Where It Began Chapter 4 Part 2
Last Week: Miss Frankie finds out she’s going to Memphis for singing lessons.
This Week: Miss Katie protects Frankie so they can both take the lessons that will ultimately free them.
I go back to finishing my dishes, humming me “Every time I Hear the Spirit.” Then I starts to singing, it catch me up so good. So I quick look around to make sure nobody can hear me. There in the dark corner of the kitchen, I see Miss Katie. I don’t know how long she be there, but I so startled that my mouth shut tight and keep that song inside me.
“Girl, how long you be standing there?”
She not answer. Stead she walk over to me real slow, slide her arms in around me and lay the side of her head on my bosom. We stand that way fo’ a long time.
Then she say without moving her head, “Frankie’s going to Memphis with me.”
“Don’t that make you happy, child? She so looking forward to it.” Katie don’t answer me. I know she not jealous, fo’ she love Frankie, so it ain’t that bothering her. I stand there holding her, nothing in me axing her to talk or move. Maybe it juss bleed right out a her an soak up in me, fo’ all a sudden I know what this about. An all I can do in that moment is whisper, “Oh God have mercy.”
It not come to me quick as it did to Miss Katie, the bigger picture that Memphis be. But when it hit me, the cold shivers run down my spine. My thoughts come through me louder than words, I cain’t let this go on no mo’. Somehow it gots to stop. Fo’ in that moment, it all come so clear to me. Miss Katie be older now; she git on the rag. It be chancy with her. So now it’s Frankie he eyeing up. I be thinking, Oh Mama help me now, please. All I can say to Katie girl is all I know in that moment. “We’ll figure this out, suga, we’ll figure this out.”
The rest of that day, bad thoughts float in my mind like ghosts among the graves. I plead inside myself an ax me, “Miss Imogene, what would you mama tell you?” I have babies too that I muss think about. If I go losing my job or worse get banned from work in this town, my babies could starve. Yet, all these chilun need caring fo’. It make no sense, this world that tear a body asunder when it juss trying to do right. I fret bout it all the next day, break a vase, tripping over a turned up rug, I be so in my thinking. I even pinch the cow’s teat an almost git myself kicked, when I be doing the afternoon milking, cause the barn man be sick. All the while I keep wondering what to do. Then like my prayer be heard, a miracle happen.
This silly black lady she be all shivery in the corner, an that little Miss Katie, with wisdom like that of an ole saint, figure out how to save her sister an keep them lessons going on too, cause those lessons are a ticket out of this bad place. They mean freedom for them two girls. Juss bout the time I be going home, I see her go into her Daddy’s study. It be two nights afo’ Miss Frankie’s first trip to Memphis. Rather than hitch up Polly an leave, I wait out in the studio, cause I know someum happening, an I not sure if she need me or not. While she in with her daddy, I be waiting on her out in that amazing room of mirrors an open spaces, an agin I juss cain’t seem to keep my feet still. So I hum me a little tune an sashay round that floor feeling like a girl agin. I twirl around and around with my arm out on one side. In my own small way I can feel what this dancing mean to Miss Katie, fo’ it take you away from you troubles an make you world be made of only music an motion. It feel like they be no one but you and the Lord in those moments. Guess he ain’t no Baptist cause I can feel how much He love that state of heart the dancing take me to.
It be dark in that room, but the September moon be shining in the windows an the cool air of the evening be sighing all over me like a sleeping lover, giving me comfort. I get so wrapped up in my moving about the room, I don’t even notice Miss Katie as she come softly through the door. Finally, I feel her presence as she join me, take my hand an dance with me, showing me one easy step that we do back an forth. An she not let me stop until she hear my breath come heavy, an then she clap her hands together an giggle like she be a little girl again an say, “Oh Miss Imogene, what good fun that was.” It be only then that I look at her hard an see in the moonlight how strong she look an how proud, an my heart near like to burst with the joy of it all.
“Tell me, dear child, what have you done?”
We set in the middle of the room, the moon our only light, casting crazy shadows on the floor. She face me full on, take my hands in hers, an say, “That day you let me know that you knew what was happening to me was like a life preserver being thrown to a drowning person. I was so afraid to tell you because it was all so shameful, and yet I wanted to cry out for help. That day what you said helped me find a handhold, and though I couldn’t drag myself out of there right away, when I realized what his plans were for Frankie, I started scrabbling out of the hole with all my might. You said be true to your heart, and I felt those words as if they were alive in me. They helped me push back those sick feelings I get, anytime he’s around me, far enough back that I could focus enough to figure out how to protect Frankie.”
“So what happen?”
“An idea came to me that I knew would work, if I could hold myself together long enough to tell him. I walked into his study, stood before him an told him that I would continue to take dance lessons, that Frankie would start singing lessons, and that his driver, Clarence Colar, would drive us up to Memphis and bring us back the same day. Then I told him if he tried to interfere with this plan, I would let people know what he’d done to me. I asked him if he understood, and he nodded his head and added that he’d tell Mr. Clarence to be ready on Tuesday. Then I got out of there, before I got as sick as I felt.”
She stop for a moment, her eyes squeezed shut like she trying to stop the ugly thoughts that begin to take hold a her. I pull her close so she can finish, so my love can ease the sick feeling she have inside her.
She say almost in a whisper, “I love to dance, Miss Imogene, it’s what’s keeping me alive, but what is true most of all is that I must look after Frankie the way you have looked after us. I may be young, but I’m not stupid. I know how dangerous it is for you to interfere in any way. You must take care of your own children too. But know this, Mama, for you are my mama, it was really you who saved us all. What would I have ever known about truth had you not been true with me, and what would I have ever known about love had you not loved me so? I don’t understand why my life is like this, why I was born to these people who hate me so. Without you, though, I couldn’t survive.”
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