"Well, I never," says Norma, pursing her lips and shaking her head. "I'm sure I don't know what's gotten into you, Mr. Jankowski."
Oh, I see, I see. So that's how it is.
"It's an outrage!" says McGuinty, leaning slightly toward Norma now that he sees he's got the popular vote. "I don't see why I should have to put up with being called a liar!"
"And an old coot," I remind him.
"Mr. Jankowski!" says the black girl, her voice raised. She comes behind me and releases the brakes on my wheelchair. "I think maybe you should spend some time in your room. Until you calm down."
"Now wait just a minute!" I shout as she swings me away from the table and toward the door. "I don't need to calm down. And besides, I haven't eaten!"
"I'll bring your dinner in," she says from behind.
"I don't want it in my room! Take me back! You can't do this to me!"
But it appears she can. She wheels me down the hall at lightning speed and turns sharply into my room. She jams the brakes on so hard the whole chair jars.
"I'll just go back," I say as she raises my footrests.
"You'll do no such thing," she says, setting my feet on the floor.
"This isn't fair!" I say, my voice rising in a whine. "I've been sitting at that
table forever. He's been there two weeks. Why is everyone siding with him?"
"Nobody's siding with anyone." She leans forward, slinging her shoulder under mine. As she lifts me, my head rests next to hers. Her hair is chemically straightened and smells of flowers. When she sets me on
the edge of the bed, I am at eye level with her pale pink bosom. And her name tag.
"Rosemary," I say.
"Yes, Mr. Jankowski?" she says.
"He is lying, you know."
"I know no such thing. And neither do you."
"I do, though. I was on a show."
She blinks, irritated. "How do you mean?"
I hesitate and then change my mind. "Never mind," I say.
"Did you work on a circus?"
"I said never mind."
There's a heartbeat of uncomfortable silence.
"Mr. McGuinty could have been seriously hurt, you know," she says, arranging my legs. She works quickly, efficiently, but stops just short of being summary.
"No he couldn't. Lawyers are indestructible."
She stares at me for a long time, actually looking at me as a person. For a moment I think I sense a chink. Then she snaps back into action. "Is your family taking you to the circus this weekend?"
"Oh yes," I say with some pride. "Someone comes every Sunday. Like clockwork."
She shakes out a blanket and spreads it over my legs. "Would you like me to get your dinner?"
"No," I say.
There's an awkward silence. I realize I should have added "thank you," but it's too late now.
"All right then," she says. "I'll be back in a while to see if you need anything else."
Yup. Sure she will. That's what they always say.
BUT DAGNAMMIT, HERE SHE IS.
"Now don't tell anyone," she says, bustling in and sliding my dinner-table-cum-vanity over my lap. She sets down a paper napkin, plastic fork, and a bowl of fruit that actually looks appetizing, with strawberries, melon, and apple. "I packed it for my break. I'm on a diet. Do you like fruit, Mr. Jankowski?"
I would answer except that my hand is over my mouth and it's trembling. Apple, for God's sake.
She pats my other hand and leaves the room, discreetly ignoring my tears.
From Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. © 2006 by Sara Gruen. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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