The blood flows like water. It collects in tiny puddles at her feet and sprinkles droplets onto her dress and face. Her left hand is covered in it, as is the gaping abdomen from which the the knife has been pulled. The lily-white face beneath her is spared of any blood except for the corners of the mouth that leak like a faucet that hasn’t been completely turned of. The eyes are open, but sightless, and the hair—forcibly unleashed from its veil—tumbles clumsily over the shoulders. She stands motionless over the lifeless body of the woman she once called mother.
The porcelain girl in the basement knew not from whom she came. Any inquiry of her origins was silenced by the back of Mother Anna’s hand or the swat of a switch. The girl learned to bury her inquiries of her mother and adopt the vision of Mother Anna as her own, for she had the same porcelain colored skin as the old woman, the same features as the young white nuns. She imagined herself the same as the white women who surrounded her, although she did not sleep in the comfortable beds on the second floor, but on a pallet in the cellar of the basement. She did not eat at the table, but served the sisters and ate whatever remained. Nor did she pray or attend church with them. Instead, she remained locked in her cellar until Mother Anna returned to give her her lessons. It was when she removed her head covering and saw the thick mass of raven-brown hair tumble to her shoulders that she looked into the eyes of a woman who was neither Mother Anna nor any of the other nuns. This was a woman she did not know and a woman she feared the consequences of growing intimate with, so she rejected her and any desire to seek her out.
While the little girl was rejecting the unidentifiable woman she saw inside herself, the people of the parish were rising up. The last month had seen the burning of two sugar cane fields and the executions of six black slaves for conspiring against their white masters. The recent uprising was the most gruesome, with ten acres of cane fields burned and the slaughtering of the white owner and his entire family—all of their throats slashed. The workers had all escaped to the outskirts of the parish into the thick, impenetrable mountains. The few domestics who remained were displaced to serve on other plantations. The cook, Marta, was sent to work at the convent.
Marta was an unassuming woman of average height and build. She kept her hair plaited and pinned back, and covered herself in black clothing. She did not speak and kept out of the way of the sisters. It was the young girl who was in constant contact with the black servant and in her she saw, again, the faint image of the woman who appeared whenever she took off her veil and freed her thick hair. It was a sight that unnerved the young girl, but Marta’s close proximity no longer allowed the girl an escape as easy as turning away.
The parish uprising began to spread to the entire island. White planters had begun to flee as blacks drew down from the mountains, claiming more and more plantations. The law proved feeble in its ability to contain the will of those who refused its legitimacy. During a violent incident outside of the church that left three grand blancs, including the archbishop, dead, the church doors closed, and the clergy prepared to leave the island in the coming week.
Marta appeared unaffected by the happenings both within and outside of the convent. She maintained her quiet, unobtrusive posture over the stove, in the garden, in the chicken coup. She never made eye-contact with anyone, but saw the way the young girl skirted around her as if Marta carried a disease. She didn’t blame the child for her ignorance—how could she ever know that the woman she treated as an enemy was her very flesh and blood? Hadn’t the clergymen and the teachers and planters all successfully taught the oppressed to hate all which came from themselves and love its direct opposite? The young girl had been taught to be an obedient follower of Mother Anna who, within two days, would be murdered.
Killing Mother Anna began with an idea, a fantasy, an obsession. For sixteen years the desire for vengeance existed as a gnawing ache that started in the mind and ate its way through the bloodstream like poison. With discipline it had been abated, stored where it would continue to fester until the moment when its true potency could be released. A bit of it had slipped out when the knife slashed the four throats in the big house, but even that was not enough bloodshed to satiate the desire—again, it had to be controlled, masked under an unpresuming face and dumb eyes while the all-knowing mind plotted, planned and obsessed over how to end the life of the woman who had taken one of Marta's own.
On the eve of the nuns’ departure Marta entered the cellar in the basement where she found the young porcelain girl sleeping. She awakened the girl, who drew back frightfully as if she could smell Marta’s plan for retribution.
“I am not the one to fear,” Marta spoke in that broken imitation of a language that had been forced upon her.
“I am the sister of your mother, the woman you never knew.”
The word mother caused the girl to freeze
“Before they took her away I knew she was pregnant with you. When I came I did not know whether you would be here, but you are, and I have come for you.”
Marta began to tell the story of the black woman who, sixteen years ago, sought refuge in the convent from the parish Priest who repeatedly raped her until she was pregnant, undoubtedly, with his child. She was allowed asylum in exchange for her work as a servant, and treated no worse than the domestics in the plantation homes. It was when the baby came, as white as the man they knew had been abusing the black woman, that the nuns could no longer feign ignorance of the truth. But the truth’s stark image was far too harsh to live with and one of its remnants had to be discarded. It was one nun who made the decision that the white-looking baby would be spared and the black mother would be buried in an unmarked grave facing away from the East. The white-like baby would remain hidden in the convent and kept ignorant of its origins. She would grow to depend on her mother’s murderer as if she were her own and reject all that was truly of herself.
When Marta left her, the girl was stock-still, the only signs indicating that she had heard and accepted Marta’s accounts as truth were her cold eyes shedding their naive covering. The porcelain girl now knew that the woman she saw in the mirror when she let her hair free was not a figment, but the shadow of the woman from whom she came. She was not like Mother Anna or the nuns, and the shade of her skin was nothing more than proof of the suffering her mother faced at the hands of a man who professed to walk in God’s image. Marta knew that the truth would rock the young girl’s core, but she had no inkling whether she would forsake its existence and continue to walk under a cloud of ignorance. She had no time to mull over the consequences, however, because as she made her way up from the basement a flash of fire exploded a few yards from the window. Suddenly the land before the convent was ablaze. She could hear the sounds of screams and chants as she saw black shadows move against the light of the fire. Time would not permit her the luxury of drawing out her meticulous plot of vengeance; she had to strike now.
Mother Anna heard the explosion and bellowing outside her window. For a moment she lay there, now used to the outbursts and uproars of the blacks—unwilling to be sedated by the civilizing efforts with which God called her to save them. She had not concerned herself with the happenings beneath her for she was prepared to board the ship that would take her from this damned land, its people, and the abomination in the basement. It was when she saw a second flash of fire that she noticed the presence of someone at the door. She sat up. A hand shoved her back onto the bed. The screams outside grew louder and the fire burned brighter. She could clearly see two black women above her: One was made of deep mahogany, the other delicate porcelain. She tried to lift herself up again but a strike to the head forced her veil to fall as she fell back. Her blurred vision could still make out the knife held above her. When she tried to move she felt tight grips on her wrists. Another crash of fire illuminated the room and she saw it was the porcelain girl restraining her and the mahogany woman with the knife. For a moment, before the first clumsy stab, and the blade sank into her abdomen, Mother Anna swore she could see the face of the woman she had buried sixteen years ago, but she could not reflect for long before the piercing jab cut through her flesh deeply enough to make her holler.
Marta stood over the wailing woman like God herself preparing to make her judgement on the sinner beneath her. The woman was not dead yet, Marta hadn’t plunged the knife deeply enough. She wanted the woman to suffer—the energy from the fire and the crowd outside was infectious. The sight of the girl holding the fidgeting woman down was intoxicating. When she made her way up the stairs she hadn’t expected the girl to follow. When she pulled out the knife she expected the young girl to protect Mother. She wouldn’t kill the girl, but she wouldn’t allow her to deter vengeance. Marta brought the knife down again and again as the flames outside crashed against the wall. The screams from Mother Anna were swallowed up by the screams of liberation coming from outside the window. The porcelain girl watched the only mother she knew twitch and cry under the weight of her very hands. Mother fixed her hollow eyes on the silent girl as the last rushes of breath left her mouth. The girl felt the life drain from the veins around which her hands were wrapped. The woman with the knife, the woman who, in one night, changed the girl’s life stopped her attack when the blood began to leak from the white woman’s mouth. The girl didn’t flinch at the dying eyes of the woman who had lied to her and stolen her origins. She continued to hold on to the dead wrists, almost hesitant to walk away from the woman she had called mother. Marta pulled at the girl. They linked hands covered in blood, and turned and disappeared into the fiery night.
Stephanie is a writer and freelance artist from the Midwest. She has a particular interest in issues affecting women from the African Diaspora and the ways in which they exert agency over their own narratives. Apart from writing she also enjoys reading, filming, and photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org