Two Crowns Plantation, Jamaica
September 30, 1729, by the old reckoning
Never step over a lighted candle. If you do, the flame she rise and the Shush-shush come and take you.
Gumboo. I used to laugh when my favorite person on this earth, Old Poe, furrowed her brow and whispered that like a singsong rhyme, then put her finger against her lips, saying, “Hush, now, child. Don’ tease de devil, now, child.” When I heard Ma say it just now across the supper table, all fine and glowing with porcelain and crystal, and me nowhere near a candle other than those high above in the chandelier, it made me run cold, deep in my bones. There were few things in the life of a young girl wearing her first long skirts more treacherous than a candle on the floor. I held a picture I had drawn in India ink on heavy paper. A drip had formed at the bottom edge, pulling the shoe on one of the figures to unnatural length. My eyes went from my drawing to Ma, to Uncle
Rafe. He had just invited me to sit upon his knee and show it to him.
My sister Patience had called me to dinner many minutes earlier and I had ignored her summons to put some finishing touches on it that were now ruining the picture. It depicted two little girls, one white, one black, holding hands and running across the white-sand beach. Their faces smiled quite cunningly, I thought. The figure of my dear Allsy in the picture held up an apple, precious fruit shipped here from far away, the last apple we shared, the danger of it so like one of my favorite stories in which a princess sleeps for a thousand years after a single bite. I had drawn crowns over Allsy’s and my heads, as if she and I were princesses.
Uncle Rafe slammed his tankard of rum on the table boards, and said, “Aye. A girl’s petticoats catch fire soon enough. Tender as tinder.” He laughed and winked at Ma, his face all bright and sweating in a way that made me push his cup and plate over into his lap. I stuck out my chin, thinking old Rafe did not know aught about a fiery petticoat. Uncle Rafe roared and hollered, “God’s balls!”
I may have been ten years old but I knew Rafe was not my real uncle, and that Pa’s voice got thin and Ma’s hands trembled when he was in the house. I stood and stuck out my tongue just as Pa came into the dining room, buttoning his vest, with Patience and our brother August, following him. He looked from Uncle Rafe to Ma and to the mess on Rafe’s pants and me standing there with hellfire in my eyes.
I am old, now, wizened, some might say. I will tell you how I came to this place from that potent evening so long ago and so far across the oceans. The day after I was born my parents named me Resolute. Pa said it gave me an aspect of solemnity and perseverance, which are pretty things for a child with a sanguine humor. It was a good name for a girl, Ma always added, and there was nothing wrong with a girl being confident and ruddy. A boy could grow to “make a name for himself,” but a girl needed a special one from birth.
I knew all about fire. I had been playing with Allsy when we were both but six years old and my family had been on the West Indies island of Jamaica for the same six years. Allsy and I had been hiding in the priest’s hole, up the steps behind the fireplace. I brought two cakes and an apple for us to share and she carried a burning candle, placing it on the floor. I jumped over it. As I did, my petticoats made the flame bob and nearly go out. The edge of my skirt got a brown place and we held it between us, curious, as the spot grew and grew. A yellow tongue of flame suddenly burst from it, licked at us and burned my fingers. Allsy slapped her hands upon it and crushed out the flame. She winced, but made no sound; putting her hands over her mouth, she made the sign of the cross as long black shadows of us spun around in the stair tower like ghosts dancing.
We held our breaths. We laughed. Hand in hand, we climbed up to the widow’s walk on the highest part of the house where we could see far and wide across the ocean. In the distance, storms sometimes carried on all day, lightning dancing upon the water against a backdrop of gray roiling clouds like a silent mummer’s play, never a stray wind ruffling our hair. We watched, hoping for the rise of a mast that might mean cloth or shoes or more of Ma’s precious goblets made of real glass. After we got tired of mocking seagulls squealing at each other, we shared a cake and took turns eating the apple."
I had stepped over a candle and nothing had happened. I thought we were safe.
2013 Nancy E. Turner
Name is Resolute Release Date
Available Online at
A Million Indie