Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chapter 1 from "The Lace Makers"

     As I slowly make my way through the second draft of THE LACE MAKERS, I thought I'd share the edited first chapter and introduce to you to Sapphire, who has quickly become a beloved character to write.  As the story unfolds, she's taught me how to once again see the world through a young child's perspective...one that is both enchanting and wise beyond her years.  

     As the research and fact-checking is all a part of the writing process this time around, I'm hoping to finish the first draft in a few weeks and have the novel available for digital download and in paperback on or before May 15th.  

     Please enjoy and share chapter one from THE LACE MAKERS.



Sapphire

The sun be peepin' over the old barn where I hear the cows be moanin' to get milked.  The air sharp like little pins and needles where my arms be peekin' out from my shawl.  The sky turnin' the color a egg yolks my mama like to break jest to watch 'em get runny.  She do that sometimes.  Break them egg yolks for Massa and keep on fryin' 'em 'til they be hard as shoe leather.  He don't say nothin.'  Just gobble 'em up like they be the best thing he ever et. 
Sometime he even say, "Lord, Ruby...these eggs are truly delicious." 
He know to keep his mouth shut 'round my mama 'bout eggs and such.  He be the Massa and all, but he owe my mama.  He owe her a lot.  He owe her a husband.  He owe me my daddy.      
Massa done gambled Daddy away in a poker game two year ago.  Told one a his friends that 'steada payin' him the money like he oughta, that man could take any one a his slaves in payment.  My sisters was done scared out they minds...afraid one a them be picked to be chained to that rotten man's wagon and made to stumble along behind like a dern mule as Mr. Rotten drive back to his plantation. 
They be older than me...my sisters, Pearl and Opal.  When my daddy got taken away, I be only six.  They was twelve and fourteen back then.  Big girls.  Now they has husbands and the oldest, Pearl, she be havin' a baby a her own come summertime.  Opal, she say a baby be comin' over her dead body, but I don't know what that mean.  She gone kill herself when the baby come?  Or she not want any babies at all?  I hear tell that some slaves kill they own babies, but I cain't 'magine such a thing.
I know I don't want no babies a my own 'cause I know they ain't gone be mine anyway.  They be Massa's.  Anything we got, it be his first. 
When I tell Opal that, she say, "Sapphire, you is smart!  I be chewin' my cotton root ever single day since Hale and I jumped the broom and you ain't gone find no baby in my belly, no suh.  Nuh-huh.  Hale and me say that one day, when we be free, we can try and has babies then."
"When we gone be free?" I ask. 
I been a slave since I took my first breath.  Since Mama put knittin' needles in my hands when I be only three year old and say, "Play with 'em, Sapphire, and you soon be makin' hats for Massa's chil'ren."  She say she done teach me how to sew and make lace and all them fancy things so I can stay with her in the big house.  Not like my sisters who gots to work in the fields and such. 
My sisters be call'd Pearl and Opal and I call'd Sapphire 'cause Daddy say he got him a bunch a precious jewels livin' under his roof, such as it be.  I's born on a night when the sky be as blue as a sapphire.  That how I got my name, even though my eyes be green. 
Green jest like Massa's. 
I figure I gone be his property 'til the day I die...or 'til he do.  But Opal say the war that be ragin' all over the country be 'bout settin' us all free.  That one day, slavery be a thing a the past.
I seen both Pearl and Opal standin' near the barn when Mr. Rotten, that friend a Massa's, stumble down to the blacksmith place, the place where my daddy do his work.  Mr. Rotten not be his real name, but I calls him that under my breath whenever he come on Massa's land.  His real name be Mr. Birch like them trees growin' in the back a our shack.  But the only thing white 'bout Mr. Rotten is his skin 'cause his words be black as tar and his soul be dark as the bottom of the well where I pull up buckets a water to tote to the big house. 
 When Mr. Rotten see Opal and Pearl, I hears him yellin,' "You niggers get back to work!"
Daddy look up from the anvil where he been bangin' on a piece a iron.  He be the best horseshoe maker in the county.  Or leas' he was.  Now he dead, so I imagine him in heaven doin' God's biddin'.  I wonder if the Lord Almighty gots horses and oxes and such that need shoein.'  If He do, then I knows my daddy gone take care a them like they be his own.  I knows 'cause he done took good care a me and my sisters.  One day I gone see him 'gain...maybe that how I can finally be free.
On that horrible day Mama be in the house with me.  She be cookin' supper while I sat at the wood table near the open window so's I could hear what be goin' on outside.  I was pullin' a mistake from a lace cap I been workin' on for near a month.  Mama always say I has a gift.  A gift from the Father God Almighty.  She say I make lace an angel be proud to wear.  When she say that, I feel my chest puff up and my heart grow wings.
But not on the day Daddy got taken 'way from me. 
Mr. Rotten point his shaky finger at my daddy.  "He's uglier than sin," he snarl.  "But he'll do just fine."
Mama come stand next to me and we seen Mr. Rotten and Massa head toward the barn.  She know somethin' bad gone happen, and she always right 'bout things like that.
"You has the gift a lace-making, Sapphire," she tole me one time.  "But you also has the gift a insight, jest like I has it and my mama and her mama 'fore her.  All us women-folk has it."
"What insight?" I ask, twisting one a my braids until it nearly cut the blood from my finger.
"Knowin' when things gone happen," she say.  "Like a prophecy."
I look at her like I still confuse.  I knows 'bout prophets from the Bible, but I ain't sure people nowadays be makin' miracles and such.
"Don't worry, baby girl," Mama say.  "You gone learn how it feel soon enough."
And ain't it the truth if I do. 
That day when Mama ran to the barn after Massa and Mr. Rotten, I feel a little corn muffin I jest et start to curl up in my stomach and threaten to pop right back out.  It don't though.  Jest ride up my throat a little, but I swallows it back down.  I seen them two mens walkin' to the barn and knows they got too much whiskey in 'em, and I knows somethin' real bad gone happen.  When Massa drink too much a that stuff, bad things always be happenin.'
"Massa Sam!" I hear Mama cry.  "Please Massa Sam...please don't let him take my babies!"  She run like her feet on fire.  By the time she reach Massa, she shakin' she so upset.  Angry and scared both.  I ain't never seen her like that. 
She pull on his sleeve, "Please Massa Sam...don't take my Pearl or Opal!  I beggin' you!  I do anything you want.  Please!"
Massa look at Mama and a strange look cross his face.  He never hit none a us.  Run a clean plantation where the slaves be happy to work -- or at leas' that how he tell it.  He be the boss, the overseer, and the owner all in one.  Not like some a them plantations we hear 'bout from Earle, the slave who sometime ride along with Mr. Rotten when they make delivery a they dry goods to the big house.  Earle say some slaves get whipped.  Get hung 'til they nearly dead.  Get raped, 'cept I don't know what that mean.  When I ask Mama, she say I be too young to understand and to hush up about it.
Massa ain't never been mean to none a us.  Leas' not that I seen.  When he be drinkin,' it always be Missus he take his anger out on and I feel right sorry for her.  But when Mama beg Massa, I knows she done embarrass him in front a his friend. 
Maybe he gone hit her now, I think. 
I ain't never seen no whippin' on Settler's Place.  No hangin' neither.  There been slaves livin' here since Massa Settler's daddy built this place fifty year ago.  Long 'fore I was born.  Long 'fore my daddy's daddy was sold at an auction in Fayetteville and brought here along with six other mens to work the farm.  We been livin' in the heart a Lincoln County for more'n three gen'rations to hear my daddy tell it, but ain't a one a us ever be tellin' Massa what to do. 
'Til now.
When Mama think Pearl and Opal gone be taken away, she screech like the devil and pull on Massa's sleeve.  She scream.  She cry.  She beg somethin' fierce.
"You got yerself one righteous nigger, Samuel," Mr. Rotten say, his voice all mean-like.  "You goin' to let her tell you what's what?"
Massa look at Mama and take her hand from his sleeve real gentle-like.  "I'm not going to give Pearl and Opal away, Ruby.  You have my word."
Mama fall at his feet and start to cry.  "Thank You, Jesus," she wail.  "Thank you, Sam!"
But when she dry her eyes 'nuf to look up, she see my daddy be talkin' to Massa and Mr. Rotten.  Daddy's eyes be fillin' up.  He bite his lip.  His shoulders shake. 
"Mas-sa," I hear him say, the word stickin' in his throat.  "Massa...I do anything you wants...but please don't do this.  I do anything.  Work like a dog all winter long.  You can hire me out to Massa Birch here...I go to his place to work and then come back and be with my family...with my chil'ren."
Massa Settler shake his head, and I know this be the end.  And I know Massa feel he gone owe my mama plenty for what he jest done.
Daddy don't fight.  He don't do nothing but hug Mama.  Hug Pearl.  Hug Opal.  Hug me.
He whisper in my ear, "Baby girl, you and I gone see each other 'gain.  We is...I promise.  I gone get free and we all goin' up north once this war be done.  I gone come back for all ya."
I hug my daddy like I tryin' to mem'rize the way he feel.  His face be covered in stubbly hair.  His muscle be tight.  His skin covered in sweat.  He been workin' hard, but I know this sweat be from fear.  I be too young to know what of, but I learn soon 'nuf.
Daddy try to get free too soon.
He run away once.  Get his back whip somethin' awful. 
He run away 'gain.  Get hung from a rope 'til his tongue turn black. 
The third time he try to run and come back to us, Mr. Rotten say he done had enough a my daddy and hang him 'til he dead.
Earle say Daddy done his best to get back to us and now he in heaven watchin' over us ever day.  "Him and Jesus both," he tell me while he dryin' my eyes.
I hear Earle done got whipped for cryin' when Mr. Rotten kilt my daddy.  I hear it right from the dern horse's mouth.  Mr. Rotten brag 'bout it to Massa.  He say any slave who spill a tear for another one done deserve to suffer a little, too.
I think Mr. Rotten be the devil right here on earth and he gone suffer plenty on the other side when hell be the only place wicked enough to hold him.

Now the sun rise higher over the barn and I hears the shrill sound of a train whistlin' in the distance.  Shiverin' in my shawl, I head to the big house where my Mama be waitin' on me to help cook breakfast.  It be early April, 1865 - or so Missus Settler say.  She oughta know.  Got her nose stuck in books and calendars all day long.  She teach me all kinds a things. 
Like I knows it be the day after Palm Sunday and that be the celebration of Lord Jesus when he come to Jerusalem and all a them folks be wavin' palm branches and yellin' stuff like, "Hosanna!" and "Blessed is He who come in the name of the Lord."  I read all 'bout that in the Massa's big Bible.
I can read and write good as his kids, even though that illegal.  Missus Settler could get a heap a trouble on her if anyone find out, so I keep my mouth shut and my eyes busy whenever she hand me a book. Massa and Missus' kids, Little Sam and Marybelle, be around the same age as me and we all learn together.  Marybelle be faster at learnin' figures, but Little Sam and me be quick as lighten' with new words.
Missus nice to me and all, but I knows my place in the order a things 'round here.  Ever time after my lessons be done, Missus say, "Now Sapphire, please go fetch me a cup of tea." 
I notice she ain't never ask her kids to do nothin' but put they books back on the shelf 'fore they go outside to play.  It be then I come back to what Mama call reality.  I may be Missus Settler's student, but I always gone be her slave first.  No matter how smart I is, I still gone be colored 'til the day I die. 
But Mama say not to worry 'bout such things.  "You cain't change nobody's mind but your own," she tell me.  "So keep readin' and learnin' so you can keep on changin' for the better."
So I do.
Jest last night I finish readin' the second McGuffey Reader. I read all 'bout Jimmy gettin' up in the mornin.'  "The sun is just peeping up over the hills in the east," it say.  I memorize them words so I can repeat back to myself while I knit or sew or dust or sweep.  "Never forget, before you leave your room, to thank God for His kindness.  He is indeed kinder to us than any earthy parent."
This mornin' as the sun be risin,' I say my prayers and thank the Lord for all the things I done love.    My mama and my sisters.  My lace makin' and my readin' and all the things I be learnin.'  And like always, I thank Him for it bein' one day closer to the day I gone see my daddy.

Then I walk to the kitchen where I know Mama gone be breakin' Massa's egg yolks and he gone be eatin' 'em like they fit for God Hisself.