The Cost of Sweetness

It had been weeks since the plantation became my home, since I was stolen in the dead of night by strange men with strange speech intent on forcing me from my bed. I fought and cursed until the smaller one, in heavily accented English, told me he would split my tongue down the middle if I kept squalling.

Before I could respond, the larger one turned and poked out a neatly bifurcated tongue at me with a smile. I kept silent the rest of the trip, even through the travail in the filthy ship's hold, rain and urine and dark liquids pattering on me from above.

When my light shy eyes beheld the expanse of the plantation, I thought I had reached Elysium. I stood there, agape, until a rough hand baptized me in the Lethe by pushing me into the cane. The man told me to forget, and there was a certain rough sympathy in his tone.

That's all recollection now. NOW. That's all there ever is, and I think that even the time before may have been a dream. Now I stand in the sun, like I was born, and do what I was made to do. Sweat pours down my brow as I whack away with the machete - not my machete, always the machete, for we own nothing, not even our names - and I join in the chant, though my heart abhors it:

the cane the cane
all for the cane
cane is mother
cane is father
cane is lover
whip and beat and bleed for cane

We drone our work song, our worship song, a hundred soulless tongues (some neatly split, I had noticed) of those who used to be civilized men, who were now only men, maybe less.

Cane is the god of the plantation, the idol, the graven image we were to sacrifice our youths and our strengths to if we wanted our sour mash in the mornings and gray meat on Tuesdays. It was the only way we had of measuring the passage of time; Tuesday was Meatday, all other days were Caneday, and we knew the pattern would hold into eternity.

On Caneday we drink the maziero, the sickly sweet trash-rum we make in secret from fermenting the cane runoff, picking dead insects out as we sip; on Caneday we sleep on the cane leaves, the withered stalks, anything to distance ourselves from the ants that creep onto and into our skin at night; on Caneday we clandestinely chew the leaves as we work, trying to keep our throats open in the heat.

Someone had even made a cane wife, and kept her hidden in the brush behind the hut. I saw the thing once, and it - she? - was an abomination. Even so, with enough time, strange tides may take a man's heart.

There are massive, Stygian pots for purifying, and we are whipped into a frenzy to stir them faster, faster! The chant grows in volume, and any who can not keep up - the slow, the weak, the old - run the risk of falling in.

When a man inevitably tumbles into the scalding mix, no one bothers to dump the batch out - we are mostly cane now, anyway.