فصل 03

کتاب: Beloved / فصل 3

فصل 03

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3

Amy dragged her eyes over Sethe’s face as though she would never give out so confidential a piece of information as that to a perfect stranger.

“What they call you?” she asked.

However far she was from Sweet Home, there was no point in giving out her real name to the first person she saw. “Lu,” said Sethe.

“They call me Lu.”

“Well, Lu, velvet is like the world was just born. Clean and new and so smooth. The velvet I seen was brown, but in Boston they got all colors. Carmine. That means red but when you talk about velvet you got to say ‘carmine.’ “ She raised her eyes to the sky and then, as though she had wasted enough time away from Boston, she moved off saying, “I gotta go.”

Picking her way through the brush she hollered back to Sethe, “What you gonna do, just lay there and foal?”

“I can’t get up from here,” said Sethe.

“What?” She stopped and turned to hear.

“I said I can’t get up.”

Amy drew her arm across her nose and came slowly back to where Sethe lay. “It’s a house back yonder,” she said.

“A house?”

“Mmmmm. I passed it. Ain’t no regular house with people in it though. A lean-to, kinda.”

“How far?”

“Make a difference, does it? You stay the night here snake get you.”

“Well he may as well come on. I can’t stand up let alone walk and God help me, miss, I can’t crawl.”

“Sure you can, Lu. Come on,” said Amy and, with a toss of hair enough for five heads, she moved toward the path.

So she crawled and Amy walked alongside her, and when Sethe needed to rest, Amy stopped too and talked some more about Boston and velvet and good things to eat. The sound of that voice, like a sixteen-year-old boy’s, going on and on and on, kept the little antelope quiet and grazing. During the whole hateful crawl to the lean to, it never bucked once.

Nothing of Sethe’s was intact by the time they reached it except the cloth that covered her hair. Below her bloody knees, there was no feeling at all; her chest was two cushions of pins. It was the voice full of velvet and Boston and good things to eat that urged her along and made her think that maybe she wasn’t, after all, just a crawling graveyard for a six-month baby’s last hours.

The lean-to was full of leaves, which Amy pushed into a pile for Sethe to lie on. Then she gathered rocks, covered them with more leaves and made Sethe put her feet on them, saying: “I know a woman had her feet cut off they was so swole.” And she made sawing gestures with the blade of her hand across Sethe’s ankles. “Zzz Zzz Zzz Zzz.”

“I used to be a good size. Nice arms and everything. Wouldn’t think it, would you? That was before they put me in the root cellar.

I was fishing off the Beaver once. Catfish in Beaver River sweet as chicken. Well I was just fishing there and a nigger floated right by me. I don’t like drowned people, you? Your feet remind me of him.

All swole like.”

Then she did the magic: lifted Sethe’s feet and legs and massaged them until she cried salt tears.

“It’s gonna hurt, now,” said Amy. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.”

A truth for all times, thought Denver. Maybe the white dress holding its arm around her mother’s waist was in pain. If so, it could mean the baby ghost had plans. When she opened the door, Sethe was just leaving the keeping room.

“I saw a white dress holding on to you,” Denver said.

“White? Maybe it was my bedding dress. Describe it to me.”

“Had a high neck. Whole mess of buttons coming down the back.”

“Buttons. Well, that lets out my bedding dress. I never had a button on nothing.”

“Did Grandma Baby?”

Sethe shook her head. “She couldn’t handle them. Even on her shoes. What else?”

“A bunch at the back. On the sit-down part.”

“A bustle? It had a bustle?”

“I don’t know what it’s called.”

“Sort of gathered-like? Below the waist in the back?”

“Um hm.”

“A rich lady’s dress. Silk?”

“Cotton, look like.”

“Lisle probably. White cotton lisle. You say it was holding on to me. How?”

“Like you. It looked just like you. Kneeling next to you while you were praying. Had its arm around your waist.”

“Well, I’ll be.”

“What were you praying for, Ma’am?”

“Not for anything. I don’t pray anymore. I just talk.”

“What were you talking about?”

“You won’t understand, baby.”

“Yes, I will.”

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it.

Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.”

“Can other people see it?” asked Denver.

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Someday you be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear.

And you think it’s you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to somebody else.

Where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away. Even if the whole farm–every tree and grass blade of it dies.

The picture is still there and what’s more, if you go there–you who never was there–if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can’t never go there. Never. Because even though it’s all over–over and done with–it’s going to always be there waiting for you. That’s how come I had to get all my children out. No matter what.”

Denver picked at her fingernails. “If it’s still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies.”

Sethe looked right in Denver’s face. “Nothing ever does,” she said.

“You never told me all what happened. Just that they whipped you and you run off, pregnant. With me.”

“Nothing to tell except schoolteacher. He was a little man. Short.

Always wore a collar, even in the fields. A schoolteacher, she said.

That made her feel good that her husband’s sister’s husband had book learning and was willing to come farm Sweet Home after Mr.

Garner passed. The men could have done it, even with Paul F sold.

But it was like Halle said. She didn’t want to be the only white person on the farm and a woman too. So she was satisfied when the schoolteacher agreed to come. He brought two boys with him. Sons or nephews. I don’t know. They called him Onka and had pretty man ners, all of em. Talked soft and spit in handkerchiefs. Gentle in a lot of ways. You know, the kind who know Jesus by His first name, but out of politeness never use it even to His face. A pretty good farmer, Halle said. Not strong as Mr. Garner but smart enough. He liked the ink I made. It was her recipe, but he preferred how I mixed it and it was important to him because at night he sat down to write in his book. It was a book about us but we didn’t know that right away. We just thought it was his manner to ask us questions. He commenced to carry round a notebook and write down what we said. I still think it was them questions that tore Sixo up. Tore him up for all time.”

She stopped.

Denver knew that her mother was through with it–for now anyway. The single slow blink of her eyes; the bottom lip sliding up slowly to cover the top; and then a nostril sigh, like the snuff of a candle flame–signs that Sethe had reached the point beyond which she would not go.

“Well, I think the baby got plans,” said Denver.

“What plans?”

“I don’t know, but the dress holding on to you got to mean something.”

“Maybe,” said Sethe. “Maybe it does have plans.”

Whatever they were or might have been, Paul D messed them up for good. With a table and a loud male voice he had rid 124 of its claim to local fame. Denver had taught herself to take pride in the condemnation Negroes heaped on them; the assumption that the haunting was done by an evil thing looking for more. None of them knew the downright pleasure of enchantment, of not suspecting but knowing the things behind things. Her brothers had known, but it scared them; Grandma Baby knew, but it saddened her. None could appreciate the safety of ghost company. Even Sethe didn’t love it.

She just took it for granted–like a sudden change in the weather.

But it was gone now. Whooshed away in the blast of a hazelnut man’s shout, leaving Denver’s world flat, mostly, with the exception of an emerald closet standing seven feet high in the woods. Her mother had secrets–things she wouldn’t tell; things she halfway told.

Well, Denver had them too. And hers were sweet–sweet as lily-of-the-valley cologne.

Sethe had given little thought to the white dress until Paul D came, and then she remembered Denver’s interpretation: plans. The morning after the first night with Paul D, Sethe smiled just thinking about what the word could mean. It was a luxury she had not had in eighteen years and only that once. Before and since, all her effort was directed not on avoiding pain but on getting through it as quickly as possible. The one set of plans she had made–getting away from Sweet Home–went awry so completely she never dared life by making more.

Yet the morning she woke up next to Paul D, the word her daughter had used a few years ago did cross her mind and she thought about what Denver had seen kneeling next to her, and thought also of the temptation to trust and remember that gripped her as she stood before the cooking stove in his arms. Would it be all right? Would it be all right to go ahead and feel? Go ahead and count on something?

She couldn’t think clearly, lying next to him listening to his breathing, so carefully, carefully, she had left the bed.

Kneeling in the keeping room where she usually went to talk-think it was clear why Baby Suggs was so starved for color. There wasn’t any except for two orange squares in a quilt that made the absence shout. The walls of the room were slate-colored, the floor earth-brown, the wooden dresser the color of itself, curtains white, and the dominating feature, the quilt over an iron cot, was made up of scraps of blue serge, black, brown and gray wool–the full range of the dark and the muted that thrift and modesty allowed. In that sober field, two patches of orange looked wild–like life in the raw.

Sethe looked at her hands, her bottle-green sleeves, and thought how little color there was in the house and how strange that she had not missed it the way Baby did. Deliberate, she thought, it must be deliberate, because the last color she remembered was the pink chips in the headstone of her baby girl. After that she became as color conscious as a hen. Every dawn she worked at fruit pies, potato dishes and vegetables while the cook did the soup, meat and all the rest. And she could not remember remembering a molly apple or a yellow squash. Every dawn she saw the dawn, but never acknowledged or remarked its color. There was something wrong with that.

It was as though one day she saw red baby blood, another day the pink gravestone chips, and that was the last of it.

124 was so full of strong feeling perhaps she was oblivious to the loss of anything at all. There was a time when she scanned the fields every morning and every evening for her boys. When she stood at the open window, unmindful of flies, her head cocked to her left shoulder, her eyes searching to the right for them. Cloud shadow on the road, an old woman, a wandering goat untethered and gnawing bramble–each one looked at first like Howard–no, Buglar. Little by little she stopped and their thirteen-year-old faces faded completely into their baby ones, which came to her only in sleep. When her dreams roamed outside 124, anywhere they wished, she saw them sometimes in beautiful trees, their little legs barely visible in the leaves.

Sometimes they ran along the railroad track laughing, too loud, apparently, to hear her because they never did turn around. When she woke the house crowded in on her: there was the door where the soda crackers were lined up in a row; the white stairs her baby girl loved to climb; the corner where Baby Suggs mended shoes, a pile of which were still in the cold room; the exact place on the stove where Denver burned her fingers. And of course the spite of the house itself. There was no room for any other thing or body until Paul D arrived and broke up the place, making room, shifting it, moving it over to someplace else, then standing in the place he had made.

So, kneeling in the keeping room the morning after Paul D came, she was distracted by the two orange squares that signaled how barren 124 really was.

He was responsible for that. Emotions sped to the surface in his company. Things became what they were: drabness looked drab; heat was hot. Windows suddenly had view. And wouldn’t you know he’d be a singing man.

Little rice, little bean,

No meat in between.

Hard work ain’t easy,

Dry bread ain’t greasy.

He was up now and singing as he mended things he had broken the day before. Some old pieces of song he’d learned on the prison farm or in the War afterward. Nothing like what they sang at Sweet Home, where yearning fashioned every note.

The songs he knew from Georgia were flat-headed nails for pounding and pounding and pounding.

Lay my bead on the railroad line,

Train come along, pacify my mind.

If I had my weight in lime,

I’d whip my captain till he went stone blind.

Five-cent nickel, Ten-cent dime,

Busting rocks is busting time.

But they didn’t fit, these songs. They were too loud, had too much power for the little house chores he was engaged in–resetting table legs; glazing.

He couldn’t go back to “Storm upon the Waters” that they sang under the trees of Sweet Home, so he contented himself with mmmmmmmmm, throwing in a line if one occurred to him, and what occurred over and over was “Bare feet and chamomile sap,/ Took off my shoes; took off my hat.”

It was tempting to change the words (Gimme back my shoes; gimme back my hat), because he didn’t believe he could live with a woman–any woman–for over two out of three months. That was about as long as he could abide one place. After Delaware and before that Alfred, Georgia, where he slept underground and crawled into sunlight for the sole purpose of breaking rock, walking off when he got ready was the only way he could convince himself that he would no longer have to sleep, pee, eat or swing a sledge hammer in chains.

But this was not a normal woman in a normal house. As soon as he had stepped through the red light he knew that, compared to 124, the rest of the world was bald. After Alfred he had shut down a generous portion of his head, operating on the part that helped him walk, eat, sleep, sing. If he could do those things–with a little work and a little sex thrown in–he asked for no more, for more required him to dwell on Halle’s face and Sixo laughing. To recall trembling in a box built into the ground. Grateful for the daylight spent doing mule work in a quarry because he did not tremble when he had a hammer in his hands. The box had done what Sweet Home had not, what working like an ass and living like a dog had not: drove him crazy so he would not lose his mind.

By the time he got to Ohio, then to Cincinnati, then to Halle Suggs’ mother’s house, he thought he had seen and felt it all. Even now as he put back the window frame he had smashed, he could not account for the pleasure in his surprise at seeing Halle’s wife alive, barefoot with uncovered hair–walking around the corner of the house with her shoes and stockings in her hands. The closed portion of his head opened like a greased lock.

“I was thinking of looking for work around here. What you think?”

“Ain’t much. River mostly. And hogs.”

“Well, I never worked on water, but I can pick up anything heavy as me, hogs included.”

“Whitepeople better here than Kentucky but you may have to scramble some.”

“It ain’t whether I scramble; it’s where. You saying it’s all right to scramble here?”

“Better than all right.”

“Your girl, Denver. Seems to me she’s of a different mind.”

“Why you say that?”

“She’s got a waiting way about her. Something she’s expecting and it ain’t me.”

“I don’t know what it could be.”

“Well, whatever it is, she believes I’m interrupting it.”

“Don’t worry about her. She’s a charmed child. From the beginning.”

“Is that right?”

“Uh huh. Nothing bad can happen to her. Look at it. Everybody I knew dead or gone or dead and gone. Not her. Not my Denver.

Even when I was carrying her, when it got clear that I wasn’t going to make it–which meant she wasn’t going to make it either–she pulled a whitegirl out of the hill. The last thing you’d expect to help.

And when the schoolteacher found us and came busting in here with the law and a shotgun–”

“Schoolteacher found you?”

“Took a while, but he did. Finally.”

“And he didn’t take you back?”

“Oh, no. I wasn’t going back there. I don’t care who found who.

Any life but not that one. I went to jail instead. Denver was just a baby so she went right along with me. Rats bit everything in there but her.”

Paul D turned away. He wanted to know more about it, but jail talk put him back in Alfred, Georgia.

“I need some nails. Anybody around here I can borrow from or should I go to town?”

“May as well go to town. You’ll need other things.”

One night and they were talking like a couple. They had skipped love and promise and went directly to “You saying it’s all right to scramble here?”

To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The “better life” she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one.

The fact that Paul D had come out of “that other one” into her bed was better too; and the notion of a future with him, or for that matter without him, was beginning to stroke her mind. As for Denver, the job Sethe had of keeping her from the past that was still waiting for her was all that mattered.

PLEASANTLY TROUBLED, Sethe avoided the keeping room and Denver’s sidelong looks. As she expected, since life was like that–it didn’t do any good. Denver ran a mighty interference and on the third day flat-out asked Paul D how long he was going to hang around.

The phrase hurt him so much he missed the table. The coffee cup hit the floor and rolled down the sloping boards toward the front door.

“Hang around?” Paul D didn’t even look at the mess he had made.

“Denver! What’s got into you?” Sethe looked at her daughter, feeling more embarrassed than angry.

Paul D scratched the hair on his chin. “Maybe I should make tracks.”

“No!” Sethe was surprised by how loud she said it.

“He know what he needs,” said Denver.

“Well, you don’t,” Sethe told her, “and you must not know what you need either. I don’t want to hear another word out of you.”

“I just asked if–”

“Hush! You make tracks. Go somewhere and sit down.”

Denver picked up her plate and left the table but not before adding a chicken back and more bread to the heap she was carrying away.

Paul D leaned over to wipe the spilled coffee with his blue handkerchief.

“I’ll get that.” Sethe jumped up and went to the stove. Behind it various cloths hung, each in some stage of drying. In silence she wiped the floor and retrieved the cup. Then she poured him another cupful, and set it carefully before him. Paul D touched its rim but didn’t say anything–as though even “thank you” was an obligation he could not meet and the coffee itself a gift he could not take.

Sethe resumed her chair and the silence continued. Finally she realized that if it was going to be broken she would have to do it.

“I didn’t train her like that.”

Paul D stroked the rim of the cup.

“And I’m as surprised by her manners as you are hurt by em.”

Paul D looked at Sethe. “Is there history to her question?”

“History? What you mean?”

“I mean, did she have to ask that, or want to ask it, of anybody else before me?”

Sethe made two fists and placed them on her hips. “You as bad as she is.”

“Come on, Sethe.”

“Oh, I am coming on. I am!”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do and I don’t like it.”

“Jesus,” he whispered.

“Who?” Sethe was getting loud again.

“Jesus! I said Jesus! All I did was sit down for supper! and I get cussed out twice. Once for being here and once for asking why I was cussed in the first place!”

“She didn’t cuss.”

“No? Felt like it.”

“Look here. I apologize for her. I’m real–”

“You can’t do that. You can’t apologize for nobody. She got to do that.”

“Then I’ll see that she does.” Sethe sighed.

“What I want to know is, is she asking a question that’s on your mind too?”

“Oh no. No, Paul D. Oh no.”

“Then she’s of one mind and you another? If you can call what ever’s in her head a mind, that is.”

“Excuse me, but I can’t hear a word against her. I’ll chastise her.

You leave her alone.”

Risky, thought Paul D, very risky. For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you’d have a little love left over for the next one. “Why?” he asked her. “Why you think you have to take up for her? Apologize for her? She’s grown.”

“I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother.

A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”

“It means she has to take it if she acts up. You can’t protect her every minute. What’s going to happen when you die?”

“Nothing! I’ll protect her while I’m live and I’ll protect her when I ain’t.”

“Oh well, I’m through,” he said. “I quit.”

“That’s the way it is, Paul D. I can’t explain it to you no better than that, but that’s the way it is. If I have to choose–well, it’s not even a choice.”

“That’s the point. The whole point. I’m not asking you to choose.

Nobody would. I thought–well, I thought you could–there was some space for me.”

“She’s asking me.”

“You can’t go by that. You got to say it to her. Tell her it’s not about choosing somebody over her–it’s making space for somebody along with her. You got to say it. And if you say it and mean it, then you also got to know you can’t gag me. There’s no way I’m going to hurt her or not take care of what she need if I can, but I can’t be told to keep my mouth shut if she’s acting ugly. You want me here, don’t put no gag on me.”

“Maybe I should leave things the way they are,” she said.

“How are they?”

“We get along.”

“What about inside?”

“I don’t go inside.”

“Sethe, if I’m here with you, with Denver, you can go anywhere you want. Jump, if you want to, ‘cause I’ll catch you, girl. I’ll catch you “fore you fall. Go as far inside as you need to, I’ll hold your ankles. Make sure you get back out. I’m not saying this because I need a place to stay. That’s the last thing I need. I told you, I’m a walking man, but I been heading in this direction for seven years.

Walking all around this place. Upstate, downstate, east, west; I been in territory ain’t got no name, never staying nowhere long. But when I got here and sat out there on the porch, waiting for you, well, I knew it wasn’t the place I was heading toward; it was you. We can make a life, girl. A life.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Leave it to me. See how it goes. No promises, if you don’t want to make any. Just see how it goes. All right?”

“All right.”

“You willing to leave it to me?”

“Well–some of it.”

“Some?” he smiled. “Okay. Here’s some. There’s a carnival in town. Thursday, tomorrow, is for coloreds and I got two dollars.

Me and you and Denver gonna spend every penny of it. What you say?”

“No” is what she said. At least what she started out saying (what would her boss say if she took a day off?), but even when she said it she was thinking how much her eyes enjoyed looking in his face.

The crickets were screaming on Thursday and the sky, stripped of blue, was white hot at eleven in the morning. Sethe was badly dressed for the heat, but this being her first social outing in eighteen years, she felt obliged to wear her one good dress, heavy as it was, and a hat. Certainly a hat. She didn’t want to meet Lady Jones or Ella with her head wrapped like she was going to work. The dress, a good-wool castoff, was a Christmas present to Baby Suggs from Miss Bodwin, the whitewoman who loved her. Denver and Paul D fared better in the heat since neither felt the occasion required special clothing. Denver’s bonnet knocked against her shoulder blades; Paul D wore his vest open, no jacket and his shirt sleeves rolled above his elbows. They were not holding hands, but their shadows were. Sethe looked to her left and all three of them were gliding over the dust holding hands. Maybe he was right. A life. Watching their hand holding shadows, she was embarrassed at being dressed for church.

The others, ahead and behind them, would think she was putting on airs, letting them know that she was different because she lived in a house with two stories; tougher, because she could do and survive things they believed she should neither do nor survive. She was glad Denver had resisted her urgings to dress up–rebraid her hair at least.

But Denver was not doing anything to make this trip a pleasure. She agreed to go–sullenly–but her attitude was “Go ‘head. Try and make me happy.” The happy one was Paul D. He said howdy to everybody within twenty feet. Made fun of the weather and what it was doing to him, yelled back at the crows, and was the first to smell the doomed roses. All the time, no matter what they were doing– whether Denver wiped perspiration from her forehead or stooped to retie her shoes; whether Paul D kicked a stone or reached over to meddle a child’s face leaning on its mother’s shoulder–all the time the three shadows that shot out of their feet to the left held hands.

Nobody noticed but Sethe and she stopped looking after she decided that it was a good sign. A life. Could be.

Up and down the lumberyard fence old roses were dying. The sawyer who had planted them twelve years ago to give his workplace a friendly feel–something to take the sin out of slicing trees for a living–was amazed by their abundance; how rapidly they crawled all over the stake-and-post fence that separated the lumberyard from the open field next to it where homeless men slept, children ran and, once a year, carnival people pitched tents. The closer the roses got to death, the louder their scent, and everybody who attended the carnival associated it with the stench of the rotten roses. It made them a little dizzy and very thirsty but did nothing to extinguish the eagerness of the coloredpeople filing down the road. Some walked on the grassy shoulders, others dodged the wagons creaking down the road’s dusty center. All, like Paul D, were in high spirits, which the smell of dying roses (that Paul D called to everybody’s attention) could not dampen. As they pressed to get to the rope entrance they were lit like lamps. Breathless with the excitement of seeing white people loose: doing magic, clowning, without heads or with two heads, twenty feet tall or two feet tall, weighing a ton, completely tattooed, eating glass, swallowing fire, spitting ribbons, twisted into knots, forming pyramids, playing with snakes and beating each other up.

All of this was advertisement, read by those who could and heard by those who could not, and the fact that none of it was true did not extinguish their appetite a bit. The barker called them and their children names (“Pickaninnies free!”) but the food on his vest and the hole in his pants rendered it fairly harmless. In any case it was a small price to pay for the fun they might not ever have again. Two pennies and an insult were well spent if it meant seeing the spectacle of whitefolks making a spectacle of themselves. So, although the carnival was a lot less than mediocre (which is why it agreed to a Colored Thursday), it gave the four hundred black people in its audience thrill upon thrill upon thrill.

One-Ton Lady spit at them, but her bulk shortened her aim and they got a big kick out of the helpless meanness in her little eyes.

Arabian Nights Dancer cut her performance to three minutes instead of the usual fifteen she normally did-earning the gratitude of the children, who could hardly wait for Abu Snake Charmer, who followed her.

Denver bought horehound, licorice, peppermint and lemonade at a table manned by a little whitegirl in ladies’ high-topped shoes.

Soothed by sugar, surrounded by a crowd of people who did not find her the main attraction, who, in fact, said, “Hey, Denver,” every now and then, pleased her enough to consider the possibility that Paul D wasn’t all that bad. In fact there was something about him– when the three of them stood together watching Midget dance–that made the stares of other Negroes kind, gentle, something Denver did not remember seeing in their faces. Several even nodded and smiled at her mother, no one, apparently, able to withstand sharing the pleasure Paul D. was having. He slapped his knees when Giant danced with Midget; when Two-Headed Man talked to himself. He bought everything Denver asked for and much she did not. He teased Sethe into tents she was reluctant to enter. Stuck pieces of candy she didn’t want between her lips. When Wild African Savage shook his bars and said wa wa, Paul D told everybody he knew him back in Roanoke.

Paul D made a few acquaintances; spoke to them about what work he might find. Sethe returned the smiles she got. Denver was swaying with delight. And on the way home, although leading them now, the shadows of three people still held hands.

A FULLY DRESSED woman walked out of the water. She barely gained the dry bank of the stream before she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree. All day and all night she sat there, her head resting on the trunk in a position abandoned enough to crack the brim in her straw hat. Everything hurt but her lungs most of all.

Sopping wet and breathing shallow she spent those hours trying to negotiate the weight of her eyelids. The day breeze blew her dress dry; the night wind wrinkled it. Nobody saw her emerge or came accidentally by. If they had, chances are they would have hesitated before approaching her. Not because she was wet, or dozing or had what sounded like asthma, but because amid all that she was smiling.

It took her the whole of the next morning to lift herself from the ground and make her way through the woods past a giant temple of boxwood to the field and then the yard of the slate-gray house.

Exhausted again, she sat down on the first handy place–a stump not far from the steps of 124. By then keeping her eyes open was less of an effort. She could manage it for a full two minutes or more.

Her neck, its circumference no wider than a parlor-service saucer, kept bending and her chin brushed the bit of lace edging her dress.

Women who drink champagne when there is nothing to celebrate can look like that: their straw hats with broken brims are often askew; they nod in public places; their shoes are undone. But their skin is not like that of the woman breathing near the steps of 124. She had new skin, lineless and smooth, including the knuckles of her hands.

By late afternoon when the carnival was over, and the Negroes were hitching rides home if they were lucky–walking if they were not–the woman had fallen asleep again. The rays of the sun struck her full in the face, so that when Sethe, Denver and Paul D rounded the curve in the road all they saw was a black dress, two unlaced shoes below it, and Here Boy nowhere in sight.

“Look,” said Denver. “What is that?”

And, for some reason she could not immediately account for, the moment she got close enough to see the face, Sethe’s bladder filled to capacity. She said, “Oh, excuse me,” and ran around to the back of 124. Not since she was a baby girl, being cared for by the eight year-old girl who pointed out her mother to her, had she had an emergency that unmanageable. She never made the outhouse. Right in front of its door she had to lift her skirts, and the water she voided was endless. Like a horse, she thought, but as it went on and on she thought, No, more like flooding the boat when Denver was born. So much water Amy said, “Hold on, Lu. You going to sink us you keep that up.” But there was no stopping water breaking from a breaking womb and there was no stopping now. She hoped Paul D wouldn’t take it upon himself to come looking for her and be obliged to see her squatting in front of her own privy making a mudhole too deep to be witnessed without shame. Just about the time she started wondering if the carnival would accept another freak, it stopped. She tidied herself and ran around to the porch. No one was there. All three were insidePaul D and Denver standing before the stranger, watching her drink cup after cup of water.

“She said she was thirsty,” said Paul D. He took off his cap.

“Mighty thirsty look like.”

The woman gulped water from a speckled tin cup and held it out for more. Four times Denver filled it, and four times the woman drank as though she had crossed a desert. When she was finished a little water was on her chin, but she did not wipe it away. Instead she gazed at Sethe with sleepy eyes. Poorly fed, thought Sethe, and younger than her clothes suggested–good lace at the throat, and a rich woman’s hat. Her skin was flawless except for three vertical scratches on her forehead so fine and thin they seemed at first like hair, baby hair before it bloomed and roped into the masses of black yarn under her hat.

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