Sylvie

Just a story about colorism and little girls dealing with it.

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1. Sylvie

Sylvie doubled over as the first foot forced the air out of her lungs. She didn't cry out. It wasn't her way. It had always been like this. Sylvie knew better than to fight these ignorant people.

The second kick hit her right arm with a painful smack, and the peals of laughter erupted from the frenzied onlookers. The third blow hit her right between the shoulder blades, and unwillingly, she went down. It wouldn't have mattered if she fought back anyway. There would always be girls like the Luscious Ladies of the Boone's School for Girls. The remnant would always be there to torment her for being who she was. She accepted it.

***

Sylvie opened her right eye as much as she possibly could. It began to sting with her slightest effort. Her left eye was swollen shut, and she could feel the blood leaking from the bandage wrapped around her head. Lily Vickers had beaten her unconscious. Lily said she would. The Luscious Ladies watched and laughed as Sylvie was beaten for no good reason.

Sylvie had to stay in her room for several day, not being able to eat without help until the third or fourth. Mrs. Base, the principal, tried to find out who'd done this horrible thing, but Sylvie refused to tell her, knowing vengeance would be Lily's if Mrs. Base found out Lily had done it.

Sabrina Durson (more commonly known as the Teacher's pet), came into the room carrying a tray. She stared at the swollen, bruised Sylvie with renewed shock though she tried not to. As she set the tray on Sylvie's table, she turned on the bedside lamp. Sylvie flinched.

“So how are you today?" Sabrina put the inside of her forearm to Sylvie's arm, as if she were head nurse during World War I. Sylvie liked this girl less and less every second. She would have rolled her eyes but it hurt too much.

“You’re still a little warm. Do you feel any better?"

"Mm Hmm." Sylvie wanted to tell her to go away, and that she was just doing this to please Mrs. Base, but her mouth hurt too much. Her lips were so swollen she probably would have been unclear anyway.

“Mrs. Base told me to give you some warm milk, so you’re going to have to get up." Sabrina looked at her, suddenly puzzled. “Wait, you're bleeding again. Lay back down." She shrugged as she began gently redressing the bandage. “I just don't understand why you started with the Luscious Ladies. You knew they were going to do this. At least you didn't fight back."

You didn't fight the wishes of Lily Vickers and her Luscious Ladies. If there was something they wanted it was either given to them, or it somehow managed to disappear. Lily was the leader, and the law. At Boone's, she ran everything that didn't involve anyone older than she. Lily was intelligent, and even a bit pretty, but scarred for life with a heartlessness that she received from the Orphanage she lived in before she arrived at Boone's. Her dark skin was her downfall at the Orphanage, but here at Boone's, it was her strength. She used her life experience and managed to impress the minutely younger girls to fall under her control. Some liked her power over them so much that they stuck to her life butter to bread. Lily began calling them her Luscious Ladies, and they soon became the tyranny of Boone's. It soon became the goal of the first year girls to get in the good graces of the Luscious Ladies and their leader.

Sylvie didn't care.

All Sylvie wanted to do was read, draw, and mourn by herself. She loved dipping into the flavors of a book and losing herself in the land of her imagination. It made the hours pass by faster, putting her that much closer to the day when she would be able to live without her grandmother. It was an eternity away at this point in her life.

Nadine, Sylvie's roommate, tried to warn her when they met, but Sylvie just wanted to grieve and be left alone. She was to use the money her Grandmother had been planning to give her on her eighteenth birthday to establish herself. She had five years to go, and her wealth would be substantial, so after the death of her Grandmother, she went to Boone's to be able to learn the more sophisticated ways of a lady of stature.

Sylvie was too deep in mourning to want to play the game, and Lily grew intrigued by Sylvie indifference. It became Lily's mission to make Sylvie suffer for not bowing to the rules of the game, or to Lily. Sylvie had to learn the way things were.

In the cool freshness of dawn, Sylvie was awakened to Nadine clambering through the window.

"You gonna to get it, Nadine." It hurt, but she could speak well enough. "Where were you all this time?"

“I been out trying to get Lily to let you be."

“Why? You and I know she won't. And anyway I don't care. She'll get hers."

“You’re my friend. I'm going to help you if it kills me." She dove into the bed and got comfortable. “You are my friend so I'm gonna. Now hush before Mrs. Base comes in here. It'll be over then."

"Goodnight Nadine."

"Goodnight Syl. I'm glad you feelin' better. "

Her head swelled and Sylvie felt like she carried a sink on her head. Other than that, she felt much better. Her eye was no longer swollen so now she could read. Now Sylvie was happy. She stayed up reading and thinking of her Grandmother.

The stories Sylvie read to herself repeatedly through the dawn were the same stories Grandma had read to her mother and to her when she was a small child. Some stories made sense, and some she knew would, in time. Her Grandmother was the kind of woman who would love to joke, and still managed to keep things in order. She would sit on her porch for hours sorting vegetables and sipping lemon tea. “Tend to the vegetables”, she would always say. “No proper meal is done without good vegetables." Sylvie loved her Grandma's little inner workings.

It seemed they were all she had left. The plump little woman with the tightly pulled silver streaked bun. It shined like the moon sometimes. There was no one like Grandma; there never would be.

***

Class was the same after Sylvie went back to her normal routine, save two major changes: One, Sylvie was completely ostracized, instilling fear in all those who saw her. She was the most severe symbol of what happened when Lily's Luscious Ladies of Boone were defied. Two, Sylvie's wrist was in a splint and she had extreme trouble turning pages. She gave up drawing altogether, at least until the pain went away.

Sylvie walked the corridors between classes, and her dignity stayed intact throughout the finger pointing, stares, and subtle murmuring that traveled with her at a ten-foot radius wherever she went. They were not going to know how much they hurt her. Sylvie's will was very strong, and she refused to give them the satisfaction of any response at all. So what. I don't need them. She went back to her room and lay face down on her bed. It was only when the pillow was tight over her head did the silent waterfall run out of her eyes.

***

Nadine came in once, and wanted to say something, but she knew better. She turned to her bed and picked up some textbooks. Nadine turned her bedside lamp on, so when she came back, she would not hurt nice Sylvie's feelings by turning on the light and seeing her cry.

Nadine liked Sylvie from the first day, and even though she had light skin and pretty grey eyes, Sylvie was still nice to her. None of the girls even tried to like her. They were too afraid of Lily Vickers and her crew. For thirteen years old, most of the girls were very young acting. Lily was 14, almost fifteen, and she scared Nadine quite a bit, but not enough to give up a friend. Still, by the time she found Lily behind the expansive Library, Nadine's hands were trembling.

“This better be good Nadine, or else I'll wallop you proper right here and now."

“It’s about Sylvie." Lily shot an evil glance at Nadine, stopping her breath. She recovered instantly and continued. “I came to strike a bargain with you for her."

“So this is what that note outside my door was last night. Lily smiled. "IS she going to follow the rules now?"

“This isn't from her, this is from me. I came to make a bargain with you so you'll let her be."

“Why?'

Nadine quieted to just above a whisper, " I…I like her."

Lily's face became cold and without a word, she seemed to almost shout, "YOU WHAT"! Within two steps she cleared the space between her and Nadine. She stared into Nadine's face with rage. If she were a demon her horns would be sticking out right now. I'm in for it, Nadine thought.

“You didn't say, what I think you just said."

Nadine felt as if she were shrinking. “I said um, that I Like Sylvie." Suddenly she was speaking at a mile a minute. "See her Grandma's dead so she is sad, and then you started in on her, only making it worse for her and Mrs. Base tried to get her to tell who hurt her, and she didn't even though she coulda, and now she is layin' in bed all sick and alone and sad and no one will talk to her or help her or nothing so I am doing the Christian thing like… like the good Samarian… Please, I'll do just about anything I can if you just let her alone for a while and-

“Samaritan," Lily interrupted, rolling her eyes.

“Let her…Huh?"

“It’s Good Samaritan." Lily chuckled. “Well there is no real reason why I should leave her royal yellowness alone. She broke my rules... she had to pay. She's lucky I haven't done anything else to her. So what are you gonna give me to leave Sunshine alone."

“You just don't like her because she is light-skinned. That's ignorant."

“Let me tell you something about Sylvie. She is part white, you can tell, and that means she is bad. She will make you into her slave. It's already started. Slave girl."

“You can be really stupid sometimes Lily. I don't even know why I came all the way out here to reason with you. I knew you were too bull headed to listen to reason."

“Watch it Nadine, or I will punch you a new mouth." Nadine checked herself instantly. “Now what do you have that I want."

“I’ll do your homework for you."

Lily flipped her hand, disregarding the idea. “I’m smarter than you on your best day. Why should I let you mess up my grades for me? Something else."

“I’ll clean your room."

“Ella does that for me.” Ella was Lily's roommate.

“Well, what can I give you so Sylvie's is left alone?"

Lily put her finger to her chin, eyeing Nadine indecisively. Suddenly her face brightened with a cryptic smile, and she circled around Nadine as she spoke. “Well there is something of yours that I want." She stared at Nadine's neck, causing Nadine to shake her head. " I could have taken it from you, or made you give it to me, but you wear it so much, Mrs. Base would have asked too many questions." Lily ran her finger along Nadine's neck touching the item with consideration.

" No Lily, please… please, not that."

“That will just get me to tell the other girls to be nice to Miss Yellow Sunshine. It'll cost you extra to make me leave her be. Now pay up and come back in a week so I can think of what else I want."

Nadine sighed, and unhooked her necklace as tears welled up in her eyes. She handed her birthday present to Lily, biting her lips so she wouldn't begin bawling right then. She refused to cry; though her eyes said otherwise. The cameo charm hung delicately from the gold sparkling chain, and as Lily grabbed it uncaringly, Nadine shoved the urge to cry down her throat just long enough to conclude her business.

“Will you let Sylvie be until you figure out what you want." Her voice trembled, but thankfully it didn't crack. Nadine was grateful.

“Sure, but you might want to be prepared to meet me every night in your p.j.'s. If I can't beat her up I'll just take you in her place. Are you sure you want to do this for Sunshine?" The silence answered Lily clearly enough. “Now go."

As Nadine took off around the corner of the building, Lily smiled to herself. How sweet… The new high yellow got herself a follower. Not for long… I'll make sure she hates Sylvie by the time this is over.

How dare Nadine like Sylvie? Lily thought as she walked back to her room. As far as Lily was concerned, Sylvie was a high yellow, half-breed, white nigger. Her Grandmother was probably a voodoo doctor and a devil worshiper, and she died because of it. Sylvie was the devil's child. She deserved all the pain Lily gave her, and then some.

The high yellows always got out of being in trouble at the orphanage. They were always adopted sooner, and thought so much prettier than her. Things are different here at Boone's. Oh yes. Sylvie will pay even if it's through Nadine.

Lily Vickers' was dark mocha colored with eyes the color of burnt wood when her thick pouting lips smiled her gleaming white teeth dazzled.

Until the orphanage got to her.

Lily was always underfed, and barely washed because the water was always ice cold in the hours of morning, when they pulled her from sleep. She was beaten regularly, and Lily suffered from more abuses, both overt and subtle, than she could deal with.

Lily become evil, trained in the art of insensitivity and heartlessness by the very people she was to learn humanity from. She pushed away from all ideas of forgiveness, and learned through unrelenting life experiences that Boone's gave her the right amount of power without an extreme amount of cruelty. After being degraded by a public official, she was put in Boone's, as a favor to one of the masters at the slave-driven orphanage.

Even now he comes and takes her out (to lunch, according to Mrs. Base). Lily was beaten, broken and defiled by this man on many occasions, and whenever she tried to deny him his disgusting times alone with her, he told her stories about what he and his friends do to 'darkies that don't listen'. His stories were no less than sickening accounts of KKK activities in the back parts of the quiet rural town of Boone's. Anyone light-skinned was corrupt, and she didn't trust them, let alone like them.

***

Sylvie was awake and sitting up when Nadine came in. It was obvious when she saw Nadine that her heart was broken, and she was on the verge of tears. Sylvie also knew it was because of her. Her body felt considerably better, but her heart was still heavy as well, and her eyes were still swollen from crying. Nadine came in and looked at her sympathetically. Sylvie wiped her face and sighed. "Grandma." Both girls knew the real reason why.

At first glance, Sylvie hadn't noticed, but most of the time Nadine played with her necklace, so when she just stood in the middle of the room ready to break down and cry, with nothing to stop her, Sylvie knew that her necklace was gone. She also knew who had it.

“Your necklace Nadine."

“I know." Nadine slumped onto the foot of Sylvie's bed and began to shake her face in her hands. “She took it." Her voice began to crack, sounding strained. It faded to just above a whisper. “I said I would give anything so she'd leave you alone. Lily took the necklace my Mama gave me before she died. Why is she so pigheaded Sylvie? Why did she have to take that?" Nadine pounded her fist on the foot of the bed, as she cried. Sylvie scooted herself to the end of the bed and rocked her, the same way Grandma did when Sylvie cried at the harsh truths of life. "It'll be all right, Nadine. It's not fair, but somehow it'll be all right. Lily will get hers." Sylvie let her shoulder get soaked as Nadine emptied herself out.

“If I have to fight all of the Luscious Ladies Nadine, you will get your necklace back. You stood up for me and I'm grateful, but this has gone too far. You'll have it back by Sunday after church.”

"Wha…what are you gonna do?"

“I don't know, but I'm gonna do something."

“On Sunday?”

"On Sunday."

***

Sunday meant church, no questions, unless you were deathly ill or contagious. If you went to Boone's, from 7 a.m. until 12 p.m. every Sunday you were dressed your best and in church at Pastor Smythe's congregation. Mrs. Base was often quoted, “Proper ladies went to church, and just because you're rich, don't mean you're a heathen." Sunday was the one day all the races sat together, praying to one God, if only for those few hours each week. All of the Boone's school, every race, sat together in silent adoration of the God in Pastor Smythe's Church. Still, the line was crystal clear between the Minorities and the Caucasians.

Sylvie was feeling much better, and the girls were nice enough on the way to Sunday school, even the white girls were sympathetically more willing to help her. She knew Nadine was paying dearly for this, as the bruises became more evident, and Nadine became more withdrawn. Sylvie went out of her way to help Nadine throughout the week. Lily was cordial, slipping Sylvie knowing glances as Nadine walked the halls with hidden wounds and favored limbs.

During lunch throughout the week Sylvie spied Nadine's necklace repeatedly on Lily's neck, reawakening the emotional pain in the ever-observant Nadine, as she too caught glimpses of her much loved gift.

Sunday morning there was a letter to Mrs. Base that she found in her bible on the way to Sunday school. It read:

Mrs. Base,

Lily Vickers is a nice girl, but Nadine Mitchell is very sad because of her. Nadine Mitchell traded her necklace for something, and she is very sad about it, I don't know what she traded, but Nadine is heartbroken without her necklace. Her mother gave it to her for her birthday before she died, and it is very important to her, even if she doesn't say so. Nadine is so unhappy she is not acting like herself, and I am sure you have seen this. I also think you have seen Lily wearing the necklace. Lily should give it back, as soon as possible, because it is more blessed to give than receive. Please help Nadine Mitchell get her necklace back.

                                                                        Sincerely,

Nadine's friend

The writing was cryptic, but when Mrs. Base saw the necklace on Lily's neck during Sunday school she knew there was no other option. As the last service was over and the girls were lining up to walk back to the school, Mrs. Base walked toward Lily. Lily smiled sweetly, and Mrs. Base could not help putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Lily dear, how are you doing today?"

“I’m fine Mrs. Base, and you?"

Mrs. Base recognized the necklace without a doubt. “Lily, where did you get that necklace? It looks a lot like Nadine's.”

“Actually Nadine gave it to me. Why?"

“I think you should give it back." Her hand tightened on Lily's shoulder faintly. “She received that from her mother. It was her last gift. She should have it back."

Lily smiled on the outside, but behind that her blood was starting the boil. “But she gave it to me Mrs. Base. She said I could have it."

“Nonetheless, I want you to give it back. Now will you?" Mrs. Base's hand became ominous, and her stare became threatening. Lily gave her the slightest return of a gaze, then she smiled.

“If that is what you want Mrs. Base." As Lily walked toward Nadine with Mrs. Base in tow, Sylvie looked at Lily, lifting her eyebrows as if to say "There's more where that came from". Lily acknowledged her with a nod and a savage stare.

The necklace was off before she turned to Nadine, and as she handed it over, a tear rolled down Nadine's soft brown face. Nadine managed a small thank you, and after Lily turned and walked away, Nadine looked across to Sylvie with glowing gratitude. As the line wound its way back to the school, Mrs. Base made small talk with Nadine, whose smile though dim, was still brilliant.

***

“Sylvie she was fuming. She had smoke coming from her ears and everything."

As much control as it took to keep a straight face throughout the day Sylvie had to laugh into her pillow. In their room, quieted by the walls and covered by the night, Nadine smiled as she related the look on Lily's face as she was returned her most precious gift. “Thank you Sylvie. I don't want to know how you did it, but you did it. I am forever grateful Syl, really. I owe you forever."

“No problem Nadine, just go to sleep before Mrs. Base comes in here and we get it."

“Mrs. Base is not the least of your problems. Lily is now." Sylvie turned off the night light, followed by Nadine. As the room occupied itself with darkness and shadow, Sylvie giggled herself to sleep.

Nadine watched from across the room and had to laugh a bit herself. Lily got her justice served to her rather subtly. She ought to be grateful.

The shadows played as black dancers on the wooden walls of her room. The leaves made hands and traced the walls with gentle fingers. As Nadine watched them lazily, she couldn't help but noticed the form of a head come into the view of her window. It was Lily, sure enough, but she had horns and a tail.

Normally this would have called Nadine to faint, but after today's incidents Nadine closed her eyes and quietly laughed herself to sleep, shoving the pillow in her mouth until Lily ceased to exist in her mind's eye. I knew that girl was a devil. 

The morning needled her eyelids with a vengeance until Sylvie woke, rubbing her eyes to wake herself in time for first lesson. Nadine's bed was rumpled, but empty. Girl, you are trying to get Mrs. Base mad aren't you? As she began to make her own bed, Nadine came into the room, her face morose, as she tried her best to wake.

“I dreamt I saw Lily last night. She had horns. I thought I'd be scared out of my mind, but I laughed my head off."

“Well, if there was a devil on the good Lord's Earth right now, Lily would be it." They both laughed. “Come on Nadine before we are late to first lesson."

Between the two of them the room was cleaned straightened up nicely. It helped that it fairly clean to begin with. Nadine and Sylvie rushed and dressed; breezing into class just as the bell rang. Mr. Theodore gave them a stern, but tolerating look while they hurried to their seat.

Mr. Theodore was tall and lanky with a large balding head. His graying curls were always well trimmed, and his suits were never in need of repair. His lessons were firm, but fun. He was just the same. He laughed even when he was angry, the difference being his guffaw. One sounded like grinding metal. The better reminded Sylvie of the joy of Holidays. This same soft, yet full chortle preceded his statement.

“It is better to be barely early than almost on time."

Nadine stood by her seat, her face pinching slightly. "Sorry Mr. Theodore, we had to clean our room."

“Be that as it may, I don't want this to become a habit. I'll see you both after class."

“Yes sir."

“Yes sir."

Today the lesson was basically book reading and composition. “One hundred words to describe what you think the world needs to be a better place." Sylvie's paper remained blank as the remembered the exact words of Mrs. Theodore. If Grandma was here and Lily Vickers was gone, the world would be perfect as it could be.  

The wad of paper hit her desk, bringing her head up suddenly. The class was a picture of education. Not a wandering eye was to give itself away. Sylvie opened it carefully, hoping not to rouse the teacher. It read quite simply, "You are in for it."

Lily Vickers.

Sylvie looked at her. The angel in disguise sat perfectly at her desk scribbling away. Probably writing hell's spells. Sylvie rolled her eyes, and returned to her work.

Lily watched Sylvie the entire time through her peripheral vision. She wanted to get up and go hit her with a chair or something, but she had to wait. After Sunday's little ordeal, vengeance was the only thing on her mind.

Lily raced through her assignment, turning it in without even checking for errors. She asked Mr. Theodore to be excused to the bathroom. Normally he would say no, but she used the ever-faithful women's problem and he shooed her out of the room almost as if she were contaminated.

Like a bullet she found her target. She opened the door carefully and stole into the room with malice intent. She grabbed the bedsheets and pulled them back. Clean the room huh. What are you trying to hide Sylvie?

Lily felt a bit silly as she relieved herself on Sylvie's bed, careful not to get any urine on her legs or feet. She set the bed back neatly and turned to Nadine's side of the room. Curious as to what she should do, she stepped toward the room.

“Get the heck out Lily." It was a whisper, but Lily jumped as she saw Sylvie. “I saw what you did to my bed."

“Oops. I thought it was a bathroom. You're yellow. Pee's yellow. What does it matter if they are both in the same place?"

“I hate you."

“How funny? I hate you too."

“You don't even know me."

“I don't have to."

'Of course you don't have to. You're too stupid to know who I am. All you see is color. I know you. I know you are spiteful and mean, and that Lily, is why I hate you. You could be as pure white as the driven snow, and even if I was as dark as a shadow, I would hate you.” Sylvie inched closer as she spoke. Lily, though formidable, began to shrink back slightly during the rant.

“I also think you are ugly Lily. Your face is pretty, and the boys may like you, but you have a mean heart. You're ignorant too. That is ugly in any color. I hate you, and I will always hate you. You are nothing to me. And if you mess with Nadine ever again, I will get you Lily, and you can be sure I'll put my hand on a stack of bibles to swear to it."

Her voice was barely above a whisper, but with every word the air became heavier. Lily sat on Sylvie's bed. The spot grew dark beneath her.

Sylvie's hands were shaking considerably, but her face was as hard and stiff as stone. She blinked once, slowly. Lily took this as her cue and slipped past her and out of the room.

As the door closed behind her Sylvie sank to the floor, her tears coming from her with a fury. Her Grandmother was gone, and she was fighting the sorrow. She struggled to keep control of herself as she told Lily off. When the door clicked shut, she moaned with within herself, and the damn broke. The torrent of tears spewed from her eyes leaving pains in her head. Sylvie got up and wiped her eyes.

The release was so great she could tangibly feel weights being lifted off of various points of her body—her heart, her shoulders, her legs, even her eyelids. She inhaled once, twice. The air filled her lungs and came out, leaving her feeling more alive with every breath.

It came slowly, as if a cool breezed wafted up from her soul and expelled out of her mouth. It was gentle, and pure, her head sank into it. Sylvie put her hand to her chest as her shoulder rose with the laughter. She turned to the door, and glided through it.

***

After class, and a small detention with Mr. Theodore Sylvie walked the door with her arm over Nadine's shoulder. Whispering into Nadine's ear as she left. Mr. Theodore couldn't help but notice that both girls glowed as they left the room. I'll never understand women. He smiled at the thought.

***

As Nadine helped clean Sylvie's mattress and sheets, they were a bustle of laughter and commentary. There was a light between them. A new bond was created and it was a strong one. There was newness, a hope that the rest of the year would be better with each new day.

“I am glad I got to know you Syl. You are one fine friend."

“I am glad too Nadine. It made things a lot easier. If you were anything like Lily…" She threw her hands in the air, causing soapsuds and water to fly through the room. Laughter again. "I'm still glad."

"So what about Lily?"

“You won't have to worry about her. If you do, she has to worry about me."

“And the Luscious Ladies?"

“The only thing luscious about them isn't even luscious."

Nadine doubled over in laughter following Sylvie. The bed was eventually cleaned and returned to its proper place. Sylvie flopped down on it, her wrists giving a little twang. She rubbed it sensitively. Sylvie rolled over and grabbed her book. She pulled it open and began to read. Nadine sat at the foot of the bed. "Read to me Syl.”

Propping herself up nicely she began to read a poem that her mother wrote called 'Lately'.

“Lately. I've been thinking about things. What I really want, who I really am, what I honestly think about things. I have this ability you see, to contemplate the very existence of myself. I am older in mind than I am in body, and the talents that I have are many. I have inspiration, and I want to move and shake the world. I may not be the best, but I know I am not the worst, so if I fall by the wayside in my life, it is only because I have forgotten this. I have the fire that burns all in its sight and the will that is a force of nature. I am not one to be reckoned with, and I have been realizing this… lately."

“Who wrote that?"

“My Grandma."

And Sylvie understood.

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