forty-five             

            ('S'if he really 'spected me, Priscilla, let 'im lay those filthy, smelly, nigger field hand paws on my person. S'if he really b'lieve a woman want her body all gum up with man-pus. 'S'if he don't appreciate I am never going to be no niggerman's slave. Well, I showed him. Bet he still out curing his meat by the smokehouse. Serve him proper, all his boasting. Men are disgusting—niggers, whites, the lot of 'em—never think 'bout nothin' 'cep' some girl be gobble up their drool. Make me want to puke; the very thought does. Turn me downright peaked. 'Specially when I think 'bout my po' Mistress. Her so sweet and inn'cent befo'e her jump that broom. Made out like she knowed what was what, o' course, but truth is that po' girl knowed next ta nothin' when the topic 'bout sex. Still knows nex' to nothing; and that's the sorry truth. Master Zach'ry's warped, not doin' what husband 's 'sposed to, no how no way—starving her fo' affection, he is, then when Mistress overcome with grief, he run off to some cathouse an' waste hisse'f in Charleston. Mighty sorrowful, mighty sorrowful, see a lady like my Mistress go down on her knees to get misused. Made me swear I never snitch 'bout what Master up to, then broke down. Could hardly keep myse'f from giving that man a piece o' my mind. There's omething wrong with Master Zach'ry Squire. Brain twist' o' somethin'. Treats his wife like a nigger and treats his niggers like they White. What kind o' way is that fo' a man behave? Warped, I say. And it infectious. Seems like everybody 'round here 's got confused. Seems like folks forgettin' what they're about—though mostly, I be worried about my Mistress. She not herse'f; all-time edgy; snap at you fo' spite, laughs when there ain't nothin' funny. And I think she cryin' herse'f to sleep mos' ev'ry night; morning, like 's not, I find her red-eyed. Truth is my po' Mistress in a very sorry state.)

            Priscilla exhales, fogging the lustrous silver of a candlestick she is polishing. She buffs the clouded spot to a brighter sheen, sees her reflection:  narrow nose, only slightly flared nostrils, thin lips, off-white complexion, eyes greyish green (almost blue in twilight), slight of bone and—most fortuitous of all—hair nearly straight.

            (I could pass; I know I could. I am learning all I can about the way to walk and talk and act. Everything the Mistress do, Priscilla do—does—the same.)

            She twists the candlestick's shaft through an amber-tinted chamois.

            (And before too long, I swear to Jehovah, Priscilla do it better.)