Florence Noble looked up from the tin plate of greens and potatoes on the home-carpentered oak table beside the drawstring bed on which she sat. "How come you ain't gone like the rest, Annie?"
Annie gazed into the blackness beyond the plate glass window as if searching for someone. "I can't just up and leave the place where I give birth to six children, Miss Florence. I gotta do something for them babies."
Mrs. Noble shook her head 'no,' chewed and swallowed the last of her food. "Dang food don't taste right anymore. I'm not sure I like this sauce you been using on the food lately. —Annie, Don't be silly. Babies come, babies go."
"Yes, ma'am, they all gone, like smoke up the chimney, but it hard to forget 'em. Don't you think they was all pretty, ma'am?"
"I don't think about 'em, and neither should you. Anyway, I've been too sickly lately to think much about anything."
"Harry was m' first one. Your first baby is like your first love. His first smile still crackle like fire all through m' body."
"You ain't the only one with troubles, girl. I got to figure how to hold on to this farm, with all the men gone. I still cry about my boys, John and Raymond, buried in unknown graves at Shiloh." Mrs. Noble's voice weakened. "And now their daddy, James, is dead at Gettysburg. And my three male slaves done run to the Yankees."
"Robby was m' second one. He could talk so good when he was just two. 'Momma, pick Robby up, pick Robby up, Momma.' I can still hear his sweet little voice. But you sell him fore he was three."
"Annie, you stop this. I'm not feeling well. Stop it!"
"But I gotta tell you bout Ester."
"Did you hear me?"
"Ester cried the most when the trader took her. She almost pull m' skirt off. And I was crying as much as she was."
Miss Florence grabbed her walking stick from the bed and shook it in Annie's face. "One more word about them children and I'll whack you good! Just because I've been down with the 'grip' this past week, don't think I can't do it."
"I stop, I stop. Anyway... I pregnant again, and this seventh baby I git to keep."
"What?" Seemingly exhausted, Miss Florence lay back on her pillow. "Nonsense, that child will be sold, like all the rest."
"Oh, no ma'am. This seventh child gonna stay with momma. We gonna be free."
"You'll be free when I say so, and I don't say so."
"Mr. Lincoln say so, ma'am."
"Mr. Lincoln? That Jew ain't bought you. I did. Now go do them dishes."
"I can't, ma'am."
"Why can't you?"
"Cause tonight a wagon waitin' for me side Red Creek. Tonight me, and m' seventh child gonna cross the Rappahannock and go to the Union line."
"You fool! You told me your plan. Now, I'm gonna ring that bell outside that window till my neighbor, Benson, and his boys come and horsewhip that foolishness out of you."
"No ma'am. You ain't gonna do that."
"And why not?"
Annie could not restrain a soft smile. "Cause I ain't tell you m' plan till you done eat m' greens with mushroom sauce - ma'am."
Earnest Thompson is a graduate student at The University of Georgia. He is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in Creative Writing. Over the past three years, Thompson has published several dozen essays in Southern Distinction Magazine and the Atlanta Voicenewspaper. Thompson comes to The University of Georgia after a 30-year career in software engineering and technical writing. He considers himself a "recovering geek."