I hated the summer nights more than anything. It had nothing to do with the long, hot and humid nights. Growing up in the Deep South I was as accustomed to the heat as anybody could get.
In the winters all of the shutters were pulled to and latched. The windows were closed. The heavy curtains were drawn at night to keep out the draft. Three layers of wood, glass and the best material this side of the Mississippi kept the house silent at night. But in the summers, sometimes in the late springs, curtains were pulled back and windows were open and the shutters no longer blocked the night sounds. This was the beginning of my sleepless nights each year.
The land we lived on and the house we lived in was my granddaddy’s and his daddy’s before him. My mother was the only surviving child of six. When she married the land went to my daddy. Since my mother only birthed girls this beautiful land went to my husband when poppa died. It helped that I had married well and he proved to be a good business man. Poppa loved John like a son and better than his own daughters.
I never paid much attention to the sounds until I was older. It was after John and I married that realized what was going on. I went to momma. I cried tears of despair in her lap. She stroked my hair and told me it was not my place to ask John any questions. This was business and the best way to keep a plantation thriving was through the labor of the negros working the land. The way we kept cost down was by creating our own laborers. That’s one of the reasons we had huge profits. She tilted my chin up until I was looking her in the eyes and she said, “Never mention this conversation or cry another tear. This is our way and has been for generations. Now get up and make yourself presentable to your husband when he walks through the door.”
I did as I was told. In all the years of marriage I never said another word. But the night cries kept me awake. The seasons held me hostage. No amount of singing, cotton in my ears or strong drink could drown out the night.
It was not love, she told me. It was business. It was how we as a family continued to thrive. It was necessary.
I believed every word until I saw a mulatto baby boy toddling around the quarters. He was an exact replica of John. Only with brown skin and curly hair. I had yet to give him an heir. Much like my mother I was cursed with girls. Three beautiful girls who adored their father as much as he adored them. But still, only girls.