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African American Coming of Age Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

[TW: Allusions to sexual abuse]

It is happening again.

The unspoken truth as we start to eat, our meal a measly few garden grown vegetables and the most vile parts of the pig. Seasoned with nothing more than rosemary and pepper, it's what we say is a good meal. There have been days when we don't eat. The ingredients thrown in our faces to do what we may with it in the little time we have before sleep. Our frames are exhausted, sagging with the weight of sweaty clothing. I take a bite of what Mama made us, although I do not taste very much anymore except my own filth.

Mama's coarse, thick hair smells like the earth we have been digging in all day, her rough burlap dress scraping against my skin as she brushes past me. Her mouth is drawn in a tight frown. She has been this way for a while, ever since the white man, for that is what we call him when he is not around, took her a few nights ago. I remember it clearly.

He had burst into our home that wasn't really a home with his weird smells and loud voice. I had been sleeping on my side, only able to see what was happening with one eye, the other closed so it would look as though I was still sleeping. His words were slurred with the whiskey we watched him drink every other night. He grabbed Mama's soft skin and she was begging, pleading for him to stop. I had never heard Mama beg. But this time her voice was quiet and sad and I think she was crying. He had grabbed her by her waist with his free arm, pulling her to the door.

He dragged her away, and when she came back, she wasn't the same Mama. She had bruises on her arms and along her neck. Sometimes at night she cries, she cries so hard she doesn't make a sound.

I wonder if his wife knows that he keeps taking us into his home. I'm sure she would not be happy to know that a slave was gracing her carpets and her velvets.

It is happening again.

A girl, her name is Abigail, comes and sits next to me. Her legs are bruised like how Mama's were, her dress has a few red blotches on it near the curve of her hips. Abigail is about my age, and Mama says we're young ladies. Her eyes are rimmed with tears as she clutches at the fabric around her legs. Her hair, which was braided into careful cornrows, is now half undone, wild and unruly. Abigail is a very pretty girl, and she is always very clean because she usually works in the house. Mama says that the white man likes his girls clean. I do not think so. I am a girl. I am not clean.

I do not know what happens when the girls are gone, but I've heard people whisper about when they pass. Everyone says that the white man is touching them, showing them affection. That cannot be true, though, with how he treats us. He beats us, yells at us, sometimes throws heavy things at us or kills our people.

The white man cannot be capable of loving anyone other than his given wife and children.

Abigail does not eat. She only watches me as I take another slow bite, my stomach still feeling empty and bare.

It is happening again.

Before I can slip a piece of bread into my mouth, the white man appears. We all stop eating, our faces like the stone of the house he lives in. He looks over all of us, his face fitted with the pale skin and blue eyes that he has passed down to his children. Surely, I think, he will not take a dirty field slave. I am right. He takes another girl, a clean and honest girl named Phillis, by the arm and brazenly pulls her from her spot on the floor. Phillis does not argue, she does not fight him. She is instead dragged along like a limp fish.

Once the white man is gone, Abigail leans over to me and whispers, "Do you know what he does?"

I speak past my mouthful, which is frowned on by Mama, "No. What is it? Did he hurt you? Hit you?"

Abigail shakes her head, raising a trembling hand to her wild hair, patting it back. "It's worse." She offers lamely.

"Well, what is it?" I swallow my food, staring at her expectantly.

"He... touches us. And... and makes us take of our clothes and he-" she stops speaking, her eyes welling with tears.

It is then that I realize what she's trying to tell me, and that the blood on her dress is not from flesh wounds, but from force.

I know what he will do to that girl in his room. Suddenly, my food does not seem very appealing, although it didn't to begin with. I look around and notice that no one else looks scared or worried. I think they knew this would happen one day. One day to them. To me. I hurry to finish my meal.

This is the last meal. It will not happen again.

The following weeks, we spend our evenings among the swaying of the corn fields, for the white man would never want a filthy slave gracing his bed. We watch as he checks on our horridly built shack, sighs in frustration, and moves along to another. On this particular night, there is a feeling I have as we wait among the cornstalks. It is a feeling that swells deep in my belly, and I know tonight is when we should leave.

They always told me of the railroad and such, where we now braid each others' hair with the directions and our eyes turn to the North Star each night. Tonight, I pick up my skirt, take my sisters' hands in my own, and we dive into the night. There will be no more meals with bruised hips and broken hearts and shattered thoughts.

Tonight, we ride among the stars.

Tomorrow, we dine with the moon.

It has not happened again.

September 05, 2022 23:56

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