She studied the lines on the backs of her fathers hands, and the fineness of the stitching on his waterproof sealskin boots. She noticed the skepticism in the eyes of her mother, which she had not appreciated before, and the unease in her face as she stood in the Kablunauk ship. A moment earlier, the iqswaksayee had finished explaining to her, through the interpreter, how to care for Tagaks ear infections. He turned then and walked crisply away, the scent of perfumed soap and shaving cream wafting to her wrinkling nose. Behind her parents, Victoria could see the drip marks in the paint on the ships bulkheads; she could see the gray in her parents hair and how much skinnier their faces were than she had realized.
In the cramped waiting room were squeezed Victoria, her parents, Tagak on his mothers knee, the iqswaksayee, Caroline Kapak, the woman hired to interpret the local dialect, and Siruqsuk. Siruqsuk was one of the oldest of the Inuit elders in the area, though she was not accorded the deference usually paid to the very aged because of the low stature of her family and because of a whisperedabout scandal to do with a longdead husband and her sister.
Siruqsuk had lived on the margins of several encampments and was discreetly and grudgingly given food by her nephews when there was enough to share. Victoria had been aware of her for as long as she could remember, though they had not talked often. The iqswaksayee spoke in his flat and guttural Kablunuktitut language, and Caroline Kapak translated. He says hes sorry but the Xrays show puvaluq. Youre both going to have to go with the ship to the sanatorium. Victoria wondered if she was going to have to live with Siruqsuk while her parents were away when she realized Caroline was looking at her and the old woman.
The ship made for the Hudson Strait, and then for the open Atlantic and around to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, eventually, Montreal. Siruqsuk and Victoria watched from the stern as the ribbon of shore disappeared behind them. Victoria kept a firm grip on her heavy skirts in the wind and the old woman put her stringy arm around the girls shoulders. Victoria asked what she knew about where they were going. Siruqsuk told her there would be plenty to eat when they got there and that the other Inuit in the hospital would take care of them. They could both feel the ships engines throbbing through the deck. Then the fog closed in and they went inside.
Excerpted from Consumption by Kevin Patterson Copyright © 2007 by Kevin Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, 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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