News of emancipation reaches the southern town of Mercy where within its boundaries four women journey to define freedom within their lives. They endure abuse, tend to unrequited love and ache from broken families. Suffering too long, only their dreams, desires and secrets hold them up each day.
Sylvia, the cook and confidant of her former mistress, hungers in silent desperation for a life with her sons who were sold years ago and for her husband who sleeps beside her filled with fury in his fists. She is not the only bruised soul on the plantation. Mistress Vivian Purvis moves about Mercy with a veneer of perfection, a fabricated likeness of the perfect wife to one of the town’s wealthiest and distinguished men. He, too, is lined in a pretty caul to conceal his brilliant misimpression. In their suffering, the two women discover they can help each other stand up and heal.
The resounding news marks the lawful end of slavery for Blacks, yet, on a neighboring plantation, they do not scatter and run, they do not gather up their children and move their free limbs in a joyous, gallant departure. Instead, they are trepidatious not eager, frightened not doughty. The deaths of Blacks brave enough to leave the plantation behind have their legs stiff with fear as they watch their neighbors kick up dust pulling their belongings behind them. There, with sharp eyes and long ears resides, Nella Jo, better known as First Lady, a black slave and the Master’s mistress, who lives in luxury and exploits her position among the other slaves. When the comforts of her life begin to dwindle at the onset of emancipation, frenzied and despondent, she strives to maintain the past to secure the future for herself and her daughter, Yuna. A woman with her own desires, Yuna struggles against her mother’s manipulations and stingy love for a different life all her own.
In Mercy, secrets hide in sluggish water and misfortune roams upright and without restraint. When freedom rings, each woman finds she is a prisoner grappling for some of it. Within their journeys, they discover the passageway to freedom resides within and always will.