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  • Dining Room, 1811, and: Kitchen, 1850, and: Master Bedroom, 1859, and: Front Porch, 1900, and: Widow’s Walk, 1917, and: Child’s Bedroom, 1933, and: Parlor, 2012
  • Katie Bickham (bio)
  • Dining Room, 1811
  • Katie Bickham

The gunpowder stench from the sleeves of his fine militia jacket still hung heavily on his side of the table, even after Adellaide had washed it twice. Gem brought in dishes of bisque on saucers, careful not to let her fingers touch the food.

“I’ve heard they’re all accounted for from St. Charles Parish,” said his father. “And five of them your kills,” his father said, toasting his son with his spoon. Gem left the room with her hands in her apron.

“Seven,” said the son. “Five shot in the woods, but two were saved and sent for trying on the property.” “A trial?” his mother asked, dabbing broth from her bottom lip. “For runaways?”

“Who ran away?” asked his small sister.

“The trials are a fine thing,” his father said, “so all can see. They drove the heads of the last set onto pikes at the levee.”

The son flexed his shoulders until the seams tensed. He wished the smell would wash out. “A fine thing,” he echoed. Gem slipped back in, refilled their water glasses. Sweat rose in beads on the sides.

“Pike?” the little one asked. The son held the food in his mouth, unable to swallow until he was certain no one would give her an answer. [End Page 42]

  • Kitchen, 1850
  • Katie Bickham

Violet can feel the storm coming in her knees, less pain than heaviness—the body’s way of learning from the earth. She grinds herbs into flakes and considers the walks back and forth from the kitchen to the house—the path slopes up and makes the ground give way in long rains.

This morning, she stood by her grown son as he fired his knife through the largest pig’s skull. She hurried to slit its throat, to catch its hot blood in a large tin pail before its heart stopped beating. Together, they looped a noose around its neck and dragged it to be butchered in a clean place.

The first thunder booms. It will not be long. She uses her hands to mash the herbs into a bowl of rice, ground pork and blood still barely warm, to make it rich. She ties off one end of the pig’s rinsed and scraped intestines and stuffs them with her fine dark mess, then twists them off at intervals.

Tonight, she’ll smoke boudin noir, set it on wide wooden trays, cover it with layers of linen to ward off rain, drag her tired feet through warm, infested mud, pass her work to the dry house maid, who will situate the food on plates, just so. The family will feed themselves on silver, and never think of Violet, never think to climb down in the dirt, to plead with her to tell them what secret pinch of something makes the blood so good. [End Page 43]

  • Master Bedroom, 1859
  • Katie Bickham

She had only just kissed her children and begun disrobing when her husband’s shoulders filled the door. A thin sweat sucked the linen against his flat belly.

August heat revealed everyone, she thought. Ladies sweated off their fine powder, sticky rouge. Girls threw their petticoats in piles. The black bodies slowed their work. Her husband’s blood rose by degrees. He tore at her underclothes. He had assumed the overseer’s work today in a humid delirium. He had taken a man’s skin off. He was made of one thousand hands. Some fastened her necklaces. Held her daughter’s soft skull in the night. He was powered by steam.

He peeled his breeches off and held her around the belly like a dead weight. He broke against her like a storm, the force of earth beating to destroy whatever man has built. Beating to destroy always and remorselessly itself. [End Page 44]

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pp. 41-52
Launched on MUSE
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