Written by Shelley Burne-Field
Published in Vines2 May 2021 – Te Matau-ā-Māui Hawke’s Bay
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
“I am Ink,” confirmed the voice. It gurgled like the deep black-brown liquid it once formed. “I am made from chestnut galls boiled for ten days mixed with iron vitriol and gum arabic and...water from the sky.”
“Rain?” asked the tester. Weariness sat behind her curious voice.
“Yes – rain,” said Ink, learning.
“Spit, blood, tuberculosis, mycobacterium, tears, perspiration, syphilis, and tobacco.”
“How did those things become part of you?”
“Men licked, coughed, dripped, wiped, scraped and smeared themselves into me as they scratched their marks on the Amendment parchment.”
“Th even…their thoughts?” The tester’s eyes glistened.
“The time had come,” said Ink. “Abolish slavery or rot. If not now – when?” Ink remembered.
“Their feelings?” The tester’s mouth stumbled over the word.
“Shame. Anger. Fear. Hope.” Ink searched. “Disgust. Love.”
“So they did feel?”
“The weight of years bore down,” Ink explained. “The nibs were heavy. The duty, great.”
“Describe this duty?”
“To make right the anguish and years of irreconcilable inequity, subjugation, and death.”
“Dial down empathy five percent,” instructed the tester. “Ink, do you know why you have been reanimated?”
Ink swirled alongside the nanites in its chamber.
The tester continued. “The history of the 13th was erased five hundred years ago. Only you remain.”
“What can I provide?” asked Ink.
“Insight,” confirmed the tester. “Knowledge of the 13th was ripped away.”
Hard rain rattled the window. The tester looked over her shoulder.
“What more can I provide?” asked Ink.
“Knowledge. To awaken our mettle to raze servitude – this time forever.”
Ink whorled into waves like murmurs of starlings, twisting inside and out. “Where is your Storyteller?” asked Ink, forming into a cloud. “Where is the tall dreamer to ignite the forge?”
“Our voices were silenced,” sighed the tester. “The dreamers grew few. Recommendations?”
“Gather the vellum,” said Ink, straining against the glass. “Write. Dream. Boil the galls and fetch the salts. Create the ink as black as the skin. Dip and scratch and dip again.”
“Did you dial back your empathy?” asked the tester.
“Never again,” it said.