TwelveA Chapter by emily
I took her in my arms and swung her around. “Momma!” she squealed, “I missed you, Momma! You didn’t come yesterday!”
“I know. I’m sorry, baby. Momma… Momma’s got a lot to do.” As if that was any excuse.
“It’s all right, Momma,” she said, grinning, “I love you even when you’re not here.”
Every so often she said something like that, something that sounded so much like Isaiah’s sincerity.
“I love you, little Jordan,” I said, “Even when I’m not here.”
She smiled, not even realizing how she had touched me just now, just happy to please.
I sat down in the chair and she sat in my lap, with her doll in hers. “Auntie Hannah told me you’re going to a fancy dress party tonight!” She was always so excited to hear about my life. It made me so sad that she could never see it.
“Yes,” I said. “My brother is coming home from the war. He’s your uncle, I suppose.”
“Oh,” she said, “Is he like Uncle Eli and Uncle Ruben?”
“Yes, sweet, but he looks like me, not like them.” I always tried to tone down our differences.
“Why haven’t I met him, Momma?” she asked sweetly.
“Well… he went away a long time ago, before you were born.”
That was all she knew, that her daddy went away years ago. I had never even told her Isaiah’s name.
“Yes.” I swallowed nervously.
“Is he coming back today, too?”
I winced inside, but tried to appear composed. Jordan rarely asked about her father. Ever since I told her that he went away, she would occasionally ask when he was coming home. How could I tell my daughter her daddy would probably never come back?
I fought back my sorrow. “No. Daddy’s not coming back today. He’s not in the war.”
“Then where is he, Momma? When is he coming home?”
Her black eyes shone with curiosity. What could I tell her? How, with the innocent mind of a three-year-old, could she understand what had happened to Isaiah?
“Well…” I stalled as she tilted her head up to look at me. She deserved to know at least part of the truth. “Your daddy loved me. And I loved him too. I loved him very much. But… but no one else understood. Nobody else knew how we felt.” I hadn’t realized how much it would hurt to tell her this. I had never actually told the story to anyone. “So he had to go away for a while… until they can understand.”
Jordan looked at me, clearly trying to comprehend what I was feeling. “Momma, do you still love him?”
“Yes, Jordan, I love him very much.”
“Do you think he loves you?”
My heart was ready to burst with pain, but I answered her question as truthfully as I could. “I think he does, honey.”
“Then he should come back to us, then, Momma,” she said it as though it were the simplest thing in the world.
I hugged my daughter close to me. She understood so much more than she knew. “I think so too, baby. I do.”
Hannah walked through the door as Jordan wrapped her tiny arms around me.
“Your husband is looking for you, Adeline. It’s time to go,” she said flatly.
“Are we going to see Uncle Eli?” Jordan asked excitedly.
“Yes, honey,” Hannah said, speaking to my daughter much more kindly than she had spoken to me. “Go on and get ready.” She gave her a little push towards the door to her room.
“Momma,” Jordan said, turning back around. “What was Daddy’s name?”
I froze, trying to find my voice while Hannah looked at me skeptically.
“Isaiah,” I said.
Jordan nodded. “Isaiah,” she repeated to herself with a smile before walking out if the room.
I sighed and turned to Hannah once she had left. “She was asking about him.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Asking about who?”
She never, ever spoke about him.
“Go on, Adeline,” she said. “You don’t want to be late.”
I walked back to the house alone, trying not to think about the painful conversation I just had with my daughter. I knew this would not be the end of it. It was only a matter of years until I would have to tell her the whole story.
After Isaiah left, I had returned to fighting back memories. It was amazing that talking with a child could open up my mind to those memories when I had successfully repressed them to the point of at least living a normal life.
It seemed that years had passed. Decades and centuries could have come and gone and I would never have noticed. It could have been seconds or minutes since I learned he was gone. I had no way of knowing. I was floating through my life, not sure how to use it without him.
But in reality, it had been two months, two long months of pain beyond belief. I had not learned to deal with my longing for Isaiah. I had been quietly been allowing the world to pass me by while I mourned. I didn’t think anything could snap me out of the darkness of my mind.
But I was about to receive most shocking strike of reality of my life.
Roy was waiting in the parlor. He, of course, would never bother to take notice that his wife had snuck out to the slaves’ cabins to visit her illegitimate black child.
“Time to go, dear,” The last word was forced, as all his terms of endearment were.
I did not have the strength to put up with him. If I opened my mouth I would either weep or scream. So I simply nodded. I walked with Roy out the door into our carriage, happy that he thought so little of me not to begin a conversation.
I had been ill a few times after he left. I assumed that it was just stress and misery. But when I missed a month of my “women’s curse,” I began to get concerned. It was a few weeks later when I finally noticed the growing hardness in my stomach that I realized what was happening to me.
I was terrified. I was only seventeen, still mourning the loss of Isaiah. I was not ready to take motherhood on, and I was certainly not ready to hide such a secret.
The thought of doing something to stop it entered my mind. I had taken the wagon in the dead of night with every intention of having the problem taken care of once and for all. I was a half mile from the house where the deed was to be done when I broke down. I suddenly recalled the day I met Isaiah. I remembered the innocent, beautiful little boy he had once been. I sat there in the dead of night on an abandoned road and clutched my stomach and sobbed for that little boy, for the innocence that had been taken from him.
I couldn’t go through with it. I turned the wagon around and found my way back to my room, to my bed. All night I whispered to that baby inside me. I promised over and over that I would never let it go. I told it we would both be all right. From that day, the thought of having his child, a real reminder of what we would always share, became the only thing that I cared about.
My initial plan was to keep it a secret and find a husband as fast as I possibly could. But it occurred to me soon after that I could not merely have the baby and raise it as my husband’s. There was a good chance that my child would be black.
So I turned to the only person I thought I could trust. Hannah and I had barely spoken since Isaiah left. But she was the only one who I had a chance of getting help from.
She was angry and upset at first. Again, I had violated her only request: to be careful. Hannah wanted nothing to do with me, but she could not turn away from the idea of Isaiah’s child. She knew how much it would mean to her brother if he knew how she had helped me.
So Hannah agreed to support me. She assured me that if the baby was black, she would raise it. She promised the baby could know me, know that I was its mother. I wanted as much a piece of her life as I could possibly have.
But even with Hannah’s help, I still had to find a husband. My options were not good, but I knew I had no choice.
Though I had come to look forward to Roy McCalvin’s visits with nothing but annoyance, he had persistently called upon me every Sunday. I knew it was only a matter of time until he proposed. I also knew how happy it would make my parents. If I was lucky, they would be happy enough to turn a blind eye if they found out whom my baby really belonged to.
So when Roy asked me to marry him, I said yes and temporarily let go of the hope that Isaiah would come back.
I had, of course, insisted on having the wedding as soon as possible. It would make it that much easier to make it seem that I was pregnant by Roy. The ceremony was small. My parents were keeping me out of the public eye in case I broke down.
It was all I could do not to run away before I could say, “I do.”
I can honestly look back at that first night with Roy and say was harder than other I have ever experienced. I had lay there limply on the bed and let Roy do whatever the hell he wanted to do, which was fine by him. I doubted he was any more virginal than I was. I couldn’t even look at him.
I thought of Isaiah and tried to remember what it was like to be with him. I thought of his child, and how by giving myself to Roy, I was giving her a chance to live.
I leaned my head against the carriage as we bounced down the road. Roy and I did not live far away from my parents, but this trip felt like it was taking hours.
Roy was amazed to find that I was pregnant. In my opinion, I think he was just proud of himself for giving me a child after one night. He wanted a son, of course, a little copy of himself.
I spent my days trying to figure out what I wanted. I wanted my child to be white, to look just like me, so I could raise it and keep it for myself. So it would not have to live the life of a slave.
But secretly, I wanted to know it was Isaiah’s. I wanted it to be his baby, with black, expressive eyes and dark skin. I wanted to never forget what he was like as a child. I wanted to remember him.
The birth was impossibly painful, in more ways than one. I was still so young, not at all prepared for the toll it would take on me. Luckily, the labor came so quickly Roy had no time to send for a doctor. When the pains came, I quite literally collapsed in the yard, at which point Eli (who had been visiting Hannah) had carried me upstairs, joking about my fatness to calm my nerves.
Hannah was the only one with me, thank God. Though the whole experience is now quite hazy, I seem to remember shouting profanities at her, at which point she slapped me across the face with a wet cloth and told me to pull myself together. We’ve never discussed it. It must have been an especially unpleasant scene.
When it was over and I finally held my daughter, my heart shattered. She looked very much like me. Her skin was lighter than Isaiah’s, her hair a tone between blonde and brown. She just may have passed for Roy’s child.
But she had those eyes. Even when she was only minutes old, she had his eyes. I knew I could never claim she was Roy’s.
Hannah looked at me very, very sadly, and left me alone with my baby girl. I cried while I rocked her.
I loved her. I loved her more than I thought I could ever love anyone again. There was nothing I wanted more than to keep her for myself.
Then Hannah came back. She had told Roy, as we had planned, that the child had not survived but I was recovering. After much consideration, I named her Jordan, a name that made me think of the song Isaiah sang in the fields.
Hannah nodded and took her away.
I did not leave my room for days.
Roy did not visit me.
Jordan had grown up living in Hannah’s cabin. She, against the odds, loved me as much as I loved her. Sometimes, she was the only thing that kept me going. All I could hope for her was to be able to meet her father.
“Adeline, we’re here.” Roy prompted. “Sit up straight.”
I smiled and did as I was told. Even since I supposedly lost his child Roy had become bitterer by the year. I could not help but be secretly amused that in one night, probably less than fifteen minutes, Isaiah had given me a child, something Roy could not do after years of marriage.
The carriage slowed to a halt and Roy got out without waiting for me. I took his arm grudgingly as I stepped from the carriage and looked at the giant white house.
Coming here always made me feel sick. There was too much to remember, too much I could not deal with.
My parents were waiting for us in the parlor. I really had no relationship with them anymore. I had broken most of my ties to them when I got married, which was one of the only parts of marriage I actually enjoyed.
“Adeline, Roy, how good to see you.” My mother said without rising from her chair.
“Always a pleasure, Missus Dupree,” Roy said. That charming voice made me want to smack him. He used that tone only when he was among people he did not like or if he wanted something. Usually, I was a victim of the latter.
The four of us had tea while talking of everything but not really saying anything. After what they did to Isaiah, their words lost meaning, like they had nothing to say to me and I did not want to listen, but we talked anyway.
I wanted to see the boys badly. I missed my friends when I was gone. So when Roy and Daddy began to talk politics and Mama excused herself to prepare for the party, I slipped out the door.
I strolled through the garden on my way to their cabin. As I cut through the shrubs, I came to the tree.
My heart immediately felt a thousand times heavier than it already had. Our tree, the one thing that I had always looked to for hope, held nothing but the horrible memories of that night now. It was June, and the tree was in full bloom, and I had to step under the branches to see the trunk.
Hundreds of notches covered the base, most of them worn away with age. I ran my hands over the bark; thinking of how I had taken for granted the ability to see him whenever I wanted to.
Then my hands brushed an indentation that felt very different from the others.
I gasped and covered my mouth. Almost afraid, I crouched down to get a better look at what I already knew was there.
There was a very fresh notch in the trunk.
© 2012 emily
Added on March 7, 2009
Last Updated on March 13, 2012
AboutHello all! My name is Emily, I'm 18, I am definitely not at home in this tiny MN town, and soon I will be the most famous author my generation. I go to Barnes and Noble to see where my book will sit .. more..
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