Roe slapped the wall, and the plaster and yellow paint chips flaked all over the floor. I turned around and faced him straight on.
"Goddamn it," he said. "Get in the car right now, Caril Ann."
I knew better than to step an inch closer or to get in his car. It was a beat-up old Ford with split seams inside that smelled of dog. I stayed right where I was by the mirror.
Mother appeared behind him, her face in the space between his shoulder and head. I pleaded my eyes at her, as if Roe wasnt there, as if this room was a place where only me and her existed, as if everything was back to how it was before Roe came stomping into our house and rattling his cage. I said to her, "I dont want to go with him." But it was no good. Her eyes were all torn up and tired. She put one hand on Roes shoulder, the other on her hip. She shaked her head. "Lord, what did I do?" she said.
"Nothing," I said. I slit my eyes in Roes direction. "Its him whos made all the problems for us."
Mothers face went mean. She wagged her finger at me. "Wise up, Caril Ann," she said. "Dont be kicking the gift horse."
"Ill deal with her," Roe went on, shutting the door on Mothers face.
Betty Sue was crying in the kitchen, which was nothing new; I mean, she cried by the hour and that was just what we needed out in this place on the edge of town. She cried when she got left alone too long. She cried when she messed something up no one could fix, like my poster of Frankie Avalon, which she scribbled red pen over and nobody said a word. I mean, I was the one who should have been crying, with all this pushiness.
Roe stood in front of me, stealing all the air. It was hot. The sun made squares on the floor. They shifted and danced with the shapes of leaves. The boards were sticky under my toes from some pop I had spilled and just let dry. Roe Street unbuckled his belt like he was making to whip me, though he had never done it before and I wasnt scared.
Roe came closer and the belt looped from his hand like a crazy eight. "Caril Ann," he said, looking ape as Id ever seen him, no matter how bad Id been. The purple was crawling up under the bristles of his hair.
"Im not going anywhere dressed like this," I said, putting my hands on my hips and sticking my bare knee a ways out from between the folds of silk. There I was, a lady in the middle of his ugly mess.
"Do as I say, Caril Ann; mind me and do as I say."
"Yes, Roe," I said. I flipped my hair behind my shoulder for him to tell just how much I did not mean it, so then he lunged at me, pulling my arm for sassing him and yanking me around the room. He held my one shoulder in the palm of his hand with his fingers digging in my skin and shook. He held me like this but did not use the belt. He smelled of sweat and the soap Mother used to wash his shirts. There were red spots on his cheeks. I did not know what I should do to win this and not get whipped.
I pulled away, back to the wall, but it was no good. Roe tugged the collar of my kimono, scrunching up the silk in his fist. I could not move for fearing the cloth would rip. Another robe like this was not an easy thing to find, so I hooked my thumb under the sash and pulled a little. I felt the silk slide away from my skin with a tickle and goose bumps rise on my white skin. The kimono fell around my sides. I stood there with my panties loose around my middle for being so worn. I could not believe it. I stared up in his face a moment. "Look what you did, Roe," I said.
Roe let go my arm and left off the whipping. The belt dropped like a snake that was shot in the head. "Cover yourself and get ready for school," he said. "Youre going." But he did not sound so sure. He closed the door softly, like everything was suddenly fine.
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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