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Excerpt from “The Ark”

Somewhere between New Orleans and Punta Gorda, Amelia tucked the engagement ring into her change purse. It clinked against her worthless confederate coins, minted with the head of Jefferson Davis the previous year. She closed her eyes and breathed in the acrid salt air, foreign to her nostrils. Once, Mr. Balroy brought fresh oysters from the coast and Amelia sat with Millie while Millie’s scarred hands shucked. She hummed to herself in Gullah, rocking as she shucked, her eyes half closed. Amelia tried shucking an oyster herself, but the sharp shell sliced her fingers, the knife slippery with the oysters’ liquor. Millie worked in a trance, her hands sliding quickly and deftly over the shells without blood, without strain. Amelia missed Millie, and this led to missing the farm, the breathless stretches of indigo in spring, the scent of her mother’s lavender rising to her window at night. The sea air brought these tiny memories, plucked beyond memories of war and her mother’s death back to the front of her mind, where she could reconstruct the exact moment she first saw oysters. Millie shucked them and then retired with her corn meal to eat with the other slaves behind the house as the oysters glowed under candlelight, arranged in a bed of ice and silver. Amelia remembered the most important part of the meal, the superiority she felt as deft Millie hunkered in dust with an earthenware bowl and Amelia spat a perfect, tiny pearl onto her mother’s bone china, which her father crated and shipped from Austria on a tobacco run to Europe. Amelia kept the pearl, a homely, unpolished rock, in her etched glass jewel box. She wondered now if the pearl had made the trip.

Frances Badgett