Catalyntie is a Dutch woman living in pre-Revolutionary America, struggling to come to terms with the conflicts created by growing up captive in a Seneca Indian village. She shared her captivity with Clara Flowers, an extraordinarily gifted black woman who remains deeply involved in her life. They also share a love for the same man, a brooding giant who, with their help, will slowly discover his American identity. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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September 01, 1998
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Excerpt from Remember the Morning by Thomas Fleming
Remember the Morning
WHAT A STRANGE CREATURE MEMORY IS. Half a thing of dreams, half raw pulsing flesh. Half an enemy, half a friend. The enemy lurks like an Iroquois in the forest of the past to ambush the unwary wanderer. As she writhes in his grip, her lips feel the caress of kisses--and terror turns inexplicably into love.
I am writing this in my Louis Seize parlor looking out on the broad waters of the Hackensack River. Surrounding me is the furniture of wealth: robin's-egg-blue Queen Anne armchairs and couches, a lofty Sheraton secretary, a rose-red Aubusson rug. Opposite the window is a dignified portrait of me in middle age by my younger son, one of the best painters in America. The resolute mouth, the cold defiant eyes, win my reluctant approval--until memory hurls imprecations at them--and silvery soprano voices fill the room with a song.
Ter roorches, ter roorches
She Mameche bucleche, broche
Ter roorches, ter roorches
As me mither le waffles she boxes
De butter la door de groches
Ter roorches, ter roorches
She Mameche buckle che boo.
I am back fifty years watching five-year-old Catalyntie Van Vorst sing that song. Beside me sits my favorite playmate, Clara, whose gleaming black hair is a lovely counterpoint to her creamy brown African skin. On the other side of the mahogany table looms a big grey-haired man with a hooked red nose and ruddy cheeks and a balloon of a belly bulging against his green waistcoat. He is my grandfather, Cornelius Van Vorst. He is singing the song too, beating time in the air with his long-stemmed clay pipe.
The song mixes English, Dutch, French, and Irish in its paeon of praise to ter roorches--hot waffles. What echoes of unfathomable love are in those silly buoyant rhymes! Love wound like an enigma into the facts, the faces, the tongues of history. Ter roorches was a New York song, redolent of the nations mingling on the noisy twisting streets of the little city at the tip of the island the Indians called Manahatta.
Now, fifty years later, in the next room I can hear my husband and my older son discussing the latest news from London. Taxation. Taxation without representation. The indignant words swirl through the house. The upheaval that I foresaw long ago, the revolution for which my Dutch blood has hungered for decades, is beginning. The arrogant men in London would continue to misjudge and misrule the Americans in the name of an idiot king and their own immeasurable greed.
I will play no part in this upheaval, nor will my husband, even though he might try. Revolutions are the property of the young. Already knowing how it will end, I can barely summon interest in the process. I prefer the company of memory, my half enemy, half friend.
How cruel memory is--and how wonderful. To compress a lifetime of love into a single word. Was the whole secret of the story in that word? Could an old man's love be unwound like a silver thread to stretch from this expensive room down the shining river to the tumultuous streets of New York and up the mighty Hudson to the silent forests and surging rivers of the virgin continent? Could that strand of love cleanse fifty years of wars and revolts, regrets and betrayals? Can it exorcise so much spilled blood, so much torment?
Clara's dusky voice whispered in my throbbing heart. Perhaps it's time. You have my permission to speak for me. But I warn you, no one will believe it. God's purposes are too obscure for human hearts. Do you have the courage to tell the whole truth--especially about yourself?
For a moment I was almost ready to surrender my role as memory's scribe. But I still possessed some of the flintiness of that cold-eyed woman on the wall. Memory also remained a creature with stony eyes and nerves of brass. The story began again, as insistent, as irresistible, as the river. I heard Cornelius Van Vorst's husky baritone teaching me about the onrush of the world's most ineluctable mystery, memory's wry collaborator, time.
Believe it not, Pettikin, when I was your age singing ter roorches to my dear mamma, there were barely a hundred houses on Manhattan. Now we have nine hundred in the city alone. There were scarcely a thousand people on the whole island. Now we have nine thousand in the city alone. Three hundred ships a year sail from our docks. Little did I think I would roam the five seas and see so much of the world when I sang ter roorches on our farm in Bloomingdale. Who knows what you may do or see in your day?
The scream leaps from memory to smash through fifty years. Its blare annihilates Grandfather's voice and the town of Hackensack and the river of the same name, the peaceful fields of New Jersey, the winding streets of New York. It is 1721 again and I am five years old, staring sleepily at Clara. In the flickering candlelight my playmate clutched her mother's long cotton nightgown, which seemed doubly white against her black skin. My own mother stood in the doorway, a frown on her severe earnest face.
"What is it, sweet?" asked Clara's mother, Myrtle. "What's wrong?"
"I saw an Indian," Clara sobbed. "I saw an Indian hurting you. I saw Indians hurting everyone. Master, Mistress, Catalyntie. Everyone!"
"It was only a dream, sweetness," Myrtle said in her soft dark voice.
"No, it was real. It will happen! I don't want to go to the Mohawk country," Clara sobbed.
"There's nothing to worry about, Clara," I assured her with serene confidence. "The Mohawk Indians are Grandfather's friends."
Clara sobbed and trembled until her mother gave her warm milk and honey and hummed her to sleep with a lullaby. I watched, a little envious. I almost wished I would have a bad dream so I could have some warm milk and my mother's arms around me.
None of us, adults or children, gave a moment's thought to the possibility that Clara's dream might come true.