thirty-seventh Moon Prize for the May 18, 2019 full moon goes to Elise Stuart's
haunting story "They Took Her Away."
They Took Her Away
by Elise Stuart
past suppertime, the first star almost out―and here come the wagon, bumpin’ the same old way down the road. But mama, she ain’t in it. Only Mister Baxter, he drivin’, and no one else. They took her away this mornin’, and I know they musta sold her.
I go to my
daddy and look at him. He knows. Before I say a word, he knows. His eyes get
soft for a minute and then he turn away.
“Hey, Charles, pass that jar over here.” That jar of corn brew, he mean. It smells strongand makes my daddy weak. I call
him “snarlin’ man” when he has a hold of
that corn liquor. ’Cause that’s what he turns into—his words hurt, just like that whip he hate so much. Worst thing is, my
daddy can’t do nothin’’bout anything. He can’t stop Mister Jack, the overseer, from hittin’me. And he can’t get mama back.
The dark pulls me outside.
I’m no child. I don’t cry. I’m 12 year old. The blood
started lastspring—and that means I’m almost growed.
I see the moon on her back. She’s always there. She stay in the sky, far away, but she
always lets me see her, except for a night or two. I figure she needs a rest
sometimes. I sing her a song, ask her to watch over me, ’cause my mama gone.
“Wake up, girl. Come get some corn mush.” It’s Daddy, lookin’ down at me.
up, brush out my dress. I musta fell asleep watchin’ the moon. The sun, he risin’.Another
day of workin’—it looks like a long tunnel stretched out in front of me.
All there is is pickin’ cotton, day after day, row by row. There be Sundays off,
but by then we all so tired, we just sleep. Sunday nights, though, there is
singin’’round a fire in the evenin’. That’s the best time. During
the week, I hum by myself or sing out in the fields with the others, my voice juststartin’ to be my voice.
the day, I come back to get the water bucket to carry out to the field, and
Evan, the oldest boy of Mister Baxter, stop me. He say, “Come here.”
I don’t want to, but I do. He say, “You’re grown up now, aren’t you, Callie?” And I, proud, say, “Yes, sir.” Then he grabs me and
pulls me over to the smokehouse and I know I can’tscream
and I don’t like what he is doin,
pullin’ up my skirt and puttin’ his thing in me and hurtin’ me bad, and then it’s over and he pushes me down and says: “Don’t you tell.” And buttons up his pants and walks out. I just sit there.
A little bit of blood runs out of me and I close my eyes. Then I know I got to
get up and get water before Mister Jack notices I am gone too long. It hurts when I walk but I can’t care now. I got to get water.
other times when Evan pulls me off somewhere. When my belly starts to grow, I
know what it is.
look at me one day when I tying on my apron loose, tryin’ to keep it hid, but she sees.
She look me straight in the eye and say:“I’ll help you when it’s time, Callie.” I nod to her and put my
head down quick before she sees the tears. My shoulders let go, jus’ knowing someone will be with me.
It’s almost time. I can feel it. My
belly skin stretched tight and I walkin’ slow. Auntie Jo call me over the other day and she tell me
what to do in case it happen and she not there.
twilight, the time b’tween the bright and the
dark, and I on my way home from the field and water starts
comin’ down between my legs,
surprisin’ me. I see the little
patch of woodswith trees
and a spring and I head that way, to sit a while. When I almost to the old
stump,the pains start. Not
too bad. Then a sharp one come that make me sit down right on the ground.
“Oh,” I say, careful not to be
too loud. Then it’s as if somethin’ takes over and it isn’t me.There is
another big hammerin’ pain and then the baby
moves down. Auntie Jo said to squat, so I do, hangin’ onto the old stump with one hand and the ground with the
other. Lay my apron on the ground under me. And what else did Auntie Jo tell
me? Oh, breathe and pant out like the dogs. Then push. So I do. And I feel
somethin’ comin’ and it is comin’ out of my body, and it is big and I cry out,
forgettin’ all ’bout careful. Then another pain and then something harder
come out and I feel the baby’s head with my ground
hand, and almost fall over, so put my hand back and start to push some more. It
easier, and then I feel it all out of me and I
remember there is more,the
afterbirth, she say. So I wait and then push hard, and it wriggles out too.
connect to that cord―the baby, my life, but I
have to separate it now and Ihave nothin’ so I lean over and bite the cord in two, close to its belly, and pick the baby
up.It not cryin’. It lookin’ around, peaceful-like.
But then I look closer―it white. White skin and
dark brown eyes, with a mole by its mouth, just like the one Evan has. God, no, it white . . .
I lookaway. I don’t want to see it. I can’t keep a white baby. Jesus, what can I do? I look at it and
hate it so much I could spit and love it so much I want to hold it to me.
It look at
me. How’m I gonna take care?
Mister Baxter would know when he saw it. Ibreathin’ hard and I bleedin’ and I cryin’. And then I see, clear as
day, “Baby, you got to go.” And I crawl back a ways from the stump and I dig a hole,
with my hands, and she start to cry and I rip a piece of my apron and stuff it
in her mouth, and she just look at me. She don’t hate me.She just look at me and I look at her—for the last time. And I cover her up with dirt and I cover
her up with some of my heart, and give her to God.
myself in the little spring and I say “Good-bye, baby” and I make a little cross of twigs and then I get scared and
throw leaves on the grave and more dirt and oh God, I runnin’ out from there, runnin’ until my legs buckle under me and I fall. Still the woods
hold me, and I sob and sob and wait–wait for the moon but it is one of the nights she doesn’t show herself. She’s not there.
now, and Auntie Jo give me herbs to drink and help to clean up proper. I tellher what I do and she say, “You not the first. There many girls and womens do what you
she put her arm around me. I look up at her and say:“Really, truly?” And she nod and say,“You did what you had to
do.” And then I cry and see
she cryin’ too, for all the lost
singin’ start. I see the fire
outside and people around it. Daddy there. The sound
comes in the open door and raises me from my bed. “Up above my head” is the one they singin’. I go outside and sit on
the step and listen. Sometimes the music is the only thing that make me go on.
It take the sad feelin’s and mix it up with the love feelin’s, and things make some kind of sense in my head.
Sometimes I sing, but tonight I
just listen and wait for the moon to show herself. And there she is, my moon. I
watch when she come up and ask her to watch over me ’cause my mamagone. The singin’ keeps goin’ and the sweet sound goes
inside of me―to fix what is broken.
Her first collection of poetry, Another Door Calls, came out in the spring 2017, then she published
a memoir My Mother and I, We Talk
Cat in the fall of the same year. She continues to write
poetry and short stories, host an authors' radio show, and work with youth,
aware of how vital it is their voices be heard in