After service on Sunday her first year when the church’s only inter-racial couple has just left, Fiona reentered the Sanctuary and sat in the back pew. Before long, Miss Mabel came and sat next to her.
“So, preacher, you’ve never asked.”
“Doc and Rosie. You’ve never asked.”
“No, I haven’t.” Fiona decided to wait because she knew that the information would soon be forth coming. The two women sat in silence for a moment. Miss Mabel started to tap her foot.
“Well do you want to know?”
The wait had gotten to Miss Mabel. Fiona just looked at her and remained quiet. After another moment, Mabel decided she had implicit permission. “Well it started back in the depression….”
Rosie sat on a suitcase outside the local saloon. Well, it wasn’t exactly a saloon, it was more of a speakeasy, but perhaps that distinction was just a splitting of hairs. She sat outside in the dark of a hot Georgia night as her future was decided within. Her Mama and Poppa had moved on a few months back, with the little ones. Her entire life had been spent on the road as her parents chased one ephemeral job after another. Her early memories were centered around the old Model T that her father had converted into a sort of house on wheels, with benches and beds for sleeping and storage. There never was any money, much less food. She had a string of siblings across the south that had been placed as domestics as soon as her Mama could find places for them. She had been with Mister and Mister’s family for 4 months now, but Mister had defaulted and the bank had come and taken his house. Now Mister’s family was going to be living in their car, just like her family did and there was no room for Rosie. Mister had come to the speakeasy to try to barter Rosie away.
The door was roughly opened and a few boisterous white men stumbled out.
“Girl! Girl! You need to come with us. You’re gonna to live with Doc now.”
Rosie rose to her feet, trembling. She was not naturally bold, and she was frightened. She followed the white men and their lanterns at a distance, lingering in the darkness. Her suitcase bumped against her calves and her feet made little clouds of dust as she shuffled along. One of the white men was obviously quite drunk and was being half carried by his companions. His fancy schmancy dress shoes made parallel tracks as the toes drug along in the dust.
They didn’t go far – just about half a mile down the dirt road before they turned down the once elegant drive of one of those old southern mansions with sagging porches. This one, though, was much bigger than Mister’s and much more depilated. It was dark as pitch outside the building. No lights were apparent in the house, the scene was lit only by the moon. The world seemed perfectly still. She heard the howl of a dog and the wail of a distant train. The trees and shrubs were overgrown and hunched protective-like around the immense house. Her reverie was interrupted by the creak and slam of the screened door. “Girl! Come get Doc settled down.” She hurried along to her new fate.
The men had placed Doc in the only bed on the first floor the house. The house was extremely cluttered. Rosie had never seen so much stuff in all her life. Wide-eyed she gazed in wonder at the random and haphazard piles in every room and on every piece of furniture save three – an easy chair in the parlor, a table next to the easy chair and the bed. The sheer amount of it was overwhelming. One of the white men said, “Doc takes things in payment. Should be food in the kitchen.”
Rosie sat her suitcase near the door and wandered off into the house. She realized that what Doc was using as a bedroom was actually the dining room – maybe for convenience?
The kitchen was full as well, and there seemed to be plenty of fresh food on the counter near the sink. There was also one of those Hoosier cabinets. Rosie peeked and it too was full. Flour, sugar, milk, bread, potatoes, corn, beans and in the icebox, meat, cheese and eggs. A bounty! Rosie had never seen so much food altogether in one place except for a general store. One of the white men entered the kitchen.
“Girl. When Doc wakes up, let him take it slow. I understand he has a mean temper. He likes his coffee black and strong. Have it ready when he wakes.” He turned to leave. “Oh, and help yourself to something to eat. He never can finish what people give him.”
Rosie’s mouth began to water. She began planning her meal before the white man left the room. She heard the door shut and she began to cook --a three-egg scramble with cheese and milk and toast with butter. Paradise!
After her meal and a sketchy wash of the dishes, she felt bold enough and strong enough to wander a bit. She had the lantern that the white men had left behind, but the immense size and darkness of the house was frightening. Cautiously, she opened doors and discovered several over filled rooms on the first floor: a library, a dining room sans bedroom, a parlor, the kitchen pantry, the butler’s pantry and a glorious bathroom with running water. After using the toilet, she eyed the bathtub. She turned on the water and felt the pipes shudder for a moment and then a gush of water. Cold, of course and no matter how long she let it run, it stayed cold. An idea hatched. If she could use the stove in the kitchen, she could heat water and take a real bath in a real tub. There was plenty of soap and towels left over from an earlier age. Did she dare?
She hurriedly heated water and took her suitcase into the bathroom. After barricading herself by locking the two doors, she stripped and sank into the silky smooth water. Considerably later, as the water began to cool; she washed her hair with the scented fine soap and scrubbed all over. She exited the tub and decided to wash the clothing she had been wearing. They were threadbare and faded, but she scrubbed until they were threadbare, faded and clean. She hung them to dry and dressed in her spare dress in the suitcase. It was time to leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Taking the lantern she decided to see if she could sleep in the parlor. She curled up in the chair and twisted this way and that, finally finding a comfortable position, but sleep eluded her. She could not shake the feeling that there was something looking down over her as she squirmed in the chair. Half picking the chair up and half sliding it on the wood floor, she wrestled it over to the Dining Room so that she could see the sleeping man and hear him breathe. She could not remember every sleeping really alone. In Mister’s house, her bed was in the dining room. She went to bed last and woke up first because of the lack of privacy, but she was never really alone. She couldn’t decide if she liked alone.
Lulled by the man’s breathing, she finally slept.
She awoke to moaning. Doc wasn’t really awake – just moaning. The house was bright with late morning light. After a few minutes, she went to the kitchen and put a pot on for coffee. After it brewed for a while, she retreated back to her chair and waited wide-eyed for the man to wake up.
After a few more moments, his eyes flung open and met her full on. “Great God Almighty!”
“Great God in Heaven!”
There was an odd gurgling noise and sudden movement. Rosie stayed petrified in her chair. He flung back the covers and ran, stark naked to the bathroom. It seemed the white men had removed all of his clothing. Rosie heard the sounds of someone getting very sick, running water and then silence. After a moment she heard, “Young woman, if you would be so kind, would you please fetch me a few articles of clothing? You will find them in the chifferobe next to the bed.”
Rosie rose from the chair, found the necessary items, minus socks and timidly knocked on the door. An elegant white arm with exquisite proportion reached out to take the proffered items and Rosie fled. Out of the house and into the yard.