As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I am currently embarked on my once-a-decade revision of a novel I began nearly forty years ago – Sabra the Astonishing – and this time I’ve got the pruning shears out. The downside of this literary downsizing is that I occasionally stumble over pieces of writing that do not much to advance the plot, but of which I am inordinately, perhaps foolishly fond. That’s where having a blog comes in handy – the same way that having a ravine comes in handy when it’s Autumn and the leaves are falling. Blow it all in and let the composting begin!
And thus it will be with the recurring dream of a favorite character of mine, Queen-Esther Washington, the black housekeeper of Ararat, the Buck family’s estate just outside Endor, North Carolina. She’s kind of like Mammy in Gone With the Wind, only angrier.
Here is her dream.
It was the Last of Days. The trumpet of the Lord was blowing New Orleans jazz — smoky sweet — and the Cities of the Plain, Endor among them, melted like cardboard in the rain. The ground burst open as dead men popped out of their graves and there, plastered all over the sky, red-eyed and mad as a hornet, was Jesus Christ Himself.
Only Jesus wasn’t white. He was black like Queen-Esther, and He was glaring down at all the poor sinners, most of them no more than bones and patches of cloth and buttons hanging on a thread as they gathered on the plain, stinking and lamenting. Those whose tongues had been torn out gnashed their teeth and struck their dry bones together to produce a hollow sound like that of a zydeco frottoir. Loose teeth and hacked-off limbs danced underfoot and aborted fetuses and miscarried ones, too, crawled around on tiny hands and knees, bleating for their mothers.
In the meantime, Jesus is busy dividing up the sheep from the goats — there are some black goats, but mostly white — and, as He does this, a great chasm opens in the earth, from which leaks a terrible stink of rotting eggs and the howl and hiss of demons. The eyebrows and hair of all nearby sinners begins to curl and singe and people cry out, “Not me!” But Jesus answers them back, “Yes, you! You and you and you!”
This is where Queen-Esther comes in, for in her dream she is an angel, an avenging angel, with big snow-white wings like those of a monstrous dove. And when Jesus roars in the voice of the lion, “Yes, you. You and you and you,” well, it’s Queen-Esther who grabs those wretched sinners by their lily white shoulders and, no nonsense now, chucks them into the stinking pit.
Goodbye, Queen-Esther’s recurring dream. I will miss you. Compost in peace.