five               

            On the Charleston road, dirt is loose and thick with freshly decomposed droppings (dust is not a problem since there is no breeze), a clip-clop-muffling cushion for horse hooves, impression upon impression, over tracks of carriage, wagon, and ox cart wheels, of cattle, goats, hogs, sheep, and chattel some might mistake for human in its barefoot ambulation, Jewel's tracks among these, soles recording the drastic change in heat—sun to shadetoes relieved by the scarcity of pebbles she has thus far encountered... in an hour of walking... following dappled haunches as they alternately sway... side to side... in a smooth, hypnotic motion... thoughts to feelings abdicated... feelings numbed by fatigue... hunger gnawing at a stomach too upset by gut-wrenching loss...

            Mammy gone. Dey beats her. Dey beats her mos' to deaf'; seed her lyin' aw broke up an' moanin'. Mayhap it not good to be so strong.

            The sun is brutal. It assaults. It makes the distance waver. It causes sweat to sting as it bleeds into squinting eyes.

            I not fifteen; I nigh on twen'y. Mammy hide my righ'ful age, claimin' white fo'ks easier sometimes on de chillen, so her lie. Make me lie, too, even dough I tells her it not right. Her say dat true—but on'y fo' our own. White fo'ks' ears not made fo' truef, my mammy say. Tellin' truef to White fo'ks mos'ly earn a whuppin'.

            The rope is coarse around Jewel's neck and extends like a crude umbilical to her new Lord and Masterwho seldom looks back, despite the subtext running like an open sore:

            Hate this. Should have brought a second horse. A mule, at least. He would have. Or maybe he would not have; not for a buck. Turn in his grave, my father would, he saw what I have trailing.

            "Marry, son. Promise me you'll marry."

            "Yes, I'll marry, Father."

            "Marry Miss Felicia."

            "I dislike her, Father."

            "Miss Felicia. Marry her, and make her bear you sons. It is my will, Zachary. It is my last request."

            Dutifully, Zachary had asked for Felicia's hand. Privately, he had hopes she might yet reject him.

            The rope goes taut. Jewel motions she has to relieve herself. Zachary stops. Jewel squats. Propriety demands he avert his face.

            Lucky dis man buy me 'stead t'ot'er one. Dis man gots some kineness, I can tell. 'Cep' him ack so strange whenev' I catch 'im lookin'. Nev' done see'd a look like dat; not from a white man. Don' know which mo'e trouble—de kineness or dat look.

            With a flick of the rope Jewel signals she is through. The horse moves on, its rider's gaze transfixed by the noose around his saddle horn.

            "Beulah, let's pretend."

            "Preten' what, Massah Zach'ry?"

            "Let's pretend that I'm your slave."

            "Don' be foolish, chile."

            "Aw, come on, Beulah, it'll be fun. Here; come and take this rope and tie my hands."

            "Whatev' fo'?"

            "That's what they do if a nigger's bad and needs a whipping."

            "Who do?"

            "Overseer Tune."

            "Has you been pokin' 'roun' by de Quarters again? 'Cause iffen you has, gwon tell yo' daddy. Den you get a lickin'."

            "I wasn't by the Quarters. Honest, Beulah."

            "Where was you den?"

            "In my tree house. In the woods. That's when I saw Mister Tune tie up the nigger."

            "What nigger? Which one Mistah Tune beatin' up on now?"

             "It wasn't one of ours."

            "How you know; you in a tree, wasn' you?"

            "Yessum. But I could see real good and I know it wasn't ours 'cause it was a girl-slave."

            "Massah Zach'ry?"

            "Yessum."

            "I think you bes' tell Beulah what you seed... Massah Zach'ry... Massah Zach'ry... Dem tears? You cryin', chile? My baby cryin'? Come to Beulah. Hugs me. Hugs me extra tight wit all yo' might."

            The rope goes taut again. Jewel has trod on a burr, now embedded in her heel. She sits. She tries to pluck it with her fingernails but it will not budge. Zachary dismounts.

            "Caught a burr?"

            "Yes, suh."

            He takes her foot between his legs as would a blacksmith to shoe a mare.

            Dis man awful han'some fo' a White. Won'er if him marry; don' see no ring. Hope him not a bach'lor! Mammy say dem Bach'lor Massahs num'er one wors' type. Men fo'k hard enuff, her say, wifout dey missin' a sof' place to lay deir mulish heads.

            "Ouch!"

            "Hold still."

            Zachary gives the wound a hearty squeeze.

            "Hurts."

            "Won't later."

            The wound bleeds. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, Zachary ties it for a bandage.

            "Might's well kill it, Zack; can't fly no more."

            "It's just the wing."

            "It's busted."

            "Maybe we could mend it."

            "Don't be stupid. Put it down."

            "Why? Randy, no."

            "Come on. I'll bash it with this rock; won't know what hit it."

            "No!"

            "You bash it, then. I'm tellin' ya; it's better."

            Better? Zachary had, indeed, bashed it—lifted the stone and brought it down with all the force his young boy's arm could muster... heard the tiny "click" of the fledgling's fragile frame... remembered a long time afterward... as clearly as he recalled the God-like power in making the sparrow dead.

            Jewel is ready. Zachary remounts.

            "Ride with me a while; climb up here behind me."

            "Wif you, suh? What if someun seed?"

            Dis man not kine him crazy—"ri'e wif me"—get Jewel killt. Niggers don' ri'e double on a hawse behine deir Massahs. Mammy say so. "Niggers fo'get deir place be swingin' in de breeze"—dat mean lyncht. Where us lived dey hung de bad uns. Sometimes dey cut 'em down befo'e dey die; some dey lef' swing. Iffen a nigger sass a white man, dey mos' likely cut 'im down. Iffen a nigger hit a white man, him still swingin'. Not much hittin' done. Not much sassin', neit'er. 'Cep' de quiet kine. I aw time quiet-sassin'. Mayhap get me killt. But if de white fo'ks' ears deaf to truef, dey sho don' hear my quiet-sassin'.

            Zachary gives the rope an autocratic yank.

            "The one thing you have to keep in mind when managing your niggers is who owns who."

            "I wasn't asking, I was telling. Climb up here behind me."

            Jewel obeys. Her senses, overruling numbness, fall into confusion.