Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

My Worst Fear
by Linda Banks

Of all the fields and woods and buildings and secret places of Belle Meade, there are only two places I hate. I hate the sugar house, with its giant black boiling pots, and its sickly-sweet vapors, and its perpetual heat and labor and sweat. Sometimes I think Hell is made out of boiling molasses. But even more than the sugar house, I hate the quiet little pond of water they call Blue- eye Pool. I think that once, perhaps, the water was clean and sweet, and it may have reflected the sky like a blue eye, but when I knew it, its water was murky greenish-brown, and it stank like something alive and decaying at the same time.

Babette and I must have been about seven or eight on the particular day I am talking about. It was late in the spring, and Babette's lessons were finished for the day, so Mlle. Belvoir said we could go outside for a frolic. Babette and her Little Dark Shadow, she called us. And that is how I see us to this day. Babette, the important one, the one worthy of attention, the shining one, and I the darker, shabbier shadow.

The canefields were bright green, and the cane was growing so fast you could see it get bigger if you just stood very still and held your breath. Babette and I were hopping and twirling through the Nearer Meadow, stopping now and then to pick loosestrife and daisies. We tried to make them into long chains like the children in The Pied Piper of Hamelin carried, but the chains always fell apart. Obviously German children knew some clever weaving tricks we did not, or maybe German daisies stuck together better. At any rate, we untied our bonnet strings and let them hang poetically down like the Pied Piper children did.

We were running past Blue-eye Pool and holding our noses when a finger of a breeze flicked Marie's bonnet off her head and into the murky water. It sat on the filthy surface, right at the edge of a blanket of chartreuse scum. I thought for a second about the time Babette dropped a penny down the hole in the outhouse. The pink ribbons, spread out on either side of the bonnet, were beginning to darken and sink. "Oh, Holy Mary, Holy Mary," Babette cried. "Miranda, you must go and get it, go and save it. My beautiful bonnet."

I walked slowly over to the reedy edge and looked to see how the deed might be accomplished. I tried not to breathe, but the smell came through anyway. Rays of sunlight slanted down through the water and were extinguished. There were little red leeches, floating in the gloom like evil berries, and the muddy bank was soft with decay under my feet. I thought that perhaps I might break off a stick from the dead tree next to me, and reach out with it. The stick was stronger than I had expected, and I had to yank at it and bend it back and forth. "Oh, hurry up, Miranda," Babette cried. "My bonnet is drowning for sure."

I yanked again, and then I was breathing the dark water, but the fearful thing could not be happening, and all I saw was brackish green and stinging, and it could not be happening, and my feet were kicking down onto soft, ever so very soft, warm something that kept falling away and would give me no purchase, and soft, long things like satin were brushing against my arms, and it could not possibly be happening. But I was guilty and it was my fault. The world does not play. There is to be no playing in the world. My head broke the surface, and I was choking and screaming. I had never been taught to swim, of course, but some ancestral memory was shocked into awaking, and I found myself treading water and flailing my arms about, still screaming. Scum and long strings of green things were in my hair and on my shoulders. Babette stood on the shore, her mouth forming a perfectly round O. Then she turned around and ran away. I knew then that I would spend the rest of my life in Blue-eye Pool, kicking my feet and screaming at the bulrushes.

"Don't you worry, little one." It was a man's voice, Le Maitre himself. "Be assured you are not going to drown today." He was leaning outward over the muddy bank, holding out his hand to me. How very dirty he must have gotten his white suit. And then I was on solid ground again. I stood up, shaking as if I had a chill. I looked at myself, and there were some of the red leeches, stuck to my arms and legs. I had not felt them there at all, not the least little bit, and there they were, stuck to me and drinking my blood, and that made me begin to scream again. I tried to pull them off, but Maitre took me by the wrists and then lay me down on the grass, and he took his cigar and burned each one until it fell off.

"You are such a tiny little thing," he said. "Your bones are very delicate. Almost as if, as if..." and his voice trailed away. He picked me up in his arms and carried me back to the Big House and gave me to Mama. I was still shaking as Mama wrapped me up in an old quilt. I slept until well after dark. It was the first time since my infancy that I had been allowed to sleep during the day.

Bucks County Writers Workshop