Friday, January 3, 2014

Short Story-The Only Home I Ever Knew

I'd like to share today the second story in the series of short stories I wrote for my American Minorities Literature class this past semester. You can read the introduction and the first story in the series here.

The Only Home I Ever Knew
My grandmother had come from Africa. She raised me ‘til I was twelve. My mother, her daughter, died in childbirth. Living on the Harper plantation is the only life I have ever known. My grandmother was a house slave; my mother had worked in the fields. My grandmother trained me up to take her place as a house slave so I could know a better life.
                I hate working in the house. When I was young and my grandmother was still around telling me stories of her life and helping me learn what I needed to do and say to make the masters happy, I could stand being in the house. She’s been gone for four long years now.
She taught me to read and write, a talent I kept hidden from my masters. As a child I didn’t think much of old Master Harper’s son, who is now the owner since old Harper died. His new wife looks at me unkindly. My work never seems to satisfy her, and I constantly have to redo a chore I had already finished. Young Master Harper is nothing like his father. I remember old Master Harper being a fairly kind man, who would often smile at me when I brought him tea, but his son is something different. A monster would be a fitting title. [1]
A week after he had brought his new wife home, he handed me a note. I simply replied, “I can’t read them sir.” “Can’t you?” He would ask. He would then proceed to read them to me, asking if I understood. He made it known I was to serve only him at dinner, while the other house slaves served the rest of the family. I hated the way his vile eyes looked at me, as if he was trying to see through my clothes. How I wish I were plain, ugly even, as not to draw attention to myself.
The only way to make it through is to avoid my master at all costs, and his wife as well. I have spent a lot of time in the kitchen, hoping that the mistress will want me there. I can find no sympathy from her. She seems to think I seek her husband’s advances, although I caught her peeking through the door one night as he had me bring him hot tea in his study. He grabbed my arm and caressed my skin. Hoping he would release his hold of me and let me go, I said, “Will that be all sir?” I could feel her watchful gaze burning on my skin.  Instead he would say, “no, not quite,” and would then proceed to talk to me in such language as he saw fit. I was obliged to stand and listen, knowing his wife was cringing at his every word. When I could stand it no longer, I quietly spoke, “Please sir, let me go.” This wouldn’t do. He became angry, cursing me, though he never saw fit to strike me. [2]
It was after this night that Mrs. Harper began probing me with questions. She wanted to know what her husband had wanted with me, and even had me swear on a bible that nothing had happened. I had pity for her, though I knew she had none for my predicament. Her pride was wounded, and she was angry at her own situation. She wanted a child, but that could only be done through her husband.
A few nights later I was called to my master’s study again. I had been successful at avoiding my master, my inner happiness rising. Being called to his study, I was unsure of what to expect, but I knew I would find no happiness in it. His wife had beaten me to him, and I waited at the door.
“Why? Why her? Don’t you want a son? Can’t you come to bed and visit me?” She seemed on the verge of tears, though she was doing her best to show strength.
“Leave now Virginia before I get upset. I will come when I am ready. Do not speak to me in this manner again. Now get along.” He waved his hand at her, never looking up from his papers. She made a motion to leave, but turned suddenly and faced him.
“You are a vial man. A sinner! I am ashamed to be your wife!” He caught her arm as she was turning away from him, their eyes locked. I heard the smack more than saw it, as he was that fast. Her hands went to her face as she scrambled out of the room.   In her rush, she disrupted the tray that held the tea I was holding. This caused it to spill and land on my dress, burning my hands. I cried out in pain, which made her notice me.
“You! You are as bad as him!” As Mr. Harper reached the doorway she turned to leave before he could say anything to her again. “I am so sorry my dear. Go get cleaned up and come back. I wish us to have one of our…conversations.”  I took the tray back to the kitchen, fighting back tears. I couldn’t stand living like this, being hunted by a man I wanted nothing to do with. The thought of his vile breath on my skin, him licking his lips as I drew near him filled me with disgust.
My options were few, but I knew I had to try. Running away felt like the best course of action. I packed a small pack filled with food and my scarf, and left the only home I ever knew. [3]

[1] This story is based on the life of Harriet Jacobs. She was born into slavery and taught to read and write, but was something she didn’t admit she could do to her master. (Jacobs 161-167)
[2] In her story, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the master, Mr. Flint, speaks to her in intimate ways. The wife doesn’t see him do this, but is suspicious and makes her swear on the Bible that she hadn’t slept with her husband. (Jacobs 161-167)
[3] Jacobs does flee, and stays in hiding for her children’s sake. She spends seven years in a crawl space before escaping to Philadelphia in 1842. (Jacobs 161-167)