Madam Lockton Quotes in Chains
“What is your name, girl?” she asked me.
“Isabel, ma’am,” I said. “Isabel Finch.”
“Ridiculous name,” Madam said. She opened her fan and waved it in front of her face. “You are called Sal Lockton now. It’s more suitable.”
I forced myself to breathe in slow and regular instead of telling her that my name was not her affair. “Yes, ma’am.”
“The child’s curse will poison us all. I want her sold, Elihu, sold today.”
“They are sisters, Anne. One must remember that.”
“Please, Madam,” I said. “She’s too little. She’ll be hurt.”
“She is not suffering her particular ailment, is she?” Madam asked, her voice cutting like a blade.
“No, ma’am,” I lied again. “She helped carry out the ashes this morning, and it tired her.”
Madam glared a moment longer.
Lady Seymour stepped in front of Madam. “The heat affects small children more than most. Make sure your sister drinks some water before any more chores.”
As the crowd marched off to make bullets and celebrate liberty and independence in the taverns, I realized dark was fast falling, and I had tarried overly long. I picked up a sliver of lead that lay in the street. It was fringed with gilt; my own piece of majesty. Tyrants beware, I thought as I put it in my pocket.
The fire in my face burned on and on, deep through my flesh, searing my soul. Stars exploded out the top of my head and all of my words and all of my rememberies followed them up to the sun, burning to ash that floated back and settled in the mud.
A few people at the edge of the crowd had fallen silent. They walked away with their heads down.
My momma and poppa appeared from the shadows. They flew to me and wrapped their arms around me and cooled my face with their ghost tears.
Night crept into my soul.
Melancholy held me hostage, and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul. Dark honey filled up inside me, drowning my thoughts and making it hard to move my eyes and hands. I worked as a puppet trained to scrub and carry, curtsy and nod.
“Please, ma’am,” I tried again. “How did you know?”
Her gaze returned to the logs in the hearth. “Take care how you go, Isabel. Many people think it is a fine and Christian thing to help the prisoners. I do not think my niece is one of them.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I whispered.
A thought surfaced through my ashes.
She cannot chain my soul.
Yes, she could hurt me. She’d already done so. But what was one more beating? A flogging, even? I would bleed, or not. Scar, or not. Live, or not. But she could no longer harm Ruth, and she could not hurt my soul, not unless I gave it to her.
This was a new notion to me and a curious one.
It would have eased her mind if I thanked her for wanting to buy me away from Madam. I tried to be grateful but could not. A body does not like being bought and sold like a basket of eggs, even if the person who cracks the shells is kind.
She awaited some word from me. I did not know how to explain myself. It was like talking to her maid, Angelika, who was so much like me and at the same time so much different. We two had no string of words that could tie us together.
Everybody carried a little evil in them, Momma once told me. Madam Lockton had more than her share. The poison had eaten holes through her soul and made room for vermin to nest inside her.
The evil inside of me woke and crackled like lightning. I could wrap my hands around her throat. I could brain her with a poker, thrust her face into the flames. I could beat her senseless with my fists.
I shook from the effort of holding myself still, clutching the crumpled paper. Momma said we had to fight the evil inside us by overcoming it with goodness. She said it was a hard thing to do, but it made us worthy.
I breathed deep to steady myself.
I threw the Captain’s note into the fire.
I touched it, smooth and warm, flesh made silk.
The scars on Poppa’s cheek had been three lines across his cheek, carved with a sharp blade. He was proud of his marks. In the land of his ancestors, they made him into a man.
I traced the I with my fingertip.
This is my country mark. I did not ask for it, but I would carry it as Poppa carried his. It made me his daughter. It made me strong.
I took a step back, seeing near my whole self in the mirror. I pushed back my shoulders and raised my chin, my back straight as an arrow.
This mark stands for Isabel.
I was not a Lockton. Nor a Finch. Isabel Rhode Island? That would not do. Isabel Cuffe, after Poppa, or Isabel Dinah, after Momma?
I closed my eyes and thought of home; the smell of fresh-cut hay and the taste of raspberries. Robins chasing bugs in the bean patch. Setting worms to work at the base of the corn plants. Showing Ruth what was weed and what was flower…
I opened my eyes, dipped the quill, and wrote out my true name: Isabel Gardener, being a Free Negro […]