"Hey," she said, but before she could say anything else, Patrick heard himself growl, "Get your tits out of my car," and then his wheels spun in the gravel and she was gone. His heart was beating so fast that his ears ached.
The year before, on a warm day in June, Patrick's father had come home from work two hours late, crying and smelling like Southern Comfort. His hands were shaking and there was vomit down the front of his shirt and pants. Sitting on the couch, white-faced and bleary-eyed, he wouldn't look at either of his sons. Holy god, he'd said, over and over again. I did it now. Jesus Christ. I sure did it now. Patrick tried to get him to say what was wrong, but his father wouldn't or couldn't answer. Patrick's brother, Mike, brought a glass of water and a clean shirt (throwing the dirty one in the wash and starting the load without even thinking about it) but the old man wouldn't touch either, just rocked back and forth and clutched his head in his callused hands, chanting the same refrain: Holy god. Holy fucking shit.
It had been Patrick, after too much of this, who went to the garage and saw the dented bumper; Patrick who smelled the hot gasoline-and-copper tang in the air; Patrick who stared for a long time at the wetness that looked like blood before reaching out to touch it and determine that, yes, it was blood. Patrick who realized that the tiny white thing lodged in the grille wasn't gravel but a tooth, too small to have come from an adult mouth. It had been Patrick who had realized that somebody somewhere was dead.
Up until that point, there were two things that Patrick could count on to be true: the old man was a drunk, and the old man screwed up. And as far as Patrick was concerned, the first priority was fixing it. When he worked the morning shift at the warehouse you woke up before he did so you could make the coffee and get him out the door. When he passed out on the couch you took the cigarette from his limp fingers. When he ranted--about the government that wanted to take his money, about the Chinese who wanted to take his job, about the birth control pills that had given Patrick's mother cancer and killed her--you kept your cool and had a beer yourself, and you tried to sneak away all the throwable objects so that in the morning there'd be glasses to drink from and a TV that didn't have a boot thrown through the screen. You took evasive action. You headed disaster off at the pass. You made it better. You fixed it.
Staring at the bloody car, Patrick thought, wearily, I can't fix this.
Inside, Mike, his eyes wide with panic, said, No, little brother, hang tight, we can figure this out. Just wait. Even though there was nothing to figure out. All through that night into the gray light of dawn and on until the shadows disappeared in the midday sun, the three of them hunkered down in the living room, the old man sniveling and stuttering and saying things like Jesus, I wish I still had my gun, I ought to just go ahead and kill myself, and Mike--who would not even go into the garage, who point-blank refused--trying to force the reality of the situation into some less horrible shape. The longer they sat, the more it felt like debating the best way to throw themselves under a train. Patrick, it seemed, was the only one who realized that there was no best way. You just jumped. That was all. You jumped.
So, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Patrick called the police. Nineteen hours had elapsed between his father's return home and Patrick's phone call. He'd thought it through: they couldn't afford a private lawyer, and the old man couldn't get a public defender until he'd been charged. When the police arrived, the detective came back from the garage with a steely, satisfied expression on his face. We've been looking for you, he said to the old man, and all the old man did was nod.
Patrick remembered very little about what happened after that. Except that Mike said, Jesus, Pat--nobody had called Patrick Pat since he was ten years old--he's our dad.
Excerpted from Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet Copyright © 2013 by Kelly Braffet. Excerpted by permission of Crown, 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."
- PW Starred Review
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