When I am half asleep and everything is dark, ghosts rise out of the prairie and swim across my eyes. The girl crawls up from the storm cellar with glass in her knee. She peers at me and her fists are clenched. She cries, "Caril Ann, where is my math book?" There is no sense telling that girl in my mind where those schoolbooks got to, pages blowing, by the side of a road in Bennet, Nebraska. And of course Roe Street is always standing in the door of the outhouse with his belt in his hand and a hole in his head, blaming me for all that Charlie did.
I do not call these dreams because dreams are something you wish to have happened. Everyone knows how I never wished any of it. It was not my fault. From the very beginning it was never my fault, not even the skipping of school. People act a certain way when they are treated wrong, and I had already done the eighth grade. It was wrong of Roe to try and send me back.
The first day I saw Charlie behind our new house with his .22 in his hand, there was a whisper of the way things would go. I was not supposed to be hiding in the trees, crying for everything gone wrong. I was supposed to be in school, my legs tucked up under the same old desk, my face turning red for not knowing the answers Mrs. Kramer asked because she knew I could not get them right. I was crying because Roe had chased me away from the house for not minding him. He knew I was hiding out, but he could not do a thing about it and still get to work. I was making my own laws; Roe had drove me to it. I showed him this. I threw Roes rules back in his face.
before she married roe and gave birth to betty sue, mother would let me spend all day on the couch eating Sugar Daddies, if I wanted. Now I was to clean my room, go to school, and mind Roe in whatever I did. This was not hardly fair. Life is a give-and-take and I had nothing to show for it. We were living in a new house and I had a bigger room, thats true, but it was still a run-down place with a latrine out back, mounds of dirt in front, and weeds that grew up over the porch and about strangled it.
When Roe came in my room without knocking to see was I ready for school, I was wearing nothing but my pink kimono with a red sketch of Chinese women dancing over it and panties underneath. I was brushing my hair with good strong strokes. The kimono was a gift my true father had sent Mother from Kansas City after the Korean wars were done. It made her sick to wear so she had given it to me. She wished he was lying shot in a ditch. She said this when she opened the box. For thinking these nasty thoughts, she did not deserve his gifts and I had told her so. She looked at me then, with her eyes all pinched, and shook her head. She said, "What do you care, Caril Ann? I dont see nothing in this box for you."
I was brushing my hair in the mirror, biding my own time, when the door smacked open. Roe was standing with his Watson Brothers shirt tucked in his pants and ready to go.
My robe was opened a bit. His brown eyes were mad and hard. He stared me up-down like he couldnt believe a girl wouldnt want to repeat the damn eighth grade. I hadnt even turned around, but I could see it all, beyond my own face in the mirror, and Betty Sue past the doorjamb, skidding over the floor in a sagging diaper, chewing on the corner of a box under the kitchen table. I didnt so much as put my hairbrush down. I did not show I cared about him standing there. I just brushed, like I learned to in a magazine. To me, he was just some old man who had married my mother a second time.
"Youre not ready," Roe said, as if he needed to.
"Oh," I said. I smoothed my hair behind my ears like everything was simple. "Im not going." My heart beat hard. I could feel it in my chest, and a warm wind stirring up from the opened window behind my bed kind of kissed my ears.
From Outside Valentine by Lisa Ward, pages 6-10 of the hardcover edition. Copyright 2004 by Lisa Ward. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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