Excerpt from The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Confessions of Frannie Langton

by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins X
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 384 pages
    May 2020, 384 pages


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Norah Piehl
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Only then did I notice Phibbah had come out too and was standing on the porch, staring.

Miss-bella straightened, gave her a long look. Her voice sweetened to molasses. 'I'll teach you.'

Yes, I thought. Yes, yes, yes!

'No!' Phibbah stepped off the porch, looked like falling. 'Miss's ...'

'Why not?' She nodded, tilted her head.

'Because it's enough,' Phibbah said, tripping forward. 'Enough.'

Once, after Miss-bella went in, Phibbah spat a thick stream into the dirt near the rose bush. 'Where would I go? If I left here? Straight up them hills, first thing. First thing. Take me a musket. Then just wait. Wait, wait, wait, for the hottest part of the day, when nobody outside but slaves and lunatics. Then look for that spot of blue.' The blue of a white woman's eyes, the blue they called Wedgwood. 'Then I be aiming straight for her heart.'

Now she just poked her tongue through her gap, stared at Miss-bella.

I stood looking from one to the other, dumb as one of the cows.

'Is a whipping she deserve,' Phibbah said. 'For spoiling you book.'

'A whipping? A whipping!' Her eyes sharpened, gleamed wet. 'What an idea. Do you want to be the one to give it to her?'

Now Phibbah took a step back. 'No.'

Kiii, how hate burned through me, then. How it made me wish that I'd never snatched at her dropped peas. Or craved her stupid stories.

Miss-bella looked around, as if deciding where to put a picnic, her eyes squeezing like brass tongs. 'You're quite right. We mustn't spare the rod. After all, we don't want to spoil the child. Tell Manso call the others.'

Phibbah shook and shook. 'What?'

'You heard me. Oh, you'll do it, girl. Or Manso will. Quick. Light's going.' She turned to me, her face dripping sweat. 'Phibbah wants you whipped, so whipped you're going to be.'

I don't know which was worse, that it was Phibbah who gave me my first whipping or that the others gathered to stare at the pair of us. They had to come when called, of course. But most people will take a dose of those things happening to someone else so they know it's not happening to them.

Phibbah waited so long it was almost a shiver of relief when she started. It's always the moment before that's the worst. Your whole body waiting. Then I heard her shift behind me, heard birch whistling. Pain sank into my thigh like a claw. Cut hard grooves deep as nails. Whipped up a thin stream of blood, trapped my breath, buried it deep. Another high whistle. I pressed my forehead into the dirt and grass, tried not to cry, but she gave me ten, one for every one of my supposed years. She whipped until that whip was nothing but an echo in my own head, until, I'm ashamed to say, I screamed and screamed, and first the sky went black, then my mind did.

All through it, Miss-bella stood silent, arms folded, face as smooth as milk. When I looked up it was Phibbah she was watching, not me. Her narrow smile stretched between them, tight as sewn thread. She nodded, made her eyes go small. It was as if some inside part of her travelled across that dirt while she herself stood still, went right out across the yard, and spoke something to Phibbah. In the end, it was Phibbah who cast her eyes to the dirt, looked away first. Swallowing and swallowing, though there was nothing in her mouth. Slowly, the others drifted away. Only Miss-bella still watching.

But it was Phibbah who carried me to the cook-room, set me on my pallet, fetched one of the liniments she made with whiskey stolen from Langton's drinks cabinet. She clattered down a plate of johnnycakes, but I only stared at them, hunger wrestling pride, then pushed the plate away. I'd trapped my anger, like a bird in a cage. She bent forward over the grill, shoulders going like bellows, held a slab of salted cod spitting into the flame. 'Harder for me than you,' she said. I said nothing. 'She dress you like a doll, now she want train you like a pet. But if Langton catch the two o' you at it, reading, it's you going feel it. You hear? Listen, Frances.' She spat out my name, like another loosened tooth. 'Listen to me. Not one thing in this world more dangerous than a white woman when she bored. You hear?'

Excerpted from The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins. Copyright © 2019 by Sara Collins. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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