thirteen            

            Theirs is a ransack method of house cleaning, haphazard-inquisitive: rugs are piled in doorways for a later clothesline-hung thrashing; tables, dressers, desks, and bureau tops are unsystematically cleared; antimacassars lie among unhooked drapes like giant nonpareils; scrub buckets, brushes, mops, dust rags, lemon oil, brass polish, linen folded neatly (the replacements), and twelve-inch tallow tapers wait for Tessie and Marisee to complete their "investigatory" chores.

            "Marisee, looky here."

            "What dat?"

            "A env'lope."

            Tessie peeks inside.

            "Bes' not mess wit dat."

            "It a letter. It gots writin' on it an' all kine teeny flow'rs."

            "Bettah puts dat back, Tess."

            "Smellum, too. From Miss Felicia, I 'spec': 'Dear sweet Massah Zach'ry, come fo' me real quick; I needs you. When I sees dem purty blue eyes in dat big strong rock-hard body wit all dem muscles bulgin', a urge start down at my dainty twinkly toes what ev' so slow-like creep up 'twixt my ankles pas' my wobbly weak'nin' knees an' come to res' in dat slip-slidey nook...'"

            "You can stop right dere, niggah. Who you think yo' foolin'? You cain't read. Now put dat back 'fo'e Massah Zach'ry ketch us red-han' thievin'."

            "Massah gone a-visitin' Ladylove. Not due back 'til dark. '... slip-slidey nook like a butter churn waitin' on de plunger—in out, in out, oo-la-la, I feels it way up in my titties." Marisee tries to snatch the letter but Tessie fends her off. "Pitter-patter my pulse go. The very thought alone be 'nuff to drive my heartbeat mad."

            She pats her sternum with a rapid-fire percussion to produce the right effect...

            "Tessie, stop dat."

...panting (as she dodges back and forth) with escalating gasps...

            "I tellin' Beulah iffen you don' stop dis foolishmen'."

...simulating copulation, ending with a taunt:

            "What a mattah, Marisee, green-eye' monstah gotcha?"

            "Stupit."

            "You jealous 'coun' Massah Zach'ry gettin' nooky, o' testy 'coun' you ain't?"

            "Lopsy-sided gimp-foot niggah."

            "Mayhap my legs lame, but dey sho know what's what wit a good man lock' b'tween."

            She slips the letter into its envelope and returns it to the dresser drawer.

            "I knows 's much 's you do."

            "Den hows come yo' relyin' on yo' fingahs mos ev'ry night?"

            "Huh? What dat 'pose' to... I KILL YOU, YOU LYIN' NIGGAH!"

            Marisee gives chase. The bed ends up between them.

            "WHAT DAT RUCKUS GOIN' ON UP DERE?"

            The two girls freeze. They listen for Beulah's footstep on the stairs.

            "Her comin'?"

            "Shush!"

            They wait, afraid to budge, afraid to answer. The stairs are silent. They wait a minute longer... then sigh relief.

            "Hey Tess, what dis?"

            Marisee points to a crusty patch of something cleaving to the sheet. Tess leans over and sniffs it.

            "Seem dey's someun else relyin' on deir fingers."

            "Naw!" Marisee sniffs as well. "Does white fo'ks do dat, too?"

            "You daft? 'Course dey do; mo'e dan do us colourt."

            "Hows come?"

            "'Coun' white gals mos'ly dumb when it come to pleasurin' men."

            "Naw."

            "Dat what dey say."

            "Who say?"

            "Dey say. You know, dey? Dey ain't no one in partic'lar; dey be fo'ks in gen'ral."

            "Den how you know it true, iffen you an' dem ain't met?"

            "Marisee, I sorry have to say dis but yo' kine thick. No mattah who tries to learn you, fac's don' sink in. Dat spunk, right?"

            "Uh huh."

            "An' dis de Massah's bedroom, right?"

            "Uh huh."

            "An him White, right?"

            "'Course."

            "An' him gots a White fiancée dat him courtin', right?"

            "Dat be Miss Felicia."

            "An' iffen dat gal know what's what, her man not wastin' it on de bed sheets, right?"

            "I miss dat."

            "Marisee?... Nevah mine."

            Tess strips the bedding. Marisee will not help. She crosses to the windowsill, where she sulks.

            "Hey, where her goin'?"

             "Who?"

            "De new gal; Jewel. Her walkin' way off yonder; headin' fo' de woods." Tessie goes to see. "You s'pose her runnin'?"

            "Do it look like her runnin'? Wit Beulah's berry-pickin' basket in 'er han'? Swingin' it to an' fro, frisky 's a squirrel? Dat gal not runnin' no where, no how... lessen Massah Zach'ry doggin' 'er tail."

            "I miss dat."

            "Nevah mine."