jack wiseman, immersed as ever in the pages of a book, did not notice the arrival of the bus until alerted by the stir among the other people waiting in the overheated station lounge. The pugnacious chin he aimed at the coach's windows had a bit of Kleenex clinging to it, printed with a comma of blood, and his starched and ironed shirt gaped at the collar, revealing pleats in the drapery of his neck and a thick white thatch of fur on his chest. He squinted, caught a glimpse of the glory of his granddaughter's hair, and pulled himself to his feet. He tore a corner from the back page of somebody's discarded Ellsworth American and tucked it between the pages of his old Loeb edition of Herodotus, measuring with a rueful snort the remaining unread inches. He had never been a man to leave a job unfinished, a fact on which he supposed he must have been relying, perhaps unconsciously, in undertaking to reread, for what must be the eighth or ninth time, this most garrulous of classical historians.
As the bus disgorged its first passengers, Jack got momentarily lost in contemplation of the disembarking soldiers, home on leave from the very ancient battlefields as in the book he was reading, from Babylon and Bactria, their camouflage fatigues the color of ashes and dust, the pattern jagged, like the pixels of a computer screen. Then Natalie 's hair kindled in the bus's doorway, and he held up the little green-backed volume to catch her attention. He could tell from the look of shock that crossed her face in the instant before she smiled that pancreatic cancer had taken even worse a toll on him than he 'd imagined. Her lips moved.
He lifted a finger, motioning her to wait. He pressed a button on his hearing aid and said, "Sweetheart! You made it."
"Hey, Grandpa." Her eyes were bleary, the red dent in her cheek from whatever she had been leaning against reminding him of how she used to look as a child, waking from an afternoon nap. Or perhaps it was her mother he was remembering, an image coming from farther away and longer ago. He took note of her pallor, the bruised look of the skin under her green eyes, and thought that she had likely come to Maine as much to flee her own troubles as to lose herself in the alleviation of his. Indeed the possibility of her finding consolation in worry over him was one of the reasonsnot that you needed a reason to want to see your only granddaughterhe had agreed so quickly when she first called to say that she wanted to make the trip.
"Are you hungry?" he said. "There 's not much in Bangor, but if you can wait, the Grill's open. I could take you there."
"You could take me? You drove?" she said.
He just blinked at her, tempted to employ one of her own favorite childhood expressions: Duh. He had been expecting this line of inquiry.
"How else would I pick you up?" he said.
"I figured you'd call a taxi!"
"Dave had a fare. Round-trip to Portland. I couldn't very well ask him to turn it down, not in the off-season. Business is slow."
"Oh, is it?" She shook her head with disapproval that was affectionate but sincere. "So this isn't about you being stubborn and proud?"
"They make a great pumpkin pie at the Grill," he said. "How's that sound?"
She reached for his chin, and with a mixture of tenderness and reproof picked the bit of Kleenex from his shaving cut.
"Why didn't you call a Bangor cab?" she said, having inherited the full genetic complement of Wiseman stubbornness, if not pride.
"A Bangor cab!" he said, sincerely horrified by the notion. "Those guys only take Route One! We 'd be stuck in mill traffic for hours, this time of day."
By now they had reached the car, a Volvo DL wagon that for twenty-three years, in the summertime, over breaks and sabbaticals, had ferried first Jack and his wife, then Jack alone, from New York City to Maine and back again. He wondered if it was worth leaving the blue behemoth to Natalie. Like all his possessionslike everything that chance or fate had ever entrusted to his carehe had kept the car in impeccable order. Properly maintained, it might run for years to come. But Natalie might not care to pay the steep New York parking fees. She might, once he was gone, never again care to make the long drive to Red Hook, Maine. And though she was, and would always be, his tzatzkeleh, his little treasure, his love for her was as free of illusion as it was of reservation. There was little evidence in the way that she had recently conducted her life to suggest that she knew how to maintain anything at all.
Excerpted from Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman. Copyright © 2014 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. 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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