Celeste watched the black water lap against her toes. Her eyes
mirrored its dark depths and her heart was as troubled as the rings
that drifted away from her tears where they dropped into the water.
She scooped up another handful of pebbles, tossing them one by one
into the bayou. The girl cast a glance over her shoulder toward the
path that led back up to the big house. She wondered how long it would
be before she could go home.
"Mas'er take care o' us, chere. Dat's de way it is. Go on
now, don' worry," her mother's words grated in her thoughts.
Angrily, she threw another pebble. Its distant splash sounded like
mocking laughter in her ears.
"But Mama, I know you don' like it when he come...I'm
sorry I made us late. Mebbe if I don' go he don' stay." She had
tried to help, but it was too late. Celeste wondered if, when she got
older, some master would come to her whether she wanted him or not.
"Over my dead body!" She slammed another handful of
pebbles into the water then got to her feet. "Ain't NOBODY gonna
own me!" That thought repeated itself with the rhythm of her
steps as she stomped back to the big house.
Softly as a cat, Celeste crept around to the kitchen door at
the side of the manor house. The scent of dill and rosemary tickled
her nose and delicate leaves brushed against her tawny legs as she
made her way through the herb garden bordering the stone path up to
The room she shared with her mother sat directly above the
kitchen and the girl looked up at the window overhead. A dim gold
flicker beyond the translucent curtain spoke of candlelight. The
master was gone. Mama had left a light on to come home to. A sigh of
relief passed Celeste's lips as she gently tugged the latch on the
door. It opened with a soft 'click', and she slipped through like a
Beyond the kitchen, a swinging door opened to a small hallway.
To the left was an entrance to a large formal dining room. To the
right, a narrow staircase led up into darkness. Celeste turned towards
it, then froze. A curl of pipe smoke drifted down and her eyes
followed it back up to its source. Her hands flew to her mouth as she
fought to stifle a shriek of panic. She thought she'd be deaf for the
pounding of her heart in her ears.
The man blew smoke down at her like a dragon at a feast, an
unpleasant smile curling his lips. "Welcome home darlin'. A
little late, ain't it?" His eyes were hidden in the shadows, but
Celeste could feel them crawling coldly over her skin. "But then,
you're always late, ain't ya?" The Master rose, towering over the
Her hands trembled as she clamped them together and forced them
down toward her budding bosom. She opened her mouth to speak, but only
emptiness came out.
He chuckled, enjoying her misery. She stared down at her feet
and tried again to speak. "M....Mama told me t...t'go for a walk,
sir. I just d...done what I was t...t...told." Tears threatened
to flood the rims of her eyes but Celeste clamped her teeth together
and blinked them back.
The master took another pull from his pipe then let it out
slowly. In the silence, he seemed to be judging her. "And you
always do what you're told, little girl, eh?" He stepped down one
stair and leaned his back against the wall, his eyes never leaving the
"Y...yes sir," she stammered, but her face burned as
emotions made her blood run like fire in her veins.
The master laughed softly then dropped down another stair to
stand at the bottom step, directly in front of Celeste. Leaning down
till his lips were mere inches from her face, he blew another stream
of smoke into her eyes. "I'm sure you do...Just like your
Before she could react he pushed past her, his body nearly
knocking her down. The girl watched his form disappear around the
corner to the dining room. Suddenly freed of his presence, she bolted
up the stairs and into her room. Shutting the door behind her, she
slumped against it and released her tears. When the fountain of her
anguish had finally run dry, she wiped her eyes on the hem of her
dress and peered into the gilded shadows of the room she had always
known as home.
Across the room, next to the window, was the bed. A shock of
black hair and a chocolate brown shoulder were all Celeste could see
of her mother. The girl gazed tenderly at the woman for a moment,
making sure she was sleeping soundly. No motion but the slow rise and
fall of that shoulder indicated anything other than sleep. Wiping
absently at her nose with the back of her hand, Celeste crept to the
tall wardrobe at the right side of the room. Its doors opened with a
groan of protest causing the girl to hold her breath for an anxious
second. When the world didn't end, she silently lifted a dark worn
dress off the hanger rod and laid it over her arm. Leaving the
wardrobe open, she padded to a small dresser next to it. From it she
took a few underthings, a comb, and a small locket. She opened the
tiny gold oval and smiled. Even in the candlelight she could see the
smiles of two happy people. Her parents had loved each other well in
the short time they'd had together. Quickly, she closed the locket
then searched the room with her eyes. There! On the floor at the foot
of the bed was a small basket. Celeste crept over to it and stashed
her booty. Taking the basket, she rose slowly and turned to the
sleeping form on the bed.
Ever so lightly, she reached out and touched the crinkly black
hair. A single tear fell from her cheek to land softly on the pillow.
"Goodbye Mama," she breathed. "I love you."
As the door closed behind her, another tear joined the first on
the pillow. "I love you too, Celeste," her mother whispered
to the darkness.