“Would you please just...tell me what it says,” I sigh impatiently.
Picking up Jarrah’s crumpled letter and uncurling it in his hand, he reads aloud what has to have been the longest words of my life.
“Lost the court case. We need to get you out. Find me.”
* * *
So they lost. I’m going back to Mississippi.
It was all for nothing.
Tonight, my whole world has crumbled around me. Finally, the delicate house of cards I have built around myself has fallen into a disorganized pile of chaos.
No matter how many battles I fight, how many times I’m whipped, or starved, it all means nothing.
I’m nothing but a shell anymore.
My knees buckle and I fall to the ground, head in hands. Isaac immediately embraces me, worry lining his face. I can’t even cry this time. I just kneel there, paralyzed.
Isaac takes my hands in his.
“Look at me” he says, and I obey.
“Whatever happens, I’m not gonna be split from you. I’ll chain myself to the wagon and go back with you if I have to. I need you to listen to me now.”
I lift my chin and meet his stern eyes.
“Find...find Jarrah. He must know what’s happened--when they’re taking you away. Go.”
Isaac helps me to my feet, and hugs me fiercely.
“It’s gonna be okay” he says, probably comforting himself more than me.
I run towards the stream, no longer concious of my footsteps but thinking of my dark future ahead. It’s dark, and no one is around. I wait for a half an hour--an hour, but he doesn’t show up. Maybe we were meant to meet somewhere else--the manor?
But I’m not allowed in there anymore. I’m not a maid.
Think, Alice. He said “find me.” But this is where we always meet...
I just don’t know. I retreat to my quarters for the night, deciding to figure it out in the morning.
I have never made a greater mistake than using patience in a race against time.
* * *
I awake to being shaken and abruptly dragged out of my quarters and into the hot, night air.
“Get up, girl.”
I groan in response, confused.
“Up ye lazy runt!”
By the faint moonlight I make out two men, one my overseer and the other who I don’t recognize. They pull me farther and farther from my quarters, me too groggy and tired to register what’s happening to me.
“What are you...let me go!” I hiss.
My mind clicks into action when I see a wagon in the distance--I realize what’s happening. I try to scream but I’m muffled by a sweaty hand. Frantically, I struggle to get out of my captors’ grasp, but I’m too weak. They toss me unkindly into the cart cell, and lock the door behind me.
“What are you doing?” I growl, “why am I in here?”
My overseer sighs. “You’ll find out soon enough. Let’s just say we won’t be seeing each other again.”
“Is it because they won the case? Are they taking me now?” I ask frantically.
The overseer looks me dead in the eye, and says nothing more. He turns and leaves.
“COME BACK YOU LITTLE SHIT! DON’T YOU LEAVE ME IN HERE!” I yell as loud as I can. But I don’t know if anyone hears me, and if they do I don’t think they care.
“You can’t...you can’t leave me...” I cry to no one in particular.
I lean on the wooden bars that keep me in this stupid wagon. I haven’t been in one in years, and they’re still as uncomfortable and scary as ever. I’m like an animal, stuck in here.
Isaac doesn’t know where I am. He probably thinks I’m with Jarrah still, so he won’t be worried if I’m missing.
And Jarrah? Well, I haven’t seen him since I asked him to leave me alone.
I close my eyes, trying to clear my thoughts and figure a way out on my own.
I fiddle with the wooden planks, trying to loosen them. But they’ve been stuck like this for years, and I’m sure me weakening them alone isn’t enough. I bang on the walls next, trying to knock over the cart. Nothing’s working, and I let out a scream of frustration.
“Need a hand?”
Startled, I look up to see the most beautiful green eyes looking back at me worriedly.
I memorize every part of his face, just in case I never see him again. The sandy hair that falls slightly over his eye, the signature cocky smirk, and the sculpted jawline.
“You came.” I say in awe, unable to believe he’s really in front of me.
“Yeah, well I didn’t have a choice. You just couldn’t shut up with your yelling. A man can’t get any sleep with you around.”
I roll my eyes despite my situation, and he smiles.
“They’re taking me to Mississippi. Probably in the morning” I inform him.
“I know, I heard Dad yelling about some stupid court case he lost. When I realized it was about you, I freaked and wrote you a message. But I don’t get it Lis. Didn’t you get my note? I told you you had to find me. I was gonna hide you, and I waited forever, but you didn’t show up.”
I say nothing, my eyes now downcast.
“You didn’t even look at it, did you?”
My silence is all the confirmation he needs.
He sighs. “Why do I fancy an idiot, someone explain.”
I blush furiously, and it’s his turn to roll his eyes.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t...you know. I’m sorry I have to go.”
“We’re going to get you out. I’m not letting them take you anywhere.”
“How?” I ask, hoping he has some secret abolitionist group with a plan to save me.
“Isaac and me, of course. Between the two of us, we’re almost smarter than you,” he winks, ” you just stay where you are, alright?”
“As if I have a choice” I roll my eyes.
His face is stern now. “I’m going to free you from here. Just shut up and don’t wake up anyone else. For both our sakes.”
I nod and watch him leave, with some unshakeable, nagging feeling that there was more I should have said.
I sit in the cart uncomfortably for what feels like hours, gazing at the stars above me, taking in the cool, night air, listening to the pleasantries from the manor house that come with a late night dinner party. Wondering what it would be like, to be inside with them, warm and drinking from little wine glasses, held daintily with three fingers aloft. What it would be like to chatter about the weather, and the audacity of a certain neighbour to plant her flowers the same shade as mine, or to buy a dress more frivolous.
Such silly things they fuss about.
* * *
I wake up groggy and sore, and only when I open my eyes do I remember that I’m still locked in the wagon. I look up and realize it is dawn. Frantically, I search my surroundings for any sign of Jarrah and Isaac. Were they caught? Did their plan fail?
Instant fear courses through my body. I hear voices, and see two men approaching me. For a moment, I am relieved. But then I see the beaver pelt hat and I know they were too late--Massa Whitley is walking with a man I don’t recognize at his side.
“Never thought I’d see the day you leave my plantation, leddalone with my permission. What in God’s name is this country coming to, letting that Mississippi swine take what’s mine?” he growls.
The man, presumably my driver, grunts at the direct insult. “Just gimme the cash and I’ll be on my way”.
“Cash?” spits Whitley, “I’m not paying you to take my slave away from me. Take it up with Frederick, with my regards.” Whitley signs a paper, permitting my exit probably, and leaves without another word.
“I’ll miss you too” I yell.
I swear Whitley smiled.
The driver takes his seat at the wagon, and the reality of what’s happening finally hits me. It’s a Saturday--which means everyone’s washing their clothes by the stream. The other slaves won’t notice I’m missing for atleast a day. No one’s going to save me but me now, and the odds aren’t in my favour. I look through the holes in my crate, only able to see the grand manor house getting smaller behind me. The curtain of Jarrah’s window is pulled down. I’ll never see the painting finished. I’ll never hug Isaac again, or even see another sunset in Kentucky. A tear rolls down my cheek, at the thought of leaving the only family, the only life I’ve had in a long time behind. I put on a brave face and turn to face the front.
We travel down the bumpy road for a few minutes, the driver’s whistling irritating me.
“So...you the new overseer?” I ask.
The driver is silent.
“Just taking me there, then?”
“Listen, it’s a long road and--”
The cart comes to a screeching halt, and I’m pushed against the wall of the crate. I hear yelling at the front, and I crane my head but I can’t see what’s going on clearly. My eyes widen as the driver gets thrown out of his seat and onto the gravel. Two men gag him and bind his hands. I watch in horror as he’s dragged to the side of the road and concealed behind some trees.
I’m sweaty, my shirt sticking to me and my forehead beaded with salty drops.
“Who are you?” I ask frantically, “what are you doing?”
One of the men comes closer, and pulls down the bandana concealing his face.
“Rescuing you, of course” winks Jarrah.