Melody Magazine

James Hubert Blake High School

Burns

            Sunny side up is the way the sun will break this soul.  The lash of the whip had left scars on the back of Curtis that protruded so much that they could be seen through his ill-fitting shirt that he had been wearing for years.  He had grown, but his past owner didn’t think he deserved new clothes; he’d been a bad nigger.  Curtis had the complexion of what he believed to be a house servant, but, because if his past escape stunts he’d been put right into the field upon reaching the Thompson Plantation.

            “Curtis, grab that there mule and start plowing this field for the new seed,” said Master Jones.  He rode atop his horse and spoke to Curtis as he was dressing outside of his cabin one morning.  “What’s that there on your face, boy?”  Something had caught his eye.  The skin on his face and back was red and peeling.  He seemed to be in pain.

            “I’m not sure, sir,” Curtis said, “’started up ‘bout a week ago.  After I got here.”

            “I ain’t never seen a nigga with a sunburn before,” said Jones, “you must be some kind of special.”  He laughed and rode away.  “You’d better have that field plowed come nightfall!” he shouted over his shoulder.  “You gonna be in a world of hurt!”

            Curtis finished dressing and approached the fence enclosure with Master Jones’s mule in it.  He geared it up and started toward the field.  The sun was fervent.

            With every move he made, Curtis’s skin stung.  The redness on his face was the worst, for Curtis was easily amused and smiled at the small wonders of life.  Simply seeing a butterfly pass was enough to evoke a wide grin on his face.  But, with this burn, it hurt to smile.  It hurt to move any muscles on his face.  So, he made an effort not to smile.

            Underneath the hot sun, Curtis was no longer amused by the butterflies and birds overhead.  He was focused on his work, nothing but.  His burns were only worsened each second he was outside, so he worked hard and worked fast.  Little Toby stopped by to say hello.

            “Hey Curd!” The boy seven years old danced around him and the mule pulling the plow through the soil.  “How’s it coming?”  Curtis said nothing.  The burns on his face had become so intense that opening his mouth to form a word created intense pain.  So he stayed quiet and merely looked at Toby until he left.  Upon his arrival, Curtis had greeted Toby with smiles and stories of his past adventures, but now, Curtis could not bear to speak or even smile at him.  He had to restrain himself.

            In hours, the work was done and Curtis returned the mule to its yard.  The sun had begun setting and Curtis breathed a sigh of relief. 

            After weeks of this routine, though, of the daily hours of work in the fiery sun, Curtis’s burns intensified so much to the point that he no longer had to try and restrain himself from speaking or smiling.  In months, he no longer felt the urge at all.  Toby stopped coming to see Curtis work and Curtis stopped missing him.  Curtis didn’t notice the butterflies at all, even when he wasn’t working.  And when the winter came, and Curtis’s ever-present burns healed, he remained his sun-burned self.  Not to smile or speak was instinct that could not be defied.  The sun had broken his soul.

           

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