Plantationby Dorothea Benton Frank
Now, in this poignant mother-daughter story, Frank evokes a lush plantation in the heart of modern-day South Carolinawhere family ties and hidden truths run as deep and dark as the/i>
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Dorothea Frank's Sullivan's Island marked the debut of an exquisitely talented writer--and told the unforgettable story of one woman's courageous journey toward truth.
Now, in this poignant mother-daughter story, Frank evokes a lush plantation in the heart of modern-day South Carolinawhere family ties and hidden truths run as deep and dark as the mighty Edisto River...
"Think Terry McMillan meets Rebecca Wells by way of the Deep South and you'll be barking up the right bayou." The Mirror (UK)
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When I was twenty-three, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I enrolled at Columbia University in New York, much to the chagrin of Mother and everybody else I knew. Why the hell do you want to live in that horrible place? Why can't you get your master's at Carolina? If you want an MBA, go to Harvard! New York City is no place for a girl like you! What do you want a master's for anyway? You're just gonna get married and the whole thing will be a waste of your money!
I was highly tempted to reply that the reason I was moving to New York was to get away from people like them! But the nice southern girl in me couldn't bring myself to do it. We tried to keep our sass to a minimum. A hopeless endeavor.
Actually, I think the reason I did choose Columbia was simply for the experience of living in a major city and I knew the great financial minds were in New York. I had toyed with the idea of becoming an investment banker and a tree power broker. But that wasn't what Life's Great Plan had in store for me.
I had signed up for a psychology course as an elective, joking to myself that maybe I'd finally figure out my family if I could understand the machinations of the human psyche. In particular, I wanted to understand why I was so driven to leave South Carolina and why my family was so compelled to stay.
One hundred and seventy-five students were gathered in a small auditorium for class. The first day, lost and frazzled, I arrived a few minutes late. The professor,Richard Levine, was already lecturing. The hall was dead silent when I pushed the door open. He stopped talking and looked at me. So did everyone else. I was mortified.
"Nice of you to join us, Miss ...?"
"Wimbley," I said in a low voice, hoping he'd forget my name as soon as he heard it. He had an English accent and he was gorgeous. He looked a bit like Steve Martin and sounded like a diplomat. I wondered if he was married. From where I sat in the top row, I couldn't see a ring.
"Class begins at eight, Miss Wimbley, not"he stopped and looked at his watch"not at eight-fifteen."
He was smirking at me! It was obvious he knew I thought he was attractive. I could tell by the smirk.
"Yes, thank you. Sorry, sir." I tried to hide my fascination with his face.
"Whittaker? Kindly pass this to Miss Wimbley." He handed a sheet of paper to a fellow down front and it was passed back to me. I must've looked confused because he spoke to me again. "It's a syllabus, Miss Wimbley, not a summons for jury duty."
The class laughed My neck got hot. Great, I thought, this guy is gonna think I'm a dope. I cleared my throat to mark my annoyance. Jokes at the expense of others were not funny to me. I suppose I was overly sensitive. How about I was just embarrassed?
"As the great Freud said, `What does a woman want?'" he said.
Every male in the class guffawed and elbowed each other, agreeing with the professor. He was clearly pleased with himself. I knew that unless I wanted to be taken lightly, I'd better come up with a retort. I raised my hand.
"Yes, Miss Wimbley?"
"And the great Proust said, `All the great things we know have come to us from neurotics!'"
This took the class to the heights of hysteria while my professor, with the widest smile and cutest dimples, raised his arms over his head as if he were begging for mercy. The women in the class whooped and hollered.
"Dear God! She claims that Freud was neurotic!"
"Proust said it, sir, not me."
He pretended to pull a knife from his heart. The class was now nearly out of control.
"I'll see you after class, Miss Wimbley."
I couldn't wait for the hour to end.
We went out for coffee, and my days as Miss Bon Vivant, cyclone of the dance clubs, screeched to a fast finish. From the minute I saw him and heard him speak, I was so stupid over him, I couldn't sleep. He even made me feel like cooking! The next Monday, I invited him to my tiny studio apartment for dinner and when he accepted, I began to perspire. I couldn't boil water!
I went to Zabar's and straight to the fattest man I could find at the butcher's counter. I figured a fat butcher would know the difference between shoe leather and a steak I waited patiently for a man who had the name Abe embroidered on his apron.
"How much do you love this man?" he said to me.
"Enough to cook," I said, "and Lord knows, honey, I ain't no Betty Crocker."
"Youse southern and youse can't cook? Don't make no sense."
"Yeah, well, I can learn?"
"Humph." He looked me over like I should've been in the display case on crushed ice with parsley in my hair. "Too skinny," he said to no one in particular, which irked me.
"Well, then, sell me some food, Abe! He's coming at seven!"
"Take the veal chops. Rub 'em down with lemon juice, a little olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook 'em three minutes on each side under the broiler. Wrap 'em up in tinfoil for five minutes to rest. Give it to him with a baked potato and a salad with Roquefort dressing. Don't forget bread. You'll have dis bum eating outta da palm of ya hand."
"Thanks, Abe," I said, "I'll let you know how it goes."
"With my veal chops? Dar poor sucker don't stand a chance!"
I walked home to my studio on Ninety-fourth and Columbus, whistling a little tune. Then I realized I didn't have anything to drink for dinner and what the hell went with veal anyway? I stopped at a liquor store and poked around until the salesman was finished with another customer. He sold me two bottles of a pinot noir and I was on my way again, buoyed by false confidence.
When I got home, it hit me. I didn't have a table and chairs! God, was I stupid or what? My first-floor, L-shaped studio was so sparse the occasional visitor couldn't tell if I was moving in or out. I had a sofa and one huge armchair with a hassock, a stereo, no rug, tons of books on board-and-brick bookshelves, and a bed in the alcove. I had two hours to turn the miserable hole into something alluring. I'd ask the doorman what to do. They always knew everything.
Lucky for me, Darios was on duty. He was from Puerto Rico and, in the true spirit of Latin men, he flirted with me every time I saw him. He held the door for me and took the shopping bag from my hands. I was gonna give him a chance to prove his nerve.
"Good afternoon, Miss Wimbley!"
"Darios? I'm in big trouble and I need your help!"
In the dim light of the basement, Darios and I rummaged through the storage bins of possessions left by other tenants for safekeeping. It could've been the home furnishing department at Bloomingdale's, I had so many choices. It didn't bother me one ounce that these things belonged to other people. Tomorrow they'd go back to where they had been.
"Come over here! This is the Goldbergs' stuff. They're in Hawaii!"
He hauled the rug out first. "You wanna see it?"
"Nope. It's a rug and that's all that matters."
We chose a small round walnut table and two ladder-back chairs that were stacked on the side of the chicken-wire pen and within ten minutes my apartment looked one hundred percent better. Darios and I stepped back to observe.
"Needs plants," he said.
"Jesus, Darios, I can hardly afford this meal!" I was living on a tight budget imposed by Mother, probably to make me transfer to Carolina.
"Be right back."
The doorbell rang again and it was Darios with two enormous palms from the lobby. He put them in place on either end of the sofa and I gave him twenty dollars. At the door he said, "I'd rather have just one kiss."
"Go on now, you bad boy, or I'll tell your wife!"
I only felt like a criminal again for a few seconds. My mind returned to the mission, which was, even though I would have loudly and energetically denied it, to seduce Richard.
Naturally, I had no tablecloth. I took an old quilt from the closet and it covered the table to the floor. Flowers? Of course not. But I had books and that would work. I took three small volumes from the shelves, one of Proust, one of Flannery O'Connor, and the last, a book of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry. I used bronze bookends of hunting dogs to hold them upright. I wondered if he would notice the Proust.
Fortunately I had two votive candles, two unchipped plates, and enough matching flatware. Linen napkins? Not a chance. I used clean red dishtowels, which matched the quilt, sort of, and spray-starched them to death on a towel on the floor. In the end, the living area looked pretty darn cozy.
Then there was the matter of the bed. You can't hide a bed in a studio and mine was piled with stuffed animals from my youth. No man in his right mind could feel sexy surrounded by Snoopy dogs and Paddington Bears. I stuck them all under the bed and stood back. An improvement, to be sure, but no den of iniquity either. It was a box spring and mattress on a Harvard frame on wheels. Not even a headboard. Big deal.
Suddenly I wished I had the time and available cash to run to Laura Ashley and cover my bed in beautiful white linens and lacy pillows. I dug through my linen closet with a fury, pulling out everything and anything that would even mildly suggest virginity. This search bore little fruit, but I did manage to find a set of sheets with scalloped edges I had forgotten about, and a deep rose, soft wool blanket. I plumped the bejesus out of my four sorry-ass beat-up pillows, sprayed them with cologne, and decided it would just have to do. In a moment of sheer brazenness, I turned the bed down. Nap, anyone? I laughed out loud and looked at my watch. Six-fifteen. Forty-five minutes until kick-off. Okay, shower, shave, and moisturize.
Fifteen minutes later I heard the doorman buzzer. My hair was wet, I was wrapped in a towel, and Richard was early. Shit! What could I do? Nothing. I opened the door and there he stood.
"Am I early?" he said, handing me a bouquet of the deepest red roses.
"Oh! Thank you! Heavens to Betsy, no! Come on in! I was just, I was just, oh hell, did we say six-thirty? I'm sorry." My temperature rose to about one hundred and seven from embarrassment as I shut the door.
"I don't remember," he said, "forgive me. Caroline?"
"Yes?" We were staring into each other's eyes, my knees were inexplicably rubbery, and I felt like I was free-falling into space.
"I never dreamed someone could be quite so fetching in a towel," he said in a low quiet voice.
God damn. He sounded like James Bond again. Then I looked down at my bare feet and recovered immediately. "Doctor? Please allow this Magnolia a few moments to find her hoopskirts! Better yet, why don't you put on some music and open the wine?"
"Ah! God knows I love a woman with wit! Where's the corkscrew?"
"Second drawer on the left of the stove."
I put his flowers in the sink and hopped by him to escape. He couldn't resist tugging on my towel and I yelped and laughed. I did, however, lock the door to my bathroom while I did the fastest makeup and hair job of my life. I threw the proverbial sleeveless little black dress over my head, creamed the hell out of my legs and arms, and slipped on a pair of low-heeled black suede sandals. One gold bracelet, fake diamond studs. No doubt about it, I was going to have my way with him. He probably wouldn't even put up a fight.
When I showed up in the kitchen doorway, he handed me a goblet of red wine and exhaled. We clinked glasses, took a sip, and our eyes never left each other's face.
"I need to cook dinner," I said. My voice was husky and uneven.
"Would you mind terribly if I kissed you first? I've had the shape of your mouth on my mind all day."
I gasped. I couldn't help it, but I gasped in surprise. Some seductress I was. "You have?" Oh, yeah, Miss Groovy strikes again.
He moved in closer until I could smell his breath, which bore the unmistakable traces of toothpaste.
"Yes, I have," he said and put his hand in the crook of my back, pulling me closer to him.
"I smell mint," I said and then chastised myself for saying something so stupid.
He held me back for a moment and smiled. "Are you allergic to mint?"
"Hell, no," I said, opening my eyes wide, knowing that each syllable I uttered made me sound more and more like a perfect moron.
"Do you like mint?" he said. I guess he thought torturing me was fun.
"Because I have cinnamon gum in my jacket and I could chew ..."
"Richard?" I pretended to faint, falling backward in his arm. "I'm dying here!"
"Come here, pussycat, Uncle Richard wants to tickle your whiskers."
That was the end of that nonsense. By the time his mouth covered mine we had tasted each other's breath, teased each other's mind, and kicked the ball to the thirty-yard line. To my complete amazement, his lips fit mine so perfectly, it was like kissing my twin. My arms were around his neck and even though I was considered tall, I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach his face with mine. It was the kiss of a lifetime, the kind you read about, not the kind you got. The longer he held me, the more emboldened I became.
When he ran his hands down my hips and cupped my backside he said, "You're not wearing panties."
I said, "Oops. Got dressed too fast."
His tongue traveled my neck, stopping here and there for a nip. "I'll overlook it this time," he said. "Don't let it happen again."
That seemed like a good breaking point to me. If we didn't stop then, we wouldn't stop all night, so I said, "Listen, bubba, we'd better give it a rest. Nice southern girls don't just peel down on the first date, you know."
I slipped away from him and led him to the living room. "You stay here while I cook, okay?" I pushed him into the overstuffed chair and put his feet up on the hassock.
"Caroline? What is bubba? And where is my wine?"
I picked up his glass, refilled it, and brought it to him. "In this case, it's a term of endearment."
Dinner was delicious and I thought briefly about Abe the butcher and how I had created this set for The Love Boat from the Goldbergs' stash and the lobby plants. Wynton Marsalis played low and moanful in the background. While we drank both bottles of wine, he told me about his childhood. He could've read me the want ads and I would've thought it was poetry.
His story was a tearjerker. He was born in London, the only son of a successful jeweler. He lost his mother to ovarian cancer when he was only twelve years old. His father had remarried shortly after that to a divorcée with three young children of her own. He was sent to boarding school, as he and his stepmother had major differences. He distinguished himself academically and went on to medical school, where he decided he wanted to be a psychologist. Richard was doing his dissertation when he met his first wife, Lois.
Evidently, nothing good came from that marriage except an infant son, whom he adored. As he told me all of this I was lost in his hazel eyes. They had little flecks of green and gold in them.
Between dinner and dessert, Richard's hand found its way to under my dress. We were definitely on the road to Sodom.
"There's something on my leg," I said, feigning fright.
"Don't worry, I can cure your delusion," he said.
"I'm holding out for my wedding night."
The strange part was that I meant it. I knew, that very first night we were together, that I would marry Richard. All the southern guys I ever went out with were polite and predictable. Not that they weren't just as good-looking as Richard or appealing in other ways They were truly lovely men. Maybe it was me, that I wasn't ready to settle down. Probably.
But there was something else about Richard. He was a little bit dangerouslike there was something in him you couldn't tame. He was so smart and so sexy, I didn't want to spend one day alive without him. I had never felt that way before and I knew I never would again. I had this instantaneous belief that here was a man who could take care of meif he would. It was absolutely astounding.
That night, he fell asleep on the sofa from grape overdose while I did the dishes. Propriety dictated that I should wake him up to go home. But, not me. I was so smitten and crazy about him, I covered him with a comforter, took off my dress and shoes, and went to bed nude. I rationalized the nude part by telling myself that Fate would rule the night.
If he woke up and went home, he was a gentleman and therefore worthy husband material. If he woke up and got in bed with me, I'd know more about what kind of husband he'd be. If he slept on the sofa all night, he was a horse's ass.
Somewhere around four in the morning, I felt him next to me. No, I smelled him first. Eau Sauvage. Jesus! How perfect was that? I pretended to be sleeping while his fingers traced my side. He snuggled up closer and we were like two spoons. I started to drift back to sleep, thinking in my haze how nice it felt to be curled up this way, how safe I felt. He started to shift his position and it didn't take long to figure out why.
"Caroline?" he said in a whisper.
"Sorry to wake you, dear, but I ..."
"Come here, Richard. I want you too."
That old bed of mine started to rock and squeak, and if our mouths seemed tailor-made for each other, the rest of our bodies were like Legos. He made me feel so exhilarated, I wanted to scream, but I couldn't have caught my breath long enough for anything more than gasping for air. Making love with Richard was like body-surfing a tidal waveI had never been so high, so terrified, and so thrilled at the same time. Yes, indeedy, this man was a keeper. When the sun came up and woke us, the bed was five feet away from the wall and the sheets were off the mattress. If not for the Goldbergs' carpet, we would've rolled right into the living room. We laughed our heads off. I had met my match.
What People are saying about this
"Think Terry McMillan meets Rebecca Wells by way of the Deep South and you'll be barking up the right bayou." The Mirror (UK)
Meet the Author
Dorothea Benton Frank is from Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. The New York Times bestselling author of Sullivan’s Island, Plantation, Isle of Palms, and Shem Creek divides her time between the New York area and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
- New Jersey and Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
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- Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
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