Faulkner’s Motherless Daughters: Staring into the Abyss

I: Introduction

“Your mother is dead?”

“Yes.”

“Have you any sisters?”

“No.”

“You are your father’s only daughter?”

“Yes.”

- Interaction between the District Attorney and Temple Drake in Sanctuary

Temple. Addie. Quentin. Dewey Dell. Joanna. Lena. Miss Emily. Caddy. Rosa. Ellen. The more closely we gaze into the bottomless eyes and hearts of the women of Faulkner’s world the more pervasive the motherless daughters seem to become. Why, we wonder, has Faulkner placed so many women without mothers in the patriarchal society he depicts in his narratives? The answers to this question seem endless. Certainly, removing a functioning mother from these women makes their situations all the more desperate. These motherless women, who are already deemed to be commodities, worthy for their virginities and the culture of honor that they represent, but not for their beauty as individuals, humans, and souls, have the additional hurdle of navigating life without the maternal protections of unconditional love, patient nurture, or unwavering devotion. They have no models of successful womanhood, no same-sex guides to follow as, knowing that there is no mother and thus no true home to which they can return, they are hurled down the path of Southern femininity that was so barbed and treacherous in the first half of the twentieth century. For Faulkner’s motherless daughters, there is no transmission of a long line of feminine wisdom that might help them survive or even thrive; they are not nurtured with tales and tips and insights about what it is to be a woman, a mother, a caregiver, a spouse, a human who is female. No counter-narratives to the stories of objectification and subservience forced upon them by men are present to inspire them; no wistful sighs about breaking free of the limited roles presented to them whisper freedom and hope into their ears. What is more, these women without mothers have no one to know them deeply and love them in spite of and because of that knowing. They have no warm lap of safety in which to hide, and, as a result, seem to be at odds with everyone and everything in the world around them. Surrounded by, misunderstood, and never fully seen or known by men, they struggle to make sense of their place in the world.

As in so much of Faulkner’s work, when we look at these female characters we often do not at first see the thing that is missing, the source of so much of their pain; instead we become aware only of a lack, an abyss in which these women seem to fall. It is only when we gaze fearlessly “between the curling flower spaces” (Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 3) that we notice the common blackness that surrounds these women, the absence of mother that binds them. We find out that these women have lost their mothers prematurely through brief allusions or, more often, through lack of any mention of a mother at all, through the hole where the character of mother should be. Faulkner does not paint these daughters in terms of their missing mothers, and yet, when we stare into the dark in and around them, we see that this lack has defined and shaped who and what they have become. In this way these women are no different from the motherless daughters of any time or place; we all endure, bearing our silent and yet ever-bleeding abysses. Our losses are not mentioned or, if they are, they are discussed only briefly, awkwardly, and then quickly tossed aside, moved beyond. And yet, these black interstices in our hearts silently define, control, and plague us, leading us to question, to strive for perfection, to wrestle with our identities, to collapse time and space, to merge past and present. We are misconstrued, unknown even to ourselves, mired in a life that we, without guides before us, struggle mightily to make sense of or understand.

In the pages that follow, I have attempted to gaze into the “black interstices” (Faulkner, Sanctuary, 41) at the bleak almost unspoken reality of four of these daughters without mothers. My goal is to enter Faulkner’s textual world and to utter to the unutterable, to give voice to the grief that silently twists and tears at the hearts and lives of these women and yet, in many cases, also gifts them with unexpected hope, compassion, and empathy. Using my own experiences and those of the other motherless daughters in my own life as my textbook, I have imagined the psychological realities of Faulkner’s motherless women as they stare into the abyss of their future lives with painful ties to and yearnings for the mother who has forever passed away. These words are my attempt to explore and elucidate that invisible yet escapable thread of the daughters without mothers that Faulkner has so tightly woven into the fabric of his works.

 

II: Staring into the Abyss

Temple

“Something is happening to me! Something is happening to me!” the thoughts plow through me. Screaming, thrashing, I pierce into the old man’s yellow eyes, “Something is happening to me! Something, something is happening!” and suddenly I am crouching in the corner of her dim, gray room, in a corner not yet touched by the seven-o-clock light. The boys are crowded around the bed. Daddy is holding her hand as if it were a dead thing already, a limp rat or snake. He looks into her face without seeing, “It’s time to go be with God, dear,” he says, rehearsed, learned from years on hard wooden pews, benches. I’ve watched Buddy and Adam kicking each other’s shins for over two minutes when Buddy finally shoves Adam. He swings his leg back in response and Buddy hurls onto the bed, pounding all of his grimy ten-year old force onto her broken body and, “Oh!” comes from her, the first words in days, “Oh! Oh, help! Help! Get me out of here! Get me out! Something is happening to me! Something is happening to me!” the words like hot silent bubbles piercing into my father’s yellow eyes.

I’m by the bed now pulling Buddy away, squirming past Father, my cheeks wet and burning, trying to drink her words, looking, looking trying to see what’s in her eyes. “Mama, mama,” I murmur, “It’s okay. I’m here. Mama,” and her dark eyes are wide open but she cannot see me. She stares right through my body, me wailing for her, but she cannot hear me because all she can say is, “Get me out of here! Something is happening to me!” and the flesh around her eyes is no longer her, no longer bright soft kind, and her eyes are black and staring through me and, “Something is happening to me! Something is happening to me!” and there is blood everywhere.

“Something is happening, Daddy!” I wail at my father’s emotionless eyes, waiting for him to fix it, to make her okay. He stands there, cut from tin, unmoving, dark, his verdict already placed. She coughs and blood, black-red-gray blood, comes out, on that face that is already not-her, those cheeks I used to stroke and touch on early mornings when she’d rock me, dead gray, not-her. Blood is everywhere, sticky, hot, cruel between my legs, and it won’t stop and “Something is happening to me!” and the blood won’t stop and it drips down her chin and between my legs, blood. “Something is happening to me!” I scream, but his hand clamps down over my mouth. And it’s the man’s and it’s my father’s and they won’t let me say what I know, and they act like the blood isn’t there.

The black man is driving now and we’re in a car, but I don’t know why, how I’m here and I just want to be back in the room on that early, not-yet-morning before she became not-her. Now there is so much gray, so much stiff, so much blood and the bright soft kind has all gone into the not-seeing, not being of her eyes. And I’m still bleeding. I’m still bleeding.

The land all around me flows backwards, back, and I wish I could too, and I hate the sky because it does not know me. No one. No one knows me. And the stink of the flowers everywhere is unbearable, unbreatheable, and the awful brightness of the sun that burns into me without knowing me, without caring at all, and the sky that laughs through its perfect unbroken clouds and Why? Why can’t she be here, I there? There is so much blood. Didn’t I die? There is so much blood, and I’m still bleeding. I squeeze my legs together but still there is so, so much blood.

Her blood is mine. Or was it, is it bile? Black, thick with all that could not come out of her mouth in words, black red blood bile that drips between my legs, and my skirt is stained, and there is nothing left but screaming, sound and fury, blood black bile that will not, not stop.

“Shut it. Shut it. Look at yourself. Here,” he growls, clamping me mute, shoving me at myself, forcing the mirror around to stare at me. She’s there. Her eyes in the mirror see me. They don’t see through me; they see me. There. There, in the glass, her eyes. I search my pockets madly for my own mirror, hers once, but then in the small round glass there is only me, trapped. And he’s turned the glass that held her back to his own gaze. Just like Daddy did. He wouldn’t let me look at her; he wouldn’t let me see. I feel my body shaking lightly and the blackness is starting to fall out of my eyes again and

Mama is thrashing on the bed now, her eyes still staring and seeing nothing, knowing at once everything and nothing, nothing of us in the room beside her. And then her hand, like a claw with strength but no strength grasps at Father behind me and her eyes see him, but not me, “I told you! I told you all the time!” Her eyes are so black and they are trying to pull him in, but he won’t budge, he just stands there, firm, tin, etched stone. “Go to God, dear,” he commands as her black eyes condemn him and then flutter at mine so quick and see me so short, so just a moment, and our blackness is one and I am in the warm, safe pools of her eyes and I feel mine starting to pour over and then. He grabs my shoulders and turns me away and I fight against him, arching my body, my eyes back into hers but. She has already gone. She stares again without sight, tensed hand, arm gliding back down to the bed, fingers relaxed, mouth falling open, still stained black and red. Gone.

I am gone too. The face in the mirror is dead, gray, not-mine. I paint myself back on, powder, blood on my mouth to match Mama’s, and, “Aint you ashamed of yourself,” I hear them, him and Father both, say.

“It’s still running. I can feel it,” I tell the black man, no one, myself, smearing the blood thicker on my lips. If I’m still bleeding, aren’t I dead? Why can’t I just be —

His hands are on me, on my neck, and if I can feel him, I must not be dead. “Stop it, now,” and his voice is my father’s.

“You going to shut it?” and my voice is agreeing again. I don’t want to agree, but I hear my mouth telling Daddy, “Yes.” And my head nods Yes Yes Yes just like it did when I was talking to the woman last night. Last night. Last night I was still alive and somehow Mama was too. But now she’s really dead; now I’ve really killed her.

 

Addie

I hate them. Hate them. I look out from the front of the schoolhouse room and hate them, with their blood strange to mine, to each other, to mine. All of them, everyone, with blood strange to mine. “You know, Addie, the reason for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time,” my father used to tell me before he did just that, and I hated him. Hated him for planting me, for making me kill my mother by being born, for going to stay dead for a long time too, at the last, and prisoning me to this house full of children who have mothers and fathers, children who are not me, not mine.

They look at me, lost in their selfish thoughts and alone minds, they do not see me at all. They look without listening, being aware at all, and I hate them, wait for them to fault to I can show them that I am something, alive, something powerful and real and related to them, their blood coming out like mine, and they wail for their mothers, and I watch their blood which is mine and wonder how it feels, how it feels to scream for a mother who is still alive to hear her children cry.

 

Temple

Last night. Last night when we were both still alive and I flung myself into the dark behind the kitchen stove and the child and I were there together, safe, and my fingers on its smooth, warm face, so bright and soft. Lifting it, drawing it into me, I loved it in that moment, holding its small warmth to my chest, its soft murmuring singing into me like nothing had in so long and I should pray. I should pray. I could see her, Mama’s, tender rosy lips mouthing words, wrapping me up in her warmth so close that I could hear her heart crying, her lips moving with words to God. I saw her mouthing, “Father,” the words so gentle in the tones of her voice, and I, clutching the faint body feeling its tiny heat, trying, but I couldn’t make out her words. I heard the melody of her voice, but the words are, were lost, too far away and all that came out of me was, “My father‘s a judge. My father’s a judge. My father’s a judge,” rhythmic words that could only condemn me, My mother is dead and my father, my father, my father’s a judge.

A tiny flame appeared and I thought it might be hope, God, her, but no, a man, a man, a man I’d never, never seen. “My father, my father’s a judge, my father’s a judge,” my dry lips still forming, chewing on the words but they would not protect me and suddenly his hands were on my face, my neck, I was in the air, the child falling away from me, “My father’s a judge; my father’s a judge,” but he just laughed and growled, “What are you doing in my house?”

My father’s a judge. My father’s a judge. My mother is dead, and my father’s a judge, but the words did, meant nothing, nothing.

<>

Last night. Last night in the kitchen, free from the man now and the woman back at the stove, cooking, calm, bustling and me sitting waiting at the table, wanting to know her, wanting, wanting her to see me. If she could just see, just see, maybe she could, maybe she would protect, love, know—  

“Is he your brother?” slid out of my mouth.

“Who? My what?” flew back into me, and I realized I had spoken wrong. The kitchen smelled like seven years old, like seven years old before Mama ever got sick, evenings in the kitchen watching her while sweet thick fat popped a rhythm in the skillet.

“I thought maybe your young brother was here,” I said, seven years old again, seeing Buddy running up to Mama, seeing him demand a premature bite, her, ever patient, holding him off.

“God, I hope not,” she groaned in a voice unlike any I had every heard.

“Where is your brother?” I realized I was asking, and then I wasn’t seven anymore, and then I knew that not everyone has a brother, four brothers and no mother, maybe not her, maybe not, maybe not. “I’ve got four brothers,” I exhaled, the words tumbling out fast now, bricks stacked as if they could protect me or make her see the hole, make her love me, “Two are lawyers and one’s a newspaper man. The other’s still in school. At Yale. My father’s a judge. Judge Drake of Jackson.” I stared through the woman and saw him at home, master still of the negro seventy years free who still mows our lawn, master too of the town, the law, of me, forever, forever of me, but not ever totally of Mama. No, she glittered beyond his reach.

“Nobody asked you to come out here. I didn’t ask you to stay. I told you to go while it was daylight,” she breathed, and I couldn’t tell, couldn’t tell if she was a slave or if she was free like Mama was somehow free, I couldn’t tell if she saw me, if she could see into the darkness of what wasn’t there, if she could, if she would keep me alive.

 We talked, her at me, I at her, neither of us really listening or hearing, not even listening to or hearing ourselves. The meat kept popping in the skillet and the sounds of men – like my brothers all grown up – and I wondered if they too would beat the hell of out me, their harsh, abrupt, meaningless masculine sounds filling up the house.

“And you have to cook for all of them every night,” I whispered at her, “All those men eating here, the house full of them at night, in the dark. . . . . . .” my cigarette, already crushed into broken nothingness, escaped, floated away from my hand to the floor, and I thought about mama cooking for all those boys, their selfish forms crowding around her, drinking her up until she was almost gone, but somehow she kept pouring, somehow she still could always fill me full. . .

“May I hold the baby? I know how; I’ll hold him good,” I begged her, knowing if I could just, just hold him, just have him for a moment in my arms, his soft small ball of heat close against me, if I could just—then—I’d have enough and—somehow—she’d—and I would . . .

I floated outside me then and watched me bend myself in half to scoop up the child. I saw it open its eyes to me, and I saw me in her arms, me her temple of light, and the child against me, and I-am—it-is whimpering, scared, falling, lost, so, so alone. . .

“Now, now; Temple’s got it,” I sang through its cries, lifting it to the sky, lifting it so mama could see me, rocking it and I was me and I was mama and I was the child and mama was me and mama was the woman in the room. The baby’s head was close to my face then, hair like silk against my hair, warm tiny beating, small wisps of breath, and it smelled like the past, like safety and love clutched in my arms.  

          

Lena

“We need to set things straight so that I can get on where I’m bound,” she had declared one morning in a sudden burst of her old energy, sending me to fetch Paw from the barn.

“My, my. A life does get on by. Just forty years and it’s already time to go home,” she hummed to us.

 “Take care of Paw,” was the lot she set for me, and I did, I did the best I could, but he couldn’t stand being here too long, knowing that she’d gone on. Truth was, I couldn’t really stand it either, but I had promised her, and I wasn’t about to let her down.

“You go to Doane’s Mill with McKinely,” Paw told me just a few months later, when he left, “You get ready to go, be ready when he comes.” And I promised him too, and I lived up to my word. Eight years I lived with my brother until it was time for me to leave, not for home yet, but to leave.

Mama used to tell me that when God wanted something to happen, he’d find a way to make it so, and I reckon he has. I reckon Mama figured life out earlier than most and so she got her reward early. Yes, I reckon that’s why he went ahead and called her home. God makes special provision for those he has called, that’s what Mama used to say. And I think he’s done the same for me, gotten me this far, with the baby and all and not but thirtyfive cents to our names. Yes, I bet you now that she’s up there she’s asked him special to keep his eye on me. And I reckon he’ll see to it that I move along this life road just fine. Yes, I reckon the Lord—the Lord and Mama—I reckon they will see to that.

 

Temple

Light. Cracked light creeps in, and the room I’m in is my mother’s but I am in the bed now, not her. How, why am I here? Light. Light of midafternoon creaking into the darkness, her body, my body, stiff now, not-me, not-her, dead branches of a fallen tree. “Seems like that the most hardest blood of all to get— ” a woman says and I feel my body curling in on itself, the blood still there, still coming between my legs.

The light was too light, so cruel bright, crashing through the window shades when Daddy came back into the room and pried her stiff branches out of my arms and nailed her into a box. “Get those bedclothes washed, Temple,” he ordered, and I jut lay there in the bed, slowly curling myself into the spot where she had been, clutching the stained fabric in my hands, trying to sink into, disappear in the red-black that was-her is-my blood. I didn’t want to scrub it out, I didn’t want to make it go away, but I scratched and I scrubbed at all that was left of her anyway, and it wouldn’t leave, the blood wouldn’t leave, it will never, never—

“Now, now,” says another woman, in a black gown (am I dead now?) and church hat—I think I know her, think I’ve seen her before. Her hand is on me. Her hand is on me, rubbing my back, and I am in bed, and her hand, her hand…

“Goodnight, my darling, my Temple,” her hand before it became stiff not-her tracing small circles on my bed. “Goodnight, my sweet girl. Mama loves you.”

My body constricting tighter, away from the hand that feels like but is, is not, not her, and the black is pouring out of me, such force, pouring, pouring out. Mama loves you she said. I haven’t heard, haven’t felt a woman’s hand on me in so, so long...

“Now, now. Here, take your drink. This one’s on me. I aint going to let no girl of Popeye’s—”

“I don’t want anymore,” I hear my mouth say. I don’t want anymore. I don’t want anything anymore. I just want Mama, want Mama, want, want, want Mama, and the bed is shaking around me because I am shaking and the not-hers hand is still on my back and everything keeps shaking, and she is talking to me again, me looking at her who is not Mama now, and her hand is on my head, but she’s not Mama, not her, and she’s putting the glass to my mouth, but she’s not, she’s not my Mama.

“I know. I know it tastes bad, but it will make you better,” I can hear Mama’s soft still-her voice cooing, knowing, singing to me, me sick in my small childhood bed. “Now, now. Drink it and you’ll feel better,” but now the voice is harsh, cracked, grinding, and the liquid comes in, acrid, burning, she pours it in and I gulp it down, prying my eyes open to her creaking and grinding, me thinking her into Mama but she just falls big and painted and not-Mama into my eyes and I yank the covers closer around me, opening my eyes wider, wider, wide enough so that she will fall completely in and Mama will be her, be here, but she won’t budge.  She just hulks and scolds me and puts her hand on me again, “I bet you got that towel disarranged.”

“No,” I whisper. No no no. No no no. I feel the cloth around me and the blood still coming, still coming between my legs, still there, and my whole body writhing, jerking, and she still just looking down on me, watching me, not knowing, watching me bleed and bleed, bleeding, bleeding, but now allowed to die.

 

Addie

Love. Mother. Words, shapes to fill the lack. Cash is here and now I know. Now I know what it is to have aloneness violated. And he doesn’t have to tell me, “Love,” and I don’t have to tell him, “Mother.”

Some nights when I hold him to my breast I start to feel the warmth of that lack shrinking and closing in and then I push, shove back against it. How can I be this thing, this, “Mother”? I who never sucked at a breast, never had my aloneness violated until now? Then I pull him away, him crying and me thinking of the words, “mother,” “love.” Placing him back in the cradle, him still crying, and my breasts sore, still needing him to feed, and I see the black space where “mother” is supposed to be and I watch me falling into the blackness and him crying and crying and my breasts sore and I know that it is just a word and I can never fill the lack sucking me down, down—

And Cora tells me that I am not a true mother. I, who never knew or needed that word, still don’t need it, just letters that will never never fill the blank           lack.

 

Temple

Light. There is still a little light. How is there still light in the room? The darkness is everywhere, overflowing with sound, but I cannot melt into the darkness because there is a still a little light coming in. False light, street lamp light, pretending to be the sun, breaking up the darkness just when I was starting to disappear.

The roar of the outside darkness fades a little and now there is scuttering, scrabbling up the stairs outside my room, up the stairs, now just on the other side of my door, and then sudden silence and I can feel them, almost see them there, the two dogs, cradling themselves into a dark spot, away from the light, breathlessly quiet because maybe if they stop breathing they will stop living too and then all the dreadful light and noise will stop and they can just float away into the warm, safe, blackness of their real mothers’ eyes.

I wait for her hulking sounds, the creaking of their, my not-mother, but the heavy breathing doesn’t come and instead something light and floating up the stairs—like her, like her, like her! The door creaking open, soft, slow—like…—and a sudden rush of movement, small bodies hurtling under my bed and, “You, dawgs! You make me spill this!” and bright light forced into what warm darkness had been left in the room, and the woman walking, not-her, walking in with a tray, not-her, not-her, not-her.

“I got you some supper. Where them dawgs gone to?” and I feel their small forms scrabbling into the safe dark beneath me.

“Under the bed,” I hear my mouth say, looking at the tray of nurture, food in woman’s not-her hands. “I don’t want any.” But she just looks into me with eyes I don’t know insisting, “I know you. I know, I know, I know,” and for a moment I feel a calm kindness coming from her and maybe, maybe she—maybe she could—and, “You want me to—” yes yes yes, and her hand comes towards me and . . . no.

No no, I don’t know it, I don’t know and she doesn’t know, and I am alone with the dogs in the dusty place under the bed, the place of not being known. She forces her arms under the bed, trying, pretending to know them too, but they coil away from her like I did, curling into myself, themselves, snarling.

“Come outen there, now. They know fo Miss Reba do when she fixing to get drunk. You, Mr Binford!”

“Mr. Binford?” I feel myself asking, rising suddenly back into the room, back into the world. She tells about Miss Reba’s hurling the child, the dog, the small, warm body out, out through the upstairs window into the dark abyss of air. I can see the small thing falling into blackness, into nothingness, flung from the hands he thought he knew, and I am back in the room,

“Oh,” comes out of me. “No wonder they’re scared. Let them stay under there. They won’t bother me.”

She chatters, clatters on, leaving orders for me, but all I see his is small warm form falling, falling and she points at the tray and I just see him yelping with nothing to grab hold of, nothing, no one to catch his fall. . .

“I don’t want any,” I spit the words at her, turning away, willing her to leave, silently motionlessly pushing her out.

I hear the soft click of the door closing and open my eyes, letting the ceiling fall into them now. The light burns bloody, through brown-red paper like me, stained with death and blood and burning. Light, light, is there a light burning somewhere still? Somewhere inside of the bloodstained paper of me? My Temple, my Temple, my Temple of light. . .

The dogs are voiceless beneath me, but I see, feel, hear their bodies crouched invisible but emanating energy, heat, pain, fear, loss, lack, longing, blood. Wooly, shapeless; savage, petulant, spoiled, the flatulent monotony of their sheltered lives snatched up without warning by an incomprehensible moment of terror and fear of bodily annihilation at the very hands which symbolized by ordinary the licensed tranquility of their lives.

“You dare come into my house like this! At this hour!” Father’s roars still reverberating, banging inside my head, his blue eyes blank refusing to see, his hand raised, slashing hot and stinging onto my cheek. Me, sixteen, sneaking in late after the dance one Saturday night, late because my date had been smoking cigars out back with the boys, late because I had sat waiting for him for hours. “You are nothing but a common whore!” he turned from me, a black outline against the light of the doorway. “Who are you? You are nothing like your mother. Nothing,” he pauses again, worlds distant from me, from the pools of blacks cascading from my eyes, from the shaking wails of my body, my body that was, was, is, is-not, was, is-not, not-anymore like hers. “Wouldn’t she be ashamed! Wouldn’t she be ashamed.”

 

Quentin

Sometimes I still just sit by the window, staring out at the limbs of that tree, and wonder about her. When I was little, cradled in its stiff barked arms, I remember realizing that I could actually feel. I’d climb and climb, placing my feet on branches that looked just right, high enough, strong enough, up, up, not looking back until I got to that place where the limbs were suddenly too small to hold me, and then I’d turn and stare into the gap below and feel my stomach drop and the blood rush through my veins to my throat and the sweat flow down my palms like tears, and I would think, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. Sometimes I’d slip on the way down, my hands wet with their sobbing, and a branch would leave me bleeding. I’d stop then, clinging to the arms of the tree, watching the deep red river trickling down my skin, and think, “I feel it, I feel something!” and wonder if she could somehow feel it too, if she could somehow know that I was bleeding.

Now creeping out of the window cloaked in night, gently lowering myself into the tree’s embrace, I try not to look down. I climb up instead, into the wet leaves, into the spot where the branches get too thin, and wonder. The damp night air wraps me in warmth and the green scent of bark-branches-life flows in, through me as I stroke the rough bark and wonder about her smell, her face, her skin. Silent whispers asking, How is it that I can be breathing, be alive, be, be, be, without her watching, knowing, without her feeling me grow? I wonder if I felt this alone when I was still inside of her, I wonder if she knows, if can still feel me now, kicking against her body so far away, screaming and struggling for her to release me, to come back and release me from the prison of this without-her life.

And then I push her, Jason, Grandmother, all of it away, leave it in the branches of the tree, me descending down, down, until I hit the earth and force my legs, my feet into the earth, forward, forward, faster, running now and hearing my heart at last and knowing that it is there, banging, pounding inside of my ears, and my cheeks flaming until they are numb and then I fall, collapse, lie there in the dark, damp, cool, letting it hold me up. And then he is there, and I am still alone, but he is there and he comes into me and it hurts—hurts—hurts—hurts and I think, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. And I wonder if she can feel me bleeding.

 

Addie

Sometimes at night, lying next to Anse, I find myself wondering about his word Love, and their word motherhood, and seeing her lying there next to my father with me growing inside her, me taking her life with each passing day. I wonder if she had any—or if she realized that they were no good— words, signs, sounds to fill the empty space of the child she never knew. I wonder if she had anything that could ever mean me?

 

Lena

Last night I dreamed that she was sitting by my bed, rocking the baby instead of that woman, rocking the baby and rocking me too, at the same time. I woke up feeling her hand stroking my hair, feeling the warmth of it plain as day. My, my, I do wonder, if she isn’t watching over me right now. Wouldn’t she be proud of her baby girl? Here we aint been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it’s already Tennessee.

 

 

Temple

The light is gone now, gone it seems forever, and so is the warm, safe, black of nothing, even the silent unending blood, hers and mine, gone now, stopped. Eternal gray twilight, the sun refusing to set or to rise, I feel my mouth and body opening, yawning in all of the gray until it consumes me and it is all that I am. I am gray and stuck, sentenced inside the small chained circle of my compact with the silver gray of my father, trapped in bars and on benches of gray, even my eyes gray now, no longer the deep warm free black of hers, no longer hers at all, and I can’t see anything of her in the compact anymore, only gray him and gray not-me and I can’t—I don’t even try to paint myself back on.