwater and then dumped the cup upside down on a plate. "Ah," she said, poking a finger into the leaves. "Seventy dollars and misfortune is gone."
"I don't have seventy dollars," Sara said and the woman shrugged.
"Then you have misfortune," she said, but Sara didn't need a fortuneteller to tell her that.
"Grab on to me," Abby says now, offering her arm. Sara wrenches away. If she touches her mother's arm, she's afraid she'll beg for help, she'll scream, she'll do whatever it is Abby wants if Abby will just take this pain from her. She looks at the locks on the car, the windows sealed shut, the way she's so trapped. There's no air. She can't breathe. Surely, she's dying. She concentrates on the slow whomp, whomp, whomp, inside of her, like some strange animal coming closer, biding its time to strike. It's the most astonishing feeling she's ever had. She suddenly thinks of this movie she once saw called It's Alive! Babies born with teeth, vicious killers who devoured their parents.
Copyright Caroline Leavitt 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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