(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-23 in earlier Blogs )
John saw the van approaching and wondered what they were after. When Maddie came towards him he put down the sack he was lugging to the car.
“Hey. What can I do for you?” he asked.
“I was wondering if you guys would have some space to give me a ride home?” she asked.
“Sure. We can do that. I hope it’s not a problem, but we got a couple more hours here,” he said, indicating his plots.
“That’s what I was hoping for,” she smiled. Edgar was laying on the horn. “See ya,” she yelled over her shoulder and jogged back to the van.
As he watched her go he could hardly believe his luck. All day long he had been eyeing her in the distance, wanting to get a little closer. And now she was going to be riding all the way to Madison with them. Sometimes prayers got answered.
He began to think that he wouldn’t stay until sundown this time. Not if she appeared to be done earlier. He’d wrap it up in an hour or two and then stop at the Paul Bunyan roadhouse on the way back for some dinner. He smiled to himself, as much in anticipation of the mashed potatoes and gravy as of the company he was going to keep.
“Oh good, I’m starving!” she said, when he told her they were going to stop for dinner.
Driving the car, with her sitting beside him, John decided knowing was better than not knowing. He screwed up his courage and ventured a question about Craig Berry.
“The guy I brought to the party? Oh, yeah, he’s doing really well. I saw him just the other night.”
“Oh? Where?” John knew the question was too obvious.
“At a Black Caucus meeting,” she answered.
“What’s that?” A meeting sounded harmless enough.
Maddie was puzzled at his interest. Aside from Lisa, she had barely shared with anyone in the department her other life, those aspects dealing with members of her own race. She answered his questions concisely. But to every one-syllable answer she gave, he had another question, and by the end of forty-five minutes she had poured out every aspect of the Black Caucus’ work, what they were up against and their dire need for tutors for the undergraduate students.
John was pensive for a while then said, “Why don’t you make an appeal at the journal club and see if you can recruit some people?”
“I…I don’t know,” she hesitated.
“Really! You ought to do it” he said, “I bet there’s a bunch of people who’d like to help, but who don’t know about the need.”
“Yep! Look, the first meeting’s on Thursday. Why don’t you come? I’ll give you some time to make your case.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment. “I’ll put you on the agenda.”
“All right, what do I have to lose, huh?”
But she fell silent. She would be calling attention to herself, by explaining the needs of black students, and by identifying herself with them. In a way, she had been trying, for the past year, not to be race-labeled, to be simply viewed as another graduate student, one who didn’t expect any special treatment. She would now be identified as having a black agenda, and from then on it would be difficult to have anyone look at her with impartiality. But it seemed she must give up her anonymity, in order to get the needed help.
You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, she thought.
“Here we are.” John was waking up the crew as he pulled into the busy parking lot of the truck stop. The giant figure of Paul Bunyan looming atop the building, the lights shining from inside the curtained windows, and the smell of food wafting through the air, were so inviting, Maddie’s stomach turned over. When John held the door for her to enter and then pulled out her chair, though, she suddenly realized she was a lone black woman sitting at a table with five men. There were looks from truckers seated as far away as the counter. From then on, she didn’t participate much in the banter which Pete and Dave were trying to keep going, and which John was trying to lighten up.
John noticed that during dinner she talked mostly to Lao Chu, asking him about his wife and little daughter, who were back in China. Although he was seated beside her and heard the conversation, he did not feel included. He realized Maddie was different one-to-one with him, than in a large group. Even though he would have liked more of her attention, he didn’t take it personally. He simply enjoyed being near her, noticing what she ordered and the dainty way she cut her meat. She buttered her roll one piece at a time, with high finesse, but then spoiled the effect by using it to wipe up the gravy from her plate. There was nothing dainty about her appetite. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy her food.
“Ooh, this gravy is so-o good,” she said, to no one in particular.
When she finished her roll she looked at John’s uneaten roll.
“You gonna eat that?” she asked.
Something rippled in his stomach. “You can have it,” he smiled.
She flashed a smile. He watched surreptitiously, as she ripped the roll into pieces. The fact that it was his roll she was demolishing felt like a familiarity. But he shook himself slightly when he realized where his thoughts were leading. She certainly had meant nothing by it. Something in his mind insisted though. It was his roll she had asked for and not somebody else’s. Pathetic, man. You’re pathetic.
GLOBAL BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION!
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QUESTION 24: Maddie’s racial self-dialogue: good or bad?
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