فصل 08کتاب: Beloved / فصل 8
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She has no control over the evenings. When her mother is anywhere around, Beloved has eyes only for Sethe. At night, in bed, anything might happen. She might want to be told a story in the dark when Denver can’t see her. Or she might get up and go into the cold house where Paul D has begun to sleep. Or she might cry, silently. She might even sleep like a brick, her breath sugary from fingerfuls of molasses or sand-cookie crumbs. Denver will turn toward her then, and if Beloved faces her, she will inhale deeply the sweet air from her mouth. If not, she will have to lean up and over her, every once in a while, to catch a sniff. For anything is better than the original hunger–the time when, after a year of the wonderful little i, sentences rolling out like pie dough and the company of other children, there was no sound coming through. Anything is better than the silence when she answered to hands gesturing and was indifferent to the movement of lips. When she saw every little thing and colors leaped smoldering into view. She will forgo the most violent of sunsets, stars as fat as dinner plates and all the blood of autumn and settle for the palest yellow if it comes from her Beloved.
The cider jug is heavy, but it always is, even when empty. Denver can carry it easily, yet she asks Beloved to help her. It is in the cold house next to the molasses and six pounds of cheddar hard as bone.
A pallet is in the middle of the floor covered with newspaper and a blanket at the foot. It has been slept on for almost a month, even though snow has come and, with it, serious winter.
It is noon, quite light outside; inside it is not. A few cuts of sun break through the roof and walls but once there they are too weak to shift for themselves. Darkness is stronger and swallows them like minnows.
The door bangs shut. Denver can’t tell where Beloved is standing.
“Where are you?” she whispers in a laughing sort of way.
“Here,” says Beloved.
“Come find me,” says Beloved.
Denver stretches out her right arm and takes a step or two. She trips and falls down onto the pallet. Newspaper crackles under her weight. She laughs again. “Oh, shoot. Beloved?”
No one answers. Denver waves her arms and squinches her eyes to separate the shadows of potato sacks, a lard can and a side of smoked pork from the one that might be human.
“Stop fooling,” she says and looks up toward the light to check and make sure this is still the cold house and not something going on in her sleep. The minnows of light still swim there; they can’t make it down to where she is.
“You the one thirsty. You want cider or don’t you?” Denver’s voice is mildly accusatory. Mildly. She doesn’t want to offend and she doesn’t want to betray the panic that is creeping over her like hairs. There is no sight or sound of Beloved. Denver struggles to her feet amid the crackling newspaper. Holding her palm out, she moves slowly toward the door. There is no latch or knob–just a loop of wire to catch a nail. She pushes the door open. Cold sunlight displaces the dark. The room is just as it was when they entered-except Beloved is not there. There is no point in looking further, for everything in the place can be seen at first sight. Denver looks anyway because the loss is ungovernable. She steps back into the shed, allowing the door to close quickly behind her. Darkness or not, she moves rapidly around, reaching, touching cobwebs, cheese, slanting shelves, the pallet interfering with each step. If she stumbles, she is not aware of it because she does not know where her body stops, which part of her is an arm, a foot or a knee. She feels like an ice cake torn away from the solid surface of the stream, floating on darkness, thick and crashing against the edges of things around it.
Breakable, meltable and cold.
It is hard to breathe and even if there were light she wouldn’t be able to see anything because she is crying. Just as she thought it might happen, it has. Easy as walking into a room. A magical appearance on a stump, the face wiped out by sunlight, and a magical disappearance in a shed, eaten alive by the dark.
“Don’t,” she is saying between tough swallows. “Don’t. Don’t go back.”
This is worse than when Paul D came to 124 and she cried helplessly into the stove. This is worse. Then it was for herself. Now she is crying because she has no self. Death is a skipped meal compared to this. She can feel her thickness thinning, dissolving into nothing. She grabs the hair at her temples to get enough to uproot it and halt the melting for a while. Teeth clamped shut, Denver brakes her sobs. She doesn’t move to open the door because there is no world out there. She decides to stay in the cold house and let the dark swallow her like the minnows of light above. She won’t put up with another leaving, another trick. Waking up to find one brother then another not at the bottom of the bed, his foot jabbing her spine.
Sitting at the table eating turnips and saving the liquor for her grandmother to drink; her mother’s hand on the keeping-room door and her voice saying, “Baby Suggs is gone, Denver.” And when she got around to worrying about what would be the case if Sethe died or Paul D took her away, a dream-come-true comes true just to leave her on a pile of newspaper in the dark.
No footfall announces her, but there she is, standing where before there was nobody when Denver looked. And smiling.
Denver grabs the hem of Beloved’s skirt. “I thought you left me.
I thought you went back.”
Beloved smiles, “I don’t want that place. This the place I am.”
She sits down on the pallet and, laughing, lies back looking at the cracklights above.
Surreptitiously, Denver pinches a piece of Beloved’s skirt between her fingers and holds on. A good thing she does because suddenly Beloved sits up.
“What is it?” asks Denver.
“Look,” she points to the sunlit cracks.
“What? I don’t see nothing.” Denver follows the pointing finger.
Beloved drops her hand. “I’m like this.”
Denver watches as Beloved bends over, curls up and rocks. Her eyes go to no place; her moaning is so small Denver can hardly hear it.
“You all right? Beloved?”
Beloved focuses her eyes. “Over there. Her face.”
Denver looks where Beloved’s eyes go; there is nothing but darkness there.
“Whose face? Who is it?”
“Me. It’s me.”
She is smiling again.
THE LAST of the Sweet Home men, so named and called by one who would know, believed it. The other four believed it too, once, but they were long gone. The sold one never returned, the lost one never found. One, he knew, was dead for sure; one he hoped was, because butter and clabber was no life or reason to live it. He grew up thinking that, of all the Blacks in Kentucky, only the five of them were men. Allowed, encouraged to correct Garner, even defy him.
To invent ways of doing things; to see what was needed and attack it without permission. To buy a mother, choose a horse or a wife, handle guns, even learn reading if they wanted to–but they didn’t want to since nothing important to them could be put down on paper.
Was that it? Is that where the manhood lay? In the naming done by a whiteman who was supposed to know? Who gave them the privilege not of working but of deciding how to? No. In their relationship with Garner was true metal: they were believed and trusted, but most of all they were listened to.
He thought what they said had merit, and what they felt was serious. Deferring to his slaves’ opinions did not deprive him of authority or power. It was schoolteacher who taught them otherwise.
A truth that waved like a scarecrow in rye: they were only Sweet Home men at Sweet Home. One step off that ground and they were trespassers among the human race. Watchdogs without teeth; steer bulls without horns; gelded workhorses whose neigh and whinny could not be translated into a language responsible humans spoke.
His strength had lain in knowing that schoolteacher was wrong. Now he wondered. There was Alfred, Georgia, there was Delaware, there was Sixo and still he wondered. If schoolteacher was right it explained how he had come to be a rag doll–picked up and put back down anywhere any time by a girl young enough to be his daughter. Fucking her when he was convinced he didn’t want to. Whenever she turned her behind up, the calves of his youth (was that it?) cracked his resolve. But it was more than appetite that humiliated him and made him wonder if schoolteacher was right. It was being moved, placed where she wanted him, and there was nothing he was able to do about it. For his life he could not walk up the glistening white stairs in the evening; for his life he could not stay in the kitchen, in the keeping room, in the storeroom at night. And he tried. Held his breath the way he had when he ducked into the mud; steeled his heart the way he had when the trembling began. But it was worse than that, worse than the blood eddy he had controlled with a sledge hammer. When he stood up from the supper table at 124 and turned toward the stairs, nausea was first, then repulsion. He, he. He who had eaten raw meat barely dead, who under plum trees bursting with blossoms had crunched through a dove’s breast before its heart stopped beating. Because he was a man and a man could do what he would: be still for six hours in a dry well while night dropped; fight raccoon with his hands and win; watch another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man was like. And it was he, that man, who had walked from Georgia to Delaware, who could not go or stay put where he wanted to in 124–shame.
Paul D could not command his feet, but he thought he could still talk and he made up his mind to break out that way. He would tell Sethe about the last three weeks: catch her alone coming from work at the beer garden she called a restaurant and tell it all.
He waited for her. The winter afternoon looked like dusk as he stood in the alley behind Sawyer’s Restaurant. Rehearsing, imagining her face and letting the words flock in his head like kids before lining up to follow the leader.
“Well, ah, this is not the, a man can’t, see, but aw listen here, it ain’t that, it really ain’t, Ole Garner, what I mean is, it ain’t a weak- ness, the kind of weakness I can fight ‘cause ‘cause something is happening to me, that girl is doing it, I know you think I never liked her nohow, but she is doing it to me. Fixing me. Sethe, she’s fixed me and I can’t break it.”
What? A grown man fixed by a girl? But what if the girl was not a girl, but something in disguise? A lowdown something that looked like a sweet young girl and fucking her or not was not the point, it was not being able to stay or go where he wished in 124, and the danger was in losing Sethe because he was not man enough to break out, so he needed her, Sethe, to help him, to know about it, and it shamed him to have to ask the woman he wanted to protect to help him do it, God damn it to hell.
Paul D blew warm breath into the hollow of his cupped hands.
The wind raced down the alley so fast it sleeked the fur of four kitchen dogs waiting for scraps. He looked at the dogs. The dogs looked at him.
Finally the back door opened and Sethe stepped through holding a scrap pan in the crook of her arm. When she saw him, she said Oh, and her smile was both pleasure and surprise.
Paul D believed he smiled back but his face was so cold he wasn’t sure.
“Man, you make me feel like a girl, coming by to pick me up after work. Nobody ever did that before. You better watch out, I might start looking forward to it.” She tossed the largest bones into the dirt rapidly so the dogs would know there was enough and not fight each other. Then she dumped the skins of some things, heads of other things and the insides of still more things–what the restaurant could not use and she would not–in a smoking pile near the animals’ feet.
“Got to rinse this out,” she said, “and then I’ll be right with you.”
He nodded as she returned to the kitchen.
The dogs ate without sound and Paul D thought they at least got what they came for, and if she had enough for them– The cloth on her head was brown wool and she edged it down over her hairline against the wind.
“You get off early or what?”
“I took off early.”
“Anything the matter?”
“In a way of speaking,” he said and wiped his lips.
“Not cut back?”
“No, no. They got plenty work. I just–”
“Sethe, you won’t like what I’m ‘bout to say.”
She stopped then and turned her face toward him and the hateful wind. Another woman would have squinted or at least teared if the wind whipped her face as it did Sethe’s. Another woman might have shot him a look of apprehension, pleading, anger even, because what he said sure sounded like part one of Goodbye, I’m gone.
Sethe looked at him steadily, calmly, already ready to accept, release or excuse an in-need-or-trouble man. Agreeing, saying okay, all right, in advance, because she didn’t believe any of them–over the long haul–could measure up. And whatever the reason, it was all right. No fault. Nobody’s fault.
He knew what she was thinking and even though she was wrong– he was not leaving her, wouldn’t ever–the thing he had in mind to tell her was going to be worse. So, when he saw the diminished expectation in her eyes, the melancholy without blame, he could not say it. He could not say to this woman who did not squint in the wind, “I am not a man.”
“Well, say it, Paul D, whether I like it or not.”
Since he could not say what he planned to, he said something he didn’t know was on his mind. “I want you pregnant, Sethe. Would you do that for me?”
Now she was laughing and so was he.
“You came by here to ask me that? You are one crazy-headed man. You right; I don’t like it. Don’t you think I’m too old to start that all over again?” She slipped her fingers in his hand for all the world like the hand-holding shadows on the side of the road.
“Think about it,” he said. And suddenly it was a solution: a way to hold on to her, document his manhood and break out of the girl’s spell–all in one. He put the tips of Sethe’s fingers on his cheek.
Laughing, she pulled them away lest somebody passing the alley see them misbehaving in public, in daylight, in the wind.
Still, he’d gotten a little more time, bought it, in fact, and hoped the price wouldn’t wreck him. Like paying for an afternoon in the coin of life to come.
They left off playing, let go hands and hunched forward as they left the alley and entered the street. The wind was quieter there but the dried-out cold it left behind kept pedestrians fast-moving, stiff inside their coats. No men leaned against door frames or storefront windows. The wheels of wagons delivering feed or wood screeched as though they hurt. Hitched horses in front of the saloons shivered and closed their eyes. Four women, walking two abreast, approached, their shoes loud on the wooden walkway. Paul D touched Sethe’s elbow to guide her as they stepped from the slats to the dirt to let the women pass.
Half an hour later, when they reached the city’s edge, Sethe and Paul D resumed catching and snatching each other’s fingers, stealing quick pats on the behind. Joyfully embarrassed to be that grownup and that young at the same time.
Resolve, he thought. That was all it took, and no motherless gal was going to break it up. No lazy, stray pup of a woman could turn him around, make him doubt himself, wonder, plead or confess.
Convinced of it, that he could do it, he threw his arm around Sethe’s shoulders and squeezed. She let her head touch his chest, and since the moment was valuable to both of them, they stopped and stood that way–not breathing, not even caring if a passerby passed them by. The winter light was low. Sethe closed her eyes. Paul D looked at the black trees lining the roadside, their defending arms raised against attack. Softly, suddenly, it began to snow, like a present come down from the sky. Sethe opened her eyes to it and said, “Mercy.”
And it seemed to Paul D that it was–a little mercy–something given to them on purpose to mark what they were feeling so they would remember it later on when they needed to.
Down came the dry flakes, fat enough and heavy enough to crash like nickels on stone. It always surprised him, how quiet it was. Not like rain, but like a secret.
“Run!” he said.
“You run,” said Sethe. “I been on my feet all day.”
“Where I been? Sitting down?” and he pulled her along.
“Stop! Stop!” she said. “I don’t have the legs for this.”
“Then give em to me,” he said and before she knew it he had backed into her, hoisted her on his back and was running down the road past brown fields turning white.
Breathless at last, he stopped and she slid back down on her own two feet, weak from laughter.
“You need some babies, somebody to play with in the snow.”
Sethe secured her headcloth.
Paul D smiled and warmed his hands with his breath. “I sure would like to give it a try. Need a willing partner though.”
“I’ll say,” she answered. “Very, very willing.”
It was nearly four o’clock now and 124 was half a mile ahead.
Floating toward them, barely visible in the drifting snow, was a figure, and although it was the same figure that had been meeting Sethe for four months, so complete was the attention she and Paul D were paying to themselves they both felt a jolt when they saw her close in.
Beloved did not look at Paul D; her scrutiny was for Sethe. She had no coat, no wrap, nothing on her head, but she held in her hand a long shawl. Stretching out her arms she tried to circle it around Sethe.
“Crazy girl,” said Sethe. “You the one out here with nothing on.” And stepping away and in front of Paul D, Sethe took the shawl and wrapped it around Beloved’s head and shoulders. Saying, “You got to learn more sense than that,” she enclosed her in her left arm.
Snowflakes stuck now. Paul D felt icy cold in the place Sethe had been before Beloved came. Trailing a yard or so behind the women, he fought the anger that shot through his stomach all the way home.
When he saw Denver silhouetted in the lamplight at the window, he could not help thinking, “And whose ally you?”
It was Sethe who did it. Unsuspecting, surely, she solved everything with one blow.
“Now I know you not sleeping out there tonight, are you, Paul D?” She smiled at him, and like a friend in need, the chimney coughed against the rush of cold shooting into it from the sky. Window sashes shuddered in a blast of winter air.
Paul D looked up from the stew meat.
“You come upstairs. Where you belong,” she said, “… and stay there.”
The threads of malice creeping toward him from Beloved’s side of the table were held harmless in the warmth of Sethe’s smile.
Once before (and only once) Paul D had been grateful to a woman.
Crawling out of the woods, cross-eyed with hunger and loneliness, he knocked at the first back door he came to in the colored section of Wilmington. He told the woman who opened it that he’d appreciate doing her woodpile, if she could spare him something to eat.
She looked him up and down.
“A little later on,” she said and opened the door wider. She fed him pork sausage, the worst thing in the world for a starving man, but neither he nor his stomach objected. Later, when he saw pale cotton sheets and two pillows in her bedroom, he had to wipe his eyes quickly, quickly so she would not see the thankful tears of a man’s first time. Soil, grass, mud, shucking, leaves, hay, cobs, sea shells—all that he’d slept on. White cotton sheets had never crossed his mind. He fell in with a groan and the woman helped him pretend he was making love to her and not her bed linen. He vowed that night, full of pork, deep in luxury, that he would never leave her.
She would have to kill him to get him out of that bed. Eighteen months later, when he had been purchased by Northpoint Bank and Railroad Company, he was still thankful for that introduction to sheets.
Now he was grateful a second time. He felt as though he had been plucked from the face of a cliff and put down on sure ground.
In Sethe’s bed he knew he could put up with two crazy girls—as long as Sethe made her wishes known. Stretched out to his full length, watching snowflakes stream past the window over his feet, it was easy to dismiss the doubts that took him to the alley behind the restaurant: his expectations for himself were high, too high. What he might call cowardice other people called common sense.
Tucked into the well of his arm, Sethe recalled Paul D’s face in the street when he asked her to have a baby for him. Although she laughed and took his hand, it had frightened her. She thought quickly of how good the sex would be if that is what he wanted, but mostly she was frightened by the thought of having a baby once more.
Needing to be good enough, alert enough, strong enough, that caring–again. Having to stay alive just that much longer. O Lord, she thought, deliver me. Unless carefree, motherlove was a killer. What did he want her pregnant for? To hold on to her? have a sign that he passed this way? He probably had children everywhere anyway.
Eighteen years of roaming, he would have to have dropped a few.
No. He resented the children she had, that’s what. Child, she corrected herself. Child plus Beloved whom she thought of as her own, and that is what he resented. Sharing her with the girls. Hearing the three of them laughing at something he wasn’t in on. The code they used among themselves that he could not break. Maybe even the time spent on their needs and not his. They were a family somehow and he was not the head of it.
Can you stitch this up for me, baby?
Um hm. Soon’s I finish this petticoat. She just got the one she came here in and everybody needs a change.
Any pie left?
I think Denver got the last of it.
And not complaining, not even minding that he slept all over and around the house now, which she put a stop to this night out of courtesy.
Sethe sighed and placed her hand on his chest. She knew she was building a case against him in order to build a case against getting pregnant, and it shamed her a little. But she had all the children she needed. If her boys came back one day, and Denver and Beloved stayed on–well, it would be the way it was supposed to be, no?
Right after she saw the shadows holding hands at the side of the road hadn’t the picture altered? And the minute she saw the dress and shoes sitting in the front yard, she broke water. Didn’t even have to see the face burning in the sunlight. She had been dreaming it for years.
Paul D’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell under her hand.
DENVER FINISHED washing the dishes and sat down at the table.
Beloved, who had not moved since Sethe and Paul D left the room, sat sucking her forefinger. Denver watched her face awhile and then said, “She likes him here.”
Beloved went on probing her mouth with her finger. “Make him go away,” she said.
“She might be mad at you if he leaves.”
Beloved, inserting a thumb in her mouth along with the forefinger, pulled out a back tooth. There was hardly any blood, but Denver said, “Ooooh, didn’t that hurt you?”
Beloved looked at the tooth and thought, This is it. Next would be her arm, her hand, a toe. Pieces of her would drop maybe one at a time, maybe all at once. Or on one of those mornings before Denver woke and after Sethe left she would fly apart. It is difficult keeping her head on her neck, her legs attached to her hips when she is by herself. Among the things she could not remember was when she first knew that she could wake up any day and find herself in pieces.
She had two dreams: exploding, and being swallowed. When her tooth came out–an odd fragment, last in the row–she thought it was starting.
“Must be a wisdom,” said Denver. “Don’t it hurt?”
“Then why don’t you cry?”
“If it hurts, why don’t you cry?”
And she did. Sitting there holding a small white tooth in the palm of her smooth smooth hand. Cried the way she wanted to when turtles came out of the water, one behind the other, right after the blood-red bird disappeared back into the leaves. The way she wanted to when Sethe went to him standing in the tub under the stairs. With the tip of her tongue she touched the salt water that slid to the corner of her mouth and hoped Denver’s arm around her shoulders would keep them from falling apart.
The couple upstairs, united, didn’t hear a sound, but below them, outside, all around 124 the snow went on and on and on. Piling itself, burying itself. Higher. Deeper.
AT THE BACK of Baby Suggs’ mind may have been the thought that if Halle made it, God do what He would, it would be a cause for celebration. If only this final son could do for himself what he had done for her and for the three children John and Ella delivered to her door one summer night. When the children arrived and no Sethe, she was afraid and grateful. Grateful that the part of the family that survived was her own grandchildren–the first and only she would know: two boys and a little girl who was crawling already. But she held her heart still, afraid to form questions: What about Sethe and Halle; why the delay? Why didn’t Sethe get on board too? Nobody could make it alone. Not only because trappers picked them off like buzzards or netted them like rabbits, but also because you couldn’t run if you didn’t know how to go. You could be lost forever, if there wasn’t nobody to show you the way.
So when Sethe arrived–all mashed up and split open, but with another grandchild in her arms–the idea of a whoop moved closer to the front of her brain. But since there was still no sign of Halle and Sethe herself didn’t know what had happened to him, she let the whoop lie-not wishing to hurt his chances by thanking God too soon.
It was Stamp Paid who started it. Twenty days after Sethe got to 124 he came by and looked at the baby he had tied up in his nephew’s jacket, looked at the mother he had handed a piece of fried eel to and, for some private reason of his own, went off with two buckets to a place near the river’s edge that only he knew about where blackberries grew, tasting so good and happy that to eat them was like being in church. Just one of the berries and you felt anointed.
He walked six miles to the riverbank; did a slide-run-slide down into a ravine made almost inaccessible by brush. He reached through brambles lined with blood-drawing thorns thick as knives that cut through his shirt sleeves and trousers. All the while suffering mosquitoes, bees, hornets, wasps and the meanest lady spiders in the state. Scratched, raked and bitten, he maneuvered through and took hold of each berry with fingertips so gentle not a single one was bruised. Late in the afternoon he got back to 124 and put two full buckets down on the porch. When Baby Suggs saw his shredded clothes, bleeding hands, welted face and neck she sat down laughing out loud.
Buglar, Howard, the woman in the bonnet and Sethe came to look and then laughed along with Baby Suggs at the sight of the sly, steely old black man: agent, fisherman, boatman, tracker, savior, spy, standing in broad daylight whipped finally by two pails of blackberries.
Paying them no mind he took a berry and put it in the three week-old Denver’s mouth. The women shrieked.
“She’s too little for that, Stamp.”
“Bowels be soup.”
“Sickify her stomach.”
But the baby’s thrilled eyes and smacking lips made them follow suit, sampling one at a time the berries that tasted like church. Finally Baby Suggs slapped the boys’ hands away from the bucket and sent Stamp around to the pump to rinse himself. She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love.
That’s how it began.
She made the pastry dough and thought she ought to tell Ella and John to stop on by because three pies, maybe four, were too much to keep for one’s own. Sethe thought they might as well back it up with a couple of chickens. Stamp allowed that perch and catfish were jumping into the boat–didn’t even have to drop a line.
From Denver’s two thrilled eyes it grew to a feast for ninety people .124 shook with their voices far into the night. Ninety people who ate so well, and laughed so much, it made them angry. They woke up the next morning and remembered the meal-fried perch that Stamp Paid handled with a hickory twig, holding his left palm out against the spit and pop of the boiling grease; the corn pudding made with cream; tired, overfed children asleep in the grass, tiny bones of roasted rabbit still in their hands–and got angry.
Baby Suggs’ three (maybe four) pies grew to ten (maybe twelve).
Sethe’s two hens became five turkeys. The one block of ice brought all the way from Cincinnati—over which they poured mashed watermelon mixed with sugar and mint to make a punch–became a wagonload of ice cakes for a washtub full of strawberry shrug, 124, rocking with laughter, goodwill and food for ninety, made them angry. Too much, they thought. Where does she get it all, Baby Suggs, holy? Why is she and hers always the center of things? How come she always knows exactly what to do and when? Giving advice; passing messages; healing the sick, hiding fugitives, loving, cooking, cooking, loving, preaching, singing, dancing and loving everybody like it was her job and hers alone.
Now to take two buckets of blackberries and make ten, maybe twelve, pies; to have turkey enough for the whole town pretty near, new peas in September, fresh cream but no cow, ice and sugar, batter bread, bread pudding, raised bread, shortbread–it made them mad.
Loaves and fishes were His powers–they did not belong to an ex slave who had probably never carried one hundred pounds to the scale, or picked okra with a baby on her back. Who had never been lashed by a ten-year-old whiteboy as God knows they had. Who had not even escaped slavery–had, in fact, been bought out of it by a doting son and driven to the Ohio River in a wagon–free papers folded between her breasts (driven by the very man who had been her master, who also paid her resettlement fee–name of Garner), and rented a house with two floors and a well from the Bodwins– the white brother and sister who gave Stamp Paid, Ella and John clothes, goods and gear for runaways because they hated slavery worse than they hated slaves.
It made them furious. They swallowed baking soda, the morning after, to calm the stomach violence caused by the bounty, the reckless generosity on display at 124. Whispered to each other in the yards about fat rats, doom and uncalled-for pride.
The scent of their disapproval lay heavy in the air. Baby Suggs woke to it and wondered what it was as she boiled hominy for her grandchildren. Later, as she stood in the garden, chopping at the tight soil over the roots of the pepper plants, she smelled it again.
She lifted her head and looked around. Behind her some yards to the left Sethe squatted in the pole beans. Her shoulders were distorted by the greased flannel under her dress to encourage the healing of her back. Near her in a bushel basket was the three-week-old baby.
Baby Suggs, holy, looked up. The sky was blue and clear. Not one touch of death in the definite green of the leaves. She could hear birds and, faintly, the stream way down in the meadow. The puppy, Here Boy, was burying the last bones from yesterday’s party. From somewhere at the side of the house came the voices of Buglar, Howard and the crawling girl. Nothing seemed amiss–yet the smell of disapproval was sharp. Back beyond the vegetable garden, closer to the stream but in full sun, she had planted corn. Much as they’d picked for the party, there were still ears ripening, which she could see from where she stood. Baby Suggs leaned back into the peppers and the squash vines with her hoe. Carefully, with the blade at just the right angle, she cut through a stalk of insistent rue. Its flowers she stuck through a split in her hat; the rest she tossed aside. The quiet clok clok clok of wood splitting reminded her that Stamp was doing the chore he promised to the night before. She sighed at her work and, a moment later, straightened up to sniff the disapproval once again.
Resting on the handle of the hoe, she concentrated. She was accustomed to the knowledge that nobody prayed for her–but this free floating repulsion was new. It wasn’t whitefolks–that much she could tell–so it must be colored ones. And then she knew. Her friends and neighbors were angry at her because she had overstepped, given too much, offended them by excess.
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