The Balcony

The Balcony

A Story by R J Fuller
"

What do you do when history is removed? You wonder what happened to it?

"
Predawn saw the elderly black woman emerge from her small quarters and enter the kitchen to begin her daily routine. She began heating the water for coffee, and rolling out dough for biscuits. A rooster crowed in the distance as slowly the sun made its way Heavenward. 
The old woman looked out the window to see figures slowly making their way to the fields to begin their arduous task as well. She did all she could to not think about their existence, feeling it was beyond her influence. 
The strong smell of coffee grabbed her attention. She filled the ceramic kettle, placing two cups and saucers on a wooden tray, arranging sugar and milk as well. 
"Ethel!" she yelled. "Come here and get Massa Whitcomb's coffee and take it on to him. I got to get the bacon and eggs cooking."

A much younger woman entered the kitchen and quietly stood, looking around for what she needed to do. 

"Tray's right there, girl. Now go on!" 

"Yes'um, Miz Vima," Ethel replied and slowly approached the tray and picked it up, then made her way out of the kitchen. 
"Tell Massa Whitcomb breakfast will be ready about ten minutes."
"Yes'um."

Ethel quietly walked up the steps, carrying the tray, making nary a sound to disturb the sleeping residents. She reached the top of the stairs and made her way to the far door. She knocked on the door, balancing the tray with her other arm. 

"Massa Whitcomb, yo coffee's ready," she said. 

Silence. 

She knocked again, speaking even louder, "Massa Whitcomb, Miz Anna. I got your coffee." 

Still no response. 

"This is Ethel, Massa Whitcomb."

Ethel now knocked as loud as she possibly could, even louder than if she had just kicked the door. "Massa Whitcomb, I got your morning coffee," then she spoke quieter, "this tray gettin' heavy!" She made her way back to the staircase. 

"Miz Vima!" she yelled down. "Miz Vima, don't nobody answer."

Vima stepped out of the kitchen into view and looked up. "What you mean don't nobody answer? I got work to do, child."  She looked to a servant in the hallway. 
"Joe, go help Ethel with the massa. She says they don't answer. I ain't got time to run after her, if she don't know what to do."

"Yes'um, MIz Vima," the young man said as he slowly made his way up the stairs. He passed Ethel at the top and went to the bedroom door-in-question. 

"Massa Whitcomb," he said while knocking. "Massa Whitcomb, this is Joe. You and Miz Anna ready for your morning coffee?"

Joe looked at Ethel, still holding the tray, and she looked back at him. They heard no response. 

"Massa Whitcomb?" Joe said, and now took it upon himself to try the doorknob. Slowly he turned it and opened the door. He looked in on the brightly illuminated room and saw absolutely no one present. The morning sunlight poured in through the glass doors going out to the balcony. 

"Massa Whitcomb?" he asked quietly, looking around. He entered the room. "Miz Anna?" He looked off into a dressing area and still found no one. Ethel remained at the doorway holding the tray. 

Joe came back out and looked at Ethel. 

"Where is they? she asked quietly. 

Joe didn't answer and instead ventured to the next door down. Once more, he knocked on the door, calmly but firmly. 

"Massa Gregory? Massa Gregory, are you awake, sir?"

Joe waited for a response and got none. Ethel stood further back, unmoved from the previously opened bedroom door. Joe looked at her, knocked at the door one more time, then did the same as before, slowly turning the handle. He looked in and found the same results. He came back out and spoke to Ethel. 

"Ain't nobody here," he said. "Massa Whitcomb, Massa Gregory."

"What about Miz June?" Ethel asked, somewhat nervous. 

"I'll check on her next. You might as well take that coffee on back downstairs and tell Miss Vima ain't nobody here."

Ethel creeped her way back down to the kitchen while Joe ventured to the third bedroom and began knocking. 

"Miz June? Miz Amanda June, are you awake?" 

He knocked some more. "Miz Amanda June?" 

Having done it now several times, Joe was bolder and slowly opened the door, but by now he was already certain no one would be there. He was correct. The room was as empty as the other two, but now he was frightfully startled by an unholy scream. 

"Joe!" Vima shrieked from behind him. "What you doin' in Miz June's bedroom? You ought'a be ashamed of yourself! Git out of here!" 

"Miz Vima, ain't nobody here."

"What you talkin' about, such nonsense. Miz Anna wouldn't have left without telling me beforehand. Now git out of here!" 

Joe left the woman in the bedroom and stood in the hallway. Eventually, Vima came out and shoved past him, making her way to the master bedroom. 

"Miz Anna! Miz Anna!" 

No response. She came back out and looked at Joe. 

"Miz Anna wouldn't go nowhere without tellin', me, Joe. She wouldn't want me makin' breakfast for nothin'."

"Massa Whitcomb should'a said something, too. Left some instructions on what he wanted done."

Ethel called up to Joe from downstairs. He ventured to the top railing to see what she wanted. 

"Some of the workers from the field says there's no one to tell them what needs to be done first today. Mistah Lawrence ain't showed up with what he wants tended to." 

Joe made his way down the stairs, Vima was right behind him. 

"What's goin' on, Joe?"

"I dunno, but I'm gonna try to find out."

Joe reached the back door to find three workers at the porch, while others were rather straddling between the backyard and the field. 

"Where's Mistah Lawrence?" the tallest man asked. 

"I don't know, Blake. Massa Whitcomb and his family all missin' too." 

"Ain't no white folk on the plantation at all?" 

"Startin' to look that way. You checked Mistah Lawrence's place?"

"Went there first. No one answered."

"Did ya go in?"

"Looked through the window, didn't see anyone, so then we walked on in. Still didn't find him. Nobody was in there."

"No sign of a fight or anything?"

"No, nothing was disturbed or broken." 

Joe looked up over the field workers and cast his eyes all around. He didn't see a single white countenance, familiar or not, among the lot. 

"Joe, what's going on?" Vima asked. 

Before Joe could answer, he turned to the sound of galloping hooves making their way up the road to the main house. The rider seemed destined to reach the front door, but upon seeing the gathering in the back, he rode toward them instead. 

"Mistah Joe," the rider said as the horse stopped. 

"What is it, Bill?"

"I done come over from the Bennett plantation. Massa Bennett, his wife and the kids are nowhere to be found. Don't appear like nothing's been taken, no signs of trouble, but the family is missing. So is Mr. Dodds, the overseer, and his wife."

"You come from Bennett? What about Palmer House?" 

"That's where I started from. Massa Andrew, Massa Reed, Miz Violet, even the baby, all gone like they was never there to begin with."

"You need some water," Vima said, holding up a cup with water in it. 

"Thank you, ma'm," Bill said, taking a drink. "That's sho good. Where's Massa Whitcomb?"

"They all gone, too. Don't look like any white folk left in the whole area." 

Bill still held the water cup, looked at Joe for a minute, then drank the last of the water. He handed the cup back to Vima. 

"I guess I'm gonna head to the next plantation over, see what's going on there, and if it's the same, I'm just going to head on back to Palmer's." 

"Something tells me you gonna find exactly the same thing," Joe replied. 

"I think so, too," Bill answered and turned on the horse and rode away. 

"Ain't nobody here?" Blake asked. Joe simply looked at him. 

Vima observed the workers gathered at the porch and stated, "might as well come on in and eat the breakfast I made for the Whitcombs, so it don't go to waste."

The workers advanced to enter the door into the kitchen. 

"Vima!" Joe scolded. 

"Joe, ain't nobody here! Breakfast gonna go to waste. Somebody might as well eat it," and with that she turned and entered the building herself. "Who wants coffee?"

Joe stood on the porch and looked at the rising sun. A few field-hands were making their way to the house for breakfast, while a few others just wandered off and sat under a shade tree. 

One or two actually walked among the cotton plants, wanting to give an effort of having truly done their work, so when the master returned, they hopefully wouldn't be punished as well.

Joe looked to the side, as if expecting to see Lawrence or someone else suddenly appearing from nowhere to chastise them for not working and offer a half-hearted explanation as to what was happening. 

But no one did. 

Joe entered the door into the kitchen. The workers were happily eating the already-prepared food, and Vima was even cooking up some more. Joe looked to see Ethel standing at the door into the main hall. She looked worrisome. Joe approached her. 

"He went upstairs," Ethel whispered, nervously. "I told him he wasn't allowed, but he didn't pay me no mind."

Joe was about to ask who, then said nothing and made his way to the front entryway at the bottom of the staircase. He looked up and saw no one and quietly made his way up to the second floor. Everything was just as he had left it before. 
He looked back down at the front door, as if he anticipated someone bursting through. He was still awaiting a reason for all that was happening. When none came about, he looked down to the door to the master bedroom. Carefully he walked toward the door, listening to hear some telltale sound of an explanation. 
Joe peered around into the room and once again, all was as it had been from before. Nothing was changed. He was about to leave when the one single disruption caught his notice. 

The balcony door was open, the warm outside air was gradually billowing into the bedroom. Joe walked up to the door and listened to the quiet upon the land. A few faint voices were detectable from below. 
Joe stepped out onto the balcony and turned to one side. 
There was Blake, motionless and quiet, seemingly observing nothing in particular. His hands were on the rail as he faced forward, the vast sprawling cotton fields were all before him. 

"Blake?" 

"Lotta cotton, Joe," Blake replied in his deep voice. "Lotta cotton to be picked." 

"Yes'um, Blake, but nobody seems to be pickin' it. What you think?"

"We can pick it. Doobie, Hank, even Livvie. She'll pick it. Get it all picked."

"That's good, ain't it, Blake?"

"Where the white folk, Joe?" 

"I don't know, Blake. I don't know." 

Joe turned and glanced, unblinking, over the white fields that Blake was seeing. 

"What should we do, Blake? Pick the white or find the white?" 

Blake turned and looked at Joe and allowed himself a smile. 

"I'm just going to take in this view, Joe," Blake replied. "I'm just going to take in the view." 

Blake heard the rustling beside him and looked to see Joe pulling up a chair. As Joe sat down, Blake looked behind him to a second chair and did the same. Upon looking up once more from a seated position, Blake and Joe simply stared at the rising sun in the sky.        

© 2020 R J Fuller


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Added on June 26, 2020
Last Updated on June 26, 2020
Tags: civil war, slaves, antebellum, plantation, vanished