Thursday, September 23, 2010

Certified: Chapter Ten: Jewelweed

(I think you'll be glad you stuck with me through this part of Certified. I really do learn from my adventures. Also, I do have some photographs this time, but I was having trouble with my camera, so they aren't the best. I've also put in more links than usual, but I hope you find them useful.)

Chapter Ten

During the month between residencies, I finished up Jewelweed Station, a novel I had been working on since late winter. It felt great doing something I loved, being comfortable with it, having fun with the story. I fell in love with writing again--or else I let the disappointment of my publishing experiences evaporate and I could see that I still loved writing.

I also worked on my master plan for the permaculture class and my final project for integrative environmental science.

First I mapped my house and property the way it is now. (We rent.) For the master plan--or the "poof!" plan as the instructor calls it--I needed to permaculture our house and property (at least on paper). Incorporating much of what I'd learned all term, I let my imagination soar.

First I put in a rain catchment system to harvest my rainwater. I calculated that if I caught all the water from my roof, I'd get 68,000 gallons in a year! Wow. (Even someone in the desert can harvest quite a lot of water from their roof.) Even without filtering or cleaning the rainwater from the roof, I could use the rainwater to water much of my garden, particularly the perennials (where I don't eat the leaves), and to flush the toilets (about 10,000 times).

I also put a couple of solar panels on the front of the house, plus a solar water heater. In most houses, water heaters use a lot of energy, so a solar water heater would save us lots of money (besides helping to reduce overall energy use).

Mostly my poof! plan had lots and lots of food. What I've learned about permaculture (and about ecological gardens) is that we have the potential for amazing abundance in our own backyards, no matter how tiny or unproductive they seem to be. I live on a small lot, yet I was able to design for apple, walnut, and cherry trees. (We've already got several prune plum trees.) I also designed for mulberry and blueberry bushes, plus espaliers of apples, pears, and berries. I planted maples trees for shade, and lots and lots of wildflowers because I love them, and because they're good for the birds and butterflies. I put in a huge vegetable garden, and I made room to "grow" worms.

(In permaculture, we design for diversity, and everything has multiple uses. For instance, daikon radishes break up the soil, plus they're edible. An apple tree provides shade, flowers for the bees and butterflies, and fruit for people and animals. Other plants fix nitrogen and provide food. Other plants are beautiful for us to look at, plus they provide habitat for the birds and the bees and are drought resistant. And on and on.)

My before-permaculture drawing showed a sweet-looking, but rather barren landscape.

The after-drawing, the permaculture poof! plan, was so filled with color and life--so much abundance.

The most important thing the permaculture class taught me just that: the possibility for abundance is everywhere. We just need to do some work and then within eighteen months (or less or more), we're not thinking about what we don't have, but about what we're going to do with all the abundance.

For my integrative environmental science project, I had planned on designing an ecological garden for the community library. For the final presentation, I decided that each of my fellow students would play the part of a community member while I talked about the ecological library. I wrote little (compassionate) biographies of people in town who help out with the library. (I changed their names.)

Most of the students live in an urban area and don't do any work in rural areas. I wanted to give them an opportunity to walk in someone else's shoes and see what their reactions might be to this proposed changed.

I finished both projects well before I was due to leave for Seattle. Yes!

Our car was acting up, so I decided to rent a car to go to Seattle. I wouldn't have to worry about breaking down and there would a CD player in the rental, so I could listen to a book on CD. I was hoping that would help make the drive up to Seattle more sustainable.

And I was right. The drive to Seattle was eventless. No rude drivers. No traffic jams. I listened to the second have of Manhunt, the true life story of the hunt of John Wilkes Booth after he murdered President Lincoln. (I'd listened to the first half while driving from Phoenix to Santa Barbara in February.)

I was almost in Seattle when the car went over a patch of bumpy pavement, and I had a bout of vertigo. I was immediately nauseated and terrified. I realized then that the car had been "wobbly" the whole ride and it had made me a little car sick.

I got to my "home" in Seattle, the little room in the house owned by a religious community. Unfortunately the key they'd left for me didn't work. I could get into my room but I couldn't lock it. It took me a while to convince the young woman on the other end of the phone that being able to lock my room was important for me. Eventually she seemed to understand; she arranged to get me a key, and all was well in my little world.

I was still feeling sick and dizzy, so I drove to campus (University of Washington), parked my car, and walked to the Medicinal Herb Garden. Last time I'd been there, I had been waiting for the class. (If you remember, I went to the wrong place and I waited for about thirty minutes for classmates that never came.) This time I walked slowly around the garden, looking at the flowers and plants, trying to ground myself and feel better.

After a few minutes I walked over to a huge old cedar tree. I rested my cheek against it, then sat on a bench beneath it, meditating. I felt as though I was sitting near Yggdrasil, the World Tree. I breathed in and out, in and out. I could hear the buses running outside the garden, saw students walking on the paths around the gardens, and I breathed and tried to relax.

After a while I got up and walked toward a small orange flower. It turned out to be jewelweed, a plant I'd never seen but had starred in the novel I'd just finished.

In it, Callie noticed one lone jewelweed growing by her mother's grave. "Jewelweed. Usually it grew closer to the water and was surrounded by other jewelweed. It was one of her mother's favorite flowers. Her mother said people often didn't see jewelweed or ignored it all together if they did see it even though it was a great healer. Get stung by nettle or touched by poison oak and the juice from jewelweed would sooth the inflammation away. Her mother believed wildflowers could fix anything."

It was nice to see this plant here and now. I started to walk away. I turned and everything in the background became blurry, as though I had moved too quickly for my vision to keep up. This had happened before, usually when I was tired, but just then I felt a little afraid and vulnerable. Was something happening to my vision? I turned quickly again to try and make it happen again.

It didn't.

I told myself to calm down. Maybe it wasn't anything physical. Maybe something energetic was happening in the garden. I walked to the other end of the bed, to see what was growing with the jewelweed.

I had to laugh: It was black cohosh.

I didn't know a lot about black cohost, but I recalled it was considered to be a powerful "women's herb." I decided to sit next to it and meditated on it. Immediately I "saw" a powerful witch-like Kali-like figure. She was dark purple and full of motion. She had lots of advice for me. Mostly I knew I could call on her to fill me up with courage. (This was interesting to me. In Jewelweed Station, my main character, Callie Carter, pretends she is docile and compliant, and when she had difficulty with this, she fills herself up with Jewelweed. This gives her the courage to hide and protect herself, to gather information and power, until the time is right to reveal herself.)

I thanked the plants and trees. Then I drove to Whole Foods and got some food. I went back to my place, watched two Netflix DVDs of Entourage, then fell to sleep. I thought of black cohosh before I drifted to sleep.

I dreamed someone phoned me, and the person sounded just like my mother. I was so excited to hear her voice. But as I talked with this person, I realized it wasn't her, and that made me very sad. In another dream, I was talking to my boss about a dream I'd had about him. He had huge white teeth in the dream. He told me my dream was right. He did get a backache and he read Healing Back Pain and it went away.

Healing Back Pain is a book by John Sarno that saved my life. My friend Jenine recommended it to me when I was suffering from acute back pain. Dr. Sarno believes most back pain (and many other symptoms) are caused by oxygen deprivation that occurs when we suppress our emotions.

When Jenine first pointed out the book to me, I was pissed. I thought, how dare anyone suggest this agony I'm experiencing was all in my head? Except that wasn't what he was saying. I read the book in one sitting, came up with a kind of mantra/affirmation and said it every time I woke up in pain that night, and in the morning the pain was gone.

It was a miracle. Truly. I've given that book to many people over the years. I guess in my dream I had recommended the book to my boss.

I also dreamed I saw a car go over an embankment and flip over. I ran to the car, but we couldn't get the injured woman out. She curled up into a fetal position. I put my hands just above her and gave her a healing to try to keep her alive until the EMTs arrived. It worked. I saved her life.

The next morning I drove to campus for my permaculture class. Seeing everyone again was like seeing a group of old friends. We did a check in at the beginning of class. He wanted to know what we had learned in the class--one or two points that really stuck out for us.

I said, "I've learned that somewhere along the line, I turned into a control freak. Not about other people, but about myself. I learned that I don't like doing things I'm not good at. I don't want to start things until I know everything. I learned that I can actually do things without knowing everything. I pulled out a whole patch of peas that were infested with aphids. Normally I would have gotten depressed--or at least angst-ridden--about my failures as a gardener. Instead, I figured this was just a learning process for me. Next year I'd do different and better. I've learned that everywhere around me is the potential for abundance. Everywhere around me are solutions. I love that. I've learned to let go."

Yep. I didn't plan to say any of that. It just came out, and it was all true. Perfection was not needed--was not even obtainable. I could make mistakes, and it was not the end of the world.

We watched a movie and talked; then we looked at all our master plans--our "poof" plans. We hung the before and after drawings next to one another. It was such fun to see the abundance, the liveliness, the wonderful imaginations of each person expressed in this particular way.

After lunch, we all met at someone's house in Seattle to look at their permaculture garden. Next we were supposed to meet somewhere in Shoreline. I had a map. People offered to take me with them; I should have let them. I ended up driving around for two hours, feeling sick and dizzy in that car, and I never found my class. I did finally find what I thought was the right address, but it looked like a crack house, and there were no cars out front, so I figured it was the wrong place.

It didn't feel like this was the end of the world. I was not angry at my teacher, my class, or myself. But I was feeling a little sick from the car.

I went back to my place and curled up in my bed. I called my friend and said I wasn't sure if I was up for going out. I'd invited her out to dinner, and now I was canceling. I felt like a whimpy jerk. I told her I'd call later.

I got some food from the refrigerator in the hallway. Then I put Pride and Prejudice in my computer, got under the covers, and vegged out. My dizziness and nausea settled down. I called my friend again and we decided to go out.

She picked me up when it was still light, so I suggested we drive to the Medicinal Herb Garden. We had both taken the Celtic Shamanism Two-Year, along with Faery Doctoring, so I knew she would appreciate the garden. We parked and walked along the curving tree-lined street. And then we were in the garden, walking from this garden bed to the next.

It felt like fall had set in: many of the herbs had no flowers, some of the formerly plump stalks had dried out and turned beige and golden. Of course, this wasn't any different from the evening before, but I noticed a bit more about the garden this night than I had yesterday. The piece-de-resistance was the ancient tree. My friend noticed that it seemed as though it was really two trees: one tree was enveloping another. Was it actually two trees?

It turned dark quickly, and we were soon driving around Lake Washington down a dark and narrow road. I was so exhausted that my anxiety was vanquished, and I only thought vaguely about the possibility of crashing into oncoming traffic. We passed the Japanese Gardens. Then we were out of the woods and on Madison. My friend parked the car, and we walked to Cafe Flora.

We had a great dinner and great conversation. I was still a little spacey and dizzy. This often happens to me when I'm one on one with someone. I don't know what it is. Some kind of unconscious stress or shyness emerges--or tries to emerge--but I tamp it down so hard that I don't feel any emotions: I just feel sick.

It ain't easy being green, and it ain't easy trying to figure me out.

I'm great with crowds, by the way. I've always kidded around that this means I'm great with shallow relationships and not so good with deep relationships. I actually do connect with groups of people much better than I do with individuals.

Anyway, we had a good time, and then I went home to sleep.

I had nightmares about people trying to kill me. I also dreamed Mario and I saw a jaguar in the woods. The jaguar was walking away, but he turned and saw us. Then he started coming our way. This was quite frightening as we tried to figure out how we'd get away from him.

I got up early, ate, packed, and put everything in my little nauseating rented car. I said good-bye to my little room in the basement; then I left.

It was great getting to school and seeing everyone in my integrative environmental science class. Many of them were in my permaculture class, too, and a few asked me what happened, where had I been yesterday afternoon.

I said, "I drove around nearly two hours trying to find the class. But I couldn't find you all. I guess my role in the forest garden is to get lost."

I laughed and shrugged. It was good to see that my perspective had changed over the last two months. I didn't take it personally that I couldn't find the class; I didn't take it personally that I had gotten lost. It wasn't a character flaw on my part or a rejection by the community on their part.

I just got lost.

Should have gone with someone else.

No big deal.

We started presenting our final projects. Three of us had individual projects. The rest of the class had worked in pairs or in triads. The teacher had posted the order of our presentations: I was last. I wondered if everyone would be exhausted by the time I presented, but I didn't worry about it. If they were tired, I'd change it. I was good at sussing the energy of a group and then flowing with it.

The first presentation was on climate change. Three of the students were working to help the city of Seattle go carbon-neutral. During their presentation they showed NPR's Robert Krulwich's five-part cartoon video called "Global Warming: It's All About Carbon." (It was so funny! I highly recommend it. Click on Episode 1 & watch in order; for some reason this link goes to Epi 5.)

That was the highlight, but the others were good too. One duo talked about the green belt in Seattle. Another talked about a transit station going up in their neighborhood. They were all different. All informative. Everyone was engaged and enthusiastic.

And I was last.

I had them push away the tables and put their chairs in a circle in the middle of the class. I asked them to leave all computers and cellphones behind. Someone asked why, and another student said, "Because she doesn't want us texting during her thing." She smiled. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

She was exactly right. I had noticed people texting and checking their email while others were presenting. I wanted to see what would happen if we were all in a group really together, elbow to elbow, breathing each other's air.

At first, some of the students looked quite uncomfortable. I explained that they were each going to take on the role of someone else, a real person from my community. I wanted them to act and ask questions from the viewpoint of that community person. I would tell them afterward what really happened at the real-life presentation that I had given a month or so earlier.

"You'll already know everything I'm going to say about a permaculture and ecological garden," I said, "but it was mostly new information for the community when I made the presentation. I also gave you information about these people's personal lives because it's important to realize that everyone working on a project has something else going on in their lives. We've all got people we love who are in trouble. Or we're struggling with our health or our jobs. Something."

I had written up the biography of each person and put it into an envelope and sealed it. On the outside I put the name, sex, and age of the person. Most of community members were well over sixty years old. I instructed the students not to open the envelope but just to take in the name, age, and sex.

"If you're working in communities and neighborhoods," I said, "you will often be working with people who are very different from you. I am often the youngest person in the room and that's been true for a long, long time. I think it's good to be aware of the differences and to not judge people just because they're older than you are or because they live in a rural community, or whatever. It doesn't mean they're stupid or uneducated. Some people live away from the city by choice."

I instructed them open the envelopes. I began my presentation. The energy of the group quickly shifted. People were soon asking me questions from the viewpoints of their "characters." It was quite invigorating! One person was concerned that things wouldn't be neat enough in the garden. Another person wanted it to look more wild. Someone else was worried about the cost.

I answered their questions. One person kept asking the same question again and again. I wasn't quite sure how to answer the question differently. But the person asking it was very perceptive: often in these kinds of situations people do ask the same question again and again, even after you think you have answered the question adequately.

It was a wild and crazy presentation. Very dynamic. I loved it. I felt like we were a real community. I was laughing when I ended it and thanked them all.

We remained in the circle to close. People thanked me for my presentation. We talked about our time together. And then it was time to go.

As usual, I was the first to leave. I got in my little rented car and drove out of Seattle. I thought about the summer.

I remembered how lost and alone I had felt when I first started this program. I had felt so out of place. I was older than almost everyone. I was one of only two people who lived in a rural area. I had felt like a country bumpkin around a bunch of young city people.

But none of that had been true. Or rather, none of that was real. I had been projecting my own fears onto this experience. Once I let go of those projections, once I relaxed a bit and recognized my part in my frustrations, once I gave myself a break, reality was made visible.

A reality was these were great classes where I learned a lot about my world and myself.

But something else happened during these ten plus weeks.

I faced some facts about my life--always a difficult thing to do. I had a family member who was struggling with drug addiction. She had gone into rehab for three months, and she now had the skills to help herself and to get help, but she wasn't doing it--at least she wasn't doing it enough to keep herself from relapsing. Every day for weeks, I had worried about getting a phone call that she was in a coma or a car accident. Every night I feared I would get a call from someone telling me that she was dead.

I tried to get her help from afar. I tried to talk with her and encourage her. But I was often speaking to her when she was high, and I didn't always know the difference. Later she wouldn't remember what I'd said or anything about our conversation. And she lied so fluently, so easily. Lying is the second language of addicts.

We hear again and again that addiction is a disease. I knew that. But I kept telling the rest of my family, "If it's a disease, then we have to do get her help. You don't tell someone who's having a heart attack, 'if you really want help, you call 911.'" How could it be a disease AND one still had to get help themselves?

I didn't get it for a long time. Then I realized that my family member's addiction was ruining my life. It was affecting my husband. It was affecting everyone in our family. Different family members had tried to help her. My father, only six months out of dangerous heart surgery, travelled out to stay with her. She remained straight while he was there, but as soon as he was gone, she relapsed. I thought seriously about going to live with her for a time, but then I had a flashback to last winter when I'd gone to Arizona. I had spent half my time trying to save her.

I couldn't save her. If I went down to live with her, I would be miserable and it would just delay the inevitable: when she would have to save herself.

I had started this program in Seattle because I felt hopeless and helpless about the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I had wanted to save the Gulf of Mexico. I have always wanted to save the world.

I have always wanted to save this particular family member. I felt like I had been trying to save her my entire life.

Once she told me she wanted someone to love her so much that they'd feel like they'd die if she died. She wanted someone to love her so much that they'd give everything up for her.

I told her no one would ever love her like that: no one except herself.

She had to save herself. She had to grow up and save herself.

My relative isn't alone in this desire. I've heard other people say similar things. They're waiting for someone else to save them. Some politician. Some leader. Some spiritual guru.

It ain't gonna happen.

We've got to grow up and save ourselves. It is a profound lack of maturity which causes us to put our heads in the sand.

We've got to act like adults and solve some problems.

My family member is comfortable in her addiction. I think many of us are comfortable in our addictions--we are comfortable with our comfort.

I know I am.

Or I was.

I now know I can't save my family member. I hope she can save herself. I hope she can love herself enough to put herself first, before her comfort. To save herself.

I was extremely uncomfortable during the course of these classes. I made so many mistakes. I made so many judgments. I was hard on my classmates and teachers. I was very hard on myself. But I kept doing the work. I kept going forward. And eventually, through all the smoke and mirrors I was tossing up, I saw the possibility for abundance. For abundance in the world and in my life.

It won't always be comfortable. It will definitely be messy. But I know we can plant it, grow it, build it, create it, let it happen.


There it is.

I got home safe and sound.

Ain't it grand?

Read more here...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jewelweed Station

Updated September 6, 2010. Here is the prologue and first chapter of my new book. Wish me luck!


Callie Carter stood near the east entrance of the Larmiteau ballroom while the orchestra played a Viennese waltz. She moved her scarlet-colored iris-shaped mask to the side now and again to get a better look at women dressed in colorful silk gowns and men dressed in white ties and tails. They all wore masks to disguise themselves as some kind of exotic flora, but Callie was determined to discover the true identity of each and every person. Or at least, each and every interesting person. She was equally determined to keep her identity a secret to everyone at the ballroom except for Reby.

Reby stood next to Callie dressed in a burgundy-colored satin dress. The long earrings Callie had lent her reflected the golden glow from the gas lamps. She kept turning her wrists so that the gold bracelets on her brown arms clinked together. Callie knew she was not accustomed to wearing jewelry. Her mask was shaped liked the mythical black orchid.

"If I get caught," Reby said, "I am going to put all the blame on you."

"Of course," Callie said. "If I get caught, I will put all the blame on my poor upbringing. I'm an American and didn't know what I was doing." She fluttered her hand in front of her face.

Reby laughed.

Callie smiled. She liked being far from Virginia and the families who lived along the James River near Mount Joy, her father's plantation. For one thing, Reby was free here. They could walk the streets as sisters. Maybe no one bothered them because Reby was light-skinned for a slave and Callie was dark-skinned for a white Southerner, so no one knew what to make of them. Callie did not care about the reason. She just knew here she was surrounded by culture, freedom, and handsome young men and women.

"Tonight I will be Countessa Iris Mountjoy," Callie said. "And you?"

"I will be Duchess Wilhemina Orchid," Reby said. "From Barbados. An exotique!"

"I think the Countessa will have two children and one husband," Callie said. "Or maybe she is a widow with three children."

"Last night the Baron Margrave actually believed you when you said you had three children. We are not yet eighteen. How could they think such a thing?"

"Mother says men know nothing about women," Callie said, "and we should take advantage of their ignorance because we have so few natural advantages out in the world."

"You are very good at pretending," Reby said. "This all makes me a little nervous."

"Father says it's the little liar in me," Callie said.

Callie heard someone say her name. She turned around. Their hostess Madam Larmiteau stood behind Callie holding an opened telegram in her hand.

"Callie, dear, I'm afraid there has been some bad news," Madam said in French. "Will you come to the sitting room to hear it?"

Callie shook her head. "No, tell me here and now."

Madam Larmiteau held out the telegram to Callie and said, "I'm sorry to tell you but your parents have been in a terrible accident."

Chapter One

Callie Carter stood with her hand on the cold gray marble tombstone. She wanted to run her fingers inside the chisel marks that became her mother's and then her father's name: Emma Jean Ames Carter and Jacob William Carter. Beloved Mother and Father to Calantha Carter.

Her parents could not be dead. Not in some freak carriage accident. She had spent many wakeful nights during the winter she was forced to spend in France and ten on the sea-voyage home trying to figure out what had happened--and then even more hours trying not to picture the accident over and over in her mind's eye.

Now she stood quietly in the small family cemetery outside of the boxwood that surrounded the Georgian mansion that was her home. She couldn't see the mansion from here, at least not all of it. Pieces of the red brick became visible here and there through the bare branches of the willow and poplar trees.

She tried not to listen to her uncle Charles Ames drone on to Preacher Jones about the quality of the lettering on the tombstones. The day was too cold for March. Callie shuddered. It didn't feel as though spring was right around the corner. Everything looked dead. Felt dead.

Her old life was certainly dead. Seventeen years old and now her uncle Charles, her mother's brother, was her guardian. Callie didn't like Uncle Charles. Something about his pale fat little fingers that didn't quite match his tall frame. Or the way he never looked anyone in the eyes even while he was smiling slyly. Or maybe it was because her mother had always tensed when he came into a room. Her true legal guardian was her godfather, her uncle James, who was on a botanical expedition to the Amazon.

No one had heard from him in over a year, so Uncle Charles convinced Judge Zebadiah that Uncle James might be lost for good and his "very young niece" must have adult supervision until such time as James's body was recovered, dead or alive.

Judge Zebadiah. Callie's father had never liked him much either. But he was a good friend of Uncle Charles's, so by the time Callie stepped off the ship in Norfolk, Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Charles had moved into the main house. From there, Uncle Charles claimed, he could better oversee the plantation and Aunt Elizabeth could better oversee Callie.

Callie had not been in the house yet. Uncle Charles had whisked her immediately out to the cemetery, as though he was delaying her return to the house for as long as he could.

Callie wasn't sure why Preacher Jones was in the family cemetery with them.

She sighed. She was so tired she could barely breathe. Nothing in the world seemed right. Not a single thing.

A bird called out just then. She looked toward the sound. A crow hopped along the edge of the cemetery, near the wrought iron fencing. It looked straight at her, then bounced up and flew away, quickly becoming a black speck on the overcast sky.

As Callie looked back at the grave site, she glimpsed of a bit of color. On the soggy ground near the tombstone, along the side of the grave marker, a single trumpet-shaped orange flower surrounded by teethed egg-shaped green leaves grew up from the ground.

Callie smiled. Jewelweed. Usually it grew closer to the water and was surrounded by other jewelweed. It was one of her mother's favorite flowers. Her mother said people often didn't see jewelweed or ignored it all together if they did see it even though it was a great healer. Get stung by nettle or touched by poison oak and the juice from jewelweed would sooth the inflammation away.

Her mother believed wildflowers could fix anything.

Uncle Charles cleared his throat. Callie dropped her hand from the cold marble and looked at him and Preacher Jones.

Mr. Jones smiled. "I wanted you to know, Callie, that your parents got a lovely service. Everyone in the community came out for it. They were well-loved and will be missed." Jones glanced at Uncle Charles, as if to see if he needed to say anything else.

"Your uncle spared no expense on these tombstones," he said.

Callie glanced at the stone. Really? Then why was a crack running up the left hand side of the stone. And some of the chisel marks were ragged.

"I should like to pay for it myself," Callie said.

Jones looked at Uncle Charles again.

Charles said, "You mustn't worry your pretty self about such things now. The judge has put all of that into my capable hands. Now say goodbye to Reverend Jones and we'll get you something to eat. Unless you'd like to stay for dinner, Jones?"

Jones looked at Callie this time. She had not noticed before how small he was. Or how nervous. He kept smoothing his black hair over the ivory-white bald spot on the top of his head and then turning his hat in his hands. Callie's mother once said he had beady eyes.

"No, thank you," Jones said. "Let me know if you need anything, Callie."

Jones put his hat on his head, then walked back toward the mansion. Charles looked at Callie.

"Ready to go, dear?" he asked.

Callie tried not to scowl--or growl. She had to keep her own council for a time, at least until she figured out exactly what part Uncle Charles was to play in her life. Uncle Charles thought of her as a child. As a stupid child. She would let him. For now.

"We have got to keep this place looking better," Charles said. "Your mother always let every weed thrive. It's so untidy. I've hired an overseer. We'll get more work out of your father's worthless slaves yet and get this place cleaned up." He bent over. Before Callie could say anything, he pulled up the jewelweed and crushed it in his hand. Then he tossed it over the fence.

"Come, child," he said. "We have much to show you." He held out his arm for her. She gritted her teeth, then put her hand on his elbow, and they walked out of the graveyard, toward the boxwood and the mansion. Callie looked over her shoulder once to try and spot the ruined orange flower. But she saw only gray.

"Callie, I hope your time away was profitable for you," Uncle Charles said. "I know you disagreed with our decision to have you spend the winter in France. But we knew your parents would have wished you to continue your education, even though your aunt and I didn't quite understand why you were there."

Callie said nothing. She had gone to France to study art and improve her already remarkable drawing and painting skills--and to learn more about the world and get away from the sometimes claustrophic community of people who lived around Mount Joy.

"It was difficult to be alone in a strange country mourning the deaths of my parents," Callie said.

Difficult was not the right word. It had been excruciating. After she got the news, everyone seemed a stranger, even those friends she had made during her time in France. She and Reby stayed inside the apartment together most of the time, although sometimes her tutors visited, and she drew a bit, painted even less. She had not been capable of coherent conversation. And she had no money. Her aunt and uncle cut off her funds so that she could not get on a ship herself. Fortunately, she stayed with friends of her parents, Madam Larmiteau and her husband, so she was not thrown into the streets while she waited for permission to come home. Besides her mother's three brothers and their families, Callie had no other relatives. So she had waited until Uncle Charles released some funds, and she and Reby headed home.

She shook herself and looked ahead as she and Uncle Charles neared the mansion.

It was a relief to see Henry standing just outside the door, so tall and straight, dressed in his black suit, his white-gloved hand on the door as he prepared to open it. He wore a black armband on his left arm--the black a little darker than his coat--in honor of her parents, no doubt. It was more than her uncle had done.

Callie let go of her uncle's arm and walked up to Henry.

"It is good to see you, Henry," she said. She smiled.

Henry bowed and said, "Welcome home, Miss Callie." He opened the door. Callie noticed his skin seemed a little ashy and maybe his hand trembled slightly. She would not ask him about it now. Instead, she strode through the open door into her home. Her parents were gone, but this was where she had grown up. This was where Henry, Pearl, Reby, Martha, and Joseph still lived--well, they lived nearby in the Little House near to this Big House.

As soon as Callie stepped over the threshold, she stopped so suddenly her uncle nearly ran into her. She heard Henry close the door behind them. She waited for her eyes to adjust.

Why was this room so dark?

They stood in a kind of foyer with gentle arches that led into the East parlor to her right and the dining room to her left. Beyond the parlor was the sun parlor, then the ballroom. Beyond the dining room was one of the pantries, the kitchen office, the kitchen and another pantry. And the stairs were straight ahead.

When Callie left for France a year ago, the walls had been cream-colored, and a vase of brightly-colored flowers greeted guests and family all year round. Now a kind of dark gold urn stood on a tall black table and the walls were a hideous shade of brown.

Callie heard the rustle of satin. Aunt Elizabeth came out of the east parlor, dressed in blue satin. She smiled and held out her hands to Callie.

"Isn't this lovely?" Elizabeth said. "I can't imagine your mother actually liked that other color. It was so light! It gave me a headache. I hope you don't mind. We've made little changes here and there. We were certain your poor dear mother would have made the same changes had she lived."

Callie glanced at Henry. He practically blended into the walls. She reminded herself that she was going to hold her tongue until she got the lay of this new land. She needed to get upstairs to see if Reby had found out anything yet.

Her aunt embraced her slightly, kissed the air on either side of Callie's face, and then stepped back to look at her.

"Oh my! Didn't they have parasols in France?" she asked. "You're dark enough to be mistaken for a pickaninny! You're nearly as black as your dress."

"I hardly think that is true," Callie said.

Her aunt shrugged. "I have some powder if you want, before you see anyone."

"No thank you," Callie said. "I'd like to go up to my room and change."

"Of course," Aunt Elizabeth said. "Dinner is at the usual hour. Heddie has made you a welcome home dinner."

"Who is Heddie?" Callie asked.

Aunt Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "How silly of me. You don't know anything about what's been happening, do you?" She looked over at her husband. "Have you told her nothing?"

"I leave it to you, wife," he said. "And now if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do." He bowed slightly. Then he slipped off his coat and handed it and his hat to Henry.

Callie watched her uncle walk down the corridor to her father's office, beneath the stairs. He unlocked the door, opened it, and went inside. Then he shut the door.

Her father had rarely kept that door locked.

Callie closed her eyes. Uncle Charles was in her father's office! Her father would be appalled that Uncle Charles now knew all the intimate details of his business life.

"Heddie is the new cook," Elizabeth said. "Pearl was unbearable. I could not eat her food!"

"Pearl has been our cook since before I was born," Callie said.

"Yes, I know your mother brought her into her marriage," Elizabeth said. "But she is old. Her taste is off. She's better off where she is now. She can be of more use there."

"Where is she?"

"She's out in the slave cabins by the fields. She can cook for the pickaninnies and field hands all day and night. They won't notice her tasteless food!"

Callie's stomach fluttered. Her heart started to race.

"Pearl has never lived in with the field slaves," Callie said. "Mother promised she would come with me if she got too old to cook, to care for my children one day. She would have never put her outside."

"Dear, you're overtired and forget yourself," Elizabeth said. "She is a slave and goes where she is told."

"With the death of my mother," Callie said, "she becomes my responsibility."

"We are your guardians," Elizabeth said. "We could not, in good conscience, let you continue to eat that gruel Pearl cooked. Your mother wasn't able to send Pearl away. So I've done it for her."

"My mother would have never sent Pearl away!" Callie said.

Elizabeth stepped back from Callie and arched an eyebrow.

So much for holding her tongue.

"This household is now my responsibility," Elizabeth said. "And will be until you come of age. Pearl will go where I wish. Now, I noticed some of your dresses were a bit frayed. If that is how Rebecca takes care of your things, perhaps it is time to send her away, too. She's at a good age to breed."

Callie stared at her aunt. Was her aunt trying to intimidate her by threatening to take Reby away?

All of this was so wrong.

How was she going to fix this situation? How was she going to get her home back? Her life? How could she get Pearl into the kitchen again? Panic rose in her throat.

How could her parents have left her so vulnerable to these people? Where was Uncle James?

This was not right. None of it.

She would write to Uncle Peter in Richmond again. Until then, she needed to keep things as peaceful as possible.

"I am very tired, dear aunt," Callie said. "I would like to go upstairs now."

"Of course," Elizabeth said.

Callie turned and started walking up the curving staircase.

"See if Reby can find you a dress that isn't torn or soiled at the hems," Elizabeth said. "And no more black. It depresses me."

"But, Aunt Elizabeth, I am in mourning for a year," Callie said. "It would be disrespectful."

"Nonsense," Aunt Elizabeth said. "Your mother was not that old-fashioned and neither am I. I am very proper, but not old-fashioned. And with war so close at hand, we need to live every day to the fullest."

"Please, auntie."

"I know you miss your parents," Elizabeth said, "and I certainly don't want to stop you for mourning in your own way. I'm just giving you permission to take off the widow weeds. It is spring, after all."

Her tone was sugary. Callie felt nauseated. She picked up the hem of her dress slightly as she walked up the stairs. She glanced at the portraits of her ancestors. Her four grandparents from both sides of the family. Her mother. Father.

She wished one of them could come to her rescue now.

"Oh dear," Elizabeth said. "I forgot to tell you that we've moved you to another room."

Callie stopped on the stairs and looked down. Elizabeth had her hand on the banister.

"Excuse me?" Callie said.

"It was time you had a grown-up room, away from your parents," she said. "So we put you in a room on the third floor. That way you have more privacy. Your room was so close to your parents' room. We're staying in your parents' room now."

"You are staying in my parents' room?" Callie asked.

Callie's fingers gripped her dress.

"Of course," Elizabeth said. "They were the best rooms in the house. This is an ordeal for us, you know, to be away from our home to care for you. We knew you would want us to be comfortable."

Callie chewed the inside of her cheek.

"Of course," she finally said.

She turned from her aunt and continued up the stairs.

Reby was sitting in a chair at the top of the stairs waiting for her.

"This way, Miss," Reby said formally.

Callie looked down the stairs. She couldn't see Elizabeth, but she sensed she was still there, listening, waiting.

Callie followed Reby up the second set of stairs and then down the hallway to the end of it. At least Elizabeth hadn't redecorated this floor. The wallpaper with pale red and pink roses brightened up the corridor still.

Reby opened the door to the last room. Callie couldn't remember ever being in this room. Reby had already opened the windows. Good thing. It still smelled a bit stale.

Callie looked around the small room. She didn't see any other door besides the one they had just come through. A small window seat looked down at the garden, the row of poplars beyond, and the James River beyond them. A wardrobe, bed, dresser, dressing table, and writing desk practically filled the room.

"Where's your room?" Callie asked. Reby had slept next to her nearly her entire life.

"Miss Elizabeth says I have to sleep in the Little House now with the others," Reby said. "She wants me to do more kitchen duty, help in the smoke house and with the sewing more. She says you don't need a maid full time and she doesn't have enough slaves to do all the work that needs to be done."

"There is truth that I don't need a fulltime maid," Callie said, "but she doesn't need to know that."

Callie sat on the bed. Reby sat on the floor and leaned against the bed.

"Come sit with me," Callie said.

Reby shook her head. "Miss Elizabeth catches us, we're done for."

Callie sighed. Everything had changed. Reby was acting and talking strangely. Like she was back on the farm.

Which she was. They both were.

"She was lookin' at your clothes," Reby said. "She said if I couldn't do a better job, she was gonna have Mr. Charles sell me."

"He can't do that," Callie said. "I know that for sure. According to the law you are mine and I wouldn't consent to your sale."

"They've got Pearl down by the fields," Reby said. "I heard she's doing poorly."

"Aunt Elizabeth told me," Callie said.

"You ever been down there?" Reby asked.

"Once, when I was little," Callie said. "Father came close to whipping me when he found me." She had been sitting on the floor in the dirt, eating with the other children when her father strode into the cabin.

"Mr. Carter," someone had said. Callie didn't remember now who it had been. "We was just comin' to git ya."

And then things got confusing. Her father yelled. The driver got out his whip.

Callie shook her head. She didn't want to remember that.

"It ain't fit fer man or beast," Reby said. "Not them places."

"Reby, quit talking like that," Callie said. "You sound like a field hand."

"We ain't in Paris any more," Reby said. "I've got to know my place and be in my place until this blows over or Miss Elizabeth is going to get rid of me. I talked to Martha. She says your aunt and uncle have come to stay and they're going to run things wicked hard."

"My parents didn't raise any shrinking violet," Callie said. She stood and began pacing the room. "I need to see a lawyer. Find out what my rights are. Uncle Charles showed me the papers the judge signed. And he signed. About them being my legal guardians for the time being. And I tell you I intend to spend no time being under their thumbs. I'll write a letter to Uncle Peter, too. But for a while, Reby, I will pretend to be on my aunt and uncle's side. They think I'm an ignorant child, so that's what I will be. But first I've got to dress for dinner."

Reby got off the floor. Callie turned around so her back was to her. Reby took off Callie's coat and lay it on the bed. Then she began unbuttoning Callie's dress. When it was loose enough, Reby helped Callie step out of it.

Callie walked to the wardrobe and opened it. She pulled out a blue-silk dress. It was almost the same color as the one her aunt was wearing.

"It would be so gauche if I wore this tonight," Callie said. "Auntie might feel as though I was trying to outshine her." Callie nodded. "Perfect. She wanted me out of black. I will obey her."

She handed the dress to Reby. Reby took it. The two looked at each other for a moment. Callie turned away first. "I better hurry," she said. "Before she comes looking for me. You keep your head down, Reby. Let's not rock the boat until we're ready to sink it."

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.