As the door opened, Abby stepped off the doorstep into the cool, crisp morning air. With one foot firmly planted on the street, she squinted at the abrupt sunlight. The next step chilled Abby to her very soul. The shoes she wore were old, shredded, and a wreck. These shoes were the last pair of shoes she would ever own.
She was a common slave girl. An animal in the sight of the white man’s eye, a bug in the sight of a white child’s. She was treated as those things day in and day out, and truly began to believe it. Her mother, her closest family member and friend, died many years before and Abby was to take on her mother’s responsibilities of the household. She had been both whipped and beaten twice before for once not arranging the furniture correctly, and a second time dropping Master’s most prized bottle of wine. In these incidents, she could accurately compare herself to an animal or bug. The only thing she loved doing in her short life was fulfilling her mother’s unfinished duties.
Abby had no father. He had been beaten to death many, many years before she was even born. But, having no parents at her age was not uncommon. Many died from pure exhaustion or suicide at a very early age when young. She was lucky to even share a brief time with one of her parents.
Her job was a very vast one; maybe one that could be placed under a type of assistant, but she was to remain in the household at all times needed and was to only leave when dismissed by higher authority. Sometimes Abby snuck out when the Master was drunk, forgetful, or purely too lazy to do so. Her job involved many risks but she finished them stealthily. She worked exceptionally hard from the humble reason that she was following her mother’s footsteps and convinced herself that that was all she needed in life.
Abby stood just below the sidewalk where slaves were required to walk. She was searching for a bookstore; a building with stones the color of the night and big, fancy white shutters. Her task was to ask the man at the store for The Picture of Dorian Gray, a recent print that the Master wanted Abby to deliver just before Christmas. She thankfully spotted the tutor-styled home and as she set her eyes upon the building, it looked like divinity to a slave girl. Abby wished with all her being that her skin was also the color of snow and for the home that rested across the street to belong to her.
There, in the city, there were many people rushing by her, all for similar tasks, but instead meant for family and loved ones. She was nothing but a common slave girl. A dark shadow that limped through the deep sea of people, scurrying like little mice escaping from their shallow fate. As she tried crossing the street, for which slave girls were not often permitted to do unless either companied by or had strict orders from a master, she felt out of place. It was not an unusual feeling for Abby.
When she finally reached the store, she looked down at her feet to see her dark, cut skin, glistening from the loss of shoes. She must have lost them in the street. She could not go back, for the street was but a storm of people traveling embedded with carriages and horses and even some on foot. Abby had lost her last pair of shoes. They used to belong to her mother.
Her feet were raw and muddy and she knew that she would be punished if she made trails of mud along the carpet again. So, she took the snow that law on the small walk and cleaned her feet. She winced at the stinging of the gelidity of the snow but slowly and steadily finished.
As Abby then slowly staggered into the store, she felt a warm gust of air soothe her cheeks. She had the largest urge to untie the cloth woven into her hair and feel one with the warmth. The floor was smooth and polished, like the one in Mr. Svenson’s office, the one where Abby was prohibited to go to ever since she was but an infant. There was a sweet-smelling aroma that interlaced its way around her, and suddenly she was engulfed from a single memory long, long ago…
There lay a newborn in a small cradle constructed from twigs and vine. Emily was surprised the men took the burden upon making the beautiful bestowal for her baby girl. She was beautiful. Skinny and frail, but a smile lay upon her cheeks that never ceased to exist.
There was a small rap on the door’s hut as Emily fed the child and as she firmly stood, weak from her pregnancy, she slowly shuffled her way to the door.
At the doorstep was Abram, a slave boy who was often beaten for roaming about the fields when he should have been working. Though Emily found him an adorable, charming young boy who also never ceased to smile.
“Emily! I found some flowers outside the woods! I thought your new baby could use them. They’re beautiful, just like her! They reminded me of you and her.” He then handed her lavender flowers that smelled like sweet honey. Their small, purple petals were the color of a rare sunset’s clouds. She remembered that twilight, quite special indeed. That was the time where she had met John, Emily’s husband.
She thanked little Abram gratefully and laid the lavender flowers alongside Abby’s crib. She smiled. Her little creation was but simply the most beautiful in the world.
“What are you doing here?”
Abby looked ahead and saw an old woman standing above her on spiraled staircase clutching an armful of books. She stared down at Abby with light, blue eyes that felt as if they were burning into her soul. Her face was crinkled and as white as newly fallen snow while her hair was about the same color.
“If you have no business here, then get out.” She alleged.
“Master Svenson sent me, miss. He says you got a book he needs. It’s called…”
“The Picture of Dorian Gray!” a man interrupted. He appeared next to her from one of the many halls of books that seemed to engulf them. He sat on a funny contraption, made with all wood but with wheels that helped him move. Abby noticed that the elder man could no longer walk. Or perhaps never could have.
“Yes, dear. We do have the book.” the man assured in her a light tone. “Would you like a bag to carry it with? Or maybe wrapped?” he smiled.
Abby was dumbfounded for his generosity in speech. She was so stunned she could not reply as the man looked up upon her showing all his white, pearly teeth as he did and waited patiently for her response.
“…Well sir… I needed the book to bring home to my master, please. I’d like to think he’d want it wrapped, if you’d not mind.”
The old man smiled once more and wheeled around the to the desk that rested in front of them. Abby could only see his head as he strenuously reached to meet the top of the desk to rap the present. Obviously, the desk was meant for standing.
The old man was the most friendliest-looking white man she had ever set eyes on. He wore small, circular spectacles that rested on the bridge of his nose and his hair was pulled back loosely, tied with a red bow. He also had white hair but his skin tanner that his presumed wife, and did not wear as many wrinkles upon his face.
In the ways of the old folk, he was considered handsome, she thought.
When he had finished, he handed her the freshly rapped, crimson-colored present. And yet again, he smiled.
As Abby walked out, her feet stung with the pain of ice and the cold, but a feeling that she could not identify remained in the center of her heart. She was certain she felt this feeling before, which was a feeling of light, or a feeling of Christmas morning. She was not quite sure what this feeling was, but she was confident that it was a good feeling.
Abby limped a couple more miles along the small bit of street that she was permitted to walk. She ate off the feeling that remained in her, every little bit just to help her arrive home as her feet began to burn triumphantly. And too soon enough, she arrived at a very large house just outside of the city that stood ugly and boring from all the others. This was the house she was to call home.
Christmas was creeping closer and closer upon the city of Baltimore. Blankets of white snow covered everything for miles and white children spent their time playing outside. For weeks, the sky seemed to maintain a pale, blue façade with little clouds that bathed in its lucid, blue color. Abby learned to enjoy these little moments alone when she was to fetch commodities from town. The serenity of life without a master was worth her lengthy walk.
Among the business of the people scurrying every which way for the holiday, there was something in these moments that were precious to Abby. Many of the white folk were too busy to shed glance at the slave girl. Abby was neither worth the time nor effort to waste time and fuss about. Few made negative comments about the color of her skin, or jokes harassing the young, Negro teenager. Abby was but a small commodity to her master and people walking alongside the busy street. They had no interest in noticing a girl of her color. The townsfolk who saw her felt small pinches of hatred for a kind that does not belong; a kind that was below them. They would make a slight gesture of disgust become apparent on their face, but then tuck the memory deep into the small corners of their mind where the memory would sit until soon be forgotten.
However, Abby thought these as benefits. She hated standing out in the crowd and wanted nothing more to be invisible, just a mere element in nature that goes unnoticed until time ends.
Christmas was obviously her favorite time of year.
This time Abby was to retrieve expensive red wine from the winery. The bottle was described as red and black. Written on it was Brunello di Montalcino, an Italian wine imported from the luscious bowels of Italy that Mr. Svenson requested. And as she travelled to the winery, a small carriage laid overturned next to sidewalk. She barely dodged the growing fuss that dwelled near the store.
While Abby was limping towards the winery, she noticed the bookstore where she crossed paths with the kind, old man who was directly across the street. Could she quickly steel a small visit to the old man to once again be treated with respect and kindness?
Abby would never disobey Master’s orders, for the consequences could be severely grave.
As last journey, she washed the blood and dirt off her numbly, bruised feet and followed her schedule as required. If to wonder off task in any given situation, Abby would be beaten to a pulp.
When buying the wine, the man treated her as any other would: unkindly, harsh, and cruel. When Abby rested her hands on the counter of the register, he swatted them with the pins attach the bows to the bottle caps. She used the snow to numb the newly formed cuts on her hands and heard a sweet whistling tune coming from across the street.
The old woman was swatting huge piles of snow sitting on the roof with a broom so it would not fall upon people strolling on the sidewalk, while the old man sat on top of the stairs instructing her where exactly to reach. He sat with a red blanket strewn across his hair. While not assisting his wife, he whistled sweet tunes of music that Abby stopped to listen to.
The old man noticed Abby staring across the street.
“Hello, my dear!” He called sweetly to her. “Another gift to be rapped today?”
Abby remained silent.
“Well come, come dear! Better hurry over than stand out there in the half-frozen mud!”
Abby did as the white man said. She was to always follow a white man’s orders.
As she followed him into the store, she was yet again engulfed in the wonderful smell of memory. A handful of feelings rushed back to her, all which were ones laying in her mother’s arms. She remembered the peaceful bliss in less than seconds and the torture of enduring the absence of her mother pained her in such a way that tears began to sting the corners of her eyes.
The old man pulled his mechanical chair up close beside her.
“Anything for today, miss?”
Abby remained still and sullen as the old man continued to watch her with his burning, blue eyes.
“Are you not sure? Well, I’ll give you some small suggestions.” He said, submissively taking Abby’s mind off her mother.
“How about these?” He said as he directed her to a small corner where a two velvet chair next to a fireplace.
The man gestured for her to sit in the armchair while he pulled his chair up close behind. He carried a red hardback book with gold lines that crossed the binding and gold script that wove its way across the front cover.
As Abby’s eyes began dart around the hidden room in the bookstore, her thoughts altered to curiosity instead to that of her dead mother.
How odd this man seemed to be! It took Abby aback that a white man would actually permit her to sit in a warm, comfortable chair near a fire. How odd it was that Abby could sit in a warm armchair and not worry about the putrid lash cascading across her back, or the echoing shouts of a man or woman howling at her for her obvious disregard in the rules set out for the slaves.
“Sir, I’m not sure why you’re treating me like this. You could get yourself in some trouble treating a girl like me like this.” Abby submissively spoke.
As soon as Abby spoke the words aloud, she knew she shouldn’t have. Such words like these should never be obliged to white men. Abby knew she already overstayed her welcome, for she had much to do in the upcoming hours and staying at bookstores for warmth and comfort could plausibly kill her from her misdeeds.
“Now, you look here. I have a new book that I undeniably need opinions on; otherwise, I should not bother to place it in the store window in the front. I would like to read the story to you and for you to tell me your opinions on it. Besides, the accident in the street is already causing too much traffic for anyone to travel. You must stay here and help me! I’m afraid you don’t have much of a choice, dear. Oh! And you may now call me Mr. Nelson.” He smiled.
At first, Abby sat quietly in front of Mr. Nelson with a straightened back and an expressionless face with her hands gently resting, one over the other, as she’s seen ladies practice in the past at her Master’s parties. But as the many minutes passed, Abby began to feel more and more comfortable. She did not see herself as happy, but rather calm and uncaring for the future. As she watched the animated words of her newfound friend swallow her in their epic use of pure imagination and dream, her back began to slouch and her head started to rest itself upon the neck of the chair. She found herself lost in the dialogue and imagery of a small family’s challenges. She listened as the plotline changed from hardships to uncaring, desirable love of family at Christmas…
She smelled its sweet pine as it encased her in the midst of a bright forest where she walked silently, with the prayer of the north. She saw the city of Philadelphia emerge from the trees as she climbed the hill to freedom: the very last one.
She practically saw the smiles of her dark, young children dressed in richly colored clothing cascade across the floor, squealing with delight and excitement at the presents resting under the triumphantly tall, decorated tree. She leaned against her husband, with delight at the perfect scene. Her mother sat in a chair with the children, caressing the young ones similarly as she did when Abby was just as little.
Abby rejoiced in her children’s squeals of laughter. The sounds were like the tolling of bells, or the sounds of pedals falling from flowers. They were absolutely perfect. Just like this dream.
Abby awoke with her empty flower sack that she used as a blanket on the opposite side of her. The day was young and the sun hadn’t yet passed over the trees, illuminating Abby’s path to her work.
Her feet barely bled from last night’s recent snow. Her flower sack’s length only reached from her shoulders to her upper thighs, causing her feet to become evermore pained each of winter’s passing nights.
When she pushed herself up from her feeble position in which she slept, her hands throbbed from last night’s whipping. Her master used his horsewhip to lash at her hands until they shown the color crimson from arriving late last evening.
It wasn’t so awful. There were far worst fates than whippings of the hands. Some of the others were punished much more severely. Abram, who slept in the same hut as she, received public lashes on a regular basis. She knew him since she was but an infant, and he treated her with such sincerity that it was difficult to believe that the boy was whipped so often.
Abram always had a way with words. He knew how to read but was kept away from town from his mere desire of learning more. Abby knew he wanted to escape above all the others, including her. During the nights, he would speak of words he’d seen in newspapers that were left in the trash. Words the white men use like freedom, justice, and equality to describe their rights as men of the country.
Abram talks plentifully about the conversations he learns in newspapers concerning the rights of white men. He constantly speaks about how they infuriate him and why he doesn’t understand how they can be such “hypocrites”.
Many others do not understand Abram’s frustrations when he speaks of times such as this with the exception of Abby. She understands her race should not consider themselves as inferiors, nor should any other race, but what actions should they take to put an end to the flaws of humanity? She was but a slave, weak of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, desperate for common warmth and love.
Not only did white men out number her people, but also they out numbered them in hatred and therefore stamina. They may not be superior beings compared to her African bloodline, but they had the superior living conditions to avoid the diseases and bloodshed that affected her people so easily. They manufactured technologies that her people could never dream of reaching unless stolen from one’s master and technologies that could easily put her people to death if tried to do as such.
Abby understood Abram’s frustrations and she often dreamed of life without work and torture, but she could never commit to such thoughts, nor could any others. It was an impossible rationalization that could never be fixed amongst her people. Slaveholders had the blood of the devil, and they could never even consider a small change in their everlasting culture.
“Therefore,” Abby thought, “views as these are a waste of my hours. There is no point in dreaming such dreams, for they cannot ever be reached, nor accomplished. Dreams are but an unreality and a waste of time.”
As she blindly walked along the path, Abby remembers seeing a man in the street of Baltimore inflate bright, pink and yellow balloons, and then let them deflate and fly in the wind for children’s amusement during the summer months. She compared the deflated, lifeless balloon to the feeling she held in her heart. Abby felt as though she were flying blind when listened to Mr. Nelson’s animated words. She felt blind, but she still felt the air carry her to a place of freedom. She could not see, but the feeling of soaring in a direction unknown gave her a short spree of actual life. But as the balloon deflated, her heart was crushed under her fall back to reality. She no longer felt as though she were in the sky without any boundaries. Instead she felt lifeless, squashed, and but a minor commodity that once had a small chance of freedom to fly away.
When she finally arrived at the manor, Abby walked in through the kitchen to begin her daily tasks such as scraping the mud that soaked in between the floor boards, or tending to the carpets so they look freshly woven. She started with the kitchen’s floorboards since the snow outside melted in the small rays of the sun, which caused a muddy mess for Abby to clean. She started using a rancid, old brush that was used for scraping off rotting food from utensils and other culinary tools. The brush was indeed old and Abby made the decision in using her fingernails to pick the dirt from in between the floorboards and then using the brush to finish off the rest.
As she pried the individual pieces of filth, her hands ached and burned from the roughness of the floor. To ease the pain, she imagined the words of yesterday that Mr. Nelson sang to her. Her mind drifted as she picked and prodded at the floorings, eliminating the pain, which throbbed through her palms.
This was ultimate secret in avoiding the pains that slaves endured; it was to ignore the mind’s persistent want to focus on the nagging hurt. They focused on anything that had a better end result, which could be anything along the lines of dreams, to-do lists, frustrations, and sweet memories such as Abby’s. It was a simple secret, however, if practiced consistently, the end would result in a lessening of pain. The tasks that were mandatory were fulfilled and therefore, usually no further punishment was instructed.
As she continued to ignore her aching palms, Mr. Svenson walked in the kitchen, searching for the slave girl.
“Abby,” he said as he looked down upon her. “I need you to go into town to find me some toys for my nieces.” He gave her the money in which was needed and she quickly finished scrubbing the floorboards.
A single idea can grow and develop in your mind until it torments your every move, thought, or speech. It can grow to inspire you, or it can grow to destroy you. The idea that Abby conceived was to quickly buy the necessary products for her master, and then make a small visit to Mr. Nelson and his beloved library.
As Abby took her familiar walk into the city, she was fully aware of the rules she intended on breaking. Her felt as though it would burst from her chest, she was so nervous. A punishment such as this was harsh and could very well play with her lifeline.
She took the required procedures that involved a painful cleaning of dirty feet, an angry salesman, and a purchase of new merchandise or merchandises for Mr. Svenson.
Abby walked speedily to arrive at the library and to avoid any possibilities in unadorned tardiness. Her destination was but a mile or so away in the east direction, so she did not have to worry about walking a further distance back to the manor.
When the library was insight, Abby felt the need to express a certain emotion in which she had not expressed in what felt like ages. The corners of her mouth upturned into a simple, yet lengthy smile. It was a small, but meaningful advance to the idea she had in mind. Abby was to become Mr. Nelson’s new favorite customer.
As Abby entered the library, an acquainted smell wove its path around her entire body, engulfing her completely. Yet again, a distant past fought against the barriers of her restricted mind to remind her of her previous life with her cherished mother. But this time, a little different…
Lavender was braided into intertwining weaves that rested along the doorway of Abby’s hut to greet any friendly visitor that happened to stop and say hello. It was obvious that spring was well underway due to the mass of new flowers that kept blooming over night. It was also a sign that spring would soon stop its epic blossom to be conquered by the overwhelming heat of summer.
A single word could describe the feeling of the season; that word is perfect. Emily would always beam sweet smiles to any passing visitor who happened to cross paths for work, who would, most often, return the smile.
Emily was feeling weaker with each passing day, however she would not let the knowledge be known to Abby. She continued to do slave labor as instructed, but at increasingly slower rates each passing week. Abram’s father, Lance, would often double his work for Emily, since she would not accomplish the necessary amount.
In her extra time, she had pieces of old magazines stolen for her to teach the toddlers of the manor how to read.
Abby was plausibly around two years of age when Emily started teaching her with the rest of the children. She sat in the very front of the room, obviously intrigued by her mother’s stern teaching. She would sometimes make a fuss when unneeded and usually distract herself along with her fellow peers, but she slowly progressed. She was able to recite all the letters in the alphabet and to voice the sound each made.
Abram moved along at a fine pace, often helping the others who did not understand the material. When Abby misbehaved and she needed her mother to quiet her fusses, Abram took the role in settling her and tutoring her in what she missed.
Abram started reading stealthily within the year. He was able to read words that usually contained a couple letters, which was nothing too advanced, but he exceeded Emily’s unprofessional expectations and further outshined anyone Emily ever taught.
When Emily taught, the children would use the floor as their desks. She would sound a letter or a word, and the children were to trace the letter or word in the dry dirt that coated their hut with their fingers. Slowly but surely, the children’s prints grew better and better with each passing day.
During those comfortable spring days, the children wore smiles of joy that were direct effects of the weather. The warmth and the smell of lavender filled their souls with eagerness to learn in a happy environment. The atmosphere was perfect, the children were perfect, and Abby was perfect. All for the time being…
In those few moments of walking into the library, Abby’s mind traced back to some time, long ago. She could not quite remember the full memory, but small bits of images were enough to invade her mind. She remembered her and Abram tracing their index fingers in the dirt. She remembered warm breezes that flew through their hut. But most of all, she remembered her mother.
All she could recall was her mother talking in front of her, while she sat on the floor, presumably with others. She was looking past her while she was speaking, but then abruptly made eye contact with Abby, and smiled.
The memory ended shortly after her mother smiled, but it was enough for Abby to hold on to for a long time. Abby barely contained any memory of her mother, so the ones she had remained in her heart forever.
Mr. Nelson was stealthily placing books upon the shelves of the library. The door that Abby strode through clanged shut and Mr. Nelson looked over his shoulder to spot who arrived.
“Ah! My dear! Your have come back!” He cheerfully spoke as he carefully rolled his mechanical chair through the thin isles of shelves.
“What will it be this time?”
Abby awkwardly stood in the doorway, shifting from foot to foot, again unsure of what to do or say. She briefly smiled and then hesitantly pointed to some of the books on the display.
“So you would like another reading.” Mr. Nelson smiled. “Well I do in fact have many more books that came in just yesterday.”
He cautiously rolled his chair across the wooden floor and towards the display in the window to choose another novel for Abby. And when he retrieved the book, Abby shifted her head in confusion at how noticeably thicker the book seemed to look. Instead of just gold cursive written on the front, there was a simple, block-like scripture in black imprinted on its cover.
Abby and Mr. Nelson made their way to their secret corner of the library where the bookshelves completely hid them from sight. She happily sat down in the soft, red chair waiting for his words to fly from the page and imprint themselves into Abby’s soul.
“This book,” Mr. Nelson spoke, “is an interest of mine. Yesterday, I spent a considerable deal of time looking through its sketches.” He pushed the book over towards Abby across the small, circular table that sat between them, and Abby observed the neatly drawn sketches.
“This book is an informational book about all the many different sorts of plants. It describes their origin, their name, their picture, and what is interestingly unique about each one. However, this book is so large. We simply cannot read through the entire thing.” Mr. Nelson smiled apologetically. “But if you choose a letter on the side of the book, we can read through that specific portion.” He gestured to the letters on the side of the book, neatly dividing up the pages.
Abby knew that she could not read a word. After letting a small cavity of embarrassment develop in the pit of her stomach, she randomly pointed to a letter fit in the middle of all the sections. Mr. Nelson then pulled the book back to him to open the volume to where Abby had pointed.
“L! Good choice.” He said kindly.
“Lantana is widely cultivated for their flowers in tropical and subtropical environments and (as an annual plant) in temperate climates. Some species are invasive, and are considered to be noxious weeds in southern Asia, southern Africa, and Australia, with there being specialized services that you can call in to remove the plants. In the United States, some Lantana species are now naturalized in the southeast, especially coastal regions of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and the Gulf Coast where it is often known as “ham and eggs”. Lantana species are used as food plants by the larvae of hepialid moths of the genera Aenetus. Other Lepidoptera whose larvae feed on Lantana include Hypercompe orsa and Setaceous Hebrew Character.” Mr. Nelson showed her the picture of the Lantana flower. The sketch was not of color, but Abby enjoyed discovering information about plants.
He turned the page to a new flower and started to read again.
“Lavender is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean where it grows in sunny, stony habitats. Today, it flourishes throughout southern Europe, Australia, and the United States. Lavender is a heavily branched short shrub that grows to a height of roughly 24 inches. Its broad rootstock bears woody branches with upright, rod like, leafy, green shoots. A silvery down covers the gray green narrow leaves, which are oblong and tapered, attached directly at the base, and curled spirally.” Mr. Nelson pushed his book over to Abby to let her see the beautiful plant.
“One of my very favorites!” He squealed. “Although it’s a seasonal flower, my wife and I create lavender incense from last spring’s bloom. We dry out the pedals, ground them up, mix them with ground up leaves, put them on thin, wooden sticks, and light them with a match. They have the most alluring smell. You see? On the table?” Mr. Nelson gestured to the smoking stick placed on the bureau next to the stairs.
“I remember this scent.” Abby pondered. “My mother loved lavender. She would fill our sleeping quarters with it…”
She took a deep breath, inhaling the luxurious fumes of lavender. Each time she breathed, she was taken back to her mother’s hut, filled to the brim with the flower.
“Ah, I see…” Mr. Nelson said after a moment’s pause.
“May I have the pleasure in knowing your name, dear?” he questioned.
“My name is Abby.”
“Well then, Abby. Do you know how to identify the letter L?”
Abby shook her head.
“The letter L looks something like this.” He pointed to the very first letter of the page.
“Can you tell me what sounds this letter produces?”
Abby made the “l” sound in which lavender makes.
“Very good. That is correct.” Mr. Nelson said with a smile. “Now could you please identify another L in this passage?”
Mr. Nelson slid the enormous book across the table for Abby to see. She quickly scanned the paragraph and pointed to another L.
“Very good!” He exclaimed.
“Now, letters at the beginning of the sentence look differently than the letters throughout the sentence. We call these letters lowercase because they are lower than the others. Can you find a lowercase L?”
Abby searched the page and was very unsure of her findings at first, but pointed to the letter, which she guessed was a lowercase L.
“Brilliant!” Mr. Nelson cried.
How could she know this? Abby never once looked at letters or words when she was exposed to them. She could never understand their pronunciation or their sounds. But something in her mind fell into place that day at Mr. Nelson’s library. She could not tell why, but identifying the scriptures in the book felt somewhat familiar to her. She felt as if there were a familiar presence in the room, which was staring at her and smiling.
For the next couple weeks, Abby was sent in to town to retrieve commodities for Mr. Svenson ’s relatives. She new the layout of the city fairly well and quickly bought what she needed to retrieve to visit Mr. Nelson and his beloved library.
His wife had a strong dislike towards Abby. One day, she even threatened her of disobeying orders, but Mr. Nelson’s firm dictate presided over his wife’s, ultimately making Abby a permanent habitué.
They both continued to mull over books of fiction, science, biography, and more, while Abby continued to identify letters. Shortly after accomplishing the identification and sounds of all the letters possible, Mr. Nelson started to have Abby put letters together to form words. Abby began to progressively read as a beginner.
She began to read and identify simple words such as “John’s Pet Store”. She even started to conquer words such as bakery and cooking.
Mr. Nelson showered Abby with compliments concerning how brilliant she seemed to be. He repeatedly said, “Never, in all my years of working as a librarian, seen anyone of any age learn anything as quickly as you have. Well done, my dear!”
Abby and Mr. Nelson developed a friendly, comfortable relationship quite quickly. She no longer stood awkwardly in his doorway, waiting for his request. She no longer felt obliged to remain silent in his presence. She felt comfortable and considered Mr. Nelson as one of her best friends.
Abby sincerely loved to read, but she often asked Mr. Nelson to read stories aloud to her. She adored the way his words flew from the dry pages of a book and encased her in an alternate word. It was one where she could control the characteristics of the protagonists and antagonists, the appearances of the scenes, and especially ways in which the protagonists handle their hardships.
Abby specifically loved the stories about Christmas. The way that families came together and settled every little hardship intrigued her. She imagined sitting by the fireplace in a warm, small house letting the heat of the fire radiate off her skin. Her enormous, loving family would all help her bake a fantastic meal that needed tables and tables to sit upon until it was time to feast. Bundles of lavender rested in small vases that decorated the table. The Christmas tree stood triumphantly tall at the end of table, shining in décor of lavender. She could practically feel the aura of everyone’s love encircling around her.
The aura of Christmas was only days away from approaching the city of Baltimore. Roads continued to flourish with busy people, letting Abby stay longer by the minutes.
Her job for the day was to hand out thank you letters from her master to the store’s clerk that helped him obtain the finest quality commodity, which required a high amount of bargaining between merchandises between the clerks. There were about six letters, addressed to various parts of the city, so Abby decided to leave early so she could spare some extra time with Mr. Nelson before the holiday began.
She knew that after the holiday passed, Mr. Svenson would no longer need her to travel into the city so often to find special gifts for his family. Abby knew she would continue seeing Mr. Nelson and keep furthering her reading, but not nearly as often which still deeply saddened her. She had the idea that she would finally thank him in being an excellent teacher.
As she finally delivered the last of the letters, she travelled her way up to Mr. Nelson’s library.
When she entered the building, her favorite scent passed through her and a certain presence became obvious for her to notice. Also, something began licking at her feet, which was indeed an unfamiliar sensation that she never before experienced in the library.
Abby looked down to see a golden puppy scurrying about her ankles in high excitement. She reached down to pet behind its ears and it closed its eyes in loving the feeling.
“Hello, Abby. How are you, my dear?” asked Mr. Nelson.
“I am rather cold, but defrosting. Whom does this puppy belong to?”
“Well, I bought her just yesterday night as a gift for one of my loved ones. I’m just concerned that they could plausibly loved the thing to death, so now I am not quite sure what to do.”
Abby took a moment to ponder the knowledge she was informed with.
“I would think it silly for someone to love anything to death. It is impossible. The more the love, the more the happiness.” She answered.
“Very true.” Mr. Nelson smiled. “So the puppy is yours.”
“What?” She questioned in an utter state of shock.
“The puppy is yours.” He sweetly stated.
Abby remained silent, and for once more, stood awkwardly in Mr. Nelson’s threshold, not exactly sure how to act.
“How can you give me a gift so precious when I have done nothing?” Abby finally questioned.
“My dear. You have done something. In fact, you have done more than something. You have brought life to this library again. Before you, one or two different guests visited my library per day. And they always had a special business to their matter of visiting. But now, I finally have a regular visitor, who comes to me everyday in need for a simple bit of imagination! What more could I ask for as a librarian? So I thank you, and give you this as a token of my appreciation.”
Abby looked down at the puppy jumping at her knees for nothing but love.
It was settled then. Mr. Nelson was offering a symbol of affection to her and the symbol itself craved the affection of her. Abby could not deny an offer as special as those one. It’d be too cruel.
Tears welled in her eyes at the sight of the baby animal. She had never before received a gift of any sort such as this.
“Thank you.” She choked.
Christmas day came soon enough upon the manner of Mr. Svenson. Abby was up to her neck in chores around the household. She was ordered to decorate and manage the food.
What helped her strive through it all was the thought of her favorite story in Mr. Nelson’s library: “The Christmas Dinner”.
She set up everything as she imagined it in the story. The alignment of the tree and the dinner table, the decorations of the tree, and the warmth from the fireplace were all obstacles she would change to produce a happy-feeling environment for the master’s family.
When his relatives arrived, they were brought into the drawing room while the Abby and the cooks arranged the food on the table.
Abby had never before seen so much food in her life. She positioned the food just like it was positioned in the story and it was almost like she were living her dreams. Almost. If only she could become a part of it.
Soon after setting the decorations and food in the dining room, everyone walked in with expressions of pure shock at how immensely gorgeous the dining room looked. They sat down at the decorated table, said grace, and started noisily eating their beautiful Christmas feast.
As Abby stood along the farthest wall from the dinner table, looking poised and professional as obliged with all the other slaves, the corners of her mouth remained upturned throughout the entire dinner. She felt the dinner she had created along with the happiness of Mr. Svenson ’s family looked almost identical to the story images in her head. Everyone wore smiles from the happiness that generated through the room, even Mr. Svenson.
Abby’s mind started to drift to distant thoughts as the family continued to enjoy their feast and conversation.
She named her puppy Precious, a word she learned from Mr. Nelson, because she considered the puppy to be of great value. Abram, who was forbidden to enter the manor without direct authority, was currently caring her for.
At first, Abby was fearful for Precious’s health concerning the harsh climate outdoors. Abram, as intelligent as he is, reassured Abby that Precious would not be affected by the weather nearly as much as they had due to hrt fur coat. He then went on an extensive rant at, again, how poorly the white man treats the black.
Abby would not let anything decrease her high spirits during the wondrous holiday. Precious, Mr. Nelson, and Abram were all safe and that’s all the mattered.
As the crowd cleared through the dining room, leaving the mess behind, it was time for the slaves of the household to cleanup. Abby’s decorative setup was mangled and stained. There was a lot of work to be done.
As she began to retrieve some of the dishes that were strewn about the table, Jack, the cook, told her to go home.
“You’ve done so much already. We can finish. I promise.”
“I do not want you to exhaust yourself, I can help.” Abby retorted.
“No, I do not want you to exhaust yourself. Go home. Please.”
Abby took a deep sigh and handed the dishes she was holding back to Jack, and quietly snuck out the back door.
As Abby walked from the back door, she noticed two gentlemen outside smoking cigars and enjoying the nights fresh air. She tried to silently close the door behind her, but the rusty, old thing creaked and snapped shut anyway, startling the men.
“Slaves should know silence on such special nights!” One of the men shouted. They were obviously intoxicated.
Abby nodded her head in apologies and continued creeping toward her small path in the woods.
“Well wait just a minute!” The other man beckoned.
Abby did as ordered, stopped, and turned around.
The two men approached her, smelling of rancid food and smoke.
“Tell me. Does Mr. Svenson always have affairs with his slaves?” The other asked.
Abby did not know how to respond to the question. But she must respond. They must always respond.
“I do not know, sir.”
“Well, now! Of course you do! You’re a mulatto slave girl!” He exclaimed, more than once, loosing his balance.
Abby remained very still, unsure of how to react. Again, she repeated her answer.
“I am sorry, sir. But I know not.”
“Well cannot understand why he would.” Pondered the second man to his friend. “I prefer my women to be women, not animals such as this!” He pointed to Abby.
The men started hysterically laughing, turned around and commenced on walking towards the house, leaving Abby frightfully confused.
As Abby walked the familiar path back to her hut, she ran their brief conversation through her mind.
“Mulatto slave girl”?
Abby plainly new she was a slave, but mulatto? What did this word mean? She was next to certain that she heard the term before, but had not a clue of what the definition of it was.
Abby arrived at her hut and found Abram and few others encircled around a small fire outside, trying to enjoy their own festivities of the holiday.
When Precious saw Abby, she leaped from Abram’s lap and ran towards her owner to greet her. Abby picked up the puppy and hugged her against herself. She was an amazing source for warmth.
“Abram, can you help me?” She asked while she came up to him.
“Yes, of course.”
“Just a few moments ago, two men of Mr. Svenson ’s family approached me and labeled me with a name I cannot define.”
Abram furrowed his brow.
“What was the name?” he asked, yawning and stretching his arms.
As Abram heard the name, he frowned and instantly turned back around to focus on the fire.
“I know not.” He answered.
Abby briefly hesitated.
“Yes, you do. I saw it in your eyes. In fact, I can still see it in your eyes now.”
Abram frowned again and took a deep breath.
“Mulatto is a term used to describe a person with the ancestry of a Negro and a white person.”
Again, Abby hesitated.
“But why would they call me such a name?” She slowly asked.
This time Abram did not answer. He kept staring at the burning fire in front of them both.
“Abram, why?” She asked more ferociousness.
He turned to her and grabbed her wrist, comparing it to his.
“Look! My arm is almost the color of night, while yours is barely the color of dirt. Why do you think that is?”
Abby shook her head.
“No. You’re wrong. I had a father. He died years ago, but he existed. You remember!”
“No, your mother had a husband who died years ago. Your father is still alive. And living on this godforsaken land with the rest of us.”
Abby’s stomach constricted and her lungs also became very tight. She tried to swallow, but she could not breathe. All she could do was stare straight ahead of her and clutch her beloved Precious.
Abram no longer stared into the fire. He frowned, staring into the ground, with much grievance in his face.
“Why do you think I always speak about equality?” Abram softly spoke. “I truly believe there is not different between any man, black or white. I made you believe that my reading was my reason for this. But it’s not. You are.”
Abby abruptly stood and ran into the hut. She placed Precious on the ground and curled up next her, pressing her face into her belly, silencing her sobs.
Abby woke to Precious licking her nose, probably from hunger.
She rubbed her cold, aching feet and fetched the small pieces of turkey that she stole last night for her. Precious happily ate them all and quickly curled back into a ball, this time next a sleeping Abram.
The sun had not yet risen and this morning was the coldest one yet.
“For appropriate reasons.” Abby thought.
Despite it being dark as she walked along the path, she could see everything. The snow sitting on the ground, the snow resting on the trees, the snow falling from the sky… All of it was bright, lucid white. She could not get the color out of her mind. Everything was white. Including her.
Abby blindly stumbled in through the back door of the kitchen to find Mr. Svenson sitting at the table.
“Abby.” He spoke. She could scarcely hear her name. She did not want to see this man. She would do anything to faint, right then and there.
“We have some necessary business to discuss.” He said gravely.
Abby stood where she entered, motionless and exhausted.
“I need you to go into the city to deliver a package. I have a sister who missed our dinner due to an illness and I need her present to be sent to her.” He shoved the package across the table, motioning for her to bring it to the city.
There was a small, thread of hope that Abby found in the words “go into the city” and she found the control of her wooziness.
“But comeback soon. By brothers and I are going out hunting later this morning. I need you there to carry our supplies.”
Abby nodded and quickly retreated out the back door.
Her walk into town was forgetful. She let her feet do the thinking for in what she was to accomplish for her master, which was deliver the package and come back during the morning.
But not before she was to wish Mr. Nelson a merry Christmas to him and his wife.
After she delivered the package, she made her way to Mr. Nelson’s. It was a rather short distance, but her minded travelled back to Abram’s words last night, making the minutes that passed feel like hours.
She arrived at her beloved library to find that the door was locked due to the holidays. After all, it was only the day after Christmas. Abby decided to rap on the door to hopefully see if Mr. Nelson could hear her at all.
After a minute or two of waiting, Abby turned around to leave and began her icy journey home.
“Hey, you!” A voice shouted from above.
Abby whipped around to see Mr. Nelson’s wife leaning out from the windows above with a noticeably horrid expression on her face.
“Do you comprehend the infamy you have created over my husband? You’ve put him in a spot no white man should ever have to endure! This entire street has been talking about the scandal that you’ve created!”
“Excuse me?” Abby questioned.
“No! No, you do not excuse me! I excuse you! You to never walk down this street again. You are to never speak to my husband again. You insolent slave, can you not comprehend the damage you have done?”
A mutter of sounds came from inside the room and Mr. Nelson’s wife easily ignored them.
It was Mr. Nelson! He could not stop his wife because he was not in his chair. He could do nothing. He was powerless against the words and the wishes of his wife.
“Never come back here! Never come down this street or else I will shoot you, you impudent mulatto!”
Just like that, his wife slammed the window shut and Abby stood in the street for a moment, comprehending what had just taken place. She had no choice but to turn around and keep walking, feeling each individual piece of ice or stone cut through the soles of her feet.
Abby arrived back at the manor to find Mr. Svenson nowhere in sight. She searched through all the rooms to where he might preside in but had no such luck in doing so.
Soon after she gave up, she heard a loud gunshot followed by two more. They proceeded in starting without her.
Abby shrugged off the events of the recent past and hurried through the snow to find a small group of white men circled around a killing.
Abby knew she was in deep trouble. Mr. Svenson became embarrassed easily when orders were not followed and having to wait for a tardy slave girl was disgraceful to his fellow relatives.
As Abby approached the men, one of them turned around to see Abby coming near. They then touched the shoulder of Mr. Svenson to get his attention. Mr. Svenson did the strangest thing that Abby had ever witnessed him do which was that he turned around and started approaching Abby instead of letting her come to him.
When they were in hearing distance of each other, the master simply stated, “There has been an incident.” And he turned around to walk back to the circle of men.
Abby cautiously followed her master to not one killing, but two. As she let her eyes adjust to what exactly she was looking at, she fell to her knees.
There lay an unmoving Precious and Abram, both shot from the family of men.
Abram contained hole in his chest, about the size of a fist that bled tremendously. He also had a small hole in his upper right cheek. He stared up at the sky blankly, with an expressionless face.
Precious received a head wound similar to Abram’s. The puppy was on its side, also staring blankly at nothing in particular.
Abby did not recognize the wail that developed in her chest. She screamed a cry that was so loud and so devastating, that the birds from the nearby trees all flew away in terror. It felt as if she were in an illusive nightmare. Her grew brighter and brighter, until everything was the color white.
Abby knew not of how long she kneeled there in the snow, screaming. She scarcely remembered Mr. Svenson explaining to her that Precious got away from the huts and Abram ran after her through the woods. One man mistook Precious as a small animal while another thought Abram to be a runaway slave. They both freely opened fire.
She soon came to a realization that the men who shot her family stood inches away from her, enjoying her grievance as “pure entertainment”. She could stand it no longer. Abby quickly picked herself up and made a beeline for the forest. Behind her, she could hear one of the men preparing to open fire, but another man stopped him.
“No! Don’t shoot her!” A man shouted.
“Why? She’s escaping! You’re lettering one of your slaves escape!”
“She won’t go far. She can’t escape this.”
Abby blindly walked through the woods. The color white engulfed her in its pure, brightness. She did not know for how long she was walking, or the time a day. She mindlessly stumbled over rocks and roots. Where could she go?
Her feet bled from the sharp, icy ground making her tracks become crimson. She was obviously an easy find, but Abby could not think of a reason to care. She would die before they found her.
She continued on mindlessly walking through the forest, until she came to a familiar road. But Abby did not care, so she kept on walking.
She passed familiar buildings through a familiar city. But Abby did not care, so she kept on walking.
She walked towards a familiar street with a familiar library. But this time Abby did care, so she stopped walking.
Abby plainly knew she could not bring Mr. Nelson to his door, for his wife would prevail over his notion since he cannot walk. The library triumphantly stood in front of her, and Abby finally understood that this was truly her escape. She understood that she did not need to escape the South to find freedom. She already experienced it in her reading sessions with Mr. Nelson.
Abby’s entire body was shivering so much that she could no longer control the muscle that was left in her legs. As she sat down next to Mr. Nelson’s stairs, she used the library to act as her cushion in helping her sit up.
She was so cold. Her body stung and her feet felt as if they were severed from her ankles. Her back ached so intensely from her uncontrollable shivering that it felt as if her spine would soon break in half. Her hair was mangled in knots with ice that fell from trees from her previous walk and the rags she wore as clothing were frozen to her skin, making it harder to move.
Abby shut her eyes and tried to focus on anything that could take the pain away. But the recent events filled her soul to the brim, making her sobs contribute to even more pain.
It was then when noticed a familiar presence.
She smelled its sweetness coming from above her, in a room where a window was left cracked open. She saw the smoke from the incense gently cascade down the brick wall to greet her.
Once again, Abby was engulfed by a scent that glided directly into her soul, stilling her uncontrollable shakes and bad memories. Abby slowly let the lavender incase her in a warm, spring day, where a young Abram taught her her letters by tracing their fingers through the dirt. The warmth the lavender provided grew stronger, and Abby found herself sitting at table covered in platters of food with a fireplace generating enough heat that her entire family could sweat from. And her family… Her father John sat at the end of the table, smiling and complimenting his daughter at the lovely décor and food she produced. Mr. Nelson sat next to her father, sharing food and conversation with him as equals. A small Precious was chasing three dark children around the table, their laughs chiming like bells against Abby’s ear. They wore rick clothing that was meant for the holiday. She felt something gently touch her palm and as Abby looked down, she noticed her fingers were interlaced through someone else’s, both of which were wearing rings. She raised her eyes to find Abram smiling a free smile at her, which caused Abby to return a warm, loving smile back at her husband. The Christmas tree stood strong and tall, aligned perfectly with the decorated diner table. Lavender was set in vases along the table, filling the entire room with its sweet scent. Balloons were raised next to the tree, forever inflated. Suddenly, the fireplace’s light grew brighter and brighter, to point where Abby was momentarily blinded and need to close her eyes. When she tried opening them, she realized a figure stood in front of her, staring at her with a beaming smile. Her mother. Emily reached down her hand so grasp Abby’s and pulled her entire family back to the light. She was no longer afraid of the color white. It radiated against her face like a thousand suns, and Abby closed her eyes and smiled to enjoy its warmth and sweet smell for the very last time…
A considerable amount of people stopped to look at the dead, mulatto girl who rested against Mr. Nelson’s library. It was not that fact that a dead slave was lying against a building, or the fact that she was the recent finding who escaped Mr. Svenson ’s manor. No. It was the fact that everyone could plainly see that Abby obtained freedom.
She wore a smile upon her cold, dead face to prove it.