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A PLACE OF LIGHT / Mary Bush //T A THEN ROBERT'S CAR BROKE DOWN the second time, he V V said, "You kids stay out of my hair. Go across that ditch to those weeds." Ma leaned her head against the window and looked out. She wasn't crying. "You, Injun," he said to me. "Take the blanket and get." Naomi followed me through the tall weeds. We could hear him swearing back there. Already we were getting bit up. We peed, then we spread the blanket and sat down. We heard him swear and bang on the car, and Ma told him to go find help, there was nothing else he could do by himself. Naomi lay down on her side, her back to me. I thought about the way she slept in the night, with her fists clenched and her eyes squeezed shut. I said her name, but she didn't answer. She was the oldest and had always been the boss. You'd never know it now. I think Naomi stopped talking somewhere in West Virginia, when she realized we weren't going back. Now we were across the border into Alabama. Heading for Pasadena, he said. She hated him, maybe more than I did. It was okay the year he went away. Ma didn't even mention his name. She took his picture off her dresser and laid it face down in the drawer, under her stockings. Then he came back, just like that, and the picture went up again. He started right in. "Why'd you let him?" I asked Ma. "I don't know," was all she said. "If he hits me once—"I told her. She looked down at her hands. "He's not going to hit you," she said. "Or you," I said. She shook her head, still looking down at her hands. Once, I heard her say she used to love him. "He was so good to me after their daddy died," she said. She wasn't talking to me, though. I remember when Robert came to live with us, after our father died. I remember, too, the story Ma would tell about when I was born, how I looked so dark—red-skinned and with lots of black hair—that she thought they had given her the wrong baby. "She looked just like an Indian," she said. Robert heard that story, and he started caUing me "Injun" and saying how someday he would find an Indian family to send me back to, where I belonged. Ma heard him talk like that to me. No matter how bad things got with Robert, though, Ma said what she felt Hke to him. Sometimes he'd slap her for it, sometimes he didn't do anything. You never knew when it was coming. He'd gone after us just once and Ma lit into him, fists and all. Then afterwards, because we 266 ·" The Missouri Review were scared and crying, she came into our room. She stood in the doorway, like a caught animal. She held onto the door frame with both hands. "It's aU right," she told us from where she stood. "You'll be all right," she said. She didn't come any closer. Now Robert was going to Pasadena to work because he knew somebody there. Really he was going to get away from "trouble"—all the people he owed money to. "Mean son of a bitches," he called them. "Just Jove to kick a man when he's down." He made Ma buy the car with the fifty doUars he gave her, and he put some old plates on it that he found somewhere. Ma wanted to get to Pasadena as much as he did. She had a cousin who lived nearby in Beaumont, and an aunt, too, and maybe they could help us. She didn't tell Robert about the cousin and the aunt. "You thirsty?" I said to Naomi. "Uh-uh." Something skittered through the grass, and I jumped, held still, Ustened. I heard more sounds: bugs, birds, animals, the breeze through the grass. The afternoon sun beat down. A nearby tree gave some shade. I...