eighty-nine           

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

 

 

            Beulah stands in the kitchen, interrogating Tessie.

            "What fo' dat gun go off dis mo'nin'?"

            "Don' know."

            Marisee chimes in.

            "Dat Mistah Tune."

            Tess casts a doubtful glance.

            "How you know, Marisee? You jus' clumb out de bed."

            "I goin' peepee when I hears it. Mos' like Mistah Tune finely shoot dat pesky crow."

            "Sweet Jesus, save us."

            Beulah crosses herself, fingers the scars on her forehead, then spits three times. Tess pulls a face.

            "What dat all 'bout?"

            "Nev' you mine."

            "Ain' you glad; dat scraggly crow been hauntin' dis place fo' mont's."

            "Dat 'crow' a raven, girl, an' iffen it be shot, a real bad omen."

            "What do it mean, Beulah?"

            "Death at dawn fo'ewarn death comin' back at sunset."

            "Naw!"

            "Don' listen dat stuff, Marisee."

            "Mind yo' mouth, Miss Sassy-Pants. Dere ways o' knowin' thin's beyon' de cut an' dry. Dis house in trouble. What you think; dat de Mist'ess gwon 'low Massah Zach'ry brings back Jewel witout her make a fuss; dat her not gwon rant an' rave an' throw de worse fit us seen yet? You seen de swellin' 'round Jewel's middle. Who you think done dat, de Holy Ghos'? It Massah Zach'ry's  baby, her carryin', sho 's cow dung hatch flies."

            "You mean Massah Zach'ry an' Jewel... dat dey..."

            "Don' ack so stupit."

            "Tess! What you sayin'? Jewel a good girl; her wouldn' !"

            "But Massah Zach'ry would... You guessin', Beulah?"

            "Donner tol' me: 'Massah pes'erin' dat gal wit de purty eyelashes.' Donner—b'fo'e him diesay it de reason Jewel run off. Now dat Jewel come backset free no lessan' 'pose to take her meals wit Massah in de dinin' room."

            "Naw! "

            "Fo' true; dem de o'ders him gives me late las' night. Ackin' stranger an' stranger, is Massah Zach'ry. Iffen dis day end witout somethin' horr'ble happen, us blesst. Death at dawn, I hates to say it, bring death at dusksame day."

            The women resume their routine morning chores with a hushed foreboding: Beulah dons her apron and starts cooking breakfast; Marisee leaves to set the table; Tess proceeds outdoors to hang a line of laundry.

 

 

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

            Mojo kneels in the dirt, arms extended crookedly to mirror lifeless wings, face distorted as with pain, muscles in  a rictus of empathetic agony, aware of the scatter shot's bite as he mourns its ravaged victim,  seized by a plaintive dirge that laments the raven's plight.

            "Caaaaaw"

            He mimics the bird before its murdered flight.

            "Caaaaaw"

            He conjures the ghost of its now-silent outcry.

            "Caaaaaw"

            He signals the start of ominous repercussions.

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

            Wooommmmmba ba ba

            Wooommmmm

            By degrees his arms relax, dropping along his sides.

 

 

            "Him out dere! Seed him, Beulah; hurry! It de Conju'eman fo' sho—dat one what Randolph Bates done ketch den up an' los'. Him settin' out dere makin' signs an' such an' all kine funny noises 'roun' dat bushwhack' bird."

            (Perhaps the Conjureman can help; Beulah sees a chance. Perhaps the spell she long-ago cast on an infant can be neutralized, or erased—Zachary's head set straight and this dark day salvaged.) Beulah follows Tessie through the kitchen door, down the back porch steps, around to the westward wing.

            Mojo sits cross-legged, attention fixed on a swatch of purple silk enshrouding the slaughtered passerine.

            As Tess and Beulah round the corner, both stop short, struck by the Conjureman's proximity—too close for comfort; precluding safe retreatfor though he has not looked their way he appears to have sensed their presence, holding them in thrall, entrapped as much by fascination as by magic; the two women watch.

            "Kwangkar... Kwangkee... Mumbobway... Zjou"

            His words create sensations, vibrations in the stock-still onlookers... odd... unfamiliar... disquieting. His hands—disproportionately large—pass once, pass twice, pass thrice above the covered carcass; it appears to stir, to breathe beneath its shroud—which rhythmically lifts and falls, lifts and falls. His hands descend caressingly, fingers gathering in the swatch's borders. The bundle fidgets in his lap as he directs his vision skyward.

            Beulah starts!

            Dem features jus' like Dan'el's, 'xac'ly, 'cep' dey young. Wilder, mayhap. Shrunk someno bigger dan a chile's—but...

            She starts again!

            Arms thrust suddenly upward, the Conjureman sets free a bird, its wing flaps raising dust from whence it seems to have been restored... soaring higher... higher... no longer black, the bird is white as the clouds toward which it heads.

            The women, awestruck, stare as the phantom disappears, lost against its backdrop, plumage indiscernible. When they lower their disbelieving eyes the Conjureman, too,  is gone.

            "Where him go!"

            Tess turns full circle. Beulah ogles the spot whereon Mojo sat.

            "If dat not Dan'el—what it couldn' be—gots be Dan'el's chile."

            "What? What you mumblin' 'bout? Who Dan'el? Where you think dat li'ly feller up an' went?"

            Tess is totally bewildered. Beulah is introspective:

            All dese years... To think our chile be livin' all dese many years... An' me not knowin it; me believin' Massah Zachariah killt it, out de woods, like Donner say so. Donner mus' a knowed, mus' a lied. 'Less him figger a sucker lef' alone like dat good 's dead, spare me de heartache thinkin' 'bout how it starve an" suffer. All dese years... Nev' done have no notion... Lef' me filled wit hatethinkin' mean an' doin' mean like what I done to Zach'ry.

"Love you a niggah"

was de spell I cas'.

"When you grows up love a niggah wit yo' body
wit de yo' mine
wit yo' everlastin' soul."

Dem de words I spoke. Lawd o' mercy, I regrets 'em... 'specially now deir upshot come to pass. Massah Zach'ry do love a niggah, love 'er to distraction. Iffen I could  die to change dat fac', I would."

            "What it mean, Beulah?"

            "Huh?"

            "What it fo'ecas'? Dat crow, dat raven I mean, be 'death at dawn' 'cep' now it come back to life. So what it tell 'bout what, an' why dem wings turn white?"

            "Thought you don' believes in 'dat stuff', Tessie."

            "I b'lieves what front my eyes. Dat crow be black an' dead one minute, nex' it white an' flyin'. Don' make sense no how, no way 'less it stan' fo' somethin' deep."

            Beulah lifts her fingers to her face, consulting the scars, stroking in the direction that her tears soon after creep.

 "Keep this for the day your baby is full-grown to buy its freedom."

            Recalling the ruby necklace, both its purpose and its path—from Zachary's mother Isabella to Beulah, from Beulah to her newborn child, from the child once grown (albeit stunted) to Jewel who indeed is free—Beulah re-interprets the raven's resurrection.

            "Mayhap, iffen us lucky, it mean dey's hope."