Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

She Took His Hand

Marion Bolick Perutelli

Cincinnati, Ohio
Summer, 1851

On one side of the open grave stood a seven-year-old girl. The little girl’s gaze was fixed on a boy standing on the other side of the grave. He stood beside his mother’s closed coffin, and every so often he would reach out to touch it. To the little girl, it seemed as if he wanted to make sure his mother was still there.

She had been standing beside her Mama. Now, she inched her way behind her Mama, behind the gathering, behind the minister. The little girl went to the boy’s side. Once there, she took his hand.

He grasped her hand tightly, but his gaze remained on his mother’s coffin.

When the open coffin had been sitting in his aunt’s parlor, the little girl felt his pain there too, and she’d seen his tears. She’d heard the aunt say, she had been a sister to the mother; the boy’s name was Nicholas, and he was twelve years old.

When the little girl’s Mama said, “We’re going to a funeral,” the little girl had not fully understood the meaning of “funeral.” She’d not understood the meaning of “coffin” and “grave” either. She had learned those meanings through grown-up talk in the aunt’s parlor.
The little girl and her Mama had come from Nashville, Tennessee, to spend the summer with her Mama’s cousin in Cincinnati. The cousin had been a friend to Nicholas’ mother.

At the grave, when the minister said of Nicholas’ mother: “She’s committed a sin, blacker than most . . . ” Nicholas gripped the little girl’s hand hard, patting his mother’s coffin.

Some men appeared at the grave. After the men tied ropes around the coffin, Nicholas touched it for the last time. To the little girl, he leaned over as if afraid the men might drop his mother as they lowered her into the grave. When the first shovel of dirt hit the coffin, he gripped the little girl’s hand so hard, she almost cried out.

Nicholas’ aunt came to lead him away. Because he was still holding the little girl’s hand, she went with him.

“Olivia,” her Mama called out, “where are you going?”

“Oh please! Allow her to stay with Nicholas,” the aunt said. “We’ll meet you back at the house.”

Olivia waved to her Mama before climbing into a waiting coach with Nicholas and his aunt. As the open coach drove slowly away, he turned about to stare over his shoulder at his mother’s grave. Olivia turned with him. Men were shoveling dirt into the grave, and she felt Nicholas trembling.

The coach went down a hill, and the grave was lost from view. Nicholas released Olivia’s hand. Only then, did he turn to look at her....

Novel Excerpt


Marion Bolick Perutelli is a native Tennessean, reared in Memphis. She is the author of a historical novel, The Mud Daubers, and a novella, From Whence He Came And Short Stories, both set in Memphis and published by Cold Tree Press in 2005. Her short stories and essays have been published in newspapers and anthologies, including Our Voices: Williamson County Literary Review, 1995, 1997, and 1998. Marion was a charter member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. Currently a resident of Franklin, Tennessee, she is also a member of WordSmiths, Ink; the Council for the Written Word; and the Fiction Writers at The Martin Center of Senior Citizens.

© Marion Bolick Perutelli

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012