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Louise Mae mumbled nervously to herself, "God, I must be crazy to be doing this."
She shifted her small frame in the first-class seats and rang for a flight attendant. No matter how she tried, she couldn't get comfortable. She raised the armrests and slipped off her Italian pumps, easing her legs across the seats and into the blanket's comfort. By the plane's dimmed lights, passengers attempted sleep for the long flight by turning in their seats, yawning and stifling jarring snorts. The air-nozzle's constant hiss droned everyone into a sleep-laden stupor. For Louise Mae, it was useless. She had slept little since last week and gave up such hope tonight.
The flight attendant leaned toward Louise Mae and whispered, "Yes, Ms. Chapman, may I help you?"
"Miss, do you have another pillow? I can't get comfortable, and I could really use a short nap before we land."
"Certainly, ma'am. For the author, Mrs. Louise Mae Chapman, you could have a dozen pillows, if you wanted."
"One will do nicely, thanks. Just call me Louise Mae, everyone does. I already feel old enough without being called Mrs. Chapman."
"I've read all your books. I only wish I had one here for you to sign."
Louise Mae gazed out the window for a brief moment and sighed. "If I give you a signed copy of My Greatest Loss, do you think you could manage a pillow?
"Oh my God, yes. For one of your signed books I'd manage just about anything and more."
Louise Mae settled into a comfortable position.
Someone jolted her seat, and from her periphery, she glimpsed a blonde woman stagger for support as she made her way to the lavatory. She wondered if the blonde struggledfrom her high heels or the extra benefits that came from flying first class. Perfume permeated the air even after the door was closed and locked. Irritated, Louise Mae flung her legs off the seat and scooted to the window. She pointed the air vent toward the aisle, hoping it would help alleviate the aroma. It did nothing. Sighing, she reluctantly breathed through her mouth as she absently wiped a smudged fingerprint from the plane's window. She noticed the striking resemblance the blonde bore to Mrs. Denwitty from some fifty years ago. Forgotten was her past life as Weasie Mae. It seemed so very long ago, but this journey forced her mind back into the quagmire of the past.
"My, my, Weasie Mae, don't you look dapper in that servant's getup. I never realized how much you favor 'Lizbeth-Grace," Mrs. Denwitty taunted.
"Why thank you, Mrs. Denwitty. Mama's beauty was renowned. I take that as a great compliment coming from a fine lady such as yourself. Would you care for a glass of champagne?"
Louise Mae noticed Mrs. Denwitty gaze reassuringly at the concoction.
"I don't mind if I do, Weasie. I hear you'll soon be off to that Negro college somewhere up north. My Peggy tells me you plan to teach. Would that be right?"
"No, ma'am, your Peggy would be incorrect. I plan to write. Miss Esther's always encouraged me to pursue literature. She thinks I have the talent."
"Do tell. And what does Esther know of such things? But truly, I wish you all the best. It'd be wonderful if the first Negro woman of literature came from right here in Tennessee."
As Mrs. Denwitty sauntered away she took Loretta Cunningham by the arm, lit a cigarette, and commented dryly, "Don't you find servants so tiresome? That uppity, little nigger-girl pretending to be something she isn't. Few women go to college these days, let alone a nigger."
She couldn't have left fast enough. Her family didn't know the shadow covering her heart. As the train made its way towards Pennsylvania, through the Tennessee hills and the West Virginia Mountains, she looked out on the small sparse towns dotting the tracks. In virgin lands between towns, the trees shot up, blocking out any views. The train stopped at every small coal town, filthy from the dirt permeating the air. People bore hardened faces from the years of hard work and darkness.
When darkness came, the sounds and bumps of the train were more intrusive. She stared endlessly at the passing dark shapes or occasional glow, wondering what evil was out among the trees. The world had been transformed into a treacherous pit only hours before the train trip. Tears fell from her eyes.
No matter how much she tried to think of the good in her future, she wept throughout the train trip. She felt so totally alone. Wondering if God would help her, she wasn't sure of the consequences; but time would tell.
"And did time ever tell," she whispered through her thoughts to no one in particular. "If I only knew now, what I didn't know then, I never would have boarded that train."
It was her secret. A mystery that had shaped every aspect of her future life and still no one knew.
She had gone through hell during the years following. If it weren't for writing, God only knew where she'd have ended up. Just getting out of bed was an accomplishment. She remembered the effort. The sweltering heat of that first New York summer snuffed out any thought of energy. In the mornings, she opened her window to welcome the overpowering aromas from the bakery below--yeasty breads, cakes, cookies and doughnuts. Yet, by afternoon, a stench so strong from the factories and sewer drifted through the neighborhood, forcing her to close the window and choose the stifling heat over any remote breeze. Her pristine, white walls had faded to a dingy parchment color from the smokestacks.