Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Novella: Lucea: Pt. 1



I’m sweet on pretty boys.

I’m still trying to decide if it runs in the family or if clichés ring true. They say women attract men that remind them of their fathers. My dad has piercing eyes, blue like the bay he splashed in as a child, behind his one room cerulean house. I wonder if my grandmother drowned in the oceans that my father inherited from his own. My grandfather swam to Lucea, with a jeweler's dream and those very same eyes and it was all he needed to curse the women of my family, forever.

We don’t speak about the lie: The lie that consumed us and spat us out. The lie that probably had our ancestors rolling around in their Old Havana and Hanover graves. We died on red soil, amongst sugar cane, and in the sand; products of a plantation that traded between the coast of Cuba and Jamaica. They say if you stand on the highest hill, in Lucea, you can see the shores of other islands. None of my family has ever made it to the top of that hill. Our truth probably sits under an unturned stone, there, awaiting us.

I say this jokingly, to my grandmother, Louise, after my first introduction to the lie. Grandma Louise is tall and stout, over six-feet, and she’s looming over me as she speaks, “Shut your mouth! You don’t know anything about anything. Piglet don’t worry, you’ll come, you’ll see.” Grandma Louise calls me piglet when I’ve annoyed her. She’s reminded by the abundance of toys and love that surround me. I’m far more blessed than my forefathers, and she’s dedicated to telling me.

The lie follows us all to America. It divides us, even when we are together. We sit in church pews and family gatherings and ignore it. Grandma Louise, Grandaunt Lorna, and Grandaunt Doris keep it under their feet, they stomp it during hallelujahs and bring it to the pastor during prayer call. They sprinkle holy water on it, as it bounces from corner to corner in any house we’ve acquired.

We whisper about the lie in backrooms, during functions. The cousin crew tells bits and pieces of things we’ve heard and the older ones that know refuse to speak. Big Mike, dubbed that since the birth of his son Little Mike, says if we continue to talk about it, it will fester our generation too.
I think Big Mike doesn’t like talking about it because it would reveal how he came to be.  I move our chatter to different rooms trying to exclude him. During baby showers, we hang in Auntie Marlene’s back guest room. On Christmas, we find ourselves in Uncle Benny’s basement. Eventually, Big Mike becomes too concerned to find out where we’ve decided to discuss the lie. He’s got two children to chase and a wife that doesn’t like him out of her sight.

I wouldn’t want him out of my sight, either. He drinks like a fish, trying to gulp his history, trying to eradicate his origin. The Heineken is heavy on his breath, whenever he arrives at the party, “Where the cousins at? Youth! Where y’all at?”

We disperse quickly; we act as if we haven’t been discussing the lie. He looks right at me, when he opens the closed door. He knows I’m the ringleader. I’ve been trying to piece together the lie, all of my life.

“What y’all doing?” he asks.
“Nothing.”

He looks around the room, watching us twiddle our thumbs and glance anything but him. He hisses his teeth, and while closing the door, he belts out in patois, “You too lie.”


1955-1956

Open wound and salt water don’t mix.
Louise’s mother, Esther, knew this when she told her to go and wash off behind the house. Louise complied, walking to the bucket of fresh water they kept in the back to clean up things when the faucet wasn’t working. Esther ran across the yard, snatched her hand from the bucket, and pointed to the ocean.

“Get clean. Don’t miss one rahtid spot. I still need you to carry the food down to the workers.”

Louise pulled her sore feet through the sand, her calves red and bruised, and prayed she didn’t miscarry. The only thing worse than being beaten half to death by her mother and aunt was losing her baby. The water stung. Her lips split, and her shoulders had small cuts, but it could’ve been much worse. Uncle Martin walked in and stopped it before they could finish.

“Estha! You didn’t come home with a child at almost the same age?” Uncle Martin’s voice was thick like porridge. His hands were rough, and callus from holding a machete for chopping sugarcane and Louise could feel his skin rising as he lifted her off of the floor and helped her outside.

Esther placed her hands on her hips, her belt lying on one side of her apron, “More of a reason not to come home and tell me! She should’ve just run off with him. Father God, I cannot believe this child!”

Esther was talking about Mas John. He worked in the sugarcane fields, with Uncle Martin, and was one of many of the workers that they fed. Martin convinced the lead field hand to share out their profit to his sister, so she could feed them during their breaks. Louise was responsible for bringing the food over to them, once Esther finished. John was responsible for the swelling of her belly.
Today’s special was mannish water; often the meal when the seaside was dry, because not every morning was a good catch. Uncle Martin had come home to help carry the food over. The pots were too heavy for Louise to take alone. She was grateful to him, wondering if she’d still be alive if it weren't for him.

She went inside to change her dress and grab the pot of soup. Louise’s aunt, Shirley, was on her knees in prayer. The rope she used to help beat her niece was still wrapped around her palm. Louise shuffled around the room, trying to get her clothes before her aunt decided to hit her, again.

The praying stopped.

Louise pulled down her dress and lunged for the doorknob when Shirley grabbed the tail of her dress causing her to stumble backward.

She placed her chin on Louise’s shoulder and pulled her arm tightly behind her back, “Kibba ya mouth. Not a word of this to your younger sisters.”

Lorna and Doris knew nothing of Louise’s pregnancy. She waited for them to go to school before she told her mother. They would eventually inquire about her sudden waddle and morning sickness, but it wasn’t time yet.

Louise begged Shirley to let her go, “I’m not going to tell them anything.”

“Good, because you’re no example.”
__________________________________________________
Louise didn’t go to school.

It wasn’t because she wasn’t smart—she outwitted the boys on the seaside, innovating traps for crabs and borrowed books from Mas John. She read all day long, only stopping to help wash clothes or help with other tasks. The uniforms and supplies for high school were just too expensive. She didn’t score high enough on her tests and Esther didn’t want to waste money on her education, when she could be “helping to tidy the yard.”

For three years, Louise was idle. Aside from the rare trip to Montego Bay to sell sugarcane at the market, she spent days awaiting her sisters’ arrival, hoping they’d have new and exciting things to tell her.

“What was your lesson, today?”

The two girls would giggle and run, knowing their big sister would chase them and tickle them to get the information.

Doris was two years younger than Louise and Lorna was two years younger than Doris. Despite the girls’ age difference, they could’ve been mistaken for triplets. They were all tall and chubby. It was clear that Lorna would be the tallest. She was almost as big as Louise and Doris and would prove it when she fought back during their spats.

Something was magical about this year.

 It started with a huge feast when Uncle Martin caught what looked like one hundred fish flapping in his net. The whole family scaled the fish and friend them, so they could enjoy the meat with dumplings. Louise wished on a fishbone --because she read somewhere that you could--that she’d find purpose this year. She wanted to learn.

Mas John had a picture of New York City, in his pocket. She’d never seen one until he pulled the postcard out and showed it to her when she delivered lunch.

He pointed to one of the skyscraper’s windows, “That’s where some of my family live.”
“In that building? That place right there?”

Louise narrowed her eyes, hoping she could see small people inside of the glass. She hoped they would move, jump out, and tell her how she could get to America too.

“No, silly. But I think they live in something like it.”
“Nice. Do you have a lot of family, in foreign?”
“Yes. I even have some in England.”
“Wow!”
Louise had learned of Big Ben, the Queen, and more when she was in school. Some of her teachers were from England. She imagined John’s family strolling the streets and speaking in twang.

After this conversation, John started to bring her things. He knew she was intrigued by texts that showed her new worlds and happened to have an abundance of them at home.

She once asked, “Where is home?”
He smiled, as he spooned curry goat into his bowl. He always got on the line last, so he could talk to Louise as she packed up to head back home.

“Home is wherever you are.”
Louise was not sure what he meant by this. Home could not be wherever she was. Sometimes she was buried in the sand, awaiting the tide to come and wash her away to a new land. Home was the cerulean walls that were starting to erode, due to the water rising. Home was 8 pm bedtimes and 7:30 deadlines for washed dishes.
This wasn’t home: Home was always with him, in the books he brought to her, amongst the stalks of sugarcane, in the laughter he afforded her. This was home.
            She told him and he agreed.

            He asked, “Why don’t I come home with you, one day?”
_______________________________________
            
On the walk to her house, on a Wednesday when she knew everyone was at the prayer meeting, she wondered why they weren’t going to see John’s house. Louise wanted to see where he kept his books. She wanted to see where he slept.
            John was twenty-six and fine. He wore overalls, over a t-shirt that could barely contain his muscular frame, and always wore a hat to protect himself from the sun. He’d soaked up enough of it. He favored the dark of the sea sky, when everyone had come back in from fishing. The neighborhood girls, talked about him after church.

            They say he lives in another town.
            He only comes here to work.
            I don’t think he fancies anyone.
            I believe he likes to keep to himself.

            Louise prided herself on being the one he shared himself with. She swore that her fifteen-year-old heart would never beat for anyone else as he pulled her on top of him in the bed that she shared with her mother and aunt.

            She had no idea what they were doing. She doesn’t remember if she refused or not. She knows that it hurt, and she just wanted it to be over. But when it was over, she knew that she’d be able to talk to John about books, sugarcane, and all the other things they had in common.

            John became scarce after that. He did not line up for lunches and could be seen in the distance, chopping away. He did not smile in Louise’s direction, as she threw the leftover plates and utensils in a bag and made her way back down the road. He barely murmured a word, when she tried to return his books.
He just pointed to the ground, gesturing for her to lay them down.

            Louise was confused by his actions and walked all the way home, trying to figure out what she’d done to deserve his silence. Lucea was all sugarcane and hill, except for a few small towns—places her family couldn’t afford to shop in. She waved to Donna, the woman who sold fruits on the roadside and readjusted the bag as the shore became more visible. The cerulean house appeared behind a dune. Uncle Martin sat on the porch, having stayed home from the fields due to his magic leg acting up. He’d dubbed it that. He always tapped his knuckles against the ankle of his left foot and said, “No magic, today. It will kick in again, tomorrow.”

            Louise walked past him, inside, and dropped the dishes into the sink. She headed to the backyard to get fresh water when she noticed something propping the back door open. She kneeled down to get a closer look and realized that it was one of John’s books. She pulled it out from the crevice of the door and dusted it off; "Moby Dick" was embossed in green on the hardcover.

            “So that’s where that went.”

            She opened the book, deciding that she would read it after she washed the dishes. Someone had written their name on the back of the cover in pencil, “Mrs. Williams.”

            Louise didn’t know anyone by that name and wondered who she was to John. She pictured a little sister they hadn’t discussed yet, bringing home books from school.

            Mrs. Williams.
            Why would a high school girl address herself this way?

            She was confused. She decided that she’d ask John, when he decided that he would speak to her again.

            That same night, Uncle Martin pulled his net once more to find an abundance of fish. They would have another feast. It's been six weeks since they had a big catch. Louise bit her lips in anticipation, knowing they’d have leftovers for days.

            Her mother had prayed before they began, “For health and strength and daily food, we praise thy name oh Lord, amen.”

            Aunt Shirley broke the silence, just as they started to break bread, “You know…I dreamt of fish last night.”

            Uncle Martin laughed, “I don’t think that was about dinner. John Williams told everyone that his wife is with child, today.”

            Louise queried, “John Williams?”

            Her mother quipped, “That’s Mas John, to you. Have some respect.”

            “Yes, mommy.”


            Louise could hear the sound of crickets and roaring waves through the crack of the window. She’d mastered tuning it out, so she could fall asleep. When she lie in bed, that evening, there was another sound. It was the sound of cracking, something splitting open without warning. She closed her eyes and wished it away, but it wouldn’t go, and nothing felt like home.

2 comments:

Nicole said...

More, more, more! That was fantastic, I was immediately pulled in by the characters. Excellent!

Anonymous said...

I love how you can see the naivete of Louise, a young girl just longing to learn and to experience something different than the life she was living. I can't wait until the next installment!