I pressed the lock and the little door dropped down and smacked Pablo on his bandaged ear, which must have hurt. There was a box of tissues inside so I pulled that out and because I didn't know what to do with Pablo I tucked him into the glove box and snapped the door shut. He started yapping again and I pressed my lips to the thin seam around the door and whispered, "Go to sleep. I'll wake you when we get there." He whimpered for a moment, then settled down. I tugged out a wad of tissues and began to clean the mess out from between all the little knobs and buttons on the radio, which was hard to do because the car was jerking around in all directions, so I quit.
I let Mom settle down for a mile or two while I chewed on my fingernails before she caught me and pulled my hand from my mouth and held it tight.
"Do you want me to drive?" I asked.
"I guess you may have noticed I'm a nervous wreck?" she started. "Well, I just can't get my mind off your dad."
That's one thing I liked about him already. Her mind was on him, him, him. Usually it was on me, me, me, and I couldn't do or say anything that she didn't notice, but now I was hiding inside his shadow like a drop inside an ocean, and he got to take the blame for her bad nerves.
"You know I have mixed feelings about letting you do this," she said. She was starting to get weepy so it was my turn to settle her down.
"What if he's nice?" I guessed.
"He better be nice," she replied.
"I mean really nice?" I said. "Like when you first met him."
"He wasn't even nice then. He was just okay.
"Well, did you kiss him on the lips?"
"What do you think?" she said.
Just the thought of her kissing Dad made me silly and I began to sing, "Mom and Dad sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g."
"Stop that!" she snapped. "You're buggin' me again."
I took a breather then started up again. "Have I done something wrong?" I asked.
"No," she replied. "I just have a case of bad nerves."
"Then, why are you sending me to Dad if you don't think he's any good?"
"I'm not sending you because I like him," she replied. "I'm sending you because you might like him and because I think -- not with my heart -- that it is a good thing for you to have a relationship with your father. And now that he claims to have stopped drinking and has a job and has gone to court to get some visitation, I'm sending you to him because I think it's the right thing to do. But don't ask me how I feel about all this."
"How do you feeeeel?" I asked, and leaned forward and pressed my smiley face into her shoulder.
"Don't go there," she said. "I really don't want to feel anything about all this."
"Mom and Dad, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!" I sang again with my head bouncing as if my neck was a big spring.
"Now, Joey," Mom said, lifting one hand off the steering wheel and pushing me back to my side. "Get serious. Don't cling to the notion that me and him are going to get back together. No way is that going to happen., so just let it go and focus on your relationship with your father. You have six weeks with him. Figure out what you want from this guy before you get there. Give it some thought because he can be, you know, wired like you, only he's bigger."
Copyright © 2000 Jack Gantos
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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