As the months passed, she knew, didn’t want to know, there was something growing, flourishing in the womb of the one she loved. She glanced at the small bump under Beatrice’s dress, tried to ignore the pouch of life that made her restless, stole the last of what was in her, her slumber, her hunger to live.
Even Beatrice was different. With each month, she grew sadder, spoke less, spending each day in the garden, each night at the loom.When she went into labor in the fall, Emma sat at her feet, gripping her hand in the midst of slaves, frail chocolate and mocha arms lifting Beatrice, clenching her shoulders, her wrists, as she squatted, teetering on the balls of her feet in the dirt cabin. Among them, an old, gray-haired midwife, Odessa, mumbling, praying something, in tears, but when Beatrice collapsed and the cry of mother and child united, it was Emma who caught the baby’s slippery body in the folds of her wool dress, sliding to the ground with the new life, her skirt as bloody as the one who birthed her. She stared into the deep-set brown eyes of her husband and wept.
She didn’t know whether Michael knew Cora was his. If he even cared.
Months later when Beatrice was found in the garden, Emma died too. No more reason to fight. Nothing else to give.
She watched the young ladies gleaning the last of the fruit from the bushes, their wooden buckets barely grazed, her husband marching through the fields between them, his boots covered with the juice of everything he had crushed. Emma watched it all.
She saw nothing.
Lydia smiled at John as he crossed his outstretched legs, one scuffed boot on top of the other. When he leaned back on his palms, her gaze followed the bulging vein at his wrist, the bicep of his arm, flexing as he twisted himself comfortable, to the rolled-up cotton sleeve and a smile that made her blush. Three candle flames flickered, danced, cast shadows on his face in the muggy storehouse.
Since their secret discussion, thoughts of liberation overwhelmed her as much as they had that night in the woods. She couldn’t shake the idea of being with him loose, boundless, released to stroll through wide rainbow fields of flowers, their locked fingers swinging together against their sides without a curfew or a master to answer to for anything. Sauntering through dark hallways to spacious dining rooms lit with candelabras.
Lydia looked away. It was Jackson’s Victorian she imagined, his laughter she could now hear rising and falling around her.
“You’re not here,” John said.
Was she ever? She could feel his gaze on her, studying her face.
“What you said last night. Do you really think it’s possible?”
“I need it to be true, John.” The feeling was eating at her again. Unrest always started the same way. Bit by bit, bite by bite, it wouldn’t be long before she was completely consumed. Soon peace would become as unfamiliar as a stranger. All joy would be wrapped into wanting. She was slipping into that place again, that space in her soul where she knew, was completely aware that nothing would satisfy like the thing that eluded her. She was nothing without it. What was a person anyway without rights, without a choice?
“You need it?”
“Why? Why so much?”
Why? She blinked.
“Why do you need it? This is not enough?”
“This?” She glanced around the stuffy storehouse that was not even theirs, their backs jabbed with spiky pieces of straw against paint-peeled walls and a ratty blanket he’d brought. “John.”
“I don’t know, Lydia. You’re with me. I’m with you. I can’t seem to think of nothing better.”
Carriage rides, elegant wine-walled rooms, the warm savor of beef set before her, her body graced in smooth folds of satin.
Better filled her mind.
She looked down, tugged a string loose from her dress, anything to keep from looking into his eyes.