"Yes, Charlie," she said. "I know what you mean, but I need you to help." She walked through the room and out the other door, into the front hallway, and went upstairs. I sat up then and walked across the room after her. I meant to help her. I meant to follow her and explain how I meant to help her and to be stronger but that I didn't have any choice, that it was like I'd been withered, sapped of spirit. Susan moved around in our bedroom upstairs, opening and closing drawers. I meant to call up to her. I meant to go upstairs and to ask what she needed me to do. Even better, I'd find something essential that needed doing that she hadn't thought of and tell her I was going to do that.
That was when I broke my hand. Everything failed inside me. Something snapped in my stomach and I cried out and put my fist into the wall of the stairway landing. The old horsehair plaster pulverized and poured from the wall like hourglass sand but I struck a stud behind it and broke eight bones. I vividly remember crying out, because that was something I'd always consciously stifled whenever I had hurt myself around Kate, so I wouldn't upset her. I'd sighed and laughed out loud at my own foolishness in front of Kate when I'd pounded my thumb with a hammer, or had a pebble ricochet off a shin while mowing our lawn, or once had a two-by-four drop on my head when I was rebuilding the steps on the side porch and had to drive myself to the emergency room for stitches. "Your dad, the genius," I'd said as I'd fetched the first aid kit and wrapped a handful of ice cubes in a facecloth. But the pain when I broke my hand was something else altogether. It obliterated my will and I remember gasping in awe at how much it hurt and how neatly I had felt the bones in my fingers and hand snapping. I dropped to my knees, holding the wrist of the broken hand with my good hand, suddenly wondering how in the world I could tell Susan what I'd just done. I had obviously knocked myself half senseless, because the punch had sounded like someone trying to go through the wall with a sledgehammer, and Susan had lunged out of the bedroom and to the top of the stairs, as if the punch had released the ratchet locking a coiled spring, the way an angry parent might pounce when she heard her kid knock over a lamp after she'd told her six times to knock off tossing the tennis ball in the living room. She held one of her crewneck shirts in front of her by the shoulder seams, and clutched it to herself as she looked down at me kneeling on the hall floor.
That image of Susan, at the top of the stairs in her bathrobe, her face ravaged and pale, holding the shirta fitted white T-shirt with a pattern of flowers and vines embroidered in black around the neck and sleeves and a small yellow bird embroidered just above the left breastseemed like a photograph from a movie or a play that you see in a magazine you're leafing through while waiting to have your teeth cleaned or have blood taken, and you think to yourself, Oh, I remember that scene; that's when it all comes apart; that's when he puts his hand through the wall and she runs out of the bedroom and stands there at the top of the stairs, like she's a parent about to yell at her kid, but she sees him down on his knees at the bottom of the stairs, gasping, and he's gray in the face, in a cold sweat, and he's holding a hand up and the fingers look all mangled, and you can tell just by the expression on her faceit's so well donethat she's acted from refl ex, that she's still conditioned, still habituated to parenting her daughter. But it's true: her daughter is dead, still and always and even though her mind still makes these little loops back in time to before her daughter died if she lets go of the fact for even a moment, and every time it's like hearing for the first time all over again, Your daughter has been in an accident, and that is the moment she realizes, It's all over and I'm going back to my parents' house, and I'm going to stay in my old bedroom, even though it has been my mother's sewing room for nearly twenty years. And whether or not she really believes that that is what she will do, that spare corner room with no rug and no curtains or shades and a chair and a table with a sewing machine on it and a lamp bent down over the machine and a single framed piece of embroidery of a redheaded moppet wearing a sunbonnet with a basket of flowers hooked on her arm and a rabbit at her feet, which used to be her room when she was a girl, is the concrete picture her mind makes of the certainty that she must go away, and that is the moment he realizes that that's what she's thinking. When that instant passed, whether it was between us or in my mind alone, Susan said, "Let me get some clothes on," and rushed back to the bedroom.
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. 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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