When Saffron was eight, and had at last learned to read, she hunted slowly through the color chart pinned up on the kitchen wall.
It was a painter's color chart, from an artists' materials shop. It showed all the colors a painter could ever need. There were rows and rows of little squares, each a different shade of red or blue or green or golden yellow. Every little square had the name of the color underneath. To the Casson children those names were as familiar as nursery rhymes. Other families had lullabies, but the Cassons had fallen asleep to lists of colors.
Saffron found Indigo almost at once, a smoky dark blue on the bottom row of the chart. Indigo was two years younger than Saffron. His name suited him exactly.
"If there is one thing your mother was good at," Bill Casson, the children's father, would say, "it was choosing names for you children!"
Eve, the children's mother, would always look pleased. She never protested that there might be more than one thing that she was good at, because she never thought there was.
Indigo was a thin, dark-haired little boy with anxious indigo-colored eyes. He had a list in his head of things that did not matter (such as school), and another list of things that did. High on Indigo's list of things that mattered was his pack. That was how he thought of his sisters. His pack.
Saffron was the middle one of the pack.
Saffron had to climb onto a stool to see the color chart properly. The stool had a top of woven string that was coming unwoven, and its legs rocked on the irregular tiles of the kitchen floor.
"I can't find me," she grumbled to Indigo, wobbling on the stool. "I can't find Saffron written anywhere."
"What about the rest of us?" asked Indigo, not looking up. "What about the baby?"
Indigo was crouched on the hearth rug, sorting through the coal bucket. Pieces of coal lay all around. Sometimes he found lumps speckled with what he believed to be gold. He looked like a small black devil in the shadowy room with the firelight behind him.
"Come and help me look for Saffron!" pleaded Saffron.
"Find the baby first," said Indigo.
Indigo did not like the baby to be left out of anything that was going on. This was because for a long time after she was born, it had seemed she would be left out of everything, and forever. She had very nearly eluded his pack. She had very nearly died. Now she was safe and easy to find, third row up at the end of the pinks. Rose. Permanent Rose.
Rose was screaming because the health visitor had arrived to look at her. She had turned up unexpectedly, from beyond the black, rainy windows, and picked up Rose with her strong, cold hands, and so Rose was screaming.
"Make Rose shut up!" shouted Saffron from her stool. "I'm trying to read!"
"Saffron reads anything now!" the children's mother told the health visitor proudly.
"Very nice!" the health visitor replied, and Saffron looked pleased for a moment, but then stopped when the health visitor added that both her twins had been fluent readers at four years old and had gone right through their elementary school library by the age of six.
Saffron glanced across to Caddy, the eldest of the Casson children, to see if this could possibly be true. Caddy, aged thirteen, was absorbed in painting the soles of her hamster's feet, but she felt Saffron's unhappiness and gave her a quick, comforting smile. Since Rose's arrival the Casson family had heard an awful lot about the health visitor's multitalented twins. They were in Caddy's class at school. There were a number of rude and true things that Caddy might have said about them, but being Caddy, she kept them to herself. Her smile was enough.
Caddy appeared over and over on the color chart, all along the top row. Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Deep Yellow, Cadmium Scarlet, and Cadmium Gold.
Copyright © 2001 by Hilary McKay
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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