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The Venus of Basin Street

New Orleans 1852

Ida Johnson tried to ignore the cloying scent wafting from the giant sized bouquet of Magnolias, Calla Lillies and other southern flowers brazenly arranged in a vase on the table to her right. The fragrance was so powerful she found herself wishing she could move the flowers and the table itself, a polished, brown claw footed one situated beside the plump sofa upon which she perched. Had she stumbled upon the same scent emanating from a thrash of weedy flowers among the bracken and bramble of a wood in Canada­ the woods she loved to roam­ she would have felt as though a divine gift had been bestowed upon her. Instead, the heavy, humid, almost liquid air of New Orleans, the day old scents of perfume covering even fresher aromas of desire ­ threatened to overtake her, and send her head spinning.

Instead, Ida pursed her lips and straightened her already ramrod spine even more stiffly, in order to banish thoughts of aromatic desire and overstated flower bouquets from her head, indeed from her very nostrils. She lifted her chin in as subtly a dignified fashion as she could. She then proceeded to state her case to the men sitting on the matching, overstuffed couch in front of her.

“I sincerely believe that with the right amount of funding and support, Miss Johnson’s School of Etiquette could inspire these ladies, the occupants of this… former… brothel to be gracious examples of deportment and propriety. They could use their God given

free will to turn their lives completely around. The search for beauty in a jar of pomade or face paint could be funneled­”

“Former?” Dr. Stephen LaChasse, the only white man present in the room, let the word drop from his lips as though he were speaking to himself, as one would do whilst glancing at an odd article in the morning paper. He was a tall sloping man, of English and French descent, rather than the usual Creole French and Spanish admixture found in Louisiana. He had the paleness of the English but his lips were rather full for an Englishman, and hinted at less prosaic origins.

Ida, had she more energy this squeltering morning, would have resented his nonchalance and the sense that he gave off, that he was indeed alone, speaking to himself. After all, there weren’t real people present, were there? She would however, have preferred to ignore this comment, and treat it as if it were something he had indeed thought out loud. After all, she too could sense, somehow, the vestiges of debauchery that seemed to be caught in the ornate tapestry of the curtains and beautiful, ostentatious furniture. This brothel had been grand in its day. The remaining girls were splendid to behold. Their former Madame, who had kindly taken Ida in, albeit with a hazy agenda it seemed, had died at the hands of a customer. The murder had taken place in the home of a wealthy Frenchman, which is why the brothel was protected from scandal and further investigation and Madame Brouchard’s death easily covered up.

This tragedy was the first traumatic event that had both frightened Ida out of her mind, but steeled her resolve to follow in her sister Audrey’s brave footsteps.

It was the thought of her reckless, fearless, outspoken twin, that encouraged Ida to draw herself up even more, her head so high on her neck, it felt like it might be teetering there. She responded, again with as much dignity as she could muster.

“Yes, former. While the world was said to have been made in seven days, it is clear the formation of human morals took quite a bit longer. Why look at New Orleans. Civilization itself seems yet to have arrived. Fine houses do not make a slaveholding state less barbarous.”

She could feel Pere Claude shifting on the couch he shared with Dr. LaChasse. Ida could not read the priest’s expression; his eyes were lowered and he seemed to be holding his chin thoughtfully, almost pulling down the corners of his mouth . She suspected he was embarrassed and disappointed in her. She did not know what, other than foolish thoughts of her more foolish sister, had made her so forward. Perhaps the strange sinking sensation that was beginning to take hold of her stomach had loosened her tongue. She was meant to make a case for acquiring funds, not debate a powerful man in New Orleans about the questionable moral nature of a slaveholding state.

Dr. LaChasse also shifted himself and picked up a small glass of port­ the only beverage Ida could find to offer them­and took a sip. Despite the disapproval she knew was emanating from Pere Claude, LaChasse seemed unfazed, and merely said,

“There is some dispute in that­ how long it took to make the world. But pray, continue.”

There might have been a glance between Pere Claude and Dr. LaChasse. Ido was not certain because at this point she felt herself sway so subtly, she hoped, as to be imperceptible. She gripped the upholstered arm of the couch upon which she was seated to right herself and continued,

“Yes. In this school, “ she emphasized, “the search for beauty in a jar of pomade or face paint could be properly rewarded with an understanding of the beauty of the written word.. Poetry, for instance… ”

Ida was not certain, but thought she saw something flicker across the face of one her guests, Pere Claude, the black priest. She hastened to add, hopefully seamlessly­

“And of course the incontestable beauty of Biblical verse.”

Was that her imagination or did Pere Claude’s face change somehow­ gone from minutely lifted brow to a resumption of its former concerned but neutral expression, the

expression that seemed always to shroud the face of every clergymen she ever knew. The problem however, was that she was acutely aware of aspects of Pere Claude’s being that were quite unlike every clergymen she ever knew. Aspects, which on other occasions, she had refused to note, but now were eliding all of her usual proper perceptions. She blamed the heat on this foreign shift of perspective: It was the heat, and fatigue from the long days of helping the girls find more suitable attire for this momentous day. She was tired too from writing the dozens of importuning letters she had sent to all the fine, upstanding citizens of New Orleans­ the ones whom she hoped were sympathetic to the cause of ending prostitution here. Her letters were well written but imprecatory, as she alternated between begging and demanding support for her plans for this house of ill repute.

Some of the responses she had received back were vicious; letters that decried a school for reformed colored prostitutes were written in drastically vituperative tones. Other responses included a small fire that was lit in the front of the property as well as Ida’s brief arrest by the constables patrolling Basin Street.

The day she was arrested was commenced initially with a sense of hope on Ida’s part. The moans of passion and lust seeping under her bedroom door and pounding on her bedroom walls had decreased considerably in the past month and a half since her installation at the brothel. Or so she liked to believe. The girls, at Ida’s behest, had been apprenticing with a local colored seamstress. Ida had been hiring herself out as a

tutor to the children of liberal white people and wealthy free people of color. The girls looked upon her with hope and awe at the fact that Ida could use other of her attributes in earning a living. Some of them, Sophie and Suzanne in particular, had begun to do alterations for the women in other brothels along Basin Street. Ida decided she would glide over the fact that her girls were sewing provocative undergarments for some of the more wealthy courtesans. The fact is, they were taking in fewer customers. The bordello was becoming a home.

And yet, on this Sunday afternoon, the gaudiness of New Orleans, the oppressive heat and the cruelties that seemed to spontaneously ignite, without warning, on the streets of this embroidered city seemed to have caught up with her. After lugging the books from Church, she had witnessed a man pummeling his valet with his fists. No one attempted to stop this display of brutality. She stifled her overwhelming impulse to halt this abuse and instead continued to lug her increasingly heavy pile of books home.

Finally she was at the steps of her new, strange living quarters. She was relieved at the prospect of unloading the donation of books that Pere Claude had been soliciting during services for the past few Sundays. As she carried the armful of books up the stairs­ she had neglected to bring a satchel­ the constables stopped her, claiming she had stolen

the the tomes from the households of white New Orleans gentry.

Later, Ida liked to imagine that somehow, in some spiritual way, her stooped posture had made her vulnerable to the hatred snapping at every corner in this town, like vicious and barely restrained dogs. She was weighed down and poor looking because the books were heavy, made even heavier by the nastiness which seemed to be so accepted so casually here. She was also ambivalent about these handed down volumes as well, now apparently infused with a smell that both intoxicated and sickened her. New Orleans’ heavy wet heat held the odors of everything. Or maybe it was something else, another kind of sense that became heightened when she arrived here. Perhaps it was the whispered accounts of voodoo and magic that made her believe that she could glimpse the hands, generations of hands that had held these books and thumbed its pages.

Everything was too much in this city, too much beauty and too much ugliness. The black curling wrought iron could be the rich, looping hair of a mulatto laundress or coiling snakes, depending on one’s level of fatigue. As if some magic protective circle had been broken around her since her arrival here two months ago, the horrid antipathy to those of her race was suddenly set loose upon her­ and the constables grabbed her beneath her arms while carelessly gathering the “evidence”­ her hard won­ books and stuffing them in sacks.

“You’re under arrest for theft,” And with those words, Ida felt herself hurtling into a black pit from which she might never be allowed to emerge. Her status as a freed colored

Canadian suddenly meant even less than it had before. Her education, her deportment, her small newspaper that she ran in Chatham, these were nothing, not even slippery roots to grasp onto as she descended into a pit of literal and figurative blackness­ her skin meant her life was worth nothing. She could be Chatham royalty in Upper Canada, but it meant nothing at this moment. She willed herself to remember her freedom, her will, her past and herself. She would not succumb to the terror of these strange and hateful hands clasping her. She knew that in the midst of horror, the best remedy was to remain calm, to remain oneself…. Her whispered prayers eventually, were answered.

In reality, this arrest was more fortuitous than its circumstances suggest. It was in the small jailhouse that she had garnered the attention of the aloof, upstanding Dr. La Chasse. He had a weekly routine of visiting the inmates in the prison house, believing it his duty to gratuitously cater to the needs of the indigent and interred. Ida had attempted to address the constable through the bars of the prison cell. She had spoken in her clear Canadian diction in an unmistakably Yankee tongue, whose erudition was often potentially agitating to the hostile, Southern, slaveholding denizens of New Orleans.

“Please, I beg of you to contact Pere Claude. His small Church is on the bottom of Basin Street. He has collected this donation of books from the city’s Gens Du Couleur Libres­ the free people of color­ who make up his congregation. Please­ if you would only.”

When she spoke, she barely made note of the man in the long overcoat and large bag. He was another person to whom she was as visible as a horse pulling a carriage in the streets.

“Shut your black mouth,” the constable drawled, in the strange accent that did not sound American Southern, or French or even Spanish, but some strange confluence of all three. That is when the tall, chilly doctor had stared directly into her eyes. It was a rather startling moment. His eyes were a sharp yet muddy green. She should have felt a stab of fear­ usually direct eye contact with the translucent eyes of the whites in New Orleans triggered in them rage. She frequently made the mistake of taking up space. Or perhaps it was something even less obtrusive, like taking a breath itself, that was perceived as impertinent and uppity. She had come to associate painted­glass colored eyes with monstrous rage and imminent danger. In this moment, however, she was more curious about the pointed look the doctor gave her. She thought she would say something to him, but he turned away and spoke to the drawling constable.

“Pere Claude is a friend.” La Chasse turned to the constable. “I’ll pay her fee. Whatever it is­ her bail or arrest fee. And I will also give an advance on my donation to the building fund.”

“Building fund?” the constable gaped stupidly.

La Chasse turned his green stone­eyed gaze onto the constable, who began to understand and smiled accordingly.

“Ah… building fund. She’s yours.”

He made a great show of rattling his ring of keys as he unlocked the cell. Despite the sloping shadow of La Chasse overseeing his actions, the constable found it in himself to say,

“I hope you can tame whatever’s going on in that brothel, Doctor. Don’t know what’s worse, nigras cattin’ or nigras readin’.”

Dr. La Chasse said nothing, but somehow his silent dismissal of the constable had the effect of almost eradicating his existence from the room, perhaps the earth itself. Or at least Ida told herself that. She stifled the impulse to correct the constable, who seemed more ignorant than any of the students she had taught in her one room school in Chatham. However, she had learned quickly upon arrival by boat at the city’s pungent and bustling port that the stuffing down of her usual admonishments and retorts was central to her continued survival in Louisiana.

She silently followed Dr. La Chasse out, but not before hearing the rude mumblings of another low ranking constable who was entering the building. He said, in what appeared a feeble attempt to defy the doctor’s imposing form, that if the Doctor was going to get a black whore she should at least be pretty.

This was the last straw. Ida, who believed she had no vanity about her looks, who was content with her soft brown skin and upswept hair, still felt violated by the sheer rudeness of the poorly educated and bedraggled “officer”. She turned on her heel, her small posture made rigid by her stark and stretched spine. Before she could say anything, she felt a small touch on her arm. She looked up. It was LaChasse’s hand on her wrist. He said nothing, but his eyes flashed into her own, warningly. Just as suddenly, his lids dropped. He looked detached and slightly bored. However, she had gotten his message. She gathered up her skirt and turned around, following him down the steps.

Ida almost made it home without saying a word as she sat beside a disinterested LaChasse in his carriage. He was, however, a polite man. His commitment to deportment reminded her of the residents of Upper Canada, the white ones who chit chatted, albeit warily, with the black residents of Chatham; and the black folks, mostly runaway slaves or their grown children who were determined to make life as normal as they could. They accomplished this aim by being friendly and cheerful with one another, even when they didn’t know how they would eat for the next week.

“I understand it is your intention to transform the brothel into a school?” He asked.

“Yes,” Ida heard herself say defensively, regretting instantly that she had not kept the upper hand by keeping such a tone out of her voice. After all, she had nothing to defend. If anyone was a real Christian in this town, they would see that. It was wiser, she knew, to let the hypocrites drown in their own cries of dismay.

“That’s a splendid idea,”

La Chasse responded with sincerity but somehow without an excess of concern. “Please let me know what I can do to help.”

Ida almost started from her seat. As was her wont in Canada, she suddenly shed her studied school teacher poise in favor of an energetic exploration of a subject that impassioned her. Her enthusiasms always made her revert to her girlhood days of unbridled expression. This moment was no exception.

She turned to him, ignited.

“We need so much help, Dr. La Chasse. Well, not much as we could, because we have a building. And what a large building it is. Why my school room in Chatham­ was just that­ a room. But this building was once someone’s fine house, and that is what it will

become again. But not fine in terms of riches or the looks of the ladies who had no choice but to engage in.. decadence in order to eat and have a place to lay their heads. It will be a fine house for learning. And becoming useful. And good.”

The doctor glanced at her and nodded politely, indeed kindly. She felt suddenly that here was a man who was accustomed to the stupid blatherings of the less intelligent, but worked to be kind anyway. She saw herself through his eyes, as one of the many sick and injured people who thought he could miraculously cure their silent or not so silent sojourn towards their inevitable deaths. His mild, unwitting condescension made her talk more not less. In other circumstances, perhaps she would have left this white man to his own airs and assumptions, but he had offered to help! He had offered to help her transform this school into something vaguely resembling her dreams.

“And what would you teach?” He asked. She wondered, briefly, if that question was not a loaded one. As in, “what would you teach a gaggle of colored whores whose femininity and blackness made them nearly unteachable?”

Ida decided to forge on. Sometimes the best way to deal with the presumptions of certain folks was to pretend they did not exist, especially if said folks could be of service to a higher cause.

“Well, everything there is to teach of course. Reading for those who can’t and mathematics as well. For those with rudimentary knowledge, well, we have already started on some studies that I believe can both cleanse and soothe the soul.”

“And what might that be?” He asked, already bored enough to start looking out of the small round window of his carriage.

“Poetry, of course. Verse plays. I believe that these ladies must read texts that vaguely resemble their former lives. They must be taken from the strange theatre of their previous existence to something more scholarly, more… devout. But not abruptly. Some say it is wrong to teach the reading of salacious poems to young girls, but nothing in the written word can compare to what they’ve already been through.”

He glanced over at her with what seemed like doubt and dismissal. Perhaps it was the stress of her interment, but suddenly she felt like she was cleansing herself by pouring her thoughts onto him. He represented all of the implacable nonsense of racial superiority that defined New Orleans, even in those who considered themselves kind. And for this reason, she felt she must purge herself of the fear of speech, of connection, of her own passions and beliefs bubbling inside of her.

I must tell, I must was the thought that compelled her. If he suggested help, then he would give it. Even if she had to talk for the whole rest of the trip to her home. However,

his silence also worried her. She cringed at the thought that her seemingly uncontrollable impulse to talk about her brothel might alienate him from his original offer to help. She forced herself to stop, to contain her excitement, informed as it was by the dire events of the day.

“Poetry,” was all that he responded and Ida felt herself contending with feelings she could not name.

She knew she needed to simply go home and lay down a bit. It was not everyday in Chatham she was arrested for doing the business of teaching. She also knew she was grateful to him and incensed at the same time. Was this what it meant to be of the African race in the American South, grateful for all the everyday routines that one took for granted in Chatham? Grateful. Why must she be bizarrely grateful for being allowed to live, not by the will of Almighty, but by the consent of other mere mortals? How strange and unnatural was that?

“Would they write it or just read?” He asked. For a moment it did not seem like he was just merely making conversation.

“Well… both. I have found that students compelled to emulate the authors they study, become more respectful of their work.”

He stared off, his sharp cheekbones giving his face a guarded inaccessible quality. “I have heard of a freed negro slave who wrote poetry. She was rumored to be quite adept, all things considered.”

“Phyllis Wheatley!” Ida exclaimed, aware that she felt bit out of control. Adept indeed.

“She was a fine writer,” Ida responded forcefully. “I have a book of her poems. They are beautiful, fine and brilliant.”

He glanced at her in a manner that could only be considered sideways, annoyed perhaps at her intensity. I should be quiet, Ida thought, but something about his presence next to her, her tangled nerves and his solid form inside the cocoon of the carriage gave her an odd feeling she was loathe to identify. She imagined what it must be like to have this man always there both protecting and sneering at her. What it must be like to be some protected, pale progyny of New Orleans Creole aristocracy; the trading of the respect one has as a teacher and journalist for the condescending protections of a silent, powerful man.

He did not admonish her, he seemed still bored while at the same time reaching into his breast pocket. He pulled out a small, bound leather book, filled with fine, ivory hued paper. He also pulled out a small stub of charcoal and began to write.

“Allow me to write down some of what you are saying. I must reconcile all expenses with my banker. It would be best if you could give me a formal presentation of what you intend to do with the school. I could ascertain if any of my other associates would be interested in a charity of this sort.”

The word charity stung. At the same time she looked out of the carriage window at a young, bedraggled black boy walked barefoot and in rags down the street. She vowed to come back and find that child and put him in her school. She turned around and La Chasse was looking out, too.

Was that a moment of shame on his face? Sadness? He scribbled a bit in his book and then oddly, returned it to his breast pocket.

“I will do my best to help you, MIss Johnson.”

“Thankyou. Your.. charity.. Will not be forgotten.” Ida looked bowed her head when she spoke the word charity, realizing that she must eat her pride, if she were ever to help the ragged shoeless child she saw just now. What was the mere loss of her vanity compared to the indignities of that child, probably a slave? Though she thought of her school as something grand and noble, almost like a great work of art, she realized that vanity was clouding her perception. She was not carving deities of out of granite, she was rescuing the dregs of society from further displays of the world’s collective scorn.

“Do you… write poetry?” He asked her. She looked at him, his stony profile and that same swell of emotions began pouring out of her, the need to release, to be seen by someone, anyone as a real human being.

“Yes, I do.”

“And in what style do you write? The ladies in Congo Square are always coming up with clever little ditties about Market day and the like.”

Before Ida had time to fully acknowledge the rage at her own continually bruised pride she almost spat out the word,

“Sonnets.”

Ida looked at him, willing him for once to look her in the eye.

Instead he stared straight ahead.

“Would you do me the kindness of sharing your work with me? I am a dabbler in poetry myself and… wish to be inspired.”

“I feel rather on the spot.”

Ida knew this was a test. She could read this man, as if she had known him her whole life. Indeed, in a way she probably had. Not all the whites endeavored politeness in

Chatham. Some surely believed they were better, by sheer virtue as something as meaningless as the color of their skin.

“Well, if you are embarrassed, keep in mind that I am an admirer at all attempts to rhyme and create verse. As I said, the servant women on market day come with very charming­”

Ida suddenly whipped around, turning as much as she could in the small carriage to face him. Rather than scream the words, however, she made her voice match the beauty of every poem she had ever read. Calmly and controlled, with only vague memories of the man who inspired it, she recited her most cherished, most intimate piece. About a man whom she knew loved but who could not ever, ever admit that he did as well.

“Tho certain words fall never from thy lips

To blossom from the earth like scattered seed

On love’s sweet juice I yet take drunken sips

And on its fruit I still in rapture feed­­”

Ida knew that if her mother or if her teacher, Mr. King in Chatham, had heard her reciting this poem to a strange man in a carriage, they would be scandalized. But Ida knew it was her best work and thus she had to share it, to avoid future comparisons

between her poems and market place ditties; or rather to avoid hearing his patronizing tone about her work and marketplace ditties. It was her most secret, most cherished part of herself. The part that loved, without resolve or return. She continued and lingered over the memories of the boy who was too proud to love a girl who could read when he could not.

“I need not they consent to love thee so

Nor thy response to make me glad like this

Thy noble heart is all that I must know

Thy beauty is enough to give me bliss

So stay, thou stoic, firm in thy resolve

Bend not they branch in my caressing breeze

Cent’ries from now, I shall thy sins absolve,

And all thy woes I shall take pains to ease…

Before she could finish, she found him staring at her. And before he could turn away she stared at him forcing him to look her in the eye. She wanted to see how much of the usual contempt was there, how much of the New Orleans habitual disdain filled his gaze.

Their eyes locked. In that moment, she could see why his gaze shifted and avoided direct address with, not just herself, she speculated… but with everyone. The green of

his eyes was almost ugly to her, like a swamp water caught in a glass and held in a stream of piercing sunlight. But it was beautiful, too. And almost.., frightening? Not because of their strange color. It was something else.

She realized that those eyes were hooded most days because this odd fellow saw too much. She realized that he was taking in, not just her words, but things she did not say. She knew this staid, established doctor would have scoffed at voodoo, magic ­even Christianity he probably regarded with scepticism. But he must have known that he could tell too much about others with this clear and overwhelming gaze. This absent aloof man had eyes that probed into the settled darkness at the base of her belly, like some ship’s fathom plummeting the depths of a murky, uncharted sea. She felt her secrets were being stripped from her. His gaze was something that upturned and sifted through desires she did not know she had. Like a lantern that illuminated all secrets, and thus had to be shaded and concealed. And yet, Ida felt brazen … a feeling that her chaste school teacher life had never allowed her to experience. And she felt something else. She felt… powerful. They were sharing a secret, and the secret was that he craved her, and knew her, and that they shared an existence outside of the rigid harshness of this beautiful town with its hellish truths. The secret was that she had marked him and he had marked her, that he had heard of her, known of her before they met, seen her from a distance and knew she represented not only a hope for this decadent city that he dare not dream or utter, but something more deeply connected to his own hunger and want. His was a lonely mind and an even lonelier soul, and she

could feel his need to pull her in and make his understanding of their strange shared insight less solitary and harsh. She sensed what would have happened in another world, some other reality. He would have taken his pale, cool hand and brushed it against her soft, brown cheek.

In this world, he did not. He pulled his eyes from hers, and retreated into his boredom, his world weary disregard for all but his charity, his medicine, his responsibility to those in need.

Ida felt something was torn from her. But she readjusted herself and faced forward, too.

“I am currently rewriting the couplet at the end. What I have does not satisfy.” “It would take much to satisfy, I might imagine.”

Ida felt heat rush to her face, uncertain of what he meant.

But still she felt brazen. Twisted up and angry. Demanding and feeling it was time to assert her humanity.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… “ And she saw him look at her hand, his face like a young boy’s shy and humbled.

But they had arrived at what was now her odd, new home. Before he could finish, Ida found herself turned from him, yanking at the carriage door. She was anxious to get..

Home. Even though her home was the former­brothel­soon­to­be­school for the rehabilitation of young women.

Ida clattered out of the carriage, not waiting for the help of La Chasse or the carriage driver. She left behind what seemed like another possible life at that moment. And she pretended to herself that she was glad, that she would never miss the idea of being a cherished and delicate female companion to someone who could protect her from prison cells or… peer into that thing that made her who and what she was.

That was two days ago. Two days was enough time for her to reconstruct the memory into a flight of fancy. Indeed, the strange connections she thought she had with La Chasse were merely a delusion, brought on by the wish to be less vulnerable than she really was. Indeed, she was still reeling from her arrest, and things did not seem quite right. She knew how the human mind clings to fanciful beliefs when it is alienated and alone. She had been arrested and subjected to verbal abuse of the constables. She had chosen to recite a poem to the rescuing doctor who was, despite his rescue, no more than a stranger. What was worse was that this poem reminded her of a life she would never lead­ that of a wife to a young, handsome country farmer in Upper Canada. It also reminded of her sister Audrey, her foolish, heroic and errant sister­ who had run away from Upper Canada. Audrey declared she was going to be another Harriet Tubman­ the near mythological savoir on the mysterious Underground Railroad. In reality, Ida knew her twin all too well. Deep down, she knew about motivations that

Audrey would barely acknowledge to herself. Ida intuited that Audrey desired, in some hidden part of her soul, to compete with her sister by avenging the lives of her parents, runaway slaves themselves whose other children­two boys­ had been sold away. The selling of their sons spurred their decision on Ida’s parents part to finally run. Ida’s mother was pregnant with the twins, and her parents could not countenance such savagery again. So Ida and Audrey were born in Upper Canada, free, but bearing the spiritual scars of their family’s long line of enslavement.

Ida and Audrey were fighting then over Audrey’s whispered confession to leave. Ida, in hopes of coercing Audrey to come to her senses, withdrew her love from her sister, and showered all of her tenderness on Horace, the young farmhand whose silent admiration made Ida feel tall. Ida believed her days spent ignoring her sister for long, slow walks on country roads with Horace were punished by Audrey’s sudden absence one burnt orange and golden sunrise. She had done it, gone south to the States to become some sort of hero. And Ida was left alone, a twin who withered like a rootless vine, sick with his worry and guilt ridden grief. Ida’s grief and much vaunted learnedness eventually alienated Horace, and made her stuff her desires for anything resembling a normal, womanly life into some locked up part of herself. Ida realized somehow that impulsive Audrey had been emulating Ida’s own hard work for the struggling community of Chatham. Ida was the teacher, the starter of newspapers­ Audrey was the hothead, the climber of trees and the rash interloper between bullies and their victims. And thus, Ida, the second born twin, knew that everything Audrey did to break her parents’ heart and

put her own foolish life in danger, was somehow Ida’s fault. Ida started to believe she was too smart and remote to be loved in any real way. Her sister had gone and Horace had rejected for a plump simple country girl who, like he, could not read or write. And yet, she knew that Horace had something in him that was profound, the way his furrowed brow and black eyes reflected, in contemplation, the fire of a northern sunset. But, alas, he could never speak the words. They were trapped in his heart. And Ida, desperately, needed to hear and feel and taste that she was, despite, her sister’s abandonment, loved.

There was so much in the poem she had spewed to Dr. LaChasse, as if she had proffered her battered heart for his callous and detached observation. No wonder she was still disoriented. The tumult of that moment in LaChasse’s carriage had allowed her to imagine things. And now was the time to responsibly craft those imaginings into a right, proper memory. A white man who wanted to be kind and different from his peers, was nonetheless one of them. He would never fully relate to her. She was certain he believed women to be his inferior. And blacks to be gentle victims needing his help, but never his equal regard. She imagined, from the many ways he served the city, going to town meetings and from what she heard, secret meetings with abolitionists, that he had a high and noble mind. Despite this highness and nobility, men of his ilk were trained to see colored people and women as not quite the same as themselves. And they never would.

And now they were seated before her. Pere Claude, whom she caught watching her when she thought she was unaware. And La Chasse, who seemed again to be irritatingly above everything except his inborn sense of noblesse oblige.

Strange thoughts assailed her as she tried not to take in the priest as a man whose jet black skin and sculpted jawline she had easily refused to note to herself on other meetings upon other occasions.

Indeed, powerful fragrances, dizziness and distinct facial features were willed from her mind’s concentration with what she prayed would be a simple trick­ keeping her eyes level with Pere Claude’s and those of La Chasse. She believed in this moment, that she had completely fabricated her strange connection to the doctor in the carriage. It was a kind of delirium, brought on by pain and humiliation and need. His presence here, as a potential donor to her newly opened school for young ladies, was proof of his potential kindness, and that, thank God, was all. However, most of what had she had witnessed upon arriving from Chatham, Ontario to New Orleans, Louisiana, had taught her to watch deeds and words, rather than titles and intentions. The kindness of anyone, white or black, could be a trap set in a world beset by a stringent hierarchy of power, corruption and cruelty.

Pere Claude was saying something in the low calm voice she had seen him use on the Sundays she had visited his small and humble colored church on Basin Street, filled

with the more wealthy mulattoes as well as the poorer dark­skinned, enslaved colored folks. Ida conjured up in her head the scent of chalk and dried lavender, almost fading memories from her life as a schoolteacher in Upper Canada.

“… A wonderful thing you are doing for these ladies, here, Miss Johnson.” Through her pursed lips, she tried to breathe in the remembered crisp, clean scents of Chatham, so that she might focus on what Pere Claude was saying, rather than on the ornate room that was beginning to spin, ever so slightly around her.

The spinning was getting worse. She could not excuse herself or go to bed. Nor could she allow herself to fall on the floor. Instead she stood up, supporting herself as surreptitiously as she could, with her hand on the sofa arm.

“Excuse me, I must get a glass of water. Can I bring you gentlemen some for yourselves? I think Bettina has finally made some lemonade?”

Both men eyed her cautiously. She was angry because she could not hide, for the life of her, how unwell she felt. What was worse was that the bordello, so heavy with years of perfumed lust, was weighing somehow on her consciousness, forcing her to be aware of these men in ways she had never noted the attributes of the male form before, not even in her first unconsummated attraction to Horace. It was not simply the sight of them, or the way they smelled or how they sounded. It was… their maleness that

pervaded the room. And her mind. She had hoped to change the dreadful house, but somehow the house was changing her

She stood, wobbling, feeling like a fever was setting upon her­ perhaps it was not the room that was burning­ but her own skin. Both men jumped up. Pere Claude, closest, was the one who caught her. She hung her weak arm around his neck, his shoulders, so pretty and deep dark brown, black. He smelled like holy water and incense. And fine

clean sweat. He was strong, and she felt she could thump on his chest and hear it echo, like a beautiful, manly drum. It was, at last, delirium that allowed her test out her theory, as both men fussed over her and Bettina came from the kitchen and the other girls, who were hidden away watching, came rushing out of the doorways and stairwells and closets of the brothel’s­ school’s­ parlor.

“Like a drum,” she said, as if she was drunk. And she could see it, a gentle, amused smile upend the corners of Pere Claude’s patient face. He smiled into her eyes and she smiled back.

“Yes, the drum will get you somewhere where you can rest. Good thing the doctor’s already here.”

At the mention of him, Ida looked over to La Chasse who was standing in the same position he was in when Ida had decided to make her wobbly rise from the sofa. He was not being doctorly at all, but seemed pained at watching her in Pere Claude’s arms.

“I am delirious, which is why I have such thoughts.” Ida was on a roll. Every thought she had seemed worthy of speaking out loud.

This confession seemed to snap La Chasse out of his stupor. He began shouting orders at everyone around him and inquiring as to the which was the coolest, shadiest room in the house.

“Every room’s shady in this house.” The voice was unmistakable. It was the throaty, guttural growl of Ramona. Ida had not noticed that the front door had been opened. It did not matter how or when she came. Ramona stood there, all mulatto curls and laces and jewels, dripping from her like sparkling leaves on a weeping willow tree. She was standing in the front entry way, and as she had most likely planned, all eyes were on her. Even in her sick haze, Ida could feel the strain and tension in Pere Claude’s eyes. She wondered if he would drop her and crawl on his knees to find the oft mentioned shade under Ramona’s soft, inviting bosom.

Ida could not believe it. It was all just beauty after all. It was all the shape of the bosom and the pout of a lip. Ida could never tell if she herself was pretty. She had learned only

one way to dress­ modestly. But there were moments in which she felt something inside her glowed through her plainly styled hair and simple dress…

Despite Ramona’s grand entry, she felt herself being held closer to Pere Claude’s chest, he had scooped up her legs and was carrying her away. In her own bedroom, the curtains were drawn and the shutters closed. She was placed on cool sheets and realized she was talking. About things of which she was only dimly aware. Something about how wrought iron balconies looked someone’s hair.

Ramona was in the bedroom doing useful things in that blasted, pretty way of hers. After all, had she not lived­ and worked­ in this house since she was a young girl of twelve?

“If you could help me remove her shoes, Ramona,” Pere Claude was saying. And she could hear his voice get caught, somehow, on her name… “Ramona.” There was something husky and private in the way he said her name. Ida was distraught. She thought of the furtive times the handsome priest had snuck glances at her. Was he thinking about Ramona? What had they between them? Was it when he was a priest or afterward? Why did she feel so left out? She imagined that La Chasse and Pere Claude both choked up when they looked at Ramona. Not her, Ramona. And why was Ida being so vain? Pere Claude probably thought her love of poetry sinful and LaChasse

thought other humans beneath him. Was she like all of the brothel girls, fighting over customers none of the women actually cared for or liked?

Then she was slipping. Down into sleep. Or something like it. But not before the fever had by now killed off any remnants of her inhibition.

“I suppose I just wanted to be pretty.” She said to the presence planted somewhere near her knees on the bed. It was La Chasse, who was holding her wrist, counting her pulse. She remembered he had not brought his large bag. The room appeared to be empty save for the two of them.

Her eyelids were fluttering shut, and she saw for a brief moment, and felt La Chasse hold her hand and press it, for less than a second, against his face. In fact, she distinctly perceived that he had pressed her hand very close to his lips. He did so in a way that suggested, not the advantage to be taken over an unconscious woman, but the concern of a person whose loved one is ill. Ida tried to puzzle over this. Was this a chaste yet covert display of brotherly affection? Did he care so deeply for all of his patients? Or was he merely trying to ascertain the extent of her fever? Before she could slur out words demanding an answer, La Chasse got up and walked out, asking for a cloth to make a cold compress. That is when she finally and deeply, fell into sleep.

******

The fortuitousness of events in life always have a strange way of working itself into ill­starred phenomenon, only to transform into seeming good fortune, and back again into bad. And thus the cycle continues until the end of one’s life, or the lives of one’s children or humanity itself. Ida had contracted yellow fever. And thus the whole house was in quarantine. Ida, Bettina, Ramona, Sophia, Claire, Jeanne, Tilda, Little Hoss and her older sister, Big Hoss, Adelphi, Sharon and Suzanne, were not allowed to leave the house. The other girls, the ones that Ida had enrolled and planned for relocation as soon as she could get the aforementioned ladies to stop having customers, were locked out and forced to reside elsewhere.

LaChasse and Pere Claude were stuck there, as well. No one else had contracted the disease but they cleared a wide berth around Ida’s bedroom door. Days she spent in the throes of fever, purging every meal, it seemed, she’d ever eaten in her entire life. She had dreams of the boy who would not marry her because he could not read. And was too proud to learn. He stood above her bed telling her things. She thought of fantastical poems as responses and one time begged whomever was keeping watch for a quill and paper. It was given to her and she began to write down the strange rhymes that floated like a strain of forgotten music through her head.

One time she thought she heard arguing coming from somewhere far off. She dreamed of men in armor, fighting each other with long, shining swords. She thought she

witnessed one of them bleeding, but then realized that the blood the knight was spewing everywhere was coming from her own coughing. She dreamed of fires and angry mobs. In fact, as the fever cleared, she saw a vision of her sister. Somehow, Audrey explained in Ida’s vision, Audrey had gotten herself stowed away on a ship to New Orleans. Audrey had sent Ida as many letters as she could, which Ida begrudgingly recalled. Audrey apologized that she was forced to “play dead” and stop writing. The slave owners and others had begun to suspect that someone in their own city was helping “their property” escape. Ida recalled the letters that Audrey had snuck through “helpers” white abolitionists, letters detailing how Audrey been hiding out with families, helping people leave the plantations. Audrey had rhapsodized about teaching slaves to read under the cover of night. Audrey asked Ida as only phantoms can do in feverish hazes, what the devil Ida was doing here. Ida explained that when news travelled that her sister was probably dead, Ida had wanted to die too. Instead she came to New Orleans, to either live or die as her sister had.

In her delerium dream, Audrey had sat on Ida’s bed and told her she was not dead. “I’m gone, sister.” She said. “But not dead. You were foolish to come down here. Now it’ll be a helluva time getting all of us away.”

“Audrey, you cursed!” Ida exclaimed. But Audrey said nothing in response. She was simply not there.

At one point, Ida dreamed of gunshots. And fires. She floated from her body to see a mob of angry whites with torches threatening to burn the place down. LaChasse stood on the porch with a shot gun and spoke in a commanding voice to the crowd.

“What kind of dissolutes would prefer a whore house to a school? What vision of Sodom and Gamhorrah is before me? What vision from the depths of hell is this? What will your women say, when you tell them you’ve let a whorse house stand for ten years, but now want to destroy a school?”

Ida floated to another part of the house and saw that someone was breaking in through a back window. Was the constable who had arrested her? Or did all horrible men with no morals look alike? Suddenly Pere Claude was there. His priest robes were gone. He wore a white shirt, opened to the chest. She could not help but gaze at him, at the black rich skin showing beneath the open flaps of the shirt.

But then she had to look away, because he picked up the man by his head and simply snapped his neck. Ida tried to scream, but she was disembodied spirt and thus had no voice. She saw Ramona and Bettina come out from somewhere and pull the body off.

To the cellar perhaps? Ramona had always cautioned Ida to leave the cellar alone, even as Ida eyed it as a possible place to build classrooms.

A short time after this leaving of her body, it was morning. And her fever had cleared. The window behind her bed, she had noted, was covered in wooden slats which were nailed, rather haphazardly in such a way as to shut out out all light from outside.

Ida sat up, looked at her faded, patched and wrinkled gown, which was just like something her sister had worn when they lived back at home. She wondered if she was still sick. She felt weak but well.

“I don’t know what they feed you in Canada, but you people are a strong as horses.” LaChasse was standing in the doorway of the bedroom. There were dark circles under his eyes, his long coat was nowhere to be seen, and his shirt collar was unbuttoned as well, although not revealing as much as Pere Claude.

He seemed shy at the door, as if he waited for her invitation to enter. Standing there she wondered if she looked decent, so she wrapped a blanket around herself as if it was a shawl.

“I remember,” she began. But when she spoke, Ida’s voice felt so dry and scratched and strange, it idid not seem like her own. Nevertheless, she tried again.

“I remember, I had yellow fever. I remember being told that. And wondering if I was going to die. I thought I did die. And went to hell. But I took this whole house with me. There was fire everywhere.”

Finally LaChasse approached her and with a hand on her shoulder, led her back to the bed.

“That was not delirium… there was a bit of fire here. But, everything’s fine now.” “A bit of a fire? Why can’t I get up?” Ida asked crossly. “I am on poor terms with that bed.”

The doctor have her one of his sidelong glances and actually laughed. Ida began to laugh too but it turned quickly into a cough­ a cough to which the doctor listened intently.

“That’s not a bad cough. You are simply evacuating what’s left of the fever from your lungs. But let me run a few more tests.”

He asked her to take deep breathes, and he probed her belly, covered by the nightgown resembling her sister’s, with his fingers, pressing on her and instructing her to tell him if it hurt too much. He found it miraculous that there was never a point at which she cried out in pain. He pulled out a strange wooden instrument from his bag, which looked particularly battered and listened through it, to her heart.

As he ran these exams, she attempted to study him. It was difficult because this examnination by LaChasse bore an uncanny resemblance to the two other doctors visits she had had in Chatham. She felt as impersonal about the experience as her old Doctor Francis had. LaChasse’s fingers probing her belly felt inconvenient and irritating. She did not, however, feel the strange exhilaration that she had in his carriage. Of course he was studying her face for a reaction. She felt herself to truly be a patient. Indeed, she was concerned more about what she knew could happen with yellow fever. One could survive the fever, but still die shortly after it was done.

“I might die, then, anyway?” she queried.

“Might,” He said, reaching for a glass of water beside her bed. “You certainly will die. As we all will.. But you are a sturdy lot, you Upper Canadians. Your kidneys, lungs and heart seem fine.”

“Well, thank you then, for curing me.”

“I don’t cure anyone of Yellow Fever. Your nature is what gets you through it. I have seen people who have led dissolute lives, and the fever takes them like that. But those who have lived well and out in the sunshine­ they seem to fare better.”

She sat in quiet acknowledgement of the gifts not being born in this wretched place had bestowed upon her. Yes she was artless and plain. She had never been to the opera before as Ramona and Sophie, the “head girls” at the brothel had pointed out. But she

had beaten Yellow Fever. Plain but Hale, was what she wanted etched on her gravestone when she died. The thought amused her so much that she let out a small chuckle.

LaChasse who had seemd lost in his own thoughts finally turned toward her. “What do you find amusing?”

“Plan but Hale. I would like that etched on my gravestone.”

The doctor smiled a bit, but then went back to his own reverre.

“”Well, I was hoping for a slight, indulgent smile. Not this moroseness.” “You make me morose,” was his response.

Suddenly Ida barked out a shocked, loud laugh mostly at the sheer rude absurdity of it. He smiled at her slyly. Suddenly she realized that she was beautiful. Sick, flushed wearing this uncanny gown. She knew he found her beautiful. And probably would not tell her for all the opportunities to be charitable in the world.

“I suppose I should tell you what happened when you were under.”

“I suppose you should.: And suddenly a chill went over her. Perhaps he should tell her, but she did not want to know.

“When I was quarantined inside, some towns people became irate. I was depriving good white folks of a doctor by always visiting prisons and orphanages and whore houses.A bit of a riot broke out­­”

“A a bit of a riot­”

“Well yes, just some drunken fools with torches. Although a constable has disappeared. But his wife found a note saying he had run off with the slave girl he’d spent years violating.”

Ida’s mind drifted back to Claude snapping the neck of the constable, and tried to shake the dreams from her head.

“So then everything simmered down. Apparently others beside the Constable’s girl had run off from a plantation just West of the city. “

He looked at her this time intently, probing her it seemed for what she knew. “There has been a young woman here, helping slaves escape. They say it’s that Harriet Tubman. But no one knows what she looks like. They say there are copycats. Dressing up like men and stealing slaves away.”

Ida sat straight up from her pillow and blurted out,

“Audrey!”

The doctor was silent, and watched her. His lids were heavy, and he seemed to be scowling at her. Ida tried to get up, then, searching for her clothes.

“Ida, sit down. You’re not so well yet.” She did not heed him and got up searching for her skirts and blouse.

“What do you know of love­ you cold, hard white thing? What do those moss glass eyes know? I know my sister is here­­”

Ida then bolted for the door, she would find clothes somewhere. But before she could go, she felt arms enclosing her, grasping her. And then she was locked on LaChasse’s lap. She was spooned against him, curved into his body as firmly as if she’d been tied with a rope. Something in her longed to succumb to this body pressed and enveloping hers. The mere thought of it sent her into a confused panic, and she wriggled even more to be free.

“No. Ida, please calm down. Please. I can tell you everything you want to know. Everything about.. Your sister. But you must promise me….”

“Promise you what??”

She was still locked against him, and perhaps that was why his voice sounded stranged and muffled.

“Promise me you won’t leave without­.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Promise me you won’t leave without… finishing up the business of this house. Helping me find another place for the girls.”

“Let me go. I am calm. Please. Let me up.”

He did so and Ida got up calmly and looked at him.

“My sister is not dead?”

“No. In order to help us, to distract from my quarantine here, she led those slaves off the plantation. She has been having to lay low, living like a creature of the night. She had to be silent for a long time, as the whole state of Louisiana was searching for her.” She watched him. Were his eyes wet with fatigue or emotion?

He continued,

“No one knew what she looked like. They thought she was a man. Which was why you were not killed on sight. It was only a matter of time. I couldn’t protect you here forever.”

“I knew she was alive! I knew it! Where is she? How can I find her?”

“She’s escaped to Ohio, along with her charges. From what I understand she’s made it. However, she is weary and wants to return to Canada. But not without­­ not without you.”

Ida peered at the permanent twilight of the room, at the man who seemed to have aged overnight before her. She then went to the mirror on the vanity and looked at herself.

She was nothing less than horrified. Her round, brown face was gaunt, her skin was ashen, the brown cast over by gray. Her eyes were large and gleaming, as if she had beheld and retained a vision of the Other Side.

“How long? How long­­”

“Four weeks.”

“Did my sister visit me here?”

“She couldn’t have,” he said too nonchalantly, “we were surrounded. I ‘ll let you get dressed.”

He was morose again. Bored and contemptuous with her now that she was not sick, not engaged with a battle with the grander forces in the world, like death itself.

He got up and walked to the door.

She thought something was wrong with him. The same thing that was wrong with everyone in New Orleans. Perhaps they all lived such cruel, depraved lives as a form of intoxication. It often felt like hell here, with the sight of slaves and free people of color selling their daughters away in Blue Ribbon Balls­ maybe the added cruelties, the debauched neglect of health and propriety­ was a way to feel alive. She had stopped

being sick and he had stopped being interested. Perhaps she did make him morose. Her recovery and health made her into a normal, blathering human idiot. She needed to talk to someone human, someone with a soul.

“Where is Pere Claude?” she asked frantically.

LaChasse looked at her oddly.

“He’s gone with your sister. Ahh.. of course how would you know?” Ida felt something in her stomach sink. LaChasse explained that her sister and Pere Claude were lovers, married in their own eyes. He was not able to be ordained by the Church as they were not in the habit of ordaining enslaved priests. He was the Monsignor’s slave and held Mass for the black and free colored population. But really, he was Audrey’s love.

“And what of Ramona­ does he not love her?”

“His half sister? Of course he loves her. But he feels so much guilt when he sees her. He has begged her to come with him, but thus far she has refused. She promised to watch over you, shortly before you became sick. She has kept her promise. He is sick with guilt that he has asked too much of her­ she who has sacrificed her whole body to protect the girls in this place. And you.”

Ida felt the dizziness come back. Perhaps she would get sick again and die here. Her sister was alive and gone. Ramona had lost her brother for her sake. And she had

made this man look almost as skeletal and haggard as she did herself. She realized that she was not beautiful, that it was once again a trick her mind had played regarding this man for whom she felt the strangest, most unnameable things.

The impulse to vomit overtook her body and she wretched but nothing came up. She stumbled back to her bed and crawled in. She wished death would come to her. For a moment, a brief moment a bleak, despairing loneliness had left her. When Audrey deserted her and her parents in Chatham, Ida had believed that life was simply a long, despairing trek towards death. And then, for three seconds, she believed her sister to be alive. And now, she was gone again. The feeling of utter aloneness was worse than it had been the first time. If God himself had come down to hold her hand, she would still feel this desolation, this bleakness, this hunger for death. She was too weak to cry. All her body’s water had been dried up by the fever.

Finally, her eyes produced tears that she let trickle from her eyes. The gloom of the room was alleviated by a faint glow. LaChasse had lit a candle. He walked over to her bed and sat down.

“Can you tell me your poem again?”

“No.” Ida responded. She knew he sought in his bumbling way to distract her. She wanted him to leave. And yet, she did not.

He turned away, thinking. He would not give up on the poem though, and said, “I can remember it. ‘Tho certain words fall never from thy lips, to blossom from the earth like scattered seed, on love’s sweet juice I sitll taken drunken sips, and on its fruit I still in rapture feed’… What are they? The certain words that fall never from his lips? What are they?”

Ida sat up. Her eyes narrowed, her scratchy, unused voice managed to croak out a question of her own.

“You mean to tell me that you remembered that whole poem?” She asked, in something close to shock

“Well, yes. It was only a sonnet.”

Suddenly Ida picked up a pillow and hit him with it. He held up his hands against her attack, trying to explain.

“I don’t mean­ It was not even a page in length. I am not denying its complexity and nuance. For instance. What are the certain words? You say, ‘tho certain words fall never from they lips, to blossom from the earth like scattered seed…’ The certain words are…:”

“I did not hit you because you were denying the complexity of the poem,” Ida explained. “The poem is not complex. It’s rather simple. Simply a person’s feelings. Longing­­ It’s just… you are confounding.”

There was a strange moment when he seemed to nod in acquiescence to her point.

“Claude­­ Pere Claude as you call him, has noted that I am, perhaps shy. Especially… in your presence.”

“My presence?”

And that is when he reached out his hand and cupped it to her face. “Yes, I understand why you hit me. I am confounding.”

And, as if she had been doing it her whole life, she took his hand cupping her face, and placed it gently on her waist. At which moment, he pulled her to him. He lifted her, she weighed nothing at this point, upon his lap, which felt bony and wasted rather than the sturdiness she imagined him to possess. She felt like they had survived a war. He pressed his face to hers, and it felt hot for some reason, although she always imagined his skin to be cool.

“Your sister used to tell stories about you. How you laughed, how you grew passionate about so many things. How you’d spend the day making up poems. And finally about how you started a newspaper in Chatham. I knew I was… becoming enamored with a myth, a sister’s heartbroken paen to the life that had forgotten her. And then, like some sort of miracle, you came here. Turning brothels into schools, confusing Pere Claude, collecting books. I saw you speak at the Church, choosing your words so carefully, so that no spying white slaveowner could have a reason to be upset. Yet, you were fierce. Brave. A bravery I tried to affect, but never… You were better than she described. And then when I found you in the prison. I had walked by this house that day, as I had heard the rumblings amongst the whites. They were planning to arrest you, kill you even or press you into servitude. I went by this house to make sure you were okay. And I saw

them arrest you. My visits to the inmates are usually scheduled later in the week, but I told them I’d come in early, as I had plans for my regular day.”

He pressed her to him, and rubbed his hand in a circular motion on her back. She put her arms around him, this strange man. She felt compelled to kiss him on the cheek, a chaste sisterly kiss. Perhaps that was the feeling she felt or him. Something that connected her to her twin. He was the brother they had never had. The completion of their familial circle, nothing more.

His voice came out gruff and strained.

“Then you were beside me in the carriage. When you look at me, it seems, we know things about each other. Things that are not.. Based in objective… in words. “

Ida was confused. She was capable of a chaste love, indeed, it was the only kind she knew. She would be happy to love this man in some strange, sisterly way. The most passionate loves in her life were her parents and her sister.

“But,” he continued. “It is hard for me. The blacks and the redmen, they seem so able to­­ they are not shaped into being the buyers of other humans, the sellers of children, the fathers of the damned. The Irish can say a heartfelt thing better than the people of my class…”

Ida inhaled deeply.

“Sillly… any circumstance can make a man… not say.. “

He pulled her closer to him, her breasts were pressed against his chest, her kneeling legs encircling his waist. She felt something tease and push against her groin. She felt something decidedly not sisterly blossom between her legs. Her cheek pressed against the rough stubble of his own. It felt nice. She felt hungry, suddenly, for something food could never satisfy.

“I have never… loved a man, in the … physical sense before,” she said quietly to him.”I am not certain of what you seek. But if it pleases you to be different than the way you are… there are plenty of slavegirls or poor Irish women you can… be different with.”

And on that he grabbed her, clasped his arms more tightly around her waist and shifted her even closer to himself­ they were sealed together. She was forced to straddle him with her knees, her feet tucked under her thighs. She felt her legs do something her mind had no control of­ her legs tightened their grip around his wasit.

“I don’t want… Your sonnet. What were the ‘certain words’ that were never to fall from his lips? What were they? You say tho certain words fall never from thy lips… you profess you will still sip on love’s juice and eat its fruit..”

“Well, when you express it in that way, it loses something.”

And she saw him smile. And the smile turned into a laugh. And then he pressed his forehead against hers, and turned his green eyes upon her. And she felt again, that he

knew everything about her. He knew everything she had meant, whenever she had meant it. He knew what the words were, but she said them anyway. “I love you. Those are the words.”

“I love you. Those… are the words.” He repeated. But in a way that told her that every moment in their carriage ride he had spent wrestling with the sudden eruption of those words from himself. He had known all along what the words were. She, on the other did not.

And then he kissed her. His plump, sweet lips felt so right, so much better than the brief, clumsy rough jab once attempted by Horace. His mouth was soft yet firm. Perfect. Suddenly they fell backwards onto the bed. They laughed. He was pressed on top of her. She felt everything in her being moisten and rise to meet him. His green eyes, the intensity of them was reaching down into her insides again, pulling desire up and into him like the vines of a strange, consuming plant. She realized she loved his laughter. She did not know what they were about to do. Then again, she did. She locked her eyes onto his. He put his mouth to her ear and whispered.

“When we get to Canada I will marry you and.. Then. I will… satisfy you. The carriage is coming at six. We will travel North, first by boat and then again by carriage. We are finally going to be free of this… hellish place. All of that will happen. If.. will you.. “ And she looked into his eyes. And they both knew. Everything.

The End For Now

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