eighty-seven             

            So closed has stayed Felicia's bedroom door, so conspicuously shut, so silently indifferent to the busy goings-on without (so guarded of the goings-on within) that Zachary has been content to wait, to get his house in order, before initiating contact and the inevitable confrontation. But it is time; the hour is late, the servants all in bed—Jewel among them (fed and bathed and safely stowed in the cloistered room upstairs), a tranquil-seeming quiet now pervasive—time alas for Felicia to be apprised.

            Zachary knocks...

            There is no answer. There is light, however, leaking from beneath the door.

            He knocks again...

            He tries the knob. To his surprise, the lock is open. Braced against catastrophe, he resolutely enters.

            Felicia, dressed in crinoline, sits preening at her vanity, self-absorbed—attended by Priscilla (whose nervous glance betrays an understated discord).

            "May I come in? I knocked. Nobody heard?" Prissy drops her chin, disinclined to speak. Zachary does his best to maintain cordiality. "Priscilla, would you excuse us please?"

            The servant hastens to complyFelicia apprehending her with a talon-like grip, nails indenting the flesh of Pricilla's upper arm.

            "My servant stays."

            Zachary, bracing himself, hastens to accommodate.

            "As you wish."

            Felicia, releasing her grip on Priscilla, turns to him and smiles.

            "How kind of you to pay a visit, husband... darling... dearest."

            Priscilla, grown self-conscious, prudently steps aside.

            "I have come because I owe you an apology, Felicia. I am sorry, heartily sorry, for my failure as a spouse. I offer no excuses; the fault is mine entirely. You made your troth unequivocally; I, to my shame, broke mine. From the first day of our courtship, I have been dishonourable." Having commenced pacing, Zachary now halts, stares, attempts to gauge the impact of his confession. Felicia merely smiles—albeit enigmatically. Though attentive  (she appears to have been listening, having followed him with her eyes), something in her demeanour suggests wits adrift. "Therefore I propose we have our wedding vows annulled." Whether conscious or oblivious, Felicia smiles unfazed. Zachary, daunted yet determined, proceeds with his disclaimer. "You are young, Felicia; pretty; you deserve a better match. Whereas I am most unworthy—moreover unfaithful—and exacerbating that I never can be redeemed. Nor reformed, I fear, for my heart belongs to someone else.

            "A nigger, I hear tell."

            "The woman I love is Jewel—beyond almost volition."

            Felicia suffers the name with a prick-prick flinch, but is otherwise unaltered, stoically impassive, breathing unconstrained... until a second flinch, much stronger, obliterates her smile.

            ("I am undone.")

            "I beg your pardon?"

            ("Zachary Squire has ruined me.")

            "Would you please speak up, Felicia?"

            "SODOMITE!" With vocal chords resounding, Felicia vents her spleen. "THAT'S the term befitting; I looked it up—won't find words like THAT in normal usagesomeone who has sex in ways unmentionable, someone who has sex with less than a human being, who FORNICATES with a baseborn brute or beast, revelling in the vulgar violation of all things respectable, while desecrating the sacrament of marriage and insulting his sullied bride, besmirching her in the eyes of all who spy on this Godforsaken household, gossiping, telling tales—outrageous tales, if only they were untrue, but no, the muck raked rampantly fits the filthy facts about Zachary and his swamp-runner, chasing hither and yon to reclaim his precious property, sacrificing hearth and home for a smudge-pot bedwarmer; well you shall not have her, not at my expense; I will not be discarded. I am your wedded wife. I bear your family name. I, God grant, will bring to term your progeny—one such issue taking root already; I am several weeks with child!"

           Felicia's tirade and counterfeit announcement—alternately hissed and shouted in a fitful furydumbfounds him whose egocentric purpose is hysterically upstaged. Zachary, looking to Priscilla, reads her grimace as a furtive disavowal—intercepted by Felicia.

            "I saw that! Traitor! BITCH! You double-crossing...! Get out! GET OUT before I tell about your silly aspiration, how all you want to do in life is pass! HA! NOT LIKELY! Can you imagine this girl passing 'wit' 'er dese' an' wit' 'er 'dats'? White is not merely flesh and blood, Priscilla; White is a state of mind, a trait of civility, an attribute of culture. White is what it means to be God's chosen. Whereas Black is Satan's spawn, singed to mark the caste befitting your lowly state, swarthy skin a sign of your rank inferiority—be ye bleached or burnt to to a crisp like my husband's blackamoor slut. White, my dear Priscilla, cannot be faked. You and yours are doomed to roast in the fires of Hell."

            "Stop, Felicia!"

            Zachary, taking charge, arrests Felicia's fists, forcefully suppressing their wild gesticulation.

            "Let go! How dare you lay your hands on me! Let go, or I shall spit. Priscilla, please inform in; I SHALL SPIT!"

            Priscilla, having retreated to the bedroom's far side corner, shrinks from interceding on behalf of either party—Zachary no less culpable, in her view, for his helpmate's mental breakdown than is Felicia for the vitriol her derangement makes her spew—the servant caught in a crossfire that bodes ill for all.

            Carrying out her threat, Felicia hawks and spits; Zachary, taken aback, holds on regardless—anger doused by guilt as saliva daubs his cheek; that which he beholds is that which he hath wrought.

            "My God... How long has she been like this?"

            The question, asked rhetorically, fans Felicia's rage.

            "Like this; like WHAT? DISGRACED, you mean? MORTIFIED past forbearance by a recreant groom? Or, judging by your expression, does like this mean insane? I do believe my husband thinks I'm crazed. Prissy, look at this man's face. Have you ever seen a phiz look more distrustful? Well, rest assured, my darling; INSANE I AM NOT. Unhappy best describes by current disposition—and the remedy is not MORE humiliation, but rather recompense for all I have endured." Snapped of a sudden rational, Felicia slips Zachary's clutcheshis hands gone lax as wariness trumps concern; threats appear to be brewing. "NO ANNULMENT. I shall not serve as cast-off for Massah Zach'ry Squire, nor will I share domicile with his repossessed trollop. Live in sin if you must, but prepare to bear the consequences. Decent people, once informed, will come to my defence. Abandoning an Abernathy for an auction-block reject? Folks around this county would sooner see you lynched. Out she goes, posthaste, or the sheriff shall be summoned. Do your conjugal duty, or see your strumpet whipped. Honour, cherish, and obey, or guard your backs henceforward."

            Tables turned, Felicia deftly curtsies, reconfigures her smile, and blows her spouse a kiss,  as out of the room he backpedals.