“What makes a man great?” asked the disembodied voice through the radio. “Is it strength? Power? Riches? No! It is none of these things! It is kindness! It is goodness! It is the everyday acts of you citizens who can show us what this country can be!”
“So he says,” grumbled Porter.
“What’s that? You got a problem with King Errins?” asked the barman. Porter didn’t know his name. She hadn’t bothered to ask.
“So he says,” repeated Porter, louder so that the barman could hear.
“And just what’s that supposed to mean, lady?”
“Look at yourself,” bit Porter. “Better yet, listen to yourself.”
“What am I supposed to listen for, huh? I’d sure like to stop listenin’ to you.”
“You’re not listening to me. If you were, you wouldn’t have used ‘lady’ as a personal affront.”
“What? You’re a lady, I called you a lady.”
“No, you called me ‘lady’,” she explained, imitating his angry tone with the word.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“See? You’re avoiding it now. I called you out on it.” The barman scratched his head. He wasn’t sure whether to be interested or angry. “He says,” she began to explain, “What makes a ‘man’ great.”
“What is a man?”
“A man ain’t some kind of savage for one.”
“And what’s a savage?”
“Negros,” he explained with a shrug.
“Of course. What else is a man?”
“A man’s got a dick for one. He can think straight. Got his priorities right.”
“So, I’m not a man, correct?”
“Well, if what he says is what makes a ‘man’, what makes me?”
“I don’t know. Not my problem. Hormones, my dad used to say,” the barman shrugged again. His was snapping with his voice again.
“Hormones. Of course.” Porter swigged back the rest of her drink.
“Get somethin’ else or get out,” the barman said with a dismissive wave.
Porter laughed. She liked the man, or rather she appreciated him. He was certainly awful, but so simplistically. “Double vodka on the rocks.”
“That your sort of drink?”
“Hmm, I wouldn’t know would I? I can’t really think straight, you see. I am on my period after all.” She contained her smile at his reaction.
“God, lady, keep that to yourself.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, you know better than I do. Do what you see fit?” She was giving him the middle finger under the bar. He couldn’t see, and she didn’t intend him to. It was just a little game.
The barman grinned a little after a minute of thought. “I’ll give ya’ what ya’ asked for.” He poured out the drink, but before turning it over added a dash of cranberry juice. “For the hormones,” he jested.
Porter smiled. An absolutely awful human being, of course, but she found his company acceptable. He was typical. Predictable. His cruelty wasn’t unusual.
A white man in a top hat and coat kneeled down. His coat tails scraped noiselessly against the ground. He had a kind smile unlike the men around him. None of the other girls in the barn got his attention. He looked up at the other men and tutted, shaking his head. They looked back at him with trepidation. ‘What is he doing?’ they were asking themselves. You weren’t supposed to treat a lady like that.
“Can you walk?” he asked, his voice warm and loving.
Elizabeth seemed unsure whether or not to respond. She glanced for a moment at the whip bearer and then at the man holding a bucket of starving rats.
The man followed her gaze. “I’m Celman Slaw. I own this farm. Oh, don’t worry about them. Go on,” he waved them away. At the time, Elizabeth didn’t think about him not firing them. He just bid them leave.
“So, can you walk?” asked Celman warmly. She looked at him for a moment before nodding. “Let me see?”.
“O-okay,” stuttered Elizabeth. She dragged her sore, flaming legs under her, using her hands to move them as much as her leg muscles. The pain was excruciating, but the man was kind. Celman extended a hand, and Elizabeth grasped it with her right one. Her grip was firm.
“No, no, no. Not like that. A lady holds a man like this,” he said with an encouraging smile. He adjusted her grip and loosened it with one of his strong hands.
Elizabeth smiled. He was so kind. Showing her how to do it right. She rose to her feet, using Celman’s hand for balance. Her legs burned. The long, red marks looked like someone painted them on her, but it was a part of her. As her arm moved away to maintain her balance, part of her tattered, chewed on dress fell, exposing her breast. It was cold in the barn, and her nipples were hard. In a split second, she noticed the remaining man who had entered with Celman was eyeing her. She looked away from both of them with fear in her eyes, unsure what came next.
Her hand darted to replace her top, but Celman moved faster. He grabbed her tattered dress and held it in place to ensure she was covered. He was being so kind. He didn’t look at her exposure. Elizabeth placed her hand to hold her dress again, but Celman didn’t remove his. “George, your coat please?” Celman held his left hand out for it, never looking away from Elizabeth. The man removed his long black coat and gave it to Celman who placed it around Elizabeth’s shoulders. It was large enough to cover her chest as long as she held it around her. “That’s better, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Mister Slaw,” she agreed.
“Oh no. You don’t need to call me that. Celman is just fine. Cel if you like.”
Elizabeth didn’t dare call him Cel, but she did say, “Yes, Celman.”
Celman smiled widely again.
She wondered silently why none of the other girls around her got this kind of treatment, not daring to voice it aloud. It was only later that she realized why. Their skin had colour and hers had none, but that didn’t matter to her back then.
“Where have you gone, you bitch?” Yelled Celman into the hallway.
Elizabeth had tried to get away. To leave Celman. His cruel tortures. His kind smile. She could still feel his semen between her legs as she hid in the closet. She’d stolen away after he’d fallen asleep. He’d woken up too soon, before the house guards switched. Before she could steal away. The wet feeling in her groin was uncomfortable and sticky, she could feel her pubic hairs matted down by it, but she hardly focused on that then. It was Celman she focused on. She heard footsteps thundering down the hall.
“A wife should not behave this way!” he yelled. “Now get out here!” She heard a loud smashing of pottery. “You owe me that, dearest!” The sound of splintering wood crashed as he kicked the balcony looking onto the entrance. The other servants would be running now. That’s all she was. Another servant. She wished she only had to wash the floor. The worst punishment they ever got was a week in the pit. She had to spend her nights with Celman. It mattered little what she wanted. He forced himself into her no matter what.
“Ahah!” he yelled triumphantly as he tore open the closet doors. Elizabeth flinched. She rathered the whipping man and the man with a bucket of rats. Their cruelty wasn’t unusual. “Come out now, dearest.” Elizabeth didn’t move. He grabbed her and yelled angrier, “Get out here,” pulling her from the closet. She lost balance and hit the floor, and he dragged her across it.
He pulled her to her feet, holding her against the balcony, forcing her against it. “Come one come all!” he yelled, his voice filled with laughter and about to explode. “Don’t be afraid. It’s only the circus whore!” The servants filed in. No one dared ignore him. Nearly thirty were gathered looking on at her.
Some bore expressions of pleasure, the guards and formal men. Most faces were afraid. Most were women. Most were negros.
Celman forced his hand between Elizabeth’s cleavage under her dress. Then he grabbed the dress covering it and tore it away with a loud rip. He continued until nothing more was covered. Her body was in full display of the household. Celman laughed. “It’s only the circus whore!” he repeated.
Elizabeth had tears welling up in her eyes, but would not shed them or sob. They weren’t worth his satisfaction. She was red with fear and anger. With the humiliation he was forcing her into. She had done nothing wrong, and yet the punishment had been more severe because of it. She knew what came next. She heard him unbuckle his pants, and she knew the feeling of him inside her was coming even before it did. With each stroke of his, she was pressed harder against the balcony. It hurt, and the pain made the tears begin to fall.
“The slaves are free! Black, white, man or woman!” screamed the enraptured crowds. The movement had succeeded. Enough voices had yelled. Enough servants rebelled.
I’m free thought Elizabeth. She should be happy, she thought. She was happy. Celman meant nothing anymore. And yet, the pain and torture were still there, spikes of painful memory dug into her side.
Porter finished her drink in three swigs and presented the barman with her credit card. It had a picture of a dog on it. “Gonna need some id with this,” said the barman.
“I assure you it’s my card.” The barman shrugged. Nodding, Porter fished around her wallet for a few moments until she could find her id. “Here you are,” she said shortly. She didn’t feel like playing with the barman anymore.
“Elizabeth, huh? I wouldn’t have pegged ya’ with a name like that.”
“Porter, thank you,” she corrected.