As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Renee Harleston—Fiction

Embodied

Douglas was Faye’s second child. It took an entire day for him to come screaming into this world and a day before his fourth birthday he was taken from her. Just like the first baby she had, the girl. Eliot Montagne took her so fast she didn’t even have time to give her a name. They let Faye keep Douglas for four years. She didn’t know if that was cruelty or kindness.

It was planting time in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the busiest time of year except for the harvest in the fall. The day after her boy was taken, she didn’t remember getting dressed or walking the half-mile to the sodden rice fields. She certainly didn’t sleep. The days melted together, getting stuck to each other so one was barely discernible from the next. Every time she shut her eyes she saw Douglas’ face. His eyes frozen in fear as wide and wet as the sea.

One hot afternoon, the air was so thick it was sticking to her almond-colored skin like dew drops on a blade of grass. Faye extended her arms up over her head and slammed the large wooden pestle straight down into the work-worn mortar at her feet, loosening the rice from its hull. She usually hummed while she did this but now the only sounds she could hear were her baby’s screams and her own keening that roared out of her after the wagon he was in turned out of sight. She raised her arms and pounded to the rhythm of her grief but they gave out and her body collapsed in on itself. The entire world went as silent and black as a winter night.

Faye opened her eyes and a bolt of panic came over her. The blue sky of the day was losing a battle to the encroaching darkness. She was surrounded by grass extending high above her head. As she sat up, a whoosh of dizziness made her sway and as she looked around she realized she was still in the rice fields. She looked back over her left shoulder and saw a haze of lights glowing through the front window of the Big House. She knew Master Eliot’s rules: any slave who passes out in the fields is left to help itself or die. Any slave that helped her would be punished. She knew this rule as well as she knew her own name but a flush of rage burned through her as she stood slowly. She who was put back in these fields hours after her child was taken right out of her arms. She who had already been robbed of motherhood once before. She’d given the Montagne’s her own flesh. How dare they leave her for the snakes? She stomped back to her cabin fuming. The entire time the air smelled of burning timber as if a building were ablaze. She didn’t consider it, focused on her rage, but the barn, slave cabins, and the Big House were undisturbed. When she stepped inside she was greeted by silence. The door slammed behind her at the touch of her fingertips. The one-room cabin trembled.

#

Faye didn’t know her grandmother’s name. Master Eliot’s father named her Marie. When she was a little girl, a few weeks after Christmas, she was sitting by the cooking fire playing with a rag doll she received as a present. Grandma Marie busied herself rolling out dough for biscuits at the big square table in the middle of the kitchen house.

Sarah the housemaid came in. “Marie, Massa Eliot wantchu.”

Faye looked up at her grandmother. She was a short and thin woman but not delicate. Marie was strong enough to work in the fields but the old Master Montagne said he’d rather have her biscuits every morning than one more bushel of rice. A faint line of wrinkles across her forehead was the only indication that she was not young. Once Faye had asked her grandmother how old she was. Marie told her she stopped counting after 30 years. That was the year Master Eliot was born and now he was about to leave for college in Charleston. She slammed down her rolling pin, sighed, wiped her flour coated hands on her apron, and in three strides she was at the kitchen house door.

Marie looked back at her granddaughter. “My name ain’t Marie,” she said in an accent that kept the memory of Africa alive. She pushed open the wooden door, and walked toward the Big House.

Faye didn’t understand what her grandmother meant but knew enough not to ask.

#

As she lay in her bed, night finally overpowering the last of daylight, a knock came at the door. She didn’t answer. After a few moments the door opened and Sarah’s head poked in.

“Ah saw yo light on, Ah was worried ‘boutcha. Dey tole me ya fell out in de field. Dey tried to bring ya some water but de overseer Jones caught’em and threatened to give ‘em lashes if dey did.”

Silence overcame the small room. Sarah continued, “Ya eat anythin’?”

“Naw,” Faye responded, looking at the wood grain of the floorboards.

“Ah figure ya ain’t, so Ah brought ya some hoppin’ john and rice.” Faye looked up. “It’s still warm.”

Sarah put the plate down on the table, the only piece of furniture in the room besides the stuffed mattress on the floor, and removed the thin white cloth that was covering the food. As Faye watched Sarah move she realized that Sarah was probably about the same age her grandmother Marie was that day in the kitchen house.

“Come on girl, ya gotta eat,” Sarah pleaded. “Ah know ya grievin’ cause they done took ya boy but – ”

“Ah ain’t sad no mo, Ah’m mad, an one day dey gon’ feel how Ah felt. Ah’mma make sure of dat.”

Sarah said in a loud whisper, “Girl, ya know what could happen if dey heard ya talkin like dat? If Massa or de overseer hear ya they gon’ sell ya south or worse!”

“It’s nothin’ worse than havin’ nothin’ or nobody,” Faye declared looking into the cold hearth across the room.

“Ya soundin’ like yo granmama Marie after yo granfather died.”

Faye came over and sat at the table. “Ya remember her?”

“Of course Ah do, she was a real special woman. Ah heard she was bought in Charleston, right off de ship, an brought here directly. She was young den, younger than ya is now. Afta’while she become like us, ‘cept her voice. Dat accent neva left. By de time yo mama come along she was de cook for de Big House an no less than three of her chilluns was sold off or dead. De only one they let her keep was yo mama.”

“Ya prolly don’t member cause ya was still young when it happen but her man Frederick dead after gettin’ bit by a snake out in dat der field an no one was allowed to go get him up. Dat night de wind blew so cold de fields froze, even though it was the middle of July, the rice almost all but died. Took yo granmama a whole month to get back to de kitchen house. She was slower an she rarely smiled but she went on. After dat, every time she had to look at dem white folks she was mad as a snake. Soon de Missus hate how slow an unpleasant Sarah was and so she made me de cook in Sarah’s place and dey brought in a woman de field to be de maid. Marie didn’t last long after dat. She died dat harvest.”

“It’s like all we do is lose an lose an lose some mo,” Faye said mostly to herself as she picked up a spoon and gathered some food into her mouth.

Sarah sighed, “Yas, sho’ll do be like dat but one day it won’t be dat way no mo’, one day we’ll be free from all dis.”

Faye looked up at the woman, “Ya really beliebe dat, Sarah?”

“Got to,” replied Sarah looking down at her, “Ah got to.” Satisfied that Faye was eating, Sarah turned towards the door, “Jus’ bring dat plate back in de mornin’.”

Faye sat thinking about what Sarah had said long after she finished eating. She remembered sitting at her grandmother’s feet under a billowing white sheet as big as a cloud. She would reach up to hand her a clothespin whenever she extended an open hand down to the only grandchild she’d ever gotten to know. Faye remembered how when her grandmother was doing the wash the laundry would dry in a matter of minutes it seemed, even on a cloudy day.

“How come yo clothes dry so fast granma? When mama an de otha women do it, it take a long time.”

Marie looked down at her almond-colored granddaughter and ran her hands down one of the four braids she plaited earlier that morning. She tested her, “Whatchu smell when Ah hang de wash Faye?”

“Soap an bleach. An flowers,” Faye answered.

“This whatchu smell?” Marie asked while putting a piece of soap under her granddaughter’s nose.

“Not really. It smell more lak flowers.”

Marie smiled like a wedding day, “Me too, girl! It’s probably lavender ya smellin, cause that’s what Ah smell but it could be different. Tonight Imma show ya somethin’ but don tell yo mama or nobody, okay?”

Faye smiled, putting her tongue through the space in her teeth that was left behind after one fell out a week prior. That night, long after dinner and everyone went to bed, Marie rolled off the mattress she shared with Frederick and nudged Faye who was on the straw mattress she shared with her mother, Caroline. Marie grabbed their shoes and the pair tiptoed out of the cabin.

“Gran, where we,” Marie cupped her hand over the child’s mouth, stopping her from continuing the question.

“Hush!” she whispered fiercely, “We can’t get caught out here. Follow me, step where Ah step an keep yo mouth closed ’til Ah say it fine.”

The pair headed towards the woods behind the Big House, stopping and hiding whenever a noise rose up. They walked for several minutes, not speaking to one another. The air smelled like jasmine flowers and the trees became denser. Marie moved branches out of their way with one hand and held the child’s hand with her other. Soon they were in a meadow. The clearing was round and level, the grasshopper green grass was knee high to the girl, and there was not a living thing in sight. The moon was full and close, providing enough light to see all the way across the meadow.

Marie stooped down low enough to make eye contact, grabbed the child by her shoulders and said to her, “Ya only come here with me, okay. Never by yoself. If dey catch ya this far away from Massa John’s property dey gon’ think youse runnin.”

Faye’s eyes went wide and she nodded her head. She understood the consequences.

“Now sit. Sit girl! Ah don know where to begin so Ah’ll jus say it. We special.”

Faye’s face scrunched up, confused.

She continued, “Ah can control de wind, chile’ an so could my granmama before me, an so could her’s an back an back. Ah think it skip mamas. Only girls. An Ah expect, ya can too.

The girl’s eyes got big as saucers, her jaw dropped open in shock.

“Ya know how ya asked why my wash dry so fast? Its cause Ah make a warm breeze blow through the wet clothes. An when Ah put dat wind der ya smell flowers cause if ya got the ability it mean yo senses, like smell, are connected to the wind. It mean every wind smell like somethin’ to ya. People who can’t control the wind won’t smell nothing at all.”

“How come it skip mamas an how come boys can’t do it, gran?”

“Ah don know. One night when Ah was bout yo age now, my grandmama took me out to de bush an tole me all dis. She said it always been dis way. She said it was a gift from de Orisha, dats what dey call God where Ah’m from, but dey got lots of gods, not just one. My gran was startin’ to teach me how to do it den our village was attacked. Ah had to walk a long way to the sea wit a heavy metal collar around my neck and a chain on my wrists. The white people put me on a big boat an now…”

Faye scooted closer to her grandmother and put her hand on her knee. Marie looked down when she felt the small hand and came back to the present, “An now Ah’m yo granmama.”

Marie stood with a grunt as she stretched her legs. She took a branch that she had snapped off a tree and held it out to her side. Suddenly the leaves on it began to rustle, the air got noticeably warmer, and the scent of lavender came suddenly and strongly. The grass remained still.

“Dis de warm breeze Ah use to dry de wash or to take de chill out da cabin when it get cold. An dis one,” the leaves shimmied again but instead of warmth, Faye felt a chill and goose bumps rose on her bare arms, “Ah call when it’s hot so folks won’t fall out in de fields.”

Faye took a deep breath in and smelled burning sage. She realized she’d smelled this all her life, mostly in the dog days of summer.

“Whathcu smell for dat one, girl?”

“The stuff ya put on de chicken when the white folks have a fancy dinner,” she responded, not knowing the name of the herb.

“To me it smell like dried leaves, a whole heap of ‘em. See we ain’t always gon smell de same thangs, ya get yo ability from me but ya also get it from inside yo’self so it gon be different sometimes. Now, make da leaves move.”

“But gran, Ah don’t know how to make wind,” Faye whined.

“Ya ain’t creating wind, ya callin it to ya. Whatchu need to do is think ‘bout the kind of wind ya want: gentle, cold, or strong. Ask fo it to come to ya then ya gon’ feel the air around ya start to move, once ya feel dat think about what direction ya want it to go in and it’ll go. Try it.”

Faye closed her eyes and she thought of a warm breeze. She concentrated on how it feels, not too hot and only strong enough to move light things. The air around her started to tingle, then tremble. Soon it felt like the air itself was bubbles popping like boiling water. The smell of lavender trickled into her nostrils.

“Dats it girl, now open yo eyes an tell it where to go!” Marie exclaimed, not able to hide her excitement.

She opened her eyes and focused on the branch in her grandmother’s hand. The leaves twitched. At that moment Marie threw the branch down, wrapped her arms around the little girl, picked her up and squeezed her tight, both of them laughing.

“My girl, yas. Ya got it,” she declared as she put Faye back on the ground. “We gon come out here an work on it as much as we can. Only at night, an remember, only come wit me. Neva by yo’self.” She grabbed her hand and the pair walked quietly back to their home.

Faye remembered her grandmother bringing her out to the meadow several more times before Marie died the next fall. By then she could call a few different kinds of winds: warm and cold; some a mere breeze, others strong gusts.

#

Sunday was the only day of the week slaves didn’t have to go to the rice fields. They were allowed to tend to their own neglected lives. Faye opened the door of her cabin to let some air in. As she swept the bare wooden floor, grief sat heavy on her shoulders. She thought on what Sarah said. A breeze blew in and scattered the dirt she had gathered into a small pile in the middle of the room. She sighed heavily, annoyed and re-swept the mess. The breeze smelled of lavender and when she breathed it in the scent helped calm her. Again she gathered the displaced dirt and retreated to a corner to sweep there. As her back was turned, she smelled lavender again just before feeling the breeze on her back. Not wanting her work disturbed again she focused her mind and moved the wind around the pile. She turned and looked. Satisfied, she continued cleaning her home. The straw broom rolled over something hard and small. She stooped down and handled it. It was a flute, carved from wood and just longer than her palm. As her thumb ran along the holes she remembered how Douglas used to make so much noise around the house blowing into it and how he’d make even more noise screaming to get it back if she took it away.

She thought she had given all of Douglas’ meager things to the other children in the row. She sat in the chair at her table and began to cry. First came full, heavy tears of sadness then hurried tears of fury. Faye stood up quickly, knocking the chair to the floor. She threw the grief off of her shoulders like a discarded shawl, and anger entered her veins like a virus, spreading all over her body. She looked up, gritted her teeth, and slammed the door closed. The smell of lavender couldn’t calm her. At that moment every drop of grief in her transformed into rage.

One day, when she and some of the other women were planting the fields, the sharp smell of hot metal filled her nose. She looked up and saw dark grey clouds rolling in, turning the sky to a steel gray. Thunder cracked so loud she jumped, startled by the sound, and quicker than an instant, rain poured from the split open sky. A gust of wind blew into the two wheeled cart holding sacks of seed knocking it over onto its side. Feeling it start to lift from her head Faye reached up and held down her hat. She stood watching the destruction take place, awed. The air smelled like the blacksmith’s shop – dangerously hot metal. Overseer Jones shouted at them to grab the tools, salvage the overturned seed bags, and store them in the barn before they were all lost to the storm. The other women ran every which way with one hand on their hats and the other lifting their skirts a few inches to allow for easier movement. They had to abandon one or both as they grabbed the tools and seed and ran off to the barn for cover.

Faye rushed in the direction of the barn and as the last person sped past her she stopped and pointed her face toward the sky. With her mind she directed a current of gentle air to hover a few inches above her upturned face. She held the stream for a few seconds and she smiled for the first time in weeks, the drops of water missing her skin entirely.

“Faye!” someone shouted from the direction of the barn.

She wiped away the smile as if it never were, picking up her pace on her way to the barn. As she started to jog a brilliant bolt of lightning lit up the sky. She saw the unhitched wagon bare of all its cargo and summoned a wind so fierce it slid the cart a few feet to a new resting place. She never broke her stride. From then on she spent every moment she could practicing. Summoning and manipulating the air around her. Before, she mostly used the gift to help with housework.  Now, she was planning for revenge. After a few weeks, she didn’t have to concentrate when she wanted to move the air about. It was as natural to her as lifting a finger.

Every night after dark she went to the clearing in the woods, where her grandmother showed her years before. Although she never came alone before, she remembered to follow the night-blooming jasmine with “home at ya back, keep the river to ya left, turn right when ya see two old palmetto logs crossed an keep going until ya reach open sky.” There she summoned the winds closer to her, swirling them, stopping them, and then changing their direction. A couple of weeks passed and every night she went, even when she was exhausted from the fields. One night Faye was concentrating on spinning air tightly in on itself, making a small funnel close to the ground, then a big gust approached from behind her and without thinking she changed its course, the funnel at her side held its shape. She knew she was ready. Her plan was to use the winds of a strong storm to destroy the plantation. Everyone and everything in it would be demolished, except for the barn where the slaves were to hide. The night after the storm the slaves could run and she’d destroy the barn to look like it was done in the storm as well. By the time the other whites in the county found out what happened they would all be gone.

She didn’t know exactly when it would happen but she knew South Carolina got a big storm every few years. She’d wait it out. She had no other choice. Months passed. Faye stayed ready. On a morning that had a chill in the air that lingered from the retreating night, she recognized the beginning of fall. That meant harvest time: more work and a hard driving overseer. But the fall also meant her Douglas’ birthday. She picked up the flute from under her mattress and ran her fingers over the mouthpiece and softly put it to her lips. Faye stepped out of her cabin and headed down to the old oak where she and the others would get their orders for the day. On her way she saw Sarah who was on her way to the kitchen house.

“Mawnin’ Sarah.”

Sarah looked up, “Hey der Faye, mawnin’.”

“Sarah, ya know what month dis is?”

“Ah expect it’s prolly September, ain’t y’a’ll gettin ready for de harvest ain’t ya?” Sarah replied.

“Yeah Sarah, we is. Thank ya.”

She had remembered asking Sarah to find out what month it was after she gave birth to her son. She wanted to be able to keep track of how old he was, like the white folks did with their kids so he could continue to count long after she was gone. He was born in September and taken from her that same month, a year ago.

While waiting in line to get the tools and baskets they would need for a day’s work, a slight breeze from the southwest blew over her. It brought with it the smell of warm metal, like the way her hands smelled after she had been dragging her hoe through the earth on a hot day. She drew a breath in and went to work. The days passed and Faye could barely sleep, every stir of the air brought with it the smell of warming metal. After a week, the air had a persistent smell of a cast iron skillet warming on a kitchen fire. A storm was coming and it was big.

One night she went to Sarah’s cabin and knocked. She heard the old woman’s feet sliding across the bare wooden planks as she came to the door.

“Sarah, it’s Faye, let me in,” Faye said in an excited hush. She rushed in as soon as the old woman opened her door.

“Somethin wrong, chile?” Sarah asked, her forehead scrunched. The lines on Sarah’s forehead were so deep it looked like they held all the memories she had collected over the years. Faye wanted to reach out and touch them, absorb her wisdom through her fingertips.

“There’s a big storm comin, Sarah.”

“What? Ah don’t hear no thunder or nothin.”

“Ah know, it won’t be here for a few days yet.”

“Girl, ya crazy,” Sarah responded with a chuckle. “Ya want some of these greens Ah got left?”

“Faye, Ah’m not crazy, Ah know there’s one comin. When it do come, it’s gon be real bad. Ah want ya to take ya’self an anythin’ important ya got an wait out de storm in de barn. Start tellin everybody else too, but make sho nobody tell de white folks.”

Sarah paused, taking in what Faye was saying and not saying at the same time, “Ya jus’ like Marie, ain’t ya?”

Faye, startled upon hearing her grandmother’s name, started to reply but squeezed her lips tightly together instead. After a few seconds she managed to say, “Tell’ em, Sarah, an make sure dey listen.”

Sarah surrendered. “Okay Faye, Ah’ll tell’em.” The old woman instinctively opened her arms. Faye moved into them and put her head on the old woman’s shoulder and squeezed her. The two women slowly rocked side to side.

“Everythin’ be fine, Sarah, jus’ make sure ya get to de barn, even if nobody else go.”

“Marie would be proud of ya, girl,” Sarah said.

Faye smiled and in four swift steps was out of the cabin.

The next afternoon, Faye sat weaving sweet grass baskets under a palmetto with a couple other women. They preferred this work to anything else because they didn’t have to be on their feet and were allowed to talk as much as they pleased, as long as they made enough baskets to satisfy Overseer Jones. What Jones didn’t know was they could weave twice as fast as they ever let on so if they were behind they could catch up quickly. As they weaved, Faye warned them about the approaching storm and advised them the same as she did Sarah: when it hits, get to the barn, you’ll all be safe there. The women were unsure of what to make of the information. They had all heard Faye’s family was special and some of them knew Marie. They decided it was better to heed than not and they gave Faye their word they would hide in the barn with their families.

She predicted the hurricane would hit the next night so she left her cabin once more to practice in the clearing. The moon was so bright and close she winced when she looked up at it. The hot metal smell in the air burned her nostrils. The wind was still and all was quiet. As she walked to the edge of the forest, just beyond the last cabin in the row, Master Eliot’s son, John, was walking out of Sarah’s daughter’s cabin and saw Faye in the corner of his eye. She disappeared into the trees. He figured he could catch up to her soon enough, so he followed.

Faye was in the clearing sitting on the ground cross-legged, eyes closed, remembering her grandmother’s thin, bygone accent mixed with her son’s screams as he was taken from her. The sounds in her mind masked the approaching footsteps coming from behind. John raised a thick branch and brought it down hard on the back of her head. When she woke, her arms were tied behind her at the wrists, her feet tied at the ankles and her head throbbed. The dried blood on the side of her face itched and flies buzzed around the wound. She opened her eyes, horrified to see she was completely naked and tied to the whipping post which stood between the Big House and the cabins. In a panic she tried to get free but every time she moved the cord cut tighter into her wrists, she couldn’t tell if it was blood or sweat dripping down into her hands.

The smell of hot metal made her eyes water. Faye looked around and could hear the morning’s activities happening around her. Smoke coming from the kitchen house, the horses whining, wagons being loaded. Her lips cracked and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Mosquitoes bit every inch of her. She couldn’t tell how many hours had passed but just before midday elderly Master Eliot, Master John, and Overseer Jones stood in front of her.

“Ah wasn’t runnin’ massa. Ah was jus’ sittin’ dere. Ah was gon come back!” Faye pleaded, remembering her grandmother’s forewarning the first time she took her to the meadow.

His father never taking his eyes off her asked, “Is that right, John?” John was a spitting image of his father. The pair were tall, with thick sandy blond hair, a small nose and small, round, hazel-colored eyes.

“Yes, she was just sitting there all alone.”

“Have you done this before, Faye?”

“No sir, Ah jus’ couldn’t sleep an de moon was bright enough to see so ah just went walkin’ an found some herbs to give to Sarah in de kitchen!” she answered frantically but convincingly having thought of this very excuse months ago just in case.

“Your grandmother used to work in the kitchen, right?”

“Yassir, Massa Eliot, her name was Marie.”

“I remember her,” he said to no one in particular. Then to Jones, “Put her in the box until night. Bring her back in before the storm comes.” He faced her, “And don’t do it again, girl, or you’ll get worse.”

Eliot and John Montagne walked to the Big House never looking back. Jones strode up to her, grinning, one hand holding the whip. She felt the urge to cover herself. Her eyes welled in panic as he leered at her exposed body.

“Good. It’s too hot for whippin’,” Jones spat out.

He stood in a wide stance and slowly brought his hand to his belt. Faye tried to bring her knees up to cover herself but only managed to turn them in towards each other. He tied the whip to his belt, untied her from the post, and grabbed her roughly by the arm. Jones led Faye to the south side of the property. A wooden box, about knee high sat at the edge of the garden that provided food to the Big House. Jones lifted the lid, pushed her, and she yelped as she stumbled over the side and fell into it. He slammed the lid shut and locked it from the outside in two places. There were three acorn sized rays of light shining through.

“Alright, Ah can just bring a strong gust of wind inside and blow the lid off.” As she thought about it she remembered the parlor window of the Big House faced the garden. Miss Jane would certainly see her. She decided instead the better plan was to bring in enough air through the holes to survive until they let her out before the storm. Faye situated her face directly under one of the holes, closed her eyes against the sunlight and summoned in a steady stream of air to cool her face. Sweat was coming out of every orifice. As she breathed in, her chest rattled and the hot air from her mouth made the box even more unbearable. Her throat burned and her mouth felt like she swallowed cotton. Faye could only tell the passage of time as the angle of the sun’s rays shifted, moving along the inside of the box. Her hip and shoulder hurt from lying in one spot too long. Her head, throbbing from where she was hit, began to pound. Dizziness hit her in waves and soon she found that concentrating was too difficult and moving air became impossible. The edges of her vision started to blur. She turned her head as much as she could and vomited. Most of it fell onto her cheek and neck. The flies found their way in. Her eyes drooped and she lost consciousness.

She felt drops of water hit her face and her eyes flickered open. She took in a breath and coughed at the stinging smell of hot metal. The storm was here. She tried to keep her eyes open but they were too heavy. She moved her head and felt like the whole world had been thrown off its axis. Her eyes slowly began to close. She prayed to see the overseer again.

When Faye woke, she was laying on the straw mattress in her cabin, not another soul in sight. There was a candle lit next to the bed along with a plate of cornbread and a jug of water left by Sarah, she figured. Faye reached over and upturned the jug, splashing most of the contents on her face. She alternated shoving cornbread into her mouth and gulping down water until the plate and jug were empty. She stood up to refill the water jug at the well outside and after a few steps she got woozy and threw up what she just ate on her floor. Then it hit her. “Lord! De storm!”

She inhaled. She couldn’t smell anything except her own vomit on her breath. She rushed out to the well and stopped at the edge of the row. Branches were broken and dangling from trees like long braids. The old and the very young were picking up their belongings from the wet ground, deciding what could be salvaged, vowing to try to fix everything, even if it looked impossible. It was all they had. They stopped what they were doing and watched her as she passed. Faye filled up the jug and leaned against the wooden wall of the well, waiting for the dizziness to subside. Behind her, she heard Overseer Jones directing a few young men to remove a branch that had gone through the dining room window of the Big House. She watched as they cleaned up the mess she had intended they leave behind.

Faye went back home and threw herself onto her mattress and sobbed herself to sleep. The next morning the door opened, sunlight hit her face. Sarah and her daughter, Rose, came in carrying food, and a pot filled with pungent bush tea. Rose helped Sarah down to the floor. Sarah stroked Faye’s face and put the pot under her nose. Faye woke with a start.

She saw Sarah and her face twisted. “Ah couldn’t do it. Ah tried, Ah really did!”

“Ah know, chile.” She sucked her teeth. “Sometimes dat box worse dan de lash.” Sarah reasoned for her. “Jus’ forget ‘bout it chile’, its ova.”

Faye sat up and her stomach lurched. She moved slower. “Ah shoulda been mo careful. Ah can still do it though, bound to be another storm sometime.”

Rose handed her mother the plate, “Always be storms but now Massa gotta eye on ya an all de Negroes think youse all talk so dey not liable to do nothin’ ya ast no mo.”

Faye knew they were right. It was done. She knew nobody, white nor black, would trust her again. Life on the plantation went on. They had to fix the roof of the kitchen house and some of the windows of the Big House. By late winter, she was paired with a young man named Henry from Virginia. Eliot knew paired slaves were less likely to take off. Faye dared not plan nor pray for their child that was growing inside her.

“Massa Eliot, Ah can talk to ya ‘bout somethin?”

“Yes, Sarah what is it?” he responded as Sarah put down a bowl of grits with a large pat of butter, some bacon, and a cup of coffee on his desk one morning.

“Faye’s havin’ a baby again.”

“Is she?” He asked as he took out his ledger and wrote a note next to Faye’s name.

“Ah know de reason Faye act de way she do sometime is cause her otha chil’ren not here no mo’ an Ah think she’ll mind better an ya won’t have to worry ‘bout her runnin if she could keep dis one. Dats all she want really.”

Eliot finally looked at the old woman and studied the lines in her forehead deep as memory. “You can go now,” he nodded. She didn’t know for sure but she hoped he understood the message.

#

Faye had five children. She was allowed to keep the three she had with Henry. Her youngest was the only child Faye had that was born free. She named her Mariah for Marie and Sarah. In her two-room cabin a few miles from the Montagne plantation, Faye was starting dinner while Henry and the older kids were off in Mr. Jones’ fields. Faye glanced in the coal bucket next to her stove and only saw two small pieces.

“Dis ain’t enough for dinner,” Faye sighed to herself. “Ah know Ah told dem boys to go borrow some coal from Rose before dey went out to dem fields.”

Faye went to see if there was some firewood in the yard and when she came back, Mariah was standing next to the stove and Faye saw flickers of orange coming up through the top burners.

“Mariah, didn’t Ah tell ya dat ya ain’t old enough to mess with de stove, girl!”

“Mama, Ah ain’t touch de stove at all, Ah was jus’ tryin to help ya wit dinner.”

“Don’t lie girl, Ah see dem flames!”

“Ah jus’ stood there an tole de fire to get big an it did what Ah say.” The coal was still in the bucket.

Faye stared at her daughter for a moment, Mariah meeting her gaze. She didn’t think this was possible. Marie said it skipped a generation.

“Can ya tell de fire to get small?

“Yes ma’am.” The flames nearly went out.

“Ya smell anythin’ funny when ya talkin’ to fire?” Faye asked.

“No ma’am, but Ah reckon Ah do taste somethin’ strange an Ah taste it more de bigger de fire is. Like now it taste bitter like when ya bite into greens before ya cook’em.”

Faye looked at her only daughter and said, “Did Ah ever tell ya ‘bout my granmama, de woman Ah named ya for?”

Renee Harleston works as a desk warrior for an educational non-profit and received her M.A. in Cultural Anthropology at Hunter College. Her most beloved things are history, imperfect women of color, and magic. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found on twitter @RenaySaysHey

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2017 by .

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