“But this ain’t her mouth,” Paul D said. “This ain’t it at all.”
Stamp Paid looked at him. He was going to tell him about how restless Baby Suggs was that morning, how she had a listening way about her; how she kept looking down past the corn to the stream so much he looked too. In between ax swings, he watched where Baby was watching. Which is why they both missed it: they were looking the wrong way–toward water–and all the while it was coming down the road. Four. Riding close together, bunched-up like, and righteous. He was going to tell him that, because he thought it was important: why he and Baby Suggs both missed it. And about the party too, because that explained why nobody ran on ahead; why nobody sent a fleet-footed son to cut ‘cross a field soon as they saw the four horses in town hitched for watering while the riders asked questions. Not Ella, not John, not anybody ran down or to Bluestone Road, to say some new whitefolks with the Look just rode in. The righteous Look every Negro learned to recognize along with his ma’am’s tit. Like a flag hoisted, this righteousness telegraphed and announced the faggot, the whip, the fist, the lie, long before it went public. Nobody warned them, and he’d always believed it wasn’t the exhaustion from a long day’s gorging that dulled them, but some other thing–like, well, like meanness–that let them stand aside, or not pay attention, or tell themselves somebody else was probably bearing the news already to the house on Bluestone Road where a pretty woman had been living for almost a month. Young and deft with four children one of which she delivered herself the day before she got there and who now had the full benefit of Baby Suggs’ bounty and her big old heart. Maybe they just wanted to know if Baby really was special, blessed in some way they were not. He was going to tell him that, but Paul D was laughing, saying, “Uh uh. No way. A little semblance round the forehead maybe, but this ain’t her mouth.”
So Stamp Paid did not tell him how she flew, snatching up her children like a hawk on the wing; how her face beaked, how her hands worked like claws, how she collected them every which way: one on her shoulder, one under her arm, one by the hand, the other shouted forward into the woodshed filled with just sunlight and shavings now because there wasn’t any wood. The party had used it all, which is why he was chopping some. Nothing was in that shed, he knew, having been there early that morning. Nothing but sunlight.
Sunlight, shavings, a shovel. The ax he himself took out. Nothing else was in there except the shovel–and of course the saw.
“You forgetting I knew her before,” Paul D was saying. “Back in Kentucky. When she was a girl. I didn’t just make her acquaintance a few months ago. I been knowing her a long time. And I can tell you for sure: this ain’t her mouth. May look like it, but it ain’t.”
So Stamp Paid didn’t say it all. Instead he took a breath and leaned toward the mouth that was not hers and slowly read out the words Paul D couldn’t. And when he finished, Paul D said with a vigor fresher than the first time, “I’m sorry, Stamp. It’s a mistake somewhere ’cause that ain’t her mouth.”
Stamp looked into Paul D’s eyes and the sweet conviction in them almost made him wonder if it had happened at all, eighteen years ago, that while he and Baby Suggs were looking the wrong way, a pretty little slavegirl had recognized a hat, and split to the woodshed to kill her children.