"Emma, sweet, you're here at last! Even prettier than the picture your mother sent, which she didn't need to. I would have recognized you anywhere. Your Emma-ness' is exactly the same."
Though Tess tended to flatter everybody, her remark gave me a jolt of elation. I made up my mind to adopt this concept of "Emma-ness" as a talisman against those loss-of-self times that flattened me. She still wore Joy, the perfume her husband had chosen for her. What did she have to do without in order to buy it for herself now?
We tussled over who would carry the heaviest of my suitcases. She prevailed, and dragged her way fetchingly ahead of me to a baby blue Cadillac DeVille. She had not lost her slim, curvaceous figure, my mother would be glad to hear. Or would she?
"You have to be wary of this humidity, Emma, until your blood has a chance to thin. Also, we've been having this spate of damp weather, which doesn't help, either." Tess was puffing by the time she allowed me to help her heft the big suitcase into a carpeted trunk that could have held three more sets of luggage. "This is Hector's new car. He insisted I take it to meet you."
"How generous of him." On leaving the train, I hadn't noticed the humidity, but as soon as Tess drew my attention to it I could feel it sapping my energy.
After ruining her life, Tess had gone to vocational college and was now nurse-assistant to Dr. Hector Rodriguez, a dental surgeon in Coral Gables.
"Oh, Hector is the most generous man in the world. His patients call him Doctor Magnánimo. He's always giving things away and he'll see you on the weekend if you're in pain, which is why I have to head back to the office after we get you settled at your hotel. He's starting a root canal this afternoon for a man who's in agony."
"Doctor Magnánimo," I echoed, trying to copy the sexy way she lightly tongued the back of her front teeth for the first n.
"See, Emma, you sound like a natural already! So many of their words are the same as ours, only with this little extra flourish on the end. You'll pick up Spanish in no time in Miami." (Tess pronounced it "My-AM-uh.") "There are lots of Cubans and more coming over all the time, professional, well-bred people like Hector and his wife, Asunción, although they left a while ago to get away from Batista. The ones arriving now are coming because Fidel has let them down. But you know all about that, you're going to be a reporter on the Star."
"As soon as they wrote to say I had the job, I subscribed to the paper. I've been reading it cover to cover since February, everything from Castro's land grabs to the big Miami society weddings."
Damn, blast, shit, hell, Emma. Why didn't you stop at Castro? But Tess neither flinched nor looked sad, as though she didn't recall herself being the star of one of those big society weddings. Her perfect Grecian profile went right on smiling as she steered serenely down a wide avenue, the skirt of her crisp uniform tugged up to reveal her shapely white-stockinged thighs.
"Hector said you must be just phenomenally smart, to land a job like this right out of college. Everybody wants to be a reporter for the Star. I said yes, you were, just like your mamma. I can't wait for you to meet Hector. And Asunción, too, of course."
Excerpted from Queen of the Underworld by Gail Godwin Copyright © 2006 by Gail Godwin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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