The forces of good and evil, right and wrong, moral and amoral (perhaps worse than bearing the prefix im-) are at war again. A never-ending battle that seems constantly to be waged in the favor of evil. Still, the good keep fighting. Keep trying. For to give up would be a fate worse than death, that is, before death inevitably comes from the whack of a truncheon (or in the case of this tale, the pow of a bullet). No one wants to be told they are lesser than another. That their value is somehow not quite as valuable. From the years 1861 to 1865, the war that would rage on between the Union and the Confederacy was one they claimed not to see coming. Obviously, however, the fact that the Confederates couldn’t let it go after losing was fairly well evidenced in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, viewed as the great enemy of the South. And, ironically, slavery was abolished at the hands of Lincoln’s Republican party, which had an entirely different platform in those days–one that wasn’t so contingent upon moralizing or the sort of conservatism centered on anti-black, anti-gay rights.
Instead, the party wanted to end slavery. And, in fact, Lincoln was the first Republican ever elected to office. Met with more outrage and upheaval than when a certain orange-toned oppressor would take office centuries later. Seven states immediately seceded from the Union in protest, fearing the loss of their cotton-based economies, all so dependent upon the backs of slave labor. Why would they want anything to change? Why would they want “inferior” black folk to have the same rights to freedom as whites when things were just fine as they were…
“You give a nigger a taste of freedom, and he’ll just keep wanting more and more,” a Southern Democrat said as he rolled his tobacco, then smoked his pipe with a furrowed brow.
Somewhere in the fields he gazed at from the comfort of the rocking chair on his porch, one of those “niggers” keeled over from exhaustion. It stopped some of the others from their tasks as they rushed over to try to help one of their own. One of their own. You might say that was the crux of the problem with racism. Everyone saw color as a divide between themselves, preferring to advance their own race instead of ascending the heights of human capability together. But black people never even had a chance to do that while in their shackles, locked so tight. Except the slave who had been jimmying his loose for the past month, finally seeing fit to use his ability to move with some amount of agility to run over to Anthony to determine if he was alright. But his sudden movement prompted Augustus to shoot him with his rifle. A direct hit straight from the porch without barely blinking an eye. “I always say, you see a nigger move, don’t hesitate to shoot him. Before he crushes you with his im-poh-sin’ physique,” Augustus was known to tell his friends and lovers. He rarely recited the chestnut to his wife, Betsey, whose existence he disregarded so flagrantly that he failed to notice she was having an affair with the very slave he had just murdered, Cesar (“Caesar” is always getting murdered). When she found out that night upon Augustus casually mentioning it over a dinner of minced salt fish and pickled eggs served to them by Clara, yet another mute and obsequious slave who dared say nothing unless asked, she practically choked. “Excuse me?”
“I shot one of ’em today. That Cesar fellow. And then it turns out the other nigger he was trying to run to died as well. I’m down two of my best slaves. Now I have more womenfolk than men–and you know that’s never good. ‘Cept for breedin’–but I haven’t got time to wait that way.”
Augustus arched his brow. “Yes. Cesar. Did you ‘know’ him or something?”
Betsey seemed now to enter a state of catatonia, one that led her to start convulsing uncontrollably.
“Betsey? For Chrissakes Betsey what in hell’s bells is the matter?” She continued not to respond, prompting Augustus to call for Clara and demand, “Escort my wife to her bedchambers, would you?” He shook his head as she allowed Clara to take her into her arms and walk her upstairs.
He shook his head and muttered to himself, “Imagine, gettin’ upset about some nigger.”
Betsey was a wreck the entire night, and Clara knew why. The slaves of the house had more insight into what was going on throughout the plantation than the so-called “massuhs.” But they were aware somewhere deep down that they had no master, contrary to what the lashings on their back might have said. They were the ones who knew more about life and humanity than any white man. The white man who kept proving, as usual, that all things that ruined humanity–destroyed the lives of many while benefiting the few–boiled down to the economy. The Evil Eleven–Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina–didn’t want their slave-based cotton-pickin’ economy tinkered with. But it was about to be. And Augustus was going to die preserving what the South represented, what it meant not just to him, but all who lived there (well, the whites anyway). But what he hadn’t reckoned for was a Civil War within one. That which Betsey was about to bring on as she started to gather her wits about her the following morning. In the small hours, when all was quiet on the plantation, save for the faint snoring of the hound, Silas, that slept at the foot of her bed. She went to her wash basin, splashed her face with cold water and proceeded to dress, as though for a requiem. In some sense, it was a funeral she was going to be attending: Augustus’.
She tiptoed through the hallway, making her way to the glass encasement filled with guns in the study (where she always found it comical that there was no sign of literature anywhere, which took a backseat to the firearms). Betsey already knew the one that would best suit her for her purposes, yet just as she had grabbed it, no sooner had she turned around than the sound of Augustus unclicking the safety on his own rifle jarred her from being able to act quickly. He shot at her without hesitation, aiming straight at her chest. Despite his proximity, he missed her heart, allowing her to “play dead,” so to speak, as he approached her smugly, spitting on her face as he jeered, “This is what happens to you when you’re a nigger lover.”
She remained stock still as he started to walk away, presumably to wake Clara up and tell her there had been an accident and to “clean up Mrs. Tierney’s remains.” All calm and collected–as though she had never been anything to him. If that was the way it was, then she really did have no regrets about carrying out what she had originally intended. And nothing was going to stop her now as she used her sheer force of will to rise up, grab the gun and pop Old Augustus right in the back. He would never get a chance to serve in the Confederate Army now. His dream of serving for the imagined “country” of the Confederate States of America. He wanted to die for that–but no, he was going to die for Cesar. For his role in perpetuating the colored divide between oppressor and oppressed. She could see the shot over and over again, in her mind’s eye always replaying the image of him falling face-forward on repeat. It was the memory that kept her going as she superimposed it over the murder of Cesar by Augustus’ lily hand. So she went to the “slaves’ quarters,” taking the skeleton key with her that would unlock all of their shackles. There were twenty-one total, including three newborns that Augustus had stood over like a greedy accountant as he calculated what these young bodies could do for the efficiency of his land. And after he had pillaged their mothers’ bodies for them. Yes, Betsey knew all about what he did to secure the perpetuation of his “investment.” He had some nerve to be outraged by her for having an affair. The thought of his hypocrisy made her want to turn right back around and shoot him again. But no, she had to use all of her strength to focus on this crucial task at hand. The slaves seemed to understand that something extraordinary was happening. Watching the bloodied Woman of the House rattle their chains free and tell them to run, run–as fast as they could–was about as expected to them as Lincoln securing the abolition of slavery without a war. Yet they did not pause to think about the extraordinariness, taking no hesitation with their potential for freedom.
Once they had all been unleashed from their “stall,” Betsey wandered back to the study to ensure Augustus was still, in fact, dead. He was. It was then that she used their telegraph to signal to the family doctor. If she was lucky, he might make it on horseback in an hour. If she was not, maybe she would expire along with Augustus. Whatever happened, she had won this Civil War within her own household. And if she managed to come out of it alive, to boot, well then, Augustus’ hateful spirit could bet she was going to high-tail it right up North. Maybe she would even see some of the former slaves there and flash them a conspiratorial smile as they walked past one another.