Arts & Culture » Books

Excerpt from Ashes on the Water


From a novel in progress...

set on Caledonia Plantation, Alabama 1854

Cretia's Gal, unmindful of the quiet in the house, & without her realizing it, her hands, weighted by the echoing music in her head, lowered them selves & made contact with the pianoforte keys. Her fingers were still for a moment, as still as the house. & then, her fingers began to move on the forbidden black & white keys, moving in the exact patterns that Mister Gottschalk's had moved last evening, as she played exactly what he had played.

Boy Jube, in the in the garden in the graying morning, sensed, for an instant, all sound cease: the cheeping, peeping conversations of birds, the worry of the sodden wind whispering to the young leaves of the coming rain, the resultant rustle of its brushing past, the scurry & hunkering down in the undergrowth, the wafting fragmented lilt of distant field hand shouts, & the lo & cluck & bark & whinny ceased.

Jube raised himself from his hands & knees to a squat. He tensed like a hound at the anticipated hunter's shot–& then–there was sound again: a rhythmic pounding burst through the parlor window.

& Cretia's Gal still only hearing last evening’s echoing sounds in her head did not realize she was playing, playing for the first time in her life; having never been allowed to touch any but the wood parts of the squat instrument to polish it.

Polishing the pianoforte was her favorite household chore; smoothing the oiled cloth back & forth about the dark wood: over the front panel with its gold letters spelling Boardman & Gray, which her Mama Cretia had taught her to read, & the top that lifted to show the wires & little cotton covered heads of the hammers inside, the curved sides, the heavy carved legs, until her polishing reflected her darkness back to her. But never before touching the keys, except to feather dust them with maternally possessive strokes. Warned about it by her mother; threatened about it by M’s Esme. Never fool with the piano keys. Never! Playing now, note for note, the music the Frenchman had played the night before. Cretia’s Gal was playing with the same enthusiasm & volume, the same pounding rhythmic drive.

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