Hot oil makes food glisten for the master and his mother and his sons. An unattractive vegetable can cost cook her job. The young girl watches while wilted greens are set aside and chicken goes into the heat. A portion of each is reserved for cook and her helper. Another servant is sent upstairs with the mother’s meal. The girl balances a tray to the family table and sets it down without a sound and lays out the meal in bowls that are a joy to hold and sweet anguish to release. Then she is sent up in her turn. The tray tips like a seesaw. Hot soup moistens the rim of the bowl, but holds. She panics, squirts a tear, recovers. And when she hears the stair react beneath her foot, she comprehends what is expected of her, embraces her life then and ever, envisions the family she herself will raise in the warm home free from hunger and reveals herself to be the most precious thing on earth. She does not raise her eyes to the master’s sons, whose blood conspires to destroy her from that moment. She knows the kinder son will break her heart; the crueler will dally with but never disappoint her; the man she pleases will be someone who also serves, and they will deny her even him. She knows it all, and falls in love with the world as it will be. From the stem the cook has cut to collect the fruit for the afternoon meal, a milky tear drops onto a broad leaf in the garden outside the kitchen, then another, and the process gladdens her. She watches the sap collect and run to the center vein and race into the earth, and rejoices as it races, and misses nothing.

Copyright ©1999-2006 David Hodges

About these ads