thirty-six              

            "I think her cute."

            "Like a lap dog?"

            "Tessie!"

            "Don't know how stops her tail from waggin'."

            "Dat not nice."

            "Her do whatev' dat lollipopper Mist'ess say."

            "TESSIE! You cain't say thin's like dat 'bout Massah's Mist'ess."

            "I jus' did."

            "Yeah, I hear. An' iffen someun else hear, yo' name mud."

            "Don' care; I hates 'em both. Dey so stuck up cain't tell ha'f de time which gal ' mos' white. 'Priscilla.' You ev' hear a niggah name' Priscilla? Dat no niggah name; her prob'bly mix. Dere nuthin' mo'e disgustin' dan a niggah gets uppity 'coun' 'er mammy let some white boy fiddle wit 'er sticks."

            "Hush. Someun comin'."

            Priscilla passes the Master bedroom where Tess and Marisee are cleaning. They listen for her footsteps to recede...

            "Sneaky, too. Dat gal be all time lurkin'. Mist'ess put 'er up to it. Mist'ess even sick dat spy on Massah Zach'ry."

            "Naw!"

            "I seed 'er at it. Prob'bly tryin' fine out why Massah won' play stud."

            Marisee's jaw drops open. The pillow she is holding falls from its case.

            "How you know dat, Tessie?"

            "Where us stan'in'?"

            "Huh?"

            "Where us stan'in'?"

            "In Massah's bedroom."

            "What us doin'?"

            "Changin' de sheets."

            "Hows come?"

            "Dey dirty."

            "'Cause who been sleepin' in 'em?"

            "Massah Zach'ry, course."

            "An' what us doin' nex'?"

            "You think I stupit?"

            "What sheets us changin' nex'?"

            "Mist'ess's."

            "Where?"

            "In Mist'ess's bedroom." Tessie waits for Marisee to draw the logical conclusion. "So?"

            "'So'! When de las' time us makin' on'y one bed in de mo'nin'?"  

            Marisee picks up the pillow as she tries to recollect... finally, yet uncertainly, the implication dawns.

            "Dat sho 'nuff unus'al."

            "Unus'al? It unnat'ral. Dere somethin' pow'ful wrong when two fo'ks jus' got hitch' ain't rompin' 'neat' de sheets—not day nor night nor an'time in 'twixt."

            "Mayhap dey's jus' bein' quiet."

            Tess pulls a face as she peruses the Master's sheets for further evidence.

            "Cain't be makin' love dat quiet 'lessen yo' dead."

            Priscilla enters.

            "Our Mistress wants to know where is that incompetent nigger Jewel."

            "Do her, now? Marisee, you see Jewel? Jewel? Jewel?" Tessie shifts the covers, checks under a pillow, peeks beneath the bed. "Less dat gal invis'ble, it sho' don' 'pear her here."

            Priscilla sucks in her lower lip, tilts back her head, crinkles her nose as if she has just detected a fart, harrumphs, and leaves—with Tessie on her heels in boldfaced mimicry.

            Marisee looks perplexed as Tess rejoins her.

            "What mean 'in comp ten', Tessie?"

            "Don't know. But it must be nasty. Mist'ess ain't got one kine word fo' Jewel since her—an' dat poodle she brungcome here ta stay. Fac' her mos'ly green-eye' ev' time Jewel pass by. Fust time her ketch Massah wit dat look him looks, boun' ta be firewo'ks. Her already 'spicious. Why else sick dat snoop on Massah Zach'ry's trail."

            "I think yo' makin' dat up, Tess. Jewel ain't likely foolish 'nuff be messin' wit' Massah Zach'ry."

            "Maybe, maybe not. Jewel not de problem."

            "Huh?"

            "De problem Massah Zach'ry."

            "I miss dat."

            Tess expels a drawn-out, exasperated sigh.

            "Nev' mine."