The statue was taller than our little house down the block from the bay in Brooklyn, taller than my in-law's house or the last building where I'd lived with my parents, the one in Bensonhurst, where, in the crowded little bedroom, I'd dressed in my wedding gown, snagging the hem of my train on a popped nail in the scuffed floorboards. The sheer heroic thrust of the station made me feel tiny, almost invisible, almost safe, except that my eyes wandered constantly from the double glass doors to the street at one end to the double glass doors to the street at the other. Waiting, watching, waiting for Bobby to come through the doors, his hands clenched in his pants pockets, his face the dusky color that flooded it whenever he was angry about anything, which was lots of the time. I'd been waiting for Bobby to come through doors most of my life, waiting and watching to gauge his mood and so my own.
A finger of sweat traced my spine and slid into the cleft where my underpants began. The cotton at my crotch was wet, summer sweat and fear. I'd been afraid so many times that I thought I knew exactly what it felt like, but this was something different altogether, like the difference between water and ice. Ice in my belly, in my chest, beneath my breasts, between my eyes, as though I'd gulped down a lemonade too quickly in the heat. "Brain freeze," Robert and his friends called it when it happened to them, and they'd reel around the kitchen, holding their heads.
"Wait on the bench by the coffee kiosk," the man had said. He had driven us from New York to Philadelphia in total silence, like a well-trained chauffeur. As we got out of the old Plymouth Volare in front of the train station, he had leaned across the front seat, looking up at me through the open passenger door. He had smelled like English Leather, which Bobby had worn when we were both young, before we were married. Bobby had worn it that time when I was nineteen, the first time. Or twenty. I guess it was right, Bobby's voice in my head; I guess I'd just turned twenty, that first time. Maybe he was testing me then, to see how much I could take. Maybe he did that every time, until finally he had decided that I would take anything. Anything at all.
"What?" Robert had said, looking up at me as the man in the Volare drove away to wherever he came from, whoever he was. "What did he say? Where are we going now? Where are we going?"
And there was the coffee kiosk, and here was the bench, and here we were, my ten-year-old son and I, waiting for--what? Waiting to escape, to get gone, to disappear so that Bobby could never find us. I think Robert knew everything when he saw me that morning, cutting my hair in the medicine-cabinet mirror, whispering on the phone, taking off the bandages and throwing them in the trash, putting all the recent photographs in an envelope and addressing it to my sister, Grace, so that Bobby wouldn't have good pictures to show people when he started to search for us. "Where are we going?" Robert had asked. "On a trip," I'd replied. If Robert had been an ordinary ten-year-old he would have cajoled and whined, asked and asked and asked until I snapped at him to keep quiet. But he'd never been ordinary. For as long as either of us could remember, he'd been a boy with a secret, and he'd kept it well. He had to have heard the sound of the slaps, the thump of the punches, the birdcall of my sobs as I taped myself up, swabbed myself off, put my pieces back together again. He'd seen my bruises after the fact; he'd heard the sharp intakes of breath when he hugged too hard in places I was hurt. But he looked away, the way he knew we both wanted him to, my husband for his reasons, me for mine.
Use of this excerpt from Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Anna Quindlen. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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