The Black Doll is a short story I decided to complete to help me get over my xenophobia of completing The Excitement. (Laugh, out loud.)
In The Black Doll as well The Excitement, hope springs eternal. The good will overcome the bad and what is left will be really good.
Don’t kill the really good. That goes with all things in life, literature, and love.
With that, my friends and intelligence, I give you, finished, The Black Doll.
This will allow me to finish Chapter 8 of The Excitement, The Town With Mean Eyes.
God Bless You All and Happy 2016!
Please scroll down to read THE EXCITEMENT
THE BLACK DOLL
Earthy closed her eyes and pushed the bed covers up under her chin with warm hands. Outside, the wind blew cold against the logs and shuttered windows of her sheltered cabin. Under her pillows and quilts, she lay, comfortable and safe. Polly nudged her from behind and they snuggled together in a shared warmth. Today will be a good day, Earthy thought.
Polly and Earthy weren’t really sisters, but you couldn’t tell them that. They spent every waking moment together. Every sleeping moment, however, was a separate matter.
Two, or three times a week and every Saturday at bedtime, Polly walked quietly and heroically from her own room through the breezeway of her house and across the yard where she entered into the slave quarters of Miss Mainey and Mr. Carzie Sneed. They were Earthy’s parents and this is where Polly chose to sleep, with her big “sister”.
Dorothy Sneed was two years old when Polly was born. As Polly and Dorothy grew, so did the bond between them. But, bless her little heart, Polly could never, in her youngest years, learn how to pronounce Dorothy’s name correctly. It always came out, “Earthy”. Dorothy didn’t mind. Even when her mama and daddy teased her with it, she liked it. So, Earthy was born and Dorothy McAfee Sneed became a name regulated only to those moments when the tone and pitch of mama’s voice changed.
The girls were inseparable. Except, at bedtime.
Polly would sleep every night with her sister if she could, but her father, the master of the farm, would not allow it. This secret sleeping arrangement was a carefully crafted compromise struck between two caring mothers whose only desire was to keep peace in the house after the sun gave way to the moon and the stars.
Every night for the first several years of her life, Polly cried herself to sleep. Father’s lap helped. The rocking chair helped. Mother’s soothing voice singing and humming the lullaby of her childhood helped but, after all was said and done, when Polly’s little head met the pillow in the quiet of the deep, dark night, the silence was broken with a baby-soft whimper. As plain and simple as it might seem, the child was afraid of the night.
On one particular Saturday afternoon, the master ignored the smell of rain in the air and the turned up leaves blowing in the wind and he took his dogs out late for the hunt. The farm, at once, became quiet and peaceful. The mothers could easily hear the children playing through the serenity of the master’s absence. Later, as they searched through this quiet pathway for their children, they found the sisters asleep together, for the first time, in Earthy’s bed. The girls were discovered less than thirty minutes after dark, nightshirted and scrubbed, sleeping, with arms crossed. The pillows were fluffed and the blankets were warm. There had been no crying from Polly beforehand, not even a whimper. A natural thing happened. The girls got tired and went to sleep. Polly’s mother, Becky, rejoiced! Finally, her little angel could have peace at night. And so, she sighed, could she.
Her rejoicing was short-lived, however. The master returned home early this Saturday night. Nature’s own predicted rain had drenched him and the other dumbfounded hunters in a torrent of showers before they could take shelter. As he stumbled, angry, wet, and smelling of shine, through the door of his castle the master inquired as to where Polly was. In her excitement, Mama declared that a small miracle had occurred. She explained how Polly had gone to sleep so easily over in Earthy’s bed. It was just after dark and right on time, she clarified. She hoped her husband could accept this arrangement. She was ashamed of what happened next. The master became indignant, loud, and omnipotent in a drunken, snarly way.
“I will not have my daughter sleeping with a Negra,” He shouted so the whole world could hear.
His wife was embarrassed yet, he continued, “I will not tolerate it this night or any night. She will stop crying soon enough, on her own, without sleeping with the Negras.”
He demanded his wife go immediately and retrieve her from the slave home of Carzie Sneed. She would do it or risk the threat of a thrashing from her husband. She did as she was told and went for her daughter in the middle of the rain-swept night.
Miss Mainey heard all the commotion and met Becky at the door with her child. Mainey saw more than sadness in the eyes of the master’s wife that night. Standing in the damp doorway, she saw defiance. Ten thousand words were unspoken as Becky Hawthorne covered and carried her child back across the yard to her controlled domain.
Once inside the house, Polly started her whimpering and the master acquiesced to soothe her ills. He rocked her for an hour under his smelly breath until she cried herself to sleep.
When the master stumbled through the bedroom, finally, into what was fast becoming the longest of the long nights, Becky felt as though she wanted to cry herself to sleep, too. She realized now, more than ever, that she must have a plan for her daughter’s happiness. She pretended to be asleep until she was so.
The next day was Sunday. The master wanted to leave straight away after breakfast to track down his lost dogs from the night before. Polly’s mother stood silently by the open door and handed him his hat as he passed through it. After he walked out the door, she shut it, triumphantly, behind him. From the window of the master’s home and across to Miss Mainey’s kitchen, four heads watched as he parted the gate in the fence and disappeared over the rising hill.
Soon enough, the mothers congregated by the side porch to try and recapture some of the magic from the night before.
“We’ll work something out,” Polly’s mother assured.
By this time, Polly and Earthy had joined in the circle of unrecognized power.
Polly asked, “Mama, can I sleep with Earthy?”
Mainey and Becky knew the answer to this simple question. It was yes, but. Yes, but we have to be careful. Yes, but not every night. Yes, but we can’t get caught by the master and this was the answer Polly would, ultimately, have to understand. Mainey, Earthy, and Polly listened as Miss Becky courageously outlined her plan.
“Polly,” she asked, “How about you slipping over to Earthy’s each night your father is away and every Saturday night when he hunts?”
Becky thought it would be hard to convince someone so young to compromise such personal needs, but a propitious compromise indeed, was struck. Polly knew the days of the week and she knew her father was gone on most of those nights. This, along with Earthy’s delightful acceptance of the plan, satisfied her question. The girls ran through the breezeway and into the yard almost before their mothers had time to recollect their thoughts.
“I’m sorry about last night, Miss Mainey. I’m sorry for my husband.” Becky said.
“No need to apologize for someone else’s sins, Miss Becky,” Mainey assured. “The Lord sees all things man to man and woman to woman. Sins ain’t beholding to nobody but the sinner.”
“I have an idea, Miss Mainey,” Becky spoke. “Let’s keep it to ourselves and the children. No one else needs to know. We need to do something about the other nights, Miss Mainey, the nights when the master is at home and the girls must be separated. We must address what we can do on those nights to let the girls be together. We’ll make dolls!” She announced.
“There will be two dolls. One for each child made in the likeness of the other girl. When the children must be apart and, if they are so inclined, they may trade dolls with one another. In this way, they will never really be apart.”
If it had been any other woman, Miss Mainey would have been surprised to hear a white woman talk about making a black doll for her daughter. But Rebecca Hawthorne was not your average woman. Mainey was excited about this idea and hopeful for the peace it could bring.
“So, it’s a plan,” Becky said. “I’ll see that the master has no knowledge of the doll’s true meanings. That’s part of my end of the bargain.”
It was a wonderful idea and Miss Mainey thought this could be just the thing to help ease Becky’s mind the most. It was her husband, after all, who was the tormenter. He was the unbearable task master. Yet, he was her responsibility and everybody knew it, no matter how many times we told her otherwise. If her plan could work, she would become the most heart-rested soul of all because, after all, she carried the most guilt. Lord knows he didn’t.
The dolls were made together and the material was cut in exact pairs. The outsides of the dolls were made from the soft remnants of one of Becky’s old aprons. The insides were stuffed with pieces of burlap, cotton, and straw. The strings of that original apron were also made to be just perfect for the waist bands of the dolls, tying smartly in the back like a ribbon. Blue and brown buttons were chosen for the eyes and the sparkle and spirit of a unique, hand-made love went with them. While Polly’s doll was left white, Earthy’s doll was dyed with a blue indigo and ash mixture to match her skin tone perfectly. The booties matched, the handbags and bonnets matched, and the dolls were a master stroke of genius to solve a lady’s problem. The exclusive accouterments that accompanied these creations complimented each, and the other to give them special meanings and a special relationship. They took on a life of their own and it couldn’t have worked out better.
Each doll had a mission to accomplish and this, they did. Given the dolls and more independence, the girls reached an autonomy within themselves. There, the growth came. There, the bond strengthened. Polly overcame her emotional bedtime crying, even alone in her own bed. It was tolerable for her to face the night alone and give in to it so long as she could trade to keep Earthy’s doll close for comfort and company. With Earthy’s doll, she was not alone. Earthy didn’t mind. She missed her little sister, too.
It was in the fall of their eighth and tenth years that the union between Earthy and Polly would transcend simple, physical boundaries. Incidents of that autumn and winter spread ripples and repercussions of love between them across the centuries.
One Friday evening, after a supper of cornbread, beans, and potatoes, the girls were playing out beside the chicken coop. It was a little later than usual playing time because the master was home. Soon, the two girls would be separated and confined to their own rooms for the night.
“Watch that old, sassy hen,” Polly warned Earthy. “She’s strutting like a rooster protecting her news chicks.”
Polly’s job was to gather the eggs in the morning. She knew this old hen was temperamental and would strike someone over her young. Earthy knew, too, but paid less attention to the hen when her chicks moved away and towards the door of the coop.
In a second, it happened. Earthy leaned over the fence to pick up her doll’s bonnet and the old cackler attacked. It flew up at Earthy in a fiery rage of fanatical feathers beating wildly against the wind. Talons cut through the air searching for unprotected flesh. The hen swooped in and down and on top of Earthy and its first strike carved two chunks of skin out of her left forearm. Had she not raised her arm up to protect her face it would have been much worse. Shrieks and screams filled the air. Earthy was bleeding and scared from the assault, but it wasn’t over. That crazy old hen was in another world now. She was in a world of blood and smell and sense of victory and she viciously circled Earthy preparing for another claw burst towards her eyes.
Mothers and fathers bolted from every door racing to understand the source of the child’s agony and fear, but they would not reach the chicken coop in time. They could not stop the final act of clawed vengeance from the mad hen. The hen, herself, made a terrible, bloodthirsty, and death seeking cackle as she sprang with wings spread, beak leading, and sharp claws, already dripping with blood, towards a stunned Earthy.
The little girl froze. She heard nothing now. She could only see the hen’s eyes as it moved closer to her, seeking to gouge and gash and peck her in any way that it could.
Then, in an instant, the shaft of an unanticipated hoe came slicing through the air and searching for its mark. It found it. The pre-occupied hen was rocked from its flight and fell, with a thud, at Earthy’s feet. Again with a maniacal rage, Polly struck the downed bird, beating it into the ground until it was severely injured and unable to continue its attack. It was unable to even move. It flapped and rolled around in a circle on one wing and one foot.
Earthy was still confused and overwhelmed when her mother picked her up, bleeding and dusty from the onslaught. Her arm was a bloody mess. The master was there, too, and in one redeeming act, he immediately grabbed the hen up by its neck and rung it. He slung the head to the ground as the body performed its final death dance.
Earthy and Polly were both being helped away from the carnage by their mothers and were halfway to the house when they all turned to hear the master shout, “Now who will draw blood? You’ll never again attack one of my children.” He stomped on the old hen’s head with his boot and crushed it into the ground.
“Prepare this bird for the meal tomorrow,” he said, to no one in particular, but his orders would be carried out.
Polly and her mother stayed late at Miss Mainey’s house, tending to Earthy’s wounds and acknowledging Polly’s quick thinking.
“It’s unusual for such a small girl to be so brave in the face of danger.” Miss Mainey said.
“Thank you, Polly,” Earthy added.
All the next day the girls could smell that chicken stewing. It became somewhat of a community event. Everybody wanted a piece of the chicken that had attacked the children. There was something that was good and right about eating that chicken. It was just. Polly and Earthy ate their fill of beans and potatoes but, they passed on the chicken.
After the special supper, the girls disappeared to play. They huddled together inside a tobacco barn near the south field. This is where they made their secret pact. Now and forever, they said, for all time, Earthy would give her black doll to Polly and Polly would do the same, she would give her doll to Earthy. In their treaty, they proposed that the dolls would, forever more, represent the girls. After they traded, they agreed they would never, ever be apart again because they had each, the other’s doll. They made the trade. They swore an oath. They spit on their hands and shook them like they had seen the boys do and it was so. As the girls walked back to their houses they each carried the doll whose likeness was of the other and they didn’t feel alone.
THE BLACK DOLL
The winter of Polly’s tenth year started like any other. There was grain to store and wood to cut in preparation for the months of cold weather that would come. Those winter winds brought more than just snow and ice to the farm that year. They brought the fever. Earthy remembered the hard, December day when Polly first became weak. It was another Saturday night and the master was off hunting with the dogs. Polly told her mother she was just a little tired.
“I’m going to Earthy’s, Mama,” She said.
“Your head’s a little warm, honey. Do you feel alright, my baby?” Miss Becky asked her child.
“I’m fine, Mama,” Polly assured.
“Becky, you need to come over to the house right now!” It was well into the night and Becky knew, by the way that the knocks came hard and fast on her door, that something wasn’t right. Mainey was all out of breath and she had that panic-stricken look on her face that told Becky something was wrong with her child.
“What is it, Mainey? What’s wrong?” Becky pleaded as they both ran back towards the house where Polly was sleeping.
“Your child is about to sweat to death, Becky,” Mainey panted. “Earthy woke me up a few minutes ago because Polly was so hot that she couldn’t hardly touch her.”
By the time those few words were exchanged, Becky was at the bedside of her daughter. Mr. Carzie was ringing the heat out of a previously cold wet rag and soaking it back up in a spring water and apple cider vinegar mix to return it to Polly’s forehead. He had already placed some of the cool rags around her feet.
“She’s terrible hot, Miss Becky,” Carzie lamented. “She’s got the fever.”
“Oh, my Lord,” Becky cried. “Oh Lord, no! She’s as hot as fire. We’ve got to get her back to the house, Carzie.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Carzie answered and in an instant, he picked the little girl up, blanket, wet rags, and all in his arms, and started for the Master’s home. Becky and Mainey led the way with Earthy, fearful and scared for the life of her little sister, following close behind.
Carzie gently placed Polly in her own bed and Becky immediately began reapplying the cold rags to her forehead, neck, and every part of her body that she could to continue to soak the heat out of her. From the inside out, the fever was burning the poor girl up.
“I know about where the Master is hunting, Miss Becky,” Carzie announced. I’ll go straight away to fetch him up and bring him back home.”
“Thank you, Carzie. Please, hurry,” Becky bemoaned. “And please, Carzie, after you find the Master, go into town and get the Doctor, too.”
“I will, Miss Becky. I will.”
In a frenzied moment, Carzie cast a frightened look at his wife and then, he was out the door. In another minute, he was heard riding his horse over the hill towards the woods where the Master hunted. He didn’t even take the time to saddle his old mare up. He rode her bareback and barefooted through the night guiding her by the mane.
“She’s going to be alright, Becky. We’ve just got to keep this cool water on her. You keep putting the rags on her and Earthy and I will keep drawing more water from the spring. Lord, please protect this girl,” Mainey prayed with all of her heart as they changed out bowl after bowl of hot water for cold.
“Can I put her doll next to her, Miss Becky?” Earthy asked.
“Of course, you can, my sweet little girl,” Becky answered as she tried to smile. “Here, place it in her hands.”
Earthy tried to place the black doll in her hands but, Polly did not have the strength to clutch it. Earthy rested her little hand over the top of it as best she could.
“You hold your doll, Polly. You hold it tight and I will always be with you,” Earthy sobbed. “I won’t ever leave you. I promise,” she said as she held her sister’s hand tight.
Without warning, the Master burst through the door like a charging bull and he nearly knocked over the table with the lit coal oil lamp on it. He tipped it over as he lurched to get next to his child. Miss Mainey saved the lamp from falling, breaking, and catching the floor on fire.
“Carzie has gone for the Doctor, Becky. How long has she been like this?” he inquired.
“She felt a little warm before bedtime. We’ve been soothing her with cold water and apple cider vinegar and we’ve got onions cut up in the rags around her feet.” Becky knew the Master would quickly want to know if all of the home remedies for reducing a fever were being applied.
He touched her head and groaned, “She is on fire!”
In a minute, he surveyed his daughter and, suddenly, noticed the black doll in her hand.
“Where is her white doll,” he demanded to know. “Why does she have this black doll in her hand?” He looked directly at Earthy and the little girl gasped.
“Give me Polly’s doll,” he ordered.
“No!” Becky tried to interject but, the Master hurled his insults towards her.
“I said give me that damned white doll!”
Without saying a word, Earthy gave her white doll to her mother. Mainey reached out to hand it to the Master. He jerked it out of her hand and replaced the black doll under Polly’s hand with the white doll. He cast the black doll to the floor at Earthy’s feet.
“There is no need for you all to be here. You may go back to your quarters, now. I’ll tend to my daughter until the Doctor gets here.”
Becky felt ashamed as she walked Mainey and Earthy to the door. With their arms joined together and their spirits low, they all took another long and sorrowful look at Polly. Their head’s were bowed in sadness and reflection as she quietly led them from the room.
Soon, Carzie returned with the Doctor and the physician quickly began to assess the girl. He felt her neck, he noticed she was red and flushed, he tried to keep her covered up to keep the shakes and the chills from her but this was all to no avail.
“I’ve brought an elderflower and yarrow herbal drink with me. We must try to get her to swallow a bit of it,” he insisted. “I had this made up just yesterday at the Dolin’s home across the river. Their boy had the exact same symptoms as Polly. I’m afraid this isn’t good, Miss Becky,” the Doctor diagnosed. “The fever is going around,” he added. “The Dolin boy passed away this morning. I am very sorry to have to tell you that if her fever doesn’t break by this afternoon, we could lose her.”
“Oh, Lord, no. Please Lord, no. Please, Lord, don’t take my baby.” Becky cried at the bedside of her daughter.
Mainey, Earthy, and Carzie Sneed cried from their home across the yard.
Becky cried and prayed and built courage by her daughter’s bedside all night. At daybreak, the sun happened to shine through the little girl’s window with a beam of light that shone itself directly on Polly’s little hand. It brightened itself with an angelic glow on the white doll she held.
“Oh, no. No, no, NO,” she barked at the Master and it woke him from his sleep.
Becky Hawthorne picked up the white doll held captive under Polly’s hand and said to the Master, sternly, as she waved it in his face, “This is NOT Polly’s doll!”
She took the white doll and stormed from her cabin across the yard to the home of Mainey and Carzie Sneed. After a few minutes, she returned with the black doll in her hand.
“THIS is Polly’s doll,” she declared to the Master. “THIS is the doll she will hold and you will NEVER again remove it from her hand! Do you understand me?” she boldly asserted as she gently placed the black doll back in her daughter’s hand and tightly clasped her own hands around them both.
The master looked incredulously at his wife. He was smart enough to know that she would not be trifled with at this time, on this subject. He nodded his head in agreement.
“I’m going to get Mainey and Earthy and we are going to tend to my daughter! If you don’t like that you can go back out on your damned hunt and be gone with you and good riddance. Otherwise, draw us a fresh bowl of water from the creek and stay out of our way.”
The master nodded again and went for the water.
Mainey, Earthy, and Becky did all they could for the child. They prayed a church load of prayers throughout the day as they changed out bowl after bowl of water. The master drew every one of them and mixed each with apple cider vinegar.
The Doctor would not give up hope but he had to leave in the early afternoon as another family was calling him away to deal with another fever.
“Keep praying,” he offered as his best advice before mixing up another batch of the herbal drink and moving on to the next farm.
It was late in the afternoon and a red-headed woodpecker was pecking so hard on a tree that it seemed to be right outside the window. Becky listened to the bird at work and held tight to her daughter’s hand. She said another prayer for all of God’s creatures.
The master brought a fresh bowl of cool water into the room and they all noticed that Polly didn’t seem to be sweating so much as she had through the previous night and day. Her skin wasn’t as fire hot as it was before. She was, actually, holding her little doll in her hand now and she seemed to be wrapping her fingers around it. She was moving her head around a bit and her lips welcomed the moisture of the herbal recipe.
Becky, Mainey, Carzie, and Earthy all prayed harder now than they ever did in their entire lives. The master joined in, too. Even he could see that the Spirit was moving in their little cabin. The child was coming back to life.
They filled her full of the elderflower and yarrow herbal drink left by the Doctor. He said that she was sweating everything she had inside of her out and she needed to drink in as much as she could or she could not recover. He left a gallon of it and Becky saw to it that she drank it all down to the last drop.
Later, in the evening, just before the Sneed family reconciled that little Polly was going to be alright and they were getting ready to leave, Polly felt like talking.
She spoke as they all stood around her bed.
“I was going away, Mama. I didn’t know where I was going but I knew it was far away because I had never seen this place before. I was all by myself. I kept looking for you, for Earthy, for Miss Mainey, but I couldn’t find you. I couldn’t hear you, I couldn’t see you. Sometimes I would be walking through the woods and sometimes, it seemed, I was floating in the clouds. I was getting so tired, so sleepy, and I just wanted to lie down. Then, after I seemed to be so tired, so tired that I couldn’t go on, I found my easy place to lie down in the soft green grass under a beautiful Dogwood tree. I smelled the grass and the Dogwood flowers and it was so peaceful but, beyond that, I smelled the sweet scent of Earthy’s black doll. I knew it was her doll. It smelled just like Earthy. It was so close to me, I could almost feel it. I laid there for a long time because it was so restful. It was so easy to be there, to stay there but, I knew if I wanted to find you I had to get back up and start following Earthy’s smell. It smelled so sweet, so clean, and so perfect, I couldn’t stop looking for it. I knew it was Earthy’s doll. It seemed to be right there, right in front of me, but it was taking forever to find it. Then, for the longest time, I lost it. I lost that smell and I was lost again. I just laid down that time right where I was. I was so tired out, Mama, from looking for you. I felt so much like sleeping but, it was funny. Just when I seemed to be the most tired, I heard your voice. This is Polly’s doll, you said. When you said Polly’s doll, I woke right up and I smelled it again. I immediately got up. I didn’t want to lay down anymore, I wanted to find Earthy’s doll because I knew if I could find that doll, I could find Earthy, and then I could find you. I followed that smell until I felt you holding my hand.”
The master looked at his daughter and then, his wife. He looked back at his daughter.
“By being foolish and not adhering to the simple words of God, love thy brother, I have almost killed our daughter,” he said, back to his wife.
He added, “The golden rule says that we must treat one another as we would like to be treated. Before today, I used the excuse that the negro was inferior to me. In that light, in my mind, they didn’t get the full benefit of God’s golden rule. But, I have learned that there are ways that I am inferior to the negro. We are both inferior to God but we can both be a shining tribute to Him. God has taught me a valuable lesson today. He taught me that not only must I love all of God’s children so much more than I do, He taught me that I can not survive alone. He showed me that I was losing you, my dear wife, I was losing my daughter, and I was losing myself.”
“He showed me that I was losing you,” he repeated, to his wife. “I am sorry, Becky for being such a bad man to you and for being such a rude husband and father. I can change and I will change. I promise you, I will. I will immediately begin to work more with you, Mr. Carzie, in the harvesting of our crops and the cultivating of our friendship. We will begin to speak more of your freedom and your future. I am sorry, Earthy, for treating you with disrespect. I am sorry, Miss Mainey for not appreciating you more. We will teach you, anywhere we can, and we will continue to let you teach us. I only ask that you please let me try.”
Becky Hawthorne smiled and thought to herself, today will be a good day.