All those times me and Skip tried to kill his little brother, Donny, were just for fun. I keep telling the deputies this, and they keep picking up their Styrofoam cups of coffee and walking away only to return a few seconds later and heave their fat butt cheeks onto the metal-topped table in front of me and flash me sad, weary stares that would be almost tender if they weren't filled with so much hatred. They tell me they don't care about Skip and Donny. They're not interested in stuff I did when I was a kid. I'm twenty years old now. I will be TRIED AS AN ADULT. The words come out of their mouths in Skoal-flavored capital letters and hover against the fluorescent glare of the room. I reach out to touch them but before I can, they melt away again and one of the deputies slaps down my hands stained the color of a dead rose. They won't let me wash them.
They want to know about the woman. I laugh. Which woman? My life is lousy with women. All ages, shapes, sizes, and levels of purity.
"The dead woman in the abandoned mining office behind the railroad tracks," one of them says, making a face like he might puke.
I close my eyes and picture it. The roof with gaping holes. The rotting floorboards scattered with broken window glass, rusted screws and bolts, and pieces of flattened iron that used to be part of something bigger a long time ago. When I finally took her there, she didn't ask me to sweep it out. She said she didn't want to change anything about it because she knew it was a special place for me. She said she loved the calm of decay and desertion that reigned there. She liked art and sometimes the way she talked sounded like a painting.
Rage starts building inside me, nicely and neatly, like a perfect pyramid of sticks being piled up for a fire. My hands start shaking, and I sit on them so the police won't see.
"Me and Skip used the mining office for our secret hideout," I answer, smiling, while the blaze roars to life inside me. Soon I will be nothing but a black skeleton of ash that the slightest touch will cause to crumble. But no one on the outside will know.
The deputies shake their heads and groan and snort at the mention of Skip. One of them kicks a folding chair across the room. Another one says, "The kid's in shock." The other one says, "We're not going to get anything RELEVANT or COHERENT out of him tonight." I reach for those words too and this time I get the side of my head smacked instead of my sticky hands.
"You better start talking," the sheriff says, pausing to spit a brown bullet of chew into an empty coffee can before adding, "son," to his suggestion.
He's the only one here I know. I remember him from my mom's trial two years ago. He testified that she gave herself up willingly after shooting my dad. He smells like a wet couch.
I do start talking but all that comes out is the same stuff about me and Skip again, how we used to spend hours in the old mining office eating bologna sandwiches and hatching our plans against Donny. We called it secret even though Donny knew where we were. It was secret because he couldn't get to it. He was too little to make it up the hill and through the vicious undergrowth surrounding the place like nature's barbed wire.
We came up with some great ones. Once we bent down a birch sapling and anchored it to the ground with a tent stake and tied a rope loop to it, then lured Donny into the middle with a shiny foil-wrapped HoHo. The tree was supposed to break free and fling him to his death by his ankles, but we realized too late we hadn't figured out a way to make it do this, and Donny just finished the HoHo and left.
Another time we spilled a bunch of marbles on the back porch steps and yelled at him to come outside, we had a box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies for him. He came tearing out of the house but instead of slipping and falling on the marbles, he skidded to a stop and sat down and played with them.
Reprinted from Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell by permission of Viking Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Tawni O'Dell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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