Oscar saw to Mrs Williams, everybody noticed that, too. He squired her around the pavilion before taking her to one of the long planked tables propped up on sawhorses. He set her down with Mama, Kate Irvin, Aunt Mattie, and Daisy Calloum, then went off to the sand hills likely for a drop or two of whiskey before sitting down at the men's table. When he left her, Mrs Williams drew into herself like she'd just been tossed into a barrel of winter rainwater.
She didn't pay a bit of attention to Andre. It was me that made sure he was settled with the orphans at one of the children's tables, him being friends with them. It was me that made sure he had food on his plate and not just slices of pie or cake. And when everybody was done eating, I made sure Andre's mouth was wiped clean.
Now, holding my fiddle and sitting on the stool, I got my handkerchief out from the sleeve of my shirtwaist and wiped the chin pad. I was sweating bad. Frank T., that foolish brother of mine, hollered out, 'Oscar? Where's Oscar and that pretty little bride of his?' The crowd gave way and there Oscar was, bringing Mrs Williams to the cleared dance floor close to where I sat. Her eyes went wide when she saw me, my fiddle likely coming as a surprise. Andre clung to his daddy, a fistful of Oscar's pants in his hand. He looked like he was fixing to cry but there wasn't nothing I could do about that because now folks were clapping. Oscar grinned, and Mrs Williams' cheeks were pink, making her even prettier. Mama reached out, caught Andre by the arm and brought him back with her into the crowd. He buried his face into her skirt, and more than anything I wanted to put my fiddle down and hold him tight.
I touched the bow to the strings but my hand was unsteady and the strings screeched. Somebody laughed, it sounded like my cousin James Robert. Mrs Williams was in the middle of the empty dance floor with Oscar, and now the pink in her cheeks was gone, and she was ghost white. She gave me a begging look, and I guessed what she was thinking because I was thinking it too. All these people. Hurry up and play. Fill up this quiet.
I did the oddest thing then, I could hardly account for it. I nodded at Mrs Williams. It was the kind of thing I did when I played with Biff and Camp, us all nodding at the others, our way of saying, Yep, I'm ready to start. I don't know why I did it, Mrs Williams wasn't playing, but something made me do it, and I was glad I did. Her shoulders eased just a tad and the corners of her mouth lifted. She returned my nod, a slow bob of the chin. Without knowing why, a touch of calm took hold of me.
I drew the bow again, and this time I did it right. This time it was the first notes of 'Sweet Eveline'. Oscar, his smile gone now, bowed to Mrs. Williams. She put one hand up on the broad crest of his shoulder and he took the other, swallowing it up inside of his. They stood as straight as could be, her looking up at him, and him looking at her. O played on but them two were stuck, that spark shooting between them. Around them, people gave each other high-eyebrow looks. Mrs. Williams whispered something and all at once, her and Oscar lurched into the waltz, their steps small. They stumbled but they kept with it, and I saw that Oscar was counting. One, two three; one, two, three. His steps smoothed out. He gathered her up like he was sure of himself, his steps longer, almost gliding as they circled the floor.
Biff sang the refrain. shoring me up.
'Sweet Evelina, Dear Evelena
My love for thee will never, never die'
Oscar and Mrs. William waltzed, his grin back and her close to smiling.
Excerpted with permission from The Promise by Ann Weisgarber, copyright 2014, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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