(Author’s note: excerpt from a multiple-narrator novel under development; part one appeared in U.S. 1 last year. Also considering adaptation for the stage.)
Charlotte was hell. Shoot, hell got nothin’ to lay ‘gainst Charlotte, not by me anyway. Barely got outa there in one piece after all that. I had went to live wit’ Aunt Daisy, GrMa’s sister and one more hell bitch by me. She a reverend’s wife wit’ all kin’ o’ airs about her. Oh, Reverend Wilton was alright, really nice but completely run by her, least in private.
Then there was Andre, the onliest piece o’ heaven in all of Charlotte. Fine, tall, bronze colored wit’ them green changeable eyes. A voice sweet as honey, like fresh turned earth; fulla’ life an’ promise. He was jus’ fulla’ hisself; No, no I don’t mean anythin’ bad ‘bout him, although like the Reverend he couldn’t see the bitch in her. No, Andre had gone to a private school, spoke French, read and wrote poetry. He favored a few poets; I can’t remember them but if it kep’ ‘im talkin’…’ He so far different from a country lump like me that you mighta’ thought a cow had wandered in ‘stead o’ me an’ lef’ a mess behin’.
She didn’t even meet the bus; well, never came in anyway, so she could sit in the car false weepin’ into a hankie in the back seat o’ the car — later, when I touched that rag, it was dry! Andre saw t’ me and showed me ‘roun’ the house and later, ‘roun’ Charlotte. I couldn’t stop listenin’ t’ his voice. Reverend Wilton did insist on somebody always bein’ wit’ me and Aunt Daisy di’n’t have time, what wit’ all her church functions an’ high falutin’ ladies t’ impress, so it became Andre, and Aunt Daisy wan’t too happy ‘bout that, but she couldn’t go ‘gainst the Reverend too strong. In a way, she was more right than she knowed.
Well, I settled in as well as I could. Never got comfortable ‘roun’ Aunt Daisy, but I got close — too close — t’ Andre. I mean, that man was the best. He made me realize what bein’ a woman could be. If wantin’ t’ be in’ his arms an’ all was temptation an’ sin, then I wanted all I could get. An’ that’s what it was, I guess. We didn’t mean for it to happen … but he was just the finest man … an’ I sure needed him. But GrMa had sure been right. Look what I did.
I don’t know if we were made f’ each other or like that, but it was like we was. Don’t get no ideas, now. He didn’t take no ‘vantage of me. He fought it all the way. So did I. Felt like GrMa was watchin’ me, yellin’ “Temptation!” at me. I knew what a goodly man he was. He even tried t’ avoid me sometimes, an’ I tried t’ ‘void him. We couldn’t help it … an it jus’ happened.
After that first time, he was a wreck. He kep’ moanin’ ‘bout “ruinin’ me” an’ “What had he done ?” Was all I could do t’ calm him down an’ keep him from confessin’ to the Reverend … or to that Bitch! I jus’ held his head on my chest an’ kissed him on the top o’ his head. I tole him how wonderful he was an’ how good he made me feel — wasn’t no lie!
He kep’ blabberin’ ‘bout sin an’ all an’ I jus tole him to be quiet, that somethin’ so good ‘tween two people who … well … who loved each other like we did, couldn’t never be a sin. He listened t’ me. I know we shoulda’ stopped, but we was jus’ two young folks in a whole lotta love. His pain went away an’ he came t’ love me through it much as I loved him.
Then it happened; yeah, sure, I got pregnant. I’d tried t’ ‘void it, but we didn’t know much about that kinda’ stuff like that then. I tried t’ hide it, but I was jus’ a little thing then. ’sides, even I knew we had t’ do something’. I tole him after lovin’ ‘’im, cause that’s when I could talk t’ ’im best, make ’im understan’. Made him swear to not tell, that we’d work it out. My first mistake. Shoulda’ jus’ took care o’ it myself.
O’course Aunt Daisy foun’ out and gave us both a reamin’ out like you never. Then she tricked me into goin’ t’ see some doctor who took my baby ‘fore she was ready. She had got me wit’ the doctor. Truth is I was scairt’ some o’ country birthin’; after all, Mama died wit’ a midwife’s han’s in her. Son of a bitch doctor! When I wakes up, he lectures me on Aunt Daisy bein’ a godsend! You believe that? If I hadn’t hurt so much, I woulda’ kilt him right there, but they stuck a needle in me an’ I went out like a light.
Anyway, I got outa that office soon as I could — soon as that butcher was gone, a couplea’ days — but I did fin’ my baby in some “medical waste” trash can and brought her home wit’ me in one of them big ole glass jars like y’ see in a candy store. Don’t know how I managed it, for I was surely in some sad state. Yeah, I was crazy, I know, but I wanted that baby t’ give her a proper burial — an’ t’ show ever’one that Aunt Daisy was a — what y’call it — a hipocrit an’ a bitch an’ a murderin’, babykillin’ preacher’s wife!
I managed t’ get home only to fin’ Aunt Daisy mourning in the parlor in the dark. Andre had foun’ out what she done and when she wouldn’t tell him where I was, he went and hung hisself right there in the house! An’ he’d already been buried, I guess, causea’ the shame! I don’t have t’ tell y’ what all that that did t’ me. I went beyon’ caring ‘bout her an’ only wanted to get shy of Charlotte. She did give me a little scroll he had left for me. It was jus’ a copy o’ one o’ his favorite poet’s poems; I shoved it in my pocket.
I din’t tell her nothing. I got all my stuff together an’ took money outa’ her house money jar. She’d tole me where t’ fin’ his grave. It was the onliest one fresh turned, a mound o’ yellow and’ orange clay. I walked over an’ looked down. It was like I could see Andre through the dirt. I wanted t’ see ‘im, but … but I knew he was there an’ he was alone an’ was gonna be alone f’ever. “Not no more,” I thought.
I dropped down an’ started diggin’ wit’ my bare han’s. Pretty soon I had dug a hole a foot or so down. I grabbed that bag, but huggin’ it wasn’t no good. I pulled that jar out an’ opened it. I guess it smelled, but I was plenty crazy jus’ then, y’know. She was so tiny, not even big as a doll. So little, so small in this great big, goddam’ world. I woulda’ loved her, but we never had a chance. I grabbed my sweater, wrapped her little self in it best I could an’ put her back in the jar. ‘Fore I closed it, I kissed her on the forehead. Course she was never baptized, but I named her “Roxanne” as some o’ my tears ran down my nose and landed on her forehead. “I love you, Roxanne, like I loved your father. He’s here, close by, chile. You will never be far from his arms.” I pushed that jar down in the hole an’ started pushin’ dirt back in when I had ’nother idea.
I pulled the jar back out an’ fished in my pocket for that scroll. I unrolled it an’ read it quiet like at first, then I started goin’ louder, almos’ like recitin’ in church. I can still remember; it said:
How do I love thee ? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the dept’ an’ breat’ an’ height
My soul can reach, when feelin’ outta sight
For the ends o’ Bein’ an’ ideal Grace.
I love thee t’ the level o’ every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun an’ candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee wit’ the passion put t’ use
In my ole’ griefs, an wit’ my childhood’s fait’.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
Wit’ my lost saints — I love thee wit’ the breat’,
Smiles, tears, o’ all my life! — an’ if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after deat’
I’d opened the jar again an’ a few o’ them last lines faded inta’ tears, an’ a few more fell onto her head where I’d opened the fold. I smoothed’ lem into that golden skin an’ kissed her again. I rolled up that scroll an’ shoved it into her tiny little han’s. “Hold this forever, Roxanne.” I whispered, “an’ you will be forever wit’ y’r father.”
That was it. I couldn’t take no more. I put that jar back inta’ that hole an’ pushed dirt in on top. I could hardly take my han’s away, like they wanted t’ rub an’ smooth that groun’ f’ever. I can still remember how it felt. But I couldn’t wait no more. I stood up an’ looked down. “Take care o’ each other. Think o’ me. Mebbe someday …” I whispered, then I turned and ran. I hurt an’ hadda’ hold my belly, but I wanted shut of alla’ it. I got t’ the road an’ gotta ride an’ inside a hour I was headed north on the next bus t’ anywhere.
Hugh Adams is a retired public and community services executive who resides in Trenton with his wife. He has been published in previous Summer Fiction issues with a variety of writing styles and viewpoints. He is working on several pieces of fiction for print or stage while pursuing multiple projects on the couple’s home.