She could feel the wreck underneath her, on the seabed below.
It smelled, even now, even after lying under the ice for a hundred and sixty years, like man. The wooden and iron bulk had left its insoluble human mark--this sense of unrightness, a kind of dislocation in the frequencies. The echo touched the animal above. She paused, balanced on her hindquarters, swaying, seven feet high at the shoulder, her immense forepaws extended in front of her.
Then she dropped down to all fours, and turned.
She turned back toward the cub, scenting--rather than seeing--him in the blizzard. As she drew level with him, she dropped to the ground and wound her body around him, pushing him gently into her shoulder, until she felt his faint warm breath against her.
It had begun in April, in the spring.
Easter Saturday was sunny, the first warm day of the year. All through Victoria Park the cherry trees were in flower, and the hornbeam were coming into leaf, and there was that first iridescent promise of summer showing in the dusty haze of the city.
When she thought about it now, Jo would see herself in that same café on the corner of Bartlett Street, Gina leafing through the newspaper at her side. And she would link those two: the cherry trees and the newspaper. The first day that she ever really gave more than a passing thought to Douglas Marshall.
She was twenty-six years old and had been writing for The Courier for four years, where Gina was her editor. From time to time Gina took it upon herself to see that Jo's life ran a more ordered, less frantic pattern, and it was this concern that had found Jo, at midday on Good Friday, bundled into Gina's battered blue Citroën.
"It'll do you good to get out of London," Gina had told her, on the way to Bath down the M4. "You can't have another weekend cooped up in that flat."
"I am not cooped up," Jo had objected. "I like it," she added, defending the three rooms she could barely be described as living in. Most of her possessions were still in boxes six months after moving there. The cupboard was very often, as in the nursery rhyme, bare. She lived on milk and cheese biscuits, from what Gina could make out.
"You want to take care of yourself."
A roll of the eyes from Jo. "Gina. I do."
Gina glanced over again at Jo's profile and saw a stubborn little grimace of independence.
Whenever people met Jo, they would most commonly screw up their faces, trying to dredge a name to fit the face. "Don't I know you?" was the commonest opening gambit.
Jo's photograph on the top of The Courier's guest column pictured her sitting on a scattering of books and newsprint. The image had been taken from above so that, laughing, she was shown marooned in a little sea of paper, her head turned slightly away, so that sunlight slanted across her face and apparently naked shoulders.
If Gina herself had a characteristic expression, it was a sardonic smile below her rounded, you-don't-say eyes. Somewhere back along the line, Gina was both Indian and Spanish, a mixed heritage from a Jamaican port that the tourists didn't see. Her parents had come to England in the fifties. Gina's father was an engineer, her mother a nurse, and between them they had produced five lusty, forthright, hard-to-ignore children, of which Gina was the youngest. Gina had propelled herself to features editor at The Courier by the time that Jo was taken on as a freelance, a babe-in-arms of twenty-two.
Perhaps it was Jo's sheer outlandishness that pleased her friend; the complete refusal to be deterred. Jo's career had been checkered, to say the least. She had dumped university in favor of following a radical student theater group on tour, and had found her way into journalism by gate-crashing the rock-classics concert of Excelsis at the Edinburgh Festival. She had been spotted there by a morning TV show and hired to present their entertainment slot--and by this route, single minded and outspoken, she had arrived at Gina's desk one morning.
Copyright 2001, Elizabeth McGregor. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - Dutton Books.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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