seventeen           

            CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG!

            "ARE YOU UP?"

            "Mary Mothah o' Mercy, save us; I is not! Leave go, woman! Roust yo'se'f, befo'e us foun' an' flogged!"

            The others chuckle as Josephus tries to disengage himself from Tessie's avid arms. She holds fast. Bunkmates exit. Grabbing him by the scrotum, Tessie fondles naughtily.

            "You out yo' mine, girl? Leave dat 'lone. Make me late an' Mistah Tune sic on de wo'fhoun'."

            Tessie playfully yanks; Josephus groans. Impulsively, she stuffs his penis into her mouth, sucking it into stiffness.

            "You is crazy. Jesus, Tess, you milk dis nigger dry. Leave off, now... Come on... Come on... Oh, Josephus gonna pay fo' dis, pay dearly... Tessie... Tessie girl, stop!"

            She stops. Josephus is erect. Her grin expands like the sprawl of her satiated body... warmly, that is, impishly, pregnant with desire.

            "Be my death, you will, girl."

            He bends and plants a kiss on Tessie's convex tummy... holding it in place while making his lips go "BRRRRRRRRRR". She giggles, squirming wildly, wrenching free at last.

            "Get mo'e spunk from a inchworm dan flow from dat dere cottonmouth."

            Josephus, hitching his trousers, hops toward the bunkhouse door.

            "Den what dat swellin' I see roun' yo' middle?" He hollers from the porch. "JOSEPHUS COMIN'! " He thrusts his head back in. "Loves ya, girl."

            Tessie licks the length of her index finger and waves fond farewell.

            "Gwon git."

            Josephus leaves in haste. The door behind him "BANGS". The bunkhouse is returned to a state of semi-darkness wherein Tessie yawns... stretches... sighs... then gathers and sniffs the residue left between her labia.

            'Josephus comin'.' Ha. Dat sho 'nuff true.

            She feels his leaking semen lubricate her flesh, prolong the momentary bliss of post-coital solitude.

            I knockt. Josephus done it. Fo'e too long I showin'. Already him take heed my belly change it shape. Josephus' chile, sho' 'nuff; dey's a chile insi'e dis moun'. Josephine, us callin' it if a girl; Joseph if a boy.

            She draws a head-sized circle on her stomach, dots the nose, the eyes, dips her finger to replenish the pungent wetness and paints a gooey smile.

            Gwon be happy... lessen Massah Zach'ry turn mean like Massah Zachariah—sellin' off de chillen an' de women fo'k, to boot. Mighty mournful time, dat was, 'cordin' to Josephus. Los' his mammy an' sister—plus a gal what him was sweet on. All sole. Nev' foun' out where. Den dey's Beulah. Woe; what Zachariah done to Beulah her won' tell. But my Josephus know. Her preggers at de time when Mist'ess Squire pass on. Dat what make de Massah go be'zerk—Mist'ess givin' birth an' dyin' in de process. Beulah drop her own chile 'bout dat time. Massah Zachariah snatcht it. Tol' po' Beulah af'er-de-fac' her chile born deform'—a runt o' somethin' what bes' put to sleep. Josephus say de Massah tote dat sucker off to de woods an' lef' it by its lonesome, guarantee ta die. Den him fo'ce de wet-nursin' onto Beulah fo' to feed his orphan baby.

            Tessie shudders, clamps her palms between her legs, curls into a ball, and stays in that position until it is safe to leave the quarters and steal back home.