Go Ask Alice

Poor Alice Riley. If you want to know what happened to her, you just have to ask. She still roams the courtyard of Wright Square on foggy nights, searching for her baby beneath the oaks strung in Spanish Moss, the same oaks from which they hung the noose that cradled her body.
Her owner, William Wise, was one hell of a man and I don’t mean in the sense of greatness I mean in the sense of hell itself. He was the type of man who tried to bring with him to the new world a prostitute on the grounds that she was his daughter. And while I’m certain the founding fathers were all for keeping it in the family (we weren’t that far removed from British royalty, after all), they frowned upon such pursuits, and the prized vixen was forced to stay home and find another field to tend.
And so, immediately upon his arrival in the New World, Sir William the not so Wise found himself an adequate substitute in the form of Alice, who was forced to bear the brunt of his requests, as well as the weight of his fists upon her body.
In the early 1700’s, men had their own valets, who were expected to be men themselves, for it was inappropriate for women to see a man unclothed. But William Wise, in a sheer display of early American colonial pride, demanded that she be the one to sponge his weary, sweat ridden body on late nights. So Alice, the young Indentured servant, the pure, hopeful Irish lass, bought by James Oglethorpe for a sum of eight dollars, bathed his putrid body, night after night, dabbing at the swollen flesh that lined his generous stomach, combing through the tangled beard that grew like weeds upon his face, brushing through the thinning hair upon his scalp to collect the errant lice.
And the people of the town cried out in protest. It wasn’t appropriate; it wasn’t right. And so he took the kerchief he wore each day and placed it upon his left shoulder, where it sat for the duration of her nightly prison sentence, and insisted that he had been adequately clothed.
In time, Alice found a lover, and grew weary of her duties. She grew weary of the beatings and the abuse and the skin tinged in vibrant shades of purples and blues she wore upon her fair face.  And so, when they found the head of William Wise sitting in a bucket near his body, the tidy little kerchief strung about his neck, they cried foul on poor Alice, whose belly was growing with the life of a child.
And because life was sacred but femininity was not, they permitted Alice to bear her son, before sending her promptly thereafter to the gallows, in a last great act of American justice.
As Alice dropped from the heights of the proud oaks, she continued to proclaim her innocence, finally uttering out a curse upon the city of Savannah. The first female execution in the state of Georgia, her body hung, swaying in the warm Savannah breeze, for three days after. Her child, the bastard son of Wise himself, didn’t live to see three moons.
In Wright square, Spanish moss does not grow on the north side, from whence the gallows stood. Legend has it that the moss will not drape itself from the limbs of trees where innocent blood was spilled. And so the limbs are bare, vacant and unclothed, while the square itself is anything but empty, occupied by her ghostly presence on those late nights when Alice appears, searching for the child she lost, or the man she killed.
Pregnant women, and women with young children and newborns, have oft been known to call the station late at night, adamantly proclaiming to have seen a woman wandering the courtyard in colonial dress, pleading for assistance in the finding of her lost child.
“Has anyone seen my baby?” She weeps, her whispering voice ringing out through the silent night; her movements frantic, desperate, forlorn. “I’ve lost my baby,” she screams, the tattered lining of her gown dragging against the earth, catching on the rod iron fencing, her mourning piercing the hearts of those who listen.
And as I stand there, beneath the statues rising arrogantly into the night, amongst the dim lighting of scattered lamp posts and half lit cigarettes, I look up above me at the naked trees that shiver in the cold with memories of the lives they took. Son of a bitch got what he deserved, I think to myself. And yet, I feel a strange melancholy here. I feel a yearning for forgiveness and a profound grief. And I whisper to myself, ever so quietly, I’m sorry. And an ephemeral fog appears, wrapping it’s loving embrace around me, whispering secrets to my open heart and gratitude to my soul.
Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the excitement of adventure. Maybe it’s Alice herself. Or maybe, I’ve just had one too many bourbons.
But, to be honest, does it even matter?

14 thoughts on “Go Ask Alice

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