seventy-three         

            Jewel's unborn kicks.

            "Éclair!"

            Éclair, supine, catnap interrupted, lifts her befuddled head.

            "Who dat?"

            No one answers. Éclair starts to sink back into slumber.

            "ÉCLAIR!"

            "Jewel?"

            Éclair is up, dashing around the screen. Jewel sits half out of bed, bare knees akimbo, palms embracing her belly like an opaque crystal ball.

            "It move'!"

            "Is dat all?"

            Éclair breathes a sigh, hand pressed over her heart to calm its palpitation.

            "Dere; it move again! You feel?"

            "Now how I s'pose to feel; it yo' guts twitchin'"

            "Did you see, den?"

            "Seen a ripple."

            "Come touch."

            "No thank you, ma'am. Éclair keepin' shut o' any inside sucker. Outside sucker, too. Far 's I's concern', dat papoose trouble." The wonder in Jewel's expression drains into gloom. Éclair relents. "Didn' mean dat. Don' pay me no mind, Jewel; I's jus' jealous. Dat sucker come gwon love you all its days. Nuthin' better in de world dan lifelong love... 'cep' maybe freedom."

            "An' I too black fo' dat."

            Jewel's sense of woe redoubles. Éclair kneels in front of her, and rests a sympathetic cheek on the drum-tight abdomen.

            "Don' fret, Jewel; don' fret."

            "I sole."

            Éclair looks up.

            "You what?"

            "I sole."

            "Who say yo' sold? No nigger nev' done sold by Mutter Moss—'cep' de chillun, an' dem don' coun'. I don' believes it. You been lis'nin' to dem 'twins'?... Don' let dem bend yo'... "

            "Mutter say so herse'f."

            Éclair falls silent...

"Dat ugly ink-spot won' be 'roun' fo' long."

"Dat spook. Dat jig-a-boo."

"Us knows a secret."

"Jewel in someun's pocket."

...not wanting to give credence to Annabelle and Nannabelle (notorious liars, up to no good, predisposed to slander). Once, they even told a customer that Blossom was diseased (totally untrue). Mother fined them when she heard. But the twins were like that, always agitating, always raising Cain.

            "Yo' sold fo' true?"

            Jewel nods glumly, struggling to contain the whole sordid history, aching to confide—which she does all at once:

            "I-run-off-an'-de-traders-ketch-me-an'-brung-me-here-but-'fo'e-dat-Massah-Zach'ry-get-me-pregnan'-'cep'-him-don'-know-it-'coun'-I-don'-fine-out-myse'f-til-I-wiff-Mojo-who-say-dat-I-be-back-but-don'-say-when-an'-now-it-happenin'-Massah-comin'-fo'-to-fetch-me-soon-'s-Mistah-Eb'so'e-tell-'im-where-I-at-him-comin'­but-I-cain't-go-'spite-what-Mojo-say-'cause-iffen-I-do-Mist'ess-sholy-have-me-whup-o'-do-me-even-worse..."

            "Hold on! Whoa, Jewel; don' know what yo'all relatin'. Who Mistah Eb'sole? Who Mojo? Cain't tell yo' whole life story witout you takes a breath." Éclair produces a hanky from her cleavage and proffers it. "Wipe dem tears an' blow." Jewel wipes and blows. "Dere. Now le's get comfy." Éclair climbs aboard the unmade bed. "Start ovah; from de beginnin'. Éclair do her bes' he'p sort things out."

            Jewel takes a long-drawn pause to regain composure, smoothes the wrinkled bed sheet, formulates her text, then, step by distressing step, recounts her tribulations .