thirty-eight            

            "Heathen"—the word a slander on Caucasian lips, or an utterance rife with high-and-mighty condescensiondenigrates those adorned with telltale scars (once worn proudly) and impugns those marked for distinction in a land of pale complexions and bleach-blond theologies. Yet Beulah stubbornly recalls her rites of passage, the transition from girlhood to womanhood, the celebratory dances, the imperviousness to pain when cuts meant status not disgrace, announced that she was fertile and heralded her acceptance into an influential tribe, unlike scars accumulated since which betoken something else entirely, stand for insolence, laziness, incompetence, or worst of all rebelliousness. In America scars are insignias of an unrelenting hate, incised with malice, inflicted by an instrument as repulsive in its form as in its effect. In the South scars raised on limbs, backs, bellies, and buttocks exemplify disgrace.

            Beulah's fingers trace the scar-pattern on her cheeks. Were it not for this her memories might have long ago perished—Caucasian cultures like acid to any unlike their own. Still vivid, though, are Beulah's recollections of a Bangwa maiden's joy, of envious younger sisters, proud parents, and a queue of strutting suitorsposturing, vying openly, unabashedly for her publicized favours. She could choose, unlike what was customary in the Antebellum South:

"Bitch, you b'long this nigger. Beget. You do, you qualify; earn yourself more rations."

These had been her "marriage vows" upon reaching South Carolina. Her "husband" had, at least, shown the good grace to share her embarrassment. Neither grew attached. Within a fortnight both were soldapart—Beulah having scarcely learned to pronounce his foreign-sounding name.

            Reverie turned to scrutiny, Beulah regards her marks.

            Mist'ess Felicia give us dis lookin'glass when her come. Say her cain't imagine how anybody, much less a woman, can greet de world of a mo'nin' witout dem fust consult deir mere. Her say, "From dis day fo'th, de Squire house niggahs gwon be de bes-lookin' niggahs in de county." Dat young girl gots a pa'cel o' fancy-pants idees. Kind o' sad; her tryin' so hard. Nevah done hold wit lookin'-glass lookin' myse'f. Oh, I done glancin'. Cain't he'p glancin' now an' den iffen yo' passin' one by. But dis girl gaze. It like dat shiny pi'ture o' herse'f show life de way her wants it, not de way life is, so when her looks around de real world disappointin'. Dat sad, too, 'cause, now I lookin' at me lookin' I notice somethin' odd; dis glass false. I knows my left eye from my right eye, an' iffen I winks my left—like so—it de right eye winkin' back, meanin' what appears be true ain't true at all; it backwards.

            Beulah shifts her attention to the bodice of her dress.

            Was a time us left dis top ha'f nekid; mos' de bottom ha'f, too. You was de way you was, an' dat was dat. White fo'ks none too comfor'ble shuckt down to dey skins. Seems dey gots dis idee 'bout how dey 'pose' to look what clo'es he'p squeeze an' form 'til dey gets de shape dey's af'er. It funny. Mist'ess gots all kine cinchy-thin's what Priscilla he'ps strap on, an' still her don' look nigh as good 's Jeweleven in dat sack Jewel fo'ce' to wear. Mist'ess do dat stric'ly 'coun' her jealous. Wa'm my heart  see a White gal jealous 'bout a black—a blue-black at dat. 'Cep' it trouble. It bad 'nuff Massah behavin' de dumb way him behavin', but Mist'ess hot, needs her a sucker what cool 'er blood down some. Massah Zach'ry gots nuffin' on de brain 'sides fixin' dis plantation, wo'k ev'ry minute o' de livelong day. I 'pose dat good; him makin' progress. But it don' make neit'er o' dem happy; Beulah know dat much... Mos'ly him to blame.

            She resumes the pensive fingering of her scars.

            Dough de ovahall fault bemine; I done it. Gots de powah in my blood—mayhap not strong now, but it strong once. An' Beulah use' dat powah,  calls it up an' sets it slowly wo'kin' on a itty-bitty babe. Nevah shoulda done it; I regretful. But dat man Zachariah—Zach'ry's daddymake me hurt so bad I snap'. An' what I done back den is comin' to pass; can nothin' head it off.

            "Admirin' yo'se'f in 'de Devil's crystal?'"

            Beulah jumps at Tessie's sudden entrance.

            "Mind yo' mouth, girl. What you doin' down here? Yo' 'pose' be..."

            "Mist'ess sen' me lookin' fo' Jewel. Her here?"

            "Got eyes, don' you?"

            "Okay;  I's lookin', lookin', lookin'... Jewel not here."

            Tessie pauses before the mirror to readjust her apron. Beulah, in eclipse, comments from behind.

            "Bes' loosen up dem strings, girl. Not ev'one in dis househol' walk 'roun' bline."

            "I don't know what you means."

            "I means, yo' wo'se dan foolish preten' dat chile not 'ventu'ly show. What you doin' den?"

            "Chile? What chile? I..."

            "Now stop dat an' use some sense. Think I fool 'nuff not to know yo' sucker due come Spring? Where yo' head at, girl—get yo'se'f knockt? Dey's trouble 'nuff already. I been waitin' on you. Sooner o' later dat moony-eye look wear off, an' you face fac's. Fac' one: you don' got Massah Zach'ry's permission. Fac' two: dis house nevah had no niggah babies prior. Fac' three: Josephus good as dead soon 's Mistah Tune fine out..."

            "How you know dat?"

            "I seed what Mistah Tune once do when..."

            "I mean, who say Josephus?"

            "Hones' Injun, Tessie; what you thinkin'? Dere not a nigger on dis place don' know you messin' wit Josephus. Now lis'en what I sayin'. Fac fo'..."

            "Don't wants to hear yo' stupit fac's! Dis baby mine! An' dere ain't no fo'ce on earth gwon evah take it from me!"

            Tessie rushes from the cellar. Beulah merely sighs.

            Was once upon a time when Beulah b'lieve dat, too.