sixty-three           

            There is a loud shriek followed by a peel of maniacal laughter.

            "Mistress?"

            There is knocking at the doorlocked from inside.

            "Mistress Felicia, it Priscilla. Please let me in?"

            The bedroom suddenly goes silent—hushed, rather; there is whispering. Priscilla rests her ear against the upstairs bedroom door.

            "Whattamattah, Zach'ry lovah, ain' yo' wife's lips thick 'nuff? Lemme fix 'em... Dere. How dat?... Now le's us two have dat big sexy kiss... "

            "Mistress? Master Zach'ry in there with you?"

            Tessie (once more thin but looking drawn) limps down the hall.

            "What goin' on, Priscilla?"

            "It the Mistress. She got her door locked. I afraid she havin' another one her spells. I heard her talkin' to de Master."

            "Him back already?"

            "Don't think so."

            "Knock again."

            Priscilla knocks. Both slaves listen... wait... then lurch backwards as the door springs open. Felicia, dressed in nothing but a slip, eyes wild, hair tangled, mouth distorted by a lewdly painted-on grin, stands at the threshold. There are lipstick smudges on her shoulders and all down her arms. One strap of her slip is undone, the other strap missing.

            "May I help you?... Is there something you all wanted?"

            "I... We... Tessie and me..."

            "Tessie and I."

            "And I. We thought we heard..."

            "Yes? Thought you heard? Heard what?"

            "Is Master Zach'ry in there with you?"

            "Master 'Zach'ry'? Master Zach-a-ry is in Charleston. You know that. It's common knowledge. Everyone knows my darling husband is in Charleston; or is it Mobile, or Savannah, or Montgomery? He is so well travelled, lately. Of course he wouldn't think to take along his wife. Not on business."

            "Mistress, calm yo'se'f."

            "Some business! Leaving his home to wrack and ruin! Leaving his wife alone for days on end, for WEEKS, while he goes traipsing off to every auction in the South, conducting business. Ha! Who does Zachary Squire presume to fool? Certainly not Felicia. No, no, no. Felicia is aware; she knows; she overheard, when that no-good Randolph Bates was here, he and Zachary talking, neither one suspecting I was standing within earshot as they actually pronounced that nigger's name. IF ZACHARY FINDS HIS RUNAWAY, I SWEAR I'LL CUT HER THROAT!

            Felicia turns her face to her shoulder and bites convulsively, breaking the skin. Blood comes oozing through her teeth, her subsequent smile macabre.

            Priscilla shrieks.

            "Mistress, STOP!"

            Tessie limps to the stairwell in a panic-stricken rush.

            "BEULAH! BEULAH!"

            Felicia, as if bewildered by her actions, quivers head to foot... collapses in a swoon... and, cradled by Priscilla, sobs inconsolably.