Luisa and the children were just settling down to eat when there was a gentle knock on the nursery door. William frowned, but Luisa shushed him with a look and called out, “Come in!”

“It’s nice and cozy in here,” said the beautiful fair-haired lady dressed in a dark green ruffled evening gown. Four-year old Susannah smiled at her, but William kept his eyes on his plate.

“What’s for supper, William?”

“Scrambled eggs and toast,” the seven-year-old mumbled, refusing to look at her.

“Sounds delicious. I wish I could join you.”

William snorted. He couldn’t remember ever sharing a meal with this almost-stranger.

She kissed the top of Susannah’s head, then turned to kiss William, but he deftly moved out of her reach. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked longingly around the room. “Please, William ….” she began, but her whisper was drowned out by a stern voice from below. “Our guests are arriving, Abigail. Get downstairs now.”

Colonel Montgomery believed that children should neither be seen nor heard, but Abigail’s arms ached with emptiness.

“Hurry up, woman!” The Colonel was getting angry. Abigail scurried out of the room, trailing a scent of gardenias.

“Your mother’s a lovely lady.” Luisa tried to ease the tension.

“She makes me sad.” Susannah’s lower lip trembled.

“She’s not my mother,” William insisted as he ran to hug Luisa. “You are.”

Later that night, as her charges slept, Luisa slipped out to a tiny cabin below the big house. She kissed her daughter Dulcie and mother Mae lightly, careful not to waken them. She quietly unpacked the basket of stolen treasures – three apples, two tomatoes, a slab of butter, a few thick slices of bread, a chunk of cheese – and placed them on the wooden table. At least her precious family wouldn’t have to live on lard, molasses and cornmeal, like the other field slaves.

On her way back, she heard muffled sobbing.

“Such a sorrowful house,” she thought. When she reached the safety of the nursery, Luisa bolted the door, checked in on the sleeping children, and finally wept.

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Margarida Brei
Margarida Brei(@margarida-brei)
15 days ago

Juma, I adore your title “Crushed Gardinias” which perfectly parallels the feelings of both William and his almost stranger mother. Such a well chosen and moving line, “Abigail’s arms ached with emptiness…”
Tragic on so many levels when distance is forced between a mother and child by a bullying husband and cultural differences.

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
12 days ago

Sadly, women raising other women’s children while their own went motherless was the norm on many of the southern plantations. How interesting that in this story, your plantation owner’s wife is also without her children. This situation was probably all too prevalent as well. A sad story, but well-written. We feel the pain of these women, and appreciate the strides we women have made since those days!

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