The Beginning...

Ears That Hear

  Celeste watched the black water lap against her toes. Her eyes mirrored its dark depths and her heart was as troubled as the rings that drifted away from her tears where they dropped into the water. She scooped up another handful of pebbles, tossing them one by one into the bayou. The girl cast a glance over her shoulder toward the path that led back up to the big house. She wondered how long it would be before she could go home.

  "Mas'er take care o' us, chere. Dat's de way it is. Go on now, don' worry," her mother's words grated in her thoughts. Angrily, she threw another pebble. Its distant splash sounded like mocking laughter in her ears.

  "But Mama, I know you don' like it when he come...I'm sorry I made us late. Mebbe if I don' go he don' stay." She had tried to help, but it was too late. Celeste wondered if, when she got older, some master would come to her whether she wanted him or not.

  "Over my dead body!" She slammed another handful of pebbles into the water then got to her feet. "Ain't NOBODY gonna own me!" That thought repeated itself with the rhythm of her steps as she stomped back to the big house.

  Softly as a cat, Celeste crept around to the kitchen door at the side of the manor house. The scent of dill and rosemary tickled her nose and delicate leaves brushed against her tawny legs as she made her way through the herb garden bordering the stone path up to the door.

  The room she shared with her mother sat directly above the kitchen and the girl looked up at the window overhead. A dim gold flicker beyond the translucent curtain spoke of candlelight. The master was gone. Mama had left a light on to come home to. A sigh of relief passed Celeste's lips as she gently tugged the latch on the door. It opened with a soft 'click', and she slipped through like a liquid shadow.

  Beyond the kitchen, a swinging door opened to a small hallway. To the left was an entrance to a large formal dining room. To the right, a narrow staircase led up into darkness. Celeste turned towards it, then froze. A curl of pipe smoke drifted down and her eyes followed it back up to its source. Her hands flew to her mouth as she fought to stifle a shriek of panic. She thought she'd be deaf for the pounding of her heart in her ears.

  The man blew smoke down at her like a dragon at a feast, an unpleasant smile curling his lips. "Welcome home darlin'. A little late, ain't it?" His eyes were hidden in the shadows, but Celeste could feel them crawling coldly over her skin. "But then, you're always late, ain't ya?" The Master rose, towering over the young slave.

  Her hands trembled as she clamped them together and forced them down toward her budding bosom. She opened her mouth to speak, but only emptiness came out.

  He chuckled, enjoying her misery. She stared down at her feet and tried again to speak. "M....Mama told me t...t'go for a walk, sir. I just d...done what I was t...t...told." Tears threatened to flood the rims of her eyes but Celeste clamped her teeth together and blinked them back.

  The master took another pull from his pipe then let it out slowly. In the silence, he seemed to be judging her. "And you always do what you're told, little girl, eh?" He stepped down one stair and leaned his back against the wall, his eyes never leaving the girl.

  "Y...yes sir," she stammered, but her face burned as emotions made her blood run like fire in her veins.

  The master laughed softly then dropped down another stair to stand at the bottom step, directly in front of Celeste. Leaning down till his lips were mere inches from her face, he blew another stream of smoke into her eyes. "I'm sure you do...Just like your mama."

  Before she could react he pushed past her, his body nearly knocking her down. The girl watched his form disappear around the corner to the dining room. Suddenly freed of his presence, she bolted up the stairs and into her room. Shutting the door behind her, she slumped against it and released her tears. When the fountain of her anguish had finally run dry, she wiped her eyes on the hem of her dress and peered into the gilded shadows of the room she had always known as home.

  Across the room, next to the window, was the bed. A shock of black hair and a chocolate brown shoulder were all Celeste could see of her mother. The girl gazed tenderly at the woman for a moment, making sure she was sleeping soundly. No motion but the slow rise and fall of that shoulder indicated anything other than sleep. Wiping absently at her nose with the back of her hand, Celeste crept to the tall wardrobe at the right side of the room. Its doors opened with a groan of protest causing the girl to hold her breath for an anxious second. When the world didn't end, she silently lifted a dark worn dress off the hanger rod and laid it over her arm. Leaving the wardrobe open, she padded to a small dresser next to it. From it she took a few underthings, a comb, and a small locket. She opened the tiny gold oval and smiled. Even in the candlelight she could see the smiles of two happy people. Her parents had loved each other well in the short time they'd had together. Quickly, she closed the locket then searched the room with her eyes. There! On the floor at the foot of the bed was a small basket. Celeste crept over to it and stashed her booty. Taking the basket, she rose slowly and turned to the sleeping form on the bed.

  Ever so lightly, she reached out and touched the crinkly black hair. A single tear fell from her cheek to land softly on the pillow. "Goodbye Mama," she breathed. "I love you."

  As the door closed behind her, another tear joined the first on the pillow. "I love you too, Celeste," her mother whispered to the darkness.


-Sonja Torres 1999

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