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Zelda Lockhart, a graduate of Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University, is author of Fifth Born, published by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster in August,
2002. The novel was a Barnes & Noble Discovery selection, and recently won a finalist award for debut fiction from the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Foundation.
Lockhart is also the author of The Evolution, a serial novella, currently appearing in the archives of USAToday.com’s Open Book series. Lockhart's second novel Cold Running Creek, was published this year by LaVenson Press. Her essay "Tracking Love," appears in The Honeymoon's Over: an anthology, published Feb. 2007 by Warner Books, and her essay "Without a Word" appears in When I Was a Loser, published March 2007 by Free Press/Simon & Schuster. Lockhart teaches writing workshops at universities, and private venues nationwide. She currently resides in Hillsborough, NC, and welcomes visits to her website www.zeldalockhart.com.
Cold Running Creek (2007)
Fifth Born (2002)
Cold Running Creek - Summer 1851, LeFlore Plantation, Mississippi
Josephine’s baby was swaddled in light cotton, almost the weight of gauze. The days were cool in the morning, but stifling by noon. The baby girl’s skin was honey colored just like her father’s, her cheeks two semicircles that squeezed her tiny nose when she fixed her face to cry at night, but Josephine coaxed her purple nipple between the child's searching lips and kept her quiet. The next day the child slept, having been kept awake all night by Josephine's thump, pinch, tickle. In the day, the blankets were hung over the windows, the baby placed quietly in the little trough crib, and off Josephine went to the fields for early summer planting.
Josephine was so tired the next day. Every time she stood from breaking the clumps with the dirt rake, dizziness threatened to lift her up out of her body. She may as well have been a ghost. She did not remember dropping seeds into the last three holes she'd prepared, but she was sure she had as she drifted between dream and awake. She saw her new baby's face in each of the tiny rocks she flicked away from tilled soil with her cracking fingernails.
"Mama Josephine." Lula, the young girl who helped with the labor some nights before, spoke into the dream space. "Best wake up, Mama Josephine."
"Hush, child, I ain’t sleepin." Josephine's voice was hoarse as if morning had not been driven away by noon.
The girl kept poking the smoothed poplar stick into the mounds, and dropping seed from the grain bag. She kept her pace slow and watched Josephine in her side vision. "The baby girl, she feed good last night, Mama Jo?"
"Yes, sure ‘nuf." Josephine bent back to the sun and squeezed the tired muscles of her back. "Gonna keep her long as I can." Josephine’s face was chestnut brown against the flawless blue sky.
“Sure ‘nuf Mama Josephine,” was all Lula said when she saw the way Josephine’s tired face stretched out against the blue like a soul ready for rest.
Josephine took a deep breath and stepped with young Lula in the planting.
"Mama Jo, what make you think Massa gonna sell her? She ain’t even been weaned."
"Child, I believe he was grievin about somethin awful that night. I believe he meant to lay with me too, but I don’t believe a man of rules like him meant to bring forth no Massa slave baby. I love what God done let me have of my own want, but Sybil is right, once Massa know a baby came of it, he ain’t gonna let that be."
“Maybe you can go live in the big house and be his special gal.” Lula giggled.
“Hush gal. Shush.” Josephine waved her arms in an attempt to keep the shame away from her; the shame that of all the unlikely women to ever lie with, Master Fox chose Mama Jo.
Josephine flailed at the air as if swatting annoying deerflies.
“I ain’t studin him.”
“What kinda spell he had on you Mama Josephine?”
Josephine mumbled, “The kind that say this ain’t none of that breedin stuff; and I don’t care what ya’ll think. That night was mine; that baby mine. I ain’t lying about you need to hush either Lula, so hush.”
Little Man came down with the water. He was almost a teen boy, but he wasn't bigger than the little boys. Master Golden had set his tasks as running the water, running the cows back into the barn before a storm, running, because that's something he could put to use within the boundaries of those four hundred acres; a child bred to be a strong field hand, but he couldn’t be sold. He had short legs, big feet, a stout body, could run over the furrowed fields like a bunny rabbit, and all the while keep the water bucket steady.
Josephine looked down on his nappy head, which glistened in her dizzy vision as he dipped the water. "You all right Mama Josephine?" They both looked up to see if Master Golden or Master Tchula was riding near.
Grey Fox did not know it, but many of the older slaves who went on with Jack Flowers to the new Territory had called him Tchula li, Little Fox, and although they called him Massa Fox in his presence, he was Tchula li in the fields, some compassion still left for the man who was once a sullen little boy, now just the steel-faced man with nothing on his mind but keeping the rhythm of crops and the rhythm of good commerce.
Josephine sipped a little from the clay cup, lips cracked, and she spilled the rest slowly down the front of her dress to blend the darkness of sweat around her collar with the leaking milk of her breasts.
"She wasn't crying, was she Little Man?"
"No ma'am, quiet as a little ole mouse."
She waved him on, retied her white head cloth, and went back to breaking the clumps, poking the holes and dropping the seeds that would soon burst through the finely worked soil.
Copyright © 2005 by Zelda Lockhart.