"Jesus, talk about making a mountain out of a whatever," Bobby had said, reaching to lift the child and never even noticing the way in which the small bony shoulders flinched, like the wings of a bird preparing to fly, to flee.
"We're going on a trip," I'd told Robert that morning.
"Where?" he'd said.
"It's kind of a surprise."
"Is Daddy coming?"
Not if we're lucky, a voice in my head had said, but out loud I'd replied, "He has to work."
Robert's face had gone dead, that way it does sometimes, particularly the morning after a bad night, a night when Bobby and I have gotten loud. "Is that why you're wearing glasses?" he said. "Sort of, yeah." "They look funny."
In the station he looked up from his video game and stared at me as though he was trying to figure out who I was, with the strange hair, the glasses, the long floaty dress. The ninjas were all dead. He had won.
His eyes were bright. "Tell me where we're going," he said again.
"I will," I said, as though I knew. "In a little while."
"Can I get gum?"
Around the perimeter of the station were small shops and kiosks: cheap jewelry, fast food, newspapers, books: the moneychangers in the temple. The voice of the train announcer was vaguely English; there was a stately air to the enterprise, unlike the shabby overlit corridors of the airports. No planes, Patty Bancroft told me when we first talked on the phone two weeks before. Plane trips are too easy to trace. The women she helped never flew away; they were not birds but crawling creatures, supplicants, beaten down. Trains, buses, cars. And secrecy.
When I'd first met Patty Bancroft, when she'd come to the hospital where I worked, she'd said that she had hundreds of volunteers all over the country. She said her people knew one another only as voices over the telephone and had in common only that for reasons of their own they had wanted to help women escape the men who hurt them, to give those women new lives in new places, to help them lose themselves, start over in the great expansive anonymous sameness of America.
"What about men who are beaten by their wives?" one of the young doctors at the hospital had asked that day. "Don't make me laugh," Patty Bancroft had said wearily, dismissively. She'd given me her card that day, in case I ever treated a woman in the emergency room who needed more than sutures and ice packs, needed to escape, to disappear, to save her life by getting gone for good. "Nurses are one of my greatest sources of referral," she'd said, clasping my hand, looking seriously into my eyes. It was the most chaste business card I'd ever seen, her name and a telephone number. No title, no address, just a handful of lonely black characters. I put the card in my locker at the hospital. I must have picked it up a hundred times until, six months later, I called the number. She remembered me right away.
"Tell me about this patient," Patty Bancroft had said. "It's me," I said, and my voice had faltered, fell into a hiss, a whisper of shame. "It's me." "Where are we going?" I had asked her when we spoke on the phone two days before the man in the Volare had picked us up at a subway stop in upper Manhattan, two weeks after Bobby had beaten me for the last time.
My voice was strange and stiff; my nose and jaw had begun to heal, so that if I didn't move my mouth too much the pain was no more than a soft throb at the center of my face.
"You'll know when you get there," Patty Bancroft said. "I'm not going away without knowing where I'm going," I said.
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
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