When the coffee had been prepared and poured and everyone had a chance to add the rights amounts of cream, sugar, cinnamon, molasses – whatever they preferred, we took our cups out to the porch and sat in the sun.
I said, “I know you want something. You are so busy being polite and friendly and not asking for anything. That can only mean that you are waiting for the right moment. Now is as good a time as any.”
Rashad looked sheepish. Mellie laughed. She said, “Yeah. Yeah. We’re not as sly as we hoped. We’re been hearing about you from the family since we were kids and we wanted to meet you. Maybe hear some stories, y’know?”
“Stories?” I responded vaguely. I figured that their requests were actually more specific than that. They would need to learn how to ask direct questions.
The hound growled, a rusty sound like the turning of old metal gears. I matched its sideways pacing, keeping myself between it and the children. I said, “You can go home. You do not need to be here. We do not need to fight. Leave and I will forget you.”
The children sat quietly, their eyes down, their hands in their laps. I said, “Mrs. Faillard tells me that you do not sleep. That you keep sharpened knives under your mattresses and forks under your pillows.”
Laurence smirked. “Only Berenice keeps a fork,” he said.
Berenice seemed to withdraw farther into herself. She whispered something I could not hear.
“What did you say, Berenice?” I asked in a voice that was almost as quiet.
Cyrus said, “She say the devils are coming. And no one believes us.” His voice was as flat as ice on a Montana lake.
“We have had this argument before, Father. We will have it again and yet again until you give me my due. This sad life you have built, in this filthy country, does not interest me. You owe me a kingdom. I am stronger now. I have given you just a glimpse of the powers at my command. Join with me and we can recreate the inheritance that you threw away. Do this and I can be generous. I will forget your new family. Let us walk away together.”
I felt its eyes before I saw its face. The feather touch of a distant watcher on the back of my neck prompted me to turn to search the crowd. Bright sun beat on the skins of slaves and slave traders, drawing out sweat and making them glisten. My watcher did not glisten. Its skin was dry as stone. Its simple garments told me that it was not a purchaser and the expression on its face told me that it was no slave of men.
In the firelight Sissy had a stature never evidenced during the day. Under the sun, she was a little creature, of polite manners and raised carriage, a prim bird not to be mocked. This night, under this moon, Sissy Le Bon filled space like a tiger and moved like flame.
“Come Rose,” she laughed, “put down the weight of your hammer! Join the circle!”
We heard screaming in the library. It was the wail of a man who had lost all hope, even the hope of a swift end. Uncle Billy drew his sword. Uncle Boris laughed. “Steel is not the weapon we need now,” he said. “The prisoners of that box had no flesh to cut and no hearts to pierce.”