"No," Clarissa said. "I'm in the most beautiful place in the world, and the first time I call, my kid has chicken pox. So I feel guilty and horrible. And I've felt guilty and horrible all week just in anticipation of something. I knew there was going to be something like this."
"You sound like you think it's my fault," Yvette said.
"No," Clarissa said, unconvincingly.
"I'm not asking you to come back," Yvette said. "She'll get better."
"I didn't think she'd get sick. She has to play with someone. That time alone is my sanity."
When Yvette hung up, she took a fresh glass of juice to the living room, where Abby lay on the couch reading a comic book. She was at the age to have communion, and she wasn't even baptized.
"Your mom said good-bye and to tell you she loves you," Yvette improvised.
"Where am I going to live now?"
Yvette pushed Abby's hair from her face. "I think you'll live with your mom."
"No, I think at home," Yvette said.
Abby looked at her pink-splotched knees. "With just my mom?"
Yvette sighed. "I don't know, sweetheart," she said.
Yvette kept the drapes drawn to keep the house cool, and the dimness increased Abby's gloom. Yvette tried to teach her to crochet, but Abby got frustrated with the yarn. They played Boggle and Go Fish. Sometimes, in bored wanderings through the house, Abby took pictures off the master bedroom wall and lay on the bed looking at them. She liked Yvette's wedding picture, with Teddy in his pilot's uniform during the war. And she liked a picture of the two girls: Clarissa with her dark hair coming out of its curls, and Margot standing behind her, polished and serene. Abby would study the pictures and then hang them back on the wall and turn on the TV. In the heat wave they were airing Coke and Pepsi and 7UP commercials, and Abby had memorized them all. She sang the jingles absently in the bath. It was killing Yvette.
At the end of the week, Yvette called Jamie, her youngest, who was in college in San Francisco. She begged him to come home.
"I'm taking a summer class," Jamie said.
"You should see her," Yvette said. "She's so miserable. Mrs. Ferris won't let her play with Cara. I could just wring that woman's neck."
"My car might not make it."
"I'll send Triple A," Yvette said.
He was home by late afternoon, with a duffel bag full of laundry that he dropped on the kitchen floor. Her handsome, mischievous boy: he had caused her so much trouble over the years, but now he had come when she needed him. She kissed his cheeks out of gratitude, as Abby sidled into the kitchen.
"Where's my favorite niece in the whole world?" Jamie asked.
Abby wrinkled her nose at him. "I'm your only niece."
Yvette noticed that Abby had washed the calamine off her face and arms, in honor of Jamie's arrival. She still had spots, but she didn't look like she was dying of a pink plague.
"Oh, yeah," Jamie said. "Well, if I had others, you'd still be my favorite. Want to hit the beach?"
Copyright © 2006 by Maile Meloy
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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