Lay your grammar obsessions aside, let your jaw relax, loosen your ears, take a long deep breath as you let your mind drift to the deep south and listen in to the privy conversation between Maggie and her dear Tallulah.
“Are you gonna sleep all day Mizrez Lafont? Best try to git up a bit.”
It was the sweet southern voice of Tallulah attempting to rouse the exhausted Maggie. She tapped the rail of a lump beneath the bedding and continued.
“Ima open these shades now missy, better make yo eyes ready cuz it’s a mighty fine mornin’.” Tallulah warned. Her bedraggled vernacular seemed to come from every direction at once.
Maggie pulled the Egyptian cotton over her face and murmured,
“Thank you Tallulah but for the umpteenth time would you please call me Maggie, okay?”
“Okay Miss Maggie.” The drapes flew back and light filled the room. Maggie lifted the cover from her face and squinted at the morning sun. Tallulah studied the woman’s face which was no more than a shade darker than the snowy sheets. She planted her hands on her hips and stared into the hollow eyes of her mistress.
“Mr. Ray is comin’ home today. He’s gonna be here in time for supper, you gonna tell him?”
“Yes Tallulah, I am going to tell him.”
“Is you feelin’ sick this mornin’? I can fetch you some dry toast and warm tea. That was always a help to me and to Mr. Ray’s mama too.”
“Yes please.” Maggie strained to sit up and suppressed a gag as she spoke. “That would be nice.”
When Maggie heard the door shut she scrambled to the restroom, turned the cold water on and splashed her face. The wave of nausea subsided and she raised her head to inspect the figure before her. She hardly recognized the drawn, insipid person in the mirror.
Maggie had been ill since the last night of her honeymoon when Ray carried her from the beach. She barely recalled the long flight home and blamed it on the rum but there was something wrong and she knew it.
The illness quashed her plans to redecorate the beautiful old plantation house. It had been in the Lafont family for close to two hundred years. There wasn’t much Maggie wanted to change about the historical mansion, just a few personal touches to make it her own, their own. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Lafont – Ray didn’t care one way or the other.
Mrs. Turner kept her word and came to visit at least once a week, usually staying for several days though Maggie hardly noticed with most of her days spent between the bed and the bathroom of the apartment sized boudoir.
Unable to keep much of anything on her stomach Maggie wasn’t surprised when she noticed her collar bones protruding like bowed timber at the base of her bony neck. Lifting her gown she could visualize the distinct outline of every rib then letting her eyes drop she observed the only thing that wasn’t recessed was her belly. Her abdomen looked like a basketball had been shoved beneath her flesh. “Ohhh god,” she moaned as her emaciated frame convulsed and heaved. Green bile splashed against the marble sink.
“Awe honey child!” Tallulah cried, rushing to Maggie’s side. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
“I’m sorry Tallulah,” Maggie swept a trembling hand across her mouth; “I’ve made another mess.”
“Don’t you worry ‘bout that none. That’s what I’m here for.”
Tallulah helped Maggie back to bed and softly washed her face then held the cup steady while Maggie sipped the chamomile tea.
Tallulah was a thick framed black woman who reminded Maggie very much of Aunt Jamima though she never said it out loud for fear of offending the angelic lady.
“You have gots to tell Mr. Ray Miss Maggie! You shoulda done told him a month ago. You done let this go too long, way too long.” She fretted, dabbing a damp cloth at Maggie’s face.
“There is nothing to tell Ray that he doesn’t already know. You know how he feels Tallulah – how we both feel about this. Now please…”
Without warning tea colored liquid spewed across the fine linens.
“He don’t know the doctor said you need to be shed of this or it’s gonna kill ya. It caint be he knows and let you lay up here wastin’ away.” The old nurse insisted, talking while she put a fresh damp cloth to Maggie’s neck and replaced the soiled sheet, “Mr. Ray is gone all the time, he don’t see what I see and when he calls you makes like ever little thang is fine.”
“Nature will take its course.” Maggie argued.
“That it will.” Tallulah agreed, “And maybe yo life in the doin’. Y’all can make another baby ma’am.” Tallulah paused to weigh her words and put her hands on Maggie’s gaunt ashen face, “They is somethin’ bad wrong with this one precious. I seen thangs like this here before. If ‘n it lives and you die…”
“I want to sleep now.” Maggie spoke abruptly to put an end to the conversation. Tallulah did not press the matter and Maggie sunk back beneath the cotton sheets.
You better take care of yourself and make sure this baby gets born healthy, do you hear me young lady?
The words of her mother ran through Maggie’s mind. It wasn’t as if Maggie had any control over it. If she did, if she could will her misery out of existence, the life sucking parasite would have been expelled weeks ago.
Maggie had just dozed off when the rumbling in her gut stirred her. It was not the usual churning she was familiar with and there was no nausea accompanying it. She lay still waiting for it. She placed her hand on her belly felt it again, a flutter followed by a tiny thump.
It’s kicking! Maggie stretched out on the bed and exposed her naked stomach. When the flutter started again she could see a slight rise in the protrusion on her withered frame.
“Hello in there.” She said quietly. It seemed to respond to her voice so she spoke again. “I’m gonna be your mother little man.” The communication went on for about ten minutes and when Maggie felt the thumps diminish she whispered, “You go back to sleep now, it’s going to be okay, your mama loves you.” A single tear of relief tickled the corner of her nose and she rang for Tallulah to bring her a full Sunday breakfast.
Tallulah entered a half-hour later with a smile and a tray loaded with soft scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, grits and juice.
“I never seen you look so good Miss Maggie.” She laughed as the starving mother-to-be inhaled the platter of food and kept it down. “May be you gonna be alright after all. You and the young-un, yes indeed, may hap.” Tallulah practically danced out of the room with the empty tray and soiled linens in tow.
The fact that she had consumed every morsel without regurgitating bolstered her confidence as well as her energy. Maggie stood beneath the shower-head, stroking and lathering her stomach as she sang nursery rhymes to her unborn child. After showering she realized her endurance was not yet up to par and returned to bed for the best sleep she had had in months.
Two hours later Maggie awoke feeling exuberant and summoned Tallulah.
“Would you like to take a walk with me Tallulah?” she inquired.
“Not looking like you look.” The lady laughed, “`S’pose I comb them rats outta yo hair first.” Tallulah guided Maggie to the balcony. “You sit right here while I get a brush and lay out somethun nice for you to wear. You done got so po ain’t likely nuthin’l fitcha but we’ll make do.” Tallulah chose a light yellow poly blend dress from the wardrobe, laid it on the settee and shoved a brush inside her apron pocket. Before stepping back out onto the terrace she made the bed and turned down the covers.
“Here we go Miss Maggie.” turning Maggie so her back was to her, “Lawd child yo head is nappy!”
Maggie didn’t bother remarking on the comment. She knew she looked a fright in her current condition.
“How long have you known the Lafont family?” Maggie asked, as Tallulah stood behind her on the sun drenched veranda brushing out a mat of blond tangles.
“All my life.” Tallulah answered, “My Mama was maid to Mr. Ray’s Mama.”
“Really?” Maggie asked in surprise.
“Sho nuff and her Mama was employed here fo her. See my peoples was once owned by the Lafont’s.” Tallulah stated matter of factly with what sounded like pride to Maggie.
“Why on earth would you stay after the abolition – I mean why would your family stay on? Didn’t they know they could leave? Did anyone ever say?” Maggie asked, thoroughly intrigued by the information.
“Yessum, my mother told me what was told her — that they was no cause to leave. Said the Lafont’s made sure they had money, land and educated um too. Said they always gave um Sunday off and Saturday if need be. Wuddint no beatin’ and rapin’ goin’ on here like in tha other parts I heard tell of. I b’lieve her too cause they paid all three of my sons through college – called it my bonus. I couldn’t a got that nowhere else.”
“No ma’am I don’t believe you could have. So you’re fond of the family?” Maggie asked.
“Love um like they’s my own. I got one son is a doctor thanks to Mr. Ray’s daddy.” Tallulah beamed with pride and added, “The other two boys is teachers. Good teachers too.”
“I bet they are. You must be so proud of them Tallulah– all three of them.”
“I am Miss Maggie, I really am.”
“So tell me about Ray when he was a little boy.” Maggie urged.
“What’s be you wanna know?” Tallulah asked admiring and grooming the now smooth golden tresses of hair.
The first memory that came to Tallulah’s mind of the young Lafont conjured cruel pictures. Images of the puppy Ray had found in an old grain silo. Tallulah could not bring herself to tell the ailing lady of how her husband had broken the legs of the tiny cur at every joint and tied its muzzle so it couldn’t cry out. She diligently searched her memories for something more pleasant. The imposition was cut short when Maggie abruptly slouched forward grabbing her waist.
“What’ a matter Miss Maggie?”
“I’m not sure.” Maggie replied, straining to speak through the enervating cramp, “Can we go in now?”
“Yessum. But you gots to tell ole Tallulah what’s wrong? Is you hurtin?”
Maggie nodded her head and tried to stand but found her legs would not support her.
“Let me help you.” She said, lifting Maggie to her feet.
“Oh lawdy lawd child, better let me carry you.” She swept Maggie up and carried her like a child back into the bedroom, laying her gently on the bed. “Ima get some towels – just you lay real still now.”
Maggie pulled her knees toward her chest, a natural maneuver to relieve the unrelenting spasm.
“Oh no.” She whimpered, “No, no, no little baby.” She cried when she noticed the bright red stain on her gown.
“Up here Mrs. Turner.” Tallulah yelled. Maggie lay motionless staring up at nothing as the nursemaid removed the bloody towels from between her legs. “Looks like that’s all of it ma’am.” Tallulah told her.
“Good lord have mercy! Look at all the blood. Tallulah were you able to stop it?” Mrs. Turner spoke frantically as she stood at the doorway and stared at the sharp contrast of crimson against the white bed sheets.
“Tha bleedin’ is slowed to nearly nuthin but she ain’t with child no mo ma’am.”
“Are you sure. Maybe we’d better call an ambulance and get her to the hospital.”
“For the girl may be, but look here.” Tallulah said, opening a towel for the grandmother to be, “Woulda been a boy by tha looks of it.”
“Dear god, that thing is hideous! Throw it away!” Mrs. Turner screamed as the salty rivers ran from her daughter’s silent face.