Larose, p.4
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       LaRose, p.4
 

           Louise Erdrich

  Picking up the red gas can, he gave a jaunty, irritating hand salute and stepped into the road that would take him back to his car and empty tank.

  Give my regards to Emmaline, he yelled over his shoulder.

  Landreaux gave him a sharp sidelong glance, put the mozzarella sticks on the hood of his car. As he got in, the way Romeo had saluted started him remembering. There was plenty to recall, but the knife Romeo had stuck in his forearm, then his bicep, left a visible scar. Amazing that in his sleep Landreaux had rolled over and reached up to scratch his nose as Romeo struck. Wandering back in thought, Landreaux forgot the carton on top of his car and drove by Romeo, who was filling his tank with the siphoned gas. As Landreaux rounded the corner, the mozzarella sticks flew off the roof at such an angle that they slid onto the hood of Romeo’s car. When his tank was no longer empty, Romeo reached for the box, took out a mozzarella stick. He took only one bite—they had gone cool and rubbery already. He drove to the Hot Bar and complained.

  I’ll heat them up for you, said the girl behind the counter.

  I’d rather get my money back, said Romeo.

  AFTER THE FIRST weeks, LaRose tried to stop crying, around Nola at least. Maggie told him the facts again, why he was there. His parents had told him, but he still didn’t get it. He had to hear it again and again.

  You don’t even know what dead means, said Maggie.

  You don’t move, said LaRose.

  You don’t breathe, said Maggie.

  Breathing’s moving!

  Here, said Maggie, let’s go outside and I’ll kill something to show you.

  What would you kill?

  They looked out the window.

  That dog, said Maggie, pointing.

  It was at the edge of the yard, just lazing in the sun. It was the dog LaRose’s family fed. He didn’t say that he recognized it, but he did say, You must be mean. Nobody just goes and kills a dog for nothing.

  Your dad went and killed my brother for nothing, said Maggie.

  On accident.

  Same difference, said Maggie.

  LaRose got tears in his eyes and then Maggie did too. She was overcome by a restless wretchedness. Dusty had come to her in a dream and showed her a stuffed dog that looked, she now remembered, just like that orange dog out there. She turned back to check on the dog, but it was gone. She had a thought. She could get something from LaRose. Get him to help her.

  Okay, little dork.

  Don’t call me that.

  I won’t call you dork if you change my mom from evil, like she is now, into nice. If you can do that? I think they would make a TV show about you.

  What should I do?

  To make her nice?

  LaRose nodded. Maggie told him to ask if she needed a foot rub, but LaRose looked confused.

  Do anything she tells you to do, Maggie directed. And eat her cakes. Also, hugs.

  LaRose waited for Nola to tell him to do something. Later on that day, Nola said that LaRose should call her, Nola, mother.

  Okay, Mother.

  Give me a hug?

  He did that too.

  Nola smoothed back his hair, looked into his eyes, and her face ballooned up and went red, like she might roar.

  What’s your favorite food? she asked.

  Cake?

  She said she would make him lots of cakes. When LaRose put his arms around her neck he could feel her bones jutting up under her skin.

  You’re boney, he said to Nola.

  You can feel my skeleton, Nola said.

  Are you a Halloween lady? he asked carefully.

  No, she said, I’m not. My mother was a witch. I don’t want to be my mother.

  LaRose laid his head on her chest to make sure her heart was beating. Her collarbone jutted against his temple.

  Boney, he thought. She’s boney. He’d heard his father tease his mother. You’re getting boney! He’d heard his grandmother say this about his sister Snow. You don’t want to be so boney, like your mother.

  He’d landed in a world of boney women. Even Maggie was boney with her gangly legs. He hadn’t said it, though. Nor had he said that Maggie called her mother evil. Something stopped him. He didn’t know why he just didn’t say everything in his mind anymore. It was like his mouth had a little strainer that only let through pleasant words.

  LAROSE SAW HIS real mother in the grocery store. He ran to Emmaline and they melted together. Romeo happened to witness this incident. He stood in the meat-case radiance, swaying, clasped his basket to his chest. Across his face there passed an expression that did not belong to the dangerous scumbag he considered himself now. Romeo caught himself, narrowed his eyes, and pretended to examine the tubes of cheap hamburger.

  It was good that LaRose was with Peter, who didn’t interfere. For a while Emmaline held on to her child, smelling his hair. She looked at Peter, and when he nodded she let LaRose hang on to the cart for a ride. She walked the store with him, talking. It was like being heart-dead and then heart-alive, but she couldn’t shop forever. Peter helped her carry groceries out and then she brought LaRose to the Ravich car. LaRose got in without crying, buckled himself into the backseat. His wordless bravery choked her. As they drove away, he waved at Emmaline. He seemed to float from her on a raft of frail sticks. Or was that a dream? Every morning, she floated to consciousness on that same disintegrating raft. Many times each day, she questioned what they had done.

  After seeing LaRose, she couldn’t go home. She thought that she might see her mother, but instead found that she was drawn to the church. She then thought that she might pray there, for peace. But instead she walked around back of the church. She thought that she might find Father Travis, but he wasn’t in any of the church offices or at the rectory—a simple boxy house. She started to feel uncomfortable, tracking him down this way. Then she saw him at a distance, working a little Bobcat by the lake, building a walkway. He was wearing a droopy brown stocking hat pulled down behind his ears. The hat made his ears stick out. It should have made him look ridiculous. But it was hard to make Father Travis look ridiculous. He had wind-toughened skin, lightly freckled, the classic red-blond’s sun-shy complexion. His cheekbones were planar, almost brutal, and he had a chiseled movie-star chin. Just as his looks had begun to grate on people, he’d gotten older, which made him easier to bear. Also, scars flamed down his throat. Father Travis’s eyes could be warm if he smiled, the lines around them starred pleasantly outward. His eyes could also go the other way—somber, colorless, maybe dangerous—but of course he was no longer an earthly soldier.

  He shut the Cat down when he saw Emmaline and got off. She was used to seeing him in a cassock. Father Travis wore cassocks most of the time because he liked the convenience. He could put them on over T-shirts and work pants. The old people liked to see him in one, and after The Matrix the young people liked it too. But right now he wore old jeans, plaid flannel shirt, a brown canvas jacket.

  Emmaline smiled at him, surprised.

  He glanced around the yards, checking to see if anybody was watching. It was that—the checking—he thought later, that gave it all away. His heart was hidden from his thoughts for days, until he remembered glancing over Emmaline’s shoulder to make sure no one was watching.

  They shoved their hands in their pockets and walked the fitness trail that he was making through the woods. They passed the push-up rail, the chin-up bar, before she could say anything.

  I didn’t want to give LaRose to them, she said.

  Why did you?

  The sun glowing in green lake water on a bright day—her eyes were that color.

  It seemed the only way, she said. She’s my sister, after all. I thought she would let me see him, spend time. But no. So I want him back. I just saw him. He’s going to think that I don’t love him.

  Father Travis was still surprised by what they had done. He thought back to their visit just after Landreaux was released—they had wanted to tell him something. He had heard of these types of adoptions in
years past, when disease or killings broke some families, left others whole. It was an old form of justice. It was a story, and stories got to him. A story was the reason he had become a priest, and a story was why he’d not yet walked off the job. In the evenings, between action movies, Father Travis parsed out the New Testament.

  Mary gave her child to the world, he almost said, looking at Emmaline. It all made sense for she was wearing a sky blue parka. The hood was missing the fur band, so it capped her head in a way that reminded him of pictures of the Blessed Virgin. Her hair, parted in the middle, flowed back under the blue material in smooth wings.

  You tried to do a good thing, said Father Travis. LaRose will understand that. He will come back to you.

  Emmaline stopped and looked closely at him.

  You sure?

  I’m sure, he said, then couldn’t help himself. Neither life, nor angels, nor principalities nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, not height, nor depth, nor any other creature will separate you.

  Emmaline looked at him like he was crazy.

  It’s a Bible quote.

  He looked down at the scraped path. Quoting Romans like a pompous ass . . .

  LaRose is young, she said, her hungry eyes blurring. They forget if you’re not with them every day.

  Nobody could forget you, thought Father Travis. The blurted thought unnerved him; he made himself speak sensibly.

  Look, you can retrieve LaRose at any time. Just say you want him back. Peter and Nola have to listen. If not, you can go to Social Services. You are his mother.

  Social Services, she said. Huh. Ever heard of rez omerta?

  Father Travis abruptly laughed.

  Besides, I am Social Services. The crisis school is all a social service. I’d have to get in touch with myself.

  What’s wrong with that? said Father Travis.

  She shook her head, looked away as she spoke.

  You mean I didn’t see it coming? Didn’t know it would be this difficult? Can’t understand why this is unbearable when there is history and tradition, all that, behind what we did?

  She rubbed her face with her hands as if to erase something else.

  Yes, I wasn’t exactly in touch with myself. Also, there’s Nola. She gets mad at Maggie, I think. What if she treats LaRose that way?

  Father Travis was silent. He still heard individual confessions and knew about Nola’s temper.

  As they walked back to her car, a sensation he didn’t recognize kept him from offering the usual offhand comment, to seal things off. He stayed silent because he didn’t want to ruin the confiding way she had spoken to him. Emmaline got in the car. Then she pulled her hood back and rolled down her window. She looked up into his face. Her longing for her son was so naked that he seemed to feel it pressing into him. He closed his eyes.

  When his eyes were shut, Emmaline saw, he was an ordinary man with weather-raked skin and chapped lips.

  She looked away and started up the car. Her tragic thoughts shifted as she drove off, and she remembered laughing until her stomach cramped as Josette and Snow discussed the priest.

  He can’t help his eyes, one of them said.

  His sex-toy-robot eyes.

  Josette and Snow had a thing about male robot/cyborg movie characters. They had an ancient Radio Shack VCR-TV in their room, and picked up old movies for it at yard sales and discount bins. Their collection included Westworld, RoboCop, The Black Hole. They rifled through video sale bins hoping for their favorite, Blade Runner. They’d made drawings of robots and cyborgs—smooth, perfect, doomed for feeling something, maybe like Father Travis.

  He’s got replicant eyes!

  No shit, Father Travis could be a replicant. Batty!

  I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, they intoned together. Attack ships off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.

  Their voices dropped to exhausted rasps.

  All those moments will be lost in time. Like tears in rain. Time to die.

  They lolled their heads over and Emmaline had cried out, Quit this! She frowned now. Like any mother, it made her uneasy to see her children feign death.

  The Iron girls. Snow, Josette. The Iron Maidens. They were junior high volleyball queens, sister BFFs, heart-soul confidantes to each other and advice givers to their brothers. They were tight with their mom, loose with their dad. With their grandma they got bead-happy and could sew for hours. Snow was going to be the tall, intense one who had trouble concentrating on her schoolwork and whom boys only liked as a friend. She was in eighth grade. Josette was going to be the smart one who despaired about her weight but magnetized clumsy desire among boys whom she liked only as friends. She was in grade seven.

  Landreaux dropped his daughters in Hoopdance to shop and drove back to take Ottie to dialysis. The girls went straight to the one drugstore. They walked in with a puff of snowy cold. A store clerk with flat dyed red hair and glasses on a chain asked if she could help them.

  No thanks, said Josette, and you don’t need to follow us around either. We have money and we’re not going to steal.

  The woman pulled her chin down into her neck and kept this odd posture as she turned away and walked to the cash register.

  You didn’t have to say that, said Snow.

  Maybe I’m too defensive, said Josette, fake-meek. Attached to the drugstore was a gift shop full of decorative flowers and knickknacks, which their mother did not like. But they did. They went through and admired all the ceramic snow babies, the glitter fronds, the stones cut with words. Dream. Love. Live.

  Why not Throw? said Josette. How come they don’t have one that just says, Throw?

  You don’t get inspiration, do you, said Snow.

  That’s not inspiration, that’s mawkish.

  Ooooo! Snow licked her finger and made a mark in the air. Vocab word.

  They went back to the other section. There was a small selection of windshield scrapers and emergency flashlights, maybe for their dad.

  Better things at the hardware store, said Josette.

  Let’s test perfumes for Mom.

  No, lotion.

  You get that. I’ll get perfume.

  All of the good perfumes were locked up under the glass counter with the eyeglass lady’s hands resting on it.

  Shit, now we’ll have to deal with her, said Josette.

  I’m the good one, said Snow. I’ll do the talking.

  Josette rolled her eyes and made an oops face.

  Snow walked up to the clerk and smiled. How are you today? Snow used a bright inflection. We’re looking for a really nice Christmas present for our mother. Our mom is so special. Snow sighed. She works so hard! What do you suggest?

  The woman’s stabbing glare bounced off Josette, who was bent over the glass, scanning. The woman’s hand hovered among the jewel-bright boxes, spray bottles, and plucked up a tester of Jean Naté.

  Too white-bread, said Josette.

  Snow pointed at Jovan Musk.

  That doesn’t smell like Mom. She’s more, I don’t know, clear.

  Maybe Charlie, or Blue Jeans?

  So casual, though.

  They meditated, frowning, on the array.

  I wanna get something special. I have my job money, said Snow to the counter lady. Maybe something from a designer or movie star.

  The woman displayed a box. White Diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor.

  America’s number one fragrance, said the woman, reverent.

  Who’s Elizabeth Taylor? asked Josette.

  Duh, Cleopatra?

  They’d both pondered the cover of the VHS at the video rental.

  Plus friends with Michael Jackson?

  Oh yeah. Josette sniffed the spray nozzle. Fancy. I like this.

  Enjoli, in a hot-pink box, decorated with an embossed golden flower.

  But Mom’s not this spicy. I mean, she smells good.

  It would clash with Dad’s Old Spice.

  So wou
ld the Wild Musk?

  Maybe Wind Song.

  Grandma wears that.

  The woman behind the counter brought out an elegant box hiding behind the others. It was a lavendery pinkish box, one of those expensive indeterminate colors. A blackish gray band. The bottle fit firmly in hand, a band of embossed diamond shapes, neatly swirled glass. Eau Sauvage. The woman sprayed a little on a Kleenex, waved the tissue in front of their noses. Waited. The smell was green and dry. Faintly licorice. Maybe a hint of cloud. A trace of fresh-cut wood? Crushed grass. A rare herb in a rare forest. Nothing dark, nothing hungry. Something else, too.

  Most people think this one smells too plain, the lady said. It’s not like any other perfume. Nobody buys it. We only have this one bottle.

  Snow watched Josette, her eyes wide. Josette breathed the scent in again.

  I wish things could be that way, said Snow.

  So pure, said Josette, putting down the bottle. Must be pricey.

  It’s a bit expensive, yes, said the woman. She seemed embarrassed by the amount. I just work here. It’s not my store, she said.

  Yeah, said Snow. It’s kinda too much. I was saving. But, well.

  It can be for a man or a woman. Eww Savage.

  Eau Sauvage, said Josette, with an exaggerated French accent. We gotta have it. She turned to Snow, eyes sparking.

  Smell!

  This is it, said Snow.

  Josette had an old-lady-type money pouch hidden deep in her purse. She took it out. Snow hugged her passionately.

  Then right there, in front of the counterwoman, they began to cry because they both knew: the trace was there. The cologne also smelled like LaRose’s clean hair on a cold autumn day when he came in and Emmaline would bend over him.

  Oh, you smell good, she used to say. You smell like outside.

  Leaving the drugstore, Josette and Snow talked about the outside smell and decided they were psychic with each other like in a witch coven.

  Or maybe our people had these powers before the whiteman came.

  Yeah, said Snow, and we lived five hundred years.

  I actually heard someone say that.

  Me too. And we could change the weather.

  I believe that one.

  Great, said Snow. Let’s do it now.

 
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