2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

[4 of 5] Kindred, pp. 177-235, by Octavia E. Butler (1979)

Author: Octavia E. Butler

"The Fight” and "The Storm" Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, Beacon Press, 1988, pp. 177–235.

He was gone when I awoke, but he left me Alice. She was there to calm me and feed me pills that I saw were my own inadequate aspirins, and to assure me that my punishment was over, that I was all right. My face was almost too swollen for me to ask for salt water to wash my mouth. After several tries, though, she understood and brought it to me.

“Just rest,” she said. “Carrie and me’ll take care of you as good as
you took care of me.”

I didn’t try to answer. Her words touched something in me, though, started me crying silently. We were both failures, she and I. We’d both run and been brought back, she in days, I in only hours. I probably knew more than she did about the general layout of the Eastern Shore. She knew only the area she’d been born and raised in, and she couldn’t read a map. I knew about towns and rivers miles away—and it hadn’t done me a damned bit of good! What had Weylin said? That educated didn’t mean smart. He had a point. Nothing in my education or knowledge of the future had helped me to escape. Yet in a few years an illiterate runaway named Harriet Tubman would make nineteen trips into this country and lead three hundred fugitives to freedom. What had I done wrong? Why was I still slave to a man who had repaid me for saving his life by nearly killing me. Why had I taken yet another beating. And why . . . why was I so frightened now frightened sick at the thought that sooner or later, I would have to run again?

I moaned and tried not to think about it. The pain of my body was enough for me to contend with. But now there was a question in my mind that had to be answered.

Would I really try again? Could I?

I moved, twisted myself somehow, from my stomach onto my side.
I tried to get away from my thoughts, but they still came.

See how easily slaves are made? they said.

I cried out as though from the pain of my side, and Alice came to ease me into a less agonizing position. She wiped my face with a cool damp cloth.

“I’ll try again,” I said to her. And I wondered why I was saying it,
boasting, maybe lying.

“What?” she asked.

My swollen face and mouth were still distorting my speech. I would have to repeat the words. Maybe they would give me courage if I said them often enough.

“I’ll try again.” I spoke as slowly and as clearly as I could.

“You rest!” Her voice was suddenly rough, and I knew she had understood. “Time enough later for talking. Go to sleep.”

But I couldn’t sleep. The pain kept me awake; my own thoughts kept me awake. I caught myself wondering whether I would be sold to some passing trader this time … or next time … I longed for my sleeping pills to give me oblivion, but some small part of me was glad I didn’t have them. I didn’t quite trust myself with them just now. I wasn’t quite sure how many of them I might take.


Liza, the sewing woman, fell and hurt herself. Alice told me all about it. Liza was bruised and battered. She lost some teeth. She was black and blue all over. Even Tom Weylin was concerned.

“Who did it to you?” he demanded. “Tell me, and they’ll be punished!”

“I fell,” she said sullenly. “Fell on the stairs.”

Weylin cursed her for a fool and told her to get out of his sight. And Alice, Tess, and Carrie concealed their few scratches and gave Liza quiet meaningful glances. Glances that Liza turned away from in anger and fear.

“She heard you get up in the night,” Alice told me. “She got up after you and went straight to Mister Tom. She knew better than to go to Mister Rufe. He might have let you go. Mister Tom never let a nigger go in his life.”

“But why?” I asked from my pallet. I was stronger now, but Rufus had forbidden me to get up. For once, I was glad to obey. I knew that when I got up, Tom Weylin would expect me to work as though I were completely well. Thus, I had missed Liza’s “accident” com¬ pletely.

“She did it to get at me,” said Alice. “She would have liked it bet¬ ter if I had been the one slipping out at night, but she hates you too— almost as much. She figures I would have died if not for you.”

I was startled. I had never had a serious enemy—someone who would go out of her way to get me hurt or killed. To slaveholders and patrollers, I was just one more nigger, worth so many dollars. What they did to me didn’t have much to do with me personally. But here was a woman who hated me and who, out of sheer malice, had nearly killed me.

“She’ll keep her mouth shut next time,” said Alice. “We let her know what would happen to her if she didn’t. Now she’s more scared of us than of Mister Tom.”

“Don’t get yourselves into trouble over me,” I said. “Don’t be telling us what to do,” she replied.


The first day I was up, Rufus called me to his room and handed me a letter—from Kevin to Tom Weylin.

“Dear Tom,” it said, “There may be no need for this letter since I hope to reach you ahead of it. If I’m held up, however, I want you— and Dana—to know that I’m coming. Please tell her I’m coming.”

It was Kevin’s handwriting—slanted, neat, clear. In spite of the years of note taking and longhand drafts, his writing had never gone to hell the way mine had. I looked blankly at Rufus.

“I said once that Daddy was a fair man,” he said. “You all but laughed out loud.”

“He wrote to Kevin about me?” “He did after. . . after. . .”

“After he learned that you hadn’t sent my letters?”

His eyes widened with surprise, then slowly took on a look of un¬ derstanding. “So that’s why you ran. How did you find out?”

“By being curious.” I glanced at the bed chest. “By satisfying my curiosity.”

“You could be whipped for snooping through my things.”

I shrugged, and small pains shot through my scabby shoulders.

“I never even saw that they had been moved. I’ll have to watch you better from now on.”

“Why? Are you planning to hide more lies from me?”

He jumped, started to get up, then sat back down heavily and

rested one polished boot on his bed. “Watch what you say, Dana. There are things I won’t take, even from you.”

“You lied,” I repeated deliberately. “You lied to me over and over. Why, Rufe?”

It took several seconds for his anger to dissolve and be replaced by something else. I watched him at first, then looked away, uncom¬ fortably. “I wanted to keep you here,” he whispered. “Kevin hates this place. He would have taken you up North.”

I looked at him again and let myself understand. It was that de¬ structive single-minded love of his. He loved me. Not the way he loved Alice, thank God. He didn’t seem to want to sleep with me. But he wanted me around—someone to talk to, someone who would listen to him and care what he said, care about him.

And I did. However little sense it made, I cared. I must have. I kept forgiving him for things. . .

I stared out the window guiltily, feeling that I should have been more like Alice. She forgave him nothing, forgot nothing, hated him as deeply as she had loved Isaac. I didn’t blame her. But what good did her hating do? She couldn’t bring herself to run away again or to kill him and face her own death. She couldn’t do anything at all ex¬ cept make herself more miserable. She said, “My stomach just turns every time he puts his hands on me!” But she endured. Eventually, she would bear him at least one child. And as much as I cared for him, I would not have done that. I couldn’t have. Twice, he had made me lose control enough to try to kill him. I could get that angry with him, even though I knew the consequences of killing him. He could drive me to a kind of unthinking fury. Somehow, I couldn’t take from him the kind of abuse I took from others. If he ever raped me, it wasn’t likely that either of us would survive.

Maybe that was why we didn’t hate each other. We could hurt each other too badly, kill each other too quickly in hatred. He was like a younger brother to me. Alice was like a sister. It was so hard to watch him hurting her—to know that he had to go on hurting her if my family was to exist at all. And, at the moment, it was hard for me to talk calmly about what he had done to me.

“North,” I said finally. “Yes, at least there I could keep the skin on my back.”

He sighed. “I never wanted Daddy to whip you. But hell, don’t you know you got off easy! He didn’t hurt you nearly as much as he’s hurt others.”

I said nothing.

“He couldn’t let a runaway go without some punishment. If he did, there’d be ten more taking off tomorrow. He was easy on you, though, because he figured your running away was my fault.”

“It was.”

“It was your own fault! If you had waited . . .”

“For what! You were the one I trusted. I did wait until I found out what a liar you were!”

He took the charge without anger this time. “Oh hell, Dana . . .

all right! I should have sent the letters. Even Daddy said I should have sent them after I promised you I would. Then he said I was a damn fool for promising.” He paused. “But that promise was the only thing that made him send for Kevin. He didn’t do it out of gratitude to you for helping me. He did it because I had given my word. If not for that, he would have kept you here until you went home. If you’re going to go home this time.”

We sat together in silence for a moment.

“Daddy’s the only man I know,” he said softly, “who cares as much about giving his word to a black as to a white.”

“Does that bother you?”

“No! It’s one of the few things about him I can respect.” “It’s one of the few things about him you should copy.”

“Yeah.” He took his foot off the bed. “Carrie’s bringing a tray up here so we can eat together.”

That surprised me, but I just nodded. “Your back doesn’t hurt much, does it?” “Yes.”

He stared out the window miserably until Carrie arrived with the tray.


I went back to helping Sarah and Carrie the next day. Rufus said I didn’t have to, but as tedious as the work was, I could stand it easier than I could stand more long hours of boredom. And now that I knew Kevin was coming, my back and side didn’t seem to hurt as much.

Then Jake Edwards came in to destroy my new-found peace. It was amazing how much misery the man could cause doing the same job Luke had managed to do without hurting anyone.

“You!” he said to me. He knew my name. “You go do the wash. Tess is going to the fields today.”

Poor Tess. Weylin had tired of her as a bed mate and passed her casually to Edwards. She had been afraid Edwards would send her to the fields where he could keep an eye on her. With Alice and I in the house, she knew she could be spared. She had cried with the fear that she would be spared. “You do everything they tell you,” she wept, “and they still treat you like a old dog. Go here, open your legs; go there, bust your back. What they care! I ain’t s’pose to have no feelin’s!” She had sat with me crying while I lay on my stomach sweating and hurting and knowing I wasn’t as bad off as I thought I was.

I would be a lot worse off now, though, if I obeyed Edwards. He had no right to give me orders, and he knew it. His authority was over the field hands. But today, Rufus and Tom Weylin had gone into town leaving Edwards in charge, leaving him several hours to show us how “important” he was. I’d heard him outside the cookhouse try¬ ing to bully Nigel. And I’d heard Nigel’s answer, first placating—“I’m just doing what Marse Tom told me to do.” Finally threatening— “Marse Jake, you put your hands on me, you go’ get hurt. Now that’s all!”

Edwards backed off. Nigel was big and strong and not one to make idle threats. Also, Rufus tended to back Nigel, and Weylin tended to back Rufus. Edwards had cursed Nigel, then come into the cookhouse to bother me. I had neither the size nor the strength to frighten him, especially now. But I knew what a day of washing would do to my back and side. I’d had enough pain, surely.

“Mr. Edwards, I’m not supposed to be washing. Mister Rufus told me not to.” It was a lie, but Rufus would back me too. In some ways, I could still trust him.

“You lyin’ nigger, you do what I tell you to do!” Edwards loomed over me. “You think you been whipped? You don’t know what a whippin’ is yet!” He carried his whip around with him. It was like part of his arm—long and black with its lead-weighted butt. He dropped the coil of it free.

And I went out, God help me, and tried to do the wash. I couldn’t face another beating so soon. I just couldn’t.

When Edwards was gone, Alice came out of Carrie’s cabin and began to help me. I felt sweat on my face mingling with silent tears of frustration and anger. My back had already begun to ache dully, and I felt dully ashamed. Slavery was a long slow process of dulling.

“You stop heatin’ them clothes ’fore you fall over,” Alice told me. “I’ll do this. You go back to the cookhouse.”

“He might come back,” I said. “You might get in trouble.” It wasn’t her trouble I was worried about; it was mine. I didn’t want to be dragged out of the cookhouse and whipped again.

“Not me,” she said. “He knows where I sleep at night.”

I nodded. She was right. As long as she was under Rufus’s protec¬ tion, Edwards might curse her, but he wouldn’t touch her. Just as he hadn’t touched Tess—until Weylin was finished with her. . .

“Thanks, Alice, but. . .” “Who’s that?”

I looked around. There was a white man, gray-bearded and dusty, riding around the side of the main house toward us. I thought at first that it was the Methodist minister. He was a friend and sometime dinner guest of Tom Weylin in spite of Weylin’s indifference to religion. But no children gathered around this man as he rode. The kids always mobbed the minister—and his wife too when he brought her along. The couple dispensed candy and “safe” Bible verses (“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters . . .” ). The kids got candy for repeating the verses.

I saw two little girls staring at the gray-bearded stranger, but no one approached him or spoke to him. He rode straight back to us, stopped, sat looking at both of us uncertainly.

I opened my mouth to tell him the Weylins weren’t home, but in that moment, I got a good look at him. I dropped one of Rufus’s good white shirts into the dirt and stumbled over to the fence.

“Dana?” he said softly. The question mark in his voice scared me. Didn’t he know me? Had I changed so much? He hadn’t, beard or no beard.

“Kevin, get down. I can’t reach you up there.”

And he was off the horse and over the laundry yard fence, pulling me to him before I could take another breath.

The dull ache in my back and shoulders roared to life. Suddenly, I was struggling to get away from him. He let me go, confused.

“What the . . . ?”

I went to him again because I couldn’t keep away, but I caught his arms before he could get them around me. “Don’t. My back is sore.” “Sore from what?”

“From running away to find you. Oh, Kevin . . .”

He held me—gently now—for several seconds, and I thought if we could just go home then, at that moment, everything would be all right.

Finally, Kevin stood back from me a little, looked at me without letting me go. “Who beat you?” he asked quietly.

“I told you, I ran away.”

“Who?” he insisted. “Was it Weylin again?” “Kevin, forget it.”

“Forget. . . ?”

“Yes! Please forget it. I might have to live here again someday.” I shook my head. “Hate Weylin all you want to. I do. But don’t do anything to him. Let’s just get out of here.”

“It was him then.” “Yes!”

He turned slowly and stared toward the main house. His face was lined and grim where it wasn’t hidden by the beard. He looked more than ten years older than when I had last seen him. There was a jag¬ ged scar across his forehead—the remnant of what must have been a bad wound. This place, this time, hadn’t been any kinder to him than it had been to me. But what had it made of him? What might he be willing to do now that he would not have done before?

“Kevin, please, let’s just go.”

He turned that same hard stare on me.

“Do anything to them and I’ll suffer for it,” I whispered urgently. “Let’s go! Now!”

He stared at me a moment longer, then sighed, rubbed his hand across his forehead. He looked at Alice, and because he didn’t speak to her, just kept looking, I turned to look at her too.

She was watching us—watching dry-eyed, but with more pain than I had ever seen on another person’s face. My husband had come to me, finally. Hers would not be coming to her. Then the look was gone and her mask of toughness was in place again.

“You better do like she says,” she told Kevin softly. “Get her out of here while you can. No telling what our ‘good masters’ will do if you don’t.”

“You’re Alice, aren’t you?” asked Kevin.

She nodded as she would not have to Weylin or Rufus. They would have gotten a dull dry “yes, sir.” “Used to see you ’round here sometimes,” she said. “Back when things made sense.”

He made a sound, not quite a laugh. “Was there ever such a time?” He glanced at me, then back at her again, comparing. “Good Lord,” he murmured to himself. Then to her, “You going to be all right here, finishing this work by yourself?”

“Go’ be fine,” she said. “Just get her out of here.”

He finally seemed convinced. “Get your things,” he told me.

I almost told him to forget about my things. Extra clothing, medi¬ cine, tooth brush, pens, paper, whatever. But here, some of those things were irreplaceable. I climbed the fence, went to the house and up to the attic as quickly as I could and stuffed everything into my bag. Somehow, I got out again without being seen, without having to answer questions.

At the laundry yard fence, Kevin waited, feeding something to his mare. I looked at the mare, wondering how tired she was. How far could she carry two people before she had to rest? How far could Kevin go before he had to rest? I looked at him as I reached him and could read weariness now in the dusty lines of his face. I wondered how fast he had traveled to reach me. When had he slept last?

For a moment, we stood wasting time, staring at each other. We couldn’t help it—I couldn’t anyway. New lines and all, he was so damned beautiful.

“It’s been five years for me,” he said. “I know,” I whispered.

Abruptly, he turned away. “Let’s go! Let’s put this place behind us for good.”

Please, God. But not very likely. I turned to say good-bye to Alice, called her name once. She was beating a pair of Rufus’s pants, and she kept beating them with no break in her rhythm to indicate that she had heard me.

“Alice!” I called louder.

She did not turn, did not stop her beating and beating of those pants, though I was certain now that she heard me. Kevin laid a hand on my shoulder and I glanced at him, then again at her. “Good-bye, Alice,” I said, this time not expecting any answer. There was none.

Kevin mounted and helped me up behind him. As we headed away, I leaned against Kevin’s sweaty back and waited for the regu¬ lar thump of her beating to fade. But we could still hear it faintly when we met Rufus on the road.

Rufus was alone. I was glad of that, at least. But he stopped a few feet ahead of us, frowning, deliberately blocking our way.

“Oh hell,” I muttered.

“You were just going to leave,” Rufus said to Kevin. “No thanks, nothing at all, just take her and go.”

Kevin stared at him silently for several seconds—stared until Rufus began to look uncomfortable instead of indignant.

“That’s right,” Kevin said.

Rufus blinked. “Look,” he said in a milder tone, “look, why don’t you stay for dinner. My father will be back by then. He’d want you to stay.”

“You can tell your father—!”

I dug my fingers into Kevin’s shoulder, cutting off the rush of words before they became insulting in content as well as in tone. “Tell him we were in a hurry,” Kevin finished.

Rufus did not move from blocking our path. He looked at me. “Good-bye, Rufe,” I said quietly.

And without warning, with no perceptible change in mood, Rufus turned slightly and trained his rifle on us. I knew a little about firearms now. It wasn’t wise for any but the most trusted slaves to show an interest in them, but then I had been trusted before I ran away. Rufus’s gun was a flintlock, a long slender Kentucky rifle. He had even let me fire it a couple of times . . . before. And I had looked down the barrel of one like it for his sake. This one, however, was aimed more at Kevin. I stared at it, then at the young man hold¬ ing it. I kept thinking I knew him, and he kept proving to me that I didn’t.

“Rufe, what are you doing!” I demanded.

“Inviting Kevin to dinner,” he said. And to Kevin, “Get down. I think Daddy might want to talk to you.”

People kept warning me about him, dropping hints that he was meaner than he seemed to be. Sarah had warned me and most of the time, she loved him like one of the sons she had lost. And I had seen the marks he occasionally left on Alice. But he had never been that way with me—not even when he was angry enough to be. I had never feared him as I’d feared his father. Even now, I wasn’t as frightened as I probably should have been. I wasn’t frightened for myself. That was why I challenged him.

“Rufe, if you shoot anybody, it better be me.” “Dana, shut up!” said Kevin.

“You think I won’t?” said Rufus. “I think if you don’t, I’ll kill you.”

Kevin got down quickly and hauled me down. He didn’t under¬ stand the kind of relationship Rufus and I had—how dependent we were on each other. Rufus understood though.

“No need for any talk of killing,” he said gently—as though he was quieting an angry child. And then to Kevin in a more normal tone, “I just think Daddy might have something to say to you.”

“About what?” Kevin asked. “Well. . . about her keep, maybe.”

“My keep!” I exploded, pulling away from Kevin. “My keep! I’ve worked, worked hard every day I’ve been here until your father beat me so badly I couldn’t work! You people owe me! And you, God-damnit, owe me more than you could ever pay!”

He swung the rifle to where I wanted it. Straight at me. Now I would either goad him into shooting me or shame him into letting us go—or possibly, I would go home. I might go home wounded, or even dead, but one way or another, I would be away from this time, this place. And if I went home, Kevin would go with me. I caught his hand and held it.

“What are you going to do, Rufe? Keep us here at gun point so you can rob Kevin?”

“Get back to the house,” he said. His voice had gone hard. Kevin and I looked at each other, and I spoke softly.

“I already know all I ever want to find out about being a slave,” I told him. “I’d rather be shot than go back in there.”

“I won’t let them keep you,” Kevin promised. “Come on.”

“No!” I glared at him. “You stay or go as you please. I’m not going back in that house!”

Rufus cursed in disgust. “Kevin, put her over your shoulder and bring her in.”

Kevin didn’t move. I would have been amazed if he had.

“Still trying to get other people to do your dirty work for you, aren’t you, Rufe?” I said bitterly. “First your father, now Kevin. To think I wasted my time saving your worthless life!” I stepped toward the mare and caught her reins as though to remount. At that mo¬ ment, Rufus’s composure broke.

“You’re not leaving!” he shouted. He sort of crouched around the gun, clearly on the verge of firing. “Damn you, you’re not leaving me!”

He was going to shoot. I had pushed him too far. I was Alice all over again, rejecting him. Terrified in spite of myself, I dove past the mare’s head, not caring how I fell as long as I put something between myself and the rifle.

I hit the ground—not too hard—tried to scramble up, and found that I couldn’t. My balance was gone. I heard shouting—Kevin’s voice, Rufus’s voice . . . Suddenly, I saw the gun, blurred, but seem¬ ingly only inches from my head. I hit at it and missed. It wasn’t quite where it appeared to be. Everything was distorted, blurred.

“Kevin!” I screamed. I couldn’t leave him behind again—not even if my scream made Rufus fire.

Something landed heavily on my back and I screamed again, this time in pain. Everything went dark.

The Storm



I couldn’t have been unconscious for more than a minute. I came to on the living room floor to find Kevin bending over me. There was no one for me to mistake him for this time. It was him, and he was home. We were home. My back felt as though I’d taken another beating, but it didn’t matter. I’d gotten us home without either of us being shot.

“I’m sorry,” said Kevin.

I focused on him clearly. “Sorry about what?” “Doesn’t your back hurt?”

I lowered my head, rested it on my hand. “It hurts.”

“I fell on you. Between Rufus and the horse and you screaming, I don’t know how it happened, but. . .”

“Thank God it did happen. Don’t be sorry, Kevin, you’re here. You’d be stranded again if you hadn’t fallen on me.”

He sighed, nodded. “Can you get up? I think I’d hurt you more by lifting you than you’d hurt yourself by walking.”

I got up slowly, cautiously, found that it didn’t hurt any more to stand than it did to lie down. My head was clear now, and I could walk without trouble.

“Go to bed,” said Kevin. “Get some rest.” “Come with me.”

Something of the expression he’d had when we met in the laundry yard came back to him and he took my hands.

“Come with me,” I repeated softly. “Dana, you’re hurt. Your back . . .” “Hey.”

He stopped, pulled me closer. “Five years?” I whispered. “That long. Yes.”

“They hurt you.” I fingered the scar on his forehead. “That’s nothing. It healed years ago. But you . . .” “Please come with me.”

He did. He was so careful, so fearful of hurting me. He did hurt me, of course. I had known he would, but it didn’t matter. We were safe. lie was home. I’d brought him back. That was enough.

Eventually, we slept.

He wasn’t in the room when I awoke. I lay still listening until I heard him opening and closing doors in the kitchen. And I heard him cursing. He had a slight accent, I realized. Nothing really noticeable, but he did sound a little like Rufus and Tom Weylin. Just a little.

I shook my head and tried to put the comparison out of my mind. He sounded as though he were looking for something, and after five years didn’t know where to find it. I got up and went to help.

I found him fiddling with the stove, turning the burners on, staring into the blue flame, turning them off, opening the oven, peering in. He had his back to me and didn’t see or hear me. Before I could say anything, he slammed the oven door and stalked away shaking his head. “Christ,” he muttered. “If I’m not home yet, maybe I don’t have a home.”

He went into the dining room without noticing me. I stayed where I was, thinking, remembering.

I could recall walking along the narrow dirt road that ran past the Weylin house and seeing the house, shadowy in twilight, boxy and familiar, yellow light showing from some of the windows—Weylin was surprisingly extravagant with his candles and oil. I had heard that other people were not. I could recall feeling relief at seeing the house, feeling that I had come home. And having to stop and correct myself, remind myself that I was in an alien, dangerous place. I could recall being surprsied that I would come to think of such a place as home.

That was more than two months ago when I went to get help for Rufus. I had been home to 1976, to this house, and it hadn’t felt that homelike. It didn’t now. For one thing, Kevin and I had lived here together for only two days. The fact that I’d had eight extra days here alone didn’t really help. The time, the year, was right, but the house just wasn’t familiar enough. I felt as though I were losing my place here in my own time. Rufus’s time was a sharper, stronger real¬ ity. The work was harder, the smells and tastes were stronger, the danger was greater, the pain was worse . . . Rufus’s time demanded things of me that had never been demanded before, and it could eas¬ ily kill me if I did not meet its demands. That was a stark, powerful reality that the gentle conveniences and luxuries of this house, of now, could not touch.

And if I felt that way after spending only short periods in the past, what must Kevin be feeling after five years. His white skin had saved him from much of the trouble I had faced, but still, he couldn’t have had an easy time.

I found him in the living room trying knobs on the television set. It was new to us, that television, like the house. The on/ofi switch was under the screen out of sight, and Kevin clearly didn’t re¬ member.

I went to it, reached under, and switched the set on. There was a public service announcement on advising women to see their doctors and take care of themselves while they were pregnant.

“Turn it off,” said Kevin. I obeyed.

“I saw a woman die in childbirth once,” he said.

I nodded. “I never saw it, but I kept hearing about it happening. It was pretty common back then, I guess. Poor medical care or none at all.”

“No, medical care had nothing to do with the case I saw. This woman’s master strung her up by her wrists and beat her until the baby came out of her—dropped onto the ground.”

I swallowed, looked away rubbing my wrists. “I see.” Would Wey-lin have done such a thing to one of his pregnant slave women, I wondered. Probably not. He had more business sense than that. Dead mother, dead baby—dead loss. I’d heard stories, though, about other slaveholders who didn’t care what they did. There was a woman on Weylin’s plantation whose former master had cut three fingers from her right hand when he caught her writing. She had a baby nearly every year, that woman. Nine so far, seven surviving.

Weylin called her a good breeder, and he never whipped her. He was selling off her children, though, one by one.

Kevin stared at the blank TV screen, then turned away with a bit¬ ter laugh. “I feel like this is just another stopover,” he said. “A little less real than the others, maybe.”


“Like Philadelphia. Like New York and Boston. Like that farm in Maine . . .”

“You did get to Maine, then?”

“Yes. Almost bought a farm there. Would have been a stupid mis¬ take. Then a friend in Boston forwarded me Weylin’s letter. Home at last, I thought, and you . . .” He looked at me. “Well. I got half of what I wanted. You’re still you.”

I went to him with relief that surprised me. I hadn’t realized how much I’d worried, even now, that I might not be “still me” as far as he was concerned.

“Everything is so soft here,” he said, “so easy. . .” “I know.”

“It’s good. Hell, I wouldn’t go back to some of the pestholes I’ve lived in for pay. But still. . .”

We were walking through the dining room, through the hall. We stopped at my office and he went in to look at the map of the United States that I had on the wall. “I kept going farther and farther up the east coast,” he said. “I guess I would have wound up in Canada next. But in all my traveling, do you know the only time I ever felt relieved and eager to be going to a place?”

“I think so,” I said quietly.

“It was when . . .” He stopped, realizing what I had said, and frowned at me.

“It was when you went back to Maryland,” I said. “When you visited the Weylins to see whether I was there.”

He looked surprised, but strangely pleased. “How could you know that?”

“It’s true, isn’t it?” “It’s true.”

“I felt it the last time Rufus called me. I’ve got no love at all for that place, but so help me, when I saw it again, it was so much like coming home that it scared me.”

Kevin stroked his beard. “I grew this to come back.” “Why?”

“To disguise myself. You ever hear of a man named Denmark Vesey?”

“The freedman who plotted rebellion down in South Carolina.” “Yes. Well, Vesey never got beyond the planning stage, but he

scared the hell out of a lot of white people. And a lot of black people suffered for it. Around that time, I was accused of helping slaves to escape. I barely got out ahead of the mob.”

“Were you at the Weylins’ then?”

“No, I had a job teaching school.” He rubbed the scar on his fore¬ head. “I’ll tell you all about it, Dana, but some other time. Now, somehow, I’ve got to fit myself back into nineteen seventy-six. If I can.”

“You can.” He shrugged.

“One more thing. Just one.” He looked at me questioningly.

“Were you helping slaves to escape?”

“Of course I was! I fed them, hid them during the day, and when night came, I pointed them toward a free black family who would feed and hide them the next day.”

I smiled and said nothing. He sounded angry, almost defensive about what he had done.

“I guess I’m not used to saying things like that to people who un¬ derstand them,” he said.

“I know. It’s enough that you did what you did.”

He rubbed his head again. “Five years is longer than it sounds. So much longer.”

We went on to his office. Both our offices were ex-bedrooms in the solidly built old frame house we had bought. They were big comfort¬ able rooms that reminded me a little of the rooms in the Weylin house.

No. I shook my head, denying the impression. This house was nothing like the Weylin house. I watched Kevin look around his office. He circled the room, stopping at his desk, at the file cabinets, at the book cases. He stood for a moment looking at the shelf filled with copies of The Water of Meribah, his most successful novel—the novel that had bought us this house. He touched a copy as though to take it down, then left it and drifted back to his typewriter. He fumbled with that for a moment, remembered how to turn it on, then looked at the stack of blank paper beside it and turned it off again. Abruptly, he brought his fist down hard on it.

I jumped at the sudden sound. “You’ll break it, Kevin.” “What difference would that make?”

I winced, remembered my own attempts to write when I’d been home last. I had tried and tried and only managed to fill my waste¬ basket.

“What am I going to do?” said Kevin, turning his back on the typewriter. “Christ, if I can’t feel anything even in here. . .”

“You will. Give yourself time.”

He picked up his electric pencil sharpener, examined it as though he did not know what it was, then seemed to remember. He put it down, took a pencil from a china cup on the desk, and put it in the sharpener. The little machine obligingly ground the pencil to a fine point. Kevin stared at the point for a moment, then at the sharpener.

“A toy,” he said. “Nothing but a damned toy.”

“That’s what I said when you bought it,” I told him. I tried to smile and make it a joke, but there was something in his voice that scared me.

With a sudden slash of his hand, he knocked both the sharpener and the cup of pencils from his desk. The pencils scattered and the cup broke. The sharpener bounced hard on the bare floor, just miss¬ ing the rug. I unplugged it quickly.

“Kevin . . .” He stalked out of the room before I could finish. I ran after him, caught his arm. “Kevin!”

He stopped, glared at me as though I was some stranger who had dared to lay hands on him.

“Kevin, you can’t come back all at once any more than you can leave all at once. It takes time. After a while, though, things will fall into place.”

His expression did not change.

I took his face between my hands and looked into his eyes, now truly cold. “I don’t know what it was like for you,” I said, “being gone so long, having so little control over whether you’d ever get back. I can’t really know, I guess. But I do know . . . that I almost didn’t want to be alive when I thought I’d left you behind for good. But now that you’re back. . .”

He pulled away from me and walked out of the room. The expression on his face was like something I’d seen, something I was used to seeing on Tom Weylin. Something closed and ugly.

I didn’t go after him when I left his office. I didn’t know what to do to help him, and I didn’t want to look at him and see things that reminded me of Weylin. But because I went to the bedroom, I found him.

He was standing beside the dresser looking at a picture of himself —himself as he had been. He had always hated having his picture taken, but I had talked him into this one, a close-up of the young face under a cap of thick gray hair, dark brows, pale eyes . . .

I was afraid he would throw the picture down, smash it as he had tried to smash the pencil sharpener. I took it from his hand. He let it go easily and turned to look at himself in the dresser mirror. He ran a hand through his hair, still thick and gray. He would probably never be bald. But he looked old now; the young face had changed more than could be accounted for by the new lines in his face or the beard.


He closed his eyes. “Leave me alone for a while, Dana,” he said softly. “I just need to be by myself and get used to … to things again.”

There was suddenly a loud, house-shaking sonic boom and Kevin jumped back against the dresser looking around wildly.

“Just a jet passing overhead,” I told him.

He gave me what almost seemed to be a look of hatred, then brushed past me, went to his office and shut the door.

I left him alone. I didn’t know what else to do—or even whether there was anything I could do. Maybe this was something he had to work out for himself. Maybe it was something that only time could help. Maybe anything. But I felt so damned helpless as I looked down the hall at his closed door. Finally, I went to bathe, and that hurt enough to hold my attention for a while. Then I checked my denim bag, put in a bottle of antiseptic, Kevin’s large bottle of Ex-cedrin, and an old pocket knife to replace the switchblade. The knife was large and easily as deadly as the switchblade I had lost, but I wouldn’t be able to use it as quickly, and I would have a harder time surprising an opponent with it. I considered taking a kitchen knife of some kind instead, but I thought one big enough to be effective would be too hard to hide. Not that any kind of knife had been very effective for me so far. Having one just made me feel safer.

I dropped the knife into the bag and replaced soap, tooth paste, some clothing, a few other things. My thoughts went back to Kevin. Did he blame me for the five years he had lost, I wondered. Or if he didn’t now, would he when he tried to write again? He would try. Writing was his profession. I wondered whether he had been able to write during the five years, or rather, whether he had been able to publish. I was sure he had been writing. I couldn’t imagine either of us going for five years without writing. Maybe he’d kept a journal or something. He had changed—in five years he couldn’t help changing. But the markets he wrote for hadn’t changed. He might have a frus¬ trating time for a while. And he might blame me.

It had been so good seeing him again, loving him, knowing his exile was ended. I had thought everything would be all right. Now I wondered if anything would be all right.

I put on a loose dress and went to the kitchen to see what we could make a meal of—if I could get Kevin to eat. The chops I had put out to defrost over two months ago were still icy. How long had we been away, then? What day was it? Somehow, neither of us had bothered to find out.

I turned on the radio and found a news station—tuned in right in the middle of a story about the war in Lebanon. The war there was worse. The President was ordering an evacuation of nonofficial Americans. That sounded like what he had been ordering on the day Rufus called me. A moment later, the announcer mentioned the day, confirming what I had thought. I had been away for only a few hours. Kevin had been away for eight days. Nineteen seventy-six had not gone on without us.

The news switched to a story about South Africa—blacks rioting there and dying wholesale in battles with police over the policies of the white supremacist government.

I turned off the radio and tried to cook the meal in peace. South African whites had always struck me as people who would have been happier living in the nineteenth century, or the eighteenth. In fact, they were living in the past as far as their race relations went. They lived in ease and comfort supported by huge numbers of blacks whom they kept in poverty and held in contempt. Tom Weylin would have felt right at home.

After a while, the smell of food brought Kevin out of his office, but he ate in silence.

“Can’t I help?” I asked finally. “Help with what?”

There was an edge to his voice that made me wary. I didn’t answer.

“I’m all right,” he said grudgingly. “No you’re not.”

He put his fork down. “How long were you away this time?” “A few hours. Or just over two months. Take your pick.”

“There was a newspaper in my office. I was reading it. I don’t know how old it is, but. .

“It’s today’s paper. It came the morning Rufus called me last. That’s this morning if you want to believe the calendar. June eight¬ eenth.”

“It doesn’t matter. I wasted my time reading that paper. I didn’t know what the hell it was talking about most of the time.”

“It’s like I said. The confusion doesn’t go away all at once. It doesn’t for me either.”

“It was so good coming home at first.” “It was good. It still is.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”

“You’re in too much of a hurry. You …” I stopped, realized I was swaying a little on my chair. “Oh God, no!” I whispered.

“I suppose I am,” said Kevin. “I wonder how people just out of prison manage to readjust.”

“Kevin, go get my bag. I left it in the bedroom.” “What? Why. . . ?”

“Go, Kevin!”

He went, understanding finally. I sat still, praying that he would come back in time. I could feel tears streaming down my face. So soon, so soon . . . Why couldn’t I have had just a few days with him —a few days of peace at home?

I felt something pressed into my hands and I grasped it. My bag. I opened my eyes to the dark blur of it, and the larger blur of Kevin standing near me. I was suddenly afraid of what he might do.

“Get away, Kevin!”

He said something, but suddenly, there was too much noise for me to hear him—even if he had still been there.


There was water, rain pouring down on me. I was sitting in mud clutching my bag.

I got up sheltering my bag as much as I could so that eventually, I’d have something dry to change into. I looked around grimly for Rufus.

I couldn’t find him. I peered through the dim gray light, looked around until I realized where I was. I could see the familiar boxy Weylin house in the distance, yellow light at one window. At least there would be no long walk for me this time. In this storm, that was something to be grateful for. But where was Rufus? If he was in trouble inside the house, why had I arrived outside?

I shrugged and started toward the house. If he was there, it would be stupid for me to waste time out here. Not that I could get any wetter.

I tripped over him.

He was lying face down in a puddle so deep the water almost cov¬ ered his head. Face down.

I grabbed him and pulled him out of the water and over to a tree that would shelter us a little from the rain. A moment later, there was thunder and a flash of lightning, and I dragged him away from the tree again. With his ability to draw bad luck I didn’t want to take chances.

He was alive. As I moved him, he threw up on himself and partly on me. I almost joined him. He began to cough and mutter and I re¬ alized that he was either drunk or sick. More probably drunk. He was also heavy. He didn’t look any bigger than he had when I saw him last, but he was soaking wet now, and he was beginning to strug¬ gle feebly.

I had been dragging him toward the house while he was still. Now, I dropped him in disgust and went to the house alone. Some stronger, more tolerant person could drag or carry him the rest of the way.

Nigel answered the door, stood peering down at me. “Who the devil . . . ?”

“It’s Dana, Nigel.”

“Dana?” He was suddenly alert. “What happened? Where’s Marse Rufe?”

“Out there. He was too heavy for me.” “Where?”

I looked back the way I had come and could not see Rufus. If he had flipped himself over again . . .

“Damn!” I muttered. “Come on.” I led him back to the gray lump —still face up—that was Rufus. “Watch it,” I said. “He threw up on me.”

Nigel picked Rufus up like a sack of grain, threw him over his shoulder, and strode back to the house in such quick long strides that I had to run to keep up. Rufus threw up again down Nigel’s back, but Nigel paid no attention. The rain washed them both fairly clean before we reached the house.

Inside, we met Weylin who was coming down the stairs. He stopped short as he saw us. “You!” he said, staring at me.

“Hello, Mr. Weylin,” I said wearily. He looked bent and old-thinner than ever. He walked with a cane.

“Is Rufus all right? Is he . . . ?”

“He’s alive,” I said. “I found him unconscious, face down in a ditch. A little more and he would have drowned.”

“If you’re here, I suppose he would have.” The old man looked at Nigel. “Take him up to his room and put him to bed. Dana, you . . .” He stopped, looked at my dripping, clinging—to him—im¬ modestly short dress. It was the kind of loose smocklike garment that little children of both sexes wore before they were old enough to work. It clearly offended Weylin more than my pants ever had. “Haven’t you got something decent to put on?” he asked.

I looked at my wet bag. “Decent, maybe, but probably not dry.” “Go put on what you’ve got, then come back down to the library.” He wanted to talk to me, I thought. Just what I needed at the end of a long jumbled day. Weylin didn’t talk to me normally except to give orders. When he did, it was always harrowing. There was so much that I couldn’t say; he took offense so easily.

I followed Nigel up the stairs, then went on to the narrow, lad-derlike attic stairs. My old corner was empty so I went there to put my bag down and search through it. I found a nearly dry shirt and a pair of Levi’s that were wet only at the ankles. I dried myself, changed, combed my hair, and spread out some of my wettest clothing to dry. Then I went down to Weylin. I had learned not to worry about leaving my things in the attic. Other house servants examined them. I knew that because I had caught them at it now and then. But nothing was ever missing.

Apprehensively, I went through the library door.

“You look as young as you ever did,” Weylin complained sourly when he saw me.

“Yes, sir.” I’d agree with anything he said if it would get me away from him sooner.

“What happened to you there? Your face.”

I touched the scab. “That’s where you kicked me, Mr. Weylin.”

He had been sitting in a worn old arm chair, but now he surged out of it like a young man, his cane a blunt wooden sword before him. “What are you talking about! It’s been six years since I’ve seen you.”

“Yes, sir.” “Well!”

“For me, it’s only been a few hours.” I thought Rufus and Kevin had probably told him enough to enable him to understand, whether he believed or not. And perhaps he did understand. He seemed to get angrier.

“Who in hell ever said you were an educated nigger? You can’t even tell a decent lie. Six years for me is six years for you!”

“Yes, sir.” Why did he bother to ask me questions? Why did I bother to answer them?

He sat down again and leaned forward, one hand resting on his cane. His voice was softer, though, when he spoke. “That Franklin get back home all right?”

“Yes, sir.” What would happen if I asked him where he thought that home was? But no, he had done at least one decent thing for Kevin and me, no matter what he was. I met his eyes for a moment. “Thank you.”

“I didn’t do it for you.”

My temper flared suddenly. “I don’t give a damn why you did it! I’m just telling you, one human being to another, that I’m grateful. Why can’t you leave it at that!”

The old man’s face went pale. “You want a good whipping!” he said. “You must not have had one for a while.”

I said nothing. I realized then, though, that if he ever hit me again, I would break his scrawny neck. I would not endure it again.

Weylin leaned back in his chair. “Rufus always said you didn’t know your place any better than a wild animal,” he muttered. “I al¬ ways said you were just another crazy nigger.”

I stood watching him.

“Why’d you help my son again?” he asked.

I settled down a little, shrugged. “Nobody ought to die the way he would have—lying in a ditch, drowning in mud and whiskey and his own vomit.”

“Stop it!” Weylin shouted. “I’ll take the cowhide to you myself! I’ll . . .” He fell silent, gasped for breath. His face was still dead white. He’d make himself really sick if he didn’t regain some of his old control.

I dropped back into indifference. “Yes, sir.”

After a moment he had control of himself. In fact, he sounded perfectly calm again. “You and Rufus had some trouble when you saw him last.”

“Yes, sir.” Having Rufus try to shoot me had been troublesome. “I hoped you would go on helping him. You know there’s always a home for you here if you do.”

I smiled a little in spite of myself. “Bad nigger that I am, eh?” “Is that the way you think of yourself?”

I laughed bitterly. “No. I don’t kid myself much. Your son is still alive, isn’t he?”

“You’re bad enough. I don’t know any other white man who would put up with you.”

“If you can manage to put up with me a little more humanely, I’ll go on doing what I can for Mister Rufus.”

He frowned. “Now what are you talking about?”

“I’m saying the day I’m beaten just once more, your son is on his own.”

His eyes widened, perhaps in surprise. Then he began to tremble. I had never before seen a man literally trembling with anger. “You’re threatening him!” he stammered. “By God, you are crazy!”

“Crazy or sane, I mean what I say.” My back and side ached as though to warn me, but for the moment, I wasn’t afraid. He loved his son no matter how he behaved toward him, and he knew I could do as I threatened. “At the rate Mister Rufus has accidents,” I said, “he might live another six or seven years without me. I wouldn’t count on more than that.”

“You damned black bitch!” He shook his cane at me like an extended forefinger. “If you think you can get away with making threats . . . giving orders . . He ran out of breath and began gasping again. I watched without sympathy, wondering whether he was already sick. “Get out!” he gasped. “Go to Rufus. Take care of him. If anything happens to him, I’ll flay you alive!”

My aunt used to say things like that to me when I was little and did something to annoy her—“Girl, I’m going to skin you alive!” And she’d get my uncle’s belt and use it on me. But it had never oc¬ curred to me that anyone could make such a threat and mean it liter¬ ally as Weylin meant it now. I turned and left him before he could see that my courage had vanished. He could get help from his neighbors, from the patrollers, probably even from whatever police officials the area had. He could do anything he wanted to to me, and I had no en¬ forceable rights. None at all.


Rufus was sick again. When I reached his room I found him lying in bed shaking violently while Nigel tried to keep him wrapped in blankets.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.

“Nothing,” said Nigel. “Got the ague again, I guess.” “Ague?”

“Yeah, he’s had it before. He’ll be all right.”

He didn’t look all right to me. “Has anyone gone for the doctor?” “Marse Tom don’t hardly get Doc West for ague. He says all the doc knows is bleeding and blistering and purging and puking and mak¬

ing folks sicker than they was to start.”

I swallowed, remembered the pompous little man I had disliked so. “Is the doctor really that bad, Nigel?”

“He gave me some stuff once, nearly killed me. From then on, I just let Sarah doctor me when I’m sick. ’Least she don’t dose niggers like they was horses or mules.”

I shook my head and went close to Rufus’s bed. He looked miser¬ able, seemed to be in pain. I tried to think what the ague might be; the word was familiar, but I couldn’t remember what I’d heard or read about it.

Rufus looked up at me, red-eyed, and tried to smile, though the grimace he managed was far from pleasant. To my surprise, his at¬ tempt touched me. I hadn’t expected to still care about him except for my own and my family’s sake. I didn’t want to care.

“Idiot,” I muttered down at him. He mapaged to look hurt.

I looked at Nigel, wondered whether the disease could be as unim¬ portant as he thought. Would he think it was important if he had been the one on his back shaking?

Nigel was busy plucking his wet shirt away from his skin. No one had given him a chance to change his clothes, I realized.

“Nigel, I’ll stay here if you want to go dry off,” I said.

He looked up, smiled at me. “You go away for six years,” he said, “then come back and fit right in. It’s like you never left.”

“Every time I go I keep hoping I’ll never come back.” He nodded. “But at least you get some time of freedom.”

I looked away, feeling strangely guilty that, yes, I did get some time of freedom. Not enough, but probably more than Nigel would ever know. I didn’t like feeling guilty about it. Then something bit me on my ear and I forgot my guilt. As I slapped at my ear, I remembered, finally, what the ague was.


I wondered dully whether the mosquito that had just bitten me was carrying the disease. In my reading I’d come across a lot of in¬ formation on malaria and none of it led me to believe the disease was as harmless as Nigel seemed to think. It might not kill, but it weak¬ ened and it recurred and it could lower one’s resistance to other dis¬ eases. Also, with Rufus lying exposed as he was to new mosquito attacks, the disease could be spread over the plantation and beyond.

“Nigel, is there anything we can hang up to keep the mosquitoes off him?”

“Mosquitoes! He wouldn’t feel it if twenty mosquitoes bit him now.”

“No, but the rest of us would be feeling it eventually.” “What do you mean?”

“Does anyone else have it now?”

“Don’t think so. Some of the children are sick, but I think they have something wrong with their faces—one side all swollen up.”

Mumps? Never mind. “Well, let’s see if we can keep this from spreading. Is there any kind of mosquito netting—or whatever people use here?”

“Sure, for white folks. But. . .”

“Would you get some? With the help of the canopy, we should be able to enclose him completely.”

“Dana, listen!” I looked at him.

“What do mosquitoes have to do with the ague?”

I blinked, stared at him in surprise. He didn’t know. Of course he didn’t. Doctors of the day didn’t know. Which probably meant that Nigel wouldn’t believe me when I told him. After all, how could a thing as tiny as a mosquito make anybody sick? “Nigel, you know where I’m from, don’t you?”

He gave me something that wasn’t quite a smile. “Not New York.” “No.”

“I know where Marse Rufe said you was from.”

“It shouldn’t be that hard for you to believe him. You’ve seen me go home at least once.”



He shrugged. “I can’t say. If I hadn’t seen … the way you go home, I’d just figure you were one crazy nigger. But I haven’t ever seen anybody do what you did. I don’t want to believe you, but I guess I do.”

“Good.” I took a deep breath. “Where I’m from, people have learned that mosquitoes carry ague. They bite someone who’s sick with it, then later they bite healthy people and give them the dis¬ ease.”


“They suck blood from the sick and . . . pass on some of that blood when they bite a healthy person. Like a mad dog that bites a man and drives the man mad.” No talk about micro-organisms. Nigel not only wouldn’t believe me, he might decide I really was crazy.

“Doc says it’s something in the air that spreads ague—something off bad water and garbage. A miasma, he called it.”

“He’s wrong. He’s wrong about the bleeding and purging and the rest, he was wrong when he dosed you, and he’s wrong now. It’s a wonder any of his patients survive.”

“I heard he was good and quick when it comes to cutting off legs or arms.”

I had to look at Nigel to see whether he was making a grisly joke. He wasn’t. “Get the mosquito net,” I said wearily. “Let’s do what we can to keep that butcher away from here.”

He nodded and went away. I wondered whether or not he believed me, but it didn’t really matter. It wouldn’t cost anyone anything to take this small precaution.

I looked down at Rufus to see that he had stopped trembling and closed his eyes. His breathing was regular and I thought he was asleep.

“Why do you keep trying to kill yourself?” I said softly.

I hadn’t expected an answer so I was surprised when he spoke quietly. “Most of the time, living just isn’t worth the trouble.”

I sat down next to his bed. “It never occurred to me that you might really want to die.”

“I don’t.” He opened his eyes, looked at me, then shut them again and covered them with his hands. “But if your eyes and your head and your leg hurt the way mine do, dying might start to look good.”

“Your eyes hurt?” “When I look around.”

“Did they hurt before when you had ague?”

“No. This isn’t ague. Ague is bad enough. My leg feels like it’s coming off, and my head . . . !”

He scared me. His pain seemed to increase and he twisted his body as though to move away from it, then untwisted quickly and lay panting.

“Rufe, I’m going to get your father. If he sees how sick you are, he’ll send for the doctor.”

He seemed to be too involved with his own pain to answer. I didn’t want to leave him until Nigel came back, though I had no idea what I could do for him. My problem was solved when Weylin came in with Nigel.

“What is all this about mosquitoes giving people ague?” he de¬ manded.

“We may be able to forget about that,” I said. “This doesn’t look like malaria. Ague. He’s in a lot of pain. I think someone should go for the doctor.”

“You’re doctor enough for him.”

“But …” I stopped, took a deep breath, made myself calm down. Rufus was groaning behind me. “Mr. Weylin, I’m no doctor. I don’t have any idea what’s wrong with him. Whatever professional help is available, you should get it for him.”

“Should I now?”

“His life may be at stake.”

Weylin’s mouth was set in a straight hard line. “If he dies, you die, and you won’t die easy.”

“You already said that. But no matter what you do to me, your son will still be dead. Is that what you want?”

“You do your job,” he said stubbornly, “and he’ll live. You’re something different. I don’t know what—witch, devil, I don’t care. Whatever you are, you just about brought a girl back to life when you came here last, and she wasn’t even the one you came to help. You come out of nowhere and go back into nowhere. Years ago, I would have sworn there couldn’t even be anybody like you. You’re not natural! But you can feel pain—and you can die. Remember that and do your job. Take care of your master.”

“But, I tell you . . .”

He walked out of the room and shut the door behind him.


We got the mosquito netting and used it, just in case. Nigel said Weylin didn’t really mind letting us have it. He just didn’t want to hear any more damned nonsense about mosquitoes. He didn’t like to be taken for a fool.

“He’s as close to being scared of you as he’s ever been of any¬ thing,” said Nigel. “I think he’d rather try to kill you than admit it though.”

“I don’t see any sign of fear in him.”

“You don’t know him the way I do.” Nigel paused. “Could he kill you, Dana?”

“I don’t know. It’s possible.”

“We better get Marse Rufe well then. Sarah has a kind of tea she makes that kind of helps the ague. Maybe it will help whatever Marse Rufe has now.”

“Would you ask her to brew up a pot?” He nodded and went out.

Sarah came upstairs with Nigel to bring Rufus the tea and to see me. She looked old now. Her hair was streaked with gray and her face lined. She walked with a limp.

“Dropped a kettle on my foot,” she said. “Couldn’t walk at all for a while.” She gave me the feeling that everyone was getting older, passing me by. She brought me roast beef and bread to eat.

Rufus had a fever now. He didn’t want the tea, but I coaxed and bullied until he swallowed it. Then we all waited, but all that hap¬ pened was that Rufus’s other leg began to hurt. His eyes bothered him most because moving them hurt him, and he couldn’t help following my movements or Nigel’s around the room. Finally, I put a cool damp cloth over them. That seemed to help. He still had a lot of pain in his joints—his arms, his legs, everywhere. I thought I could ease that, so I took his candle and went up to the attic for my bag. I was just in time to catch a little girl trying to get the top off my Excedrin bottle. It scared me. She could just as easily have chosen the sleeping pills. The attic wasn’t as safe a place as I had thought.

“No, honey, give those to me.” “They yours?”


“They candy?”

Good Lord. “No, they’re medicine. Nasty medicine.”

“Ugh!” she said, and handed them back to me. She went back to her pallet next to another child. They were new children. I wondered whether the two little boys who had preceded them had been sold or sent to the fields.

I took the Excedrin, what was left of the aspirin, and the sleeping pills back down with me. I would have to keep them somewhere in Rufus’s room or eventually one of the kids would figure out how to get the safety caps off.

Rufus had thrown off the damp cloth and was knotted on his side in pain when I got back to him. Nigel had lain down on the floor be¬ fore the fireplace and gone to sleep. He could have gone back to his cabin, but he had asked me if I wanted him to stay since this was my first night back, and I’d said yes.

I dissolved three aspirins in water and tried to get Rufus to drink it. He wouldn’t even open his mouth. So I woke Nigel, and Nigel held him down while I held his nose and poured the bad-tasting solu¬ tion into his mouth as he gasped for air. He cursed us both, but after a while he began to feel a little better. Temporarily.

It was a bad night. I didn’t get much sleep. Nor was I to get much for six days and nights following. Whatever Rufus had, it was terri¬ ble. He was in constant pain, he had fever—once I had to call Nigel to hold him while I tied him down to keep him from hurting himself. I gave him aspirins—too many, but not as many as he wanted. I made him take broth and soup and fruit and vegetable juices. He didn’t want them. He never wanted to eat, but he didn’t want Nigel holding him down either. He ate.

Alice came in now and then to relieve me. Like Sarah, she looked older. She also looked harder. She was a cool, bitter older sister to the girl I had known.

“Folks treat her bad because of Marse Rufe,” Nigel told me. “They figure if she’s been with him this long, she must like it.”

And Alice said contemptuously, “Who cares what a bunch of niggers think!”

“She lost two babies,” Nigel told me. “And the one she’s got left is sickly.”

“White babies,” Alice said. “Look more like him than me. Joe is even red-headed.” Joe was the single survivor. I almost cried when I heard that. No Hagar yet. I was so tired of this going back and forth; I wanted so much for it to be over. I couldn’t even feel sorry for the friend who had fought for me and taken care of me when I was hurt. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.

On the third day of his illness, Rufus’s fever left him. He was weak and several pounds lighter, but so relieved to be rid of the fever and the pain that nothing else mattered. He thought he was getting well. He wasn’t.

The fever and the pain returned for three more days and he got a rash that itched and eventually peeled . . .

At last, he got well and stayed well. I prayed that whatever his dis¬ ease had been, I wouldn’t get it, wouldn’t ever have to care for any¬ one else who had it. A few days after the worst of his symptoms had disappeared, I was allowed to sleep in the attic. I collapsed gratefully onto the pallet Sarah had made me there, and it felt like the world’s softest bed. I didn’t awaken until late the next morning after long hours of deep, unbroken sleep. I was still a little groggy when Alice came running up the steps and into the attic to get me.

“Marse Tom is sick,” she said. “Marse Rufe wants you to come.” “Oh no,” I muttered. “Tell him to send for the doctor.”

“Already sent for. But Marse Tom is having bad pains in his chest.”

The significance of that filtered through to me slowly. “Pains in his chest?”

“Yeah. Come on. They in the parlor.”

“God, that sounds like a heart attack. There’s nothing I can do.” “Just come. They want you.”

I pulled on a pair of pants and threw on a shirt as I ran. What did these people want from me? Magic? If Weylin was having a heart at¬ tack, he was going to either recover or die without my help.

I ran down the stairs and into the parlor where Weylin lay on a sofa, ominously still and silent.

“Do something!” Rufus pleaded. “Help him!” His voice sounded as thin and weak as he looked. His sickness had left its marks on him. I wondered how he had gotten downstairs.

Weylin wasn’t breathing, and I couldn’t find a pulse. For a mo¬ ment, I stared at him, undecided, repelled, not wanting to touch him again, let alone breathe into him. Then quelling disgust, I began mouth to mouth resuscitation and external heart massage—what did they call it? Cardiopulmonary resuscitation. I knew the name, and I’d seen someone doing it on television. Beyond that, I was completely ignorant. I didn’t even know why I was trying to save Weylin. He wasn’t worth it. And I didn’t know if CPR could do any good in an era when there was no ambulance to call, no one to take over for me even if I somehow got Weylin’s heart going—which I didn’t expect to do.

Which I didn’t do.

Finally, I gave up. I looked around to see Rufus on the floor near me. I didn’t know whether he had sat down or fallen, but I was glad he was sitting now.

“I’m sorry, Rufe. He’s dead.” “You let him die?”

“He was dead when I got here. I tried to bring him back the way I brought you back when you were drowning. I failed.”

“You let him die.”

He sounded like a child about to cry. His illness had weakened him so, I thought he might cry. Even healthy people cried and said irrational things when their parents died.

“I did what I could, Rufe. I’m sorry.”

“Damn you to hell, you let him die!” He tried to lunge at me, sueceeded only in falling over. I moved to help him up, but stopped when he tried to push me away.

“Send Nigel to me,” he whispered. “Get Nigel.”

I got up and went to find Nigel. Behind me, I heard Rufus say once more, “You just let him die.”


Things were happening too fast for me. I was almost glad to find myself put back to work with Sarah and Carrie, ignored by Rufus. I needed time to catch up with myself—and catch up with life on the plantation. Carrie and Nigel had three sons now, and Nigel had never mentioned it to me because the youngest was two years old. He had forgotten that I didn’t know. I was with him once, as he watched them playing. “It’s good to have children,” he said softly. “Good to have sons. But it’s so hard to see them be slaves.”

I met Alice’s thin pale little boy and saw with relief that in spite of the way she talked, she obviously loved the child.

“I keep thinking I might wake up and find him cold like the others,” she said one day in the cookhouse.

“What did they die of?” I asked.

“Fevers. The doctor came and bled them and purged them, but they still died.”

“He bled and purged babies?”

“They were two and three. He said it would break the fever. And it did. But they . . . they died anyway.”

“Alice, if I were you, I wouldn’t ever let that man near Joe.”

She looked at her son sitting on the floor of the cookhouse eating mush and milk. He was five years old and he looked almost white in spite of Alice’s dark skin. “I never wanted no doctor near the other two,” said Alice. “Marse Rufe sent for him—sent for him and made me let him kill my babies.”

Rufus’s intentions had been good. Even the doctor’s intentions had probably been good. But all Alice knew was that her children were dead and she blamed Rufus. Rufus himself was to teach me about that attitude.

On the day after Weylin was buried, Rufus decided to punish me for letting the old man die. I didn’t know whether he honestly believed I had done such a thing. Maybe he just needed to hurt someone. He did lash out at others when he was hurt; I had already seen that.

So on the morning after the funeral, he sent the current overseer, a burly man named Evan Fowler, to get me from the cookhouse. Jake Edwards had either quit or been fired sometime during my six-year absence. Fowler came to tell me I was to work in the fields.

I didn’t believe it, even when the man pushed me out of the cookhouse. I thought he was just another Jake Edwards throwing his weight around. But outside, Rufus stood waiting, watching. I looked at him, then back at Fowler.

“This the one?” Fowler asked Rufus.

“That’s her,” said Rufus. And he turned and went back into the main house.

Stunned, I took the sicklelike com knife Fowler thrust into my hands and let myself be herded out toward the cornfield. Herded. Fowler got his horse and rode a little behind me as I walked. It was a long walk. The cornfield wasn’t where I’d left it. Apparently, even in this time, planters practiced some form of crop rotation. Not that that mattered to me. What in the world could I do in a cornfield?

I glanced back at Fowler. “I’ve never done field work before,” I told him. “I don’t know how.”

“You’ll learn,” he said. He used the handle of his whip to scratch his shoulder.

I began to realize that I should have resisted, should have refused to let Fowler bring me out here where only other slaves could see what happened to me. Now it was too late. It was going to be a grim day.

Slaves were walking down rows of com, chopping the stalks down with golf-swing strokes of their knives. Two slaves worked a row, moving toward each other. Then they gathered the stalks they had cut and stood them in bunches at opposite ends of the row. It looked easy, but I suspected that a day of it could be backbreaking.

Fowler dismounted and pointed toward a row.

“You chop like the others,” he said. “Just do what they do. Now get to work.” He shoved me toward the row. There was already someone at the other end of it working toward me. Someone quick and strong, I hoped, because I doubted that I would be quick or strong for a while. I hoped that the washing and the scrubbing at the house and the factory and warehouse work back in my own time had made me strong enough just to survive.

I raised the knife and chopped at the first stalk. It bent over, par¬ tially cut.

At almost the same moment, Fowler lashed me hard across the back.

I screamed, stumbled, and spun around to face him, still holding my knife. Unimpressed, he hit me across the breasts.

I fell to my knees and doubled over in a blaze of pain. Tears ran down my face. Even Tom Weylin hadn’t hit slave women that way— any more than he’d kicked slave men in the groin. Fowler was an an¬ imal. I glared up at him in pain and hatred.

“Get up!” he said.

I couldn’t. I didn’t think anything could make me get up just then —until I saw Fowler raising his whip again.

Somehow, I got up.

“Now do what the others do,” he said. “Chop close to the ground. Chop hard!”

I gripped the knife, felt myself much more eager to chop him.

“All right,” he said. “Try it and get it over with. I thought you was supposed to be smart.”

He was a big man. He hadn’t impressed me as being very quick, but he was strong. I was afraid that even if I managed to hurt him, I wouldn’t hurt him enough to keep him from killing me. Maybe I should make him try to kill me. Maybe it would get me out of this Godawful place where people punished you for helping them. Maybe it would get me home. But in how many pieces? Fowler would take the knife away from me and give it back edge first.

I turned and slashed furiously at the corn stalk, then at the next. Behind me, Fowler laughed.

“Maybe you got some sense after all,” he said.

He watched me for a while, urging me on, literally cracking the whip. By the time he left, I was sweating, shaking, humiliated. I met the woman who had been working toward me and she whispered, “Slow down! Take a lick or two if you have to. You kill yourself today, he’ll push you to kill yourself every day.”

There was sense in that. Hell, if I went on the way I had been, I wouldn’t even last through today. My shoulders were already begin¬ ning to ache.

Fowler came back as I was gathering the cut stalks. “What the devil do you think you’re doing!” he demanded. “You ought to be halfway down the next row by now.” He hit me across the back as I bent down. “Move! You’re not in the cookhouse getting fat and lazy now. Move!”

He did that all day. Coming up suddenly, shouting at me, ordering me to go faster no matter how fast I went, cursing me, threatening me. He didn’t hit me that often, but he kept me on edge because I never knew when a blow would fall. It got so just the sound of his coming terrified me. I caught myself cringing, jumping at the sound of his voice.

The woman in my row explained, “He’s always hard on a new nigger. Make ’em go fast so he can see how fast they can work. Then later on if they slow down, he whip ’em for gettin’ lazy.”

I made myself slow down. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t think my shoul¬ ders could have hurt much worse if they’d been broken. Sweat ran down into my eyes and my hands were beginning to blister. My back hurt from the blows I’d taken as well as from sore muscles. After a while, it was more painful for me to push myself than it was for me to let Fowler hit me. After a while, I was so tired, I didn’t care either way. Pain was pain. After a while, I just wanted to lie down between the rows and not get up again.

I stumbled and fell, got up and fell again. Finally, I lay face-down in the dirt, unable to get up. Then came a welcome blackness. I could have been going home or dying or passing out; it made no difference to me. I was going away from the pain. That was all.


I was on my back when I came to and there was a white face float¬ ing just above me. For a wild moment, I thought it was Kevin, thought I was home. I said his name eagerly.

“It’s me, Dana.”

Rufus’s voice. I was still in hell. I closed my eyes, not caring what would happen next.

“Dana, get up. You’ll be hurt more if I carry you than if you walk.”

The words echoed strangely in my head. Kevin had said something like that to me once. I opened my eyes again to be sure it was Rufus. It was. I was still in the cornfield, still lying in the dirt.

“I came to get you,” said Rufus. “Not soon enough, I guess.”

I struggled to my feet. He offered a hand to help me, but I ignored it. I brushed myself off a little and followed him down the row to¬ ward his horse. From there, we rode together back to the house with¬ out a word passing between us. At the house, I went straight to the well, got a bucket of water, carried it up the stairs somehow, then washed, spread antiseptic on my new cuts, and put on clean clothes. I had a headache that eventually drove me down to Rufus’s room for some Excedrin. Rufus had used all the aspirins.

Unfortunately, he was in his room.

“Well, you’re no good in the fields,” he said when he saw me. “That’s clear.”

I stopped, turned, and stared at him. Just stared. He had been sit¬ ting on his bed, leaning back against the headboard, but now he straightened, faced me.

“Don’t do anything stupid, Dana.”

“Right,” I said softly. “I’ve done enough stupid things. How many times have I saved your life so far?” My aching head sent me to his desk where I had left the Excedrin. I shook three of them into my hand. I had never taken so many before. I had never needed so many before. My hands were trembling.

“Fowler would have given you a good whipping if I hadn’t stopped him,” said Rufus. “That’s not the first beating I’ve saved you from.”

I had my Excedrin. I turned to leave the room. “Dana!”

I stopped, looked at him. He was thin and weak and hollow-eyed; his illness had left its marks on him. He probably couldn’t have carried me to his horse if he’d tried. And he couldn’t stop me from leaving now—I thought.

“You walk away from me, Dana, you’ll be back in the fields in an hour!”

The threat stunned me. He meant it. He’d send me back out. I stood straring at him, not with anger now, but with surprise—and fear. He could do it. Maybe later, I would have a chance to make him pay, but for now, he could do as he pleased. He sounded more like his father than himself. In that moment, he even looked like his father.

“Don’t you ever walk away from me again!” he said. Strangely, he began to sound a little afraid. He repeated the words, spacing them, emphasizing each one. “Don’t you ever walk away from me again!”

I stood where I was, my head throbbing, my expression as neutral as I could make it. I still had some pride left.

“Get back in here!” he said.

I stood there for a moment longer, then went back to his desk and sat down. And he wilted. The look I associated with his father vanished. He was himself again—whoever that was.

“Dana, don’t make me talk to you like that,” he said wearily. “Just do what I tell you.”

I shook my head, unable to think of anything safe to say. And I guess I wilted. To my shame, I realized I was almost crying. I needed desperately to be alone. Somehow, I kept back the tears.

If he noticed, he didn’t say anything. I remembered I still had the Excedrin tablets in my hand, and I took them, swallowed them with¬ out water, hoping they’d work quickly, steady me a little. Then I looked at Rufus, saw that he’d lain back again. Was I supposed to stay and watch him sleep?

“I don’t see how you can swallow those things like that,” he said, rubbing his throat. There was a long silence, then another command. “Say something! Talk to me!”

“Or what?” I asked. “Are you going to have me beaten for not talking to you?”

He muttered something I didn’t quite hear. “What?”

Silence. Then a rush of bitterness from me.

“I saved your life, Rufus! Over and over again.” I stopped for a moment, caught my breath. “And I tried to save your father’s life. You know I did. You know I didn’t kill him or let him die.”

He moved uncomfortably, wincing a little. “Give me some of your medicine,” he said.

Somehow, I didn’t throw the bottle at him. I got up and handed it to him.

“Open it,” he said. “I don’t want to be bothered with that damn top.”

I opened it, shook one tablet into his hand, and snapped the top back on.

He looked at the tablet. “Only one?”

“These are stronger than the others,” I said. And also, I wanted to hang on to them for as long as I could. Who knew how many more times he would make me need them. The ones I had taken were be¬ ginning to help me already.

“You took three,” he said petulantly.

“I needed three. No one has been beating you.”

He looked away from me, put the one into his mouth. He still had to chew tablets before he could swallow them. “This tastes worse than the others,” he complained.

I ignored him, put the bottle away in the desk. “Dana?”


“I know you tried to help Daddy. I know.”

“Then why did you send me to the field? Why did I have to go through all that, Rufe?”

He shrugged, winced, rubbed his shoulders. He still had plenty of sore muscles, apparently. “I guess I just had to make somebody pay. And it seemed that . . . well, people don’t die when you’re taking care of them.”

“I’m not a miracle worker.”

“No. Daddy thought you were, though. He didn’t like you, but he thought you could heal better than a doctor.”

“Well I can’t. Sometimes I’m less likely to kill than the doctor, that’s all.”


“I don’t bleed or purge away people’s strength when they need it most. And I know enough to try to keep a wound clean.”

“Is that all?”

“That’s enough to save a few lives around here, but no, it’s not all. I know a little about some diseases. Only a little.”

“What do you know about . . . about a woman who’s been hurt in childbearing?”

“Been hurt how?” I wondered whether he meant Alice.

“I don’t know. The doctor said she wasn’t to have any more and she did. The babies died and she almost died. She hasn’t been well since.”

Now I knew who he was talking about. “Your mother?” “Yes. She’s coming home. I want you to take care of her.”

“My God! Rufe, I don’t know anything about problems like that! Believe me, nothing at all.” What if the woman died in my care. He’d have me beaten to death!

“She wants to come home, now that . . . She wants to come home.”

“I can’t care for her. I don’t know how.” I hesitated. “Your mother doesn’t like me anyway, Rufe. You know that as well as I do.” She hated me. She’d make my life hell out of pure spite.

“There’s no one else I’d trust,” he said. “Carrie’s got her own family now. I’d have to take her out of her cabin away from Nigel and the boys . . .”


“Mama has to have someone with her through the night. What if she needed something?”

“You mean I’d have to sleep in her room?”

“Yes. She’d never have a servant sleep in her room before. Now, though, she’s gotten used to it.”

“She won’t get used to me. I’m telling you, she won’t have me.” Please heaven!

“I think she will. She’s older now, not so full of fire. You give her her laudanum when she needs it and she won’t give you much trouble.”


“Her medicine. She doesn’t need it so much for pain anymore, Aunt May says. But she still needs it.”

Since laudanum was an opium extract, I didn’t doubt that she still needed it. I was going to have a drug addict on my hands. A drug ad¬ dict who hated me. “Rufe, couldn’t Alice . . .”

“No!” A very sharp no. It occurred to me that Margaret Weylin had more reason to hate Alice than she did to hate me.

“Alice will be having another baby in a few months anyway,” said Rufus.

“She will? Then maybe …” I shut my mouth, but the thought went on. Maybe this one would be Hagar. Maybe for once, I had something to gain by staying here. If only . . .

“Maybe what?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t matter. Rufe, I’m asking you not to put your mother in my care, for her sake and for mine.”

He rubbed his forehead. “I’ll think about it, Dana, and talk to her. Maybe she remembers someone she’d like. Let me sleep now. I’m still so damn weak.”

I started out of the room. “Dana.”

“Yes?” What now?

“Go read a book or something. Don’t do any more work today.” “Read a book?”

“Do whatever you want to.”

In other words, he wag sorry. He was always sorry. He would have been amazed, uncomprehending if I refused to forgive him. I remem¬ bered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn’t get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him.

Margaret Weylin wanted me. She was thin and pale and weak and older than her years. Her beauty had gone to a kind of fragile gauntness. As I was reintroduced to her, she sipped at her little bottle of dark brownish-red liquid and smiled beneficently.

Nigel carried her up to her room. She could walk a little, but she couldn’t manage the stairs. Sometime later, she wanted to see Nigel’s children. She was sugary sweet with them. I couldn’t remember her being that way with anyone but Rufus before. Slave children hadn’t interested her unless her husband had fathered them. Then her inter¬ est had been negative. But she gave Nigel’s sons candy and they loved her.

She asked to see another slave—one I didn’t know—and then wept a little when she heard that one had been sold. She was full of sweetness and charity. It scared me a little. I couldn’t quite believe she’d changed that much.

“Dana, can you still read the way you used to?” she asked me. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I wanted you because I remembered how well you read.”

I kept my expression neutral. If she didn’t remember what she had thought of my reading, I did.

“Read the Bible to me,” she said.

“Now?” She had just had her breakfast. I hadn’t had anything yet, and I was hungry.

“Now, yes. Read the Sermon on the Mount.”

That was the beginning of my first full day with her. When she was tired of hearing me read, she thought of other things for me to do. Her laundry, for instance. She wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. I wondered whether she had already found out that Alice generally did the laundry. And ther^ was cleaning. She didn’t believe her room had been swept and dusted until she saw me do it. She didn’t believe Sarah understood how she wanted dinner prepared until I went down, got Sarah, and brought her back with me to receive instruc¬ tions. She had to talk to Carrie and Nigel about the cleaning. She had to inspect the boy and girl who served at the table. In short, she had to prove that she was running her own house again. It had gone along without her for years, but she was back now.

She decided to teach me to sew. I had an old Singer at home and I could sew well enough with it to take care of my needs and Kevin’s. But I thought sewing by hand, especially sewing for “pleasure” was slow torture. Margaret Weylin never asked me whether I wanted to learn though. She had time to fill, and it was my job to help her fill it. So I spent long tedious hours trying to imitate her tiny, straight, even stitches, and she spent minutes ripping out my work and lectur¬ ing me none too gently on how bad it was.

As the days passed, I learned to take longer than necessary when she sent me on errands. I learned to tell lies to get away from her when I thought I was about to explode. I learned to listen silently while she talked and talked and talked . . . mostly about how much better things were in Baltimore than here. I never learned to like sleeping on the floor of her room, but she wouldn’t permit the trun¬ dle bed to be brought in. She honestly didn’t see that it was any hardship for me to sleep on the floor. Niggers always slept on the floor.

Troublesome as she was, though, Margaret Weylin had mellowed. She didn’t have the old bursts of temper any more. Maybe it was the laudanum.

“You’re a good girl,” she said to me once as I sat near her bed stitching at a slip cover. “Much better than you used to be. Someone must have taught you to behave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I didn’t even look up.

“Good. You were impudent before. There’s nothing worse than an impudent nigger.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She depressed me, bored me, angered me, drove me crazy. But my back healed completely while I was with her. The work wasn’t hard and she never complained about anything but my sewing. She never threatened me or tried to have me whipped. Rufus said she was pleased with me. That seemed to surprise even him. So I endured her quietly. By now, I knew enough to realize when I was well off. Or I thought I did.

“You ought to see yourself,” Alice told me one day as I was hid¬ ing out in her cabin—the cabin Rufus had had Nigel build her just be¬ fore the birth of her first child.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Marse Rufe really put the fear of God in you, didn’t he?” “Fear of. . . What are you talking about?”

“You run around fetching and carrying for that woman like you love her. And half a day in the fields was all it took.”

“Hell, Alice, leave me alone. I’ve been listening to nonsense all morning. I don’t need yours.”

“You don’t want to hear me, get out of here. The way you always suckin’ up to that woman is enough to make anybody sick.”

I got up and went to the cookhouse. There were times when it was stupid to expect reason from Alice, times when it did no good to point out the obvious.

There were two field hands in the cookhouse. One young man who had a broken leg splinted and obviously healing crooked, and one old man who didn’t do much work any more. I could hear them be¬ fore I went in.

“I know Marse Rufe’ll get rid of me if he can,” said the young man. “I ain’t no good to him. His daddy would have got rid of me.” “Won’t nobody buy me,” said the old man. “I was burnt out long

time ago. It’s you young ones got to worry.”

I went into the cookhouse and the young man who had his mouth open to speak closed it quickly, looking at me with open hostility. The old man simply turned his back. I’d seen slaves do that to Alice. I hadn’t noticed them doing it to me before. Suddenly, the cookhouse was no more comfortable than Alice’s cabin had been. It might have been different if Sarah or Carrie had been there, but they weren’t. I left the cookhouse and went back toward the main house, feeling lonely.

Once I was inside, though, I wondered why I had crept away like that. Why hadn’t I fought back? Alice accusing me was ridiculous, and she knew it. But the field hands . . . They just didn’t know me, didn’t know how loyal I might be to Rufus or Margaret, didn’t know what I might report.

And if I told them, how likely would they be to believe me? But still. . .

I went down the hall and toward the stairs slowly, wondering why I hadn’t tried to defend myself—at least tried. Was I getting so used to being submissive?

Upstairs, I could hear Margaret Weylin thumping on the floor with her cane. She didn’t use the cane much for walking because she hardly ever walked. She used it to call me.

I turned and went back out of the house, out toward the woods. I had to think. I wasn’t getting enough time to myself. Once—God knows how long ago—I had worried that I was keeping too much dis¬ tance between myself and this alien time. Now, there was no distance at all. When had I stopped acting? Why had I stopped?

There were people coming toward me through the woods. Several people. They were on the road, and I was several feet off it. I crouched in the trees to wait for them to pass. I was in no mood to answer some white man’s stupid inevitable questions: “What are you doing here? Who’s your master?”

I could have answered without trouble. I was nowhere near the edge of Weylin land. But just for a while, I wanted to be my own master. Before I forgot what it felt like.

A white man went by on horseback leading two dozen black men chained two by two. Chained. They wore handcuffs and iron collars with chains connecting the collars to a central chain that ran between the two lines. Behind the men walked several women roped together neck to neck. A cofile—slaves for sale.

At the end of the procession rode a second white man with a gun in his belt. They were all headed for the Weylin house.

I realized suddenly that the slaves in the cookhouse had not been speculating idly about the possibility of being sold. They had known that there was a sale coming. Field hands who never set foot in the main house, and they had known. I hadn’t heard a thing.

Lately, Rufus spent his time either straightening out his father’s affairs, or sleeping. The weakness left over from his illness was still with him, and he had no time for me. He barely had time for his mother. But he had time to sell slaves. He had time to make himself that much more like his father.

I let the cofile reach the house far ahead of me. By the time I got there, three slaves were already being added to the line. Two men, one grim-faced, one openly weeping; and one woman who moved as though she were sleepwalking. As I got closer, the woman began to look familiar to me. I stopped, almost not wanting to know who it was. A tall, strongly built, handsome woman.


I’d seen her only two or three times this trip. She was still working in the fields, still serving the overseer at night. She’d had no children, and that may have been why she was being sold. Or maybe this was something Margaret Weylin had arranged. She might be that vindictive if she knew of her husband’s temporary interest in Tess.

I started toward Tess and the white man who had just tied a rope around her neck, fastening her into the line, saw me. He turned to face me, gun drawn.

I stopped, alarmed, confused … I had made no threatening move. “I just wanted to say good-bye to my friend,” I told him. I was whispering for some reason.

“Say it from there. She can hear you.” “Tess?”

She stood, head down, shoulders rounded, a little red bundle hanging from one hand. She should have heard me, but I didn’t think she had.

“Tess, it’s Dana.” She never looked up.

“Dana!” Rufus’s voice from near the steps where he was talking with the other white man. “You get away from here. Go inside.”

“Tess?” I called once more, willing her to answer. She knew my voice, surely. Why wouldn’t she look up? Why wouldn’t she speak? Why wouldn’t she even move? It was as though I didn’t exist for her, as though I wasn’t real.

I stepped toward her. I think I would have gone to her, taken the rope from her neck or gotten shot trying. But at that moment, Rufus reached me. He grabbed me, hustled me into the house, into the li¬ brary.

“Stay here!” he ordered. “Just stay . . .” He stopped, suddenly stumbled against me, clutching at me now, not to hold me where I was, but to keep himself upright. “Damn!”

“How could you do it!” I hissed as he straightened. “Tess . . .

those others . . .” “They’re my property!”

I stared at him in disbelief. “Oh my God . . . !”

He passed a hand over his face, turned away. “Look, this sale is something my father arranged before he died. You can’t do anything about it, so just stay out of the way!”

“Or what? You going to sell me too? You might as well!”

He went back outside without answering. After a while, I sat down in Tom Weylin’s worn arm chair and put my head down on his desk.


Carrie covered for me with Margaret Weylin. She wanted me to know that when she caught me heading back upstairs. Actually, I don’t know why I was heading upstairs, except that I didn’t want to see Rufus again for a while, and there was nowhere else to go.

Carrie stopped me on the stairs, looked at me critically, then took my arm and led me back down and out to her cabin. I didn’t know or care what she had in mind, but I did understand when she told me through gestures that she had told Margaret Weylin I was sick. Then she circled her neck with the thumbs and forefingers of both hands and looked at me.

“I saw,” I said. “Tess and two others.” I drew a ragged breath. “I thought that was over on this plantation. I thought it died with Tom Weylin.”

Carrie shrugged.

“I wish I had left Rufus lying in the mud,” I said. “To think I saved him so he could do something like this . . . !”

Carrie caught my wrist and shook her head vigorously.

“What do you mean, no? He’s no good. He’s all grown up now, and part of the system. He could feel for us a little when his father was running things—when he wasn’t entirely free himself. But now, he’s in charge. And I guess he had to do something right away, to prove it.”

Carrie clasped her hands around her neck again. Then she drew closer to me and clasped them around my neck. Finally, she went over to the crib that her youngest child had recently outgrown and there, symbolically, clasped her hands again, leaving enough of an open circle for a small neck.

She straightened and looked at me. “Everybody?” I asked.

She nodded, gestured widely with her arms as though gathering a group around her. Then, once again, her hands around her neck.

I nodded. She was almost surely right. Margaret Weylin could not run the plantation. Both the land and the people would be sold. And if Tom Weylin was any example, the people would be sold without regard for family ties.

Carrie stood looking down at the crib as though she had read my thought.

“I was beginning to feel like a traitor,” I said. “Guilty for saving him. Now … I don’t know what to feel. Somehow, I always seem to forgive him for what he does to me. I can’t hate him the way I should until I see him doing things to other people.” I shook my head. “I guess I can see why there are those here who think I’m more white than black.”

Carrie made quick waving-aside gestures, her expression annoyed. She came over to me and wiped one side of my face with her fingers —wiped hard. I drew back, and she held her fingers in front of me, showed me both sides. But for once, I didn’t understand.

Frustrated, she took me by the hand and led me out to where Nigel was chopping firewood. There, before him, she repeated the face-rubbing gesture, and he nodded.

“She means it doesn’t come off, Dana,” he said quietly. “The black. She means the devil with people who say you’re anything but what you are.”

I hugged her and got away from her quickly so that she wouldn’t see that I was close to tears. I went up to Margaret Weylin and she’d just had her laudanum. Being with her at such times was like being alone. And being alone was just what I needed.


I avoided Rufus for three days after the sale. He made it easy for me. He avoided me too. Then on the fourth day he came looking for me. He found me in his mother’s room yes-ma’aming her and changing her bed while she sat looking thin and frail beside the window.

She barely ate. I had actually caught myself coaxing her to eat. Then I realized that she enjoyed being coaxed. She could forget to be supe¬ rior sometimes, and just be someone’s old mother. Rufus’s mother. Unfortunately.

He came in and said, “Let Carrie finish that, Dana. I have some¬ thing else for you to do.”

“Oh, do you have to take her now?” said Margaret. “She was just . .

“I’ll send her back later, Mama. And Carrie’ll be up to finish your bed in a minute.”

I left the room silently, not looking forward to whatever he had in mind.

“Down to the library,” he said right behind me.

I glanced back at him, trying to gauge his mood, but he only looked tired. He ate well and got twice the rest he should have needed, but he always looked tired.

“Wait a minute,” he said. I stopped.

“Did you bring another of those pens with the ink inside?” “Yes.”

“Get it.”

I went up to the attic where I still kept most of my things. I’d brought a packet of three pens this time, but I only took one back down with me—in case he still took as much pleasure as he had last trip in wasting ink.

“You ever hear of dengue fever?” he asked as he went down the stairs.


“Well, according to the doc in town, that’s what I had. I told him about it.” He had been going back and forth to town often since his father’s death. “Doc said he didn’t see how I’d made it without bleeding and a good emetic. Says I’m still weak because I didn’t get all the poisons out of my body.”

“Put yourself in his hands,” I said quietly. “And with a little luck, that will solve both our problems.”

He frowned uncertainly. “What do you mean by that?” “Not a thing.”

He turned and caught me by the shoulders in a grip that he proba¬ bly meant to be painful. It wasn’t. “Are you trying to say you want me to die?”

I sighed. “If I did, you would, wouldn’t you?”

Silence. He let go of me and we went into the library. He sat down in his father’s old arm chair and motioned me into a hard Windsor chair nearby. Which was one step up from his father who had always made me stand before him like a school kid sent to the principal’s office.

“If you think that little sale was bad—and Daddy really had al¬ ready arranged it—you better make sure nothing happens to me.” Rufus leaned back and looked at me wearily. “Do you know what would happen to the people here if I died?”

I nodded. “What bothers me,” I said, “is what’s going to happen to them if you live.”

“You don’t think I’m going to do anything to them, do you?”

“Of course you are. And I’ll have to watch and remember and de¬ cide when you’ve gone too far. Believe me. I’m not looking forward to the job.”

“You take a lot on yourself.” “None of it was my idea.”

He muttered something inaudible, and probably obscene. “You ought to be in the fields,” he added. “God knows why I didn’t leave you out there. You would have learned a few things.”

“I would have been killed. You would have had to start taking very good care of yourself.” I shrugged. “I don’t think you have the knack.”

“Damnit, Dana . . . What’s the good of sitting here trading threats? I don’t believe you want to hurt me any more than I want to hurt you.”

I said nothing.

“I brought you down here to write a few letters for me, not fight with me.”


He nodded. “I’ll tell you, I hate to write. Don’t mind reading so much, but I hate to write.”

“You didn’t hate it six years ago.”

“I didn’t have to do it then. I didn’t have eight or nine people all wanting answers, and wanting them now.”

I twisted the pen in my hands. “You’ll never know how hard I worked in my own time to avoid doing jobs like this.”

He grinned suddenly. “Yes I do. Kevin told me. He told me about the books you wrote too. Your own books.”

“That’s how he and I earn our living.”

“Yeah. Well, I thought you might miss it—writing your own things, I mean. So I got enough paper for you to write for both of us.”

I looked at him, not quite sure I’d heard right. I had read that paper in this time was expensive, and I had seen that Weylin had never had very much of it. But here was Rufus offering . . . Offering what? A bribe? Another apology?

“What’s the matter?” he said. “Seems to me, this is better than any offer I’ve made you so far.”

“No doubt.”

He got paper, made room for me at the desk. “Rufe, are you going to sell anyone else?” He hesitated. “I hope not. I don’t like it.”

“What’s to hope? Why can’t you just not do it?”

Another hesitation. “Daddy left debts, Dana. He was the most careful man I know with money, but he still left debts.”

“But won’t your crops pay them?” “Some of them.”

“Oh. What are you going to do?”

“Get somebody who makes her living by writing to write some very persuasive letters.”


I wrote his letters. I had to read several of the letters he’d received first to pick up the stilted formal style of the day. I didn’t want Rufus having to face some creditor that I had angered with my twentieth-century brevity—which could come across as nineteenth-century abruptness, even discourtesy. Rufus gave me a general idea of what he wanted me to say and then approved or disapproved of the way I said it. Usually, he approved. Then we started to go over his father’s books together. I never did get back to Margaret Weylin.

And I wasn’t ever to get back to her full time. Rufus brought a young girl named Beth in from the fields to help with the housework. That eventually freed Carrie to spend more time with Margaret. I continued to sleep in Margaret’s room because I agreed with Rufus that Carrie belonged with her family, at least at night. That meant I had to put up with Margaret waking me up when she couldn’t sleep and complaining bitterly that Rufus had taken me away just when she and I were beginning to get on so well. . .

“What does he have you doing?” she asked me several times— suspiciously.

I told her.

“Seems as though he could do that himself. Tom always did it himself.”

Rufus could have done it himself too, I thought, though I never said it aloud. He just didn’t like working alone. Actually, he didn’t like working at all. But if he had to do it, he wanted company. I didn’t realize how much he preferred my company in particular until he came in one night a little drunk and found Alice and I eating to¬ gether in her cabin. He had been away eating with a family in town— “Some people with daughters they want to get rid of,” Alice had told me. She had said it with no concern at all even though she knew her life could become much harder if Rufus married. Rufus had property and slaves and was apparently quite eligible.

He came home, and not finding either of us in the house, came out to Alice’s cabin. He opened the door and saw us both looking up at him from the table, and he smiled happily.

“Behold the woman,” he said. And he looked from one to the other of us. “You really are only one woman. Did you know that?”

He tottered away.

Alice and I looked at each other. I thought she would laugh be¬ cause she took any opportunity she could find to laugh at him— though not to his face because he would beat her when he decided she needed it.

She didn’t laugh. She shuddered, then got up, not too gracefully— her pregnancy was showing now—and looked out the door after him.

After a while, she asked, “Does he ever take you to bed, Dana?” I jumped. Her bluntness could still startle me. “No. He doesn’t

want me and I don’t want him.”

She glanced back at me over one shoulder. “What you think your wants got to do with it?”

I said nothing because I liked her. And no answer I could give could help sounding like criticism of her.

“You know,” she said, “you gentle him for me. He hardly hits me at all when you’re here. And he never hits you.”

“He arranges for other people to hit me.”

“But still … I know what he means. He likes me in bed, and you out of bed, and you and I look alike if you can believe what peo¬ ple say.”

“We look alike if we can believe our own eyes!”

“I guess so. Anyway, all that means we’re two halves of the same woman—at least in his crazy head.”


The time passed slowly, uneventfully, as I waited for the birth of the child I hoped would be Hagar. I went on helping Rufus and his mother. I kept a journal in shorthand. (“What the devil are these chicken marks?” Rufus asked me when he looked over my shoulder one day.) It was such a relief to be able to say what I felt, even in writing, without worrying that I might get myself or someone else into trouble. One of my secretarial classes had finally come in handy.

I tried husking com and blistered my slow clumsy hands while experienced field hands sped through the work effortlessly, enjoying themselves. There was no reason for me to join them, but they seemed to be making a party of the husking—Rufus gave them a little whiskey to help them along—and I needed a party, needed anything that would relieve my boredom, take my mind off myself.

It was a party, all right. A wild rough kind of party that nobody modified because “the master’s women”—Alice and I—were there. People working near me around the small mountain of com laughed at my blisters and told me I was being initiated. A jug went around and I tasted it, choked, and drew more laughter. Surprisingly companionable laughter. A man with huge muscles told me it was too bad I was already spoken for, and that earned me hostile looks from three women. After the work, there were great quantities of food-chicken, pork, vegetables, corn bread, fruit—better food than the herring and com meal field hands usually saw so much of. Rufus came out to play hero for providing such a good meal, and the people gave him the praise he wanted. Then they made gross jokes about him behind his back. Strangely, they seemed to like him, hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. This confused me because I felt just about the same mixture of emotions for him myself. I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships. Only the overseer drew simple, unconflicting emotions of hatred and fear when he appeared briefly. But then, it was part of the overseer’s job to be hated and feared while the master kept his hands clean.

Young people began disappearing in pairs after a while, and some of the older ones stopped their eating or drinking or singing or talk¬ ing long enough to give them looks of disapproval—or more under¬ standing wistful looks. I thought about Kevin and missed him and knew I wasn’t going to sleep well that night.

At Christmas, there was another party—dancing, singing, three marriages.

“Daddy used to make them wait until com shucking or Christmas to marry,” Rufus told me. “They like parties when they marry, and he made a few parties do.”

“Anything to pinch a few pennies,” I said tactlessly.

He glanced at me. “You’d better be glad he didn’t waste money. You’re the one who gets upset when some quick money has to be raised.”

My mind had caught up with my mouth by then, and I kept quiet. He hadn’t sold anyone else. The harvest had been good and the cred¬ itors patient.

“Found anybody you want to jump the broom with?” he asked me.

I looked at him startled and saw that he wasn’t serious. He was smiling and watching the slaves do a bowing, partner-changing dance to the music of a banjo.

“What would you do if I had found someone?” I asked.

“Sell him,” he said. His smile was still in place, but there was no longer any humor in it. I noticed, now, that he was watching the big muscular man who had tried to get me to dance—the same man who had spoken to me at the com husking. I would have to ask Sarah to tell him not to speak to me again. He didn’t mean anything, but that wouldn’t save him if Rufus got angry.

“One husband is enough for me,” I said. “Kevin?”

“Of course, Kevin.” “He’s a long way off.”

There was something in his tone that shouldn’t have been there. I turned to face him. “Don’t talk stupid.”

He jumped and looked around quickly to see whether anyone had heard.

“You watch your mouth,” he said. “Watch yours.”

He stalked away angrily. We’d been working together too much lately, especially now that Alice was so advanced in her pregnancy. I was grateful when Alice herself created another job for me—a job that got me away from him regularly. Sometime during the week-long Christmas holiday, Alice persuaded him to let me teach their son Joe to read and write.

“It was my Christmas present,” she told me. “He asked me what I wanted, and I told him I wanted my son not to be ignorant. You know, I had to fight with him all week to get him to say yes!”

But he had said it, finally, and the boy came to me every day to learn to draw big clumsy letters on the slate Rufus bought him and read simple words and rhymes from the books Rufus himself had used. But unlike Rufus, Joe wasn’t bored with what he was learning. He fastened onto the lessons as though they were puzzles arranged for his entertainment—puzzles he loved solving. He could get so in¬ tense-throw screaming kicking tantrums when something seemed to be eluding him. But not all that much eluded him.

“You’ve got a damn bright little kid there,” I told Rufus. “You ought to be proud.”

Rufus looked surprised—as though it had never occurred to him that there might be anything special about the undersized runny-nosed child. He had spent his life watching his father ignore, even sell the children he had had with black women. Apparently, it had never occurred to Rufus to break that tradition. Until now.

Now, he began to take an interest in his son. Perhaps he was only curious at first, but the boy captured him. I caught them together once in the library, the boy sitting on one of Rufus’s knees and study¬ ing a map that Rufus had just brought home. The map was spread on Rufus’s desk.

“Is this our river?” the boy was asking.

“No, that’s the Miles River, northeast of here. This map doesn’t show our river.”

“Why not?” “It’s too small.”

“What is?” The boy peered up at him. “Our river or this map?” “Both, I suspect.”

“Let’s draw it in, then. Where does it go?”

Rufus hesitated. “Just about here. But we don’t have to draw it in.”

“Why? Don’t you want the map to be right?”

I made a noise and Rufus looked up at me. I thought he looked al¬ most ashamed for a moment. He put the boy down quickly and shooed him away.

“Nothing but questions,” Rufus complained to me.

“Enjoy it, Rufe. At least he’s not out setting fire to the stable or trying to drown himself.”

He couldn’t quite keep from laughing. “Alice said something like that.” He frowned a little. “She wants me to free him.”

I nodded. Alice had already told me she meant to ask for the boy’s freedom.

“You put her up to it, I guess.”

I stared at him. “Rufe, if there’s a woman on the place who makes up her own mind, it’s Alice. I didn’t put her up to a thing.”

“Well . . . now she’s got something else to make up her mind about.”


“Nothing. Nothing to you. I just mean to make her earn what she wants for a change,” he said.

I couldn’t get any more out of him than that. Eventually, though, Alice told me what he wanted.

“He wants me to like him,” she said with heavy contempt. “Or maybe even love him. I think he wants me to be more like you!”

“I guarantee you he doesn’t.”

She closed her eyes. “I don’t care what he wants. If I thought it would make him free my children, I’d try to do it. But he lies! And he won’t put it down on no paper.”

“He likes Joe,” I said. “He ought to. Joe looks like a slightly darker version of him at that age. Anyway, he might decide on his own to free the boy.”

“And this one?” She patted her stomach. “And the others? He’ll make sure there’re others.”

“I don’t know. I’ll push him whenever I can.”

“I should have took Joe and tried to run before I got pregnant again.”

“You’re still thinking about running?”

“Wouldn’t you be if you didn’t have another way to get free?” I nodded.

“I don’t mean to spend my life here watching my children grow up as slaves and maybe get sold.”

“He wouldn’t. .

“You don’t know what he would do! He don’t treat you the way he treats me. When I’m strong again after I have this baby, I’m going.”

“With the baby?”

“You don’t think I’m going to leave it here, do you?” “But… I don’t see how you can make it.”

“I know more now than I did when Isaac and me left. I can make it.”

I drew a deep breath. “When the time comes, if I can help you, I will.”

“Get me a bottle of laudanum,” she said. “Laudanum!”

“I’ll have the baby to keep quiet. Old Mama won’t let me near her, but she likes you. Get it.”

“All right.” I didn’t like it. Didn’t like the idea of her trying to run with a baby and a small child, didn’t like the idea of her trying to run at all. But she was right. In her place, I would have tried. I would have tried sooner and gotten killed sooner, but I would have done it alone.

“You think about this awhile longer,” I said. “You’ll get the laudanum and anything else I can supply, but you think.”

“I’ve already thought.”

“Not enough. I shouldn’t say this, but think what’s going to hap¬ pen if the dogs catch Joe, or if they pull you down and get the baby.”


The baby was a girl, bom in the second month of the new year. She was her mother’s daughter, bom darker skinned than Joe would probably ever be.

“ ’Bout time I had a baby to look like me,” said Alice when she saw her.

“You could have at least tried for red hair,” said Rufus. He was there too, peering at the baby’s wrinkled little face, peering with even more concern at Alice’s face, sweat-streaked and weary.

For the first and only time, I saw her smile at him—a real smile. No sarcasm, no ridicule. It silenced him for several seconds.

Carrie and I had helped with the birth. Now, we left quietly, both of us probably thinking the same thing. That if Alice and Rufus were going to make peace, finally, neither of us wanted to break their mood.

They called the baby Hagar. Rufus said that was the ugliest name he had ever heard, but it was Alice’s choice, and he let it stand. I thought it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard. I felt al¬ most free, half-free if such a thing was possible, half-way home. I was gleeful at first—secretly elated. I even kidded Alice about the names she chose for her children. Joseph and Hagar. And the two others whose names I thought silently—Miriam and Aaron. I said, “Someday Rufus is going to get religion and read enough of the Bible to wonder about those children’s names.”

Alice shrugged. “If Hagar had been a boy, I would have called her Ishmael. In the Bible, people might be slaves for a while, but they didn’t have to stay slaves.”

My mood was so good, I almost laughed. But she wouldn’t have understood that, and I couldn’t have explained. I kept it all in some¬ how, and congratulated myself that the Bible wasn’t the only place where slaves broke free. Her names were only symbolic, but I had more than symbols to remind me that freedom was possible—proba¬ ble—and for me, very near.

Or was it?

Slowly, I began to calm down. The danger to my family was past, yes. Hagar had been bom. But the danger to me personally … the danger to me personally still walked and talked and sometimes sat with Alice in her cabin in the evening as she nursed Hagar. I was there with them a couple of times, and I felt like an intruder.

I was not free. Not any more than Alice was, or her children with their names. In fact, it looked as though Alice might get free before I did.

DMU Timestamp: March 19, 2021 22:17