"Job's Subreption" is my first entry in Hidden Valley Simplicity's word blog hop. This weeks' words are Subreption and Plangent. "Job's Subreption" is PG in content but does contain adult themes.
"Job," Mama began, heaping another scoop of grits onto my plate. I knew that tone in her voice, half playful, half venomous.
"Yes, Ma'am?" I replied. I forced myself to sound casual, but I could not raise my eyes to Mama's.
"Was your father out last night?" Mama asked. She cocked her head to the side and let her voice raise slightly, as if she were merely curious.
Our servant Karina tensed visibly but did not make a sound. I was glad that she was standing behind the table and out of Mama's line of sight.
Of course Father was out that night. I couldn't remember that last time that Father stayed in. It must have been last autumn, before Father bought Karina from Mister Peters a few towns over. "Cook can use someone younger in the kitchen," Father muttered to Mama by way of explanation for his spontaneous purchase.
I was only eleven, but wasn't fooled by Father's subreption.
At first Father only sneaked out at night once Mama and I were in bed. I watched him from my upper-story window as he slunk his way to the slaves quarters, only to return an hour later swaggering with the same haughtiness Cook always reserved for the stable boys.
I may not have been able to articulately describe my Father's folly, but I knew what he was doing was wrong even before I overheard Mama talking to her sister.
"He doesn't so much as look at me anymore," Mama complained when Aunt Clara came for a visit. "Ever since he got that gal to give him his way, I may as well have stopped breathing that moment as far as he's concerned."
Dressed in my night clothes, wrapped in grandmother's quilt, I strained to hear what Aunt Clara would say.
"That's just a man's way," she soothed. It was the same voice Aunt Clara used two summers ago when I spent a week on her family's plantation and broke my ankle falling from a tree.
"Well, that wasn't always my man's way," Mama replied.
"No?" I imagined Aunt Clara raising her eyebrow, like she did whenever Cousin George and I tried to convince her we weren't making trouble.
I couldn't hear Mama's muttered response.
"Our men are just wired different from us, as I figure," Aunt Clara explained. "They've got more need than one of our kind can give. That's all."
"That's all? And all this is fine with you?" Mama retorted with a snort.
"Fine or not, sweetie, what can people like you and me do about it?"
"I've had my ideas," Mama answered.
"So have we all," Aunt Clara crooned. "But you know when it comes down to it that's all just pluck and nonsense. We need our men just as much as they need their diversions. There's nothing you can do to get back at your husband. Not really, leastwise."
The next day when Karina came to wait on us at breakfast, she had scratch marks across one cheek and another set down the side of her neck. "Who says I'm out to get back at my husband?" Mama asked Aunt Clara.
From then on, I came to expect Mama's questioning over breakfast several times a month. "Was your father out last night?" she would ask, directing her voice and darting her saccharine charm at Karina who stood stoically to wait on us. Sometimes I lied, sometimes I feigned ignorance. It didn't matter. At some point during the day Karina would end up with one more bruise or one more scratch or one more black eye than she had at Mama's morning interrogation.
"No, Ma'am," I replied this morning, my mouth full of Cook's fried grits. "I didn't see Father go out at all last night."
"You didn't?" Mama declared, opening her mouth into a little O and letting her curls sway as she tilted her head to one side. "That's odd," she continued and furrowed her brow deliberately. "I don't remember hearing him in his room."
I stole a glance at Karina, who was pursing her lips together and staring at the copper kettle hanging near the doorway to the kitchen.
"Well," I hedged, "I was awake for a while last night since it was so hot, but I didn't see Father go out none."
"I see," Mama answered curtly. "I'll take my tea now," she added, abruptly turning on Karina. I saw the colored woman flinch before she muttered, "Yes, Ma'am," and hurried out of the room.
"So he wasn't out at all last night, hmm?" Mama repeated, raising her voice over the plangent noise of clattering teacups.
I forced myself to meet Mama's glare directly. "No, Ma'am," I answered, then excused myself for my morning chores.