"Don't touch me, gal! I ain't got the strength to carry your misery
away from what I love. Get yourself lookin' like somethin'. We can get on
our way like you say, but you still takin' yourself and all this land, whatever
come with it is in you, you takin' that to Charleston, too. All
anybody'll have to do is look at you sideways and know you a Mayfield.
You don't know you a loved one. You the only one don't know."
A diffident Eudora disappeared to tend to her wounds. Betty chuckled
to herself. That chile don't even know what a good beating is.
* * *
Lijah-Lah handled his canoe like a woman's body he knew well. The
weight of the Mayfield ladies' goods was a challenge, especially with Eudora
all the time fidgeting this way and that, like her looking round
would wind her in Charleston's harbor any sooner than the way folks always
go, no faster than the breeze, no slower than the tide allowed. Lijah-Lah knew his waters from the Ashley to the Cooper rivers. His knowledge was formidable. Was born under the light of a different God, folks said. Lijah-Lah came out his mammy praising the Infidel, but not the Devil. The Infidel made his mark on him and gave Lijah-Lah a firm hand on an oar, direction, and a quiet confidence that too many times nearly undid a white wanting to go someplace. Somehow Lijah-Lah could only understand where the whites wanted to go. Aft er that he didn't respond to anything they went on about. Went back into his mother's spirit, they whispered, where the tongue of the Infidel had never been silenced, brought to praise the name of the Lord Jesus, Almighty, son of God and Savior of us all. No, Lijah-Lah was one of the last to know the other Holy Book. The one he read five times a day, prayed on and beseeched the souls of his ancestors to show him the true way. Lijah-Lah was, therefore, a man prone to long periods of introspection and meditations; the less he opened his mouth, the longer he would live to find his fate. There were only a few of his kind left , who didn't eat crab or pig's meat, who shied away from the jamborees likely to seduce every other river soul. Eudora found him peculiar, but Betty'd ride with no one else. Betty's reasoning was questionable, but consistent. "I like being in the company of those whose God protects em. Long as the oars in Lijah-Lah's hands I'ma get wherever I'm fixin' to be goin'."
Somehow, Eudora became the one who didn't speak or listen, least not to Betty and Lijah-Lah. Today, of all days, Eudora was full of voices in her head, smells of the marsh, the blackness of the water. If she could help it, she'd never come back here again so long as she lived. No matter the mystery of the whiteness of the lily pod, or was it truly white with its honey-colored center where its sweetness lay, in the sepia sway of the creek, rippled with shadows of ancient cypress, the surprise of silver moons winding toward the sun. Eudora felt herself part of all this, and that caused the auburn hair on her arm to stand on end. She was only from these islands, not of these patches of sand begging the salt march, rivulets, the rills, to let them join.
"Hey now! Hey!" swept through the air like the dance of dragonflies. Mama Sue-Sue 'long with all her kin were waving Betty and Lijah-Lah toward them. Eudora snapped, "Ignore them, just keep rowing."
"What you want I do, Mah Bette?" Lijah-Lah erased Eudora.
"I say we say good-bye to our neighbor folk, that's what I say." Betty almost got the canoe tipsy with her excitement.
"Mah Bette, please, let me get us there," replied Lijah-Lah. Betty had
nothing to say to that. Her eyes, old as they were, wandered the glistening blue of Lijah-Lah's veins pulling the oars. Betty was enough of a woman to imagine Lijah-Lah pulling her toward him through the night, through
sweat and weeping that blessed women are familiar with. Shaking her
head, getting Lijah-Lah out of her bones, left Betty with nothing to concentrate on but Eudora, pouting so she competed witht he Spanish moss,
lips 'most dangling from her face.
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