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The Place of Eve Martin
I clutch my frayed straw hat tighter as if it could simply just leech all the courses of heat from my sticky with sweat body. It’s blistering hot, everything I touch practically pulsating with heat, and if that’s not bad enough, it’s incredibly humid. My waist long dull blond hair twists in a multiple of kinks and a wispy hallow of frizz sticks up, jutting out of the top of my hat.
I wade through the ocean of flowers, plucking bundles of the stuff as I go, tucking them safely inside my wicker basket. Violets, Daffodils, Tulips, Irises, and Queen Anne’s Lace all curl around the rim of my basket, gazing up at me, their laughter ringing through the premises. Trees scattered around the entirety of the field obscuring the flowers and the spring fed pond from view of any prying eyes, their leaves fluttering lazily like butterfly wings caught on a sudden sliver breeze. I extend my arms slightly feeling the wind wrap around me like a cool, silk woven blanket of comfort. A gasp of satisfaction escapes me and ribons of pale blond hair dance in the breeze, curling and uncurling around my face like a cobra caught in the sudden beat of the flute. At that moment I imagine I can fly, soaring over every treetop I’ve ever looked at and thought I couldn’t climb, soaring above everyone’s heads that ever thought I wasn’t good enough for their presence and when they would say “Come down from there, it’s much too unsafe!” and I would say “Why don’t you try it? It’s so much clearer from up here!” I would soar higher than any bird would ever dream to fly.
I come back to reality with a sharp pang of disappointment.
I go to the pond, feeling the lush sheets of moss under my bare feet and squishing the soft clay in between my toes. I peel off my plantation worker uniform, consisting of a plain brown cotton shirt that sags at the sides and pants that pools at the ankles, giving the illusion that I’m swimming in a muddy brown lake, sodden with sweat. This is my place. Not a soul has stepped foot in this enchanting nook except for me and the occasional passing squirrel.
I take a few steps back, preparing for the jump, and leap into the ice cold chambers of the water’s heart. I dive down deep into the rocky bottom, bubbles rising around me and enchasing my body in soft kisses. I float slowly to the surface, reluctant to leave the friendly bubbles below me because I know they can’t go where I’m going. When I finally emerge, my teeth are practically chattering despite the bone dry air that tightens around me like a closed fist. You would think, since it’s as hot as the deepest pits of Hell here, the water would be a murky shade of feces brown and sickly warm to top it off, like drinking hot chocolate on an day born of the month of June, but it’s not. It’s fed by a natural spring so it’s probably purer than our drinking water. In fact, I’ll guarantee you it’s purer than our drinking water, and here I am bathing in it’s crystal clear waters and soiling it with my sweat.
I retrieve my bar of soap, careful not to let it slip from my hand into the profound pond, slowly working off the layers of grim and left over fertilizer from the plantations. When we’re not at school we work on the plantations, caring for plants like corn and potatoes and cotton, always striving for the Annual Collection, the day the government takes ¾’s of our yearly crops, and the constant stream of agricultural products sent to the larger city counties that merely specialize in siting on their butts and eating our food.
But tomorrow we won’t have school or the ever laborious plantation duty. Tomorrow we’ll get to waste time and have fun, a rare luxury for people in our meager agricultural county, at Winter’s Retreat, our only holiday.
It’s a festival of sorts, some under luminous white sheet tents and others sheltered only by the resplendent starry sky over your head. It celebrates the end of a long hard winter of hunger and the beginning of a sun beaten spring, filled with an abundance of flourishing crops.
I settle my precious bar of soap gingerly into the basket, careful not to mar the flower’s beauty with the acidic chemicals, and climb unsteadily out of the glassy pool and dress in my old, smudged official plantation hand clothes. Suddenly aware of my own malodorous scent I snag a flower, holding it under my nostrils and start home.
It swing the old wooden door shut behind me and it shudders precariously even at the slightest impact.
“Eve?” I hear a voice call from the kitchen.
“Yes, Mama?” I ask from the sitting room, squeezing my eyes shut for a moment just to recapture the scene of my place one more time before I have to go to the somber dungeons of my room.
I knew I shouldn’t have gone to the pond today, the sun was far too set in the sky to go, but I just couldn’t wait anymore. My skin was itching for the cool water that was its single antidote.
“Eve Eleanor Martin, where have you been?” Mama asks in her shrill, staccato voice, which means I’m in trouble.
“I was at my place again, mama. I’m sorry but-“
“No buts. I was about to call up a search party for you. You come and sit yourself down for dinner right now.”
I shuffle to the dining room, feeling the heat of my brother’s smug gaze boring into my back.
I plop down in my earlier empty seat and look down at my plate of cold peas and boiled cabbage with distaste. Nothing could taste good right now.
“Where did you say you were again?” Benjamin, my younger brother, asks through a triumphant smile and a scrutinizing gaze.
“I was at my place.” I repeat riley.
“Oh honestly Eve, you’re nearly fifteen years old, your final exams are in a week! Why do you insist in believeing in such rubbish!” mama snaps over her barely touched peas.
“I believe her.” Sylvia, the youngest of us all, says in a meek tone barely audible over the din.
“Sylvia,” mama cried at her new traitor “Franklin do something. Franklin!”
Papa looked up from his suddenly quite interesting shoes and says in a quiet neutral tone. “Eve honey, your mother’s right. This has been going on for too long.”
I stand up suddenly, nearly knocking the table over in my haste. “Don’t. Just…don’t.” I whisper my voice cracking and tears springing to my eyes.
I cover my face in my sleeves and barrel out of the dining room, tears in a steady stream now.
That night, as I half-heartedly pretended to be asleep in my quarters, tears still glistening on my face, I hear the door creak open and a muffled thump as something heavy stooped down next to me.
“I’m sorry honey. I believe you. I really do.” I hear my father whisper as soft as a feather, and turn to watch him disappear out the door.