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Yellow Wife

Yellow Wife By Sadeqa Johnson Summary

Yellow Wife: Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

About the Author

Sadeqa Johnson is the award-winning author of four novels. Her accolades include the National Book Club Award, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the USA Best Book Award for Best Fiction. She is a Kimbilio Fellow, former board member of the James River Writers, and a Tall Poppy Writer. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and three children. 

Yellow Wife By Sadeqa Johnson Introduction

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Mama believed that the full moon was the most fertile night of the month and that everything she touched held God’s power. Each full moon, she dragged me out in the middle of the night with her to hunt for roots, plants, seedlings, and rare blossoms to use for healing. I did not understand why God’s power could not be found during daylight hours, and as I trudged behind her the March cold overwhelmed me. Even my thick wool shawl was no match against the country freeze.

Fear of the woods made my feet clumsy, and I tripped over fallen sticks, scratched my shins on the spiky brush, and bumped my head on low-hanging branches. Mama, on the other hand, moved with skill and confidence, like the earth parted a path and presented the way for her. Even in the dark, she knew where to stop for herbs and how to avoid the dangerous ones. We had only a small lantern to guide us, and when I asked how she knew where things grew she responded, “My gut be my light.

We slipped through the thicket, past the drafty cabins where the field hands slept on pallets stuffed with hay and husk. I heard dry coughs and a low whine from a hungry baby. Farther down toward the James River, we traveled through the clearing where we met on Sundays for church. Then over the hill along the side of the cemetery, peppered with sticks to honor our dead. As we traveled deeper into the woods of the plantation, the thick forest blocked the light of the moon.

I could hear the growls and grunts of unseen animals, and fretted over running into hungry raccoons or red foxes, or stepping on a poisonous snake. I tried to clear the worry from my mind as the land flattened out, but then something pricked my ankle. Before I could call out, Mama stopped suddenly and reached for my hand.

This here is a black walnut tree. Grow deep in the woods, so you gotta know where to look. Cure for most everything. Ever unsure, come seek this tree.

Mama handed me the lantern, then pulled a blade from her satchel and severed a piece of bark. She brought it to her nose, then ran her tongue along the inside of it.

Husk stain anything it touch. After we make a tea for Rachel, rest we use to dye those sheets for the nursery. Just hoping we ain’t too late to save that girl.

Mama reached into her bag and pulled out a red ribbon. “Go on and mark it, so be easy to find when you come without me.

I reached up and tied the ribbon on a skinny twig, knowing I had no intention of roaming these woods without my mama.

We stopped at the sick house on our way back home. That morning, Rachel, the house servant, had been moved from the big house to the sickroom on account of her high fever. Even though Master Jacob’s wife, Missus Delphina, knew Mama worked plants better than anybody, she refused to bring her up to the house to tend to Rachel when she got fevered with lockjaw.

Rachel grew up on Missus Delphina’s family’s plantation, and came with her to Master Jacob’s as a wedding gift from her mother. Since Missus Delphina looked down on Mama’s medicine, she called in a white doctor for Rachel, which Mama said was a waste of good money. “He ain’t know nothin’ ’bout doctoring no field hands.

And Mama was right. Now that the white medicine had failed, Missus Delphina had no choice but to moved Rachel to the sick house. When we entered the room, even I could look at Rachel’s pale body and see death coming for her.

You ready the hot water?” Mama asked the sick nurse, who nodded her head and pointed to the boiling pot. Mama reached into her sack and pulled out the bark and leaves from the black walnut tree. Then she pinched off a sprig of snakeroot and crushed up the stems.

Let it steep for ’bout an hour. Then make her sip every time she open her eyes. If she make it through the night, there be hope.

Mama removed a few balms and poultices from her medicine satchel for the other patients, then gently pressed Rachel’s forehead with the palm of her hand and whispered, “Lawd, look on Rachel with eyes of mercy. Restore her to wholeness and strength. Thy will be done.

Few hours later, Mama and I were snuggled in our cottony bed, draped in heavy linens, when we were awakened by the ringing of the plantation bell.

Oh, Lawd, what is it now?” Mama kept her eyes on me.

There was cause for each chime of the bell, and on that morning the bell rang twice. Two rings meant that Master Jacob wanted to see us for an announcement on the side of the big house.

I burrowed deeper into the blankets and mumbled, “Hope it is not Rachel.

Mama’s face went slack. “Come, Delores. Needin’ to move directly.” She always called me by my middle name. Her way of claiming me as her own, I guess.

The fire had died out in the middle of the night, so the cold bled right through my woolen socks as soon as they hit the floor. Mama tied the back of her skirt while slipping into her leather shoes. Even in haste, she did not leave the house without oiling her molasses-colored skin with palm oil and pinning her thick hair just right. I fumbled around in the covers but could not produce my headscarf. Mama cut her eyes up at me as she descended the ladder, so I moved on without it.

I followed, barely awake in the predawn cold, up the bluff to the big house. Even at first light, I could smell onions, garlic, and butter wafting up from the kitchen house. Mama strode several paces in front of me, and I almost tripped over my own feet trying to catch her.

A rustling of leaves sprang from the woods, and then out of the thicket came a long procession of scantily dressed field hands. Mothers had babies tied to their backs, old people leaned on makeshift canes, and strong men carried little children on their shoulders. I fell in step with Mama as we rounded the side of the house, hoping to catch sight of Essex coming out the stables. Just a glance from him could change up my whole day.

As I scanned the crowd, Mama squeezed my hand and pulled me on up front where we, as seamstresses, belonged. Aunt Hope, the plantation cook, stood nearest to the steps, and next to her was Lovie, the keeper of the house. Next to Lovie was Parrott: butler, driver, and manservant to Master Jacob. Women and children of the fields stood behind them. The men always had to stand farthest back from the house. Snitch, the plantation overseer, stood to the side of us with a cowhide whip around his neck, and his bloodshot eyes watching all of us.

When I got still, a warm breath broke across the back of my neck. Only Essex would be so bold, and I reached my left hand back and grazed his fingertips. It had been days since we touched, and I pulled away quickly as little shock waves surged across my belly.

Missus Delphina appeared on the side porch with a black scarf draped over her shoulders. Before I could wonder after Master Jacob, he came through the door wearing a flared frock coat with a high stand-up collar. He drew himself up to his full six-foot height, and the sun caught the honey streaks in his eyes as he looked down on us. I watched his Adam’s apple bob around in his neck as he spoke; a habit that helped me avoid looking him in the eye when other people were around.

It pains me to announce that our sweet servant, Rachel, has gone to be with her maker. May she rest in peace.

Missus Delphina leaned into his solid mass as if he was a pillar, and without his strength she would faint. The crowd gasped and a few called on Jesus, but Mama just sucked air through her two front teeth. Not loud, but I heard, and knew that it meant Missus was a fool for not calling on her sooner.

Keep us in your prayers as you return to work.

Sounds of compliance stirred through the crowd, as the field hands started back down the hill, taking with them the smell of wet soil and manure. Master grabbed two women and instructed them to take care of Rachel’s body. Then he looked over at me.

“Pheby. Need you up at the house now that Rachel is gone.”

Pheby?” Missus Delphina smacked her lips like she had been fed something sour. “I have her sewing sheets for the nursery. She fares better in the loom house.

The girl knows her way around and can fill in just fine.” Master Jacob pulled her close, smothering away any fight.

I looked down at my feet. On the few occasions I’d helped in the big house the strenuous work had been taxing enough. Now, to be holed up with Missus Delphina while she mourned her dearest Rachel would be like having a noose around my neck. My head started to throb as I climbed the steps, then from the corner of my eye I found Essex brazenly staring at me.

He was leaning against the silver birch tree, a piece of straw hanging from the side of his mouth. He brushed his nose twice, which was code for Meet me in the stables after dark. I scratched my ear as an answer—I will try—then put an extra drop in my hips as I pushed open the side door of the house. The entrance led into a small prep area just before the dining room. I started hatching a plan on how to get out tonight without anyone asking too many questions when, out of nowhere, a heavy slap landed across my face. My sight went blurry. When I refocused, Missus Delphina flared her nostrils at me.

“Do not come in here running amok. You better take heed or you will find yourself in the fields.”

Yes, Missus.” It took full concentration not to touch the spot she had slapped. I refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing how much she had hurt me.

And where is your scarf? Think you too pretty to tie up that hair?” She flicked my pinned-up hair and knocked it free. Waves of soft spirals flowed down past my shoulders. Missus eyed me like she wanted to slap me again, and I hurried to twirl my hair back up and tuck it away.

Her mouth turned down and rested in her perpetual frown. Missus Delphina was more handsome than pretty—a box-shaped woman with big, broad shoulders and startling green eyes that could cut through skin. She tended to favor the color brown, though it made her look much older than her twenty-four years. I thought she would look prettier in a shade of peach or plum.

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Yellow Wife

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Product details:

EditionInternational Edition
ISBN1982149116, 978-1982149116
Posted onDecember 28, 2021
Page Count288 pages
AuthorSadeqa Johnson

Yellow Wife By Sadeqa Johnson PDF Free Download - HUB PDF

Yellow Wife: Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.


Author: Sadeqa Johnson

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