After experience a horrific at the age of eleven, the smouldering images of his dead mother live in the faces of every black woman Adrian Moreaux ever meets. After one failed relationship our Caribbean man is also convinced that white women are not for him either. Adrian is plagued by nightmares of the past and resigns himself to a life of sex without love, until an enchanting flaxen-haired beauty comes into his life ...
He told me that he loved me. He'd said it a total of eleven times over eight years; I'd counted. Counted each finger on both hands, plus one. Five instances occurred in the throws of passion, when his mottled penis--an appendage the color of plums and overripe strawberries--plunged in and out of my developing body. Twice, he'd mouthed the words across the dinner table as I cleared the dishes between courses--between the stew and custard, and the meat pie and spice cake. Three times, he'd said it in various locations around the great house: when he caught my arm on the way up the grand staircase, when he pushed me up against the stone wall in the cellar, and in the nursery as I lulled baby Stephane to sleep. The last episode happened in the kitchen when, with his wife's back turned, he whispered those very words into my ear. "I love you Seraphine," he said. "I love you."
The day I knew for certain that Henri Bouchard's love for me was false, was the day my life took a turn for the better. It was May 2nd, 1786 at about 3:30 in the afternoon, five years prior to Toussaint L'Ouverture's joyous insurrection. A revolution had been brewing for some time and reports of many uprisings throughout the Caribbean had reached the house over the years.
Undoubtedly, we were all waiting for the big one to finally deliver our salvation, and as such, the mood between the supervisors and the workers was tense, orders coming down even harsher than usual whenever details of another outbreak made news. Cook always seemed to know about the gossip on and around the Lazare plantation, and that was how I found out about things.
Now, I wouldn't say that I was a very smart person in those days, but that doesn't mean I lacked the potential. It's in us all; it's just a matter of circumstance, and as you will see, mine were less than ideal. What little schooling I got was acquired mainly by accident as I dusted and tidied up around the master's children. Marie Rose--Henri's eldest daughter--took me as a friend and taught me the basics of how to read and write. Cook did what she could as well, but like most of us, she too lacked an education. At best, she tried to impart upon me the essential facts of life, or whatever those could've been living in such a terrible place.
And while I don't really blame myself for my predicament, I do wish sometimes that things had been different. Perhaps I should've made better choices, or maybe I should've appealed to the spirits for more guidance and help. No matter. Now that I'm
dead I have the clarity to see things for how they truly were anyway.
I know most people fear the end, but in my world, being dead isn't so bad. If that were the case, most of us would never have made it through the fires of hell. Decidedly however, we came across the sea with the firm notion that after death, one is once again reunited with family and friends -- that when a person dies their spirit returns to the homeland for a great feast with all those who have passed on before.
That belief, my friend, is what gave us hope, enough to persevere through the long days and lonely nights of captivity. Considering this, it may seem odd that more people didn't put a rush on the process--you know, getting to the "better" before it was officially time. Admittedly, some did do that, but we weren't put here to cut our own lives short, and this left most of us making the best out of a really bad situation.
Certainly, my people found reasons to live, reasons to believe that life could change, if not for themselves then at least for the generations that came after. We learned from our hardships and took those lessons with us, and that is why, as one of the dearly departed, I remain an invaluable member of my community.
And now that I'm in a good place, I don't like to dwell on the past. There is one situation however that I must clarify because of the important lesson that it taught me. What love truly is or isn't--or was or wasn't in that time before--is my topic for debate.
As the rounds of precipitation began in those early days of the vernal equinox, it became glaringly obvious that Henri Bouchard never truly loved me, and it is with this tidbit of information that we return to our story...
* * *
The month of May fell right in the middle of harvest season, which ran a lengthy six months of the year, from January to July. An unusual amount of rain had flooded the earth that spring, causing the plants to grow faster than the cutlasses could be swung. Thus, the field workers were forced to labor into the twilight hours almost every evening, and I can't tell you the number of accidents--of cut faces, and slashed arms and legs--that those nighttime operations caused.
While the first and second gangs toiled among the tall stalks of cane in the blistering heat by day and in the shadows by night, I continued on with my job inside the house. While it seemed like I had been working for two or three lifetimes already, in reality, only a quarter of a century had passed. I was barely a woman.
Born on the plantation to a woman named Beatrice, I ended up an orphan at the age of three when my mother was beaten to death for drinking water when she should have been chopping cane. With no one to watch over me, I got shuffled around among the others until one day Lillian--a woman who had lost her own child during the passage overseas--took pity on me. As the cook, she managed to get me inside the great house, making sure I had enough food to eat and a warm place to sleep.
Thanks to her, I persevered, growing up alongside the eldest children of the Bouchard family. In the kitchen, I helped to gather vegetables, prepare meat, wash dishes, and scrub floors--any and all of the numerous tasks involved in running a household of that size. At the age of fifteen, things changed and I was put in charge of the Bouchard's three youngest offspring--Stephane, Natalie, and Anaise.
Becoming the nursemaid on the Lazare plantation was not a decision of the missus, that's for sure. There were arguments over who should get the job, but as the man of the house, Henri had the last say. "You have a pleasing and kind nature, Seraphine. The little ones have taken a liking to you, and I think that you are perfectly suited for this job." That was his explanation and I had no reason to doubt him.
The position was passed to me from an older woman named Mitzi who had succumbed to a devastating illness of the brain--when she couldn't remember the children's names anymore and when she started behaving like she'd been possessed by the devil. It was a common affliction among us, and sadly, Mitzi was sent out one day, never to return.
After I accepted my post, I wondered about her often. When I asked him, Henri simply said that she'd been discharged of her duties and had gone to live with her cousins in town. In my heart however, I knew she'd been killed--probably burned to death or eliminated in some other equally abhorrent manner.
Ignorance is bliss as they say, and so, as a teenager I tended my charges happily, unconcerned for my own safety if things ever went awry. Again, it wasn't until later that I came to see Henri for the despicable man that he truly was, and not until after the grand contretemps that I am leading up to, that I contemplated the rationale behind his arrangement.
I think now that Henri entrusted me with the position of nursemaid for one reason, and one reason only. It brought me closer to his children, closer to his family, and indirectly, closer and more available to him as well. That must've been his intention, because that's exactly what happened.
Mind you, the particular moment that I knew I was meant to be more than an aide to the Bouchard's children didn't involve erotic words or sexual innuendo. With an easy stroke of his hand up the length of my spine--a casual touch where there hadn't been one before--he so much as told me that I'd become an object in his quest for personal gratification. In fact, he spoke of something completely off topic when he made the move.
We were in the study and he was giving me instructions on what to do with Stephane and the girls while he and the missus were away for the morning. "Seraphine, make sure the children bathe once they've completed their lessons. The girls need to have their hair washed as we are expecting visitors later on this evening. Furthermore, the linens in the sleeping quarters need to be cleaned and the pillows fluffed. Please see that this is all done by the time we get back."
On the last sentence of his diatribe, he moved up quite close to my front and reached around to trace over the vertebrae of my spine. As he did, his eyes met mine with a glazed-over look, like I was something delicious to eat and he was a very hungry animal indeed. Now, as I'm sure you can gather, whether or not I got involved with this man was never an option left open for debate. I was the slave and he was my master. That made it a done deal.
Oh, I may have put up more of a fight, but Henri seemed like a kind and gentle man, and I was such a lonely, young girl. I confused his sexual advances as signs of love and affection--two things that I craved more than anything--and thus sex with Henri became part of my job. I'm ashamed to admit this, but it was something I actually enjoyed most of the time, right up until the end that is.