The view absolutely took his breath away. She was a living doll. Dark chocolate Shirley Temple curls cascading down her face and gently caressing her shoulders. Long eyelashes curled up at the ends, softly sweeping her cheeks when she closed her eyes-clear, doe-brown eyes with irises a gentleman could drown in.  Dainty, lady-like hands, covered in white, God-approved church gloves. So clean, he wondered if her hands ever touched anything and he trembled at the thought of her hands touching him. Shaking his head to clear his mind of witching hour thoughts, he continued his slow perusal of the beauty before him. Her dress was a rose blush pink, embroidered with tiny flowers so small one could be forgiven for thinking they didn’t exist. He stepped closer, desirous of seeing what they were and was thoroughly delighted to find they were small stars-how appropriate for a creature as heavenly as she. On closer inspection, he noted that she wore a pristine white crinoline beneath her dress. Rows of fluffy material harkening back to a simpler time. In his mind, a better time, when men were men and ladies were her.

A gentle breeze, combined with her scent, made his nostrils flare. Magnolia. A frisson of joy rushed through him and he whispered to Heaven, “Much obliged,” as his mind’s eye recalled sweet summer days in Kennesaw, Georgia. Sweet, like the delicate fragrance of the magnolia flowers, enveloping lovers as they whirled around at picnics, socials and such, filling up their dance cards with names of potential mates. Keenly aware of course, that they could choose just one in the end. Reverend Thomas often made it clear that the Lord’s word had to be obeyed no matter how much Lucifer enticed an Old Testament body to stray. He closed his eyes and savored the image that remained of her, along with the lingering scent. Breathing in, one breath, two breaths, three…breathing out, long, slow, steady, completely enraptured. Eyes opening, control unravelling, hand jelly quivering, he reached out to touch her and noted that her gaze was fastened on him. And the breath he had just released caught in the back of his throat. His heart beat like the wings of a dove-peaceful-because now he knew he wasn’t alone in this place. Though when he turned to look at her once more, before his touch burned through her dainty clothing, he noticed the dilation of her pupils. For one brief moment he wondered if what she felt wasn’t the same desire. Could it be that his darling little girl, sweet thirteen and never been kissed, didn’t love him at all? 

That night, he paid a call on her. The swing had just enough room for them both; her crinoline fluttered along the side of his left thigh as they rocked steadily back and forth. Each time the gauzy material revealed itself, he yearned for a longer touch, a deeper connection. He was a patient man; biding his time in order to savor the delights of his beloved should have been easy. After all, having traveled this path many times before, he knew that hastening the process always ruined the affinity they had built for one another. He didn’t want that to happen. Not this time. Somehow, he had to prevent this one from splintering into pieces. 

Whenever that happened it reminded him of the last time he broke a teacup from his mama’s reproduction of the Wilson service china. She had his daddy whup him good with a branch off the sticker briar tree. The swish of the brown briar branch through the air, before it hit his bare bottom, combined with the sounds of his mother’s voice,

“Edward, if I have told you once, I’ve told you more times than I care to recall, never to touch my Wilson china. I knew one day you would defy me and shatter one of the pieces and it just does not do to destroy something like this. Why, you will never be able to put it back together again.” 

His daddy’s mighty arm left marks he carried to this day. His mother’s voice and oh Lord that smell. Magnolia sweet, Georgia sweet. His senses were often overwhelmed by the memories. That was the day he felt alive. Only to have darkness he couldn’t see envelop him the way kudzu coiled around the house. But, as his daddy had said that day, with the last flick of the switch,

“Bet this’ll learn you something.”

And it did. It all became his sweet secret.

A small whimper erased the memories and he looked, once again, upon his girl. The pink lace tied around her mouth glistened. The moisture from her tongue akin to a light summer storm seeped through the delicate design. His heart beat in rhythm with her cries and he knew, just knew, she was happy he loved her. There were no lights on in the house. The special house he had constructed for her many years ago, when he had first set his eyes upon a similar version of her. A boy of sixteen at the time, all lanky limbs and a beard made mostly of bristle, his first glimpse was enough to make him flush with nerve tingling joy. He didn’t question the turgidity of his flesh. Or the dampness he felt. Though his first girl was only six at the time. Why, on that very day he saw her in church, the day the Lord made holy, Reverend Thomas had preached about them saying,

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

It was there, right there in Genesis 2. That he should have met her on the Sabbath, when a man of God preached about the Master’s plan, burned the truth of what he felt into his soul. He was meant to be part of her flesh. And not ashamed. As they always said in church when things were righteous, the Lord would add a blessing to the reading of the word. And she was that, his blessing.

Let the church say “Amen”.

She whimpered once more, and he reached out to caress her cheek as the memories of his first girl faded away. He was glad they did. If he remembered more, he would have to think on his last vision of her. When she was broken. He didn’t like that memory. 

So, he returned to the present, where his new doll lived, and his desires thrived. 

But when she shrank away from him, he was taken aback. Didn’t she want this too? He slowly reached for her again and when his hand felt the bow, tied so beautifully at the back of her head, he pulled it a little tighter. His lips drowned the sound of her cry.  As she moved against him, he felt his heart quicken and his desire tighten until all he believed in was the rightness of this moment. A moment that for Edward was as meaningful as Eisenstadt’s photograph, taken on a warm day in 1945 when surrender was celebrated with complete abandon.  


Grace didn’t have the words to tell him to stop; or the strength to make him.

His name was Edward. That much she knew. From church. Where he sat like a savior and sang like an angel. Today, he offered to show her where the sweetest magnolia blooms grew. He promised her that once she touched their silky petals she would never forget how they made her feel. That once she smelled their sweet nectar, she would never be able to wear store-bought perfume. For nothing could compare to God’s hands on nature’s canvas. Yet all she felt now was horror combined with a smell she would spend the rest of her life trying to forget. Magnolia sweet, Georgia sweet. Sickeningly sweet.

When he was done, she felt sticky, like the red candy that dries on apples at the fair. The space between her legs cried out in confusion. Her mama had always told her to “keep her dress down and her drawers up until the days of white lace and orange blossoms”. What good man would want her now. Now that she was a bad girl. 

He was smiling as he spoke. She couldn’t understand the words because her soul was clouded with shame. A shame so all-consuming it reminded her of the time she broke her daddy’s antique pocket watch. Her mama had punished her good with a belt passed down from generation to generation. She could still hear it whistle through the air as it hit her crinolined bottom, combined with the sounds of her daddy’s voice, crying for something she couldn’t replace.

And she didn’t know if she would ever be whole again.

He blindfolded her. Just as he had when he first brought her to this place. When they asked her if she could find it again, she could only shake her head. Her eyes couldn’t. But she knew, in her heart, that like a good hunting dog, her nose was open now. Or, as they said about those fast girls who hung around the boys down by the river, her nose was open because her legs had been. And she could find the place of her sin just by smelling the road that led to it. Lined with southern scents: maple wood, tobacco, and a flower that grew for miles around. Georgia sweet. She never showed them. It was easier to accept her torment than to relive her fear. 

Everybody said it wasn’t her fault. They didn’t blame her. Leastways that’s what they said out loud. She learned that what a body said when they spoke was often directly contradicted by their eyes and their ways. And that once a piece of you was gone you would never again be fully whole. 

When she was younger, people always said she was as cute as a daffodil on a green stem and wouldn’t some man be lucky to add her to his garden. 

She’d preen and blush and inside glow with accomplishment. It mattered to her that one day she would matter to a man.

One day, she would be wrapped in his arms and safe. 


He never said he was sorry. Her daddy and mama never made him pay. Not in word or in deed. 

It was assumed, because she went to smell the flowers, that she was like her Aunt Lilly. The one no one ever talked about because, well, she was faster than a coonhound on hunting day. 

She tried, once, to tell her daddy that she hadn’t known what would happen. That she believed all men were like him: decent, good, honorable. But he wouldn’t look her in her eyes when she tried. She stopped trying to convince him that she was still his good girl; and the part of her that Edward hadn’t completely destroyed, her soul, withered completely on the vine.

Grace kept her pain inside. Began to sit in the last pew in church because when she sat in the front, Reverend Thomas always found a way to change his sermon. To preach about the sins of the flesh. Looking at her when he did, simply to ensure that her shame became other girls’ lesson.

One Sunday, when the family was readying themselves to go to church, she stayed in her room and watched them from the bay window that used to cradle her and her dreams. Her mama looked up and for a minute, she thought mama’d call out to her to come along. 

When she didn’t, the final piece of Grace’s heart joined her soul. The damnation complete.

He didn’t have to hide. 

His parents found him a nice Yankee girl from somewhere just above the Mason-Dixon line. Yankee enough to have spirit; southern enough to have grace.

When they had their first daughter, she remembers that lightening quick moment of fear. The anguished feeling that one day, he would take her to visit the magnolias.  It was the first time in years Grace had felt anything beyond sorrowful shame. She thought about telling the Yankee. Years of ears being deaf and eyes being blind stopped her. If her own kind knew what she was, why would a stranger cotton to anything she had to say.

Silence became her only friend. So much so that people said she was touched. 

Not one said touch was what drove her mad.

Not even when they found the first bones. 

They were buried beneath a sticker briar tree. It was old, as old as sin. Its branches were bent as if they could no longer hold the weight of all they had seen. 

Men came from all around the county to help dig. While the Yankee stood on that magnificent porch and watched. While the girl, the first daughter, stood rigid beside her. All tears and confusion. 

Almost like Grace had once been.

Except this girl, Savannah may have been her name, didn’t seem ashamed. Her confusion was cloaked in something akin to rage. Dainty, lady-like fists clenched by her sides. Nails digging into her palms so hard they drew blood.

Grace, despite the distance, almost imagined the blood was candy apple sticky…dripping from the girl’s hand like accusatory fire. 

The bones were strewn about the property. 

Material clung to most of them, tattered remnants of dresses and dainties. Faded in some cases to brown. Earth clinging to others like Concord grapes on a broken trellis. 

Edward’s hands were behind his back. When a new discovery was made, he would smile and nod as if he remembered each one. Maybe he did. The rustling in the crowd that gathered didn’t seem to bother him overly much. In fact, when one set of bones was removed from just beneath the lowest hanging branch, he stood and preened his neck. The smile on his mouth widening so much one could almost be forgiven for thinking she was his favorite. 

As she was carried past him, on a litter so large she appeared exceedingly small, he stopped the searchers and looked down on what remained with the same eyes he revealed in church. Angel eyes in a devil’s body. The gathered quieted down as they observed him. All ears opened as he sang,

“Precious memories, unseen angels
Sent from somewhere to my soul
How they linger, ever near me
And the sacred past unfolds”

That’s when the eyes of the assembled turned towards Grace. 

Horror revealed. 

If she could have, she would have cried out to Heaven, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they did”. But her wounds were so old they were sealed deep in her bones. Bones as broken as the ones recently removed from the earth. The pain she had held inside for years had long since become a part of her body. Cut deep into her arms, covered by the long sleeves she wore. To give voice, again, to what she had lived would surely kill her. Or cause her to kill those who shamed her because it was easier than believing a gentleman could be less than gentle. Could be anything other than a man. Or that a southern “gentleman” could be Satan’s servant as opposed to God’s trumpet.

Edward kept singing. His voice piercing the air. The girl, Savannah, turned away. And as if that were the signal, the crowd began to disperse.

The sun slid behind the aquamarine clouds and his song kept playing; almost as though once he started to sing his god commanded him not to stop.

Finally, the sound of his voice dimmed, drowned out by the siren that carried him away to his reckoning.

The sight of the police car absolutely took her breath away. She lifted her hands and let her hair down, faded gray curls surrounding her face and gently caressing her shoulders. Her eyelashes curled up at the ends as she looked towards Heaven.

The sweet smell of magnolia wafted through the air, the crickets chatted with each other. The coon hound howled at the new moon.

Only grace was left.


Back To Top
Follow by Email