We'll see. Maybe I'm not desperate enough yet.
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One of those scenes that might go (a flashback to Seona's childhood that defines the relationships and tensions Ian walks into, about ten years later):
Copyright 2008 Lori L. Benton
All Rights Reserved
Tired of pulling weeds in the garden, I slip away and let myself into the house, thinking I’ll find Miss Judith with a book, and maybe she’ll read a page out to me. The words she reads spin my mind with pictures begging to be drawn. I haven’t told Miss Judith about the wallpaper scraps hidden in the garret, but I’m working myself up to it. She’s seen my stash of pebbles and arrowheads, the ones Ally finds, and she’s given me a basket for their keeping. A promising turn.
I tiptoe up the new back stairs and scamper down the bare-board passage toward the room at the front of the house. I’m praying Miss Rosalyn don’t spy me and spoil things. I’ve already taken a dislike to her—and she to me, turning up her nose like she can’t abide the smell of me.
On account of how the front stairs come up to the second floor, I have to pass Miz Lucinda’s door to get to Miss Judith's room. I peek round the molding, ready to scoot by if she ain’t looking. She’s sitting at her dressing table across the room, eyeing herself in the glass. She don’t see me peeping, but my heart jerks like a mouse’s would, peering down a polecat’s den. Miz Lucinda is blackening her eyebrows. It’s something in a pot—to this day I don’t know what—but she’s dabbing at it with a fingertip and smearing it over her brows. I never heard tell of doing such a thing. Mama’s eyebrows are smooth and black as crows’ wings with no help from a pot. It strikes me funny, and I clap a hand over my mouth to shush a giggle. My hand clamps tighter as Miss Rosalyn’s voice comes from in the room.
“It’s dull as porridge here, Mama. I want to go back to Virginia.”
“Really, Rosalyn, must you whine so? It’s unbecoming to a lady. Your sister doesn’t complain of dullness.”
“Judith? She’s too boring to know she’s bored.”
With nary a by-your-leave, my feet choose this moment to take me past the doorway. I glimpse Miss Rosalyn sidelong, sitting on her mama’s high bed, skirts spread round her knees. Her blond head is turned from me, gazing out the window, so I make it safe to Miss Judith’s room. I find her with a book like I figured on, but thoughts of stories are gone clean out of my head. I whisper what I’ve seen her mama doing.
Even now I can’t say who got the notion first. We creep out and down the stairs, make sure Maisy ain’t by to catch us, and black each others eyebrows with soot from the parlor hearth. We never hear Miss Rosalyn, drawn down by our giggles, till she’s hollering for her mama to come and see. Next thing I know the mistress is sweeping in with those false-black brows drawn tight, taking in what we’ve done to our faces.
“Judith Anne Bell! What do you mean by this?”
Miss Judith goes white in the face, save the patches above her eyes—like fuzzy black caterpillars crawling on her forehead. I glance up at Miz Lucinda and feel something cold bloom in my chest. Then I’m dragged up off the parlor floor and shaken like a rag doll.
“This will be your doing! I’ll teach you to mock your betters!” The mistress wrenches my arm with her digging fingers. “Rosalyn, go and fetch my strap.”
Miss Judith pleads all the while I’m hauled out to the yard and my skirt yanked up to bare my bottom. Miz Lucinda holds me to her side with my wrists caught in one of her hands hard enough to make the bones grind. The ground is soggy. When the strap falls across my thighs I yelp and try to tuck my knees, but my feet slide from under me in the slick grass. The mistress yanks me up again. The strap stings me, and a gush flows warm down my thighs. I see nothing but wet-churned grass and my tangled hair hanging down, but I feel the mistress’s weight shift and know Miss Judith is tugging at her mama. I don’t hear her pleading. There’s a roaring in my ears. The mistress stops beating me long enough to scold her daughter, and those words come to me clear.
“Hush your noise, miss! I warned you to leave this girl be. Let this serve as—ah!”
I twist to look. Miz Lucinda’s hand is raised to strike again, but the strap don’t fall. Mama has hold of her arm. She don’t make a sound, Mama, but there’s a fiercesomeness in her face like nothing I’ve seen. I wrench loose. Pain shoots up my wrists as I break my fall. I roll over to see the two of them locked in silent battle over that strap, but when I try to crawl away the mistress gives Mama a shove that sends her staggering.
“Stay where you are, girl!”
Like a ninny I hunker down in the wet grass, too scared to disobey. The strap finds me again, but only once. Mama’s got back up, but instead of fighting falls full across me. I guess by then the mistress don’t care which of us gets the beating, ‘cause she goes right on with it. Every jerk of Mama’s body shudders through me, with my face pressed to the ground and the taste of grass and tears sour in my mouth. I hear my whimpering, but nothing out of Mama. I’m terrified she’s dead, despite the thunder of her heart against my back.
Hooves clatter on the drive, and Master Hugh’s voice breaks over us like a shock of thunder. “Lucinda!”
Mama’s body keeps on jerking, till finally a groan comes up from her chest—like the earth beneath me has made the sound. Then there’s a cry that ain’t from Mama, and I twist to peek through our tangled limbs. Master Hugh has hold of his wife with her feet lifted right up off the ground. He drags her kicking to the front steps of the house. In his face is the same look I’d seen in Mama’s. He bellows again. Not at Mama or me, or at his struggling wife. He’s yelling for Naomi to come tend me and Mama.
Last thing I mind before a pair of brown arms gather me against a bosom smelling of biscuits and fry grease is the sight of that strap on the bruised grass, and Miss Judith in a heap beside it with sooty tears smeared down her face, and the sound of her wailing, “I’m sorry,” over and again like nothing in the world can make her stop.
Naomi and Jubal get me and Mama up off the ground and take us to the kitchen. As we pass round back of the house we hear Master Hugh hollering as he don’t care what Miz Lucinda’s first husband did with his slaves, Mama and me were his and she is never—never—to put strap to us again.
As I’m carried under the rose trellis there's the crash of glass against a wall. But the sound don’t drown out Miz Lucinda’s scream.
“What is she to you?”
Her voice is shattered, like whatever trifle hit the wall must be. A door slams. Then silence falls over house and yard, bottomless and still. We all drop into it and I think we will go on dropping forever, with nobody daring to break the fall.
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