39th Thread: Hear our crimes

Schjerfberg Linge séchantLeonor_Fini_Girl_Kneeling_under-motherSofonisba_autoportrait mourante_dying selfportrait
Come closer, my breath is weakening. You must hear me. My mother worked in the fields. Her grandparents had a beautiful farm, she said, but I doubt that was true. She invented lies just to make me suffer. My uncle remembers she kissed him when he was little, she sang to him. But she beat me all the time, even when I had done nothing. She beat me for my red hair and my white skin. Because I was born after an invasion from the North. I had not thought of her meanness for many years, what a blessing. And now that I am old and dying, it’s coming back, I have to relive it when she has been gone a long, long time. Again, she whips me with thorns held by a cloth to protect her hands. Again I have to empty the chamber pot in the cold dawn. I get the smallest piece of bread when I’m so hungry. Please give me a bit more food. Please, I’m cold, give me back the blanket the farmers gave me. She doesn’t hear. I grow up. I lie with the first man who will have me. Soon my stomach shows a rich swell. When my baby is born, my mother screams:
– You whore! Sow! With my brother!
Nearby, a small estate hires farmhands. We are granted a tiny piece of land to cultivate, instead of receiving grain for our labor. We work all day on the fields of the master, and at night, groping in the dark, we grow lentils on our plot. One evening when we return from the fields, we see white shadows in the plant beds. Look, can you make them out? All our plants are destroyed. My man kicks the master’s ram in his distended stomach. I go to bed, but he stays up. When I wake up, he’s still up. A small oil lamp that we almost never use, for the sake of saving, lights up the open trunk and the bundles ready to go. He’s shoving our blankets in a bag. I whisper, Where are we going? We will not find work, it’s too late in the season.
Suddenly, his face is hit by the light of the lamp, his expression frightens me. He looks like a barbarian. Stains of fresh blood shine on his forehead and his hands. His back turned to me, he packs tools belonging to the master. I’m scared.Mendersohn-Becker_woman_w:ram
– What are you doing? The master will have his men whip us!
He says.
– No, no, they will not look for us. But we must rush, quick, get up!
I’m scared, and I’m excited too. We take our children, the little girl who will become your mother sits on the farm’s donkey, she’s happy. The newborn swings in my shawl. We exit our shed. It’s still dark. The door of the house is wide open for once. Inside, I see the legs of the mistress on the floor, all twisted, and next to her, her baby in a dark puddle. I don’t know if I want her to be dead or alive. I get closer. She looks at me, burbles a few words. My man grabs my arm and jerks me back. We take to the road with our things, the master’s tools, two of the mistress’s dresses, a heavy bag of seeds, some bowls, a few pieces of silver that I still keep in the breadbox. They’ll be yours soon. We walk for a long, long time. Nights we walk, days we sleep. Then my man says:Anguissola_Sofonisba_Valois
– Here
Here, in this wood, you were born of my daughter. We live well thanks to the riches we brought with us, we clear the land, we plant, we resell the clothes and some of the cutlery. Our wellbeing is underserved. I’m sorry, dear child, I have to pour it all out, because I have not told anyone and I will not live long, I am so old and worn. Did I do wrong? Was my man the only one to blame? Your mother doesn’t know, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. All these years, I feared someone would report us, that, after stripping us of our rich tools and stores, they would hang us. No one ever came, as if the death of our masters had not been noticed, or had not even taken place. Do you know whether the masters really lived, whether they truly died at the hands of my man? Show me the silver pieces. I can touch them, they are really. You keep them, now that you have heard everything. Soon I will die, and it will not be forgotten.

 

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