I sense her – feel her – know her now, leaning against the door frame of this room. She has her right shoulder and hip braced on the wood, and her left leg rests out at an angle, almost in a ballerina’s second position. But I expect she doesn’t know ballet.
She’s watching me, but not in that haunted way – though I suppose this is what it is – but with a half-interest. I am here, and so is she. So she looks.
And I must look a sight, my Doctor Who bathrobe strung with bits of straw, my hair a silvering penumbra around my unwashed head. Bare legs showing beneath the afghan thrown roughly over them.
She smiles, just at the corners of her mouth, and her eyes glitter. “You a mess, Andi.” I can almost hear the soft dip of Southern at the end of her words. Her voice deep, lingering, playful.
I do not know what I believe of ghosts. I have felt/seen/imagined them all my life – the children who terrified me in the playroom at Oatlands, the woman who in a white dress who I saw in the catacombs beside Poe’s grave, that horrible shrieking climb that inched into my throat at Eastern State Penitentiary.
The polar bear shaped from the grain of the wood in my childhood bedroom door, my companion, my guard. I can see him now still, even though I never knew his name.
This woman in my door frame – she’s standing there, still, gazing past me out the window – do I call her forth from where she is, does she come of her own volition, is she curved around the synapses of my mind.
I don’t know. I don’t know if it matters.
Because she is here, and I love her.
According to the 1850 Slave Schedules for Madison County, William G. Berry, the son of the man who – I believe – built this house, had 8 slaves. 3 male, 5 female. The two youngest, a boy and a girl, are marked as “mullato,” when everyone else is “black,” and my mind begins to build a story.
I feel the woman frown behind me. She has come closer. She is looking over my shoulder. She cannot read, but she can feel me bristle as I write the words “male” and “female,” words too clinical, not terms that tell much at all about people.
I point my finger at the line that reads “30 f B” and tilt my head with the question. I cannot look at her to see her yet.
“Yes, that’s me.”
I had thought there were 5 people enslaved here – owned by Waller T. Yowell – but it appears there were 8, maybe 13 – owned by Yowell and his father-in-law William G. Berry.
And this woman, this woman was 30 in 1850, born in 1820. Born here? Yes, I think so. The mother of some of these other children, perhaps even the mulatto boy and girl.
I can speculate deep and hard now, but I feel her closer, a hand on my shoulder.
Today, enough. “Enough, Andi.”
“Next, you find my name.”