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Fever Dream

(290 words)
by Selena Jardine


Tilly had an awful fever almost all that month of August. Fever in Mississippi in August is no joke, and while my papa and the sharecroppers were out in the fields harvesting, my sister and I were taking care of Tilly. She glowed like a tiny coal in the bed, sweating through the sheets as often as we changed them.

There was another fever in the air that I didn't understand. My sister, dressed in white linen, looked out the window at the fields, at the sun in the sky. Just before noon, she had an idea. We would take Tilly to the creek, she said. Cool her off. Do her good.

We carried Tilly, burning like an ember, to the creek, and put her in the trickle of water. I looked around, squinting into the oven-hot breeze, to see my sister disappearing like a swan into the woods. Dared I leave Tilly? She was not moving. She had not moved much lately, patiently waiting to be cooler. I followed my sister.

There in the woods, I saw my sister, naked as a swan, linen dress on the ground beside her, astride the strong black thighs of one of our tenants, John Washington. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her hands planted like pale starfish on his chest. He was looking at her so intently that he did not see me. I ran.

Perhaps it was twenty minutes before John and my sister came out of the woods. John put a kindly hand on Tilly's head.

“That little girl, she burning up,” he said. It was all I ever did hear him say. My sister did not say a word.

It was 1956. How could I say what I had seen?



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