"What on earth is on your mind, chile? We all set here to do what you got your heart set on and look at you. You look meaner than dirt."
"That's exactly what I'm talkin' bout, Nana. How're we going to have a new start if we carry all this back here with us? We don't have time to visit every soul you know on these islands if we want to get to Charleston at a decent hour. Brother Diggs and Blanche should be happy to see us, not come draggin' from their beds to greet their vagabond relatives."
"Speak for yourself, missy. Blanche presented her little blue-veined
behind to me in the middle of the night. And she coming out backwards
weren't no delight of mine either. I'm that girl's mother. The two of you
may forget that, but God Almighty and I sure haven't."
"We most there, now. Mah Bette, don't worry yourself."
"Not me worrying, Lijah-Lah. It's this gal here thinks she can catch up
to her future or outrun the past, I don't know which. Anyway Charleston's
not going anywhere, and neither is Blanche, bless her poor shallow soul."
"Don't talk like that, Nana."
"Lijah-Lah, do you hear this, now my gran's gointa tell me I can't call upon the Lord for one of mine I know needs His help. Ain't that something?" Betty was amusing herself again with Eudora's anxiety, her fear of what to do with herself. They were doing just fine, the Lord saw to it. They were breathing. What else that girl want?
Long strokes and a few grits of his teeth, Lijah-Lah brought the overloaded canoe into Sue-Sue's landing. They made a number of other stops 'long the way to Charleston. Betty greeted her weaver friends, her basketmaking sisters, and the wood-workers who'd been kind enough over the years to fill her house with all manner of cypress and walnut furniture. Betty stopped to sanctify the kindness shown to her for so long. No matter what her children looked like, no matter who their pa was.
Eudora imagined herself in Brother Diggs's grand house in Charleston
with Blanche, her aunt, to show her the finer way to live. To know
the opera and the ballet that Charleston boasted before any other colonial
center. Why, her Aunt Blanche was cultured, had escaped the sin of
her birth, she thought. All I have to do is refine my outside qualities and no
one will ever know. They'll never know. Not thinking, Eudora answered
Sue-Sue's daughter, Maribel, in Gullah. She didn't even hear herself. The
part of her that was the islands spoke at will, with ease. Eudora actually
smiled every once in a while when they passed a tabby hut she recognized,
but she'd never tell her Nana. Nothin' rushes water but the water
alone. Eudora was no fool, simply a girl aching to feel dreams she could
hold, that she could touch.
And there was a whole lot of holding of folks and plucking and beating
of instruments every time Betty and Lijah-Lah stopped at a halfhidden
old place set behind loping magnolia trees dressed in wax myrtle
and nestled in circles of spartina and palmetto. The music'd get to going and Betty'd set to dancin' with young men and old, blue black and ivory, toothy or toothless, limbs whole or withered. The whole of the waterways knew something was up or over. The last of the Mayfield colored women was gettin' on away from here. The swamp sang 'long with the folk, and Eudora, still as she was, was singing because the choice was no longer hers. It was up to the growing things, the flying and biting creatures, now. Hurricane time come soon enough. Though brooding, Eudora knew she too was a force of nature like all the Mayfields. Time would come when the winds would sing her song.
* * *
Lijah-Lah whistled to Max, the oyster man. Max, upon hearing,
cocked his head and cooed back smiling to himself, knowing it was his
friend Lijah-Lah even before he could see him. Through the darkness he made out three figures. By Gawd, one was Betty Mayfield whose outline he knew as well as his own hand. So they were the cargo, the Mayfields. Max would be taking the last of the Mayfield clan from Tamarind to Charleston. No wonder Lijah-Lah had not mentioned who or what he wanted Max to carry. Betty Mayfield was leaving Tamarind!
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