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The Invention of Wings / (by Sue Monk Kidd, 2019) -

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The Invention of Wings /   (by Sue Monk Kidd, 2019) -

The Invention of Wings / (by Sue Monk Kidd, 2019) -

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The Invention of Wings / (by Sue Monk Kidd, 2019) -
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2019
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Sue Monk Kidd
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Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduye, Sue Monk Kidd
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/ / / / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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13:42:35
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Invention of Wings / :

.doc (Word) sue_monk_kidd_-_the_invention_of_wings.doc [870.5 Kb] (c: 10) .
.pdf sue_monk_kidd_-_the_invention_of_wings.pdf [1.7 Mb] (c: 17) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: The Invention of Wings

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PART ONE November 1803_February 1805 Hetty Handful Grimk? There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, _Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind._ My mauma was shrewd. She didn_t get any reading and writing like me. Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy. She looked at my face, how it flowed with sorrow and doubt, and she said, _You don_t believe me? Where you think these shoulder blades of yours come from, girl?_ Those skinny bones stuck out from my back like nubs. She patted them and said, _This all what left of your wings. They nothing but these flat bones now, but one day you gon get _em back._ I was shrewd like mauma. Even at ten I knew this story about people flying was pure malarkey. We weren_t some special people who lost our magic. We were slave people, and we weren_t going anywhere. It was later I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn_t any magic to it. The day life turned into nothing this world could fix, I was in the work yard boiling slave bedding, stoking fire under the wash pot, my eyes burning from specks of lye soap catching on the wind. The morning was a cold one_the sun looked like a little white button stitched tight to the sky. For summers we wore homespun cotton dresses over our drawers, but when the Charleston winter showed up like some lazy girl in November or January, we got into our sacks_these thickset coats made of heavy yarns. Just an old sack with sleeves. Mine was a cast-off and trailed to my ankles. I couldn_t say how many unwashed bodies had worn it before me, but they had all kindly left their scents on it. Already that morning missus had taken her cane stick to me once cross my backside for falling asleep during her devotions. Every day, all us slaves, everyone but Rosetta, who was old and demented, jammed in the dining room before breakfast to fight off sleep while missus taught us short Bible verses like _Jesus wept_ and prayed out loud about God_s favorite subject, obedience. If you nodded off, you got whacked right in the middle of God said this and God said that. I was full of sass to Aunt-Sister about the whole miserable business. I_d say, _Let this cup pass from me,_ spouting one of missus_ verses. I_d say, _Jesus wept cause he_s trapped in there with missus, like us._ Aunt-Sister was the cook_she_d been with missus since missus was a girl_and next to Tomfry, the butler, she ran the whole show. She was the only one who could tell missus what to do without getting smacked by the cane. Mauma said watch your tongue, but I never did. Aunt-Sister popped me backward three times a day. I was a handful. That_s not how I got my name, though. Handful was my basket name. The master and missus, they did all the proper naming, but a mauma would look on her baby laid in its basket and a name would come to her, something about what her baby looked like, what day of the week it was, what the weather was doing, or just how the world seemed on that day. My mauma_s basket name was Summer, but her proper name was Charlotte. She had a brother whose basket name was Hardtime. People think I make that up, but it_s true as it can be. If you got a basket name, you at least had something from your mauma. Master Grimk? named me Hetty, but mauma looked on me the day I came into the world, how I was born too soon, and she called me Handful. That day while I helped out Aunt-Sister in the yard, mauma was in the house, working on a gold sateen dress for missus with a bustle on the back, what_s called a Watteau gown. She was the best seamstress in Charleston and worked her fingers stiff with the needle. You never saw such finery as my mauma could whip up, and she didn_t use a stamping pattern. She hated a book pattern. She picked out the silks and velvets her own self at the market and made everything the Grimk?s had_window curtains, quilted petticoats, looped panniers, buckskin pants, and these done-up jockey outfits for Race Week. I can tell you this much_white people lived for Race Week. They had one picnic, promenade, and fancy going-on after another. Mrs. King_s party was always on Tuesday. The Jockey Club dinner on Wednesday. The big fuss came Saturday with the St. Cecilia ball when they strutted out in their best dresses. Aunt-Sister said Charleston had a case of the grandeurs. Up till I was eight or so, I thought the grandeurs was a shitting sickness. Missus was a short, thick-waist woman with what looked like little balls of dough under her eyes. She refused to hire out mauma to the other ladies. They begged her, and mauma begged her too, cause she would_ve kept a portion of those wages for herself_but missus said, I can_t have you make anything for them better than you make for us. In the evenings, mauma tore strips for her quilts, while I held the tallow candle with one hand and stacked the strips in piles with the other, always by color, neat as a pin. She liked her colors bright, putting shades together nobody would think_purple and orange, pink and red. The shape she loved was a triangle. Always black. Mauma put black triangles on about every quilt she sewed. We had a wooden patch box for keeping our scraps, a pouch for our needles and threads, and a true brass thimble. Mauma said the thimble would be mine one day. When she wasn_t using it, I wore it on my fingertip like a jewel. We filled our quilts up with raw cotton and wool thrums. The best filling was feathers, still is, and mauma and I never passed one on the ground without picking it up. Some days, mauma would come in with a pocketful of goose feathers she_d plucked from mattress holes in the house. When we got desperate to fill a quilt, we_d strip the long moss from the oak in the work yard and sew it between the lining and the quilt top, chiggers and all. That was the thing mauma and I loved, our time with the quilts. No matter what Aunt-Sister had me doing in the yard, I always watched the upstairs window where mauma did her stitching. We had a signal. When I turned the pail upside down by the kitchen house, that meant everything was clear. Mauma would open the window and throw down a taffy she stole from missus_ room. Sometimes here came a bundle of cloth scraps_real nice calicos, gingham, muslin, some import linen. One time, that true brass thimble. Her favorite thing to take was scarlet-red thread. She would wind it up in her pocket and walk right out the house with it. The yard was over busy that day, so I didn_t have hope for a taffy falling from the clear blue. Mariah, the laundry slave, had burned her hand on charcoal from the iron and was laid up. Aunt-Sister was on a tear about the backed-up wash. Tomfry had the men fixing to butcher a hog that was running and screeching at the top of its lungs. Everyone was out there, from old Snow the carriage driver all the way down to the stable mucker, Prince. Tomfry wanted to get the killing over quick cause missus hated yard noise. Noise was on her list of slave sins, which we knew by heart. Number one: stealing. Number two: disobedience. Number three: laziness. Number four: noise. A slave was supposed to be like the Holy Ghost_don_t see it, don_t hear it, but it_s always hovering round on ready. Missus called out to Tomfry, said keep it down, a lady shouldn_t know where her bacon comes from. When we heard that, I told Aunt-Sister, missus didn_t know what end her bacon went in and what end it came out. Aunt-Sister slapped me into yesterday. I took the long pole we called a battling stick and fished up the bedcovers from the wash pot and flopped them dripping on the rail where Aunt-Sister dried her cooking herbs. The rail in the stable was forbidden cause the horses had eyes too precious for lye. Slave eyes were another thing. Working the stick, I beat those sheets and blankets to an inch of their lives. We called it fetching the dirt. After I got the wash finished, I was left idle and pleased to enjoy sin number three. I followed a path I_d worn in the dirt from looping it ten, twelve times a day. I started at the back of the main house, walked past the kitchen house and the laundry out to the spreading tree. Some of the branches on it were bigger round than my body, and every one of them curled like ribbons in a box. Bad spirits travel in straight lines, and our tree didn_t have one un-crooked place. Us slaves mustered under it when the heat bore down. Mauma always told me, don_t pull the gray moss off cause that keeps out the sun and everybody_s prying eyes. I walked back past the stable and carriage house. The path took me cross the whole map of the world I knew. I hadn_t yet seen the spinning globe in the house that showed the rest of it. I poked along, wishing for the day to get used up so me and mauma could go to our room. It sat over the carriage house and didn_t have a window. The smell of manure from the stable and the cow house rose up there so ripe it seemed like our bed was stuffed with it instead of straw. The rest of the slaves had their rooms over the kitchen house. The wind whipped up and I listened for ship sails snapping in the harbor cross the road, a place I_d smelled on the breeze, but never seen. The sails would go off like whips cracking and all us would listen to see was it some slave getting flogged in a neighbor-yard or was it ships making ready to leave. You found out when the screams started up or not. The sun had gone, leaving a puckered place in the clouds, like the button had fallen off. I picked up the battling stick by the wash pot, and for no good reason, jabbed it into a squash in the vegetable garden. I pitched the butternut over the wall where it splatted in a loud mess. Then the air turned still. Missus_ voice came from the back door, said, _Aunt-Sister, bring Hetty in here to me right now._ I went to the house, thinking she was in an uproar over her squash. I told my backside to brace up. Sarah Grimk? My eleventh birthday began with Mother promoting me from the nursery. For a year I_d longed to escape the porcelain dolls, tops, and tiny tea sets strewn across the floor, the small beds lined up in a row, the whole glut and bedlam of the place, but now that the day had come, I balked at the threshold of my new room. It was paneled with darkness and emanated the smell of my brother_all things smoky and leather. The oak canopy and red velvet valance of the bedstead was so towering it seemed closer to the ceiling than the floor. I couldn_t move for dread of living alone in such an enormous, overweening space. Drawing a breath, I flung myself across the door sill. That was the artless way I navigated the hurdles of girlhood. Everyone thought I was a plucky girl, but in truth, I wasn_t as fearless as everyone assumed. I had the temperament of a tortoise. Whatever dread, fright, or bump appeared in my path, I wanted nothing more than to drop in my tracks and hide. If you must err, do so on the side of audacity. That was the little slogan I_d devised for myself. For some time now, it had helped me to hurl myself over door sills. That morning was full of cold, bright wind pouring off the Atlantic and clouds blowing like windsocks. For a moment, I stood just inside the room listening to the saber-fronds on the palmettos clatter around the house. The eaves of the piazza hissed. The porch swing groaned on its chains. Downstairs in the warming kitchen, Mother had the slaves pulling out Chinese tureens and Wedgwood cups, preparing for my birthday party. Her maid Cindie had spent hours wetting and fastening Mother_s wig with paper and curlers and the sour smell of it baking had nosed all the way up the stairs. I watched as Binah, the nursery mauma, tucked my clothes into the heavy old wardrobe, recalling how she used a fire poke to rock Charles_ cradle, her cowrie shell bracelets rattling along her arms while she terrified us with tales of the Booga Hag_an old woman who rode about on a broom and sucked the breath from bad children. I would miss Binah. And sweet Anna, who slept with her thumb in her mouth. Ben and Henry, who jumped like banshees until their mattresses erupted with geysers of goose feathers, and little Eliza, who had a habit of slipping into my bed to hide from the Booga_s nightly reign of terror. Of course, I should_ve graduated from the nursery long ago, but I_d been forced to wait for John to go away to college. Our three-storied house was one of the grandest in Charleston, but it lacked enough bedrooms, considering how . . . well, fruitful Mother was. There were ten of us: John, Thomas, Mary, Frederick, and myself, followed by the nursery dwellers_Anna, Eliza, Ben, Henry, and baby Charles. I was the middle one, the one Mother called different and Father called remarkable, the one with the carroty hair and the freckles, whole constellations of them. My brothers had once traced Orion, the Dipper, and Ursa Major on my cheeks and forehead with charcoal, connecting the bright red specks, and I hadn_t minded_I_d been their whole sky for hours. Everyone said I was Father_s favorite. I don_t know whether he preferred me or pitied me, but he was certainly my favorite. He was a judge on South Carolina_s highest court and at the top of the planter class, the group Charleston claimed as its elite. He_d fought with General Washington and been taken prisoner by the British. He was too modest to speak of these things_for that, he had Mother. Her name was Mary, and there ends any resemblance to the mother of our Lord. She was descended from the first families of Charleston, that little company of Lords that King Charles had sent over to establish the city. She worked this into conversations so tirelessly we no longer made the time or effort to roll our eyes. Besides governing the house, a host of children, and fourteen slaves, she kept up a round of social and religious duties that would_ve worn out the queens and saints of Europe. When I was being forgiving, I said that my mother was simply exhausted. I suspected, though, she was simply mean. When Binah finished arranging my hair combs and ribbons on the lavish Hepplewhite atop my new dressing table, she turned to me, and I must have looked forsaken standing there because she clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and said, _Poor Miss Sarah._ I did so despise the attachment of Poor to my name. Binah had been muttering Poor Miss Sarah like an incantation since I was four. It_s my earliest memory: arranging my brother_s marbles into words. It is summer, and I am beneath the oak that stands in the back corner of the work yard. Thomas, ten, whom I love above all the others, has taught me nine words: SARAH, GIRL, BOY, GO, STOP, JUMP, RUN, UP, DOWN. He has written them on a parchment and given me a pouch of forty-eight glass marbles with which to spell them out, enough to shape two words at a time. I arrange the marbles in the dirt, copying Thomas_ inked words. Sarah Go. Boy Run. Girl Jump. I work as fast as I can. Binah will come soon looking for me. It_s Mother, however, who descends the back steps into the yard. Binah and the other house slaves are clumped behind her, moving with cautious, synchronized steps as if they_re a single creature, a centipede crossing an unprotected space. I sense the shadow that hovers over them in the air, some devouring dread, and I crawl back into the green-black gloom of the tree. The slaves stare at Mother_s back, which is straight and without give. She turns and admonishes them. _You are lagging. Quickly now, let us be done with this._ As she speaks, an older slave, Rosetta, is dragged from the cow house, dragged by a man, a yard slave. She fights, clawing at his face. Mother watches, impassive. He ties Rosetta_s hands to the corner column of the kitchen house porch. She looks over her shoulder and begs. Missus, please. Missus. Missus. Please. She begs even as the man lashes her with his whip. Her dress is cotton, a pale yellow color. I stare transfixed as the back of it sprouts blood, blooms of red that open like petals. I cannot reconcile the savagery of the blows with the mellifluous way she keens or the beauty of the roses coiling along the trellis of her spine. Someone counts the lashes_is it Mother? Six, seven. The scourging continues, but Rosetta stops wailing and sinks against the porch rail. Nine, ten. My eyes look away. They follow a black ant traveling the far reaches beneath the tree_the mountainous roots and forested mosses, the endless perils_and in my head I say the words I fashioned earlier. Boy Run. Girl Jump. Sarah Go. Thirteen. Fourteen . . . I bolt from the shadows, past the man who now coils his whip, job well done, past Rosetta hanging by her hands in a heap. As I bound up the back steps into the house, Mother calls to me, and Binah reaches to scoop me up, but I escape them, thrashing along the main passage, out the front door, where I break blindly for the wharves. I don_t remember the rest with clarity, only that I find myself wandering across the gangplank of a sailing vessel, sobbing, stumbling over a turban of rope. A kind man with a beard and a dark cap asks what I want. I plead with him, Sarah Go. Binah chases me, though I_m unaware of her until she pulls me into her arms and coos, _Poor Miss Sarah, poor Miss Sarah._ Like a decree, a proclamation, a prophecy. When I arrive home, I am a muss of snot, tears, yard dirt, and harbor filth. Mother holds me against her, rears back and gives me an incensed shake, then clasps me again. _You must promise never to run away again. Promise me._ I want to. I try to. The words are on my tongue_the rounded lumps of them, shining like the marbles beneath the tree. _Sarah!_ she demands. Nothing comes. Not a sound. I remained mute for a week. My words seemed sucked into the cleft between my collar bones. I rescued them by degrees, by praying, bullying and wooing. I came to speak again, but with an odd and mercurial form of stammer. I_d never been a fluid speaker, even my first spoken words had possessed a certain belligerent quality, but now there were ugly, halting gaps between my sentences, endless seconds when the words cowered against my lips and people averted their eyes. Eventually, these horrid pauses began to come and go according to their own mysterious whims. They might plague me for weeks and then remain away months, only to return again as abruptly as they left. The day I moved from the nursery to commence a life of maturity in John_s staid old room, I wasn_t thinking of the cruelty that had taken place in the work yard when I was four or of the thin filaments that had kept me tethered to my voice ever since. Those concerns were the farthest thing from my mind. My speech impediment had been absent for some time now_four months and six days. I_d almost imagined myself cured. So when Mother swept into the room all of a sudden_me, in a paroxysm of adjustment to my surroundings, and Binah, tucking my possessions here and there_and asked if my new quarters were to my liking, I was stunned by my inability to answer her. The door slammed in my throat, and the silence hung there. Mother looked at me and sighed. When she left, I willed my eyes to remain dry and turned away from Binah. I couldn_t bear to hear one more Poor Miss Sarah. Handful Aunt-Sister took me to the warming kitchen where Binah and Cindie were fussing over silver trays, laying them full of ginger cake and apples with ground nuts. They had on their good long aprons with starch. Off in the drawing room, it sounded like bees buzzing. Missus showed up and told Aunt-Sister to peel off my nasty coat and wash my face, then she said, _Hetty, this is Sarah_s eleventh birthday and we are having a party for her._ She took a lavender ribbon from the top of the pie safe and circled it round my neck, tying a bow, while Aunt-Sister peeled the black off my cheeks with her rag. Missus wound more ribbon round my waist. When I tugged, she told me in a sharp way, _Stop that fidgeting, Hetty! Be still._ Missus had done the ribbon too snug at my throat. It felt like I couldn_t swallow. I searched for Aunt-Sister_s eyes, but they were glued on the food trays. I wanted to tell her, Get me free of this, help me, I need the privy. I always had something smart to say, but my voice had run down my throat like a kitchen mouse. I danced on one leg and the other. I thought what mauma had told me, _You be good coming up on Christmas cause that when they sell off the extra children or else send them to the fields._ I didn_t know one slave master Grimk? had sold, but I knew plenty he_d sent to his plantation in the back country. That_s where mauma had come from, bearing me inside her and leaving my daddy behind. I stopped all my fidget then. My whole self went down in the hole where my voice was. I tried to do what they said God wanted. Obey, be quiet, be still. Missus studied me, how I looked in the purple ribbons. Taking me by the arm, she led me to the drawing room where the ladies sat with their dresses fussed out and their china teacups and lacy napkins. One lady played the tiny piano called a harpsichord, but she stopped when missus gave a clap with her hands. Every eye fixed on me. Missus said, _This is our little Hetty. Sarah, dear, she is your present, your very own waiting maid._ I pressed my hands between my legs and missus knocked them away. She turned me a full circle. The ladies started up like parrots_happy birthday, happy birthday_their fancy heads pecking the air. Miss Sarah_s older sister, Miss Mary, sat there full of sulk from not being the center of the party. Next to missus, she was the worst bird in the room. We_d all seen her going round with her waiting maid, Lucy, smacking the girl six ways from Sunday. We all said if Miss Mary dropped her kerchief from the second floor, she_d send Lucy jumping out the window for it. Least I didn_t end up with that one. Miss Sarah stood up. She was wearing a dark blue dress and had rosy-colored hair that hung straight like corn silk and freckles the same red color all over her face. She took a long breath and started working her lips. Back then, Miss Sarah pulled words up from her throat like she was raising water from a well. When she finally got the bucket up, we could hardly hear what she was saying. _. . . . . . . . . I_m sorry, Mother. . . . . . I can_t accept._ Missus asked her to say it over. This time Miss Sarah bellowed it like a shrimp peddler. Missus_ eyes were frost blue like Miss Sarah_s, but they turned dark as indigo. Her fingernails bore into me and carved out what looked like a flock of birds on my arm. She said, _Sit down, Sarah dear._ Miss Sarah said, _. . . I don_t need a waiting maid . . . I_m perfectly fine without one._ _That is quite enough,_ missus said. How you could miss the warning in that, I don_t know. Miss Sarah missed it by a mile. _. . . Couldn_t you save her for Anna?_ _Enough!_ Miss Sarah plopped on her chair like somebody shoved her. The water started in a trickle down my leg. I jerked every way I could to get free of missus_ claws, but then it came in a gush on the rug. Missus let out a shriek and everything went hush. You could hear embers leap round in the fireplace. I had a slap coming, or worse. I thought of Rosetta, how she threw a shaking fit when it suited her. She_d let the spit run from her mouth and send her eyes rolling back. She looked like a beetle-bug upside down trying to right itself, but it got her free of punishment, and it crossed my mind to fall down and pitch a fit myself the best I could. But I stood there with my dress plastered wet on my thighs and shame running hot down my face. Aunt-Sister came and toted me off. When we passed the stairs in the main hall, I saw mauma up on the landing, pressing her hands to her chest. That night doves sat up in the tree limbs and moaned. I clung to mauma in our rope bed, staring at the quilt frame, the way it hung over us from the ceiling rafters, drawn tight on its pulleys. She said the quilt frame was our guarding angel. She said, _Everything gon be all right._ But the shame stayed with me. I tasted it like a bitter green on my tongue. The bells tolled cross Charleston for the slave curfew, and mauma said the Guard would be out there soon beating on their drums, but she said it like this: _Bugs be in the wheat _fore long._ Then she rubbed the flat bones in my shoulders. That_s when she told me the story from Africa her mauma told her. How the people could fly. How they flew over trees and clouds. How they flew like blackbirds. Next morning mauma handed me a quilt matched to my length and told me I couldn_t sleep with her anymore. From here on out, I would sleep on the floor in the hall outside Miss Sarah_s bed chamber. Mauma said, _Don_t get off your quilt for nothin_ but Miss Sarah calling. Don_t wander _bout. Don_t light no candle. Don_t make noise. When Miss Sarah rings the bell, you make haste._ Mauma told me, _It gon be hard from here on, Handful._ Sarah I was sent to solitary confinement in my new room and ordered to write a letter of apology to each guest. Mother settled me at the desk with paper, inkwell, and a letter she_d composed herself, which I was to copy. _. . . . . . You didn_t punish Hetty, did you?_ I asked. _Do you think me inhuman, Sarah? The girl had an accident. What could I do?_ She shrugged with exasperation. _If the rug cannot be cleaned, it will have to be thrown out._ As she walked to the door, I struggled to pry the words from my mouth before she exited. _. . . . . . Mother, please, let me. . . . . . let me give Hetty back to you._ Give Hetty back. As if she was mine after all. As if owning people was as natural as breathing. For all my resistance about slavery, I breathed that foul air, too. _Your guardianship is legal and binding. Hetty is yours, Sarah, there is nothing to be done about it._ _. . . . . . But__ I heard the commotion of her petticoats as she crossed the rug back to me. She was a woman the winds and tides obeyed, but in that moment, she was gentle with me. Placing a finger under my chin, she tilted my face to hers and smiled. _Why must you fight this? I don_t know where you get these alien ideas. This is our way of life, dear one, make your peace with it._ She kissed the top of my head. _I expect all eighteen letters by the morning._ The room filled with an orange glow that lit the cypress panels, then melted into dusk and shadows. In my mind, I could see Hetty clearly_the confused, mortified look on her face, her hair braids cocked in every direction, the disgraceful lavender ribbons. She was puny in the extreme, a year younger than I, but she looked all of six years old. Her limbs were stick and bone. Her elbows, the curves of two fastening pins. The only thing of any size about her was her eyes, which were colored a strange shade of gold and floated above her black cheeks like shiny half-moons. It seemed traitorous to ask forgiveness for something I didn_t feel sorry for in the least. What I regretted was how pathetic my protest had turned out. I wanted nothing more than to sit here unyielding through the night, for days and weeks if need be, but in the end I gave in and wrote the damnable letters. I knew myself to be an odd girl with my mutinous ideas, ravenous intellect, and funny looks, and half the time I sputtered like a horse straining at its bit, qualities in the female sex that were not endearing. I was on my way to being the family pariah, and I feared the ostracism. I feared it most of all. Over and over I wrote: Dear Madame, Thank you for the honor and kindness you bestowed upon me by attending my eleventh birthday tea. I regret that though I have been well-taught by my parents, my behavior on this occasion was exceedingly ill-mannered. I humbly beg your pardon for my rudeness and disrespect. Your Remorseful Friend, Sarah Grimk? I climbed the preposterous height to the mattress and had only just settled when a bird outside my window began to trill. First, a stream of pelting whistles, then a soft, melancholic song. I felt alone in the world with my alien ideas. Sliding from my perch, I stole to the window where I shivered in my white woolen gown, gazing along East Bay, past the dark rooftops toward the harbor. With hurricane season behind us, there were close to a hundred topsails moored out there, shimmering on the water. Plastering my cheek against the frigid pane, I discovered I had a partial view of the slave quarters above the carriage house where I knew Hetty to be spending her last night with her mother. Tomorrow she would take up her duties and sleep outside my door. It was then I had a sudden epiphany. I lit a candle from the dwindling coals in the fire, opened my door, and stepped into the dark, unheated passageway. Three dark shapes lay on the floor beside the bedroom doors. I_d never really seen the world beyond the nursery at night and it took a moment to realize the shapes were slaves, sleeping close by in case a Grimk? rang his bell. Mother wished to replace the archaic arrangement with one that had recently been installed in the house of her friend, Mrs. Russell. There, buttons were pressed that rang in the slaves_ quarters, each with a special chime. Mother was bent on the innovation, but Father thought it wasteful. Though we were Anglicans, he had a mild streak of Huguenot frugality. There would be ostentatious buttons in the Grimk? household over his dead body. I crept barefooted down the wide mahogany stairs to the first floor where two more slaves slept, along with Cindie, who sat wide awake with her back against the wall outside my parents_ chamber. She eyed me warily, but didn_t ask what I was doing. I picked my way along the Persian rug that ran the near-length of the main passage, turned the knob to Father_s library, and stepped inside. An ornately framed portrait of George Washington was lit with a scrim of moonlight coming through the front window. For almost a year, Father had looked the other way as I_d slipped beneath Mr. Washington_s nose to plunder the library. John, Thomas, and Frederick had total reign over his vast trove_books of law, geography, philosophy, theology, history, botany, poetry, and the Greek humanities_while Mary and I were officially forbidden to read a word of it. Mary didn_t seem to care for books, but I . . . I dreamed of them in my sleep. I loved them in a way I couldn_t fully express even to Thomas. He pointed me to certain volumes and drilled me on Latin declensions. He was the only one who knew my desperation to acquire a true education, beyond the one I received at the hands of Madame Ruffin, my tutor and French nemesis. She was a small, hot-tempered woman who wore a widow_s cap with strings floating at her cheeks, and when it was cold, a squirrely fur cloak and tiny fur-lined shoes. She was known to line girls up on the Idle Bench for the smallest infraction and scream at them until they fainted. I despised her, and her _polite education for the female mind,_ which was composed of needlework, manners, drawing, basic reading, penmanship, piano, Bible, French, and enough arithmetic to add two and two. I thought it possible I might die from tracing teensy flowers on the pages of my art tablet. Once I wrote in the margin, _If I should die of this horrid exercise, I wish these flowers to adorn my coffin._ Madame Ruffin was not amused. I was made to stand on the Idle Bench, where she ranted at my insolence, and where I forced myself not to faint. Increasingly, during those classes, longings had seized me, foreign, torrential aches that overran my heart. I wanted to know things, to become someone. Oh, to be a son! I adored Father because he treated me almost as if I were a son, allowing me to slip in and out of his library. On that night, the coals in the library_s fireplace lay cold and the smell of cigar smoke still pooled in the air. Without effort, I located Father_s South Carolina Justice of the Peace and Public Laws, which he himself had authored. I_d thumbed through it enough to know somewhere in the pages was a copy of a legal manumission document. Upon finding it, I took paper and quill from Father_s desk and copied it: I hereby certify that on this day, 26 November 1803, in the city of Charleston, in the state of South Carolina, I set free from slavery, Hetty Grimk?, and bestow this certificate of manumission upon her. Sarah Moore Grimk? What could Father do but make Hetty_s freedom as legal and binding as her ownership? I was following a code of law he_d fashioned himself! I left my handiwork atop the backgammon box on his desk. In the corridor, I heard the tingle of Mother_s bell, summoning Cindie, and I broke into a run back upstairs that blew out the flame on my candle. My room had turned even colder and the little bird had ceased its song. I crept beneath the stack-pile of quilts and blankets, but couldn_t sleep for excitement. I imagined the thanksgiving Hetty and Charlotte would heap on me. I imagined Father_s pride when he discovered the document, and Mother_s annoyance. Legal and binding, indeed! Finally, overcome with fatigue and satisfaction, I drifted to sleep. When I woke, the bluish tint of the Delft tiles around the hearth gleamed with light. I sat up into the quietness. My ecstatic burst of the night before had drained away, leaving me calm and clear. I couldn_t have explained then how the oak tree lives inside the acorn or how I suddenly realized that in the same enigmatic way something lived inside of me_the woman I would become_but it seemed I knew at once who she was. It had been there all along as I_d scoured Father_s books and constructed my arguments during our dinner table debates. Only the past week, Father had orchestrated a discussion between Thomas and me on the topic of exotic fossilized creatures. Thomas argued that if these strange animals were truly extinct, it implied poor planning on God_s part, threatening the ideal of God_s perfection, therefore, such creatures must still be alive in remote places on earth. I argued that even God should be allowed to change his mind. _Why should God_s perfection be based on having an unchanging nature?_ I asked. _Isn_t flexibility more perfect than stasis?_ Father slapped his hand on the table. _If Sarah was a boy, she would be the greatest jurist in South Carolina!_ At the time, I_d been awed by his words, but it wasn_t until now, waking up in my new room, that I saw their true meaning. The comprehension of my destiny came in a rush. I would become a jurist. Naturally, I knew there were no female lawyers. For a woman, nothing existed but the domestic sphere and those tiny flowers etched on the pages of my art book. For a woman to aspire to be a lawyer_well, possibly, the world would end. But an acorn grew into an oak tree, didn_t it? I told myself the affliction in my voice wouldn_t stop me, it would compel me. It would make me strong, for I would have to be strong. I had a history of enacting small private rituals. The first time I took a book from Father_s library, I_d penned the date and title_February 25, 1803, Lady of the Lake_on a sliver of paper that I wedged into a tortoise-shell hair clip and wore about surreptitiously. Now, with dawn gathering in bright tufts across the bed, I wanted to consecrate what was surely my greatest realization. I went to the armoire and took down the blue dress Charlotte had sewed for the disastrous birthday party. Where the collar met, she_d stitched a large silver button with an engraved fleur de lis. Using the hawk bill letter opener John had left behind, I sawed it off. Squeezing it in my palm, I prayed, Please, God, let this seed you planted in me bear fruit. When I opened my eyes, everything was the same. The room still bore patches of early light, the dress lay like a blue heap of sky on the floor, the silver button was clutched in my palm, but I felt God had heard me. The sterling button took on everything that transpired that night_the revulsion of owning Hetty, the relief of signing her manumission, but mostly the bliss of recognizing that innate seed in myself, the one my father had already seen. A jurist. I tucked the button inside a small box made of Italian lava rock, which I_d received one Christmastime, then hid it at the back of my dressing drawer. Voices came from the corridor mingled with the clink-clank of trays and pitchers. The sound of slaves in their servitude. The world waking. I dressed hurriedly, wondering if Hetty was already outside my door. As I opened it, my heart picked up its pace, but Hetty wasn_t there. The manumission document I_d written lay on the floor. It was torn in two. Handful My life with Miss Sarah got off on a bad left foot. When I got to her room that first morning, the door hung open and Miss Sarah was sitting in the cold, staring at the blank wall. I stuck my head in and said, _Miss Sarah, you want me to come in there?_ She had thick little hands with stubby fingers and they went up to her mouth and spread open like a lady_s fan. Her eyes were pale and spoke plainer than her mouth. They said, I don_t want you here. Her mouth said, _. . . . . . Yes, come in. . . . . . I_m pleased to have you for my waiting maid._ Then she slumped in her chair and went back to what she was doing before. Nothing. A ten-year-old yard slave who hadn_t done nothing but chores for Aunt-Sister never got inside the house much. And never to the top floors. What such a room! She had a bed big as a horse buggy, a dressing table with a looking glass, a desk for holding books and more books, and lots of padded chairs. The chimney place had a fire screen embroidered with pink flowers I knew came from mauma_s needle. Up on the mantel were two white vases, pure porcelain. I looked everything over, then stood there, wondering what to do. I said, _Sure is cold._ Miss Sarah didn_t answer, so I said louder, _SURE IS COLD._ This snapped her from her wall-staring. _. . . . . . You could lay a fire, I guess._ I_d seen it done, but seeing ain_t doing. I didn_t know to check the flue, and here came all this smoke swarming out like chimney bats. Miss Sarah started throwing open windows. It must_ve looked like the house was burning cause out in the yard Tomfry yelled, _Fire, fire._ Then everybody took it up. I grabbed the basin of water in the dressing room used for freshening up and hurled it on the fire, which didn_t do nothing but cause the smoke to double up. Miss Sarah fanned it out the windows, looking like a ghost through all the black clouds. There was a jib door in her room that opened to the piazza, and I ran to get it open, wanting to shout to Tomfry we didn_t have a fire, but before I could yank it free, I heard missus flying round the house hollering for everybody to get out and take an armload. After the smoke thinned to a few floating cobwebs, I followed Miss Sarah to the yard. Old Snow and Sabe had already bridled up the horses and pulled the carriages to the back in case the whole yard went down with the house. Tomfry had Prince and Eli toting buckets from the cistern. Some neighbor men had showed up with more buckets. Folks feared a fire worse than the devil. They kept a slave sitting all day up in the steeple on St. Michael_s, watching the rooftops for fire, and I worried he_d see all this smoke, ring the church bell, and the whole brigade show up. I ran to mauma who was bunched with the rest of _em. The stuff they thought worth saving was heaped in piles by their feet. China bowls, tea caddies, record books, clothes, portraits, Bibles, brooches, and pearls. Even a marble bust was sitting out there. Missus had her gold-tip cane in one hand and a silver cigar holder in the other. Miss Sarah was trying to cut through the frantics to tell Tomfry and the men there wasn_t a fire to throw their water on, but by the time she dragged the words out of her mouth, the men had gone back to hauling water. When it got worked out what_d happened, missus went into a fury. _Hetty, you incompetent fool!_ Nobody moved, not even the neighbor men. Mauma moved over and tucked me behind her, but missus jerked me out front. She brought the gold-tip cane down on the back of my head, worst blow I ever got. It drove me to my knees. Mauma screamed. So did Miss Sarah. But missus, she raised her arm like she_d go at me again. I can_t describe proper what came next. The work yard, the people in it, the walls shutting us in, all that fell away. The ground rolled out from under me and the sky billowed off like a tent caught in the wind. I was in a space to myself, somewhere time can_t cross. A voice called steady in my head, Get up from there. Get up from there and look her in the face. Dare her to strike you. Dare her. I got on my feet and poked my face at her. My eyes said, Hit me, I dare you. Missus let her arm drop and stepped back. Then the yard was round me again and I reached up and felt my head. A lump was there the size of a quail egg. Mauma reached over and touched it with her fingertip. The rest of that God-forsook day every woman and girl slave was made to drag clothes, linens, rugs, and curtains from every room upstairs out to the piazza for airing-out. Everyone but mauma and Binah showered me with looks of despising. Miss Sarah came up there wanting to help and started hauling with the rest of us. Every time I turned round, she was looking at me like she_d never seen me before in her life. Sarah I took meals alone in my room for three full days as a protest against owning Hetty, though I don_t think anyone much noticed. On the fourth day, I swallowed my pride and arrived in the dining room for breakfast. Mother and I hadn_t spoken of the doomed manumission document. I suspected she was the one who_d torn it into two even pieces and deposited them outside my room, thereby having the Last Word without uttering a syllable. At the age of eleven, I owned a slave I couldn_t free. The meal, the largest of the day, had long been under way_Father, Thomas, and Frederick had already left in pursuit of school and work, while Mother, Mary, Anna, and Eliza remained. _You are late, my dear,_ Mother said. Not without a note of sympathy. Phoebe, who assisted Aunt-Sister and looked slightly older than myself, appeared at my elbow, emanating the fresh odors of the kitchen house_sweat, coal, smoke, and an acrid fishiness. Typically, she stood by the table and swished the fly brush, but today she slid a plate before me heaped with sausages, grit cake, salted shrimp, brown bread, and tapioca jelly. Attempting to lower a quivery cup of tea beside my plate, Phoebe deposited it on top my spoon, causing the contents to slosh onto the cloth. _Oh missus, I sorry,_ she cried, whirling toward Mother. Mother blew out her breath as if all the mistakes of all the Negroes in the world rested personally upon her shoulders. _Where is Aunt-Sister? Why, for heaven_s sake, are you serving?_ _She showing me how to do it._ _Well, see that you learn._ As Phoebe rushed to stand outside the door, I tried to toss her a smile. _It_s nice of you to make an appearance,_ Mother said. _You are recovered?_ All eyes turned on me. Words collected in my mouth and lay there. At such moments, I used a technique in which I imagined my tongue like a slingshot. I drew it back, tighter, tighter. _. . . . . . I_m fine._ The words hurled across the table in a spray of saliva. Mary made a show of dabbing her face with a napkin. She_ll end up exactly like Mother, I thought. Running a house congested with children and slaves, while I_ _I trust you found the remains of your folly?_ Mother asked. Ah, there it was. She had confiscated my document, likely without Father knowing. _What folly?_ Mary said. I gave Mother a pleading look. _Nothing you need concern yourself with, Mary,_ she said, and tilted her head as if she wanted to mend the rift between us. I slumped in my chair and debated taking my cause to Father and presenting him with the torn manumission document. I could think of little else for the rest of the day, but by nightfall, I knew it would do no good. He deferred to Mother on all household matters, and he abhorred a tattler. My brothers never tattled, and I would do no less. Besides, I would_ve been an idiot to rile Mother further. I countered my disappointment by conducting vigorous talks with myself about the future. Anything is possible, anything at all. Nightly, I opened the lava box and gazed upon the silver button. Handful Missus said I was the worst waiting maid in Charleston. She said, _You are abysmal, Hetty, abysmal._ I asked Miss Sarah what abysmal means and she said, _Not quite up to standard._ Uh huh. I could tell from missus_ face, there_s bad, there_s worse, and after that comes abysmal. That first week, beside the smoke, I spilled lamp oil on the floor leaving a slick spot, broke one of those porcelain vases, and fried a piece of Miss Sarah_s red hair with a curling tong. Miss Sarah never tattled. She tugged the rug over to cover the oily place, hid the broke porcelain in a storeroom in the cellar, and cut off her singed hair with the snuffer we used to snip the candle wick. Only time Miss Sarah rang her bell for me was if missus was headed our way. Binah and her two girls, Lucy and Phoebe, always sang out, _The cane tapping. The cane tapping._ Miss Sarah_s warning bell gave me some extra lead on my rope, and I took it. I would rove down the hallway to the front alcove where I could see the water in the harbor float to the ocean and the ocean roll on till it sloshed against the sky. Nothing could hold a glorybound picture to it. First time I saw it, my feet hopped in place and I lifted my hand over my head and danced. That_s when I got true religion. I didn_t know to call it religion back then, didn_t know Amen from what-when, I just knew something came into me that made me feel the water belonged to me. I would say, that_s my water out there. I saw it turn every color. It was green one day, then brown, next day yellow as cider. Purple, black, blue. It stayed restless, never ceasing. Boats coming and going on top, fishes underneath. I would sing these little verses to it: Cross the water, cross the sea Let them fishes carry me. If that water take too long, Carry me on, Carry me on. After a month or two, I was doing more things right in the house, but even Miss Sarah didn_t know some nights I left my post by her door and watched the water all night long, the way it broke silver from the moon. The stars shining big as platters. I could see clean to Sullivan_s Island. I pined for mauma when it was dark. I missed our bed. I missed the quilt frame guarding over us. I pictured mauma sewing quilts by herself. I would think about the gunny sack stuffed with feathers, the red pouch with our pins and needles, my pure brass thimble. Nights like that, I hightailed it back to the stable room. Every time mauma woke and found me in bed with her, she had a fit, saying all the trouble there would be if I got caught, how I already lived too far out on missus_ bad side. _Ain_t nothin_ good gon come from you wandering off like this,_ she said. _You got to stay put on your quilt. You do that for me, you hear me?_ And I_d do it for her. Least for a few days. I_d lay on the floor in the hall, trying to stay warm in the draft, twisting round in search of the softest floorboard. I could make do with that misery and take my solace from the water. Sarah On a bleary morning in March, four months after the calamity of my eleventh birthday, I woke to find Hetty missing, her pallet on the floor outside my room crumpled with the outline of her small body. By now, she would_ve been filling my basin with water and telling me some story or other. It surprised me that I felt her absence personally. I missed her as I would a fond companion, but I fretted for her, too. Mother had already taken her cane to Hetty once. Finding no trace of her in the house, I stood on the top step by the back door, scanning the work yard. A thin haze had drifted in from the harbor, and overhead the sun glinted through it with the dull gold of a pocket watch. Snow was in the door of the carriage house, repairing one of the breeching straps. Aunt-Sister straddled a stool by the vegetable garden, scaling fish. Not wishing to rouse her suspicions, I ambled to the porch of the kitchen house where Tomfry was handing out supplies. Soap to Eli for washing the marble steps, two Osnaburg towels to Phoebe for cleaning crystal, a coal scoop to Sabe for re-supplying the scuttles. As I waited for him to finish, I let my eyes drift to the oak in the back left corner. Its branches were adorned with tight buds, and though the tree bore little resemblance to its summer visage, the memory of that long-ago day returned: sitting straddle-legged on the ground, the hot stillness, the green-skinned shade, arranging my words with marbles, Sarah Go_ I looked away to the opposite side of the yard, and it was there I saw Hetty_s mother, Charlotte, walking beside the woodpile, bending now and then to pick up something from the ground. Arriving behind her unseen, I noticed the tidbits she scavenged were small, downy feathers. _. . . . . . Charlotte__ She jumped and the feather between her fingers fluttered off on the sea wind. It flitted to the top of the high brick wall that enclosed the yard, snagging in the creeping fig. _Miss Sarah!_ she said. _You scared the jimminies out of me._ Her laugh was high-pitched and fragile with nerves. Her eyes darted toward the stable. _. . . . . . I didn_t mean to startle you . . . I only wondered, do you know where__ She cut me off, and pointed into the woodpile. _Look way down _n there._ Peering into a berth between two pieces of wood, I came face to face with a pointy-eared brown creature covered with fuzz. Only slightly bigger than a hen_s chick, it was an owl of some sort. I drew back as its yellow eyes blinked and bore into me. Charlotte laughed again, this time more naturally. _It ain_t gon bite._ _. . . . . . It_s a baby._ _I came on it a few nights back. Poor thing on the ground, crying._ _. . . . . . Was it . . . hurt?_ _Naw, just left behind is all. Its mauma_s a barn owl. Took up in a crow_s nest in the shed, but she left. I_m _fraid something got her. I been feeding the baby scraps._ My only liaisons with Charlotte had been dress fittings, but I_d always detected a keenness in her. Of all the slaves Father owned, she struck me as the most intelligent, and perhaps the most dangerous, which would turn out to be true enough. _. . . . . . I_ll be kind to Hetty,_ I said abruptly. The words_remorseful and lordly_came out as if some pustule of guilt had disgorged. Her eyes flashed open, then narrowed into small burrs. They were honey colored, the same as Hetty_s. _. . . . . . I never meant to own her . . . I tried to free her, but . . . I wasn_t allowed._ I couldn_t seem to stop myself. Charlotte slid her hand into her apron pocket, and silence welled unbearably. She_d seen my guilt and she used it with cunning. _That_s awright,_ she said. _Cause I know you gon make that up to her one these days._ The letter M clamped on to my tongue with its little jaws. _. . . . . . . . . M-m-make it up?_ _I mean, I know you gon hep her any way you can to get free._ _. . . . . . Yes, I_ll try,_ I said. _What I need is you swearing to it._ I nodded, hardly understanding that I_d been deftly guided into a covenant. _You keep your word,_ she said. _I know you will._ Remembering why I_d approached her in the first place, I said, _. . . I_ve been unable to find__ _Handful gon be at your door _fore you know it._ Walking back to the house, I felt the noose of that strange and intimate exchange pull into a knot. Hetty appeared in my room ten minutes later, her eyes dominating her small face, fierce as the little owl_s. Seated at my desk, I_d only just opened a book I_d borrowed from Father_s library, The Adventures of Telemachus. Telemachus, the son of Penelope and Odysseus, was setting out to Troy to find his father. Without questioning her earlier whereabouts, I began to read aloud. Hetty plopped onto the bed-steps that led to the mattress, rested her chin in the cup of her hands, and listened through the morning as Telemachus took on the hostilities of the ancient world. Wily Charlotte. As March passed, I thought obsessively about the promise she_d wrung from me. Why hadn_t I told her Hetty_s freedom was impossible? That the most I could ever offer her was kindness? When it came time to sew my Easter dress, I cringed to think of seeing her again, petrified she would bring up our conversation by the woodpile. I would rather have impaled myself with a needle than endured more of her scrutiny. _I don_t need a new dress this Easter,_ I told Mother. A week later, I stood on the fitting box, wearing a half-sewn satin dress. On entering my room, Charlotte had hastened Hetty off on some contrived mission before I could think of a way to override her. The dress was a light shade of cinnamon, remarkably similar to the tone of Charlotte_s skin, a likeness I noted as she stood before me with three straight pins wedged between her lips. When she spoke, I smelled coffee beans, and knew she_d been chewing them. Her words squeezed out around the pins in twisted curls of sounds. _You gon keep that word you gave me?_ To my disgrace, I used my impediment to my advantage, struggling more than necessary to answer her, pretending the words fell back into the dark chute of my throat and disappeared. Handful On the first good Saturday, when it looked like spring was staying put this time, missus took Miss Sarah, Miss Mary, and Miss Anna off in the carriage with the lanterns on it. Aunt-Sister said they were going to White Point to promenade, said all the women and girls would be out with their parasols. When Snow drove the carriage out the back gate, Miss Sarah waved, and Sabe, who was dandied up in a green frock coat and livery vest, was hanging off the back, grinning. Aunt-Sister said to us, _What yawl looking at? Get to work cleaning, a full spit and shine on their rooms. Make hay while the mice away._ Up in Miss Sarah_s room, I spread the bed and scrubbed the gloom on the looking glass that wouldn_t come off with any kind of ash-water. I swept up dead moths fat from gnawing on the curtains, wiped down the privy pot, and threw in a pinch of soda. I scrubbed the floors with lime soap from the demijohn. Wore out from all that, I did what we call shilly-shally. Poking round up to no good. First, I looked to see was any slave in the passage way_some of them would as soon tell on you as blink. I shut the door and opened Miss Sarah_s books. I sat at her desk and turned one page after another, staring at what looked like bits and pieces of black lace laid cross the paper. The marks had a beauty to them, but I didn_t see how they could do anything but confuddle a person. I pulled out the desk drawer and rooted all through her things. I found a piece of unfinished cross stitch with clumsy stitches, looked like a three-year-old had done it. There was some fine, glossy threads in the drawer wrapped on wood spools. Sealing wax. Tan paper. Little drawings with ink smudges. A long brass key with a tassel on it. I went through the wardrobe, touching the frocks mauma_d made. I nosed through the dressing table drawer, pulling out jewelry, hair ribbons, paper fans, bottles and brushes, and finally, a little box. It glistened dark like my skin when it was wet. I pushed up the latch. Inside was a big silver button. I touched it, then closed the lid the same slow way I_d closed her wardrobe, her drawers, and her books_with my chest filling up. There was so much in the world to be had and not had. I went back and opened up the desk drawer one more time and stared at the threads. What I did next was wrong, but I didn_t much care. I took the plump spool of scarlet thread and dropped it in my dress pocket. The Saturday before Easter we all got sent to the dining room. Tomfry said things had gone missing in the house. I went in there thinking, Lord, help me. There wasn_t nothing worse for us than some little old piece of nonsense disappearing. One dent-up tin cup in the pantry or a toast crumb off missus_ plate and the feathers flew. But this time it wasn_t a piece of nonsense, and it wasn_t scarlet thread. It was missus_ brand new bolt of green silk cloth. There we were, fourteen of us, lined up while missus carried on about it. She said the silk was special, how it traveled from the other side of the world, how these worms in China had spun the threads. Back then, I_d never heard such craziness in my life. Every one of us was sweating and twitching, running our hands in our britches pockets or up under our aprons. I could smell the odors off our bodies, which was nothing but fear. Mauma knew everything happening out there over the wall_missus gave her passes to travel to the market by herself. She tried to keep the bad parts from me, but I knew about the torture house on Magazine Street. The white folks called it the Work House. Like the slaves were in there sewing clothes and making bricks and hammering horseshoes. I knew about it before I was eight, the dark hole they put you in and left you by yourself for weeks. I knew about the whippings. Twenty lashes was the limit you could get. A white man could buy a bout of floggings for half a dollar and use them whenever he needed to put some slave in the right frame of mind. Far as I knew, not one Grimk? slave had gone to the Work House, but that morning, every one of us in the dining room was wondering is this the day. _One of you is guilty of thieving. If you return the bolt of cloth, which is what God would have you do, then I will be forgiving._ Uh huh. Missus didn_t think we had a grain of sense. What were any of us gonna do with emerald silk? The night after the cloth vanished, I slipped out. Walked straight out the door. I had to pass by Cindie outside missus_ door_she was no friend to mauma, and I had to be wary round her, but she was snoring away. I slid into bed next to mauma, only she wasn_t in bed this time, she was standing in the corner with her arms folded over her chest. She said, _What you think you doing?_ I never had heard that tone to her voice. Filtered up, we going back to the house right now. This the last time you sneaking out, the last time. This ain_t no game, Handful. There be misery to pay on this._ She didn_t wait for me to move, but snatched me up like I was a stray piece of batting. Grabbed me under one arm, marched me down the carriage house steps, cross the work yard. My feet didn_t hardly touch the ground. She dragged me inside through the warming kitchen, the door nobody locked. Her finger rested against her lips, warning me to stay quiet, then she tugged me to the staircase and nodded her head toward the top. Go on now. Those stair steps made a racket. I didn_t get ten steps when I heard a door open down below, and the air suck from mauma_s throat. Master_s voice came out of the dark, saying, _Who is it? Who is there?_ Lamplight shot cross the walls. Mauma didn_t move. _Charlotte?_ he said, calm as could be. _What are you doing in here?_ Behind her back, mauma made a sign with her hand, waving at the floor, and I knew she meant me to crouch low on the steps. _Nothing, massa Grimk?. Nothing, sir._ _There must be some reason for your presence in the house at this hour. You should explain yourself now to avoid any trouble._ It was almost kind the way he said it. Mauma stood there without a word. Master Grimk? always did that to her. Say something. If it was missus standing there, mauma could_ve spit out three, four things already. Say Handful is sick and you_re going to see about her. Say Aunt-Sister sent you in here to get some remedy for Snow. Say you can_t sleep for worrying about their Easter clothes, how they gonna fit in the morning. Say you_re walking in your sleep. Just say something. Mauma waited too long, cause here came missus out from her room. Peering over the step, I could see she had her sleeping cap on crooked. I have knots in my years that I can_t undo, and this is one of the worst_the night I did wrong and mauma got caught. I could_ve showed myself. I could_ve given the rightful account, said it was me, but what I did was ball up silent on the stair steps. Missus said, _Are you the pilferer, Charlotte? Have you come back for more? Is this how you do it, slipping in at night?_ Missus roused Cindie and told her to fetch Aunt-Sister and light two lamps, they were going to search mauma_s room. _Yessum, yessum,_ said Cindie. Pleased as a planter punch. Master Grimk? groaned like he_d stepped in a dog pile, all this nasty business with women and slaves. He took his light and went back to bed. I followed after mauma and them from a distance, saying words a ten-year-old shouldn_t know, but I_d learned plenty of cuss at the stables listening to Sabe sing to the horses. God damney, god damney, day and night. God damney, god damney, all them whites. I was working myself up to tell missus what_d happened. I left my place beside Miss Sarah_s door and sneaked out to my old room. Mauma brought me back to the house. When I peered round the door jam into our room, I saw the blankets torn off the bed, the wash basin turned over, and our flannel gunny sack dumped upside down, quilt-fillings everywhere. Aunt-Sister was working the pulley to lower the quilt frame. It had a quilt-top on it with raw edges, bright little threads fluttering. Nobody looked at me standing in the doorway, just mauma whose eyes always went to me. Her lids sank shut and she didn_t open them back. The wheels on the pulley sang and the frame floated down to that squeaky music. There on top of the unfinished quilt was a bolt of bright green cloth. I looked at the cloth and thought how pretty. Lamplight catching on every wrinkle. Me, Aunt-Sister, and missus stared at it like it was something we_d dreamed. Missus gave us an earful then about how hard it was for her to visit discipline on a slave she_d trusted, but what choice did she have? She told mauma, _I will delay your punishment until Monday_tomorrow is Easter and I do not want it marred by this. I will not send you off for punishment, and you should be grateful for that, but I assure you your penalty will match your crime._ She hadn_t said Work House, she_d said off, but we knew what off meant. Least mauma wasn_t going there. When missus finally turned to me, she didn_t ask what was I doing out here or send me back to Miss Sarah_s floorboards. She said, _You may stay with your mother until her punishment on Monday. I wish her to have some consolation until then. I am not an unfeeling woman._ Long into that night, I slobbered out my sorrow and guilt to mauma. She rubbed my shoulders and told me she wasn_t mad. She said I never should_ve snuck out of the house, but she wasn_t mad. I was about asleep when she said, _I should_ve sewed that green silk inside a quilt and she never would_ve found it. I ain_t sorry for stealing it, just for getting caught._ _How come you took it?_ _Cause,_ she said. _Cause I could._ Those words stuck with me. Mauma didn_t want that cloth, she just wanted to make some trouble. She couldn_t get free and she couldn_t pop missus on the back of her head with a cane, but she could take her silk. You do your rebellions any way you can. Sarah On Easter, we Grimk?s rode to St. Philip_s Episcopal Church beneath the Pride of India trees that lined both sides of Meeting Street. I_d asked for a spot in the open-air Sulky with Father, but Thomas and Frederick snared the privilege, while I was stuck in the carriage with Mother and the heat. The air oozed through slits that passed for windows, blowing in thinly peeled wisps. I pressed my face against the opening and watched the splendor of Charleston sweep by: bright single houses with their capacious verandas, flower boxes bulging on row houses, clipped jungles of tropical foliage_oleander, hibiscus, bougainvillea. _Sarah, I trust you_re prepared to give your first lesson,_ Mother said. I_d recently become a new teacher in the Colored Sunday School, a class taught by girls, thirteen years and older, but Mother had prodded Reverend Hall to make an exception, and for once her overbearing nature had yielded something that wasn_t altogether repugnant. I turned to her, feeling the burn of privet in my nostrils. _. . . Yes . . . I studied v-very hard._ Mary mocked me, protruding her eyes in a grotesque way, mouthing, _. . . V-v-very hard,_ which caused Ben to snicker. She was a menace, my sister. Lately, the pauses in my speech had diminished and I refused to let her faze me. I was about to do something useful for a change, and even if I hemmed and hawed my way through the entire class, so be it. At the moment, I was more concerned I had to teach it paired with Mary. As the carriage neared the market, the noise mounted and the sidewalks began to overflow with Negroes and mulattoes. Sunday was the slaves_ only day off, and they thronged the thoroughfares_most were walking to their masters_ churches, required to show up and sit in the balconies_but even on regular days, the slaves dominated the streets, doing their owners_ bidding, shopping the market, delivering messages and invitations for teas and dinner parties. Some were hired out and trekked back and forth to work. Naturally, they nicked a little time to fraternize. You could see them gathered at street corners, wharves, and grog shops. The Charleston Mercury railed against the _unsupervised swarms_ and called for regulations, but as Father said, as long as a slave possessed a pass or a work badge, his presence was perfectly legitimate. Snow had been apprehended once. Instead of waiting by the carriage while we were in church, he_d driven it about the city with no one inside_a kind of pleasure ride. He_d been taken to the Guard House near St. Michael_s. Father was furious, not at Snow, but at the City Guard. He stormed down to the mayor_s court and paid the fine, keeping Snow from the Work House. A glut of carriages on Cumberland Street prevented us from drawing closer to the church. The onslaught of people who attended services only on Eastertide incensed Mother, who saw to it the Grimk?s were in their pew every dull, common Sunday of the year. Snow_s gravelly voice filtered to us from the driver_s seat. _Missus, yawls has to walk from here,_ and Sabe swung open the door and lifted us down, one by one. Our father was already striding ahead, not a tall man, but he looked imposing in his gray coat, top hat, and cravat of silk surah. He had an angular face with a long nose and profuse brows that curled about the ledge of his forehead, but what made him handsome in my mind was his hair, a wild concoction of dark, auburn waves. Thomas had inherited the rich brown-red color, as had Anna and little Charles, but it had come to me in the feeble shade of persimmons and my brows and lashes were so pale they seemed to have been skipped over altogether. The seating arrangement inside St. Philip_s was a veritable blueprint of Charleston status, the elite vying to rent pews down front, the less affluent in the back, while the pointblank poor clustered on free benches along the sides. Our pew, which Father rented for three hundred dollars a year, was a mere three rows from the altar. I sat beside Father, cradling his hat upside down on my lap, catching a waft of the lemon oil he used to domesticate his locks. Overhead, in the upper galleries, the slaves began their babble and laughter. It was a perennial problem, this noise. They found boldness in the balcony the way they found it on the streets, from their numbers. Recently, their racket had escalated to such a degree that monitors had been placed in the balconies as deterrents. Despite them, the rumblings grew. Then, thwack. A cry. Parishioners swung about, glaring upward. By the time Reverend Hall mounted the pulpit, a full-scale hubbub had broken out at the rafters. A shoe sailed over the balcony and plummeted down. A heavy boot. It landed on a lady midway back, toppling her hat and concussing her head. As the shaken lady and her family left the sanctuary, Reverend Hall pointed his finger toward the far left balcony and moved it in a slow circle clockwise. When all was silent, he quoted a scripture from Ephesians, reciting from memory. _Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as unto Christ._ Then he made what many, including my mother, would call the most eloquent extemporization on slavery they_d ever heard. _Slaves, I admonish you to be content with your lot, for it is the will of God! Your obedience is mandated by scripture. It is commanded by God through Moses. It is approved by Christ through his apostles, and upheld by the church. Take heed, then, and may God in his mercy grant that you will be humbled this day and return to your masters as faithful servants._ He walked back to his chair behind the chancel. I stared down at Father_s hat, then up at him, stricken, confused, stupefied even, trying to understand what I should think, but his face was a blank, implacable mask. After the service, I stood in a small, dingy classroom behind the church while twenty-two slave children raced about in anarchy. Upon entering the dim, airless room, I_d flung open the windows only to set us adrift in tree pollen. I sneezed repeatedly as I rapped the edge of my fan on the desk, trying to install order. Mary sat in the only chair in the room, a dilapidated Windsor, and watched me with an expression perfectly situated between boredom and amusement. _Let them play,_ she told me. _That_s what I do._ I was tempted. Since the reverend_s homily, I had little heart for the lesson. A pile of dusty, discarded kneeling cushions were heaped in the back corner, the needlepoint frayed beyond repair. I assumed they were for the children to sit on, as there wasn_t a stick of furniture in the room other than the teacher_s desk and chair. No curriculum leaflets, picture books, slate board, chalk, or adornment for the walls. I laid the kneeling cushions in rows on the floor, which started a game of kicking them about like balls. I_d been told to read today_s scripture and elaborate on its meaning, but when I finally succeeded in getting the children perched on the cushions and saw their faces, the whole thing seemed a travesty. If everyone was so keen to Christianize the slaves, why weren_t they taught to read the Bible for themselves? I began to sing the alphabet, a new little learning-ditty. A B C D E F G . . . Mary looked up surprised, then sighed and returned to her state of apathy. H I J K L M N O P . . . There had never been hesitation in my voice when I sang. The children_s eyes glittered with attention, Q R S . . . T U V . . . W X . . . Y and Z. I cajoled them to sing it in sections after me. Their pronunciations were lacking. Q came out coo, L M as ellem. Oh, but their faces! Such grins. I told myself when I returned next time, I would bring a slate board and write out the letters so they could see them as they sang. I thought then of Hetty. I_d seen the disarrangement of books on my desk and knew she explored them in my absence. How she would love to learn these twenty-six letters! After half a dozen rounds, the children sang with gusto, half-shouting. Mary plugged her ears with her fingers, but I sang full-pitch, using my arms like conductor sticks, waving the children on. I did not see Reverend Hall in the doorway. _What appalling mischief is going on here?_ he said. We halted abruptly, leaving me with the dizzy sense the letters still danced chaotically in the air over our heads. My face turned its usual flamboyant colors. _. . . . . . . . . We were singing, Reverend Sir._ _Which Grimk? child are you?_ He_d baptized me as a baby, just as he had all my siblings, but one could hardly expect him to keep us straight. _She_s Sarah,_ Mary said, leaping to her feet. _I had no part in the song._ _. . . . . . I_m sorry we were boisterous,_ I told him. He frowned. _We do not sing in Colored Sunday School, and we most assuredly do not sing the alphabet. Are you aware it is against the law to teach a slave to read?_ I knew of this law, though vaguely, as if it had been stored in a root cellar in my head and suddenly dug up like some moldy yam. All right, it was the law, but it struck me as shameful. Surely he wouldn_t claim this was God_s will, too. He waited for me to answer, and when I didn_t, he said, _Would you put the church in contradiction of the law?_ The memory of Hetty that day when Mother caned her flashed through my mind, and I raised my chin and glared at him, without answering. Handful What came next was a fast, bitter wind. Monday, after we got done with devotions, Aunt-Sister took mauma aside. She said missus had a friend who didn_t like floggings and had come up with the one-legged punishment. Aunt-Sister went to a lot of trouble to draw us a picture of it. She said they wind a leather tie round the slave_s ankle, then pull that foot up behind him and hitch the tie round his neck. If he lets his ankle drop, the tie chokes his throat. We knew what she was telling us. Mauma sat down on the kitchen house steps and laid her head flat against her knees. Tomfry was the one who came to strap her up. I could see he didn_t want any part of it, but he wasn_t saying so. Missus said, _One hour, Tomfry. That will do._ Then she went inside to her window perch. He led mauma to the middle of the yard near the garden where tiny shoots had just broke through the dirt. All us were out there huddled under the spreading tree, except Snow who was off with the carriage. Rosetta started wailing. Eli patted her arm, trying to ease her. Lucy and Phoebe were arguing over a piece of cold ham left from breakfast, and Aunt-Sister went over there and smacked them both cross their faces. Tomfry turned mauma so she was facing the tree with her back to the house. She didn_t fight. She stood there limp as the moss on the branches. The scent of low tide coming from the harbor was everywhere, a rotted smell. Tomfry told mauma, _Hold on to me,_ and she rested her hand on his shoulder while he bound her ankle with what looked like an old leather belt. He pulled it up behind her so she was standing on one leg, then he wound the other end of the strap round her throat and buckled it. Mauma saw me hanging on to Binah, my lips and chin trembling, and she said, _You ain_t got to watch. Close your eyes._ I couldn_t do it, though. After he got her trussed up, Tomfry moved off so she couldn_t grab on to him, and she took a hard spill. Split the skin over her brow. When she hit the ground, the strap yanked tight and mauma started choking. She threw back her head and gulped for air. I ran to help her, but the tat-tat, tat-tat of missus_ cane landed on the window, and Tomfry pulled me away and got mauma to her feet. I closed my eyes then, but what I saw in the dark was worse as the real thing. I cracked my eyes and watched her trying to keep her leg from dropping down and cutting off her air, fighting to stay upright. She set her eyes on top of the oak tree. Her standing leg quivered. Blood from her head-cut ran down her cheek. It clung to her jaw like rain on the roof eave. Don_t let her fall anymore. That_s the prayer I said. Missus told us God listened to everybody, even a slave got a piece of God_s ear. I carried a picture of God in my head, a white man, bearing a stick like missus or going round dodging slaves the way master Grimk? did, acting like he_d sired a world where they don_t exist. I couldn_t see him lifting a finger to help. Mauma didn_t fall again, though, and I reckoned God had lent me an ear, but maybe that ear wasn_t white, maybe the world had a colored God, too, or else it was mauma who kept her own self standing, who answered my prayer with the strength of her limbs and the grip of her heart. She never whimpered, never made a sound except some whisperings from her lips. Later on, I asked if her whispers were for God, and she said, _They was for your granny-mauma._ When that hour passed and Tomfry loosed the strap off her neck, she fell down and curled up on the dirt. Tomfry and Aunt-Sister lifted her up by the arms and lugged her and her numb legs up the stairs of the carriage house to her room. I ran behind, trying to keep her ankles from bumping on the steps. They laid her on the bed like flopping down a sack of flour. When we were left to our selves, I lay beside her and stared up at the quilt frame. From time to time, I said, _You want some water? Your legs hurting?_ She nodded her answers with her eyes shut. In the afternoon, Aunt-Sister brought some rice cakes and broth off a chicken. Mauma didn_t touch it. We always left the door open to get the light, and all day, noise and smells from the yard wandered in. Long a day as I ever lived. Mauma_s legs would walk again same as ever, but she never was the same inside. After that day, it seemed part of her was always back there waiting for the strap to be loosed. It seemed like that_s when she started laying her cold fire of hate. Sarah The morning after Easter, there was still no sign of Hetty. Between breakfast and my departure for Madame Ruffin_s school on Legare Street, Mother saw to it that I was shut in my room, copying a letter of apology to Reverend Hall. Dear Reverend Sir, I apologize for failing in my duties as a teacher in the Colored Sunday School of our dear St. Philip_s. I beg forgiveness for my reckless disregard of the curriculum and ask your forgiveness for my insolence toward you and your holy office. Your Remorseful and Repentant Soul, Sarah Grimk? No sooner had I signed my name than Mother whisked me to the front door where Snow waited with the carriage, Mary already inside. Typically, Mary and I met the carriage out back, while Snow tarried, making us late. _Why has he come to collect us at the front?_ I asked, to which Mother replied I should be more like my sister and not ask tedious questions. Snow turned and looked at me, and a kind of foreboding leaked from him. The whole day seemed strung upon a thin, vibrating wire. When I met with Thomas that afternoon on the piazza for my studies_my real studies_my unease had reached a peak. Twice weekly, we delved into Father_s books, into points of law, Latin, the history of the European world, and recently, the works of Voltaire. Thomas insisted I was too young for Voltaire. _He_s over your head!_ He was, but naturally I_d flung myself into the Sea of Voltaire anyway and emerged with nothing more than several aphorisms. _Every man is guilty of all the good he didn_t do._ Such a notion made it virtually impossible to enjoy life! And this, _If God did not exist, man would have to invent him._ I didn_t know whether Reverend Hall had invented his God or I_d invented mine, but such ideas tantalized and disturbed me. I lived for these sessions with Thomas, but seated on the joggling board that day with the Latin primer on my lap, I couldn_t concentrate. The day was full of torpid warmth, of the smell of crabs being trolled from the ginger waters of the Ashley River. _Go on. Proceed,_ said Thomas, leaning over to tap the book with his finger. _Water, master, son_nominative case, singular and plural._ _. . . . . . Aqua, aquae . . . Dominus, domini . . . Filius, filii. . . . . . Oh, Thomas, something is wrong!_ I was thinking of Hetty_s absence, Mother_s behavior, Snow_s glumness. I_d sensed a moroseness in all of them_Aunt-Sister, Phoebe, Tomfry, Binah. Thomas must_ve felt it, too. _Sarah, you always know my mind,_ he said. _I thought I_d concealed it, I should_ve known._ _. . . What is it?_ _I don_t want to be a lawyer._ He_d misread my intent, but I didn_t say so_this was as riveting a secret as he_d ever revealed to me. _. . . Not a lawyer?_ _I_ve never wanted to be a lawyer. It goes against my nature._ He gave me a tired smile. _You should be the lawyer. Father said you would be the greatest in South Carolina, do you remember?_ I remembered the way one remembers the sun, the moon, and the stars hanging in the sky. The world seemed to rush toward me, sheened and beautiful. I looked at Thomas and felt confirmed in my destiny. I had an ally. A true, unbending ally. Running his hands through the waves of his hair, torrential like Father_s, Thomas began to pace the length of the piazza. _I want to be a minister,_ he said. _I_m less than a year from following John to Yale, and I_m treated as if I can_t think for myself. Father believes I don_t know my own mind, but I do know._ _He won_t allow you to study theology?_ _I begged for his blessing last evening and he refused. I said, _Don_t you care that it_s God_s own call I wish to answer?_ And do you know what he said to that? _Until God informs me of this call, you will study the law.__ Thomas plopped into a chair, and I went and knelt before him, pressing my cheek against the back of his hand. His knuckles were prickly with heat bumps and hair. I said, _If I could, I would do anything to help you._ As the sun lowered over the back lot, Hetty was still nowhere to be seen. Unable to contain my fears any longer, I planted myself outside the window of the kitchen house, where the female slaves always congregated after the last meal of the day. The kitchen house was their sanctum. Here, they told stories and gossiped and carried on their secret life. At times, they would break into song, their tunes sailing across the yard and slipping into the house. My favorite was a chant that grew rowdier as it went: Bread done broken. Let my Jesus go. Feet be tired. Let my Jesus go. Back be aching. Let my Jesus go. Teeth done fell out. Let my Jesus go. Rump be dragging. Let my Jesus go. Their laughter would ring out abruptly, a sound Mother welcomed. _Our slaves are happy,_ she would boast. It never occurred to her their gaiety wasn_t contentment, but survival. On this evening, though, the kitchen house was wrapped in a pall. Heat and smoke from the oven glugged out the window, reddening my face and neck. I caught glimpses of Aunt-Sister, Binah, Cindie, Mariah, Phoebe, and Lucy in their calico dresses, but heard only the clunk of cast iron pots. Finally, Binah_s voice carried to me. _You mean to say she ain_t eat all day?_ _Not one thing,_ Aunt-Sister said. _Well, I ain_t eating neither if they strap me up like they done her,_ Phoebe said. A cold swell began in my stomach. Strapped her up? Who? Not Hetty, surely. _What she think would happen if she pilfer like that?_ I believed that voice to be Cindie_s. _What_d she say for herself?_ Aunt-Sister spoke again. _She won_t talk. Handful up there in bed with her, talking for both of _em._ _Poor Charlotte,_ said Binah. Charlotte! They_d strapped her up. What did that mean? Rosetta_s melodic keening rose in my memory. I saw them bind her hands. I saw the cowhide split her back and the blood-flowers open and die on her skin. I don_t remember returning to the house, only that I was suddenly in the warming kitchen, ransacking the locked cupboard where Mother kept her curatives. Having unlocked it often to retrieve a bromide for Father, I easily found the key and removed the blue bottle of liniment oil and a jar of sweet balm tea. Into the tea, I dropped two grains of laudanum. As I stuffed them into a basket, Mother entered the corridor. _What, pray tell, are you doing?_ I threw the question back at her. _. . . . . . What did you do?_ _Young lady, hold your tongue!_ Hold my tongue? I_d held the poor, tortured thing the near whole of my life. _. . . . . . What did you do?_ I said again, almost shouting. She drew her lips tight and yanked the basket from my arm. An unknown ferocity took me over. I wrenched the basket back from her and strode toward the door. _You will not set foot from this house!_ she ordered. _I forbid it._ I stepped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor. Mother followed me, shrieking, _I forbid it._ Her words flapped off on the breezes, past the oak branches, over the brick fence. Behind us, shoes scraped on the kitchen house porch, and turning, we saw Aunt-Sister, Binah, Cindie, all of them shadowed in the billowy dark, looking at us. Mother stood white-faced on the porch steps. _I_m going to see about Charlotte._ I said. The words slid effortlessly over my lips like a cascade of water, and I knew instantly the nervous affliction in my voice had gone back into hibernation, for that was how it had happened in the past, the debility gradually weakening, until one day I opened my mouth and there was no trace of it. Mother noticed, too. She said nothing more, and I trod toward the carriage house without looking back. Handful When dark fell, mauma started to shake. Her head lolled and her teeth clattered. It wasn_t like Rosetta and her fits, where all her limbs jerked, it was like mauma was cold inside her bones. I didn_t know what to do but pat her arms and legs. After a while, she grew still. Her breathing drew heavy, and before I knew it, I drifted off myself. I started dreaming and in that dream I was sleeping. I slept under an arbor of thick green. It was bent perfect over me. Vines hung round my arms. Scuppernongs fell alongside my face. I was the girl sleeping, but at the same time I could see myself, like I was part of the clouds floating by, and then I looked down and saw the arbor wasn_t really an arbor, it was our quilt frame covered in vines and leaves. I went on sleeping, watching myself sleeping, and the clouds went on floating, and I saw inside the thick green again. This time, it was mauma herself inside there. I don_t know what woke me. The room was quiet, the light gone. Mauma said, _You wake?_ Those were the first words she_d said since Tomfry strapped her. _I_m awake._ _Awright. I gon tell you a story. You listening, Handful?_ _I_m listening._ My eyes had got used to the dark, and I saw the door still propped wide to the hallway, and mauma beside me, frowning. She said, _Your granny-mauma come from Africa when she was a girl. _Bout same as you now._ My heart started to beat hard. It filled up my ears. _Soon as she got here, her mauma and daddy was taken from her, and that same night the stars fell out the sky. You think stars don_t fall, but your granny-mauma swore it._ Mauma tarried, letting us picture how the sky might_ve looked. _She say everything over here sound like jibber jabber to her. The food taste like monkey meat. She ain_t got nothin_ but this little old scrap of quilt her mauma made. In Africa, her mauma was a quilter, best there is. They was Fon people and sewed appliqu?, same like I do. They cut out fishes, birds, lions, elephants, every beast they had, and sewed _em on, but the quilt your granny-mauma brought with her didn_t have no animals on it, just little three-side-shapes, what you call a triangle. Same like I put on my quilts. My mauma say they was blackbird wings._ The floor creaked in the hallway and I heard somebody out there breathing high and fast, the way Miss Sarah breathed. I eased up on my elbow and craned my neck, and there she was_her shadow blotted on the hall window. I lowered myself back to the mattress and mauma went on telling her story with Miss Sarah listening in. _Your granny-mauma got sold to some man for twenty dollars, and he put her in the fields near Georgetown. They eat boiled black-eye peas in the morning, and if you ain_t done eating in ten minutes time, you don_t get no more that day. Your granny-mauma say she always eat too slow. _I never did know my daddy. He was a white man named John Paul, not the massa, but his brother. After I come, we got sold off. Mauma say I be the fair side of brown, and everybody know what that mean. _We got bought by a man near Camden. He kept mauma in the fields and I stay out there with her, but nights she teach me everything she knows _bout quilts. I tore up old pant legs and dress tails and pieced _em. Mauma say in Africa they sew charms in their quilts. I put pieces of my hair down inside mine. When I got twelve, mauma start braggin_ to the Camden missus, how I could sew anything, and the missus took me to the house to learn from their seamstress. I got better _n she was in a hurry._ She broke off and shifted her legs on the bed. I was afraid that was all she had to say. I never had heard this story. Listening to it was like watching myself sleep, clouds floating, mauma bent over me. I forgot Miss Sarah was out there. I waited, and finally she started back telling. _Mauma birthed my brother while I was sewing in the house. She never say who his daddy was. My brother didn_t live out the year. _After he die, your granny-mauma found us a spirit tree. It_s just a oak tree, but she call it a Baybob like they have in Africa. She say Fon people keep a spirit tree and it always be a Baybob. Your granny-mauma wrapped the trunk with thread she begged and stole. She took me out there and say, _We gon put our spirits in the tree so they safe from harm._ We kneel on her quilt from Africa, nothing but a shred now, and we give our spirits to the tree. She say our spirits live in the tree with the birds, learning to fly. She told me, _If you leave this place, go get your spirit and take it with you._ We used to gather up leaves and twigs from round the tree and stick _em in pouches to wear at our necks._ Her hand went to her throat like she was feeling for it. She said, _Mauma died of a croup one winter. I was sixteen. I could sew anything there was. _Bout that time the massa got in money-debt and sold off every one of us. I got bought by massa Grimk? for his place in Union. Night _fore I left, I went and got my spirit from the tree and took it with me. _I want you to know, your daddy was good as gold. His name was Shanney. He work in massa Grimk?_s fields. One day missus say I got to come sew for her in Charleston. I say awright, but bring Shanney, he my husband. She say Shanney a field slave, and maybe I see him sometime when I back for a visit. You was already inside me, and nobody knew. Shanney die from a cut on his leg _fore you a year old. He never saw your face._ Mauma stopped talking. She was done. She went to sleep then and left the story bent perfect over me. Next morning when I eased out of bed headed for the privy, I bumped into a basket sitting by the door. Inside it was a big bottle of liniment and some medicine-tea. That day I went back to tending Miss Sarah. I slipped into her room while she was reading one of her books. She was shy to bring up what happened to mauma, so I said, _We got your basket._ Her face eased. _Tell your mother I_m sorry for her treatment, and I hope she_ll feel better soon,_ and it wasn_t any toil in her words. _That mean a lot to us,_ I said. She laid the book down and came where I was standing by the chimney place and put her arms round me. It was hard to know where things stood. People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours. I didn_t know for sure whether Miss Sarah_s feelings came from love or guilt. I didn_t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get. Sarah Spring turned to summer, and when Madame Ruffin suspended classes until the fall, I asked Thomas to expand our private lessons on the piazza. _I_m afraid we have to stop them altogether,_ he said. _I have my own studies to consider. Father has ordered me to undertake a systematic study of his law books in preparation for Yale._ _I could help you!_ I cried. _Sarah, Sarah, quite contra-rah._ It was the phrase he used when his refusal was foregone and final. He had no idea the extent I_d enmeshed him in my plans. There was a string of barrister firms on Broad Street, from the Exchange to St. Michael_s, and I pictured the two of us partnered in one of them with a signboard out front, Grimk? and Grimk?. Of course, there would be an out-and-out skirmish with the rank and file, but with Thomas at my side and Father at my back, nothing would prevent it. I bore down on Father_s law books every afternoon myself. In the mornings, I read aloud to Hetty in my room with the door bolted. When the air cooked to unbearable degrees, we escaped to the piazza, and there, sitting side by side in the swing, we sang songs that Hetty composed, most of them about traveling across water by boat or whale. Her legs swung back and forth like little batons. Sometimes we sat before the windows in the second-floor alcove and played Lace the String. Hetty always seemed to have a stash of red thread in her dress pocket and we spent hours passing it through our upstretched fingers, creating intricate, bloodshot mazes in the air. Such occupations are what girls do together, but it was the first occasion for either of us, and we carried them out as covertly as possible to avoid Mother putting an end to them. We were crossing a dangerous line, Hetty and I. One morning while Charleston turned miserably on the brazier of summer, Hetty and I lay flat on our stomachs on the rug in my room while I read aloud from Don Quixote. The week before, Mother had ordered the mosquito nettings out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the bloodsucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing at their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house. Hetty dug at an inflamed mosquito bite on her forearm and frowned at the book pages as if they were some kind of irresolvable code. I wanted her to listen to the exploits of the knight and Sancho Panza, but she interrupted me repeatedly, placing her finger on some word or other, asking, _What does that one say?_ and I would have to break off the story to tell her. She_d done the same thing recently as we read The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, and I wondered if, perhaps, she was merely bored with the antics of men, from the shipwrecked to the chivalrous. As I sent my voice into dramatic lilts and accents, trying to lure her back into the tale, the room grew dark, tinctured with an approaching storm. Wind blew through the open window, coming thick with the smell of rain and oleander, swirling the veils of the mosquito net. I stopped reading, as thunder broke and rain splatted across the sill. Hetty and I leapt up in unison and drew down the pane, and there, swooping low in the yellow gloom, was the young owl that Charlotte and Hetty had fed faithfully through the spring. It had grown out of its fledgling ways, but it had not vacated its residence in the woodpile. I watched it fly straight toward us, arcing across George Street and gliding over the work yard wall, its comical barn owl face strikingly visible. As the bird disappeared, Hetty went to light the lamp, but I was fixed there. What came to me was the day at the woodpile when Charlotte first showed me the bird, and I remembered the oath I_d made to help Hetty become free, a promise impossible to fulfill and one that continued to cause me no end of guilt, but it suddenly rang clear in me for the first time: Charlotte said I should help Hetty get free any way I could. Turning, I watched her carry the lantern to my dressing table, light swilling about her feet. When she set it down, I said, _Hetty, shall I teach you to read?_ Equipped with an elementary primer, two blue-back spellers, a slate board, and lump of chalk, we began daily lessons in my room. Not only did I lock the door, I screened the keyhole. Our tutorials went on throughout the morning for two or more hours. When we ended them, I wrapped the materials in a swath of coarse cloth, known as Negro cloth, and tucked the bundle beneath my bed. I_d never taught anyone to read, but I_d been tutored in copious amounts of Latin by Thomas and subjected to enough of Madame to devise a reasonable scheme. As it turned out, Hetty had a knack. Within a week, she could write and recite the alphabet. Within two, she was sounding out words in the spellers. I_ll never forget the moment when she made the magical connection in her mind and the letters and sounds passed from nonsense into meaning. After that, she read through the primer with growing proficiency. By page forty, she had a vocabulary of eighty-six words. I recorded and numbered each one she mastered on a sheaf of paper. _When you reach a hundred words,_ I promised her, _we_ll celebrate with a tea._ She began to decipher words on apothecary labels and food jars. _How do you spell Hetty?_ she wanted to know. _How do you spell water?_ Her appetite to learn was voracious. Once, I glimpsed her in the work yard writing in the dirt with a stick and I raced into the yard to stop her. She_d scrawled W-A-T-E-R with exact penmanship for the entire world to see. _What are you doing?_ I said, rubbing the letters away with my foot. _Someone will see._ She was equally exasperated with me. _Don_t you think I got my own foot to rub out letters, if somebody comes along?_ She conquered her hundredth word on the thirteenth of July. We held her celebratory tea the next day on the hipped roof of the house, hoping to catch sight of the Bastille Day festivities. We had a sizeable French population from St. Domingo, a French theatre, and a French finishing school on every corner. A French hair-dresser frizzed and powdered Mother and her friends, regaling them with accounts of the guillotining of Marie Antoinette, which he claimed to have witnessed. Charleston was British to the soles of its feet, but it observed the destruction of the Bastille with as much zeal as our own independence. We climbed into the attic with two china cups and a jar of black tea spiked with hyssop and honey. From there, we mounted a ladder that led to a hatch in the roof. Thomas had discovered the secret opening at thirteen and taken me up to wander among the chimneys. Snow spotted us as he drove Mother home from one of her charity missions, and without a word to her, he_d climbed up and retrieved us. I_d not ventured here since. Hetty and I nestled into one of the gullies on the south side with our backs against a slope. She claimed never to have drunk from a china cup and gulped quickly, while I sipped slowly and stared at the hard blue pane over our heads. When the populace marched in procession along Broad Street, they were too far away for us to see, but we heard them singing the Hymne des Marseillois. The bells of St. Philip_s chimed and there was a salute of thirteen guns. Birds had been loitering on the roof, and scatterings of feathers were here and there. Hetty tucked them into her pockets, and something about this created a feeling of tenderness in me. Perhaps I was a little drunk on hyssop and honey, on the novelty of being girls together on the roof. Whatever it was, I began telling Hetty confidences I_d kept only with myself. I told her I was accomplished at eavesdropping, that I_d stood outside Charlotte_s room the night she was punished and heard the story she told. _I know,_ she said. _You not so good at snooping as you think._ I spilled every possible secret. My sister Mary despised me. Thomas had been my only friend. I_d been dismissed as an unfit teacher of slave children, but she shouldn_t worry, it was not due to incompetence. As I went on, my revelations turned grave. _I saw Rosetta being whipped one time,_ I told her. _I was four. That was when the trouble with my speech began._ _It seems like you_re talking all right now._ _It comes and goes._ _Was Rosetta hurt bad?_ _I think it was very bad._ _What_d she do wrong?_ _I don_t know. I didn_t ask_I couldn_t speak afterward, not for weeks._ We turned taciturn, leaning back and gazing at the crenulated clouds. Talk of Rosetta had sobered us more than I_d intended, far too much for a tea celebrating a hundred-word vocabulary. Hoping to restore the mood, I said, _I_m going to be a lawyer like my father._ I was surprised to hear myself blurt this out, the crown jewel of secrets, and feeling suddenly exposed, I added, _But you can_t tell anyone._ _I don_t have nobody to tell. Just mauma._ _Well, you can_t even tell her. Promise me._ She nodded. Satisfied, I thought of the lava box and my silver button. _Do you know how an object can stand for something entirely different than its purpose?_ She looked at me blankly, while I tried to think of a way to explain. _You know my mother_s cane, for instance_how it_s meant to help her walk, but we all know what it stands for._ _Whacking heads._ After a pause, she added, _A triangle on a quilt stands for a blackbird wing._ _Yes, that_s what I mean. Well, I have a stone box in my dresser with a button inside. A button is meant for fastening clothes, but this one is beautiful, just plain uncommon, so I decided to let it stand for my desire to be a lawyer._ _I know about the button. I didn_t touch it, I just opened the box and looked at it._ _I don_t mind if you hold it,_ I told her. _I have a thimble and it stands for pushing a needle and keeping my fingertip from turning sore, but I could let that stand for something else._ When I asked her what, she said, _I don_t know, _cept I wanna sew like mauma._ Hetty got into the spirit. She retold the entire story I_d overheard her mother tell that night about her grandmother coming from Africa, appliqu?ing quilts with the triangles. When Hetty talked about the spirit tree, her voice took on a reverential tone. Before we went back down the hatch, Hetty said, _I took a spool of thread from your room. It was laying in your drawer no use to anybody. I_m sorry, I can bring it back._ _Oh. Well, go ahead and keep it, but please Hetty, don_t steal anymore, even little things. You could land in terrible trouble._ As we descended the ladder, she said, _My real name is Handful._ Handful Mauma came down with a limp. When she was in her room or in the kitchen house for meals, she didn_t have any trouble, but the minute she stepped in the yard, she dragged her leg like it was a dead log. Aunt-Sister and them watched her go lame and shook their heads. They didn_t like that kind of trick and didn_t mind saying it. Mauma told them, _After you get your one-legged punishment, you can say all you want. Till then, you best shut up._ After that, they stayed clear of her. Stopped talking if she showed up, started back when she left. Mauma said it was a hateful shun. Her eyes burned with anger all the time now. Sometimes she turned her blackened stare on me. Sometimes she turned it to cleverness. One day I found her at the foot of the stairs, explaining to missus she had a hard time climbing up to do her sewing, and for that matter, a hard time climbing the carriage house steps to her room. She said, _But I gon make out somehow, don_t worry._ Then while missus and me watched, she pulled on the bannister and dragged herself to the top, calling on Jesus the whole way. Next we know, missus had Prince clear out a big room in the cellar, on the side of the house that backed up to the work yard wall. He moved mauma_s bed in there and all her stuff. Took the quilt frame down from her old ceiling and nailed it on the new one. Missus said mauma would do all the sewing in her room from here out and had Prince bring down the lacquer sewing table. The cellar room was large as three slave rooms put together. It was bright whitewash and had its own tiny window near the ceiling, but looking through it, you didn_t see clouds in the sky, you saw bricks in the wall. Mauma made it a calico curtain anyway. She got hold of some pictures of sailing ships from a cast-off book and tacked them on the wall. A painted rocking chair turned up in there, along with a beat-up toilet table she covered with Ticklingburg cloth. On top, she set empty colored bottles, a box of candles, a cake of tallow, and a tin dish piled with coffee beans for her chewing pleasure. Where she got all this hoard, I don_t know. Along the wall shelf, she laid out our sewing stuff: the patch box, the pouch with needles and thread, the sack of quilt stuffing, pin cushion, shears, tracing wheel, charcoal, stamping papers, measuring ribbons. Sitting off by themselves was my brass thimble and the red thread I stole from Miss Sarah_s drawer. Once mauma got the place fixed like a palace, she asked Aunt-Sister could they all come give a prayer for her _poor sorry room._ One evening here came the lot of them all too glad to see how poor and sorry it was. Mauma offered each of them a coffee bean. She let them look to their hearts_ content, then showed them how the door locked with an iron slide bolt, how she had her own privy pot under the bed, which it fell to me to empty, considering how cripple she was. She made a lot over the wooden cane missus had given her for getting round. When Aunt-Sister left mauma_s party, she spit on the floor outside the door, and Cindie came behind her and did the same thing. Best thing was, I could get to the new room without leaving the house. More nights than not, I crept down the two flights from Sarah_s room, sidestepping the creaks. Mauma loved that lock on her door. If she was in her room, you could be sure it was latched, and if she was sleeping, I had to pound my knuckles sore till she roused. Mauma didn_t care anymore about me leaving my post. She_d snatch open her door, yank me in, and bolt it back. Under the covers, I_d ask her to tell me about the spirit tree, wanting more detail of it, every leaf, branch, and nest. When she thought I was sleeping, she got up and paced the room, humming a quiet sound through her lips. Those nights, something dark and heedless was loose in her. By day, she sat in her new room and sewed. Miss Sarah let me go down every afternoon and stay till suppertime. A little air might fuss round mauma_s window, but it was like a smelter in there most of the time. Mauma would say, Filtered yoself busy._ I learned baste, gather, pleat, shire, gore, and gusset. Every stitch there is. I learned to do a button hole and a shank. Cut a pattern from scratch without stamping powder. That summer, I turned eleven years, and mauma said the pallet I slept on upstairs wasn_t fit for a dog. We were supposed to be working on the next ration of slave clothes. Every year the men got two brown shirts and two white, two pants, two vests. Women got three dresses, four aprons, and a head scarf. Mauma said all that could wait. She showed me how to cut black triangles each one big as the end of my thumb, then we appliqu?d two hundred or more on red squares, a color mauma called oxblood. We sewed on tiny circles of yellow for sun splatter, then cranked down the quilt frame and pieced everything together. I hemmed on the homespun backing myself, and we filled the inside with all the batting and feathers we had. I cut a plug of my hair and plug of mauma_s and put them inside for charms. It took six afternoons. Mauma had stopped stealing and taken up safer ways to do harm and wreckage. She_d forget, so-call forget, that missus_ sleeves were basted loose, and one of them would pop open at church or somewhere. Mauma had me sew on buttons without knots, and they would fall off missus_ bosom on the first wear-round. Everybody with an ear could hear missus shout at mauma for her laziness, and mauma cry out, _Oh, missus, pray for me, I wants to do better._ I can_t say what all mischief mauma did, just what I saw, and that was plenty. She _accidently_ broke whatever piece of china or table figurine was sitting round. Flipped it over and kept walking. When she saw the tea trays Aunt-Sister left in the warming kitchen for Cindie to take up, she would drop whatever bit of nastiness she could into the teapot. Dirt off the floor, lint off the rug, spit from her mouth. I told Miss Sarah, stay clear of the tea trays. Day before the storm came, a still feeling weighed on the air. You felt like you were waiting, but you didn_t know what for. Tomfry said it was a hurricane and batten down. Prince and Sabe closed the house shutters, stored the work yard tools in the shed, and fastened up the animals. Inside, we rolled up carpets on the first floor and moved the fragiles from near the windows. Missus had us bring the food rations inside from the kitchen house. It came in the night while I was in bed with mauma. The wind screamed and threw limbs against the house. So many palm trees rattled in the dark, mauma and I had to shout to hear each other. We sat in the bed and watched the rain pitch against the high window and pour in round the edges. Floodwater washed under the door. I sang my songs loud as I could to take my mind from it. Cross the water, cross the sea, Let them fishes carry me. If that water take too long, Carry me on, Carry me on. When the storm finally passed, we swung our legs onto the floor and the water cut circles above our ankles. Mauma_s so-call poor sorry room had turned into a poor sorry room. At low tide next day, the floodwater drew back and everyone got called to the cellar to shovel out the mud. The work yard was a mess of sticks and broken palm fans, water pails and horse feed, the door off the privy, whatever the wind had grabbed and dropped. A piece of ship sail was hung in the branches of the spreading tree. Once we got mauma_s room cleaned up, I went out to see the sail in the tree. It waved in the breeze, making a strange sight. Beneath the branches, the ground was a wet slate of clay. Taking a stick, I wrote BABY BOY BLUE BLOW YOUR HORN HETTY, digging the letters deep in the starchy mud, pleased at my penmanship. When Aunt-Sister called me to the kitchen house, I smeared over the words with the toe of my shoe. The rest of the day, the sun shone down and dried out the world. Next morning while me and mauma were in the dining room waiting for devotions, Miss Mary came hurrying down the hallway with missus trotting behind her. Headed for the back door. Mauma leaned on her cane, said, _Where they tearing off to?_ Looking from the window, we saw Lucy, Miss Mary_s waiting maid, under the tree and the sail still caught in the branches. We saw Miss Mary lead missus cross the yard right to where Lucy stood looking at the ground, and a hot feeling came up from my stomach and spread over my chest. _What they looking at?_ mauma said, watching how the three of them tipped from their waists and studied the dirt. Then Lucy ran full-tilt back toward the house. Drawing close, she yelled, _Handful! Handful! Missus say come out here right now._ I went, full-knowing. My words, straight from the speller, were baked in the clay. The smear-over of mud from my shoe had crackled and thinned away, leaving the deep crevice of the letters. BABY BOY BLUE BLOW YOUR HORN HETTY. Sarah Two days after a September hurricane sent tidewater over East Bay all the way to Meeting Street, Binah knocked on my door before breakfast, her eyes filled with fear and consolation, and I knew some catastrophe had fallen. _Has someone died? Is Father__ _No, ain_t nobody die. Your daddy, he want you in the library._ I_d never been summoned like this and it caused an odd, plummeting sensation in my legs, so much so I dipped a little at the knees while walking back to the Hepplewhite to inspect the ivory ribbon I_d been tying in my hair. _What_s happened?_ I asked, tugging the bow, smoothing my dress, letting my hand rest for a moment across my jittery stomach. I could see her reflection in the glass. She shook her head. _Miss Sarah, I can_t say what he want, but it ain_t help to poke._ Placing her hand at the small of my back, she nudged me from the room, past Handful_s new quilt lying in the hallway, its mass of triangles pinioned on the floor. We walked down the stairs, pausing outside the library door. Abstaining from her Poor Miss Sarahs, Binah said instead, _Listen to Binah now. Don_t be crying, and don_t be running away. Buck yourself up now._ Her words, meant to steady me, unnerved me further. As I tapped on the door, the airy feeling returned to the back of my knees. He sat at his desk with his hair oiled and combed back smooth and didn_t look up, intent on a stack of documents. When he lifted his face, his eyes were hardened. _You have disappointed me, Sarah._ I was too stunned to cry or run away, the two things Binah had warned against. _I would never knowingly disappoint you, Father. I only care to__ He thrust out his palm. _I have brought you here to listen. Do not speak._ My heart beat so ferociously my hands went to either side of my ribs to keep them from unhinging. _It has been brought to my attention that your slave girl has become literate. Do not think to deny it, as she wrote a number of words on the muddy ground in the yard and even took care to sign her name._ Oh Handful, no! I looked away from his harsh, accusing eyes, trying to arrange things into perspective. Handful had been careless. We_d been found out. But my disbelieving mind could not accept that Father, of all people, believed her ability to read was an unpardonable offense. He would chastise me as he must, undoubtedly at Mother_s urging. Then he would soften. In the depths of his conscience, he understood what I_d done. _How do you suppose she acquired this ability?_ he asked calmly. _Did it descend upon her one day out of the blue? Was she born with it? Did she teach her own ingenious self to read? Of course, we know how the girl came to read_you taught her. You defied your mother, your father, the laws of your state, even your rector, who expressly admonished you about it._ He rose from his leather chair and walked toward me, stopping at arm_s reach, and when he spoke again, some of the hostility had left his voice. _I_ve asked myself how you are able to disobey with such ease and disregard. I fear the answer is you are a coddled girl who does not understand her place in the world, and that is partly my own fault. I_ve done you no favors with my lenience. My indulgence has given you the idea you can transgress a serious boundary such as this one._ Feeling the chill of some new and different terror, I dared to speak, and felt my throat clench in the familiar old way. I squeezed my eyes and forced out my thought. _. . . . . . . . . I_m sorry, Father. . . . . . I meant no harm._ _No harm?_ He hadn_t noticed the return of my stammer. He paced about the stuffy room and lectured me, while Mr. Washington gazed serenely from the mantel. _You think there_s no detriment in a slave learning to read? There are sad truths in our world, and one is that slaves who read are a threat. They would be abreast of news that would incite them in ways we could not control. Yes, it_s unfair to deprive them, but there_s a greater good here that must be protected._ _. . . . . . . . . But Father, it_s wrong!_ I cried. _Are you so impudent as to challenge me even now? When you left the document on my desk freeing your slave girl, I should have brought you to your senses then and there, but I cosseted you. I thought by tearing the fool thing in two and returning it to you, you would understand we Grimk?s do not subvert the institutions and laws by which we live, even if we don_t agree with them._ I felt confused and very stupid. Father had torn up my manumission paper. Father. _Do not mistake me, Sarah, I will protect our way of life. I will not tolerate sedition in this family!_ When I_d espoused my anti-slavery views during those dinner table debates, Father beaming and spurring me on, I_d thought he prized my position. I_d thought he shared my position, but it hit me suddenly that I_d been the collared monkey dancing to his master_s accordion. Father had been amusing himself. Or perhaps he_d encouraged my dissenting opinion only because it gave the rest of them a way to sharpen their own opposing views. Perhaps he_d tolerated my notions because the debates had been a pitying oral exercise to help a defective daughter speak? Father crossed his arms over his white shirt and stared at me from beneath the unclipped hedge of his brows. His eyes were clear and brown and empty of compassion, and that_s when I first saw my father as he really was_a man who valued principle over love. _You have quite literally committed a crime,_ he said and resumed his pacing, making a wide, slow orbit around me. _I will not punish you accordingly, but you must learn, Sarah._ _From now on, you are denied entrance to this room. You shall not cross this threshold at any time, day or night. You are denied all access to the books here, and to any other books wherever they might be, except for those Madame Ruffin has allotted for your studies._ No books. God, please. My legs gave way then, and I went onto my knees. He kept circling. _You will study nothing but Madame_s approved subjects. No more Latin sessions with Thomas. You will not write it, speak it, or compose it in your head. Do you understand?_ I lifted my hands, palms up, as high as my head, molding myself into the shape of a supplicant. _. . . . . . . . . Father, I beg you . . . P-please, don_t take books from me . . . I can_t bear it._ _You have no need of books, Sarah._ _. . . . . . F-f-father!_ He strode back to his desk. _It causes me distress to see your misery, Sarah, but it_s fait accompli. Try not to take it so hard._ From the window came the rumble of drays and carriages, the cries of slave vendors on the street_the old woman with the basket atop her head who squawked, _Red ROSE to-may-TOES._ The din of commerce went on without regard. Opening the library door, I saw Binah had waited. She took my hand and led me up the stairs to the doorway of my room. _I get you some breakfast and bring it up here on a tray,_ she said. After she left, I peered beneath the bed where I_d kept the slate board, spellers, and primer. They were gone. The books on my desk were gone, too. My room had been scoured. It was not until Binah returned with the tray that I thought to ask, _. . . . . . Where_s Handful?_ _Oh, Miss Sarah, that just it. She _bout to get her own punishing out back._ I have no memory of my feet grazing the stairs. _It just one lash,_ Binah cried, racing behind me. _One lash, missus say. That be all._ I flung open the back door. My eyes swept the yard. Handful_s skinny arms were tied to the porch rail of the kitchen house. Ten paces behind her, Tomfry held a strap and stared at the ground. Charlotte stood in the wheel ruts that cut from the carriage house to the back gate, while the rest of the slaves clustered beneath the oak. Tomfry raised his arm. _No!_ I screamed. _Nooooo!_ He turned toward me, hesitating, and relief filled his face. Then I heard Mother_s cane tap the glass on the upstairs window, and Tomfry lifted his tired eyes toward the sound. He nodded and brought the lash down across Handful_s back. Handful Tomfry said he tried not to put much force in it, but the strike flayed open my skin. Miss Sarah made a poultice with Balm of Gilead buds soaked in master Grimk?_s rum, and mauma handed the whole flask to me and said, _Here, go on, drink it, too._ I don_t hardly remember the pain. The gash healed fast, but Miss Sarah_s hurt got worse and worse. Her voice had gone back to stalling and she pined for her books. That was one wretched girl. It_d been Lucy who ran tattling to Miss Mary about my lettering under the tree, and Miss Mary had run tattling to missus. I_d judged Lucy to be stupid, but she was only weak-willed and wanting to get in good with Miss Mary. I never did forgive her, and I don_t know if Miss Sarah forgave her sister, cause what came from all that snitching turned the tide on Miss Sarah_s life. Her studying was over and done. My reading lessons were over, too. I had my hundred words, and I figured out a good many more just using my wits. Now and then, I said my ABCs for mauma and read words to her off the picture pages she_d tacked on her wall. One day I went to the cellar and mauma was making a baby gown from muslin with lilac bands. She saw my face and said, _That_s right, another Grimk? coming. Sometime this winter. Missus ain_t happy _bout it. I heard her tell massa, that_s it, this the last one._ When mauma finished hemming the little gown, she dug in the gunny sack and pulled out a short stack of clean paper, a half full inkwell, and a quill pen, and I knew she_d stole every one of these things. I said, _Why you keep doing this?_ _I need you to write something. Write, _Charlotte Grimk? has permission for traveling._ Under that, put the month, leave off the day, and sign Mary Grimk? with some curlicue._ _First off, I don_t know how to write Charlotte. I don_t know the word permission either._ _Then, write, _This slave is allowed for travel.__ _What you gonna do with it?_ She smiled, showing me the gap in her front teeth. _This slave gon travel. But don_t worry, she always coming back._ _What you gonna do when a white man stops you and asks to see your pass and it looks like some eleven-year-old wrote it?_ _Then you best write it like you ain_t some eleven-year-old._ _How you plan on getting past the wall?_ She looked up at the window near the ceiling. It wasn_t big as a hat box. I didn_t see how she could wriggle through it, but she would grease herself with goose fat if that_s what it took. I wrote her pass cause she was bent on hell to have it. After that, least one or two afternoons a week, she took off. Stayed gone from middle of the afternoon till past dark. Wouldn_t say where she went. Wouldn_t say how she got in and out of the yard. I worked out her escape path in my head, though. Outside her window, it wasn_t but a couple of feet between the house and the wall, and I figured once she squeezed through the window, she would press her back against the house and her feet against the wall and shimmy up and over, dropping to the ground on the other side. Course, she had to find another way back in. My guess was the back gate where the carriage came and went. She never came back till it was good and dark, so she could climb it and nobody see. She always made it before the drums beat for curfew. I didn_t wanna think of her out there hiding from the City Guard. One afternoon, while me and mauma were finishing up the slave clothes for the year, I laid out my reasoning, how she went out the window in daylight and came back over the gate at dark. She said, _Well, ain_t you smart._ In the far back of my head, I could see her with the strap tied on her ankle and round her neck, and I filled up and started begging. _Don_t do it no more. Please. All right? You gonna get yourself caught._ _I tell you what, you can help me_if somebody here find me missing, you sit the pail next to the cistern where I can see it from the back gate. You do that for me._ This scared me worse. _And if you see it, what you gonna do_run off? Just leave me?_ Then I broke down. She rubbed my shoulders the way she always liked to do. _Handful, child. I would soon die _fore I leave you. You know that. If that pail sit by the cistern, that just help me know what_s coming, that_s all._ When their social season was starting off again, and me and mauma couldn_t keep up with all the gowns and frocks, she up and hired herself out without permission. I learned it one day after the supper meal, while we were standing in the middle of the work yard. Miss Sarah had been in one of her despairs all day, and I thought the worst things I had to fret over was how low she got and mauma slipping out the window. But mauma, she pulled a slave badge out from her pocket. If some owner hired his slave out, he had to buy a badge from the city, and I knew master Grimk? hadn_t bought any such. Having a fake badge was worse than having missus_ green silk. I took the badge and studied it. It was a small square of copper with a hole poked through the top so you could pin it to your dress. It was carved with words. I sounded them out till it finally came clear what I was saying. _Dome-stic . . . Do-mes-tic. Ser-vant. Domestic Servant!_ I cried. _Number 133. Year 1805. Where_d you get this?_ _Well, I ain_t been out there grogging and lazing round this whole time_I been finding work for myself._ _But you got more work here than we can see to._ _And I don_t make nothin_ from it, do I?_ She took the badge from me and dropped it back in her pocket. _One of the Russell slaves name Tom has his own blacksmith shop on East Bay. Missus Russell let him work for hire all day and she don_t take but three-quarter of what he make. He made this badge for me, copied it off a real one._ I had the mind of an eleven-year-old, but I knew right off this blacksmith wasn_t just some nice man doing her a favor. Why was he putting himself in danger to make a fake badge for her? She said, _I gon be making bonnets and dresses and quilts for a lady on Queen Street. Missus Allen. I told her my name was Pearl, and I belong to massa Dupr? on the corner of George and East Bay. She say to me, _You mean that French tailor?_ I say, _Yessum, he can_t fill my time no more with work, so he letting me out for hire.__ _What if she checks on your story?_ _She an old widow, she ain_t gon check. She just say, _Show me your badge._ Mauma was proud of her badge and proud of herself. _Missus Allen say she pay me by the garment, and her two daughters need clothes and coverings for they children._ _How you gonna get all this extra work done?_ _I got you. I got all the hours of the night._ Mauma burned so many candles working in the dark, she took to swiping them from whatever room she happened on. Her eyes grew down to squints and the skin round them wrinkled like drawing a straight stitch. She was tired and frayed but she seemed better off inside. She brought home money and stuffed it inside the gunny sack, and I helped her sew day and night, anytime I didn_t have duties drawing Miss Sarah_s baths, cleaning her room, keeping up with her clothes and her privy pot. When we got the widow_s orders done, mauma would squirm out the window and carry the parcels to her door where she got more fabric for the next batch. Then she would wait till dark and sneak over the back gate. All this dangerous business got natural as the day was long. One afternoon during a real warm spell in January, missus sent Cindie to the basement to fetch mauma, something about rosettes falling off her new empire waist dress, and course, mauma was gone over the wall. She didn_t lock the door while she was out cause she knew missus would have Prince saw the door off its hinges if she didn_t answer, and how was she gonna explain an empty room behind a locked door? News of a missing slave flies like brush fire. When I heard the news, my heart dropped to my knees. Missus used her bell and gathered everybody in the yard, up near the back door. She laid her hands on top of her big pregnant belly and said, _If you know Charlotte_s whereabouts, you are duty bound to tell me._ Not a peep from anybody. Missus cast her eyes on me. _Hetty? Where is your mother?_ I shrugged and acted stumped. _I don_t know, missus. Wish I did know._ Missus told Tomfry to search the kitchen house, laundry, carriage house, stable, storage shed, privy, and slave rooms. She said comb every nook in the yard, look down the chute where Prince sent hay from the loft to the horses_ trough. If that didn_t turn up mauma, she said Tomfry would go through the house, the piazza, and the ornament garden, top to bottom. She rang her bell, which meant go back to work. I hurried to mauma_s room to check the gunny sack. All her money was still at the bottom under the stuffing. Then I crept back outside and set the pail next to the cistern. The sun was coming down the sky, turning it the color of apricots. While Tomfry did his searching high and low, I took up my spot in the front alcove on the second floor to wait. At the first shade of dark, lo-to-behold, I looked down through the window and there was mauma turning the corner. She marched straight to the front door and knocked. I tore down the stairs and got to the door the same time as Tomfry. When he opened it, mauma said, _I gon give you half of a dollar if you get me back in there safe. You owe me, Tomfry._ He stepped out onto the landing, me beside him, and closed the door. I threw my arms round mauma. She said to him, _Quick now, what it gon be?_ _They ain_t nowhere to put you,_ he said. _Missus had me search every corner._ _Not the rooftop,_ I said. Tomfry made the coast clear, and I led mauma to the attic and showed her the ladder and the hatch. I said, _When they come, you say it was so warm you came out here to see the harbor and lay down and fell asleep._ Meantime, Tomfry went and explained to missus how he forgot about the rooftop when he was searching, how he knew for a fact Charlotte had been up there one time before. Missus waited at the foot of the attic steps with her cane, huffing from climbing the stairs, big as she was. I lurked behind her. I was trembling with nerves. Mauma came down the ladder, shivering, telling this cockamamie story I_d come up with. Missus said, _I did not think you were as naturally dumb as the rest, Charlotte, but you have proved me wrong. To fall asleep on the roof! You could have rolled off onto the street. The roof! You must know such a place is completely off-limits._ She raised her cane and brought it down cross the back of mauma_s head. _See yourself to your room, and tomorrow morning after devotions, you are to sew the rosettes back on my new dress. Your sloppiness with the needle has only worsened._ _Yessum,_ mauma said, hurrying to the stairs, waving me in front of her. If missus noticed how mauma didn_t have her cane or her limp, she didn_t say so. When we reached the cellar, mauma shut the door and threw the lock. I was winded, but mauma_s breath was steady. She rubbed the back of her head. She set her jaw. She said, _I is a _markable woman, and you is a _markable girl, and we ain_t never gon bow and scrape to that woman._ Sarah The idea of a new sibling didn_t strike me as happy news. Shut away in my room, I absorbed it with grim resignation. When pregnant, Mother_s mood became even fouler, and who among us would welcome that? My real dismay came when I took paper and pen and worked out the arithmetic: Mother had spent ten of the last twenty years pregnant. For pity sake! Soon to be twelve, I was on the cusp of maidenhood, and I wanted to marry_truly, I did_but such numbers petrified me. Coming, as they did, so soon after my books being taken away, quite soured me on the female life. Since Father_s dressing-down, I hadn_t left the four walls of my room except for meals, Madame Ruffin_s class three mornings a week, and church on Sunday. Handful kept me company, asking questions to which she didn_t care to know the answer, asking only to animate me. She watched me make feeble attempts at embroidery and write stories about a girl abandoned to an island in the manner of Robinson Crusoe. Mother ordered me to snap from my inwardness and misery, and I did try, but my despair only grew. Mother summoned our physician, Dr. Geddings, who after much probing decided I suffered from severe melancholy. I listened at the door as he told Mother he_d never witnessed a case in someone so young, that this kind of lunacy occurred in women after childbirth or at the withdrawal of a woman_s menses. He declared me a high-strung, temperamental girl with predilections to hysteria, as evidenced by my speech. Shortly after Christmas, I passed Thomas_ door and glimpsed his trunk open on the floor. I couldn_t bear his leaving, but it was worse knowing he was going off to New Haven to pursue a dream I myself had, but would never realize. Consumed with envy for his dazzling future, I fled to my room where I sobbed out my grief. It gushed from me in black waves, and as it did, my despondency seemed to reach its extremity, its farther limit, passing over into what I can only now call an anguished hope. All things pass in the end, even the worst melancholy. I opened my dresser and pulled out the lava box that held my button. My eyes glazed at the sight of it, and this time I felt my spirit rise up to meet my will. I would not give up. I would err on the side of audacity. That was what I_d always done. My audacious erring occurred at Thomas_ farewell party, which took place in the second-floor withdrawing room on Twelfth Night. During the past week, I_d caught Father smiling at me across the dining table, and I_d interpreted his Christmas gift_a print of Apollo and the Muses_as an offering of love and the end of his censure. Tonight, he conversed with Thomas, Frederick, and John, who was home from Yale, all of them in black woolen topcoats and striped vests of various colors, Father_s flaxen. Seated with Mary at the Pembroke table, I watched them and wished to know what they debated. Anna and Eliza, who_d been allowed at the festivities, sat on the rug before the fire screen, clutching their Christmas dolls, while Ben pitted his new wooden soldiers in battle, shouting _Charge!_ every few seconds. Mother reclined against the red velvet of her rosewood R?camier, which had been brought up from her bedroom. I_d observed five of Mother_s gestations, and clearly this was her most difficult. She_d enlarged to mammoth proportions. Even her poor face appeared bloated. Nevertheless, she_d created an elaborate fete. The room blazed with candles and lamplight, which reflected off mirrors and gilt surfaces, and the tables were laid with white linen cloths and gold brocade runners in keeping with the colors of the Epiphany. Tomfry, Snow, and Eli served, wearing their dark green livery, hauling in trays of crab pies, buttered shrimps, veal, fried whiting, and omelet souffl?. My prodigal appetite had returned, and I occupied myself with eating and listening to the whirr of bass voices across the room. They conversed about the reelection of Mr. Jefferson, whether Mr. Meriwether Lewis and Mr. William Clark had any chance of reaching the Pacific coast, and most tantalizing, what the abolition of slavery in the Northern states, most recently in New Jersey, boded for the South. Abolition by law? I_d never heard of it and craned to get every snippet. Did those in the North, then, believe God to be sided against slavery? We finished the meal with Thomas_ favorite sweet, macaroons with almond ice, after which Father tapped a spoon against his crystal goblet and silenced the room. He wished Thomas well and presented him with An Abridgement of Locke_s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Mother had allowed Mary and me to each have half a flute of wine, my inaugural taste, and I gazed at the book in Thomas_ hand with a downy feeling between my ears. _Who will send Thomas off with a tribute?_ Father said, scanning the faces of his sons. Firstborn John tugged on the hem of his vest, but it was I, the sixth-born child and second daughter, who leapt to my feet and made a speech. _. . . . . . Thomas, dear brother, I shall miss you. . . . . . I wish you God_s speed with your studies . . ._ I paused and felt an upwelling of courage. _One day I intend to follow in your footsteps. . . . . . To become a jurist._ When Father found his tongue, his tone was full of amusement. _Did my ears deceive? Did you say you would follow your brother to the bar?_ John twittered, and Fredrick laughed outright. Father looked at them and smiled, continuing, _Are there female jurists now? If so, little one, do enlighten us._ Their hilarity burst forth, and I saw Thomas, too, was laughing. I tried to answer, not fully comprehending the depth of their derision, that his question was for the benefit of my brothers alone. _. . . . . . Would it not be a great accomplishment if I should be the first?_ At that, Father_s fun turned into annoyance. _There will be no first, Sarah, and if such a preposterous thing did occur, it will be no daughter of mine._ Still, I went on stupidly, blindly. _. . . . . . Father, I would make you proud. I would do anything._ _Sarah, stop this nonsense! You shame yourself. You shame us all. Where did you ever get the notion you could study the law?_ I fought to stand there, to hold on to what felt like some last dogged piece of myself. _. . . . . . You said I would be the greatest jurist__ _I said if you were a boy!_ My eyes flitted to Anna and Eliza, who gazed up at me, and then to Mary, who would not meet them. I turned to Thomas. _. . . . . . Please. . . . . . do you remember . . . you said I should be the jurist?_ _Sarah, I_m sorry, but Father is right._ His words finished me. Father made a gesture with his hand, dismissing the matter, and the band of them turned from me and resumed their conversation. I heard Mother say my name in a quiet way. She no longer reclined, but sat upright, her face bearing a commiserate look. _You may go to your room,_ she said. I slinked away like some scraped-out soul. On the floor beside my door, Handful was coiled into her red squares and black triangles. She said, _I put on your lamp and stoked the fire. You need me to help with your dress?_ _. . . No, stay where you are._ My words sounded flat with hurt. She studied me, uncertain. _What happened, Miss Sarah?_ Unable to answer, I entered my room and closed the door. I sat on the dresser stool. I felt strange and hollow, unable to cry, unable to feel anything but an empty, extinguished place in the pit of my stomach. The knock at my door moments later was light, and thinking it was Handful, I gathered the last crumbs of my energy and called out, _. . . I have no need of you._ Mother entered, swaying with her weight. _I took no joy in seeing your hopes quashed,_ she said. _Your father and brothers were cruel, but I believe their mockery was in equal portion to their astonishment. A lawyer, Sarah? The idea is so outlandish I feel I have failed you bitterly._ She placed her palm on the side of her belly and closed her eyes as if warding off the thrust of an elbow or foot. The gentleness in her voice, her very presence in my room revealed how distressed she was for me, and yet she seemed to suggest their unkindness was justified. _Your father believes you are an anomalous girl with your craving for books and your aspirations, but he_s wrong._ I looked at her with surprise. The hauteur had left her. There was a lament in her I_d never seen before. _Every girl comes into the world with varying degrees of ambition,_ she said, _even if it_s only the hope of not belonging body and soul to her husband. I was a girl once, believe it or not._ She seemed a stranger, a woman without all the wounds and armature the years bring, but then she went on, and it was Mother again. _The truth,_ she said, _is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse._ She bent and put her arms around me. _Sarah darling, you_ve fought harder than I imagined, but you must give yourself over to your duty and your fate and make whatever happiness you can._ I felt the puffy skin of her cheek, and I wanted both to cling to her and shove her away. I watched her go, noticing she hadn_t closed the door when she_d entered. Handful would_ve heard everything. The thought comforted me. There_s no pain on earth that doesn_t crave a benevolent witness. As Handful appeared, regarding me with her large, soulful eyes, I took the lava box from my dresser, removed the silver button, and dropped it into the ash bin by the fire, where it disappeared beneath the gray and white soot. The following day, the withdrawing room was cleared for mother_s lying-in. She_d birthed her last six children there, surrounded by Binah, Aunt-Sister, Dr. Geddings, a hired wet nurse, and two female cousins. It seemed unlikely she would grant me a visit, but a week before her labor began, she allowed me in to see her. It was a frosty morning in February. The sky was bunched with winter clouds, and the fireplaces throughout the house crackled and hissed. In the withdrawing room, the fire provided the only light. Mother, who was a week from her fortieth birthday, was sprawled on her R?camier, looking perfectly miserable. _I hope you have no trouble to speak of, for I have no strength to deal with it,_ she said through swollen lips. _. . . . . . I have a request._ She raised herself slightly and reached for her cup on the tea table. _Well then, what is it? What is this request that cannot wait?_ I_d come prepared with a speech, feeling resolute, but now my head swam with anxiety. I closed my eyes and wondered how I could make her understand. _. . . . . . I_m afraid you_ll refuse me without thought._ _For heaven_s sake, why should I do that?_ _. . . . . . Because my wish is out of the ordinary. . . . . . I wish to be godmother to the new baby._ _Well, you_re correct_it_s out of the ordinary. It_s also out of the question._ I_d expected this. I knelt beside her. _. . . . . . Mother, if I have to beg, I will . . . I_ve lost everything precious to me. What I thought to be the purpose of my life, my hope for an education, books, Thomas . . . Even Father seems lost to me now . . . Don_t deny me this, please._ _But Sarah, the baby_s godmother? Of all things. It_s not some frippery. The religious welfare of the child would be in your hands. You_re twelve. What would people say?_ _. . . I_ll make the child the purpose of my life . . . You said I must give up ambition . . . Surely the love and care of a child is something you can sanction . . . Please, if you love me__ Lowering my head to her lap, I cried the tears I_d not been able to cry the night of Thomas_ farewell or since. Her hand cupped the back of my head, and when I finally composed myself, I saw that her eyes were moist. _All right then. You_ll be the baby_s godmother, but see to it you do not fail him._ I kissed her hand and slipped from the room, feeling, oddly, that I_d reclaimed a lost part of myself. Handful I twined red thread round the trunk of the spreading tree till every last bit had come off the spool. Mauma watched. It was all me and my idea to make us a spirit tree like her mauma had made, and I could tell she was just humoring. She clutched her elbows and blew fog with her breath. She said, _You _bout got it? It_s cold as the blue moon out here._ It was cold as Charleston could get. Sleet on the windows, blankets on the horses, Sabe and Prince chopping firewood daylight to dark. I gave mauma a look and spread my red-and-black quilt on the ground. It made a bright spot laying under the bare limbs. I said, _First, we got to kneel on this and give our spirits to the tree. I want us to do it the way you said granny-mauma did._ She said, _Awright, let_s do it then._ We dropped on our knees and stared at the tree trunk with our coat sleeves touching. The ground was hard-caked, covered with acorns, and the cold seeped through the squares and triangles. A quietness came down on us, and I closed my eyes. Inside my coat pocket, my fingertips stroked Miss Sarah_s silver button. It felt like a lump of ice. I_d plucked it from the ash can after she cast it off. I felt bad she had to give up her plan, but that didn_t mean you throw out a perfect good button. Mauma shifted her knees on the quilt. She wanted to make the spirit tree quick, and I wanted to make the minutes last. I said, _Tell it again how you and granny-mauma did it._ _Awright. What we did was get down like this on the quilt and she say, _Now we putting our spirits in the tree so they safe from harm, so they live with the birds, learning to fly._ Then we just give our spirits to it._ _Did you feel it when it happened?_ She pulled her headscarf over her cold ears and tried to bottle up her smile. She said, _Let me see if I can remember. Yeah, I felt my spirit leave from right here._ She touched the bone between her breasts. _It leave like a little draft of wind, and I look up at a branch and I don_t see it, but I know my spirit_s up there watching me._ She was making all this up. It didn_t matter cause I didn_t see why it couldn_t happen that way now. I called out, _I give my spirit to the tree._ Mauma called out the same way. Then she said, _After your granny-mauma make our spirit tree, she say, _If you leave this place, you go get your spirit and take it with you._ Then she pick up acorns, twigs, and leaves and make pouches for _em, and we wear _em round our neck._ So me and mauma picked up acorns and twigs and yellow crumbles of leaves. The whole time, I thought about the day missus gave me as a present to Miss Sarah, how mauma told me, It gon be hard from here on, Handful. Since that day a year past, I_d got myself a friend in Miss Sarah and found how to read and write, but it_d been a heartless road like mauma said, and I didn_t know what would come of us. We might stay here the rest of our lives with the sky slammed shut, but mauma had found the part of herself that refused to bow and scrape, and once you find that, you got trouble breathing on your neck. PART TWO February 1811_December 1812 Sarah Sitting before the mirror in my room, I stared at my face while Handful and six-year-old Nina wove my ponytail into braids with the aim of looping them into a circlet at the nape of my neck. Earlier I_d rubbed my face with salt and lemon-vinegar, which was Mother_s formula for removing ink spots. It had lightened my freckles, but not erased them, and I reached for the powder muff to finish them off. It was February, the height of Charleston_s social season, and all week, a stream of calling cards and invitations had collected on the waiting desk beside the front door. From them Mother had chosen the most elegant and opportune affairs. Tonight, a waltzing party. I_d entered society two years ago, at sixteen, thrust into the lavish round of balls, teas, musical salons, horseraces, and picnics, which, according to Mother, meant the dazzling doors of Charleston had flung open and female life could begin in earnest. In other words, I could take up the business of procuring a husband. How highborn and moneyed this husband turned out to be would depend entirely on the allure of my face, the delicacy of my physique, the skill of my seamstress, and the charisma of my t?te-?-t?te. Notwithstanding my seamstress, I arrived at the glittery entrance like a lamb to slaughter. _Look at this mess you_ve gone and made,_ Handful said to Nina, who_d tangled the lock of hair assigned to her into what we commonly referred to as a rat_s nest. Handful raked the brush through it at no small expense to my scalp, then divided the strands into three even pieces, and pronounced two of them to be rabbits and one of them a log. Nina, who_d gone into a pout at having her braid confiscated, perked up at the prospect of a game. _Watch now,_ Handful told her. _This rabbit goes under the log, and this rabbit goes over the log. You make them hop like that all the way down. See, that_s how you make a plait_hop over, hop under._ Nina took possession of the rabbits and the log and created a remarkably passable braid. Handful and I oohed and ahhed as if she_d carved a Florentine statue. It was a winter evening like so many others that passed in quiet predictability: the room flushed with lamplight, a fire nesting on the grate, an early dark flattening against the windows, while my two companions fussed over me at the dresser. My sister and godchild, Angelina_Nina for short_already bore the oval face and graceful features with which our older sister Mary had been blessed. Her eyes were brown and her hair and lashes dark as the little stone box in which I_d once kept my button. My precious Nina was strikingly beautiful. Better yet, she had a lively intellect and showed signs of being quite fearless. She believed she could do anything, a condition I took pains to foster despite the disaster that had come from my own fearless believing. My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment. The sorrow of it had faded, but regret remained, and I_d taken to wondering if the Fates might be kinder to a different girl. Throughout my childhood, a framed sketch of the Three Fates had hung prominently at the top of the stairs, where they went about their business of spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life, all the while keeping an eye on my comings and goings. I was convinced of their personal animosity toward me, but that didn_t mean they would treat my sister_s thread the same way. I_d vowed to Mother that Nina would become the purpose of my life, and so she was. In her, I had a voice that didn_t stammer and a heart that was unscathed. It_s true I lived a portion of my life through hers, and yes, I blurred the lines of self for both of us, but there was no one who loved Nina more than I did. She became my salvation, and I want to think I became hers. She_d called me Mother from the time she could talk. It came naturally, and I didn_t discourage it, but I did have the good sense to keep her from doing it in front of Mother. From the days Nina was in her crib, I_d proselytized her about the evils of slavery. I_d taught her everything I knew and believed, and though Mother must have had some idea I was molding her in my own image, she had no idea to what extent. With her braid complete, Nina climbed into my lap and began her usual pleading. _Don_t go! Stay with me._ _Oh, I have to, you know that. Binah will tuck you in._ Nina_s lip fluted out, and I added, _If you don_t whine, I_ll let you pick out the dress I wear._ She fairly leapt from my knees to the wardrobe, where she chose the most luxuriant costume I had, a maroon velvet gown with three satin chevrons down the front, each with an agraffe of chipped diamonds. It was Handful_s own magnificent creation. At seventeen, she was a prodigy with the needle, even more so than her mother. She now sewed most of my attire. As Handful stretched on tiptoe to retrieve the dress, I noticed how undeveloped she was_her body lithe and skinny as a boy_s. She didn_t reach five feet and never would. But as small as she was, it was still her eyes that drew attention. I_d once heard a friend of Thomas_ refer to her as the pretty, yellow-eyed Negress. We weren_t as close as we_d been as girls. Perhaps it was due to my absorption with Nina, or to Handful_s extra duties as the apprentice seamstress, or maybe we_d simply reached an age when our paths naturally began to diverge. But we were friends, I told myself. As she passed the fireplace with the dress in her arms, I noticed the frown that seemed permanently etched in her features, as if by narrowing her enormous eyes she felt less of the world could reach her. It seemed she_d begun to feel the boundaries of her life more keenly, that she_d arrived at some moment of reckoning. The past week, Mother had denied her a pass to the market for some minor, forgettable reason, and she_d taken it hard. Her market excursions were the acme of her days, and trying to commiserate, I_d said, _I_m sorry, Handful, I know how you must feel._ It seemed to me I did know what it felt to have one_s liberty curtailed, but she blazed up at me. _So we just the same, me and you? That_s why you the one to shit in the pot and I_m the one to empty it?_ Her words stunned me, and I turned toward the window to hide my hurt. I heard her breathing in fury before she fled the room, not to return the rest of the day. We hadn_t spoken of it again. She helped me now step into the gown and slide it over my corset, which I_d laced as loosely as possible. I was of average build, and didn_t think it necessary to obstruct my breathing. After fastening me in, Handful pinned a black mantilla of poult-de-soie to the crown of my head and Nina handed me my black lace fan. Flicking it open, I swanned about the room for them. Mother entered at the moment I pirouetted, trampling on my hemline and pitching forward_the picture of grace. _I hope you can refrain from this kind of clumsiness at Mrs. Alston_s,_ she said. She stood, buttressed by her cane. At forty-six, her shoulders were already rounding into an old lady_s stoop. She_d been warning me of the travail of spinsterhood for a year now, elaborating on the sad, maiden life of her aunt Amelia Jane. She likened her to a shriveled flower pressed between the pages of a forgotten book, as if this might scare some poise and beauty into me. I feared that Mother was about to embark again on her aunt_s desiccated existence, but she asked, _Didn_t you wear this gown only two nights ago?_ _I did, but__ I looked at my baby sister perched on the dresser stool, and gave her a smile. _Nina chose it._ _It_s imprudent to wear it again so soon._ Mother seemed to be speaking solely to herself, and I took the opportunity to ignore her. Her gaze fell on Angelina, her last child. She made a summoning gesture, her hand scooping at the air for several seconds before she spoke. _Come along, I will see you to the nursery._ Nina didn_t move. Her eyes turned to me, as if I were the higher authority and might override the command. It was not lost on Mother. _Angelina! I said come. Now!_ If I_d been a thorn in Mother_s side, Angelina would be the whole briar patch. She shook her head, as well as her shoulders. Her entire frame oscillated defiantly on the stool, and knowing very well what she was doing, she announced, _I want to stay here with Mother!_ I braced for Mother_s outburst, but it didn_t come. She pushed her fingers into her temples, moved them in a circle, and made a sound that was part groan, part sigh, part accusation. _I_ve been seized by a malicious headache,_ she said. _Hetty, fetch Cindie to my chamber._ With a roll of her eyes, Handful obeyed, and Mother departed after her, the dull tap of her cane receding along the corridor. I knelt before Nina, sinking down into my skirt, which billowed out in such a way I must have appeared like a stamen in some monstrous red bloom. _How often have I told you? You mustn_t call me Mother unless we_re alone._ Nina_s chin trembled visibly. _But you_re my mother._ I let her cry into the velvet of my dress. _You are, you are, you are._ The upstairs drawing room in Mrs. Alston_s house on King Street was lit to an excessive brightness by a crystal chandelier that blazed like a small inferno from the ceiling. Beneath it, a sea of people danced the schottische, their laughter drowning out the violins. My dance program was bare except for Thomas, who_d written in his name for two sets of the quadrille. He_d been admitted to the bar the year before and opened a practice with Mr. Langdon Cheves, a man I couldn_t help but feel had taken my place, just as I_d taken Mother_s. Thomas had written to me from Yale, remorseful for ridiculing my ambition on the night of his farewell, but he wouldn_t budge from his position. We_d made peace, nevertheless, and in many ways he was still a demi-god to me. I looked about the room for him, knowing he would be attached to Sally Drayton, whom he was soon to marry. At their engagement party, Father had declared that a marriage between a Grimk? and a Drayton would bring forth _a new Charleston dynasty._ It had irked Mary, who_d entered into a suitable engagement, herself, but one without any regal connotations. Madame Ruffin had suggested I use my fan to advantage, concealing my _strong jaw and ruddy cheeks,_ and I did so obsessively out of self-consciousness. Positioning the fan over the lower half of my face, I peered over its scalloped edge. I knew many of the young women from Madame Ruffin_s classes, St. Philip_s, or the previous social season, but I couldn_t claim a friendship with any of them. They were polite enough to me, but I was never allowed into the warmth of their secrets and gossip. I think my stammer made them uneasy. That, and the awkwardness I seemed to feel in their presence. They were wearing a new style of head-turban the size of settee cushions made from heavy brocades and studded with pins, pearls, and little palettes on which the face of our new president, Mr. Madison, was painted, and their poor heads appeared to wobble on their necks. I thought they looked silly, but the beaux swarmed about them. Night after night, I endured these grand affairs alone, revolted by what objets d_art we were and contemptuous of how hollow society had turned out to be, and yet inexplicably, I was filled with a yearning to be one of them. The slaves moved among us with trays of custard and Huguenot tortes, holding doors, taking coats, stoking fires, moving without being seen, and I thought how odd it was that no one ever spoke of them, how the word slavery was not suitable in polite company, but referred to as the peculiar institution. Turning abruptly to leave the room, I plowed headlong into a male slave carrying a crystal pitcher of Dragoon punch. It created a magnificent explosion of tea, whiskey, rum, cherries, orange slices, lemon wedges, and shards of glass. They spilled across the rug, onto the slave_s frock coat, the front of my skirt, and the trousers of a tall young man who was passing by at the moment of the collision. In those first seconds of shock, the young man held my gaze, and I reflexively lifted my hand to my chin as if to cover it with my fan, then realized I_d dropped my fan in the commotion. He smiled at me as sound rushed back into the room, gasps and thin cries of alarm. His composure calmed me, and I smiled back, noticing he had a tiny polyp of orange pulp on his cheek. Mrs. Alston appeared in a swishing, silver-gray dress, her head bare except for a small jeweled headband across her curling bangs. With aplomb, she inquired if anyone had suffered injury. She dismissed the petrified slave with her hand and summoned another to clean the wreckage, all the while laughing softly to put everyone at ease. Before I could make an apology, the young man spoke loudly, addressing the room. _I beg your forgiveness. I fear I am an awkward lout._ _But it was not you__ I began. He cut me off. _The fault is completely mine._ _I insist you think no more of it,_ Mrs. Alston said. _Come, both of you, and we_ll get you dried off._ She escorted us to her own chamber and left us in the care of her maid, who dabbed at my dress with a towel. The young man waited, and without thinking, I reached out and brushed the pulp from his cheek. It was overtly forward of me, but I wouldn_t consider that until later. _We make a drowned pair,_ he said. _May I introduce myself? I_m Burke Williams._ _Sarah Grimk?._ The only gentleman who_d ever shown interest in me was an unattractive fellow with a bulging forehead and raisin eyes. A member of the Jockey Club, he_d escorted me about the New Market Course at the culmination of Race Week last year, and afterward deposited me in the ladies_ stand to watch the horses on my own. I never saw him again. Mr. Williams took the towel and blotted his pants, then asked if I would like some air. I nodded, dazed that he_d asked. His hair was blond, mottled with brown, something like the light sands on the beach at Sullivan_s Island, his eyes were greenish, his chin broad, and his cheeks faintly chiseled. I became aware of myself staring at him as we strolled toward the balcony off the drawing room, behaving like a fool of a girl, which, of course, I was. He was aware of it. I saw a smile pull about his mouth, and I silently berated myself for my transparency, for losing my precious fan, for slipping into the solitary darkness of the balcony with a stranger. What was I doing? The night was cold. We stood by the railing, which had been festooned with pine wreaths, and stared at the figures moving past the windows inside the room. The music whirred behind the panes. I felt very far away from everything. The sea wind rose and I began to shiver. My stammer had been in hibernation for almost a year, but last winter it had showed up on the eve of my coming out and remained throughout my first season, turning it into a perdition. I shook now as much from fear of its return as from the frigid air. _You_re chilled,_ he said, removing his coat and draping it about me in gentlemanly fashion. _How is it we_ve not been introduced until now?_ Williams. I didn_t recognize his family name. Charleston_s social pyramid was ruthlessly defended by the aristocratic planters at the top_the Middletons, Pinckneys, Heywards, Draytons, Smiths, Manigaults, Russells, Alstons, Grimk?s, and so on. Below them dwelled the mercantile class, wherein a little social mobility was sometimes possible, and it occurred to me that Mr. Williams was from this secondary tier, having slipped into society through an opportune crevice, or perhaps he was a visitor to the city. _Are you visiting here?_ I asked. _Not at all, my family_s home is on Vanderhorst. But I can read your thoughts. You_re trying to place my family. Williams, Williams, wherefore art thou Williams?_ He laughed. _If you_re like the others, you_re worried I_m an artisan or a laborer, or worse, an aspirer._ I caught my breath. _Oh, I didn_t mean_I_m not concerned with that sort of thing._ _It_s all in jest_I can see you_re not like the others. Unless, of course, you_re off-put to learn my family runs the silversmith shop on Queen Street. I_ll inherit it one day._ _I_m not off-put, I_m not at all,_ I said, then added, _I_ve been in your shop._ I didn_t say that shopping for silver irked me no end, as did most everything I was forced to do as a wife-in-training. Oh, the days Mother had forced me to hand Nina over to Binah and sit with Mary, doing handwork samplers, hoop after hoop of white-on-white, cross stitch, and crewel, and if not handwork, then painting, and if not painting, then visitations, and if not visitations, then shopping in the somber shops of silversmiths, where my mother and sister swooned over a sterling nutmeg grater, or some such. I_d fallen silent, uneasy with where our conversation had led, and I turned toward the garden, looking down into the faded black shadows. The pear trees were bare, their limbs spread open like the viscera of a parasol. Stretching into the darkness beyond, the single houses, double houses, and villas were lined up in cramped, neat rows which ran toward the tip of the peninsula. _I see I_ve offended you,_ he said. _I intended to be charming, but I_ve been mocking instead. It_s because my station is an awkward topic for me. I_m ill at ease with it._ I turned back to him, astonished that he_d been so free with his thoughts. I hadn_t known a young man to display this kind of vulnerability. _I_m not offended. I_m_charmed like you said._ _I thank you, then._ _No, I should be the one to thank you. The clumsiness in the drawing room_that was mine. And you__ _I could claim I was trying to be gallant, but in truth, I wanted to impress you. I_d been watching you. I was about to introduce myself when you whirled about and it rained punch._ I laughed, more startled than amused. Young men did not watch me. _You created a brilliant spectacle,_ he was saying. _Don_t you think?_ Regrettably, we were veering into the hazards of flirting. I_d always been feeble at it. _Yes. I-I try._ _And do you create these spectacles often?_ he asked. _I try._ _You_ve succeeded well. The ladies on the dance floor recoiled with such shock I thought a turban might sail off and injure someone._ _Ah, but_the injury would_ve been laid at your feet, not mine. I mean, it was you who claimed responsibility for the whole thing._ Where had that come from? He bowed, conceding. _We should return to the party,_ I told him, peeling his coat from my shoulders, wanting to end the banter on a high note, but worried, too, we might be missed. _If you insist, but I would rather not share you. You_re the loveliest lady I_ve met this season._ His words seemed gratuitous, and for an instant, I didn_t quite trust them. But why couldn_t I be lovely to him? Perhaps the Fates at the top of the stairs had changed their minds. Perhaps he_d looked past my plainness and glimpsed something deeper. Or, perhaps I was not as plain as I thought. _May I call on you?_ he asked. _You want to call on me?_ He reached for my hand and pulled it to his lips. He kissed it, not removing his eyes from mine, pressing the heat and smoothness of his lips onto my skin. His face seemed strangely concentrated, and I felt the warmth from his mouth move up my arm into my chest. Handful The day mauma started sewing her story quilt, we were sitting out by the spirit tree doing handwork. We always did the trouble-free work there_hems, buttons, and trimmings, or the tiny stitches that strained your eyes in a poor-lit room. The minute the weather turned fair, we_d spread a quilt on the ground and go to town with our needles. Missus didn_t like it, said the garments would get soiled. Mauma told her, _Well, I need the outdoor air to keep going, but I_ll try and do without it._ Right after that, mauma_s quota fell off. Nobody was getting much of anything new to wear, so Missus said, _All right then, sew outside, but see to it my fabrics stay clean._ It was early in the springtime, and the tree buds were popping open while we sat there. Those days I did a lot of fretting and fraying. I was watching Miss Sarah in society, how she wore her finery and going whichever way she pleased. She was wanting to get a husband soon and leave. The world was a Wilton carpet stretched out for her, and it seemed like the doors had shut on me, and that_s not even right_the doors never had opened in the first place. I was getting old enough to see they never would. Missus was still dragging us into the dining room for devotions, preaching, _Be content with your lot, for this is of the Lord._ I wanted to say, Take your lot and put it where the sun don_t shine. The other thing was Little Nina. She was Miss Sarah_s own sister, more like a daughter to her. I loved Nina, too, you couldn_t help it, but she took over Miss Sarah_s heart. That was how it should be, but it left a hole in mine. That day by the tree, me and mauma had the whole kit and comboodle of our sewing stuff lined up on the tree roots_threads, needle bags, pin cushions, shears, and a small tin of beeswax we used to grease our needles. A waxed needle would almost glide through the cloth by itself, and I got where I hated to sew without the smell of it. I had the brass thimble on my finger, finishing up a dressing table cover for missus_ bedchamber, embroidering it with some scuppernong vines going round the edges. Mauma said I_d outshined her with my sewing_I didn_t use a tracing wheel like her, and my darts lay perfect every time. Back two years, when I_d turned fifteen, missus said, _I_m making you our apprentice seamstress, Hetty. You are to learn all you can and share in the work._ I_d been learning from mauma since I could hold a needle, but I guess this made me official, and it spread some of the burden off mauma over to me. Mauma had her wooden patch box beside her, plus a stack of red and brown quilt squares, fresh-cut. She rooted through the box and came up with a scrap of black cloth. I watched her cut three figures purely by eye. No hesitation, that_s the trick. She pinned the shapes on a red square, and started appliqu?ing. She sat with her back rounded, her legs straight out, her hands moving like music against her chest. When we_d made our spirit tree, I_d sewed a pouch for each of us out of old bed ticking. I could see hers peeking out from her dress collar, plumped with little pieces of the tree. I reached up and gave mine a pat. Beside the tree charms, mine had Miss Sarah_s button inside it. I said, _So what kind of quilt you making?_ _This a story quilt,_ she said, and that was the first time I heard of one. She said her mauma made one, and her mauma before her. All her kin in Africa, the Fon people, kept their history on a quilt. I left off my embroidery and studied the figures she was sewing_a man, a woman, and a little girl between them. They were joined at the hands. _Who_re they supposed to be?_ _When I get it all done, I tell you the story square by square._ She grinned, showing the big space between her teeth. After she stitched on the three people, she free-cut a tiny quilt top with black triangles and sewed it at the girl_s feet. She cut out little shackles and chains for their legs, then, a host of stars that she sewed all round them. Some stars had tails of light, some lay on the ground. It was the story of the night her mauma_my granny-mauma_got sold and the stars fell. Mauma worked in a rush, needing to get the story told, but the more she cut and stitched, the sadder her face turned. After a while her fingers slowed down and she put the quilt square away. She said, _This gon take a while, I guess._ Then she picked up a half-done quilt with a flower appliqu?. It was milk-white and rose-pink, something sure to sell. She worked on it lackluster. The sun guttered in the leaves over our heads, and I watched the shadows pass over her. For the sake of some gossip, I told her, _Miss Sarah met a boy at one of her parties, and he_s all she wants to talk about._ _I got somebody like that,_ she said. I looked at her like her head had fallen off. I set down the embroidery hoop, and the white dresser cover flopped in the dirt. _Well, who is he, where_d you get him?_ _Next trip to the market, I take you to see him. All I gon say is: he a free black, and he one of a kind._ I didn_t like she_d been keeping things from me. I snapped at her. _And you gonna marry Mr. One of a Kind Free Black?_ _No, I ain_t. He already married._ Course he was. Mauma waited through my pique, then said, _He come into some money and bought his own freedom. He cost a fortune, but his massa have a gamble debt, so he only pay five hundred dollars for hisself. And he still have money after that to buy a house at 20 Bull Street. It sit three blocks from where the governor live._ _How_d he get all this money?_ _Won it in the East Bay Street lottery._ I laughed out loud. _That_s what he told you? Well, I reckon this is the luckiest slave that ever lived._ _It happen ten years ago, everybody know _bout it. He buy a ticket, and his number come up. It happen._ The lottery office was down the street from the market, near the docks. I_d passed it myself when mauma took me out to learn the shopping. There was always a mish-mash of people getting tickets: ship captains, City Guard, white laborers, free blacks, slaves, mulattoes, and creoles. There_d be two, three men in silk cravats with their carriages waiting. I said, _How come you don_t buy a ticket?_ _And waste a coin on some fancy chance?_ For the last five years, every lick of strength mauma had left from sewing for missus had gone toward her dollar bill collection. She_d been hired out steady since I was eleven, but it wasn_t on the sly anymore, and thank you kind Jesus for that. Her counterfeit badge and all that sneaking out she_d done for the better part of a year had put white hair on my head. I used to pull it out and show it to her. I_d say, _Look what you_re doing to me._ She_d say, _Here I is, saving up to buy us freedom and you worrying _bout hair._ When I was thirteen, missus had finally given in and let mauma hire out. I don_t know why. Maybe she got tired of saying the word no. Maybe it was the money she wanted_mauma could put a hundred dollars a year in missus_ pocket_but I know this much, it didn_t hurt when mauma made missus a patchwork quilt for Christmas that year. It had a square for each of her children made from some remnant of theirs. Mauma told her, _I know this ain_t nothing much, but I sewed you a memory quilt of your family so you can wrap up in it after they gone._ Missus touched each square: _Why, this is from the dress Mary wore to her coming out . . . This is Charles_ baptism blanket . . . My goodness, this is Thomas_ first riding shirt._ Mauma didn_t waste a breath. She asked missus right then to hire her out. A month later she was hired legal to sew for a woman on Tradd Street. Mauma kept twenty cents on the dollar. The rest went to missus, but I knew mauma was selling underhand on the side_frilled bonnets, quilt tops, candlewick bedcovers, all sorts of wears that didn_t call for a fitting. She had me count the money regular. It came to a hundred ninety dollars. I hated to tell her her money-pile could hit the roof, but that didn_t mean missus would sell us, specially to ourselves. Thinking about all this, I said, _We sew too good for missus to let us go._ _Well if she refuse us, then our sewing gon get real bad, real fast._ _What makes you think she wouldn_t sell us to somebody else for spite?_ Mauma stopped working and the fight seemed to almost leave her. She looked tired. _It_s a chance we has to take, or else we gon end up like Snow._ Poor Snow, he_d died one night last summer. Fell over in the privy. Aunt-Sister tied his jaw to keep his spirit from leaving, and he was laid out on a cooling board in the kitchen house for two days before they put him in a burial box. The man had spent his whole life carrying the Grimk?s round town. Sabe took his place as the coachman and they brought some new boy from their plantation to be the footman. His name was Goodis, and he had one lazy eye that looked sideways. He watched me so much with that eye mauma_d said, _That boy got his heart fix on you._ _I don_t want him fixing his heart on me._ _That_s good,_ she_d said. _I can_t buy nobody_s freedom but mine and yours. You get a husband, and he on his own._ I tied off a knot and moved the embroider hoop over, saying to myself, I don_t want a husband and don_t plan on ending up like Snow on a cooling board in the kitchen house either. _How much will it take to buy the both of us?_ I asked. Mauma rammed the needle in the cloth. She said, _That_s what you gon find out._ Sarah I_d never been inclined to keep a diary until I met Burke Williams. I thought by writing down my feelings, I would seize control over them, perhaps even curb what Reverend Hall called _the paroxysms of carnality._ For what it_s worth, charting one_s passion in a small daybook kept hidden in a hatbox inside a wardrobe does not subdue passion in the least. 20 February 1811 I had imagined romantic love to be a condition of sweet utopia, not an affliction! To think, a few weeks ago, I thought my starved mind would be my worst hardship. Now my heart has its own ordeal. Mr. Williams, you torment me. It_s as if I_ve contracted a tropical fever. I cannot say whether I wish to be cured. My diary overflowed with this sort of purple outburst. 3 March Mr. Williams, why do you not call? It_s unfair that I must wait for you to act. Why must I, as a female, be at your disposal? Why can_t I send a calling note to you? Who made up these unjust rules? Men, that_s who. God devised women to be the minions. Well, I quite resent it! 9 March A month has passed, and I see now what transpired between Mr. Williams and my na?ve self on the balcony was a farce. He has toyed with me shamelessly. I knew it even then! He is a fickle-hearted cad, and I would no sooner speak to him now than I would speak to the devil. When I was not engaged in aerating my feelings, or caring for little Nina, or fending off Mother_s attempts to draw me into my dutiful female tasks, I was foraging among the invitations and calling cards left on the desk by the front door. When Nina napped in the afternoon, I had Handful wheel the copper bathtub into my room and fill it with buckets of blistering water from the laundry. This copper tub was a modern wonder imported from France by way of Virginia, and it was the talk of Charleston. It sat on noisy little wheels and traveled room to room like a portable dipping cart. You sat in it. You did not stand over a basin and pat water on yourself_no, you were quite immersed! To top it off, one side of the tub possessed a vent that could be opened to release the used water. Mother instructed the slaves to trundle the tub onto the piazza near the rail and discharge the bathwater over the side. The waterfalls splattering into the garden alerted neighbors the hygienic Grimk?s had been bathing again. When a note with scratchy penmanship arrived at the house shortly before noon on the ides of March, I swooped upon it before Mother. 15 March Burke Williams compliments Sarah Grimk?, requesting the pleasure of her company tomorrow night. If he can serve her in any way in the meantime, he would be honored. P.S. Please excuse the borrowed paper. I stood still for several moments, then placed the note back on the pile, thinking, Why should anyone care if the paper is borrowed, and then the stupefaction wore off. Caught in a sudden swell of elation, I ascended the stairs to my room, where I danced about like some tipsy bird. I_d forgotten Handful and Nina were there. They_d spread the doll tea set on the floor beneath the window, and when I turned, I saw them staring at me, holding tiny cups of pretend-tea in the air. _You must_ve heard from that boy,_ Handful said. She was the only one who knew of his existence. _What boy?_ Nina asked, and I was forced to tell her about Mr. Williams, too. At this moment Mother would be dispatching an acceptance while singing Glory be to God in the Highest. She would be so jubilant with allelujahs, it would not occur to her to wonder at his credentials. _Will you get married like Thomas?_ Nina asked. His wedding was two and a half months away and a reference point for everything. _I do believe I will,_ I told her, and the idea seemed altogether plausible. I would not be a pressed flower in a book after all. We_d expected Mr. Williams at 8:00 P.M., but at ten past, he was still absent. Mother_s neck was splotched red with patches of insult, and Father, who_d joined Mother and me in the drawing room, held his watch in his hand. The three of us sat as if waiting for a funeral procession to pass. I feared he wouldn_t appear at all, and if he did, that our visit would be cut short. By custom, the slave_s curfew_9:00 in the winter, 10:00 in the summer_cleared gentlemen callers from the drawing rooms. When the City Guard beat drums to summon the slaves off the streets, the suitors would rise on cue. He rapped on the front door at a quarter past the appointed hour. When Tomfry ushered him into the room, I lifted my fan_an extravagant nosegay of hen feathers_and my parents rose with cool civility and offered him the Duncan Phyfe chair that flanked the right side of the fireplace. I_d been relegated to the chair on the left, which meant we were separated by the fire screen and forced to crane our necks for a glimpse of one another. A pity_he looked more handsome than I remembered. His face had bronzed with sun and his hair was longer, curling behind his ears. Detecting the scent of lime-soap drifting from his direction, my insides convulsed involuntarily_a full-blown paroxysm of carnality. After the excuses and the trivialities, Father got right to the point. _Tell us, Mr. Williams, what is it that your father does?_ _Sir, my father owns the silver shop on Queen Street. It was founded by my great-grandfather and is the largest silver shop in the South._ He spoke with unconcealed pride, but the stiff silence that had preceded his arrival descended again. A Grimk? daughter would marry a son of the planter class who would study law, medicine, religion, or architecture in order to occupy himself until he inherited. _A shop, you say?_ Mother asked, giving herself time to absorb the blow. _That_s correct, madame._ She turned to Father. _A silver shop, John._ Father nodded, and I read his thought: Merchant. It rose in the air above his forehead like a dark condensation. _We_ve frequented the shop often,_ I said, beaming as if those occasions had been the highlight of my life. Mother came to my aid. _Indeed we have. It_s a lovely shop, John._ Mr. Williams slid forward in his chair and addressed Father. _Sir, my grandfather_s wish was to provide our city with a silver shop that would live up to the one your own grandfather, John Paul Grimk?, owned. I believe it was on the corner of Queen and Meeting, wasn_t it? My grandfather thought him to be the greatest silversmith in the country, greater than Mr. Revere._ Oh, the adroitness of this man! I twisted in my chair the better to see him. In the guise of a compliment, he_d let it be known he was not the only one in the room descended from the merchant class. Of course, the difference was that John Paul Grimk? had parlayed the success of his shop into cotton ventures and large land holdings in the low country. He_d been ambitious and prudent, and toiled his way into Charleston aristocracy. Nevertheless, Mr. Williams had landed his punch. Father eyed him steadily and spoke two words. _I see._ I think he did see, too. In that moment, he saw Mr. Williams quite well. Tomfry served Hyson tea and biscuits, and the conversation turned back to trivialities, an interlude cut short when the curfew drums began. Mr. Williams rose, and I felt a sudden deflation. To my wonder, Mother entreated him to visit again, and I saw one of Father_s luxuriant eyebrows lift. _May I see him to the door?_ I asked. _Of course, dear, but Tomfry will accompany you._ We trailed Tomfry from the room, but once past the door, Mr. Williams stopped and placed his hand on my arm. _You look enchanting,_ he whispered, drawing his face close to mine. _It would ease my regret in leaving, if you favored me with a lock of your hair._ _My hair?_ _As a token of your affection._ I lifted the hen feathers to cover the heat in my face. He pressed a white handkerchief into my hand. _Fold the lock inside my kerchief, then toss it over the fence to George Street. I_ll be there, waiting._ With that titillating directive, he gave me a grin, such a grin, and strode toward the door, where Tomfry waited uncomfortably. Returning to the drawing room to face my parents_ evaluations, I halted outside the door, realizing they were speaking about me. _John, we must face reason. He may be her only chance._ _You think our daughter so poor a marriage prospect she can draw no better than that?_ _His family is not poor. They are reasonably well-to-do._ _But Mary, it is a mercantile family._ _The man is a suitor, and he is likely the best she can do._ I fled to my room, chagrined, but too preoccupied with my clandestine mission to be wounded. Having lit the lamps and turned down the bed, Handful was bent over my desk, frowning and picking her way through the poem Leonidas, which was an almost unreadable ode to men and their wars. As always, she wore a pouch about her neck filled with bark, leaves, acorns, and other gleanings from the oak in the work yard. _Quickly,_ I blurted. _Take the shears from my dresser and cut off a lock of my hair._ She squinted at me without moving a muscle. _Why do you wanna do something like that?_ _Just do it!_ I was a wreck of impatience, but seeing how my tone miffed her, I explained the reason. She cut a whorl as long as my finger and watched me secret it inside the handkerchief. She followed me downstairs to the ornamental garden where I glimpsed him through the palisade fence, a shadowed figure, leaning against the stuccoed brick wall of the Dupr? house across the street. _That him?_ Handful asked. I shushed her, afraid he would hear, and then I flung the amorous bundle over the fence. It landed in the crushed shell that powdered the street. The next day Father announced we would depart immediately for Belmont. Because of Thomas_ upcoming nuptials, it_d previously been decided Father would journey to the upcountry plantation alone this spring, and now suddenly the entire family was thrown into a frenzied mass exodus. Did he think no one understood it had everything to do with the unsuitable son of a silversmith? I penned a hurried letter, which I left for Tomfry to post. 17 March Dear Mr. Williams, I am sorry to inform you that my family will leave Charleston in the morning. I will not return until the middle of May. Leaving in such an impromptu manner prevents me saying farewell in person, which I much regret. I hope I might welcome you again to our home on East Bay as soon as I return to civilization. I trust you found your handkerchief and its contents, and keep them close. With Affectionate Regards, I am Sarah Grimk? The seven weeks of my separation from Mr. Williams were a cruel agony. I busied myself with the establishment of a slave infirmary on the plantation, installing it in a corner of the weaving house. It had once been a sickbay, years before, but had fallen into dereliction, and Peggy, the slave who did the weaving, had taken to storing her carded wool on the infirmary_s old cot. Nina helped me scrub the corner and assemble an apothecary of medicine, salves, and herbs that I begged or blended myself in the kitchen house. It didn_t take long for the sick and ailing to show up, so many the overseer complained to Father that my healing enterprise interfered with field production. I expected Father to shut our doors, but he left me to it, though not without instructing me on the numberless ways the slaves would abuse my efforts. It was Mother who nearly ended the operation. Upon discovering I_d spent the night in the infirmary in order to care for a fifteen-year-old with childbirth fever, she shut the infirmary for two days, before finally relenting. _Your behavior is woefully intemperate,_ she said, and then treading too closely to the truth, added, _I suspect it_s not compassion that drives you as much as the need to distract your mind from Mr. Williams._ My afternoons were frittered away with needlework and teas or painting landscapes with Mary while Nina played at my feet, all of which took place in a stuffy parlor with poorly lit windows draped in velvet swags the color of Father_s port. My one respite was striking out alone on a high-spirited black stallion named Hiram. The horse had been given to me when I was fourteen, and since he didn_t fall into the category of slave, slave owner, or handsome beau, I was left to love him without complication. Whenever I could steal away from the parlor, Hiram and I galloped at splendiferous speeds into a landscape erupting with the same intractable wildness I felt inside. The skies were bright cerulean, teeming with ferocious winds, spilling mallards and fat wood drakes from the clouds. Up and down the lanes, the fences were lit with yellow jasmine, its musk a sweet, choking smoke. I rode with the same drunk sensuality with which I had reclined in the copper tub, riding till the light smeared, returning with the falling dark. Mother allowed me to write to Mr. Williams only once. Anything more, she insisted was woefully intemperate. I received no letter in return. Mary heard nothing from her intended either and claimed the mail to be atrocious, therefore I didn_t overly fret, but quietly and daily I wondered whether Mr. W. and his grin would be there when I returned. I placed my hope in the bewitching properties contained in the lock of my red hair. This wasn_t so different than Handful placing her faith in the bark and acorns she wore around her neck, but I wouldn_t have admitted it. I_d thought little of Handful during my incarceration at Belmont, but on the day before we left, the fifteen-year-old slave I_d nursed appeared, cured of childbirth fever, but now with boils on her neck. Seeing her, I understood suddenly that it wasn_t only miles that separated Handful and me. It wasn_t any of those things I_d told myself, not my preoccupation with Nina, or Handful_s duties, or the natural course of age. It was some other growing gulf, one that had been there long before I_d left. Handful Late in the afternoon, after the Grimk?s had gone off to their plantation and the few slaves left on the premise were in their quarters, mauma sent me into master Grimk?_s library to find out what me and her would sell for. She stood lookout for Tomfry. I told her, don_t worry about Tomfry, the one you have to watch for is Lucy, Miss Come-Look-at-the-Writing-Under-the-Tree. A man had come last winter and written down everything master Grimk? owned and what it was worth. Mauma had been there while he wrote down the lacquer sewing table, the quilt frame, and every one of her sewing tools in a brown leather book he_d tied with a cord. She said, _If we in that book, then it say what our price is. That book got to be in the library somewhere._ This seemed like a tolerable idea till I closed the door behind me, then it seemed like a damn fool one. Master Grimk? had books in there the likes you wouldn_t believe, and half of them were brown leather. I opened drawers and rummaged the shelves till I found one with a cord. I sat at the desk and opened it up. After I got caught for the crime of reading, Miss Sarah stopped teaching me, but she set out books of poems_that was all she got to read now_and she_d say, _It doesn_t take long to read a poem. Just close the door, and if there_s a word you can_t make out, point to it, and I_ll whisper it to you._ I_d learned a legion of words this way, legion being one of them. Some words I learned couldn_t be worked into a conversation: heigh-ho; O hither; alas; blithe and bonny; Jove_s nectar. But I held on to them just the same. The words inside the leather book weren_t fit for poems. The man_s writing looked like scribble. I had to crack every word one by one and pick out the sound the way we cracked blue crabs in the fall and picked out the meat till our fingers bled. The words came lumps at a time. City of Charleston, to wit . . . We the undersigned . . . To the best of our judgment, . . . the personal inventory . . . Goods and chattels . . . 2 Mahogany card tables . . . 20.50. General Washington picture and address . . . 30. 2 Brussels carpets

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