The pavilion was next to St. Mary's, it being a place for the orphans to play out of the sun. It was just on the other side of the sand hills, and the surf was loud here. I sat on a stool by myself in the cleared-off place where Biff and Camp usually played. Wagons and buggies, the horses hitched to them, were parked by the inland side of the pavilion. I fixed my brown skirt, laying it so my ankles didn't show overly much. I had on my Sunday best, my shirtwaist wasn't fancy like Mrs Williams', but it was what I had.
I settled the fiddle on my shoulder. Folks milled about, the men going off toward the hills to pass the whiskey bottle while the women calmed fussy babies and put away the food that was still on the long tables. Boys had lit the kerosene lamps on the tables, getting ready for dark. Sweat rolled down my sides even though the sun was sinking fast, the pavilion didn't have walls, and the breeze stirred the air. I had never played before so many; there must be two hundred people, maybe more, a fair number kin. The aunts and uncles were here, so were all the cousins, leastways the ones that lived in Galveston. There were the ranchers and their wives, the ranch hands, too, some of them with the women they courted, them women strangers to me for the most part. They were from the city, I thought, and that added to my nerves.
Everybody was in their Sunday clothes. The women were corseted with brooches fastened to their collars. A fair number of the men had shaved their chins clean and trimmed their mustaches. Daddy had nearly outdone himself. He'd slicked back his wavy gray hair, wore a collar, and had polished his boots to a high shine. Mama looked pretty; she'd pinned up her hair with her tortoiseshell combs. Even the children looked Sunday good, the boys with their shirts tucked in and the little girls wearing ribbons. The ten St. Mary's nuns were here they admired Oscar, he was always doing for them and so were the orphans, all ninety-three of them. Those children were easy to pick out. They were dressed alike wearing white on the top and black on the bottom, the girls in skirts and the boys in short pants, their black stockings held up by garters. So many people, I thought. They'd come for Oscar and Mrs Williams, they'd come for the dancing. I pulled the bow, hardly touching the strings, trying to get the rust out of my fingers without making a sound.
The crowd in the pavilion got tighter around me. Any other time these folks were family and neighbors but tonight, with them all looking at me, I didn't know nobody. They were just swirls of eyes. Maybe that was why Mrs Williams was frozed up good when she and Oscar first got to the pavilion, Andre dragging behind them with his bottom lip poked out. Their arrival had caused a stir; most everybody was curious about this woman from Ohio. They looked her over as Oscar made the 'howdy do's, the men tripping over themselves and the women smiling at her but not knowing what to say.
Mama, wanting to do right by Oscar, kept to Mrs Williams' side and filled in the gaps. She told her that Bumps Ogden was Daddy's brother, and that Mattie Anderson was her sister. She told her who baked the best cakes and who was known for her quilting abilities. I figured Mama was wasting her time thinking any of that mattered to Mrs Williams. She had a reared-back look on her face, her smile fixed like somebody had stepped on her foot and she was trying to act like it hadn't hurt. The women mostly stood off a ways, taking note of the rows of lace on Mrs Williams' shirtwaist and how it showed off the shape of her bosom. The women looked at the tips of her shoes, too. Them shoes were a soft kid, the color of butter, a color that would dirty real quick around here. I could have told the women something about them shoes that they couldn't see. The buttons that ran from the anklebone to the top were also covered in kid.
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."
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