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On June 9, 1976,
it is the twenty-sixth birthday of Dana, a young black woman. She
and Kevin Franklin, her white husband, move into their new apartment
in Southern California. Dana does the majority of the unpacking
and settling in; Kevin focuses on his office and then stops helping.
Dana gets dizzy, and her surroundings fade away. When she comes
to, she finds herself in the early 1800s
in Maryland. A young white boy named Rufus is struggling in a river.
Dana wades in after him, but he is unconscious by the time she reaches
him. She drags him to the shore and resuscitates him. Tom Weylin,
Rufus’s father, arrives and points a gun at Dana, terrifying her.
Following another dizzy spell, she reappears in her apartment in 1976.
Several minutes later, Dana again gets dizzy and disappears.
This time, she is whisked back to 1815. Rufus,
now a few years older, watches in horror as his bedroom drapes burn.
He had set fire to them because he was angry with his father for
selling a horse he wanted. Dana puts out the fire, talks to Rufus,
and escapes from the house before Weylin finds out she is there.
She runs to the home of Alice Greenwood and her mother, free blacks
who Dana suspects may be her ancestors. A group of young white men
smash down the Greenwoods’ door, drag out Alice’s husband, who is
a slave, and beat him. They also beat Alice’s mother. After the
men leave, Dana comes out of hiding and helps Alice’s mother. Dana
steps outside, and a returning white man finds her, beats her, and
attempts to rape her. Dana fears for her life. Following another
dizzy spell, she returns home to her own time.
The next time Dana time travels, Kevin comes with her
by holding onto her. Back at the Weylins’, Rufus has fallen out
of a tree and broken his leg. Nigel, a young black boy, runs for
help, and Weylin comes with his slave, Luke. Rufus will not let
Dana leave, so everyone returns to the house together. Kevin and
Dana stay on the plantation for several weeks and help educate Rufus.
But when Dana gets caught teaching Nigel to read, Weylin whips her.
Dana returns to 1976, but Kevin does not
arrive in time to go with her.
After eight days at home, Dana time travels back and finds
that Kevin has left the Maryland area and that Rufus has raped Alice Greenwood.
Alice’s husband, Isaac, a slave, is beating Rufus badly. Dana convinces
Isaac not to kill Rufus, and Alice and Isaac run away while Dana
gets Rufus home. She stays in Maryland for two months. Although
Rufus lies about how he got injured, Alice and Isaac are caught,
and Alice is beaten and ravaged by dogs. As punishment for helping
Isaac escape, Alice is made a slave. Rufus, who is in love with
Alice, buys her. He forces Dana to convince Alice to sleep with
him after her body has recovered. After Rufus fails to mail her
letters to Kevin, Dana attempts to run away. As a result, she receives
a vicious whipping, which so hurts and frightens her that she loses
the will to run away again. Kevin shows up, as Weylin had written
to him, and the couple attempts to escape. Rufus catches them on
the road and shoots at them, but they manage to time travel together
back to the 1970s.
After a few days, Dana time travels by herself back to
Maryland and finds Rufus very drunk and lying facedown in a puddle.
Weylin refuses to get a doctor. Over the course of many days, Dana
nurses Rufus back to health. Rufus remains weak for weeks. Weylin
has a heart attack, and Dana is unable to save him. Rufus blames
her for his father’s death and forces her to work in the fields
until she collapses.
Rufus is much harsher with Alice than he is with Dana.
Alice is jealous of the kindness with which Rufus treats Dana. Alice
gives birth to her second child with Rufus, Hagar, who is Dana’s
direct ancestor. She tells Dana that she plans to run away as soon
as she can. She fears that she is getting too used to Rufus, that
she doesn’t hate him enough anymore. Weylin’s wife, Margaret, returns.
Dana is forced to care for her. Rufus sells off some slaves, including
Tess, his father’s former consort. He also sells Sam, a field hand,
as punishment for flirting with Dana. When Dana tries to interfere,
Rufus hits her. She slits her wrists in an effort to time travel
and is successful.
Dana is back at home for many days. She and Kevin quarrel
a little about Rufus. Kevin is jealous of his relationship with
Dana, which Dana finds ridiculous. When Dana returns to the plantation, she
finds that Alice has attempted to run away. To retaliate, Rufus told
her that he sold her children, although actually he only sent them
off to live with his aunt in Baltimore. Alice is sick with grief and
eventually kills herself. Racked with guilt and anger about Alice’s
death, Rufus nearly kills himself. He keeps Dana at his side almost
constantly. One day, he tells her that she is so like Alice he cannot
stand it. He catches her by the wrists, and Dana struggles free.
She goes to the attic, planning to slit her wrists in order to get home,
but Rufus follows her and attempts to rape her. Dana stabs him twice
with her knife, killing him. She returns home immediately. Her arm
is severed and crushed in the spot where Rufus was holding it.
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