I was asked to write a Delphine story so I obliged.


Fragments

Moonlight cast eerie shadows across the icy room. Delphine felt an unwelcome but familiar warm dampness in her bed. No no no no no, she hadn't wet the bed since she was little. Surely by now she'd outgrown that particular embarrassment. How many times had she tried to hide the tell-tale wet patch only to have her Granny sniff her out in the morning?

She'd raise her eyebrows and suck her teeth while Delphine's darling Daddy held her close. "It's all very well for you Sebastian," Granny would complain. "I don't see you doing the laundry," and she'd frown as she stripped the bed while Delphine sobbed into her father's shoulder. "I'm sorry Daddy, I didn't mean to."

"There, there. I know, I know," he'd reply. "Did you use the pot before you went to sleep?"

"Uh, huh," she'd nod though if the night were particularly chilly, she wouldn't have braved the freezing room beyond her blankets praying instead that she'd wake in time.

Her mother wasn't there to soothe her because she'd died when Delphine was just a baby. She existed only in fragments. In an old daguerreotype on the mantlepiece all stiff and unfamiliar like a person frozen in time; in hints that her father dropped; in a collection of recipes Anne had compiled; and of course, in the lonely grave under the tree. She wasn't anyone that Delphine could relate to. Sometimes Delphine liked to imagine that she remembered her but really, she was kidding herself she'd only been a few months old when her mother passed.

Tonight, to save Granny the trouble and because she didn't think she could face her scorn Delphine decided to do the washing herself. Shivering as she climbed out of bed she danced on the cold floorboards before she pulled on her slippers and dressing gown. It was only after she had lit the kitchen lamp that she realised the sheet smelt different and more to the point was stained crimson red instead of yellow. She looked at it for a long time panicking. Did this mean she was dying? Surely blood was bad, especially coming from your bottom. By the time dawn's first golden rays were infiltrating the kitchen Delphine had sunk to a chair fully convinced her time had come.

Her grandmother found her there surrounded by blood-stained sheets. She stopped and sucked air through her teeth thinking, well that happened then, before snapping, "what you doing here child? What's all this mess?" Delphine looked up at her with red-rimmed eyes and then looked away sadly, unable to think of how to break the news.

Hearing Sebastian's heavy tread down the stairs Hazel quickly got to work pumping water into the sink. A man mustn't see the evidence of his daughter's maturation. She had half a mind to shoo him out the door, but it was freezing outside, and he'd be wanting his breakfast. "Upstairs with you girl, go and get dressed for school," she hissed. Delphine passed her father on the stairs but was unable to summon the strength to even smile at him. He looked at her curiously but did not pursue the topic deciding to ask his mother if she knew anything.

In her room Delphine wrapped her blanket around her and looked blankly into nothingness as she contemplated her impending death. When she did not appear at the breakfast table Hazel went to fetch her. Delphine had not moved. "Come now child, you'll be late for school. Let's get you dressed. I have something for you to pin under your petticoat, here I'll show you." With no further explanation Hazel bustled around sorting out Delphine's wardrobe.

Delphine looked on curiously, her granny seemed prepared, did she know something Delphine didn't? "Granny, why did you bring those cloths up? It's almost as if you were expecting something."

"That's enough sass out of you, get dressed quickly or you'll be late."

With some confusion and disgruntlement because she was tired from her early start and because she was sure her grandmother was lying to her or at the very least not telling her the whole story, Delphine got dressed clumsily pinning the cloth to her bloomers like she'd been shown. Feeling quite self-conscious she made her way downstairs. "Granny," she said. "Am I dying?"

"What now?" Hazel said. "Of course not. You're just growing up is all. Now off to school and mind you pay attention and work hard."

With her grandmother's usual exhortation ringing in her ears Delphine made her way up the lane to the forest to join the cavalcade of students walking to school. The others were chatting amongst themselves, but no one paid her any mind. Delphine was not popular.

When they were young it wasn't so bad but as each student aged the differences between them grew stark; not merely the fact that her taciturn grandmother was raising her instead of a warm mother but the other more obvious fact that Delphine's skin was dark where theirs was the more desirable white. And it wasn't even white, Delphine thought to herself bitterly. It was some weird pinky, cream colour that didn't appear anywhere else in nature. She would never understand why they thought they were superior on the basis of their ugly skin. Even the teachers, especially the teachers, made her feel stupid whenever they got the chance. She'd stopped complaining to Granny, she never listened anyway, and her father was ineffectual. Spiteful cows, she thought as she stumped her way through freshly fallen snow.

It happened just before lunch. They were reciting poetry, something Delphine usually adored. It was fun to throw herself into the evocative words, used in ways no one in miserable Avonlea ever would. Poetry reminded Delphine that there was a magical world beyond the island's shores. Gertie Pye was reading in her usual lacklustre fashion. Delpine was so engrossed in the words that she missed Mr Meek telling her to read. Vaguely she could hear a faint titter, but she had ceased paying her classmates any mind years ago. There was a terrible silence and she eventually looked up, somewhat startled to see that everyone was looking at her expectantly and worst of all the poorly named Mr Meek was looming over her. "Did you not hear me or are you deaf?" he screeched.

"Er? Er? Sorry Sir," she stammered. The class laughed.

Mr Meek stabbed the next stanza on her page with his long thin index finger demanding, "read!"

Delphine got to her feet and picked up the book. When she did, she heard an exclamation of breath and then as one everyone behind her laughed out loud, soon followed by pointing and whispered comments. Delphine stopped and glanced behind to see them all looking at her back. She peered around and was shocked to see a tell-tale flash of scarlet on her skirt, looking for all the world like her sheets that morning. Dropping her book she rushed from the classroom, their laughter following her out the door.

Stumbling through the snow blinded by hot tears of shame she did not see a buggy heading towards her. "Woah, woah there," it came to a stop just in time and she distantly heard a familiar voice asking her if she was all right? Looking up through her tears she could see Marilla's kind face looking down at her. "Delphine! What's the matter? Why aren't you in school?" Delphine had no words left and she sunk into the snow. Marilla climbed down and immediately noticed her stained back. Turning to Matthew she hissed, "leave."

"What?"

"I said leave! You can walk home. Off you go, shoo."

"Marilla?"

"Go!"

Bewildered Matthew did as he was ordered while Delphine looked on in wonderment, she had never seen Marilla yell at him before. When Marilla turned to Delphine her tone changed completely, "come now darling, let's get you sorted out." Marilla helped her into the buggy and took the reins chucking the horses on. Still rather stunned by recent events Delphine was silent but pressed into Marilla's side. "Shall I take you home?" Delphine shook her head doubting her grandmother would be pleased to see her. To her surprise Marilla heeded her wishes so they did not drive home or even to Green Gables but turned down the road that led to Gilbert and Anne's house.

Without knocking Marilla led Delphine in and told her to take her skirt off. When Anne appeared looking at them curiously, Marilla explained, "got a bit of a situation here, Anne." Without a fuss Anne fetched a spare dress and helped Delphine get changed.

Later, her dress soaking in a tub of cold water, Delphine found herself sitting under a rug in Anne's parlour eating cookies and drinking tea. Bewildered by the day's events she was silent. Marilla turned to Anne and said, "do you think it's time?"

Anne looked back at her quizzically and replied, "maybe?" With no idea what they were talking about Delphine watched as Anne walked to the corner bureau and pulled out an old envelope. "Wipe your hands first," Anne asked and when Delphine had done so Anne placed the crisp envelope in her hands saying, "this is from your mother. She asked me to give it to you when I decided you were ready. We think," she glanced across at Marilla who smiled and nodded, "that you are."

Delphine held the letter reverently. This was what she had been longing for all her life. Her mother had appeared only in fragments, but now she might gain an insight into this most elusive of parents.

My darling girl,

If you're reading this, it's because Anne deemed it time for us to get acquainted. Oh, I'm sure you think you know me your father won't have kept me a secret but it's hard to tell a little girl about her mother and I'm sure he finds it upsetting. I was so dreadfully sorry to have left you so early. Just know it was not by choice and that I held you in my arms until my strength ran out.

I always wanted a daughter and when you came into my life I felt as if I were complete. You were a perfect baby, the most beautiful child I had ever seen. I wish I could tell you everything that is in my heart right now. About my hopes and aspirations, but you are growing up in a world I can scarcely fathom, and I dare say on reflection that anything I say will seem hopelessly old fashioned.

So, instead I'm going to tell you where you've come from.

You are the latest descendent of a proud people. We came not of our volition from some place in Africa. I wish I could tell you where baby girl but over the course of time that knowledge was stripped from us. You won't hear this story in school or read about it in textbooks. That version of history was written by white folks and well, they don't like admitting their faults.

Our ancestors were gathered up by slave traders and marched shackled for days, weeks, months. Exhausted people dropped in the harness and were left to die - but not our people.

Once they reached the shore they were incarcerated in jails before being driven onto ships. Countless folk died on that terrible journey; their bodies unceremoniously dumped overboard - but not our people.

America was not the fabled land of the free. They were separated and sold to the highest bidder and worked on cotton plantations for the rest of their life. Many died - but not our people.

When the American civil war was won my parents came to Canada for a better life. Sadly, they died too early, beaten down by a system that did not appreciate them.

Delphine, you already know this, but Anne and Marilla and Matthew can be trusted with your life. I should know I did it when I fell ill. Before we knew if I had something catching my first thought was to get you to a place of safety. Looking after a wee baby is hard work but I heard not a whisper of complaint. They welcomed you into their fold letting me recover in my own time. Sadly, as we all know that wasn't possible and when it became apparent that you were safe Marilla handed me back in one the most wonderful moments of my life.

I'm sure your Papa is a wonderful, caring father. Perhaps he has wed again? I pray so. For he is a young man, he deserves to be happy. Maybe his mother is still with you, and I hope she loves you as you deserve. But even so I expect Anne & Marilla are still a big part of your life.

I haven't even mentioned Gilbert yet. Did he and Anne sort themselves out? I hope so. Regardless he is your uncle in all but name. He and your Papa are brothers in all the ways that matter. He brought your Papa to Canada and shared his home.

Perhaps the only thing you are missing is community. I don't know how often if at all your Papa takes you to The Bog. It's a hard place, full of struggling folk but what it provided me with was fellowship. Not all white folk are bad, but there is nothing like laughing over a bowl of delicious curry with friends who understand what you're facing and what has gone before.

I don't know what else to tell you my darling girl, know that you were loved and are still loved. That you mattered and still matter. It's possible that not everyone in Avonlea expresses that enough, but I pray that the people who truly matter let you know in every way. Remember it may not be in words but rather in deeds; every meal you eat, every mopped floor, every pile of laundry, expresses the love that they feel for you.

I did not leave you willingly. I fought with every fibre of my being to stay with you, but the hand of the creator was too strong. Know also that I look down upon you from heaven and even if we cannot talk, I am whispering in your ear even now as you read this letter. I am in the buzzing of the bees, the rustling of the leaves and the birdsong.

And understand that you are the result of thousands of generations of strong, resilient women and you can continue their legacy.

I will be here waiting until we are reunited,

I remain your loving Mother always,

Mary

Delphine wiped her eyes with the handkerchief Marilla had silently handed over some way through her reading and sat still taking it all in. Around her Anne and Marilla murmured but she paid them no mind. She glanced back at the letter wondering if she could read it again, but not yet. She had some thinking to do. She felt older, wiser somehow as though her mother's words had guided her to the next phase of her life.

After a while she stood up feeling rather unsteady on her feet saying, "I should go back home."

"No darling, the snow is coming down too heavily. We sent word to your father that you'd be staying with us," Marilla replied gently. Delphine peered out the window to see the flakes coming down thick and fast and knew with a sinking heart that they were right. She felt a powerful need to be with her family but there was no way she'd make it through. How terrible would it be to throw away her life on a madcap dash through the blizzard?

Gilbert returned a while later, looming out of the snow like a yeti. He stamped his feet on the threshold and stood shivering by the fire until he thawed. "Oof that came up fast," he told Anne as she fussed over him. "Delphine," he kissed his niece fondly. "Lost your dress, have you?" Delphine felt heat flush her cheeks while Anne shushed him. She paused and said, "Gil your anatomy book, may we borrow it?"

"Anatomy book?" Anne shot a quick look Delphine's way and Gilbert nodded understanding at once. "Ah. Of course." He went to his study and returned carrying a large tome. "I'll just go and get myself sorted, excuse me."

Marilla invited Delphine to sit down at the table and together with Anne they took the girl through the diagrams in the textbook. "You're lucky," Marilla said. "No one ever told me anything, said it was sinful."

"But it's perfectly natural, Delphine darling. This means you're becoming a woman now," Anne added. Then she showed her the diagrams and together they explained everything. Delphine had never seen the internal workings of her body and had plenty of questions, most of which Anne was able to answer. When she was stumped, she suggested Gilbert could answer at which response Marilla looked very shocked. "Or maybe not," Anne added backing away.


The storm had blown itself out the next morning when her folks came to pick her up. They apologised for the inconvenience and packed Delphine up into their carriage. On the drive home Delphine hugged her father and told him that she had read her mother's letter. Bash looked at her in amazement, "and?"

"And I don't know, I have to think about it. I feel as though I know her a bit better now and she told me where I come from. Did you know she was descended from slaves?"

Hazel tapped her on her shoulder, "not just your mama, Delphine."

Delphine looked up into her grandmother's eyes questioningly. "No school I think today, Sebastian. We have some other lessons to teach."

When they got home, they sat around the kitchen table while Hazel explained her life and that of her parents before her; they had all been slaves. She added, "but even when we were emancipated Delphine, life was not easy. I may have been paid, but I was still beholden to my employer. Telling her I was leaving to come here was the most wonderful thing. She just stood and gaped at me like a fish. I don't think she even realised I had children of my own. I just took my savings and walked down that road with her yelling in the background. But unlike my mama, she had no hold over me. Just think your grandparents couldn't have done that. They were owned, they had no freedom of movement or anything else for that matter.

I'm sorry I've been hard on you, child. I need to toughen you up for the world outside, but I think perhaps I forgot that home should be a safe place. It stings that Marilla took you to Anne's when you was hurting. By rights she should'a brought you home. That's my fault as much as anything. Next time you need to talk child, please come to me, I'm your grandma I want to help. Them white folks mean well but they don't know everything."


Several weeks later Mr Meek assigned them an essay on their family's accomplishments, frowning when he looked at her. "Family only, mind," he said. "I don't need to know all about your neighbours." Delphine was sure he was talking to directly to her. No matter, she had plenty to say.

The next day she handed her paper in along with everyone else. The students were excitedly talking amongst themselves about their family's accomplishments, Delphine kept quiet. When Mr Meek handed the papers back the following week, she saw a big fat F on her paper along with the comment, this is melodramatic nonsense. I asked for your family history not fairy tales. Ordinarily such a comment would cut Delphine to the bone, and she'd hesitate to tell her grandmother and father. When she showed them, she received their warm hugs. "I did try to tell you," Hazel said. "They won't be told. But we know, we know our truth, baby girl. I am proud of you for trying." She turned to Bash saying, "you know what Sebastian, I think this weekend we should change churches. The minister over at The Bog is always inviting us to join their congregation. Might be nice to make their acquaintance."