two               

            There is a large enclosure, a converted livestock pen. At its far end there are hickory trees, drooping as if fatigued. The dew has lifted, drawn by a sun whose thirst makes the air a sultry swamp. An open trench below is filled with faeces, urine, and, in one spot, curdled menses. Flies are thick, their buzz incessant. They seem delirious amid the filth. Near the centre stands a water trough for bathing. All slaves must bathe. Today is auction day and special preparations are in order. A tub of grease has been provided; used to cover up old scars (and new ones). Women rub it on the backs of children, then on themselves. When asked, they also do the men. It burns on wrists and ankles where the skin is raw from rope or chain. It does the trick, howeveróbacks, butts, breasts, and biceps positively gleam. The food trough, at the opposite end, has chunks of pork fat melting. Smeared on lips and gums it shows a slave has been well-fed. Appearances are vital on the auction-block cum stage.

            "You hol' yo' mammy's han', you hear?"

            The woman's nose is broad, cheekbones high, lips thick, chin firm, skin blue-black. The blood that glues her dress to savaged thighs is African. She has been beaten. She has been obstinate, insisting that her daughter and she be sold together. The stripes are three days old but still they bleed. It is the heat. And the humidity. Wounds are slow to heal in high humidity. They fester. The daughter tries to pry gory fabric from her mother's skin. She daubs the dry spots with a moistened rag to soften them. She rolls the homespun dress upward from its hem. The legs thereby exposed are sturdy, shapely, and strong... spread as they were spread when she was whipped; whipped below the waist in hopes the marks would not show. Despite her wounds' pulsation, she does not wince.

            "What if dey beats you again?"

            "What if dey do? I 'spec dey will; nuthin' stoppin' 'em."

            The daughter averts her face. She is a copy of her mother, though more refined, delicate, misleadingly adolescent. Her eyes bespeak the fate she doubtless has in store. Her mother turns and repeats.

            "You hol' my han'."