May 19th, 1821

I do not know uncle George. Not that I ever thought I really did, but what I realized today is that I have no right to assume an apparent superficiality does not veil a certain complexity, a depth, an inspired solitude.

At noon, aunt Emeline left for town where she was meeting with the mayor’s wife I believe. I did not know where uncle George was. The maids did not know whether to prepare a meal for him or not. I was not very hungry and only took a slice of lemon pie baked this morning. I ate it while walking in the garden. The wind was absent and the nature still. I walked slowly towards the horse stable, pie crumbs falling on the grass, ants changing their path to collect them. I was hoping the gardener’s son was working in the stable, taking care of horses. I was already imagining his compassionate hands stroking a patient white horse.

When I approached the stable, a warm, earthy smell rose from it. It reigned the same silence you hear in churches during prayer, a silence interrupted by the sound of children playing with their mothers’ bibles, men wiping the sweat off their forehead, old ladies kneeling slowly, a priest muffling a cough. I could only see three of the five horses uncle George owns. I could not see the mare who I know was pregnant. One of the box stalls was empty. I thought uncle George took the horse for a ride.

I approached the other stall, the mare’s one. Ruby is her name. She was there, lying down. Uncle George was there too, kneeling beside Ruby’s face, his back facing me, his body leaning forward, his head against her neck, one hand caressing her long ear. I stood there for a moment. I know uncle George’s knees hurt when he stands up after dinner. But there he was, his old body folded near this large animal, like a child sleeping next to a dog. He was whispering to Ruby things I will never know. She sighed a few times. Uncle George respectfully put his hand on Ruby’s belly. There was hay on the bottom of his pants, dust in the air, softness in his voice, maybe poetry in his words.

He was a different man than the one I thought I knew, a man who seemed to measure the sacred nature of all life, the deep and thick mystery that surrounds our relationship to other species, our place among them, a mystery more full of wonder, faith and humility than the one a man on a cross inspires.

May 18th, 1821

I think I met the man who was in my dream.

He is the son of the new gardener. Aunt Emeline did not keep the previous one for the reason that he was smiling too much and she thought it was suspicious, that he was possibly stealing gardening tools whose names she ignores. I think he was just really happy to be working outside, to have his hands in the ground, to look at flowers and feel the sun on his back, not have to talk to anyone, just be alone with his thoughts and the plants and the bees.

The new gardener is older and smiles a little less. I heard a maid say that yesterday, he and his son moved in the little house at the other end of the property, just where the fields begin. I can see it from my window. Emeline did not introduce me to them of course.

Early this morning I went to the kitchen to refill my water jar. The corridor was silent. The maids were outside washing tablecloths. As my foot touched the cold tiles of the kitchen, I saw a man standing over the table, his back towards me, almost perfectly still. Hector was laying on the table, next to a ham and drying dishes, his gray tail swaying slowly. The young man was caressing Hector’s head in a very gentle way, avoiding his ears. Hector closed his eyes. I stayed there, in my cotton nightgown, with the empty jar in my hands. I looked at the back of the man’s neck, his short dark hair, his long hands. He was not very tall. I wanted to see his eyes but did not want to interrupt this silent scene, his soft gesture, the beauty of his neck.

Hector looked at me, stood up, jumped off the table and came towards me. The young man turned slowly, following Hector with his eyes until they met mine. He jumped. I must have looked like a ghost with my white nightgown and tousled hair. He apologized for having come into the kitchen, said he was the gardener’s son, that his father was talking with aunt Emeline in the living room, that he was going to live in the little house and help with the garden, the pond and uncle George’s horses. I looked at his lashes, his beard and the perfect shape of his lips while he talked. I think he said something about Hector but I am not certain of it. I remember he stopped talking at some point, maybe he was waiting for me to move from the entrance of the kitchen so he could join his father in the living room. Maybe not. He just looked at me and smiled. His blue-green gaze was so deep I was afraid to fall into it. I looked away and regretted having done so. I moved slowly, almost reluctantly, so he could leave the kitchen and for a few seconds he did not move. He just smiled again and said “I hope to see you around. If you cannot remember the name of a flower, a plant or a fish, come find me”. I did not say anything, did not share my own hopes, did not find any words among all the ones floating in my mind that would sound right. I wanted to hear him say the names of all existing flowers, plants and fishes.

He left the kitchen, leaving a scent of thyme and tobacco on my thoughts.

May 17th, 1821

The air is warm in my room this morning. It is like a nest for my dreams, keeping them alive a little longer before a maid opens the door and lets them die of reality.

The small trees in front of the window create moving shadows on the ceiling. I stare at them. My neck is damp. I do not move my body. It holds the memory of the dream I had. I want to retrieve it. I am careful to only move my eyes and my head very slightly, as if the rest of my body was still asleep, carrying traces of something, someone my awaken brain erased too fast.

My nightgown rolled up during my sleep and I pushed the cover down to the foot of the bed in the middle of the night. I look at my body, pondering how much it changed. I can not remember what having the body of a little girl was like, what I was seeing of it. This once curveless, hairless, pleasureless body. I do not remember experiencing the world in it. I do not remember not seizing the sensuous nature of my relationship to the world. And nature.

There was a man in my dream. My knees just told me so.

The dream is sinking in the ocean of my consciousness. My scattered memories of it do not float long enough for me to retrieve everything. But my eyes save the image of the bottom half of his face. My neck saves the feeling of his warm breath and soft lips. My stomach saves the touch of his hands.

I will treasure them.

May 16th, 1821

The end of a very pleasant day. Aunt Emeline had a visit from a friend of hers who is named Mary-Ann and who is the wife of a renowned doctor. They live outside Charlottesville.

She spent the afternoon at the manor and brought her children with her. She has a boy named Jean who reminds me of dolls Father used to bring me back from his travels with his dark hair and pink cheeks. The other boy, Abby, has long lashes and often calls out an invisible dog which makes me smile and look around. Jean is 10 years of age and Abby 7.

The memory of my brother William was very present today as he passed away when he was only 8 years young. The souvenir of his face is becoming blurrier as time passes and I feel some guilt because I am not certain anyone else has a better memory of him than I do. Father never talks about William anymore and as I believe words help images stay alive within ourselves, I doubt Father has a clear image of William’s face in his mind and nor does my older brother John who seems to be a different man each time he comes visit me. I therefore feel as if I am the keeper of William’s memory. I remember very distinctly the sound of his breathing at night as he was sleeping in my bed since Mother died. There was something peaceful about William’s sleep, as if it was a place where Mother still was. I miss taking care of him, of someone really. I do not mind experiencing the world alone but I sometimes wish my reveries and thoughts were interrupted by a voice or a little hand that needs me.

This morning, before Mary-Ann and her sons arrived, Emeline has asked one of the maids to prepare some games for the boys. She was afraid they might have broken things out of boredom I suppose. Because Emeline does not have any children, there are no toys nor games in the house apart from a sad miniature house upstairs that no one is allowed to touch. I had some ideas so I went to the kitchen to ask a maid if I could take care of preparing games for the boys. She looked relieved and started peeling potatoes.

I went into my room and took pencils and notebooks from my drawer. I wanted to draw animals so that Jean and Abby could color them. But I am not as good at drawing as I thought. It does not matter if I try to draw a horse or a cow, all the animals I draw look like different breeds of dogs. I remember Mother told me once that when she was closing her eyes, she was seeing many lovely images. But when I close mine, I see darkness, and if I try to see a horse, it never remains a horse long enough, it transforms itself into another animal or gets hurt and I can not choose what happens to it. However I can draw what I see around me but it takes time. I finally decided to draw Hector sitting, sleeping, walking, eating. He is a patient cat, probably because of his age which makes it less of a virtue. It is merely resignation I believe.

Abby and Jean did enjoy coloring my drawings even though their politeness masked their children’s soul for a while. I do believe children should be polite but these boys’ education makes all their manners and words so… adult. When they sat at the table, they looked at my drawings as if we were going to discuss finance and picked color pencils like their life depended on it. It made me smile. I started coloring using an orange pencil. Abby noticed it and told me I was wrong because Hector is gray. His lack of imagination startled me. I did not know there were rules! To see his reaction I colored the tail in green. He looked at me and smiled like a child who still sees magic in the world he lives in, a world where cats can be green, invisible dogs have to be scolded sometimes and toy trains go to India in no time.

When they left, Jean gave me one of the drawings he colored. On it, Hector was blue and was wearing glasses. Jean had also added a book near Hector titled “Mice Soup”.

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