sâ€¢ASONING for llle MORTAR: Virgin Islanders Writing in The Caribbean Writer Volumes 1-15 Edited by Marvin B. Williams Layout and Design by Quilin B. Mars Research Publications Unit University of the Virgin Islands
Copyright 2004 by Research Publications Unit, University of the Virgin Islands ISBN: 0-9628606-9-7 Cover photo by Larry E. Oliver All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be repro duced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any informa tion retrieval system, without prior written consent of the author. Research Publications Unit University of the Virgin Islands RR 1, Box 10,000 Kingshill, St. Croix USVI 00850-9781 Phone: 340-692-4152 Fax: 340-692-4026 Email: email@example.com Website: www.TheCaribbeanWriter.com
Acknowledgements Sincere gratitude goes to Dr. Henry H. Smith, Vice Provost for Research and Public Service of the University of the Virgin Islands whose energy and unswerving encouragement spur our publication unit ever forward. Thanks must also go to President LaVerne E. Ragster and Provost Gwen-Marie Moolenaar for their support. Special thanks are extended to Dr. Erika J . Waters, founding editor, whose 16-year stewardship of The Caribbean Writer placed it in the position of prominence it now holds, to Dr. Richard Nemeth who suggested this anthology, to Dr. Deborah Fontaine who quickly recognized the importance and viability of such a text, and to Quilin B. Mars, Managing Editor of The Caribbean Writer, for her untiring efforts to see this project to fruition. Recognition is offered to The Caribbean Writer, University of the Virgin Islands, which first published the poems, stories, play, and essays reprinted here, and a fraternal embrace reaches out to all the writers who consented to have their work build this text. Although every effort has been made to trace copyright hold ers, in some cases this was not possible. As such, we welcome any information regarding poets and authors whose work was included without knowledge.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Acknowledgements iii Introductionn 10 POETRY ERIK TURKMAN Masquerade 14 From My Island 15 ARNOLD R. HIGHFIELD Regular Departures 17 From Exile 18 Departing Christiansted in a January 19 The Guineaman 20 ALICE V. HENRY Two Sides ah de Same Coin 23 BARBARA M . CALL WOOD Dey Music Gawn 25 Playgrounds 26 PATRICIA HARKINS-PIERRE Sister of Light 28 Death by Drowning 29 Passion Play 30 Jumbie 31 MARVINE.WILLIAMS Hurricane Thanksgiving 32 Freedom City, Homecoming 33 Night Rite, Freedom City 35 The Mill Ru in Above Ham ' s Bluff 36 December Tingles 37 Ham's Bluff 38 Downwind Tale 39
KATE MELONE Conjured by Surfaces 42 Sunset Legacy 43 MARlY CAMPBELL Dubby Shoonk, Frederiksted 44 Art as Becoming a Way to Live 45 PATRICIA GILL MURPHY Sufi Meditation: the Arcades of Saint Croix 46 The Leatherback Turtle Lays its Eggs 48 DAVID GERSHATOR La Playa 49 Terra Incognita/Taino Incognito 50 Synagogue Sand 51 Happy Hour/St. Thomas 53 PHILLIS GERSHATOR Tale of Two Trees 54 REGINA JOSEPH In De Midst of De Storm (Whe Over Yonder) 56 CARROL B. FLEMING Resources 58 Poet Not Taken 59 JEANNE O'DAY Crucian Time 61 The 5th Grade Atlas 62 Saharan Dust 63 GABRIELLE DILORENZO The Limbo Marriage 64 Anthem to Ecology 68 Where the Saints Still Glow 70 Tall Man Gan 72 MARK SYLVESTER Flute-man , Whey Part you De y ? 74 SIMON B. JONES-HENDRICKSON Screaming in our Hearts 76 Three Diamonds in the Sky 78
GENE K. EMANUEL Awa/Ahwe 81 CARMEN ROGERS-GREEN Tonight 83 Sarah Seh 84 Election Time-Again 87 ALTHEA ROMEO-MARK Old Mama on a Journey 89 Each One Must Walk This Way 90 Carnival Stray 91 SHARMANE MYVETIE Casting Down Arms 94 WINSTON NUGENT Columbus Revisited 96 EDGAR OTHANEIL LAKE Dawn's Early Light 98 PATRICIAM. FAGAN Caribbean Night 100 Daydreams on a Subway Train 101 AMY MACKAY Sunday 102 ISIDOR PAIEWONSKY Kingfish Hooked 104 CARYN K. HODGE When Oyo Come, You Gon' Know 105 Man Love 106 TREGENZAA. ROACH The Times of Sunday 108 KATHERINE LUKEY Homecoming, St. Croix 112
FICTION MARVIN E. WILLIAMS Adamon 115 Brownies 124 Skipping Stones 129 NARCISSA WHITE Benjie's Eulogy 137 ALTHEA ROMEO-MARK The Waterfront's Women; The Waterfront's Men 141 Easter Sunday 148 PATRICIAM. FAGAN In Miss Emma's Shack 154 Lahida the Cat 160 SUSAN BROWN Seduction at Tivoli 169 The Horse at Albertine Hall 178 PHYLLIS BRIGGS-EMMANUEL Teacher Jane 184 DAVIDA SIWISA JAMES The Commute 194 CELESTE R. DEARY The Dreampiece 201 JESSICA D. THORPE The Old Machete 212 DRAMA MARVIN E . WILLIAMS Liberated 221
PERSONAL ESSAYS SUSAN BROWN Days of Rum and Locusts 25 6 MARVIN E. WILLIAMS A Stranger's Homecoming 262 ERIKA J. WATERS Traffic Lights and the Human Condition 276 In the Aftermath of Hurricane Hugo: An Elegy for My Books 280 CARROL B. FLEMING The Writing Beach 283 INDEX 285
INTRODUCTION by MARVIN E. WILLIAMS Virgin Islands literature is currently in its third definitive sea son of flowering. The first petals of the 1930s Jarvis School of poets gave way to the radical leaves manifested in the late 1960s70s outpouring of (again, predominantly) poetry. Today, the tree is in agitated bloom, its branches and limbs robust with not just poetry, but short fiction, biographies/memoirs, and the novel as well. And while the roots continue to hold steadfastly and signif icant branches and limbs need pruning if we are to aerate the tree for purification and healthy breathing, the fact remains that there is abundant growth-often unwieldy-if less prodigious develop ment. Indeed, over the last twenty years (1984-2004) Virgin Islanders have published an impressive number of texts, almost certainly not limited to my accounting. I have located 95 books/chapbooks of poems, 10 collections of adult short fiction, 15 novels, 35 biographies/memoirs, 35 books of children's stories, and six volumes of folklore. In addition, there have been seven anthologies of poetry and three annual literary journals, two pro duced by students on the University of the Virgin Islands cam puses and, most preeminent, The Caribbean Writer, an interna tional journal of Caribbean writing. Outside of the brief-sometimes descriptive, sometimes critical-introductions offered by the anthologies, criticism (as much rain as sun spurring disci plined growth) has been conspicuously missing from the creative soil.
It is this missing ingredient that in large part accounts for the uneven quality of the works produced. Very little stewardship guides predominantly nascent writers who, possessing a deep desire to articulate their vision, lacking personal critical judgment, having ready access to hustler or indifferent printers and internet publisher sites, and seduced by the idea of publication, finance their own sophomoric texts that far too often draw one's attention and induces despair. And where the need to assert one's voice or massage one's ego is not at issue, too many begin ning writers chase the near illusionary dream of acquiring a financial dividend from their products. Writing almost always provides its own reward. Good writing acquaints itself with pos terity. In keeping with the mission of The Caribbean Writer which has committed to providing a forum for and encouraging good writing in the region and territory-wide, Seasoning for the Mortar gathers some of the best texts of Virgin Islanders which have appeared in the former journal over the first fifteen years of its existence-1987-2002. Additionally, the present anthology offers itself as an important gathering of contemporary Virgin Islands writing to be utilized as a text in secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Thus it simultaneously fills a void in our curriculum and traces the recent trajectory of our literature, its producers, their themes and treatment. Following the format of the parent text, the book is divided by genre; and owing to our attempt to provide a relatively focused view of the styles and voices of multiple contributors, the indi vidual pieces are clustered around their authors. Part I focuses on the poetry of 29 poets who engage-in nation language and Standard English-numerous themes among them the myriad shades of personal and group identity, the ambiguous legacy of colonialism, and women's self-agency in a patriarchal environ ment. Part II consists of 14 short stories many of which interro gate issues surrounding coming of age, subterranean violence in
male-female relationships, and the enduring legacy of the fantas tic in island affairs. Part III offers a play that takes a comic view of the conflicts that arise when an increasingly challenged male chauvinism comes under the attack of an assertive womanist vision. The final section-Part IV-is comprised of five personal essays each in its own way investigating how demographic and cultural shifts impact tradition and provoke reassessment of name and place. Collectively, the works in this anthology provide what its title suggests-ingredients for a Virgin Islands literary gumbo of which unseasoned and seasoned writers, critics, and audience can draw nourishment whose end is healthy growth and development.
14 Seasoning for the Mortar Erik Turkman is a writer, photographer, and jazz musician. His literary work often centers around themes relating to his family, which origi nated in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He currently teaches at Stanford University. Masquerade pitchy patchy flingin' 'bout horsehead man snappin' gypsy woman singin' out mockojumby trampin' The sun drenched costumes dazzle their jovial way along Main Street , a parade of sequins and brilliant rags. I am here for my yearly pilgrimage, visiting my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and the hordes simply called cousin. The sun bites my skin even after half an hour, but it is Carnival , so I pay no mind while I am seared. As long as I can feel the steel bands pumping out bright sounds while bouncing the scaffolding past all imaginable tolerance, I will be happy. I know natives think I am a tourist;
I am pale, my clothes are no longer suited for Caribbean living, and I can't resist taking photos to come away with as reminders of my source. Yet, once I arrive back in Brooklyn, I realize the biggest masquerade I ever played was living in the States like middleclass white people, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes, talking like a dictionary, and bundling my body in wool, while at night I peeped from frozen windows, searching the sky for jumbies, and scanning the new fallen snow for tracks of diablesse, the cow foot woman. From My Island On the elementary school playground, I drew a ragged circle in the sandlot, plunged a stick into the mound, and declared it was my island. Other children attempted to seize my ground, but I scraped another ragged line and said, here, this is the beach, you can play on the beach, but don't cross this line. Like the pirate I imagined myself being, I warded them off with curious curses, saying that if they dared cross the border, they would grow fat, or freckled, or their fathers would abandon them in a mysterious wood like Hansel and Gretel. They laughed at my ridiculous incantations Erik Turkman 15
16 Seasoning for the Mortar and tromped across my domain, filling my motes, knocking down my delicate castles, plowing their dump trucks and tractors in wide circles until my island was leveled. I protested, yet, in the end, they picked up handfuls of sand and stuffed it down my shirt, dropped it into my drawers, and ground it into my hair. I ran home, more alarmed than injured-my mother kissed me, cleaned me up, and gave me a popsicle. I promptly dismissed the entire episode, but days later, sand was still leaking onto my pillow while I slept. Soon, my bed became another island, with mountains of down, sheets breaking against the shoreline of my maturing body. For this private island, I constructed a complex barrier and vigilantly enforced its borders, yet, in years to come, it too would be breached. As certain as the turning of tides, my playground predictions proved true-the others grew fat, their skin mottled and blotched with carcinoma and melanoma, and their fathers left them in droves. I thought I had remained untouched by that exuberant ravaging of my island, but to this day, when I awake, I still wipe sand from my eyes.
Arnold R. Highfield Arnold R. Highfield has lived on St. Croix since the early 1960's and has published poetry (An Archaeology of Names) and reviews in various journals and anthologies. He is a retired professor from University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix campus and is a widely published historian and translator. A Regular Departures for Robert Nichols So trivial in its approach that you scarcely recognize the boredom in the eye of the visitor. You slide down a wall, in a room that you claim to own, clutching at the drapes like lifelines , pulling the room along with you. But the great scene, so often rehearsed in quiet despair, falls short, almost disappoints for soon even the fluttering in you succumbs to peace; and now, seeing the window again from a child's angle is your reward for patient waiting, for the years. You hear the sparrows chatter under the eaves as sitar notes floating across the Ganges from the closed face of a god. Perhaps even that is illusion. The light dims, the stripes across your face 17
18 Seasoning for the Mortar fade and grow dark as bruises; and your eyes study again the regular angles of banality in pointless disbelief. You remember a confident phrase: "This is the stuff that makes the world ... " Makes the world do what? The missing words fade as surely as a summer tourbillion on the ballfield. Then practiced hands pull night across you. The light departs in the same silence that sweeps you clean. From Exile I wake and sense a stranger in my room, standing before the broad window, taken by the River Charles. In measured steps I move past this exile now returned; he keeps a back to me, a luffing sail in my lee. As I shave he appears behind me, nearly glows through the bathroom's mists, an uncharted moon rising steadily over a shoulder. "Your hand holds a razor as I do," says a voice, perhaps his. He offers me a comb. "I am grateful," he lifts a gentle hand to me, "to have caught up to you." The pairs of morning eyes narrow deep in the mirror to a single thoughtreturn. This exiled outer
name I used to wear stands now at the threshold of my latest day; awaits a sign of recognition, an extended hand, a word. Somewhere there is a merger, maybe far beyond this room, beyond this merciless glass. "Come sit down to breakfast." In silence we take morning coffee, toast and quince jam. The sun boils up, the river curls its way. "It doesn ' t matter," says an indeterminate voice, perhaps mine. "It is time." We leave this room as one -another roomand descend the stairs. Arnold R . Highfield Departing Christiansted in a January Leaving surely predicates coming shortly to another port, greetings of a rough-hewn kind in dialects equal nearly to the neutered sort of regret that marked our tidal partings. And bidding wronged good-byes retains supposedly an obverse side of quick-opining strangers' eyes where the currents run; I would not hide a longing born too urgently and fast for a blindly incrementing past that fits now like an old glove in a northern city. 19
20 Seasoning for the Mortar The Guineaman I Cibuquiera , Cibuquierathen a hand reaching, now a cross marking charts, terror, marching feet. From Guinea came saints, from Bonny, loa. These soils drink their names; rains and seas of cane flood all recollection. Still ancestors enchant these fields with songs of rivers, ways of forest, of Daboy , adder, a delta's tortured run. If God hears at all, he hears the thunder in their feet. Orishas nightly fly, as promises partly kept, over genip-scented hills. And nights, bamboula-candomble hammers sacred notes opening the narrow way to God. These dancers long for town's sweet lies, to whirl to life the Daneman's lumbering shades. They would coax from severed heads , one manly conversation, and give great drums the heel, in mourning names now lost, spirits lately driven. Passioned notes kindled in the bush invade each greathouse stone as serpents thrusting into sleep through nostrils, open ears and tongues.
No peace! The drum's short patience resonates in lady silks that thread sweet nighttime airs. Under taman, thunder damns all trace of simple rest, for breath, for hard embraces. II Church walls stand in practiced canterbury nonchalance while lights in wheeling southern constellations illuminate the industry of whelks and limpet shell at work in sacred mortar. Ancient sea walls such as these secure the priests and dozing ferns; both colonize in reclining pose mock gothic notches, arches. Along the cloister garden paths the sacerdotalist strolls in prayer, -as eyes suppose beyond the gate-, finding by the grace of God defence against silk cotton shades , against the eyes, the tongue of Obayifo as he conjures: "eternity, Father , give me eternity." III In the King ' s town foreday mornings come , streets lie idle, dead but for errant breakfast c a rts . Alabaster baby Danelady sits behind worn buckra walls at breakfast, scarcely moving . Our-lady-over-Havensigt blesses yet another day-Arnold R. Highfield 21
22 Seasoning for the Mortar plantains, mamey, yams in sacrifice; and roundabout the yard attending heads all hang, irreverent mango clusters indentured to the sun. The blistering heat scores set lips to covenant, engraved along the word July, July before the storms. Heads as muffled cannonades, eyes as deadly shot await the sail of the Guineaman, the freefall of the anchor, the protest of the chain. Whatever brings the Guineamansalt, spoken tongues and names.
Alice V Henry Alice V. Henry, a former nutritionist at the Cooperative Extension Service, University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix, is now director of Our Town Frederiksted. A Two Sides ah de Same Coin SIDE I Ackadin' to She Gyal-I hear wha you sayinI could well relate! He don' share enough ain' dere enough He won' be enough ain' "we" enough He won' pull his weight man always late Pickney here and on de Rock 'bout marriage, he won' talk I feel foh you I really do Buh wait. .. I gah one question to axe Tell me ... Wah bout you? (You wi' de tambran-laced tongue tryin' to cover up a genip-stained past 23
24 Seasoning for the Mortar wit a soul where even kasha cyan tek root) Tell me sistah, tell me foh true Look in de mirrah Wah bout you? SIDE II Ackadin to He Man, I hear wha you sayinI been deh meself! She don' feel enough ain' real enough She don' do enough feelin' ain' new enough She watch too much TV an' talk too much 'bout "we" Won't give you no space always on yoh case I feel foh you I really do Buh wait. .. I gah one question to axe Tell me ... Wah 'bout you? (Words slick like over-ripe avocado with mango-drenched promises hidin' untrut's dah does poison like manchineel) Tell me pahtnah, tell me foh true Ansah me dis question Wah ' bout you?
Barbara M. Callwood Barbara M. Callwood was born in Tortola and grew up on St. Thomas, where she attended elementary and secondary schools. She has been a junior high school English teacher, and her poems have appeared in The Caribbean Writer, as well as other periodicals. A Dey Music Gawn When he leave He only take ah few ting: Da way he had 0' sayin' meh name sometime Da change it to ah bluesy jazz note Like when ah sax man Blow from deep inside heself An' mek meh heart Start jump in' beat An' wata bus from meh eye. An' dey way He use to hole me in bed-Arm an' leg all twis' up wid mine. Dey way rollin' bass note Does weave dey way All roun' an' between Dey tenor pan sweetness Of ah poundin' calypso melody. Da ting we had togeda Was red hot an' smood, 25
26 Seasoning for the Mortar Pulsin' steel pan hot An' syrupy saxophone smood. No. He'n take much wid he When he leave. He jus' take dey sweet passion. He take all dey music An' gawn. Playgrounds Promises then flavored ice-bribes Persuade them to trek with me, Back Past Mother care and Adolescent dreams to childhood Playgrounds: But the tree which gifted Geneps sweeter than any sugar cake, which bucked and threw me, tumbling through green leaves to hard ground and this faded linea concrete yesterday sign-The tree is gone as if it never was. The trucks and vans parked Where seeds rolled and crunched Underfoot, coldly Reject the unexpected dampness Of my eyes. And the gut which thundered With the frenzied shrieks Of disobedient West Gang and Upper Crew Is unrecognizable in its silence-Protected with red Danger sign
And solid wall Which can't keep in the faint unforgettable smell of rotten leaf, decaying tamarind, moss covered rock Which won't keep out my memory eye that leaps over rock and time to watch long grown playmates, wet skirts held high, splash through swirling water, collapse in hysterical laughter, build friendships that survive time's change-bent hands. Restless, long bored With parking lots and concrete walls, The children listen Vacantly to my rambling Good-ole-days tale, Unable to see beyond the run-down Peeling present, Unable to look inward as I do To the childhood I carry As they will carry theirs. Eagerly they turn away Their chatter of movies and ice cream. I follow silently. My aging body moving slowly As my ever-young self Skips noisily at my side, Leaving the playgrounds echoing In my mind. Barbara M. Callwood 27
28 Seasoning for the Mortar Patricia Harkins-Pierre's poems may be found in two recent collections, Akpasa: Poems That Dance and Tigers in Paradise. She received her doctorate in Creative Writing (fiction and poetry) from the University of Southern Mississippi and has studied with distinguished Caribbean writers Mervyn Morris of Jamaica and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott of St. Lucia. Sister of Light (A Tribute to Audre LordeNovember 1992) 1) You and I, Sisters beneath the skin, Attempt the impossible every day, Are broken each night, On Time's relentless wheel. We share the bloodiness of failure. Our labors of love Yield barren fruit; Our harvest of words Bitter bread. 2) You, walking proud and black, I, walking tall and white, Unicorns with rainbow eyes, Bear on our broad backs Burdens of joy-of anger. Alone. Apart.
3) You vanish. Black magic. The glamour of death vanquishes pain. I drown in Unfulfilled desires. Your music clings to me, Sparkling, Diamond. And I arise From the water Singing your songs! Do you hear me, Sister? Death by Drowning (Water Wings at Sapphire Beach) I. Temptation: "Storm surge coming!" A single child Floats, alone in the morning Bright sea . As though expecting A clear Deep glass Of cold water, She opens her mouth Wide ... Salt stings the lips, Scratches the throat Of the thirsty child; Startled, Patricia Harkins-Pierre 29
30 Seasoning for the Mortar She swallows. Her water wings Hold her high. II. Surrender: Invited to dance At the edge Of midnight-silver sea, I shimmy out of glass slippers, A too-tight dress-(Forgive me, Father). I'm learning to swim Past moon-lit breakers, Without water wings. Shedding my too-tight skin, I let blood flow, like lava, Dive deep into darkness, But not alone. My delicate bones, Pearls, salt, lace, Belong to my mother Now. Passion Play (University of Puerto Rico Cafeteria, April) Black birds in the cafeteria, bold and bright, sweep each table-the floor-with wide wings, sharp beaks open; claws like yellow forks extended-plump bellies full to bursting, they rise in exaltation. Oh my lost love, where did we lose our joy, our greedy appetite for feasts of flesh and bone?
Jumbie Damian: Yesterday at five-twenty I stalled in traffic by Havensight Mall; you transformed yourself into a jumbie. How did the gun butt feel against the skin at your temple? Like winter water at Brewer's Beach we dived into, shivering, as we touched bottom? I see your blood . When your wife found you drowning, did she kneel, stretch her brown hands out; or did she stand and stare, twisting her wedding ring, then let you go? Patricia Harkins-Pierre 31
32 Seasoning for the Mortar Marvin E. Williams, from St. Croix, teaches at the University of the Virgin Islands. He edited Yellow Cedars Blooming (1998) and pub lished a collection of his poems, Dialogue at the Hearth (1993). He is the current editor of The Caribbean Writer. Hurricane Thanksgiving The church's chaste devotions cannot begin to measure the thanks this island has learned to give come November's cool winds. Hugo's ferocity lives within the soul and sinew of our body politic, and we receive the season and its passing with the awe near death produces in our age's awe-dead. Across the land's breadth mahogany trees genuflect to the memory of salt blasting that shivers their roots; the long fasting earth feeds on the succulent rains that grace its leeching table; plantation relics sigh to escape another battering that might further deface their semi-hallowed bricks that fill a hollow place in our torn psyche. The restless sea climbs high on its own stilts to strike, but then masks its rage like a moko jumbi whose power resides in the image or terror the gods display to constrain hubris. At service's end a distant, intimate bliss runnels through the congregation that does not congregate for another year, the nervous huddling birthdate of umoja's fear. And though I was enjoying exile when the great storm struck, by the prodigal's osmosis I became party to the breaks of those who keep planting to pull up stakes.
Freedom City, Homecoming Driving down from upstate I read the landscape's unfolding p a ges, a green book whose welter of nouns name it, for me in my going home for this chilling last time, St. Croix most poetic. Sights and scents cluster to sharpen my myopia: cattle and dung cohere to form Annaly deformed only by memory; aging barns whose awnings flap in the flung wind recall broken windmills devoid of their pain; smokestacks in crosswinds moko jumbie to mime coconut palms without mask on Fort Frederik beach; the goats, the sheep grazing to give texture to winter coats become a hot field at Prosperity: But to move downstate is to move down to an awe more stark than that pastoral blossom which prickles the muse's skin each spring; and as the bucolic images recede into gloss and concrete , I concede that Home cannot ante-up to meet my memory or my need . But , approaching home, for a startled moment the zoom lens of the plane's window lies like all cameras must in their subtractions, and the nouns again name themselves using the familiarity of nicknames to placate memory; but then Marvin E. Williams 33
34 Seasoning for the Mortar the lens pauses for additions, and one realizes that no intimate nightmare could have whispered that sight would weild such cleavers to butcher nostalgia, the vain reflex of our needs. So my unwelcoming feet mourn and drag their hearse past the drying market whose concrete stalls attract without gloss barflies on break from bars which spawn in Town's corners like cockroaches. Ruffled head youths graying too swiftly from private shocks of life's cattleprod wander spastic like battered shoots in a hurricane's (Hugo's?) grip and shake to swell our bourgeoning gross domestic product. Friends, frozen in memory's unyielding ice, crack the melting ice and crawl out of their delighted rock caves to become animated hosts who rote "Glad you come home. Tis nice." A zombie in their world, I spot ghosts of sincerity in their welcome; and I'm quick enough to know they don't mean to be ironic. Yet their too baited hellos all wear a jig that hopes to hook, me, guilt's newest fish, on their pound tested lines. But wading in the shallows to satiate a wish for the fellowship of small fries, I do not bother to look at the sharpen razor flies attached to the lines; like a wrenchman I bite. Deftly the fishers of working men reel me into their stale but addicting, polite lie about hunger for a hot meal to warm their revolting bodies.
Surrendering, I see in my surrender that though my landing lights something tender in me to provoke a hearth's pleasantries, I am but a fish out of water. Night Rite, Freedom City My fastidious brother dressed up in worn clothes at dusk piqued my envy in my youth; for I divined the pattern, yearned to join the divine bacchanal that reset history upon the broken jaws of marines on bacchanal without masks from the crowding philosophy of sea. "Your mother does take sailor." Before our full-length mirror he flexed his thin bamboo taut muscles, his rock jaw , and smiled. In the kitchen my mother, my sisters, whose unsullied names he'd defend , baked dumb bread for our supper dumb history filled him too tight to eat. He rubbed my head for luck or with promise and manned away. " Your sister stay taking sailor . " I did not know the story giving passion to these epithets squirming boys and men to fight when fighting seemed Marvin E. Williams 35
36 Seasoning for the Mortar a gesture sans reason , a mime of rage dried, cracking from sun; I did not say no to the glory, the bloodletting that let boys in the cult protecting men against gods. "Mama, sister working for yankee dollars." But my blood understood too well the need that drove my brother to reclaim a manhood never lost though batten like Bigger's on Sanburg's southside stone; my blood understood the discordant knell that called him, a phantom, to the decaying Danish streets for a revelry carnival could not cure. The Mill Ruin Above Ham's Bluff The sea's hoarse turbulent voice grates in the weary ears of this shell of a windmill above the bluff ; its open mouth invites Prosperity, that thirsty estate whose m emory only remains prosperous (perhaps prosperity lingers too in its rainbow back crabs that swiftly disappear in ravenous traps of our docked pirates or in search of rivers long eloped with conquistadors wearing Panama hats). In this mill I see shells of hurricanes crushed by the reflection of their returned cruelty and magnificence ; I feel my great father's
arm crushed in the wheels that ground beyond greed's necessity, his nub soothed by the stubborn astonishment of sugar; I hear the bomba's ambivalence in the whip and the wound of his whipping, the slave ship stranded on the middle passage of our journey from ruins of empires to rise of profligate islands whose gnarled roots are the new world's. Often I fix my face in that stone work mirror whose stare returns cracked, jagged to give me fault lines that reject the faults bequeathed in my inheritance. Yet I must accept its gift, for this bounty is the only one it can tender. Like this ochre shell I surrender, the conch swallowing without denying the sea's echo as its own signifying. December Tingles December tingles the ticklish body of Frederiksted. Rickety buildings grow more festive with Christmas winds that blow in from ungodly hinterlands. Red and green garlands dance on electrical wires imitating birds that have fled the too bright town. Jou'vert like the old regime will soon come down the streets exhausted from its unkempt promises. The revelers will lampoon to laugh at their faith: The new year will retain their status crow. Marvin E. Williams In L a Grange mercenary complexes continue to grow from an orphaned soil that has accepted its fate: Earth fecund without flowers or farmers. Of late strangers become the most dependable crop 37
38 Seasoning for the Mortar we reap from development. Every seed they drop in this schizophrenic dirt matures into schizophrenia or immigrates to a more lucrative disabling mania. My three year old nephew already sighs "Me ain't able" with the worthless winds that wing to our table, and we old farts laugh as we cringe, for we know that his words are more ripe than his precocity, that his nose defines decay as treat not tragedy; we must with full rancor reap what we sow. Yet we must leapfrog rancor's bog that we too might retrieve the unripened despair of my nephew. Ham's Bluff Muscular waves that vault the infernal reef to pulverize the craggy shoreline then suction down to fathoms of historical grief below Ham's Bluff, provoke in me a memory before my birth: My mother, a young wife, worrying the young hours, her mind dredging waves' depth, their untrappable fury image in the tramping farewell of an intimate ghost. For her, time became a sluggard, idling within foreday, refusing to crawl toward noon to bring her fisher husband home. Then nearing sundown worms festered in worry, and when the neighbors clustered to cure concern their clustering, like the ghost's tramping, trembled Mom as omen. She fretted the delayed message of another fishing boat drowned, its fishers gone to the fish whose summoning was their calling, gone from their wives who curse the jealous sea they embraced .
Downwind Tale Bwoy, the oldtimer said, donkey years ago before your papa dead, before king fish get vex with Hess complex, before gar declare war with them stupidness we does be throwing in sea water, every Saturday miss , mistress and daughter used to flock down by Flatbush, waiting in line for your papa Mack . It used to have pushing, it used to have shubbing like sand when he come in by the wharf. Man, woman used to pack up longside he boat like sardine in a can; and though it hard to stomach all the syrup he racking up, you had to laugh til you hurt your throat. Them old woman was the best: with long-long dress hiding cold cream leg, they us e d to beg ... used to pray til they get bless by God, by Mack: " Mack , bwoy Mack , my poor old back hurting me like hell, my Marvin E. Williams 39
40 Seasoning for the Mortar dry corn them swell ing up, in fack I have so much pain I caan even tell if I alive or dead." Mack used to grin : "Doan harass your head; you gon get fish before you dead." But they ain ' t hearing, so they keep on begging : "Oh Mack, honey Mack doan bother your head with Lucille at all; I mind you when you was small. . . when your mother went a dance." " Sarah, stop digging me like dog looking bone , " " Mack , darling Mack , after she tis my chance; sell me two pounda fish let me go home. " And your papa Mack mock them for a while; but Mack flash them a smile , bending his broad back down, getting them mackerel, old wife, lob ster (not hedgehog) , bluefi s h, boil fish , silver jax what knocking dog when the seine come in full up til it he avy til it lame.
Man, it had conch, barracuda, grouper, doctor; man, too much other fish to name. Bwoy, them days we used to be nice in a buncha ways to that sea you see there. Watch ... bwoy, if you doan catch any fish to suit your wish you caan complain, you caan pick no quarrel with them; they bound to be doan careish, to be vex. And, bwoy, you better watch all that fume in the air; them bird might be nex. Marvin E. Williams 41
42 Seasoning for the Mortar Kate Melone, whose career has been in social services, has degrees in both visual arts and literature. She has lived in Africa and now makes her home in the west end of St. Croix. Conjured by Surfaces I am translucent with light against my will, caught in the sunset like a moth: necessity, substance of wings. Hibiscus closing, I open to bright beauty in my bones, light-worded and naked in the temporary darkness. Alchemy of hours wed to surfaces, the moonlight casts red shadows in the sand: the rounded sea grape leaf, a sea bird perched in feathers at the sea's edge, shifting its weight in the wind. Conjured by the light of surfaces. Incomprehensible as the song of whales, my breath moves light and loose, my belly curved to sand, the sun circling ... Surrendered, I breathe into palms, green fronds curling; exhaling, hurricane leaning, I stand with the delicate world.
Sunset Legacy for Marvin At sunset, when voices of the past came home, baskets of breadfruit, brother, the stories ripened in me to lasting harvest, legacy. You are a green remnant of the field's proud rhythms, the slow ache of cane, the flaming walk to Fredriksted. (Passions blooming on a tramping vine.) You are a tree singing its own name, ancient roots to flower, in language culled from history and present hours; we watched bright ginger thomas in the sunset light. Mango poet, rooted in La Grange, you dish out love for West End's manjack streets: the blossoming, the broken and the dancing brave. Sugar apple, hurricane survivor, sweet lineage: may all things passing, pass in beauty. Kate Melone 43
44 Seasoning for the Mortar After living 24 years on St. Croix, Marty Campbell moved stateside, lost much of his family, and feels basically homeless up there. He writes, performs, is occasionally published, and leads workshops in poetry. He enjoys the company of trees and bodies of water. His life's work of poet ry and stories is dominantly written on the gifted St. Croix, the land and the people. Dubby Shoonk, Frederiksted There are a lot of folks who don't know or don't remember who you've been I don't know, maybe you don't Some will not forget But once almost upon a time, when I first reached this so-called island You played a game of basketball unequal to anywhere I, mesmerized There behind the fort on asphalt rough enough to flat a pair of shoes in under two weeks Guarding you, you the shorter I couldn't touch your shot Every time I had it cold, you smoothly went around With that extra ounce / half-an-hour float you always had in save From running the steep hill back of town Reputedly more than daily with Gelocko Legend Gelocko disappeared to college Back and got a job Lost in society Somewhere, family I bet, I rarely see him You used to complain of people running you off the road on your Bicycle
Marty Campbell Spite, malice, and obea I too a scanting man could never understand-never got a nudge It may be my mentality that sent you I'm at a loss You disappeared Reputedly to a bin Come back fat and doped like they all do Worse than bars Always to be found on Strand or King Street Washing cars/ or now and again refusing In your evergentle now bedraggled caring less insistence On a dime a biggy coke or bread-and-cheese Discouraged In all my practice Steadiness, and daily run for years I cannot block your shot Art as Becoming a Way to Live Art as becoming a way to live something to hang on your face write in your letters chisel your touch of people about you show to your people dancing down the stairs to breakfast singing on down the road. Pressing your crease in the fabric of life the wax leaving way for the stain of blood. 45
46 Seasoning for the Mortar Patricia Gill Murphy is a former Professor of Linguistics, History and Education who has taught at the University of the Virgin Islands, the University of Connecticut, Vassar College, and the Fairfield University Graduate School of Education. A longtime resident of St. Croix, she is the author of numerous articles on the history of education in the Caribbean and the historical novel, Buddhoe. Sufi Meditation: the Arcades of Saint Croix Greece was rectangles, Egypt triangles. Rumi, my teacher, favors the arch. Desert-born nomads we danced away madness, traveled, traded; created, in Persia, spacious palaces, transforming the trunk of the palm tree into resolute columns, fronds stretching skyward then earthward, submissive, unbroken. We tent-sleepers molded the cold white marble of India. Taj Majal in the moonlight, shining like noonlight, curving tenderly over the loved one, bejeweled
monument conveying undying passion. In Spain, sandswept warriors slept by pools mirroring flowers, fountains capturing sunlight, birds singing wild in tiled courtyards. Alhambra, our fortress, our refuge, archive and council hall, avatar for an empire. We dispelled the trivial from the Hagia Sofia, cleansing the alcoves of intrusive icons, purifying space so barefoot pilgrims and truth-worshippers could view unobstructed the expanding blue. Our philosophers, confronting the unknown with numbers, solved the algebraic equation. Chemists, seeking meaning in metals, discovered the gold in mutation, recognized the mystery of metamorphosis, life in manifold forms. From the East, with the sunrise, came troubadors singing of brave men, women worthy of devotion. Music rose from streets, bombarding balconies, lightening lives of peasants, pontiffs and monarchs, tales of romance and magic revealing reality: no poem without love. Our smoldering poets ignited the Renaissance northward; aware of the soul's darkness, illuminated minds in the maelstrom. Warding off Patricia Gill Murphy 47
48 Seasoning for the Mortar winter, we built arcades over walkways where worlds meet and mingle, where hope jostles fear. On this sun-blazed island arcades shade poets, travelers, traders. Rumi, amalla, I linger and learn. The Leatherback Turtle Lays its Eggs Its hour come round, we helped the rough beast, tamping damp sand on the sloping nest-sides, covering soft eggs gleaming white in the moonlight, gently tagging flippers frayed from long digging frantic hours in darkness, turtle sighs in the silence, no false light permitted to pervert the water-glow. Then farewell to the half-ton monster, tear-blinded lumbering toward transcendence, finding grace in the sea. Guarding the nest, we shared with the hatchlings the sun-warmed emergence to tropical brightness, then guided their wanderings to the waiting waves. Come back, leathery monster, you need us , you need us, this year and every year , for hundreds of years. Our shores are a bethlehem, our soft sands a haven. Midwives to monsters, our mission, this mission: we helped the rough beast when its hour came.
David Gershator A long time resident of St. Thomas and former humanities professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, David Gershator has published four chapbooks of poems, the most recent being Elijah's Child (1992). He also translated and edited The Selected Letters of Federico Garcia Lorca (1983). He co-authored two children's books, Bread is for Eating (1995) and Palampam Day (1997), with his wife Phillis. La Playa I loll in the tropics of your mouth knowing sweet bays and bells and sheltered coves were never like this for windfalls of tongues at ease gently inquiring with wave after wave for easy gliding beaches of repose You've come a long way like the palm on this shore floated over by Captain X to rake the trades with scalp soothing fingers and in the hide and seek of the sea grape trees I find purple treasuries and clusters of ecstatic seaweed at the root of your tongue Then back to your lips I go like a tired swimmer to hum along the crescent of the palms until the tide comes in again and I'm picked up by my hair and tossed by my blood into the warm croon of your Spanish Main 49
50 Seasoning for the Mortar Terra Incognita/Taino Incognito Taino tradewinds in the palmettos over an island with no Taino tag to it an island left nameless as the waves an island blessed, damned, and cursed like any place called paradise in earnest or in jest what was the primal name ... the first name given by what driven Adam among first men scouting in hollow log canoes checking out the island for land and water a stopover, a watering place a place to live it was all tree then and now but in Tutu the bones lie buried in concrete nameless, voiceless today some boost the new K-Mart built on sacred grounds some not really interested in fighting to rescue a past beyond their kith and kin for some, Africa's the yearn for others, oblivion but on an island the Taino bones called home they called it so by cove by valley, by village, by name to the north a colder sea to the west Borinquen the east Malliouhana
to the south Ay-Ay some sounds, some meanings insinuate themselves into conch shells, clay shards , midden mounds, zemis Attabeira, Yucahu, Yaya, Yayael Guabancex of the hurricanes some shadowy heroes and gods remain hovering in the air but this island has lost its name and there's no lost and found to reclaim it this island has lost it, has lost its name its past, its sound, its echo, its name Synagogue Sand David Gershator for the bicentennial (1796-1996) of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue with the sand covered floor , St. Thomas, V.I. In Portugal and Spain in the secret synagogues of sand I stand with the men meeting in Inquisition minyans escaping in Hebrew prayer though it ' s death for prayers I think of a thousand years in Sefarad and the Final Choice and Pureza de Sangre and the Auto da Fe and the apology given in Olympic year 1992 by his royal highness Juan Carlos de Borb6n five hundred years after 1492 . . . Hooray. Hooray . I think of tourists off a Caribbean cruise checking into this sandy outpost-Hey! This is real sand on the floor! 51
52 Seasoning for the Mortar Yes, and geckos and lizards and ants roam on their own safaris between the pews and over the walls overseen by no rampant Lions of Judah flanking the Ten Commandments on the ark ... Where are the Lions of Judah? Where did they go? The only lions around belong to rastamen with Stars of David and dreadlock manes on this reggae and calypso rock where the native mahogany ark contains a recent arrival a small Czech Torah scroll orphaned by W.W. II, another stranger finding a place in the Indies And I recall Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac and can't even conceive of all the scapegoat Isaacs and their kin martyred across the maps and I meditate on the blessing of sand and stars given Abraham some twelve thousand miles and four thousand years away-1 flash to the computers calculating the people of Israel at two hundred million more or less if not for the unreal world in the real book of numbers And I can hardly imagine all that can be written in the sand between the pews and the ark and the bima h all the poems, prayers, stories, sermons, speeches, jokes, whispers, songs all the Torah, Talmud, Prophets, Apocrypha, and Kabbalah all the steps of Israel
inscribed in the sand smoothed over by sand plain and simple sand taking any and all footprints that come along to press a moment into the sand Sefarad Minyan bimah * * * Hebrew for Spain a prayer group of at least ten raised platform, dais Happy Hour/St. Thomas Another punch drunk poet drowns in the Virgins Another reject from a palm tree falls from the sun like Icarus beating his head against the tide another waterlogged coconut goes bobbing against concrete on the waterfront The world's most beautiful liners offer daiquiris to the dying sun and small talk in the town bars turns to the dead man's float and how to do it and stay alive David Gershator 53
54 Seasoning for the Mortar Born in New York and raised in California, Phillis Gershator has lived and worked on St. Thomas for many years. A poet, librarian, and an author of children's books, Gershator's poetry has appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Home Planet News, and other literary magazines. Her most recent books for children are Someday Cyril (Mondo), Tiny and Bigman (Cavendish), and Only Cowry (Orchard), all set in the Caribbean. Tale of Two Trees Ripe tropic almonds drop like rocks or gunshots on the porch Our neighbor complains about the noise The nuts fall on his tin roof and keep him up on the alert for prowlers He wants us to cut the tree down ancient tree, a landmark home of birds and bats But cutting is a costly undertaking and the bats would be displaced zigzagging erratically flying into our house by mistake Obeah bats The flamboyant tree bothering no one
its branches reaching out umbrella like mimosa leaves, vermilion flowers falls suddenly in a rain storm shallow roots upturned branches landing on that tin roof crashing through the gate and telephone lines trapping people in the house The rescue squad, tree cutter, insurance man talk of life and limb but the almond with one less tree in the yard fruits still small and green gets another chance On moonlit nights I hear the bats in the leaves Phillis Gershator 55
56 Seasoning for the Mortar Regina Joseph is from Trinidad and Tobago but has lived on St. Croix for the past 34 years, where her poetry has been published locally. She is the proud mother of four and grandmother of twelve and is currently a manager at Pueblo's Supermarket. In De Midst of De Storm (Whe Over Yonder) Whe over yonder plenty rain fallin Lightin flashin Thunder rollin Whe over yonder. Ah hear de stormy winds blowin Whe over yonder. Ah see trees fallin River bank breakin Everybody hidin Whe over yonder. Whe o ver yonder Ah hear children bawlin Houses fallin People runnin Whe over yonder. Ah hear ah tumblin sound Whe over yonder. Like walls fallin down Whe over yonder. Ah hear ah mournful sigh Whe over yonder.
Whe over yonder Ah see people cryin Ah hear voices praying Regina Joseph Ah see old people bowin down Whe over yonder. Ah pray God stretch He hand Over yonder land In de Midst of De Storm. 57
Seasoning for the Mortar Carrol B. Fleming is the author of Adventuring in the Caribbean: The Sierra Club Guide to the Caribbean. She has published two chapbooks of poetry and numerous articles in national magazines. She was for merly Extension editor of the University of the Virgin Islands and cur rently teaches poetry in California. Resources A gaff-rigged schooner at sunrise hopes for port, ghosting up the coast on the nuances of the word zephyr alone. Its great sails waver behind the wilted hedge and the still green leaves of mango and hibiscus. It is the dry time; there is little fruit. The agouti have come down from the mountains to crack seeds; chickens beg at table; even the goats look thirsty. The want is pervasive, never mentioned, existing as sure as sea or mountain. Heat too is topographical. Twelve year old Freddy the thief who lives down the hill-yesterday caught stealing $100 U.S., his boldest move yet-will still be whipped. But only eight times . With a tamarind switch by a 260-pound policeman from Her Majesty's Prison who will hold with a queen's formality his elbows tight to his waist like this: he will whip at right angles with the sharp bend of regulated vengeance. The boy will be bound hand and foot.
Carrol B. Fleming There is not enough to go around. Same for everybody, ain't excuse fer stealin. This week at the market, to get bananas one must also buy christophene and carrots. Who has that kind of resource? The schooner did not need to pull into the wind to drop sail. It has anchored with port in sight: near and unreachable . Even wind is scarce. Poet Not Taken Would I be a different person if I had tangled with your sea-crossed legs for an hour or two head over heels for a day or even a short season of moist tropical nights? Would your green gaze have left the soft turquoise fuzz that age and sea air leave on the private contours of statues? Or perhaps your rousing touch would have lightened and brown inland as unobtrusively as the sundried bubble of a jellyfish. It is hard to know. Ever. Of doors opening. 59
60 Seasoning for the Mortar Closing. Or leading on a continous journey around some convoluted coast. Here: the tangle of mangroves arching inward, aching for that darkness where bright birds roost. Here: great splashed stones content with their own black solidness and a whisker of barnacles. Around the next corner: the powdery invitation of sand holding its secret life under cover. The tidal zone: a wild mask of surf dividing wet & dry like words crossing skin.
Jeanne O'Da y Jeanne O'Day, a former English professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, now heads the English department at the Antilles High School on St. Thomas. Crucian Time Summer's equinox passes unnoticed like a shy girl carr y ing sisal bound to her grann y' s , skirting Christiansted ' s columns, and taxi drivers flip dominoes black and white draped chiaroscuro in shade and light dust and sea. Day and night share their orbits split in two by a minute' s sunset like an egg cra c ked on an iron skillet ; life sizzles around the edges. 61
62 Seasoning for the Mortar The 5th Grade Atlas It's as tho we're all in the margins here. The Caribbean span is reminiscent of the ocean maps at Quisset laying out the sea's underbelly, her hidden layers, the landscape of her floor, the rhythm of her currents. This map is a water map rimmed by masses, seams taut; land pulls away from her, giving her wide girth. We people her edges. We're all in the margins here. The 5th grade atlas clearly shows the rim of peopled places, the Caribbean border towns from Havana to Georgetown, Puerto Barrios to Bridgetown . All the towns are border towns down here. All of us are marginal, marginally safe, trimming the tides, skimming the surface in Liat hops like silver pebbles deftly skipping forth from an agile child's quick slip of the wrist. Language pokes the sea-air floats over space to mean more than sea, earth, air. There is nothing more to mean. Even the fire simmering at the Continents's core recedes undersea
and surfaces in liquid luminescence. The elements cooperate with first things first. We are. We are all in the margins here. Saharan Dust The air is still, laden with Saharan dust, powdered bones of ancestors, an infusion of the desert's lifeless breath. A riddling fog of red powder obscures vistas as fertile sands traverse the sea on tradewinds, seeding the seceded, casting cloud cover where there are no clouds. The air is gritty and insistent. In a day or two, ocean eats the air, ingests near the shoreline until the dust softens into the ribbed-smooth, grooved bed of tides, and the ancestors are settled once again. Jeanne O'Day 63
64 Seasoning for the Mortar Gabrielle DiLorenzo taught Spanish at St. Croix Country Day School from 1986 to 2002 and has published poetry, fiction, reviews, and draw ings in many journals including The Caribbean Writer, which awarded her the Marguerite Cobb McKay prize to a Virgin Islands author in 2002. She has also exhibited paintings and drawings in Wisconsin, Honduras, and the Virgin Islands. She is currently a senior instructor of Spanish at Culver Academies in Indiana. The Limbo Marriage If I could bend that low then maybe I would show how far some-
one can take humility Is my appearance strange now , do I need to change? I didn' t start this so ungracefully Limbo makes muscles crack I want my real Gabrielle DiLorenzo 65
66 Seasoning for the Mortar self back It seems you want an act when you tell me: If I could look that way If I could cook that way, Well, you mis took my way
I am not She You set the bar so low Your scorn begins to show I cannot stay or go comfortably My act has almost ended life can't be suspended Gabrielle DiLorenzo 67
68 Seasoning for the Mortar in a limbo state permanently Anthem to Ecology I am a scavenger a tireless procurer of discarded goods I am a refuse collector I never walk with my head Upright For then I would miss the wealth of T-shirts that could be washed and used again the pens that still have another page in them (to write) the wet magazines (that could be dried and read) the twisted, misshapen silver utensils (good for mixing paint) I am a packrat a hoarder a lover of cast-off You'll find me bottoms up in a trash-bin when I see old telephone wire
that could be twisted into Christmas wreaths cardboard for covering table-tops or making Halloween costumes I go ape over styrofoam pre-molded to nestle boxed appliances unbeatable for cutting up and glueing together my own new styrofoam toys Heaven is a junkyard where all the loveliest refuse is strewn in random haphazard beauty all the fragments of cloth for making dolls all the scrap rubber for silkscreen squeegees all the tin cans to cut up and patch together all yarn, twine, wood, old carpet all old springs from defunct mattresses rusted car-parts, lace corsets ratty wigs for making paint-brushes all jars, tubes, canisters and bottles, pails , tubs, sticks and handles all shoes , hinges , drawers and mirrors be they shattered, stained or buried would offer themselves to me under a celestial sun for my endless, delighted perusal In heaven's dump I'd mix and match dig and scratch pile, stack and hatch new ideas If I can't re-form the world the way I want it then I'll assemble trash in new configurations Gabrielle DiLorenzo 69
70 Seasoning for the Mortar I am a scavenger part dog, part vulture I like to get my nose in it I am a refuse collector I never walk with my head upright and my pockets are filled with buttons dirty coins day-old bananas (to make banana bread) I take home leftovers from cocktail socials I am a pack-rat My grandmother made panties from potato sacks! "It is a shame to let those rusty hubcaps go to waste Let's turn them over fill them with dirt and plant roses." Where the Saints Still Glow I don't want to be in this tangle of wires and emotion near uplifted chunks of concrete in the midstream of exodus I don' t want to sing litanies to slanted posts piles of scrap metal or the oil-stained ocean
I want to bask in the order of images to worship at a predictable altar I want to go where the saints still glow where monuments stand where cathedrals command my admiration not here where blame is passed like a contagious virus Gabrielle DiLorenzo where Nature ravaged troubled people where bare palm trees loom stark, like totem poles metal hovers, twisted, in the trees mistresses spill from gaping buildings and hills are scraped bare People scramble and elbow each other clawing a t all survival provisions stores are splattered with obscene words I want to go to the della Robbia altar to the Bargello to the white m a rble statues I want to leave politicians accusing each other irrational threats and selfish apologies the storm of mankind and not of nature the toppling of dreams, the sinister solitude emptiness, restlessness, hunger for beauty I want to see buildings with time-worn foundations a landscape that has endured 71
72 Seasoning for the Mortar I'm tired of the transience of these shallow waters the flimsy veneer of absent tradition I want to see oil paint brilliant through centuries I want to go to Florence not here TallMan Gan The rock is wide and sparkles in the sun The path is an ascending staircase toward a sky of blazing blue Trees extend branches bend toward absence Something is missing void Quiet reigns on the tumbled hills over the plate glass ocean The world is waiting Fissures in the rock crack sun blazes on dry cactus sky expands with the heat of island summer There is a stir and rustle of leaves glistening in the grass
music in the round, resounding curve of a mountain road You once walked here Breezes listen to the distant whir of waves their tumble and crash erasing footprints embedded in the sand We cannot hear you There is a gap in the pattern of clouds a link slipped, somewhere You're not with us A torso inclined upward hands that search for seeds under a tree laden with calabash bowls a flute playing a single melodic line The trees have missed you Gabrielle DiLorenzo 73
74 Seasoning for the Mortar Born at Castle Bruce, Dominica, Mark Sylvester has been a resident of St. Croix for many years. He is a playwright, an actor, a poet, and a writer of books for children. His poems have appeared in various jour nals and newspapers, and he has published two books of verse: When I Awake (1977) and The Road I Walk (1986). He was awarded a poetry fellowship in 1992 to the University of Miami, where he studied under Kamau Brathwaite. Flute-man, Whey Part you Dey? In honor of poet Senya Darklight who perished while mountain climbing Flute man, down to eart' man de mountain still sing sankey an' valley sleep while star play Peeping Tom at night, humming bird play accordion for lizard to dance de Trembles, banana quit skip from hibiscus to bougainvillea, lickin' pollen, bee busy buzzin', while mother in law tongue shick shack, an' wind gustin' force branch to rub shoulder an' moan. T'under implodin' each time fly get tangle in spider web, de coo coo bird still call de sun to rise in dreams of Kilimanjaro;
we still hear shouts of silence in de shade of de baobab , school children still "walk de tight rope wid no net below," an' babies scream in teenage womb, prison door spin round an' round an now job more scarce dan tortle shell. We miss de rid dims of yo' flute dat mek burd' n drop as de breddren stan' in o v ation , we miss seein ' de sun rise in yo' eyes , an' hear dat laugh dat firs ' start like a chokin' cough den brekkin' loose like Niagara fallin ' sprayin ' mist of tikkle on each list'ner. We miss de layman wisdom dat flow easy like ripe banana peelin ' . Yo' voice still echo in each twis ' of de wind! Flute man, down to eart' man whe y part you dey? whey part you dey! Mark S ylveste r 75
76 Seasoning for the Mortar Simon B. Jones-Hendrickson, Professor of Economics, University of the Virgin Islands, was born in Sandy Point, St. Kitts . He is an alumnus of the College of the Virgin Islands, now the University of the Virgin Islands. He graduated with an A.A. in Business Administration in 1967. In 1969 and 1970, he earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Economics from Illinois State University and in 1976 he earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Exeter in England . He has pub lished books on economics and finance, two volumes of poetry and two novels , Sonny Jim of Sandy Point and Death on the Pasture. Screaming in our Hearts -A night with white rum on its breath walks with me at funeral p a ce . -Derek Walcott, The Arkansas Testament Your night was no night at funeral pace, no night with white rum numbing the vitality of your soul , to boldly go into the hearts of literature where no other Caribbean mother or brother has been before. Let the news continue screaming in our hearts for yours is yours, and ours, and theirs , too, for what Robert Graves said is true. You are the epitome when it comes to dispensing the
English, as it was meant to be. We who have taken Cricket to its highest height, now have reached the highest literary light. Through You. Brodsky, Joseph, as you know, saw your light many years ago. He knew you were being regionalized, marginalized, even left to be fossilized. Did they know? Do they know? What do they know of Cricket, who only Cricket knows? The master asked. What do they know? For forty-plus years you have given us lights in green nights, no epitaphs were castaway in another life. While you bridge the gulf, your sea grapes on the Caribbean shores were no grapes of wrath. Every fortunate traveler knows there must be a midsummer. If midsummers are midcrises, and you have to be Here and Elsewhere, a testament of the Arkansan variety will provide the magic for you, for us in Om eros. So, castaway your pentameters, and wrestle with midsummer hexameters, wrestle but don't get spent, triumph, triumph in the Arkansas Testament. Triumph for you, For us, Nobel Laureate of OMEROS. S. B. Jones-Hendrickson 77
78 Seasoning for the Mortar Three Diamonds in the Sky (For George Beckford, Cliff Lashley and Carl Stone) George, Cliff, Carl, you three, selectively taken from the pages of history, narrowed by vengeance of the land spiked by water, blows and smoke. You have left us reeling in a Blue Mountain coffee stupor. George, you have marinated consumption functions where marginal propensity to consume may be bitter weed, wormwood and gall on a rotten plantation economy of persistent poverty. And if Shakespeare were to meet you , Cliff, you would have said like Nelson Mandela in Brazil "A casa e sua, irmao." You had the gift of kings bundled in an Oceana neighborhood where a Central Bank was your view and where others will not venture Down Town, you knew Down Town and Up Town were yours , too. But whence does bitter weed flow into polls of your making , Petras, my Latin Stone? Will you, Cephas, bring the two way ward sons together under an ackee tree or will they wait with guns raised to cease and settle when the poui tree blossoms? You tell me. Tell me if we must have a faculty meeting at the Graduate in Papine? Will there be Marxian dialectics suffocating
through the pentameters of assembled hard chairs in SR4? Who will give me my first opportunity to defend the furrows of plantation economy in the alms of Babylon on a dry pitch next to Colly Smith Drive? And when will the polls ever ring true again, so that you can trace me for my idiocy of disagreement? I will miss your laugh that sirens your coming and castroes my time to listen to you for hours. And what will they say now? You three selectively taken to make hay in a land where sun does not shine, where Atilla refuses to do the bidding of Roman peasants who believe they are maroons in the kills of bondage; where blood oozes from the Kentucky massacred chicken that you hated, that you despised, that you knew was taking over Jamaica. And when JAH down shall be no more JAM down, and the Love Birds shall no longer fly high above the sky with Love Girls fashioning the latest dance hall bikini of indifference, we shall awake to the smell of jerk pork, and cricket shall be taught at UWI for only then will you ask, S. B . Jones-Hendrickson 79
80 Seasoning for the Mortar What do they know of Fern Gully, who only bami knows? Will we then ask that Irvine Chancellor, Taylor and Seek Hole march to one tune under the watchful idea of BOB MARLEY? Will we see three ships sailing into the night of finality like a Brian Lara four taking him to a century? Will Papine show a three dimensional figure for those who seek socio linguists in a library crawling with silence one day after football week? We sure will. You gave us flowers. We were scented in polls punctuated in Shakespearean sonnets and embellished in Walcotian hexameters. Lest we forget, you smell your flowers while they were in bloom. And while your ships reached the Indies too soon, you three knew your journey; you were not mistaken by some carto grapher who wanted East by West. You three, selectively taken, were stars in a firmament of your own making. Your light shall continue to shine on every granule of persistent poverty, every clientelism of a multi party and every Garveyism, Georgian alliteration, wrapped in an anaphoric assonance, like a diamond in the sky.
Gene K. Emanuel Gene K. Emanuel, born in St. Croix Virgin Islands, is Associate Professor of English at the St. Thomas campus of the University of the Virgin Islands. He co-authored Emancipation Echo and his latest pub lication, "A Review and Summary of the 1733 African Slave Revolt," is the lead article for the collection entitled The 1733 Revolt: African Resistance on St. John, VI. Professor Emanuel has lectured widely in the diaspora, including West Africa and the Caribbean. He is a prominent literary interviewer and host of a weekly radio program, On Air University. A forthcoming work on the early African presence in the Virgin Islands, based on the Oldendorp Papers, is sceduled for publica tion at the end of 2004. Awa/Ahwe Fresh foot print in the sand Track of the asantewa On Amina (Akamu) grain Where bata steps in time A With the ageless bend of the river Purple with Osbun's dye ... The running waters Flow in pyramid heart To the open door of the sea When Nana walks on water Back to the groves of Ife Wrapped in swaddling robes The baobab shields the rebirth of Sango Oba Koso 81
82 Seasoning for the Mortar The rains rain stones on the barracks of the long knives ... The pointed spears dyed green Piercing the expectant air. .. Kaskadees and feathers fluttering The wet blood of the white cock Sperming the dry earth Like the answer of prayers To the ancestors In the dust to dust To life ... The sky crimson With the blood of childbirth Flowing from the pools Of beginnings, The waterfalls cascading To the sea And The footprint now merged With The sand and the sea And The ageless movement of the Elemental core ...
Carmen Rogers-Green Carmen Rogers-Green was born on Anguilla and earned degrees from the University of the West Indies. Some of her earlier works have been published in a collection of Anguillan poems, Conchs by the Sea. Tonight Don't go away tonight. The cold stalks emboldened by your impatient playing with the door knob. Close the door. Your trained voice cracking like the skin of dried tamarind, ill masks surprise. Sit down. Your feet the wings of a trapped bird beat a pathway into the tiled floor . . . . Remember our green days succulent as ripe red mangoes, juice dripping on our lips gorged with the sweet greed of passion. 83
84 Seasoning for the Mortar ... Remember how we filled the chilled distance with pages of endearments sealed tight with words carved carefully and arrowed into hearts dying of the blues. Now here we are moths fluttering towards a light that glimmering in our memories impales us on our past. Go away tonight, I'll read your letters. Sarah Seh Ah was ah happy womanAt leas dats what I taught. Ah had everyting ah could wish for, Plus mi husban, George was sexy and smart. But las week mi fren Sarah Whisper dat di news was out: While I busy earnin a livin Mi husban busy romancin bout. At fus ah could only laugh An brag pan George loyalty. But when ah reconsider, a h start fret Cause George was always so sleepy! Mi member di strange phone calls An special Valentine card las year,
An ah swear ah was goin kill GeorgeAn go prison-right den an dere! Sarah sey, "Not so fas gal, Wait, dohn murder di man Cause husban wid rovin eye Dem plentiful like san pan dis lil islan." She know one obeah doctor who cure all problems of di heart. An ask how I tink her Robert Come ti mek cookin an cleanin a art? Ah was still a li1 hesitant When Sarah sey, "Gal dis is no lie Is di same ting Paula usin ti control Sweet Mout Bobby, di playboy!" Well, when she mention Bobby, Ah know it mus be true. Bobby used to fall in love so! Like how yuh ketch di common flu. So, ah give Sarah $1,000 Ti buy di compellance medcin. But when ah get di obeah tings Ah nearly dead, ah was so frighten. Di snake oil and di frog oil green. Di oil ah love mi long an strong Look like mud-it tick an brung, An smell so bad, it knock mi dung! A yella spendtriff powder Would mek George buy me jewelry bright, An one slimy octopus oil Would mek him hole mi tight-a-night. "Sarah dis medcin cahn wuk. If jus seein it mek mi sick, Carmen Rogers-Green 85
86 Seasoning for the Mortar Den how mi ah get mi husband Ti stay normal an drink, it?" Sarah sey, "Put six drops each in two big nana dumpling An no need ti worry yuh head, gal, Dumplin an Caribbean man besta fren." Di moon was a sight ti see dat night An while George was busy eatin Ah was chantin an doin a wicked obeah dance Ti control he heart, ina di kitchen. But George hardly eat two good mout fulls, When he flare up wid a shout, He swear di dumplins full a poison Dash pass me, an outa di house. Ah dumplin was still on di plate But before ah could grab it up, Dis big, ugly, dawg name Benji Swallow di ting dung in one gulp! Lawd, ah sorry ah listen to Sarah. Time pass-after twelve o'clock. Mi ah wonder if George still love mi, An worse, if he ever comin back. Ah was cryin an prayin, When a soun disturb di night. Twas comin from di bedroom door, So ah rush in an turn on di light. Ah reach out quick to embrace George , When someting sof touch me. Sarah was right, di obeah wuk Twas di ole, mangy dawg Benji!
Election Time-Again Marta, come dis way mi dear, Hush yuh mout, dohn talk loud An dohn go near Albert He face is a thunder cloud. Elections jus' one week away And we mus' use di ballot But to hear di pol'ticians dem Yuh swear is war or riot. Marta, how all dis here time Mi'pply an search fi wuk Mi husban in-an-out-a job Is pure hard time an' bad luck. Now pol'tician all over tung Workin miracle and plan Dem goin employ di whole worl' If only we vote in dem man! Mi tell dis can' date las week schools lackin space an 'quipment an mi son knowin less tiday Dan when he fus did went. Di man so good an qualify He promise widout failin Soon's he get di gov'ment poss Mi son goin start improvin. 'Membrer Mr. Braggados Wha barely win las time Den not a peep come outa him We tought he dead or resign. Carmen Rogers-Green 87
88 Seasoning for the Mortar Well mi dear, Braggados back! Same tricks an ole stale jokes, Ticklin babies an kissin ladies Bold face beggin fi we votes. Anoder can' date claim we relate When ah tell him wey ah from He sey he cousin-fren-aunty-mother Was born in dat same tung. END CRIME AND CORRUPTION NOW! DEMOCRACY! FREENESS ... AH-AH-AH ... FREEDOM! PEACE! VOTE ME IN AS SENATOR AND YOUR PAIN AND SUFFERING CEASE! Who fi vote for Marta? Family, liard or clown? Albert sey if he knee was'n sick He woulda tek a chance an run. But joke aside! Is time dem stop mamaguy we An is time we tek a stan; Too much serious tings at stake Fi'llow pol'tician ruin we Ian'.
Althea Romeo-Mark Althea Romeo-Mark was born in Antigua to a mother from St. Croix and a father from the Dominican Republic, but grew up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. She graduated from St. Peter and Paul High School and then earned a B. A. from University of the Virgin Islands and an M.A. from Kent State University in Ohio. An educator, Althea has published in the USVI, Puerto Rico, the US, Liberia, Germany, Switzerland, England and Norway. Recent publications include poems in Mind the Gap (Switzerland, 2004); The Caribbean Writer (Vol. 17, 2003); a short story in Karibia Forteller: De Norske Bokklubene (Norway, 2001); and Yellow Cedars Blooming: An Anthology of Virgin Islands Poetry (1998). Althea lived and worked in Liberia, West Africa and England. She presently lives and works in Switzerland. Old Mama on a Journey She's cool crossing the road halting traffic with rheumatic knotted hand wrapped round raised mahogany cane, she, bent over, an old limb, face to face with the ground, stands rooted bright eyes focused. Drivers clench wheels fingers hover over horns 89
90 Seasoning for the Mortar feet dance between brakes and accelerators. She resumes her balancing act each gout-swollen leg in journey over zebra, her face wash board ridged wrinkles tighter into smile as she anchors heels solid as cows' hooves on the other side of the street. Each One Must Walk This Way Dey say, granny, tek it easy stay out de kitchen You hands tremble, spill you tea, drop dishes. Granny, you too eager to help youself an' others sit down. Doan bother. Irritation march cross faces when granny haul memory out she cupboard like she meking inventory.
Dey sit like dey in ants nest not listening granny reciting poetry, granny singing . Dey put her out in a chair after tea and crackers in a shady corner on she porch. Neighbors dash by shouting hurry hurry howdy-dos not waiting her reply. But granny doan mine too much. She say green mango get ripe fall down from tree. Carnival Stray Broddah! hit he in he y ' eye hit he in he y' eye if he y ' eye bus ' up me nar goin' cry me nar goin ' cry mash he on he toes blood-up he nose he too two-timing broddah too two-timing bruk up he fin ger Althea RomeoMark 91
92 Seasoning for the Mortar le' de pain linger le' de pain linger will serve him right will serve him right ah see him in de carnival dancin' up 'pon Rose whinin' on she batty playin' wit' she natty hol' in' up she hip dippin' when she dip he dere in he little worl' on a half pint trip shakin' to de rum shakin' to de drum ah never see a man so brazen an' bol' he forget how he ol' dancin' to de steelband twistin' up he waist can hardly keep de pace can hardly keep de pace stare me in me y'eye dry face, fresh face ah feel ah goin' die ah feel ah goin' die bu' me nar goin' cry me nar goin' cry kick he in he bum broddah knock out de rum leave he in de trash heap le' Rose come le' she come fine he see how ol' he be she nar goin' wan' him she nar goin' wan' him when she see he in de sun not dat ol' two-timing bum
chuck he on de side broddah, chuck he on de side ah got me pride broddah ah got me pride Althea Romeo-Mark 93
94 Seasoning for the Mortar Sharmane Myvette was born in Belize, but has been living in St. Croix for many years. She received a B.A. in English from Lawrence College, Wisconsin. Casting Down Arms I am casting down these arms like a worn and scarred soldier unfit for battle against opposing forces that would rob me of my sanity. I am disrobing Baring my naked self before the walls of my foes unwilling to live their dreams of nine-to-five jobs lite beers with less calories this year's model of the same car frost-free ice boxes to hold the corpse of last week's
dead animal foods with fat-cholesterol-sodium. I am buckling my urban war boots and am headed home to the banks of the Caribbean where brown skin is still legal and di wata nice nice . Sharmane Myvette 95
96 Seasoning for the Mortar Winston Nugent was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica and grew up on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He is the winner of the College of the Virgin Islands poetry award (1975) and the International Poet of Merit Award (2001) from The International Society of Poets. In 2002 he placed sec ond in the St. Croix Avis Short Story Search Contest for his story "The Mahogany Tree." He also received the Maguerite Cobb McKay Prize to a Virgin Islands' author from The Caribbean Writer, his work having been included in several of its volumes. He has published three books of poems: Negus, Blue Rain and On Our Islands. He has worked as a staff writer for the St. Croix Avis and has freelanced for The Virgin Voices, The LA Weekly, and the Caribbean Impression. He currently works at the Virgin Islands Legislature in the Public Affairs Division. Columbus Revisited dreaming on monkey mountain soaked by histories gone from my cultural body/ I the Caribbean man/ calypso maker/ dancing through a cultural tramp / only sun baked / soaked with canefield sweat looking for a sip of coconut water/only to be awakened from a yampy dream trembling/ and 'fo' day morning dew damped my cultural backbone/leaving cassava belly children begging for maubi roots/
holding out bamboo hands / trying to survive a stormy famine / I the West Indian antique/the donkeycart/ the documented footnotes behind memories / I the son ofNaga Nanny-the maroon woman / I stood a monument still dreaming ... Winston Nugent g]
98 Seasoning for the Mortar Edgar Othaneil Lake is a writer lilving in St. Croix, whose forthcoming novel, The Devil's Bridge, is to be released from Athena Press & Book Publishers this spring. He is currently working on a larger manuscript on Charles Abramson and his most recent paper, "Virgin Islands Cultural Gifts of the Jazz Age: Charles Lindbergh's Landing, 1928" was presented at the 131 h ACASA Triennial at Harvard University in April 2004. Dawn's Early Light In memory of James McCloud, a 21 year-old seaman from St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, who fought with the 54th Volunteer Regiment of Massachusetts, 1863-1865 Awakened, I tip-toe past two ladies asleep Charlotte snores to Kierkegaard's lullabye and Dawn-to Freedom's hoary welcome My feet strike out, navigating Savanne's Gut light bleeds the shadows-a sunrise prelude My veins carry Vesey's muse from Charlotte's port I am a seaman-the garrot is my vote (Why then do I replace it with a rifle?) For Freedom's Dawn, and a Bounty's pay-and the company of Frederick's son, an officer Dawn's fingers reach the blind shutters She gives me an amulet-three eucalyptus leaves ranked by size, and crushed within her fist
Her trembling lips muster my prayer: "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death. I fear no evil." "James," she whispers, "I'm watching over you." Edgar Othaneil Lake Captain Blyden watches me hug Hamilton's warehouse His gang-plank is drawn up so Cornelius cannot escape He baits a shark named Chance from Negril to Freeport A page from Tidende holds his bait: crushed sea urchins, or spiny black poem: "TAX FOR NEGROES-5 BITS, 2 STIVERS" I leap across the waterfront's eddy King Olaf looks out over Emancipation's garden I leave him day: Charlotte's temporal slumber, and Dawn's early light 99
100 Seasoning for the Mortar Patricia M. Fagan was born on St. Thomas where she attended elementary and secondary schools. She then graduated from the University of Arizona writing program and now lives in Arizona. She has published many articles, book reviews, poems, and stories in jour nals and magazines at home and abroad; her characters and stories being about the lives of the many peoples who affected her life as a child. Caribbean Night A lattice view through turpentine leaves of the stepped town's lights while the night air grieves A moment of history prism in the night trapped in the mirage of the Equator's light Flash-moon Sparkle-steel passion rides the waves we were never as fair we were never as bright as this fragile Caribbean night
Daydreams on a Subway Train Draw me a hibiscus, sweet darling, make it red and opened. draw me the flambouyant in blossom; the palms tall and grand. draw me the old black woman selling tarts and soursops on her head I need to see ole Mrs. Proudfoot on her donkey; we used to say hello every morning. draw me the hands of the steel drum player their roughness banging out calypso. draw me ole Mr. Pete, beads of sweat run down his black face as he takes his cows to pasture. And how about the time we got caught teefing fruit, lord, those soursops were sweet. And don't forget Rafie, the town drunk, drinking rum Patricia M. Fagan and throwing the empties at the tourists while cursing. draw me the black women squatting, as they fry fish on their coal pots. draw me home; I can walk barefoot up the hill, see the morning sun and forget this subway train. 101
102 Seasoning for the Mortar Amy MacKay was born and raised on St. Croix. She attended Country Day School and graduated from Bucknell University (Pennsylvania) in 1991 with a degree in biology. She is an active environmentalist. Sunday A hummingbird hovers by the window, Stabbing a nearby flower. On the patio, a sugar bird sits On the rim of my coffee cup, Hoping to find traces of leftover sweetness. And I sit on the fringes of this Sunday Morning, searching for the sugary syrup Which makes up my days. At the beach, I watch children chase A ghost crab along the shore. He is no match for the pack of busy arms And legs that swoop down on him. He's tossed into a scratched plastic pail, The kind I used as a child To make castles in the sand. The children gather around to stare. They challenge each other to touch. I watch as they hop around the pail, Screeching at each other. In the evening, sun-baked And exhausted from surf and sand,
I fall asleep while reading And wake much later. I crawl into bed, The sugar bird perched on my coffee cup, And the ghost crab trapped in the plastic pail. Amy MacKay i03
104 Seasoning for the Mortar Isidor Paiewonsk:y is a St. Thomas businessman and historian and past member of The Caribbean Writer Advisory Board. Kingfish Hooked torn out of water by the head kingfish leaps rides a burst of momentum fins open like wings turns on an arc of sky falls down the wrong world frantically V of tail, a gun metal V of drive in naked rush for sea cover fish locked with line battles the line in chaos of splash in angles of turn comes slate colored thru corridors of water to violence of hand that thumbs the gills and strangles from the head down
Caryn K. Hodge Caryn K. Hodge, dancer and poet, sells real estate to make a living and lives on St. Croix with her two children . A When Oyo Come, You Gon' Know when oyo came as mom predicted it would I was twenty-two going on twenty-three and didn't know though she said I would . oyo comin'. oyo first approached saddled with statistics seven to one seven desperate women one available man numerically speaking chocolate city lie because well-bred sisters don't do blue collar. oyo comin'. 105
106 Seasoning for the Mortar yet six mouths cried girl you betta' hold on to that man swallow your pride you know how it is now there are none. oyo comin'. desperately I clung to my one their none despite caliche crusted feet cocked up on coffee tables girl at least you gotta man said the other six. oyo had come. ManLove man love endures it's a girl thing conversations during sex engaged exchanged for a roof
over your head nailed down with blue varicose veins sealed tight with dirty dishwater elbow deep at no extra charge . Caryn K . Hodge 107
108 Seasoning for the Mortar Tregenza A. Roach, originally from St. Kitts, has lived on St. Thomas since he was eight years old. He earned a journalism degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a law degree at the University of Connecticut. He writes poetry and short fiction and was selected by the Detroit Writers Guild for the Margaret A. Walker fiction award in 1999. The Times of Sunday I remember myself when Sunday light was unlike any other ; and Sunday's calm and mirthful rhythm was like the dream we wake from dreaming, always too soon. No calypso sung here. No loud talking and thinking, nothing at all vexatious to the spirit. The rise from slumber is a joyful, sweet awakening to to the sounds of church bells and fowls conversing , and warm sunlight creeping over and under
crisp cotton sheets, and cold water on my face and down my back and into puddles at my feet, and a clean white shirt, long before boiled in a cauldron perched upon three stones over a fire and drenched with the starch of the once poisoned cassava. To greet the world, on a pilgrimage down friendly streets, deserted except for old women in doorways and on doorsteps and old men whispering to each other the secret secret pains of their aging and of their longings for that already gone. Hear the people sing their praises of the creator, giving a life to these ancient relics of the faith. These Christian bastions and fortresses still cool to the touch Tregenza A. Roach 109
110 Seasoning for the Mortar from windswept nights but ripe with the passion of our fathers' fathers, convinced to wait for the hereafter for the rewards of their work and of their suffering. Bathe us in the balm of frankincense so that we might rest in the dream of the redemption. But remember , too, simple human yearnings for saltfish and choba and fresh Saturday-baked bread and tea of lemon grass and balsam with a splash of fresh cow's milk from Natty at Farms. Then to trek across black sands, disturbing the graceful writings of the crab seeking only to save itself. A deep blue sea beckons the weary to dip in cleansing waters whose rise and fall
match our heart's composing its music, so much like the wind. These Sundays, gone the way of lamp light, and warm kerosene against an aching stomach, and warm Canadian oil to soothe the fire in a child's ear, and antipa for the fire in his belly. Gone like the old woman on her landing with her pipe and her tobacco, blowing her smoke to the heavens. Tregenza A. Roach 111
112 Seasoning for the Mortar Katherine Lu.key has lived in St. Croix for over 31 years and has been writing fiction, non-fiction and poetry for many years. Homecoming, St. Croix these days I'll remember always; gentle breezes turning into Christmas winds making palm frond shadows on my wall like leaping mocko jumbies sunrises from Concordia Ridge, huge spheres between buck island and east end that color my livingroom a glorious orange you can almost taste handsome Senepol cattle swishing and munching their way through Windsor forest where calves losing track of moms while gamboling, bellow loud , plaintive calls answered but soon drowned by headlong rushes sunshine streaming down on yellow breasts in tuxedos leaning against yellow alamandas
counter-pointed by yellow ginger thomas growing amongst greening roadsides blinding my eyes to anything but joy full moons and brilliant stars silvering the nights with a luminous peace unrivaled by the glow from mere lamplight indigo waves breaking on turquoise spread reefs still amaze and delight me as I fly in at homecoming while green mountain ridges bordering deep valleys mimic the lurch in my middle and the lift of my heart again-after all this time Katherine Lukey 113
Marvin E. Williams Marvin E. Williams (see biography on page 32) A Adam. on It had been raining in torrents for more than two hours, the heavy drops pounding the galvanized roof of our wooden house like a million steel pan tenors gone mad on the spirit of carnival and on carnival spir its. And now that the pounding had become the melodious ping-ping pinging of the lead-pan with the slowing of the rain that had settled into a stead y energetic drizzle , the sun's powerful glare shocked our darkened house into light and reminded us that the Devil was once again beating his wife. Shortly thereafter heaven intervened and the drizzling stopped. I ran to our kitchen window that overlooked Queen Street, for I enjoyed these late summer torrentials that made cisterns overflow and the earth choke on too much water swallowed too quickly. Then, the narrow gutters became frenzied rivers that rushed by our yard down past the corner grocer's, the butcher ' s shop, the fire station, then even tually on to the sea. I sat gazing at this river now, gazing and waiting anxiously for old Adamon to come with the newest of his miniature boats that we had watched him carve from a chunk of mahogany only three days before. I had no doubt that he would come, for he was a regular at meal times-dinner during the week and lunch and supper on weekends. And he knew that I, especially, looked forward to sailing the boats after our personal river had calmed considerably. Adamon didn't show up for days only during the hurricane season when the radio reports said a hurricane was nearby and houses should be boarded up. I wondered then if he was allright. How did he eat, who took care of him? At these times, and if the wind and rain had abated enough, my mother would let us go to the mouth of the yard to launch our makeshift ships. But while these substitutes-used knockabout matchsticks, Brow soda bottle 115
116 Seasoning for the Mortar stoppers, and dried twigs from coconut palms-were exciting, they were less than fulfilling boats when measured against Adamon's master pieces. I had no doubt that he would come today. One time Adamon collected a large batch of gooseberries from the tree in our yard, and a few days later he brought a calabash bowl-carved from the gobi and decorated with strange figures he called words-filled with stewed gooseberries, a delicious jam-like syrup thick with brown sugar and flavored by ground cinnamon. Since he brought nothing else to the yard, I always thought his gooseberry stews an offering intended to reduce what I sometimes imagined was his embarrassment as he accepted lunch, dinner, the occasional Saturday roasted fish, or beer, his clear favorite. I loved looking at him when my mother or one of my older broth ers offered him a Shaefer beer which, I was convinced, we kept expressly for him. We kids were not old enough to drink, my father drank but never at home, and my mother drank one glass of White Label Scotch she made us believe was medicine each night before she went to bed. Adamon would get unbelievably shy at the offer, his eyes lowered, shift ing nervously in search of a spot outside scrutiny to hide; his gnarled artistic hands seeking out one of his boats or my head to absently caress; his body drooping a notch down from his normal stoop designed by age and, I couldn't help feeling, a mixture of humility and deference. He would maintain this posture until he had taken the beer and said, "Thanks a lot, you hear, thank you." But after he had taken his wooden beer mug out of the crocus satchel he carried with him wher ever he went, he would pour the liquid out slowly, and with something like reverence, spill a drop on the ground and smilingly say, "A taste for the dead." (I quietly thought that in a weird way Adamon was too gen erous for his own good to waste a drink which he so loved on nameless people who couldn't drink anyway.) After this routine, he took a long lusty swallow that made his Adam's apple move rapidly up and down, down and up like a piston gone out of control, while his sad eyes became happy with tears, and his nervous body trembled with delight. Then he would set the half-empty mug down and raise the empty can up to the sun in a kind of homage, smack his lips, and shake his head in disbelief or deep gratification . The only other times he became so animated was when he told certain stories about St. Croix or Africa. When I could, I sneaked beers out to him not only because I knew he relished them, but mostly because I enjoyed his excitement and ritual.
Marvin E. Williams I enjoyed Adamon's stories, told under the gooseberry tree in the middle of our yard during the daytime, much better than my mother's that came at night after the kerosene lamps had been put out and the darkness became a tangible thing grown terrifying by the shapes sculpt ed by her stories of ghosts and cloven-footed women who haunted the estates between Homestead and Two Williams where she grew up. Adamon's tales were never about ghosts who came to announce the passing of a loved one or friend hours before they died; and though the stories sounded fanciful and as made up as my mother's, he always said that they were true-although he began them with "Once upon a time" and ended them with "The wheel bend and the story end." Oftentimes he would preface a story about Africa by saying with quiet passion: "You know them guinea almond tree you does see round the place? Well, they is the sacred baobab from Africa. Remember that." And his tales left me strangely tingly and fascinated, almost believing the truths he claimed they offered. My favorites were about Buddhoe who he called a true African, blessed with the blood of great kings and warriors; Buddhoe the liberator who marched with his little army to the fort in Frederiksted and demanded that we be freed from slavery (this puzzled me so I asked), something that made us work like animals for we were in fact considered animals perhaps no better than Tiger, the collie in the yard whose home-cooked though leftover food we sometimes stole when hunger gripped us hard enough and our mother was at work; Buddhoe and the River Boat Man who took the dead on their journey to the world of the ancestors. When we asked him how he knew all these stories he called "his tory," he would tell us that as a little boy living at Estate La Grange he huddled with other children under tibbet trees at night and listened to the tales told by the older people of his neighborhood . He must have heard thousands, many of which he had forgotten, he said, for there were many great "spinners of tales" each competing to ensnare you in their web. But those he entertained us with had never left the roof of his mind so great an impression they had made on him. If we doubted his history then when we got further along in school maybe the books we read would have grown up to support him. I could not imagine books growing up like people or dogs or trees , and if they did then I could not imagine them spinning tales as fine and spellbinding as Adamon did, even if they were the same ones. But I was already in the first grade and I couldn't wait to get past Dick, Jane and Spot so that I might find those thousands of other stories he had forgotten. 117
118 Seasoning for the Mort a r My mother had almost finished the lunch and the aroma of stewed pork and red beans and rice that filled the too small house became almost edible where I sat so close to the pots and my mother' s contin uous humming and stirrings. I turned from the window to look at her. A thin film of sweat had settled on her forehead and I thought her shoulders sagged a bit from fatigue, but her eyes were alive, alert, shin ing so that they appeared fresh and pretty in spite of the ugly worn apron and the old house dress she wore. Her head was wrapped in a green cloth that contrasted well with her almond-colored skin and reminded me of those colorful cloths and turbans worn by the " jet black " Africans Adamon had often described with so much wistfulness. I still could not see my mother as African though I tried very hard to do so , for Adamon always said she was. I liked her color better than jet black, a color that inevitably made us squirm and giggle . Our giggling sent Adamon into an irritable silence. My mother noticed the attention I was giving her and she gave me her wonderful smile. I grinned and returned to my vigil. I couldn't remember when I first met Adamon. Like the intercon nected apartments and houses that formed a half-circle which was com pleted by a high concrete wall at the western end and Miss Eunice ' s big two-story brick house that formed the southern barrier to our yard, Adamon had always been there. He was a short, very dark man with wrinkles vying for space on his sunken face , strong wiry arms , and usu ally unshod, calloused feet. His salt and black pepper hair, forever uncombed, was swiftly becoming simply salt. His kind , brooding but penetrating eyes sat deep in their indented sockets and gave the impres sion that he had seen or could see what others would not have even con ceived. Yet his eyes sometime s assumed an impish aspect-on those rare occasions when he teased or frightened us and when h e appeared to be reliving a particularly intriguing or amusing experience he had recounted to us . His most arresting characteristic was a nervous-looking tremble that ran the length of his body . This involuntary movement, which first scared then amused me , eventually won my awe and admiration when I saw the numerous objects of art he had created with his deft though quaking hands. And they were beautiful, especially his boats whose every detail captured and impro v ed upon the various designs of the real things I saw in the magazines Miss Eunice loaned us and in the sea on those Saturdays when my mother took me with her to the fish market
Marvin E. Williams by Flatbush . On several occasions I had asked him to make me one; he would promise to do so, but apparently once the boat was finished he was unable to part with it. My mother had begun to serve up and put out our plates and my brothers and sisters, having thoroughly washed their hands, were hun grily scrambling for seats at the table. I was hungry myself but unin terested. My mother called across the room to ask whether I would eat with the others. I told her I would eat later, watched her cover my plate with some aluminum foil, and took up my lookout posture again. About twenty minutes later after everyone had eaten and resumed their various chores or play activities, my mother came over unobtrusively and joined me at the window. She placed her arms around my shoul ders, and after she thought I had adjusted to her intrusion, she joked: "Imagine that, here you sit waiting for Adamon to come before you eat when a year or so ago you been crying that he always in time to eat up all the food." She giggled, and though I wasn't amused, I remembered. I loved crab and seasoned rice, and whenever we had it there never seemed to be enough. Although my mother heaped my plate with more rice than usual and saved a bit of her crab for me, I was never full. And on that day a year or so ago that she was teasing me about, a Saturday I recalled, lunch had been uncharacteristically late and I was particu larly hungry. I sat, as I often did when I was very hungry, in a corner of the yard pouting, refusing to play with my siblings, so angry I was unable to speak. At such times my mother would look out at me and grin broadly, and when she did I felt like throwing stones at her and worse. Just when she called to me with exaggerated formality and def erence, "Mr. Jackson, your lunch is ready to be served," Adam on waltzed into our yard to wrench away the smile that was slowly building on my face. My earlier anger returned and became near rage. I raced blindly past him into the house, hysterical, hollering at the top of my lungs, "That trembly, rabin old man coming to eat up all the food again! He ain't live nowhere, he don't eat home, why we does always have to feed he?" My mother hit me a slap across my mouth that sent me sprawling and sniveling into a corner. She took up his stool, dragged out one of his beers, and walked purposefully out to the gooseberry tree to welcome him. I knew she hadn't finished with me so, terrified, I curled into the fetal position and waited. She came back huffing and swept my bony frame up from the floor so that my eyes came level with hers. She 119
120 Seasoning for the Mortar was horrified, deeply hurt, and unspeakably disappointed all at the same time. "You think Adamon is a nobody, a botheration, a old geezer who only looking freebies? And even if he was, that wouldn't matter. I rais ing allyu to respect allyu elders and I ain't gon accept less than full respect." She shook me violently and continued. "Let me tell you something. He' s a important man whether or not your fast li1 self could see it. You of all people, you who he say have potential, rude to the man." I watched her chest heaving as she paused to recover her breath, trying to make sense of her cryptic words. Except for the times when Adamon told me approvingly that I asked the right questions, I had no idea what she meant. Potential to do what? She started to say more, thought better of it, and put me down gently. She wiped her sweaty brow, sighed softly, and simply said, "Sit down let me get your food." That day I got no extra rice nor could I expect any crab saved up from my mother's plate, for she had none. But I was too contrite and apologetic to be real hungry, and if I had been hungry I could not show it. I could not escape the nagging thought that I had profaned some thing and someone sacred. I wanted to apologize to my mother for my behavior, but I didn't know how to approach her terribly saddened face that had one after another of my siblings asking her, Mammy what wrong? Eventually, with half the food still on my plate, I got up and went out to ask Adamon' s forgiveness. I slowly approached him as he was emerging from a happy convulsion provoked by a thirsty swallow of beer. "Adamon," I said, "I didn't mean to disrespect you. I sorry." His eyes twinkled when he smiled and said, "I know how it tis when you hungry." He rubbed my head lovingly then went on. "Sometimes life don't seem fair, no true?" I agreed. "No siree," he said about things that had nothing to do with me, "life ain't fair atall." He eased patiently out of his daze, reached into his satchel and withdrew a calabash covered with tinfoil which he gave to me. I took the gift of gooseberries and walked backwards, stupidly, until I got into the house. My mother hugged me, made a signal with her head that Adamon understood and returned, then took the stewed gooseberries from my hands. "Go finish your food," she urged . When I got back to the table an extra piece of crab sat on my plate. I turned to my mothe r who was busy washing dishes and humming peacefully to herself. Now as I waited she massaged my narrow shoulders and quietly shared my fascination with the water rushing past our yard. I liked inti mate moments like these that were decreasing with geometric speed as
Marvin E. Williams I grew older. "Mammy," I asked in almost a whisper that could not vio late our silent bonding nor share our space with the others busy with themselves, "who does cook for Adamon when he ain't here?" She stopped her massaging momentarily then continued as she spoke: "Adamon welcome in any house in Frederiksted. He ain't got no trou ble getting a meal. So, you see, you don't have to worry your head." I wanted to ask her more-if he was really famous or something or if peo ple just felt sorry for him. In spite of her earlier cryptic suggestion, I thought it was the latter case and I didn't want to hear her say it. I focused my attention on the mellowing river and said nothing more, not even when my mother kissed me on my cheek and said that Adamon would not come for lunch if he had not done so to that point. Nor did he come by for supper that evening. In fact we didn't see him for three days, and it was on that third day after the river had fallen to little pools here and there then to a dry, dusty gutter, that my mother, openly showing her concern like I had been doing, went to look for him. When she returned nearly some four hours later her eyes were red from crying and she staggered drunkenly into our house as I had seen fisherman Benji do as he daily struggled into his apartment. We grew alarmed, dropped the baseball game we were playing, and raced in behind her. She had gone into her bedroom and the older kids paused to debate if they should disturb her. I pushed past them and crept into the room without knocking. She had closed all the curtains to the windows so that the room was fairly dark. She was lying on her back with a damp cloth on her forehead, sobbing quietly. I walked over and took her right hand that was hanging off the side of the bed. She didn't seem sur prised to see me. I climbed up into the bed beside her, and when she took me to her bosom and rocked me slowly I had no doubt about what her search had uncovered. I, too, cried softly and snuggled closer and let her rock me and herself, rock me and herself until I fell asleep. The funeral was scheduled to be held two days later and I insisted that I wanted to go. At first my mother said no, arguing that I was too young; but I harassed her every chance that I got until she agreed to take me with her. She organized a wake and held it at our house. I was surprised to see the hundreds of people that filled our yard and spilled out into the street. Somehow there was enough food to feed everyone and enough rum and beer to make everyone tipsy and full of talk. A scratch band provided music so that the whole affair became a party. 121
122 Seasoning for the Mortar At first I felt strange, that there was something wrong in all this, but after many of the dancers and drinkers used the music breaks to speak and sing the praises of my mother who had found the still warm body and bathed and dressed it with much care; and Adamon who had been a champion of the little man in the labor movement and later the Colonial Council, I understood clearly that Adamon had been, like his great-grandfather Buddhoe (one speaker revealed), a great man. Nonetheless, it remained somewhat vague what he had done to deserve such homage. But knowing that Adamon was a great person made the celebration right. I was not afraid to view his body as it lay in an open casket made out of mahogany, his favorite wood. In fact I looked forward to it, for I had yearned so to see him for almost a week; and even before I knew he had died, I would experience moments of panic when I was unable to visualize exactly what he looked like. Although I would eventually be able to recall him in full detail, we had no photographs and I wanted to make sure to record his face and features one more time before they were hidden forever. The night before Adamon's funeral, there was much thunder and lightning, and the skies opened up and poured rain down on the island. The thunder that usually left me shaking out of control, the lightning that would send me scampering beneath sheets and pillows-these brought me a complete feeling of gratitude and lulled me to sleep . In the morning the rain had abated only slightly although the thundering and lightning had ceased. I quickly got up and made my way to the kitchen window and peered out at the swelling river that dashed by our yard. It had never looked so beautiful. My mother who was already up baking dumb johnny cakes came over to join me. "All the gods them surely singing Adamon praises today," she said with a warm smile com ing out of her voice. I smiled openly and agreed in silence. By noon the rain had become a faint drizzle and by one o'clock it stopped altogether. My mother and I, her white-gloved hand in my bare palms, walked up to the Anglican church on Prince Street, a short three and a half blocks from our house. The viewing was scheduled for between one and two o'clock, and when we got there the church was vir tually full to capacity. I noted this to my mother and she assured me that seats had been reserved for us near the front of the church where the opened casket stood.
Marvin E. Williams When it came our turn to view the body I literally yanked my mother forward. I went right up to the head of the casket and looked intent ly at Adamon's face from my tiptoe. Someone had closed his eyes and I felt cheated that I would not be able to see their penetrating, knowl edgeable gaze and disarming humility. His face was overly smoothed over and brown with too much powder that hid many of his wrinkles and made him look like a mummy. I stifled an urge to throw up, fought off a sudden dizziness, steadied myself, and continued to observe the body. I realized with mild shock that Adamon's body was rigid, not shaking with nervous life. I could take no more so I stepped back and grasped my mother's waiting hand. She led me to our seats where we sat, and I ignored the services to return with Adamon to the gooseber ry tree and our yard. That night I dreamed I saw Adamon lying in his mahogany coffin, and, again, I was fascinated by his deep-set eyes closed shut and the still ness of his body. But the casket, now with a transparent cover, became a ship; and the powerful rain that had earlier forced the gravediggers to cover the deep hole with a heavy brown tarpaulin had returned to wash away the dirt covering Adamon. Soon the grave brimmed over with water, and the casket-ship rose up and started flowing by our yard down past the corner grocer's, the butcher' s shop, the fire station, and then on to the sea to be ferried by the River Boat Man, an Egyptian, who steered it toward the Guinea coast where they rested before going up the Nile. Little model ships like those Adamon made, miniature cal abashes like those that held his gooseberry stews, and small wooden mugs just as crafted as the one into which he poured his beer were neat ly arranged around Adamon's body . And Adamon grew young and strapping like Buddhoe at Fort Frederik, and he wore something that appeared to be a crown, and his suit became the most beautiful cloth of gold and white and red-orang e anyone could hope to see . When the boat made shore, the boatman put on a mask, took out a fish-tail knife, lifted Adamon's body upright and opened his mouth with the knife. Adamon, who was now Buddhoe, woke up and surveyed the scene: a grand peace, a great satisfaction covered his face; and with tears racing down his indigo cheeks , he shook in a way he h a d never shaken. 123
124 Seasoning for the Mortar Brownies A chicken hawk circled the nearby yard. But the skinny black boy who briefly glanced at the gliding preda tor did not now consider the bird a predator but an aerodynamic mar vel slicing neatly through the air. Even big people said he was too serious. Even many of his peers said he was deep. But the skinny black boy leaving the schoolyard usually shrugged off these proclamations and silently reassured himself that he simply liked to think about things. The miracle of air, seen only in its activity but indispensable and there to fill him with awe each morning. The busy black ants scurrying about after some grand, often unknown, purpose that drew his gaze for hours at a time. The single white boy in the school who must have felt as out of place as a lobster dropped in the desert. There were so many mysterious creatures, motions, things-named and nameless-that attracted him, that somehow offered themselves as cryptic clarification of himself and life. Now as he made his way toward the back gate of the public grammar school among the noisy , energetic throng of students released from the confinement of classrooms, he could have just as well been alone, so lost was he in the hungry fantasy that claimed his thoughts at the end of virtually every school day. In fact one could argue that, in order to feed his imagination, he took by design this path furthest from his home but closest to the candy store which stood beyond the school's northern entrance. Already he could sme ll the rich chocolate and baked peanuts of the freshly done brownies. He salivated and licked his dry lips. As usual he did not have the five cents for one of the evenly cut squares. But he did not consider his daily, almost blind , walk in the general direction of the store self-torture. It was definitely a pleasure he treated himself to, a delightful savoring of the delectable if still the unattainable. And having no money, he never went into the store to gape at the goods or envy those fortunate enough to have spare coins to spend. He did not even deign to go as far as the little yard in front of the store. He had his pride-too much, many of his peers had said. And he was stubborn-too much so, some of the big people had said.
MaiYin E. Williams From the corner of his right eye he spotted the white boy who, though he sat only two seats away from him, he had never spoken to. Not really anyway. Hi and hello could not be considered conversation. True, their many knowing glances, smiles, grimaces that commented on events in the classroom might be seen as a species of speaking. But that was as far as things between them went. At midmorning recess and during lunch time, he joined his friends in games of softball, marbles, cock, top, whatever happened to be in season; the white boy disappeared to he knew not where. And he never really missed him. Never. He was amazed by this knowledge. For no reason he could fathom, the thought crossed his mind that the white boy could probably buy the glass case full of brownies if he cared to. A smattering of jealousy and a spot of inexplicable anger net tled and then quickly left him. He slowed unconsciously, half wishing that the white boy would catch up to and fall into step with him. They could reminisce and joke about that girl who had dribbled profusely while she slept a s the class went through its lesson on double digit multiplication. It was inevitable that their eyes should meet and comment upon the watery mess, for she was sitting between them. They had taken their eyes off the blackboard long enough to look down at the sleeper then up at each other to grin. Or they could chat breezily about the Caribs that they read about in the fascinating little blue textbook called Up and Down the Virgin Islands. He could tell that, like himself, the white boy enjoyed history best among the many subjects that they were attacked with daily. He wondered whether the boy, too, thought the Caribs had a right to be fierce and warlike when explorers were trying to take their land. The pleased, excited shouts of " fight, fight" and the stampede of students toward the cafeteria's loading dock with empty cans marked "peaches" caught his attention. He squashed the urge to allow himself to be swept along in the seductive flow toward the ruckus. He really didn't like to be sardined in the rambunctious mass that seemed to gather its chaotic energy from the most minor of fracases. Besides, there were the far more enticing brownies. He picked up his pace to put distance between himself and the bac chanalian mob. The chicken hawk still circled the nearby yard. Two dogs fighting over territory or food growled viciously and attacked each other. There was one more vicious growl. There was a new 125
126 Seasoning for the Mortar painful yelp. The yelper raced from around the nearby yard, passed the candy store and scampered up the dirt road. Red dust swirled out of the scratches of his flight; his tail limped with surrender between his legs. He picked up his pace to put further distance between himself and the bacchanalian mob, but stopped abruptly and spun to face the crowd when someone shouted with wonder and satisfaction: "Mey son, them bwoy roping up the white boy." He jogged over to the steadily growing throng that in its restive, yet orderly manner had formed a circle ringing the combatants and was surging forward and rolling backward, surging backward and rolling for ward like a wave at high tide. He pushed and tugged through the crowd, finally breaking into the first ranks of the phalanx. Three boys from his neighborhood, three of his good friends, were chucking the white boy from furious human sta tion to furious human station as if he was a living pinball. The non-dis criminating onlookers were enjoying and promoting this mismatch with as much relish as any other fight. "Rope he up, allyu. What allyu bwoy waiting for?" broke above the hoops and hollers that distinguished themselves as a roar. Then some wit shouted, "Allyu watch he; he red like a lobster. Boil he rass." Laughter shook the hot air. The skinny boy rushed into the fray and dragged the white boy free of his tormentors. For a stunned moment the crowd and the fighters gaped at him in silence, and he used the opportunity to say "Why allyu bwoy doan leave he alone? What he do allyu, eh?" What might have been the beginning of embarrassment passed among the aggressors. "Yeah, them bwoy all time taking advantage of somebody," came indig nantly from the safe middle of the mass. The chicken hawk's circle narrowed to greater focus. Only the orange hen calling her unsuspecting chicks closer to her side cared. A dog's vicious bark and growl after an intruder was sufficient to stave off a fight. The wind came to dancing life in the unusually huge sea grape across the street from the school's back gate. The skinny black boy had often wondered if at one time the sea had reached this far inland. But perhaps it was the culture provided by the sandy soil that held the tree. In the nearby yard one of the chicks wandered farther away from its mother, busy with a large worm. Offering his body as a shield between the three thugs and the white boy, he glared at the now menacingly grinning boys. Clearly they had made some nonverbal pact, had hit upon the same intriguing idea at
Marvin E. Williams once. Then someone in the crowd said, "Since he so briss, let he take the white bwoy lick them." This was not a shout; it was almost a whis per, yet it possessed the passion and vehemence of a war cry. And immediately he knew that this sentiment constituted the essence of the thugs' silent conspiracy. The white boy was sniffling behind him, but he was not shedding tears. He could tell that there was a stubborn defiance in this refusal to cry, to add kerosene to the reckless flame wielded by thugs and throng. He, too, would have approached it that way; more than that, he would have been swinging from the hip-even if he became bloodied in the effort. But he had often promised himself that he would not let any bully knock he for nothing. No way. Better to get in some licks if he was getting clout up anyway. The chicken hawk swooped down into the nearby yard. Now the thugs were upon him, and they had upped the violence so that heavy blows to the stomach and chest and face replaced the stiff shoves that had been visited upon the white boy. He was too shocked to retaliate, and when he attempted to retreat the frenzied mass stiffarmed him back into the storm of blows. Blood spurted from his nose and oozed down into his opened mouth. He folded his fists and flailed at the evasive bodies of his attackers. The white boy escaped through the animated wall of students and raced down the corridor to the prin cipal's office. Then one of the thugs, the boy who only two days ago had agreed to bank marbles with him in a partnership, pulled back and said, "That's enough. He more than learn he lesson." They let him go and he staggered through furtive and apologetic glances, to sit under the sea grape tree across the street. The wind had died in the leaves of the tree, and the heat and humidity choked off the air. A battalion of black ants was transporting a wounded, struggling beetle-earlier dropped from the ravenous beak of a chincheri-to their nest a few feet away. He squashed them with his sneakers and, with closed eyes, tilted his head back against the trunk of the tree to stem the flow of blood from his nose. He did not see the chicken hawk flapping away with a chick already dead or too terrified to scream. He did not hear the bereaved mother hen moaning noisily in the nearby yard. He did not feel, see nor hear the white boy's halting steps toward him that then retreated in the direc tion of the candy store. He saw only the unsavory lesson that the thugs 127
128 Seasoning for the Mortar had wanted to teach him and the humiliation of that painful schooling. He did not smell the delicious aroma of the brownies he so loved. His nose had stopped bleeding and with the tail of his white shirt he wiped away the residue of blood that lingered around his lips and chin . There was some pain, but all told he didn't feel as bad as the beat ing would have suggested-not physically, anyway. The other stuff he would have to get over with time. It would probably be no big deal when he got home to the neighborhood. His friends, the thugs, would prob ably act as if nothing had happened. After all, there were frequent fights and everyone retained their fraternal ties. But had there not been a difference today, new ingredients thrown into the old mix to change the stew? It certainly tasted unfamiliar, even weird to him. Them ants ain't do me nothing, he thought with a bit of remorse. But he squashed that, too. He saw the shadow before he noticed the body, but the white boy stood over him silently proffering a three-pound paper bag half-full with brownies. He averted his eyes from the white boy's grateful , pleading gaze. "These are for you," the boy offered again. "I doan want none of your damn brownie," the skinny black boy hissed. "And I doan want you anywhere around me." The white boy flung the bag to the ground and with tears flowing down his cheeks raced across the street into the school grounds, disappearing down the corridor to he knew not where. Already a cadre of black ants were scur rying around the broken bag and munching on crumbs of the brownies . He squashed the impulse to annihilate them. Less than a week later the teacher announced that the white boy had transferred to Good Hope School. I should of take the brownies, the skinny black boy scolded himself.
Marvin E. Williams Skipping Stones Under the shade of the squat sea grape tree whose thick scaly limbs spread wide to form a natural umbrella, Sindae sat away from the crowd, eyeing him frankly and smiling at his apparent interest and bash fulness. Earl forced his head away from her to focus on the wonderful flight of the gray and white seagulls scouting the clear water for the sil ver reflections that announced fish. Yards apart from each other, three of the gulls swooped down into the ocean and seconds later emerged from their dive juggling their prey in their beaks. There was something exhilarating in the gulls' pursuit and accuracy, and Earl smiled inwardly. A lone chincheri zoomed over his head and eventually lodged in the aged but still fecund tamarind tree that stood at one entrance to the beach. Its chirruping amused Earl and he sang softly in caricature, sweet-e-sour. Her magnetic eyes pulled his gaze back to the sea grape tree and her welcoming grin. He felt himself blush and dropped his eyes to the wet surf where his bare toes shoveled deeper and deeper into the yield ing sand. She just teasing me, he warned himself. Them girls always teasing me because they think I shy. But I really shy? he asked himself as he observed a school of sprat swimming by only a few feet out. Well, maybe she w a s different, maybe she held a sincere interest in him and was simply making this known. But why now? Why this seem ingly open display in the presence of all these people, their classmates from second period Marine Biology? And that demure yet worldly look she had given him earlier during the class exploration of sea life. Everyone w a s enjoying the humor provoked by the translation of the scientific into the indigenous terminology-even the stateside teacher. Sea urchin became sea egg, octopus became sea cat pronounced cyat for greater effect and authenticity. And when the sea anemone was spotted lying not far from the sea cucumber, the coinci dence was simply too much. The infectious laughter became a roar when someone exclaimed, "Watch that sea cunny right by that sea char lie . I wonder what they been doing?" The teacher's face became crimson although he laughed with nearly as much relish as his students. He had taught on the island for bet ter than fifteen years so that he could say, "You all sure have colorful names for these organisms." 129
130 Seasoning for the Mortar It was then that she had given Earl her demure yet worldly look that was accompanied by a telling grin and averted eyes that nonethe less returned to his stinging face to make him noticeably uncomfort able. A fishing boat made its way slowly to shore. A seagull dove but came up empty. The demon sun warmed the wet, chilled bodies of the recent swim mers and became angelic. Girls rode boys' eager shoulders and necks in games of war that brought them into an intimacy they longed for. The teacher ate an avocado and wheat bread sandwich, a smile fixed on his genuine, accessible face. He was basking in home-the sea, the island, the students. It amazed him that natives often left; it was incredible to him that most visitors did not stay. Earl picked up a flat black stone and with a sidelong heave skipped it once, twice, four times across an incoming wave. Some invisible force drew his gaze to the sea grape tree to receive Sindae's appreciative smile and nod of approval. He noticed that she had let her bung up hair down and that it fell in neat curls over her shoulders and down her back. Her old-fashioned glasses lay on the sand beside her. The effect brought to his mind a sea change. She was more beau tiful than he had imagined, more alluring than he might have dreamed. Why did she purposely make herself unattractive in school? Especially with her overly long, old woman's skirt made even more unappealing by its position on the lower portion of her hips. So what if she came from Antigua? So what if his parents (or cer tainly his mother whose word on the matter appeared to be gospel) was dead set against relationships with so-called aliens? So what if his mother disliked-no, hated them damn garrots and his oldest sister delighted in mocking what she considered their outlandish dress, their strange and humorous accents, and their crass loudness? The girl who tingled within him had none of these faults. If one was willing to call differ ence a fault. But his mother was going to be a major stumbling block, an obsta cle not easily moved. At least if her insistence that none of her children was getting involved with no nasty garrot applied not just to her three daughters (though she need only worry about the last two). Boys often got some leeway in matters of the heart-indeed in most matters . Perhaps the same would apply in this case. He shuddered to think that
Marvin E. Williams it might be otherwise, that he would have to suffer the same indignity that Zola, his second sister, was made to suffer. For three consecutive days she had walked home from school with a senior new to the school, he carrying her books and they talking and laughing as they strolled up to the front side of Earl's house. Zola was happy and Earl silently shared in her happiness. After all, she worked very hard washing the younger children's clothes and cooking for them. She was basically their surrogate mother as many girls in the neighborhood were expected to be. Earl didn' t know which neighbor alerted his mother, but in the evening of that third day when she got home their mother did not waste time with pleasantries. She called Zola into her room and got to the heart of things . "Who been walking you home from school these last few days? " she asked. "Just some friends," Zola parried though she knew that would not do. More loudly now, their mother came back at the slightly trembling Zola, "I say, what boy you have holding your books and darkening my doorway every day?" Earl and his other siblings crept closer to the hot water . Zola caved in. "He name Daven. " A disgusted chupse seemed to raffle the aging galvanize of the roof. " So who is this Daven? Who he people them be?" Zola hesitated . "I waiting," their mother said, and Earl pictured her arms akimbo, a slap growing to meet her anger. Earl sneaked a peek over at Sindae and she grinned sweetly, hang ing her head to the side in a subtle invitation. He jerked his head upward to singing chincheries whose song was a jazzy hymn to their mating. Birds have it good ... well , pretty good , he thought. Zola sighed. "He name Daven Granger. He mother is Miss Granger who live just down the road. " Their mother had been fussing nervously with her dresser drawers, but now she slammed one shut. "Listen to me," she tried to calm her self, "you don't bring that damn garrot no where near this house again, you hear me? And I want you to cut off this contact before it go any far ther. You hear what I saying?" Zola sniffled , " Yes, Mammy, I hear what you say . " But their mother wasn't finished. "It have all kinda nice Crucian boys knocking dog on this island . But no. Miss Headache going chat ting down to hot up the first island man what smile at she. Since this 131
132 Seasoning for the Mortar damn governor open up the school them to cat and dog, every manjack sending down island for they children. Coming here to cause problems for me." She made the sign of the cross, folded her hands as if in prayer and rested them against her breasts, unfolded them to kiss her opened right palm, and flung it to the ceiling. Then she continued: "Girl chil dren is trouble. That's what your granny used to say. And she wasn't wrong. But, by God, I would die first before I see this family drag back to the jungle." And that was that. Earl had no intention of suffering from or liv ing up to such an absolute verdict. And he had no plans to hide his love, assuming that Sindae would have him in the first place. Yes, his mother would be a considerable stone in the path of their robust prom ise. But it was a stone he simply must jump over. Some sensation, call it intuition or karma or wishful thinking, told Earl that Sindae was on the verge of motioning him over; and unsettled by the feeling, he headed in a slow jog up the unpopulated section of the beach where a small hill jutted out into the water to partition like a screen door this part of the bayside from the portion she occupied. He silently apologized to the many tiny orange crabs that scampered into the water in his wake. Sindae sat intrigued under the sea grape tree. Was he bold enough to purposely clear space between themselves, potential lovers, and the others? No, he was running away from her discreet overtures . And they were discreet, for she understood that he could not handle an open dis play of affection. In fact that was one of the major attractions for herhis modesty that their peers confused for excessive meekness, even shy ness. And yes, she had been a bit forward, but what did he expect her to do? While his interest was unmistakably there, his reserve had been driving her crazy for at least four months now. And she had tried everything her instinct or subliminal training or girlfriends' advice could conjure up to get him to break out of his shell and embrace her against that sweet, sensitive underbelly. Okay, so he was skinny, not walking stick skinny but bordering on magga, as her best friend Cherise had insisted. But there was a goodness, a tenderness, an intelligence there that said he was right for her, that he was what she had always been looking for in a boyfriend. So what if he was a Crucian? So what if her father would object to their relationship? Who was he to talk anyway? He was an Antiguan
Marvin E. Williams who left Sindae's mother at home and came to this island to work. Next thing you know, money still coming home but he married to a native woman. He staying. Well, I here for school, thank God for that, and I staying, Sindae vowed to herself. Thus far she had submitted to her father's wishes although he never gave her a satisfactory explanation for his position. She had accepted his narrow gospel, but Earl was her soul mate, she could tell, and time would provide confirmation. She had grown irritated with her father's sermon, a text that did not waver, which came if she merely looked cross-eyed at a boy who turned out to be native. "Who that boy you all time talking to by the standpipe?" Inwardly she sucked her teeth before offering her standard, "Which boy you talking 'bout now?" He always let her irritation clear itself like a bad wind before he answered. During those slight pauses she searched her mind to locate the object of his unease. "The one who always asking the young girl them to plait his head-just so he could jam up between they leg. You been plaiting that boy head?" Oh Christ, she thought. "No. The only head I does plait is your wife head." He made himself ignore the insolence in her voice. " Watch it now, she is your stepmother." She never understood his need to remind her. It was as if he had a guilt complex or something. "I know who she is and I like her. Like her a lot, in fact. She good for you. So you don't have to remind me." And then the sermon came. The sea breeze provided background music to Sindae's warm visions of herself and her soul mate. A gentle, steady breeze became a hypnotic violin solo in the sea grape tree. The light sprays that wafted from waves' splash against the rocks were caresses. She smiled secretly and wondered where he had disappeared to. "Look," her father began, "you know I don't mind you making friends with a boy. You old enough. Tis only natural. But you have to get in with your own people. A boy or man who respect you, who ain't going look down on you because of where you born. I know you look ing at me and saying that I ain't living up to my own words. But me and your stepmother got something different. We love each other." And he never saw this as an opening for her, though in her mind it clearly was. But she took it. "So you saying that as long as two people in love, then it don't matter where they from?" she smiled. "It ain't that simple. We is two grown people who strong enough to take any outside poison that could come and any inside poison anger could serve up. We tough. And more than that, we trust our self and one another." Then an 133
134 Seasoning for the Mortar incredible gentleness ambushed his eyes as he said, "I don't want nobody to hurt you." She appreciated the unqualified love in those eyes. But his fear did not have to be her prison. So she persisted. And when she pursued the lines of his logic, he ended the conversation with his dismissive "Trust me. I know what I talking 'bout." Apparently what was good for the gander wasn't good for the goose, she bristled. Yes, her father was a boulder on the road to rapture. But she would simply have to hurdle that boulder when it came thundering to blast their embrace. She did not see the sprats jumping to avoid the covaley that invad ed their school looking to feed. The afternoon sun hung low in the sky, its bright rays dancing on the lazy waves that rolled in to the beach then retreated leisurely. But suppose Earl was really inviting her to join him, she argued with herself. What would her not going cost? And it would be like him to, without words, arrange the context for contact. She stripped down to her black two-piece bathing suit, lotioned her sea breeze and sun dried skin until it became its usually smooth brown, and started up the beach to find him. Earl looked at the sprats jumping. The wide nets of the seine might be dropped here to trap the tasty jax among them, he thought. There was a small pile of flat stones at his feet and, at regular intervals, he skipped them upon the water, admiring the ripple rings they creat ed. The highest number of bounces he had achieved so far was six, but he knew that his form and persistence would eventually take him well beyond that figure. He admitted to himself that he was surprised that she had not followed him, for he trusted his vibes and his vibes had definitely picked up something emanating from her, reaching out to and tugging him in. His running might have been an impulsive act, but he had hoped and feared that it would nonetheless produce other results. In any case he was glad, well, kinda glad that she didn't show up. What was he going to say to her anyway? He selected out a particularly wide but thin shale and with his right arm held in a bow, snapped his wrist sending the stone in a wide arc until it landed perfectly on its side and slid in six loops across the water. "That was nice," came from a nearby voice, sweet, genuine and enthusiastic. Without immediately turning, he knew it was Sindae. "I wish I could throw them like you to make all them jump," she said as she drew closer.
Marvin E. Williams He faced her, and when his eyes fell to avoid her radiant smile, they passed over her ample breasts and hips and legs. Jesus, she had a beau tiful body. But who would have known with her figure forever hidden under those skirts reminiscent of the traditional dress women in quadrille troupes wore? "Why you don't come give it a try?" he said and reached down to cull the rock best shaped for their purpose. He handed her the stone, and after a brief ceremony in awkward poses that made him laugh, she flung the stone with a graceless plop into the ocean. "You got to lean sideways and bend your hand," he coached quickly to cover his laughter. "Like so?" She bent her arm so that the back of her hand almost rested on her stomach to create a picture of a broken arm in a sling. "Not so, man. Not like your hand break." He laughed openly now and noticed that she was not in the least bit offended. Repeated verbal instruction, interspersed with growing jovial expressions, produced no better results . But her smile became more radiant and she seemed real eager to learn. He stepped behind her, placed his hands lightly on her hips to nudge it into the proper stance, and gently twisted her arm into posi tion. Her hair smelled so good that he was tempted to rest his face in it. She shifted her weight backward so that her robust body leaned slightly against his . She felt the gasp he stifled and she smiled. "Okay now, throw it," he said in a voice lowered an octave. She made an awkward heave that was nevertheless better than her earlier efforts, and the stone made two short skips before it sunk abruptly. They continued their lesson that became increasingly erotic with her leans against him getting heavier and his support becoming firmer if not aggressive. And he was getting highly excited, embarrassingly so . He hoped that she could not feel the hard bulge in his swimming trunks each time her buttocks brushed against it. But how could she not feel it? At any rate, he was grateful that she pretended not to notice and continued to focus on the art of skipping stones. But then she suddenly turned to face him and he felt exposed . Although her eyes seemingly never left his face, he was con v inced that she h a d seen down there. Hell, her demure yet worldly smile said that she had. He shifted his body sidewise but discovered that it made mat ters worse. "Let we take a swim," he hollered and dove into an incom ing wave. While he was still submerged, she laughed at his embarrassment. 135
136 Seasoning for the Mortar He surfaced about seven or so yards out, but since the water there was not deep enough to cover his waist, he stood on bended knees as he called her to join him. "But I can't swim," she replied, all suggestive smiles. Not today, he thought, recognizing the smiles' meaning, but said, "Well, just come in and take a dip then let's go. It must be time to catch the bus anyway." She waded in a few feet then shot headfirst into the water, diving as easily and swiftly as a dolphin, to surface smack in front of him. Now that he could, he stood up and marched slowly towards shore, ignoring with a grin her, "You going out already?" He sat on the sand admiring her north-south dives, her powerful legs propelling her body through the water. After a few minutes she joined him on the sand where they talked easily, getting to know each other. He confirmed for her all that she had intuited about him, and she felt confident that it wouldn't be long before it was a done deal. She revealed to him that she had a great sense of humor, intelligence, and a poetic sensibility that made her attractive beyond her physical beauty. But there was something else he recognized in her, something both dis turbing and intriguing that exposed her wit as well as her ... slickness was the only word for it. Her love for double, even cryptic, meaning in virtually everything she said. So that when she asked, head cocked to the side and a sheepish grin lighting her face, "Tomorrow we could come back here and skip stones?" he heard the emphasis she placed on "skip" and wondered what his "yes" was answering. He jumped to his feet and jogged back down the beach to avoid the conspiratorial stares and grins of those classmates who might have been aware of their absence: he got several knowing grins, anyway. Although this made him a bit self-conscious, he still tingled with excitement. As he disappeared around the hill, she sprang to her feet and tri umphantly flung with power and grace a flat stone that sailed in a won derful arc; and she grinned as it skipped seven times upon an incoming wave.
Narcissa White Narcissa White is a Crucian now living in South Florida. An artist and writer, she is a recipient of two N.E.A. awards for books about St. Croix and has published poetry and articles in magazines and newspapers. A Benjie's Eulogy Mrs. Gustave Pemberton wore the same big hat to her husband's funeral that she wore to Mr. McNeil's three years before. Mr. McNeil was the white man who owned all of Rose Crest. They had to bring in the Boy Scouts to fill up the church for him. Not today. Today this Anglican church is stuffed full, full for Mr. Pemberton. I kept my eyes on Mrs. Pemberton's hat. It was tulle, soft and white as a sno-cone , high and round. A beautiful hat. It must have had some kind of magic power going straight down through Mrs. Pemberton's head all the way to her feet because she never once flinched through all that long, long funeral. She's a big woman too, and she can't hide nothin'. I didn't wear a hat. Some did, some didn't. Mr. Pemberton wouldn't care. Just so I showed up was all he'd care. I've known Mr. and Mrs. P. since way back when their first store was torched. Nobody ever said who did it, and Mrs. P., way past her prime, was pregnant with Benjie. She almost got burnt up herself in the back room and they had to pull her screamin' and squashin' through a little window. When Benjie was born, he was born just a little different; nobody says just how, but squeezin' through the window like that in his mama's womb, he just didn't come out right. Well, there were a lot of hats at Mr. Pemberton's funeral , some thick felt hats and one derby from God know s where, and lace m a ntil las and headscarves, one black chiffon embellished allover with silver palm trees flashin' in the sun. Everybody dressed in their best suits and jackets. Purple dresses and white, all nice. Mr. Pemberton himself was dressed in a pin-striped, New York suit. He looked elegant and cool 137
138 Seasoning for the Mortar lying in his coffin and better than anybody in the church standin ' up with all their worries. Mr. Pemberton hadn't been sick at all. He went like that-snap-on Thursday last. He's havin' a big funeral. People standin' in the churchyard under the tamarind tree, and they're on the front steps and in the doorway. You can see the sweat patches where the sun burns their backs, but they can ' t move in any direction, there's such a big crowd . The service had to start fifteen minutes early . Mr. Pemberton had the store on Reserve Street: " Gustave Pemberton , Fine Wines and Spirits. " It' s the biggest and the best. At the corner, you can ' t miss it, painted yellow with blue doors , deep blue. Every day Mr. Pemberton sat behind the cash register in his store, a new cigar in his mouth, and almost every day there'd be some businessman in a silk suit, laughing and talking with him. And always somebody else, usually old Tulio, coming through the curtains at the back, still chewing some food Mrs. Pemberton had just given him. There was always food cookin ' in Mr. Pemberton's back room, and people always comin' in and goin ' out. If you went into his store for a full case or just a half-pint to tide you over , Mr. Pemberton took the cigar out of his mouth to thank you. He let you know you were buying Something from a Somebody. It was prideful just to be seen coming out of his store. At Mr. Pemberton's funeral I sat inside on the window ledge. The shutters were wide open and I was glad to get off my feet. I couldn't move at all so my right leg was pinched against the wall and fell asleep. Reverend Michaels right away lost his place in Ecclesiastes, and nobody knew what to do, it was so quiet. It was awfully hot. I had to fan with my handkerchief , but even so, being in the window and all , it was stuffy with so many people and all those flowers. The organ music came on full and heavy when Mrs . Pemberton leaned into the casket to kiss her husband good-bye. Her hat was on tight, I guess, because it went right in with her and came out fine, but she was sad , sad, and her face was long, long. It took six men to wheel the bi g casket up to the front of the church. We tried to sing but could n ' t with so many noses blowing , so Mrs. Ivor Browne , the organist, had to pump the organ hard and fill in with big rolling music . And then Benjie jumps up, faces the whole church , shouting he's going to eulogize his f ather. This is a surprise to us because everybody
Narcissa White heard Benjie and his father argue a lot in back of the store, behind the curtain. Benjie, he's the baby, remember, and special, but Mr. P., he was so proud havin' another boy. "A clean slate," he said, "a clean slate." He could send Benjie to private school, not public like his broth ers, Braithwaite and Winston. He could do anything for Benjie, he was rich now, from the new store of Wines and Spirits. But Benjie was always different, even when he was little. He stood out in the hall of that private Anglican school more than he sat in the classroom. Sometimes, he'd just walk out, by himself. And on Saturdays, he'd start in the store, and his father so proud, but then Benjie'd just walk out, and I'd meet old Tulio pokin' in the bakery , see him dip into the pool hall tryin' to find Benjie and bring him back. That's just the way it is with Benjie, even now, he's grown up. He just wanderin' all the time. Just roamin'. Then Benjie met Philip. Philip's not from here. Philip drives the black Chevy with angel wings painted on the sides. Well, one night, two weeks ago, Philip takes Benjie for a ride out to Blue Bay, expecting Benjie to go into one of his magic wandering spells and just walk into the house of that old white couple who are out dancin' at the hotel. These old white people, they buy their spirits from Mr. Pemberton, and they tell everybody how they love to dance. These old people, they sleep all afternoon, 5 till 9, and then they wake up all fine when it's dark and cool, and they eat a little something. Then they go dancin' all night. Well, they come home this night and there's Benjie and Philip with wool hats pulled way back on their heads like they see on TV , and Benjie's face all lit up with excitement, and they rummaging through the house like little kids, making a big mess in the bedroom picking up little jewelleries, in the kitchen digging out foodstuffs and spilling Coca Colas, not findin' any big gold or money . They turnin' over flower pots when the old white people walk in and the old man yells, "Hey!" That's when Philip takes out of his pocket a little, little gun, a real gun, and Philip, he shoots at the floor nickin' the tiles and he makes the old man and his woman jump aroun' and dance. And Philip laughs. It was a ter rible thing to do. Then Benjie and Philip run outside and Philip's angel car won't start and the police sergeant catches them rolling it down the hill. It was a terrible scandal puttin' that harmless Benjie in jail with that no good Philip. 139
140 Seasoning for the Mortar Benjie's brother Braithwaite Pemberton, the school teacher, bailed him, and there's Benjie now, rising in front of us in the Anglican church shouting and crying like a baby. Philip, he still in. Mrs. Pemberton sit ting up front watching Benjie. She still as a stone, like nothing can touch her. Oh, it was heavy. It was just like a heavy load on you to hear Benjie talk about his father and to see his mother sittin' so still. Then Benjie, he lean over and whisper somethin' secret to his father through the closed box. Then Benjie raises his arm, shrieks to heaven like a madman yellin', "Caesar is dead! Long live Caesar!" Then Benjie hangs his head and goes quiet as death, and it's like he's standin' alone out in the hall again, punished for yellin' in class. It was so quiet. But us people, we rise from the pews or slide down from the windows and we stand to honor his father. Finally Braithwaite, he tugs Benjie away. And Mrs . Pemberton sittin' so still, just watchin' her baby. Somebody fainted. There was quite a disturbance getting' her out through the crowd. I had to look out of the window for a while. So it was a relief when Reverend Michaels said, "May Gustave Pemberton Rest in Peace. Amen. And will everyone please help by car rying a spray of flowers with you as you walk to the cemetery?" And let me tell you, we were all glad to have something to do. Everybody picked up a flower stand or two as they went. Even little kids. As the people moved out, more and more flowers showed up, crushed three deep in the corners. Up by the altar were sixteen white crosses made of flowers. I counted them. Well, they got everything out and into the street. People swarmin' like bees all the way up the hill and around the corner to the cemetery, sendin' Mr. P. off good. It's not good if a man passes and nobody comes to send him off. A man needs ... navigation into heaven. You don't just wander in. Even the old white couple was there, at the edge. I saw them. And I saw Mrs. Pemberton in the middle of all that crowd, she cradlin' Benjie close, close, and he strokin' his mama's sno-cone hat.
Althea Romeo-Mark Althea Romeo-Mark (See biography on page 89) A The Waterfront's Women; The Waterfront's Men Nobody knows the whereabouts of Clement Querard. Some revel ers saw him late one night on the waterfront in the company of two men. All three were staggering in the light drizzle. They remembered Clement 's face. The others were blurs. Sailors from Cha-cha town also saw him on the beach the next morning around 4:00 a.m. His com panions' faces were indistinguishable in the darkness. They were pulling Clement's red boat out to sea. He was leaning against a coconut tree. A bottle and his prized conch shell were lodged under one arm. Rumors said Clement went into hiding after he beat his wife, Doris, and she left him. He became a drunk. A conclusion everybody came to when neighbors broke his door down. They found the linoleum floor carpeted with Heineken beer cans. That was five years ago. Since Clement has gone, Doris, whose laugh is the cry of the seagull, sits all day on a putrified bench on the waterfront. Her face is rubbery red. Her shaggy, blond hair, sits on her head like hay . She listens intently to the sea stroking the wall. She heeds its whispered messages. Doris waits for Gladys who works at Gonzalo's Minimart across the highway. Together they search the sea and find the faces of their men. When the area is deserted, both walk in circles three times and pour rum from a bottle over their shoulders. Today a bottle of Cruzan Rum is tossed into the sea. "Can't forget you," they whisper. "Can't forget you." The sea swallows the bottle. The faces fade in the retreating waves. The day before Clement disappeared was an ordinary day. A sail boat glided across the horizon. A seaplane hovered low and floundered 141
142 Seasoning for the Mortar like a sick bird. It skirted the blue-green water and sputtered to a stop. White froth rimmed the surface. The bay became a giant beer mug visited by a fly. Gladys, shaded by a wide straw hat, sat on a splintered bench in the warm afternoon sun. She came here to unwind after a busy day at the Minimart on the waterfront. She has worked there for the last twenty years. Anyone who frequented the bay was sure to run into her. Gladys was a tall, sturdy, chestnut-brown woman, in her mid fifties. She had become an afternoon monument. Sailors from cargo boats and their customers knew her as part of the fixture-the brown woman, the taxis, the tourists, the traders, the dark, blue-green island bay. She knew they thought she was a little mad. Her daily visits to this spot had started when her only son had drowned. He had been repair ing the bottom of a cargo boat on the waterfront when it happened. Gladys had a heart as big as the Caribbean Sea . During her occu pation of the bench, she lent her ear or shoulder to anyone who need ed them. Cat-eye Scatliffe, who had stumbled over the waterfront, one night, a few years ago, was a welcomed gadfly. He was her favorite stray. She kept mangoes and bananas in her handbag in case he showed up for her mouthfuls of friendly scoldings. He was an almond colored man, about six feet tall, with a receding hairline. His eyes were a greyish green like her son's. Eyes-the color of the sea on an overcast day. Scatliffe was often dusty from sleeping on pavements and infrequent washing. He had drowned the day after she took him from the water front to her home on the east end of the island. She had fixed him a hot bath, massaged his back, and made him a hot meal. He had sang her praises for her red beans and rice, stewed beef and coffee. Earlier that day he had crucified her with patch-work stories of his youth. The handsome drunk had perched upon her bench like a dis oriented bird. When he fell off and could not lift himself up, she had pulled him to his feet and sat him down. Secured near the center of the bench, his alcoholic breath expelled a hearty "Afternoon Gladys, thank you." "Twenty years ago ah would ah marry you. Ah had speed, man. No dance would pass me by. Ah was the best damned dancer in the six ties. Nobody could beat me cha, cha, cha and merenge. The girls used to line up to dance with me. Good times, Gladys, good times. Ah was the best bellhop at Hilton Hotel, too. And the tips man ... " A motor boat drowned out part of his conversation.
Althea Romeo-Mark "You got rid of you girl friend?" said Gladys fanning the air between them with her hat. "Me girl friend? I got girlfriend? What woman going want me? In the old days ... " "I talking 'bout the rum. Rum. That Don-Q you hugging now to you chest. She not good company." ''Ah, Donna Q is me best friend. She always there when I need her." "Donna Q dragging you down. She going kill you, you know." "No, she won't do that. But to make you happy ... tis everyday you begging me you know ... ah going get rid of her. You'll see." Gladys' eyes sparkled. At her house, she had held his hand and allowed him to rest his head on her shoulder. He had promised that tomorrow he would stop drinking. She thought she could make him her own. They had found him days later floating in the bay near Hassel Island. A bottle of Don Q was secured in his shirt pocket. The fish had picked his eyes out. To her Cat-eye was the old drunk. Her son, Sonny, had been a young man who drank too much. When he had knocked his head while repairing a boat, he was too drunk to save himself from drawing. "Cat-eye gone to keep Sonny company," she had moaned to a stall keeper the next day . She had worn dark glasses to hide her tears. It was not for Cat-eye alone that she had cried. Gladys has seen Sonny's face smiling at her. And Cat-eye's too. She has heard them singing "Back to back belly to belly. Ah don't give a damn. Ah done dead already. What a jumbie jamborie." She had told one person about their happiness. Gladys watched passengers clamber out a seaplane and steady themselves on a shifting ramp. Someone, fleshy handed, tapped her shoulder. "Who dat?" She did not yet look around. She was absorbed by the predicament of passengers. They were being splashed by the warm sprays of angry waves riled up by the unapologetic machine. She grabbed the flat, soft hand and held it prisoner until passen gers had scattered themselves to their various distinations. 143
144 Seasoning for the Mortar "Gladys, you going die here," a high-pitched voice said. "This is my heaven everyday, Doris. Life is here. It make me want to see another. I going die here too. You know, when I was small, my mother used to say I could see things in the water. I married to the sea. Sonny's father was a sailor from Cuba. You see how Sonny light skinned. You see those eyes." "Gladys. Hush a minute, no." "So you going greet me first thing today?" "Gladys .. .I do it." Doris shuffled about edgily. "Do what?" "Do what you tell me five months ago . " Gladys turned around in her seat, facing the noisy traffic on the waterfront's highway and Doris' sun-burned face. Doris Querard's eyes were swollen and a little blue-black above both cheeks. Her wrinkled clothes-a green skirt and an orange short-sleeved blouse-dazzled Gladys' eyes. The tall woman dropped her body down next to Gladys on the hard bench. An odor of stale fish seized Gladys' nose. "Girl, watch out for the splinters. Where you coming from, Doris? You smell like you been out all day with the fishermen. Your iron stop working? How you looking so?" "Gladys stop harassing my soul." "So you left Clement? You move out of Cha-cha town for true?" "Two months ago. I went to St. Barts to clear me head. I had to think about this man. I tired being a punching bag. Remember how I used to be Gladys? Tall, slim. I had the most beautiful, blond hair in Cha-cha town. The men were buzzing around me like bees to honey. And I picked Clement because he was the best fisherman in our town. He was handsome, big and strong." "He still so." "But he too jealous. Thirty years of that and no children. God cuss me." "Tis the beatings make you barren." A cargo boat loaded with produce chugged along the wharf, its bot tom slugging salt water, its bow high and proud. The crowd juggled about on brawny feet, surging backward and forward. The fruits and vegetables, from Santo Domingo, were grabbed up and sold off in the midst of shouts, cross haggling, laughter, the exchange of news from other islands. Behind Gladys, the traffic dragged on like a tired old woman, its prisoners condemmed to watch the noisy scene. A seagull scudded the air, then dived to dinner.
Althea Romeo-Mark The high-pitched voice of Doris came to focus. "I think I kill him Gladys." "You what?" Gladys swallowed hard. "Say that again. I don ' t know I hearing right." "I say, I think I kill him." "Woman, you gone stark, raving mad?" "You say ... " "What I say?" Gladys sat upright. "Dammit, the bench pinch me." "You tell me the last time I see you, next time he beat me, bang up his head with a frying pan. I try it. It didn't work." "What you do the man, girl?" Gladys could hear her heart beating. "Look at me face, Gladys." "I see you face." Gladys' body was trembling all over. "Look how me mouth done get me in trouble. My God." "Gladys, shut up and listen." "I listening, Doris, but me heart in me hand." "I been back now, one month. You know what happened?" "What, Doris?" "I gone only one month." ''And?" "Clement move in a woman." "What you telling me?" Gladys' lower lip dropped. "I reach home, open the door with me key . A young woman sitting on me bed." "You know her?" "No. Ah never see her in me life. She looks like one of them Trinidadian Indians." "What you do?" "He walk in right behind me. Stupid me, shout in his face . Young broom sweep clean, but old broom sweep corners. He tell me I look like an ol' wife fish. Hard-up. Dry-up. That's when I reach for the frying pan. I bang him up good. And he bang me up too. Bust me ribs. Black up me eyes. I was in the hospital for two weeks." Gladys signed in relief. The tension in her body eased. She wiped the sweat from her face with the hem of her skirt. On the right of the bench, a glass-bottom boat emptied its cargo of tourists. Taxi drivers gathered like vultures around a long awaited meal. The sun-tanned visitors, rum in hand, lifted the lid off the quieting late afternoon with ren ditions of their favorite calypsos. 145
146 Seasoning for the Mortar As the noise simmered down, Gladys began to laugh lightly. "You know, for a minute, I thought you said, you killed Clement." "That's what ah said. And I so sorry. I want him back. He's the only man I know." "You making me confused." Gladys' voice began to sound like an untuned steel pan-dull, listless in her fear. "You say you beat him with a skillet?" "Last week, when I came out the hospital, I went home late one night around two in the morning." Doris began to cry. Gladys began to shake her. "What happened, Doris? What in God's name you do to the man?" Doris' red face was drenced in con vulsive tears. She could not speak. The sun flared up in the West, spat out its final heat, and began to sink into its cool bed of sea behind the blue, vague mountains. Gladys hugged Doris with one hand and searched her handbag with the other. She found a used tissue and blotted Doris' eyes and face. "Blow you nose, Doris." Doris blew her nose. "I going to jail." "Oh God, don't say that. Don't say that." "I pour acid in his ear." Doris spoke rapidly, vomiting up her deed that lay so uncomfortable on her chest. "He jump up and run around like a mad man, screaming. And when he fall down, I run out the house. I been sleeping under the fishing boats on the beach. I went back once. Night before last. I opened the door and put me head in. I didn't go any further. The house was smelling." "Smelling how?" Gladys whispered. "Like fish or dead thing?" The confession had taken the wind out of her. "Like fish and dead thing." "Nobody report him missing?" "I don't hear a thing." "Maybe the man alright." Gladys' clammy hands lay heavy in her lap. "He probably hiding out at his girlfriend's house til he get better." "You think so?" Doris wrung her sweaty hands unconsciously. "Maybe he in the hospital. Maybe he gone somewhere to hide his shame and swallow his pride. After all, you cook his goose good and proper this time." "Gladys, ah want him back. Suppose he dead? The house don't smell normal." "Doris, what fisherman's house that been locked-up for days smell normal? Stop fretting, no. You making me nervous."
Althea Romeo-Mark "Gladys, I tired sleeping under fishing boats. I walking and look ing over me shoulder. The island small. The police going find out any time. And the shame, the shame. Shame and scandal going make me drop dead." "Come to my house. We'll drink a little rum to cool our nerves and think of something." Gladys rose up from the bench. "Come, Doris." They clasped wet hands, looked around them cautiously, crossed the road and flagged down a taxi. Doris made a sign of the cross and prayed silently as the taxi took off. "How about we go there tonight?" whispered Gladys after a few minutes of silence. "And if he not there, we going report him missing in the morning." "And what if they ask where I was?" "Tell them, since you came out the hospital, you staying with me." "And if he dead?" "Me son will guide us through this," said Gladys in a calm, soft voice. "We don't chat everyday for nothing." The taxi rumbled over the hills into the increasing darkness. The pale moon floated sleepily among thinning clouds. The activities of the missing Clement Querard have become part of other occasional strange events that occur around the island. Lately, the fishermen know when fish is plenty. Some see his red boat, the Bastile. It sails where the sea meets the sky. The ocean becomes black with schools of fish ready to be caught. They are certain that Clement blows his conch shell. Three long, sad blasts. Two short ones. But nobody has seen him. When the waterfront is deserted, Doris led by Gladys, walks three times in a circle and pours rum over their shoulders. Gladys tosses a bottle of rum into the sea. The sea swallows the bottle. Faces, reflec tions in the sea, linger briefly, then retreat with receding waves. Voices, audible to sensitive ears, can be heard singing "back to back, belly to belly, ah don't give a damn, ah done dead already ... " 147
148 Seasoning for the Mortar Easter Sunday The mob occupying the church steps parted as swiftly as the red sea when two men in white coats, holding a stretcher, emerged from the United Methodist Church on Market Street. Two sisters, Lilly and Gretta, gripped hands as they wrestled through the crowd, poked their heads between elbows and stretched to get a better view of Miss Myrtle being carried out. Miss Myrtle's mouth, twisted on the left, gave the impression that she was sneering at the transfixed congregation. Miss Maude, who ran alongside the men, halted them briefly and struggled against the tropical wind to pull down Miss Myrtle's dress which had blown above her waist. Everybody had seen the cinnamon-colored stocking held up by garters below the knee. The body, as if in protest, began to convulse and the men in white pushed Miss Maude to one side and sprinted down the steps to the waiting ambulance. Lilly, who still grasped her sister's hand, began to wail. Gretta, conscious of curious stares, dragged her sister through the babbling crowd to her mother who stood near the opposite entrance of the church. "Mammy, I had wish her dead," Lilly cried, "I had wish her dead." "What stupidness you talking, girl?" the mother laughed. "You all getting hysterical?" The blubbering continued and the mother stopped laughing. She hadn't seen her girls so distressed since they had chopped off a lizard's tail and it chased them. "What happened?" the mother asked, as she reached down and hugged her daughters. Lilly nervously turned the brass ring on her swollen middle finger. Words clogged her throat. "This is Easter Sunday, ain't it?" cried Gretta, looking into her mother's eyes. "But yes, I don't have to tell you." "We supposed to be God-fearing, ain't we?" "Why you talking so, Gretta? Lilly, what happened to you finger?" Between fitful crying and the wiping of snotty noses, the mother heard a story that left her agitated. Anyone passing by Myrtle Van Beverhout's house that morning had heard her favorite Sunday song, "Onward Christian Soldiers," blar ing out her wooden window. It had become a part of the neighborhood
Althea Romeo-Mark character. Inside the house Miss Myrtle sat on the side of her bed, before a termite-infested dressing table, powdering her face in front of a yellowing mirror. She sang loudly as she covered her neck and face grey in a cloud of lilac-scented powder. Her short, gray hair, plaited in tiny braids, waited to be dressed in a black horse-hair wig. Satisfied that her face was gray enough, she placed the wig, which fitted like a hat, on her head. She examined her long, thin face and hairy chin, wiped away the powder on her thick eyebrows, then reached for a new yellow and olive green dress which lay across her bed and stepped into it. She wiggled rapidly as she tried to haul it up across her wide hips and thighs, then fought to pull up the zipper. Her husband, who had died six months earlier, had always done this. Lilly and Gretta, who lived across town, sat at a dining table in panties and half-slips while they ate a breakfast of codfish, shrimp and toast. New Easter Sunday dresses decorated their bed. The identical red silk dresses with white lace trimmings had been made by Aunty Nellie, the seamstress, who lived down the road. No one wore old dress es to church on Easter Sunday. The girls, who were three years apart, looked forward to going to church. The highlight that Sunday was deciding which adult or child wore the most beautiful attire. On this day the church always looked like a big basket of flowers. After dressing and tying red, silk ribbons in their long braids, the sisters ran excitedly up Kronprindens Gade, a long, narrow, cobblestoned street built by the Danes in the 1800's. The heels of their black patent-leather shoes clattered gaily as matching handbags swung on their shoulders and glittered in the morning sun. Despite beads of sweat, which had begun to trickle down their faces, they looked like two freshly plucked hibiscuses. Miss Myrtle missed her husband, Joseph Van Beverhout. The zipper was half-way up, but her right hand had become cramped and she rested on the bed momentarily. She recalled Easter Sunday fifteen years ago. After marrying in the United Methodist, she had gone to the Dutch Reformed Church with her husband . He had wanted his church members to welcome his new wife into their fold. Her mouth quivered at the memory of that day. Her husband, a mulatto of Danish descent, had proudly hooked her arm as they marched up the steps to the hos tile stares of a crowd of yellow, beige and red faces. The ruffles on the 149
150 Seasoning for the Mortar front of her yellow, taffeta dress, blew lightly in the wind of a forecast ed storm. There was no "Welcome, sister" as they approached the vestibule. She followed her husband to the center pew and immediately knelt down to pray. Five minutes later, she had seen the entire mid dle section of the church empty. She had not returned. Maude Proudfoot, then a Dutch Reformed member, who taught at the same school as Miss Myrtle, had come by that afternoon just as they were having lunch. She hinted to Myrtle that they go out onto the veranda, after the meal of boiled fish and fungi, to have a chat. Joseph always had a nap after lunch. "They say if you come back they goin' block the entrance to the church." "For what? What I do to them?" "They say you make the man leave his wife of twenty years to marry you." " But that's their business?" "They don't see how Joseph could leave his wife to marry you. You know what they call you?" "What?" "Black, ugly, long mouth ... " "Stop there." Myrtle, who had been sitting on a rocking chair, sucked in her cheeks, stretched her mouth and pouted. She looked like a shellfish in a tank. "I teach the man book-keeping. His business turn a profit. He marry me." "They say you cook that soup and give him. They don't want peo ple who believe in those things in the church. Man cannot worship God and Satan at the same time." " What Satan got to do with it? You know his wife never like the island. She spend most of her time in Denmark with her children. She only come to St. Thomas when she want money and when it's cold. All of you in the church know that. Tell them I say God will be the judge. I ain't that hard up to see their red faces every Sunday. They can keep their precious church . " Myrtle did not say another word . Her chest burned and her head swooned. She closed her eyes and shut the world out. Maude Proudfoot had watched her fall asleep, and with no one to talk to, she left closing the iron gate behind her.
Althea Romeo-Mark While Miss Myrtle was held hostage by a bad memory, Lilly and Gretta were already bulldozing their way through a throng of adults assembling before the church premises. There was a loud buzz of con versation and the spontaneous, sporadic cackles of men and women whose Sunday was sweetened by gossip from friends. Some, who visited the church only on special occasions, stood around without apparent urgency. Being in close proximity to the church was good enough to receive God's blessings. The girls were breathless, but they had to get seats and save a place for their parents. All pews were filled except for the last five rows at the back, which had vacant spaces scattered here and there. Despite the wind outside, the air, compounded by assorted perfumes and the close proximity of sweating bodies, was stale. A rapid swishing of paper fans competed with the low prattle of the congrega tion. Lilly spotted a place among a row of elderly women and tugged at Gretta's dress to signal her discovery. They clambered over knees and shoes, politely muttering "excuse me" and "sorry," and settled into their places. They secured a space big enough to hold a small child by plac ing their handbags between them. It was 10:45 a.m. At home Miss Myrtle snapped out of her reminiscence and looked at her watch. "Oh Jesus!" she shouted and immediately yanked at her zipper which miraculously made the journey up the back of her dress. Her head, which felt like a stone, throbbed rapidly as she rushed around her bedroom, stepping into her pumps, putting on her white pearl neck lace, and securing her wide black hat with pearl-studded hat pin. She grabbed her black handbag, thick leather-bound Bible and hymn book, and rushed out the door without locking it. Her head swirled as she tried to wave down taxis, but she had never missed a Sunday service and missing one on Easter Sunday was unthinkable. At the church she waded through a crowd of youths and latecom ers and responded reluctantly to occasional howdy-do's. No respectable church member came to church this late. Inside the church she stared at her pew. Her seat was occupied by two children. Lilly and Gretta were playing with a white handkerchief when they heard a voice bleat: "Children, get up, that's my seat." They looked up to see the dull eyes of a woman with a hairy chin focused upon them. "She look just like Mr. William's goat," whispered Gretta to Lilly. 151
152 Seasoning for the Mortar "Tis true," whispered back Lilly, who fixed her eyes on Myrtle's long chin. The voice bleated again, "Who sitting there?" Miss Myrtle pointed at the narrow space between the children. "Mammy!" "Where she?" "She coming." Lilly glared at the gray face in the black hat. "Well, let me tell you, children, you mammy ain't here and I been sitting in this aisle and pew for the last ten years. Have some respect for your elders and get up." She mopped her perspiring face as she stead ied herself between the benches. "You people only come to church on Easter Sunday. You cannot come here and take my seat." She set her mouth defiantly, pursed her lips and would not budge. "Her seat?" muttered Lilly to Gretta. "Who own seat here?'' She had already turned her head away, and her light-skinned face reddened in tension as she clenched her left fist and rested it upon the handbags. Lilly's red face further riled Miss Myrtle. "Nobody going deny me a seat in my church. Nobody." The congregation in nearby pews turned around to see what the commotion was all about. Maude Proudfoot, who sat several pews in front with her husband, got up and came to the back and quietly whis pered, "There's a seat here in front with me and Hubert, come now. Stop causing confusion in the church . 'Tis Easter Sunday. Don't bother with these young children. They don't have training." "Maude Proudfoot, I been worshipping the Lord in this bench for ten years. I not moving. I not sitting anywhere else." "But you have to sit where you can." "I sorry." Miss Myrtle set her jaw and pushed through the pew, her large bottom bouncing off knees as she forced her way down the bench. She squeezed herself into the small space, sitting on Lilly's hand. Lilly's brass ring dug into her flesh as Myrtle shoved her hips right and left, settling in, to the discomfort of others on the bench. Gretta and Lilly sat on their neighbor's hips. The others in the pew grumbled as they constricted themselves further-arm bone pushing arm bone. Lilly bit her lips. She did not want to cry and give Miss Myrtle the satisfaction that she was causing her pain. The ring sunk deeper into the flesh of her finger, the hand becoming dead after a while. There was instant relief when Reverend Hodge announced the opening hymn, "Christ the Lord is risen today, Hallelujah." Miss Myrtle, one of the
Althea Romeo-Mark first to rise, brayed loudly above the others. Lilly inspected her finger. It was red and swollen. She blew on it to soothe the throbbing sensa tion which began with the circulation of blood in her hand. "I wish she drop dead," she whispered to Gretta. "Me too . " "She should choke on communion." Gretta grabbed her throat, turned her eyes up and quietly giggled. Sitting down was a game of musical chairs. When the hymn ended, the children found to their embarrassment that they had no seats. They looked around like two lost ships in a sea of adult faces. "God is good," exclaimed Miss Myrtle . She pulled out her husband's brown handkerchief and wiped her face. "Come, Gretta." Lilly turned around and stuck her tongue out at Miss Myrtle, who sat smiling, as they maneuvered their way to the aisle. They walked quickly to the back of the church and stood in the crowded vestibule for the rest of the service . Miss Myrtle didn't get up often throughout the rest of the service. She sang loudly and shouted her hallelujahs when the Spirit hit her. Her shouting was usual, but her sitting down wasn't. She wobbled up to the front during the call for communion and knelt down along with others around the communion rail. She didn't get up again. 153
154 Seasoning for the Mortar Patricia M. Fagan (See biography on page 100) In Miss Emma's Shack You have to pass the big gut to get to Miss Emma's. The island has many gutters, but the gut outside Miss Emma's is the biggest. The gut ters are like rivers when it rains, then the smell goes away. During the rainy season, the guts can be very dangerous. If you fall into a gutter, like the one outside Miss Emma's shack, you could get washed right out to sea with the garbage. And the water that comes gushing down from the mountains. "It's a wonder we have any mountain left with all that mud out in the sea," an old man had said as he looked out at the brown blue sea after the rains stopped. When the gutters are clean, the chil dren like to run down and up in them as fast as they can until they get light-headed, and then they throw themselves down on the ground so they can see the world turn 'round fast, fast. I used to do that. I stopped last rainy season when a dead donkey washed out to sea. The poor ani mal had a lot of arrows stuck into his body, and all the old people that had come to the wharf to watch the donkey float into the harbor said it wasn't the same island anymore. The next day the newspaper showed pictures of many more donkeys all over the island, with arrows stuck into their bodies, dead. Some stateside boys were caught, and the paper wrote that the boys killed over fifteen wild donkeys and who was to cor rect such a deed? Well, that was the last anyone heard of either the boys or the donkeys. "That's why they call it 'American Paradise,"' Miss Emma had said a few days later as she sat plaiting Carmen's hair, "so they could come down here and do what they want, how they want, and with who they want." She pulled so hard that Carmen who was quietly squirming under Miss Emma's hard hand, finally screamed, "Owooch!" The comb came right down on Carmen's head, 'Whaack!'-"Be quiet, child!" The
Patricia M. Fagan neighbor man who was sitting next to me watching Miss Emma comb Carmen's hair nodded saying, "Idle hands is truly the devil's play ground." The only donkeys we have left on the island now are old tame ones the people had owned from the beginning. Every rainy season it's something new. "Lord, this is one hot day, eh?" Carmen says as we walk from school. It hasn't rained now for three months, since March, and the afternoon sun is boiling my brains. Usually I stop at Carmen's house for awhile and then go downtown to meet my father, but lately I don't like Carmen too much. She's going on as if she were a woman. I mean, the other day, I noticed she had big sweat circles under her arms and I never noticed that before, so I asked her about it. She said only women can sweat like that and only if they are strong women. "You know, girl, the reason you taking so long to develop is because you white. White girls don't develop so quick as we black girls, and when they do, they try to hide it." Now Carmen knows I don't like to be called white, because white girls are from the States, and I am not from the States. My fam ily has been here on this island for over two hundred years-longer than Carmen's family. So I don't know why she's carrying on like this. You should see her these days! She straightening her hair and wearing it up in a French twist, reads TRUE ROMANCE magazine, has a policeman as a boyfriend, and thinks she knows everything. In the evening, Carmen and her policeman boyfriend go driving out in the countryside in his big Chevrolet. I know they do things in his car, but she says, "When you read about how other girls get into trouble, you learn what not to do." If Miss Emma ever finds out about all this, Carmen will get a real good ncking. As me and Carmen come to the big gut outside Miss Emma's house, the smell hits us; it's like a dead mongoose. "Carmen, I going straight to the shop today. A big tourist ship came in this morning and Daddy might need the help." "Come in, nuh? Since when you rushing to work with those stu pidy tourists? Plus Mommy make some maubi this morning and it have to be cold by now." Carmen pulls my arm and I follow because any thing is better than the tourists; and Miss Emma's maubi is real good. Maubi is made from herbs , tree bark, roots and sugar. You have to let it ferment for a long time until it gets a foamy head on it. Miss Emma says that maubi will put hair on your chest, teeth in your mouth and iron in your back. 155
156 Seasoning for the Mortar Carmen and me have to walk around the gutter to get to Miss Emma's courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard is a concrete cistern that looks like a giant's grave. If you want water for anything-flushing toilets, bathing, doing the dishes, you have to climb a ladder on the side of the cistern and dip the bucket into a large hole on the top. After you get the water you must remember to close the hatch or else mosquitoes will lay their eggs in the water or an animal like a cat or a rat might fall in and drown. One time they found a dead cat in there and it had been there a long time because the hair was all gone. And just imagine, I was drinking that water all the time, and Miss Emma was making her maubi with it. Carmen had laughed when she told me that story because I felt real sick. "What don't kill will fatten," she said. Some joke. Soon as we get into the house, Carmen drops her books on the bed and pulls off her skirt. "What shape like a peach on the outside and red like a cherry on the inside?" Carmen and me have only seen pictures of peaches so I know she either heard this joke from some stateside girl or read it in TRUE ROMANCE magazine. "How should I know?" I ask irritated. Carmen stands in front of the cracked mirror and pulls off her blouse. "Girl, you sure dumb. It's your pum pum." "Carmen" I explain, "mine isn't red like a cherry. It's pink like a conch shell." "Let me see," she demands with a dare in her voice. "I bet you don't even have any hair." I pulled off my panties and pulled up my skirt angry that I have to prove everything to her. "You have a lot of hair!" she exclaims, "You see what I mean about white girls hiding it?" "Carmen," I ask disgusted, "you think I'm going to tell people I have hair on my pum pum?" With that I even showed her that inside is not red . "It looks more like inside a guava," Carmen says. "If you're so much a woman," I ask her, "how come you don't know that?" She just sucked her teeth the way she does when she thinks I've asked a stupid question and finally said, "That's why I have a boyfriend." From across the courtyard, in the bathroom, Miss Emma calls out to Carmen to fetch some water to flush the toilet. I love to fetch water from the cistern since in my home, up on the hill, we have water com ing out of faucets and a toilet that flushes. After handing Miss Emma
Patricia M. Fagan the bucket of water, me and Carmen go back to the main shack where the bedroom and sitting room is. Miss Emma had put out our glasses of cold maubi on her little glass-covered table. Under the glass was a bunch of postcards from Miss Emma's other children. The hot afternoon sun burns into the little blue room and burns a yellow candle into a wax blob. The glasses, filled with the amber maubi, sweat water which is cool on my face. Carmen told me that her other brothers who live in the States send Miss Emma money to make things easier for all of them. Carmen's other brother, Randall, still lives with Carmen and Miss Emma, but he, like Carmen, can't wait to get out of school and go to New York with the rest. I can't see how all of them lived in this two-room shack especially without screens to keep out the mosquitoes. As I drink the maubi Miss Emma enters and takes one long look at Carmen. "That pant you have on too short, you could see all the way up inside you." "But, Mommy, this is the style. They call them short-shorts." "Style? You call that style, where you show off all your insides? Furthermore, your mind too much on style these days. If your studies could show more style, those pant you have on wouldn't look so dis graceful." Carmen just pouted; she knew not to say anything more, so she just drank her maubi and waited for the storm to pass. I just looked at the vinyl covering that was torn at the edges which showed the dirty planks of rotting wood. The narrow doorway open let in a small breeze which was a break for me from the heat and the quarrel. A car horn started to blast outside and Randall came in dirty and sweaty, "Your father want to see you." "Miss Emma, my father want to know if I could stay with you tonight. My mother's not well and need to have the house quiet." "You staying here with us?" Randall and Carmen said at the same time. Miss Emma looked at me the same way Carmen does when she calls me white and said, "Your mother always sick. That poor man." The faded pink picture of Jesus in a brown plastic frame hangs a bit crooked on the wall. He has his heart showing with a wreath of thorns piercing it. One hand holds open the robe to show his heart, while the other hand is open and up as if he is taking a pledge or stop ping someone. I always feel he is telling me not to feel hurt because I 157
158 Seasoning for the Mortar could be like him with a bleeding heart. Miss Emma sits on an old rusty metal chair while Carmen, Randall and I sit on the mahogany / rattan chairs that are stiff and uncomfortable. "They never thought your mother should play with the likes of us, so they kept her up on the hill all by herself. Now look at her, too damn sick to take care of a husband and a child. That's what you get when things too easy." Why doesn't Miss Emma like my mother, and why doesn't my mother like Miss Emma? I remember my mother saying that Miss Emma used to look like a Carib Indian princess, but because Miss Emma had so many men, or because so many men had Miss Emma, she had become old and fat. It's true Miss Emma is fat, that's why she doesn't sit in the mahogany/rattan chairs-she doesn't fit in them (and if she did fit, the rattan seat might burst from underneath her behind). Mommy also told me that all Miss Emma's children were by different men. Carmen gets up and tells Miss Emma that she will lend me a change of clothes. Randall asks if he could come with us. "Boy, go mind your own business," Carmen tells him in her woman's voice. Both Carmen and Randall have light brown skin with loose curly black hair. Randall has big muscles that he likes to flex and show off for any one who will watch. Every time I go over there, he follows me around pretending he has questions to ask Carmen. One time Carmen stopped dead in the middle of what we were doing and looked at Randall with that womanly way she has and said, "I know just what you trying to poke your nose into. So if you know what's good for you, you'll take your nose and stick it right back on your face where it belong." After that he wasn't so much of a pest. When night came, it was still hot and the air hung quiet while mos quitoes were busy all around us trying to get every bit of blood before they were swatted to death. "Carmen, you two go bathe your skins," Miss Emma shouted as she started to prepare the bed. Carmen and I went to get our pails, but Carmen said we would bathe out in the yard because at night rats sometimes hide in the shower. So we started to wash, and just as I soaped my skin, Randall came and stood right in front of me. He looked me up and down and then left his eyes right on my pum pum. "Randall!" Carmen screamed, "Get your rude self from here or else I go'n call Mommy on you!" Randall laughed and left.
Patricia M. Fagan When Carmen and I got back we crawled into the bed. I went in first to be near the window. Miss Emma barred the front door after Randall came in. She set out a potty and put on a small light near it so in case anyone had to go, they wouldn't knock over the pot. Randall climbed in next to me, then Carmen and finally Miss Emma on the outside. "Randall bar the window." "You go'n lock the window? How we go'n breathe?" I asked Miss Emma, but she just acted dumb and didn't even notice me. Miss Emma doesn't realize we could die without air. "The night spirits can do bad things to you," whispered Randall. I lay on my side, then on my back, but I couldn't move much more because Randall was so close to me. I looked over the sleeping black bodies. The yellow light shone over the potty with pee in it. I breathed Randall's air; Randall breathed Carmen's air; and Miss Emma breathed all the air. I wanted to be in my large room on the mountain with big screened windows where the moon beamed in on me and the breeze lulled me to sleep. I was going to die and no one would care. Randall rolled over. " How come you ain't sleeping?" "I can't breathe. I want the window open or I go'n die of suffoca tion!" Randall came closer and whispered, "If I open the window, you have to promise not to tell Mommy and to give me a kiss." "Okay ... " I said, smelling the heavy odor of Dixie Peach pomade. With a heave, Randall pulled himself up to the window sill, pulled off the wooden plank and pushed open the shutters. I held on to his body in case he fell. Randall looked down at me. "You go'n give me that kiss now , or I go'n have to take it?" He pushed himself down onto me. A sea breeze blew in and a clap of thunder broke the still night air . 159
160 Seasoning for the Mortar Lahida the Cat They called the old woman Lahida the Cat because she was home less, dirty, and roamed the streets. Cats were not liked on the island. They were nasty sly animals with claws. They came around only when they wanted food, and then they were gone again. They couldn't kill mongooses, and they wouldn't catch cockroaches nor poisonous ganga los . The only thing cats killed were lizards, which were valued because they ate insects, so the useless felines were hated. But Lahida was feared because she wasn't one of us, and nobody knew just where she had come from; she was just there, one afternoon. Some said she was Puerto Rican because she wasn't black nor white; she was grey with a yellowish hue. "She have rat nest in she hair," the children said because it was matted and filthy, hanging in clumps around her head. Normally, they chased misfits, but with Lahida it was different: she was an old woman who moved too slowly. And they knew no matter what they did Lahida would continue to crawl down the street, unperturbed, so they chose to stare at her from a safe distance. On the other hand, grandmothers and aunts and god-mothers, whose eyes had almost fallen out of their sockets the day they saw snake head and bird claw hanging on a rope around Lahida's neck, now attributed the children's unusual behavior to witchcraft. "She a soucriant," they whispered in agreement. "Snake head and bird claw prove that!" Soucriants were devil women who flew in a blaze across the night sky, looking for souls to capture. It was said that in the evenings, before heading out to do their evil work, soucriants shed their skins and care fully hid them, for should they be unable to return to their original form come morning they would surely die. It was said that the soucriants could take any shape they desired; therefore, anything or anybody strange should be avoided, or else "They could suck out your blood before you could say Jack Sprat!" Although no young person on St. Thomas had ever seen a soucriant, old women, with hands waving in the air, had, and they were con vinced that Lahida was one. "Dem soucriants alive down islands," they insisted. "And just where this woman come from, eh?"
Patricia M. Fagan Down at Market Square, though , there were other opinions. "No," the market women muttered, sucking their teeth in disgust, "something else set she so." As they sat in their stalls, selling maubi, soursops, and sugar apples, they observed the old woman as she roamed the streets. "She crazy," they said, "but she wasn't born so. It mus' ah been a wut'less man who had take she from she muddah's house, and when he ge' done w'she, toss she out." They took a breath and waited for those who listened to savor the information before adding, "And this make she crazy." All the while, Lahida shuffled up and down the streets : Raadets Gade, Norre Gade, on the Waterfront, up Hospital Grounds and Market Square. She passed the Butcher Shop, the coffee shops, the cent candy stores, by the bars and up by the Catholic Church, her head down and saying not a single word. People in the stores and bars and boats and churches watched her, always uncertain what to make of this stranger. They wondered how she ate, where she slept and where she went to the bathroom, but no one dared ask. Meanwhile , some school children, in an attempt to make them selves important to their peers, claimed Lahida had come round their houses, begging food. "But," they reported pulling themselves up and lowering their voices, "my muddah pitch hot water on she and tell she not to come back!" "For true?" the listeners gasped. "She does come round by the houses?" In a flash, they envisioned Lahida enter their yards, saw her long hands with broken yellow nails reach for their necks, saw them selves disappear into the Lahida's filthy clothes, never to be seen again . "Wha' you think; I make it up?" Despite the shudder that rippled through their bodies , the listen ers announced in a united front of bravery, " Yeah!" Yet, after school, these same brave souls hurried home, eyes dart ing up and down the street, the alleys, the sidewalks. They did not stop for a five-cent ieee at Mr. Hardy's shack, and they didn't go to Mrs. Leona's for penny candy; and, certainly, they did not stop at Stuttering Charlie's front door to shout, "Cha-Cha-Cha-Charlie h-h-how come yoyo-your mout stuck?" Meanwhile, Father Mahoney on his daily visit to the Poor Housewhich was a row of shacks on the street behind the church-spotted the old woman relieving herself in the Big Gut. The gutter, twenty feet wide 161
162 Seasoning for the Mortar and ten feet deep, separated the stone wall of the Anglican Church, School and playground from the street of rotting shacks. Lahida shame lessly stooped in the middle of the gut, in the middle of the hot noon sun to do her business, and although people peered out windows and children stood on the bank of the gut, she reached for some leaves and wiped herself. The freckled faced minister shook his head and called out to the children to move on. After shrugs and embarrassed laughter, after faces moved away from the sunny windows, the good minister murmured to himself, "This is an American island, for Godssake. Something should be done for her." At three that afternoon, he called Social Services, a newly formed department, housed in a large room of an old rum warehouse. Mrs. Clarita Bolentin took the call. "If the woman doesn't want help, what you want us to do?" the large, dark woman demanded, her designer glasses reflecting the other desks in the room. "You know how many times we send people to talk to her?" She sucked her teeth to stress her disgust. "But the woman only walks away like a jumbie back from the grave." Mrs. Bolentin, like so many islanders, straddled two worlds. One foot planted solidly on the dirt road of the old island with its beliefs, mannerisms and speech; the other foot, tightly forced into high heels of White Anglo Saxon America, so she had to be careful talking with Father Mahoney. She knew he didn't believe in jumbies, and she wasn't sure she did either, but all those old stories mother and grandmother and great grandmother had told her couldn't be easily dismissed. "Furthermore," she added, holding the phone tightly against her square face. "The only place we can put her is the Crazy Ward with the rest whose families can't take them. But they are St. Thomians! This woman doesn't have papers, and we don't know where she come from." Clarita Bolentin's hair, shiny with pomade, was straightened into a Doris Day style-bangs and a flip-which she had seen in Ebony maga zine. Fans pulsed above. It was true, Mrs. Bolentin conceded, there was no proof Lahida wasn't a legal resident, so it wouldn't hurt to register her for the Crazy Ward benefits, which allowed the poor a place to wash, sleep and eat. Each night they were locked in, given food and a bed. In the morning, they were set free, only to return at night. Still, Clarita repeated, "Suppose she's from down islands? We can't even properly take care of our own."
Patricia M. Fagan "She's human and has a right to be treated as such," Father Mahoney insisted, his voice calm. "But the woman doesn't have papers," Clarita replied, her voice low and controlled. "I just don't know." "I'm sure you will do the right thing, Mrs. Bolentin," Father Mahoney said, finally. "In the meantime, I'll call the governor to find out if there is some way the old woman can be admitted." Carefully placing the phone down, the social worker remained silent for a few minutes to ponder the problem. All she had to do was sign the papers, but that was against the rules. "If the old woman is Puerto Rican," Clarita thought, "she'd be entitled because she's American, but what if she's Haitian?" With one hand, Clarita Bolen tin pushed herself away from the oak stained desk. "I'll wait for the governor to call." An hour later, the phone rang, and for the first time all day, a smile broke onto Clarita's stern face. "Yes, sir," she said, her voice animated. "I told Father Mahoney I would wait for your permission . " After hanging up, Mrs. Bolen tin headed for the street to find a taxi. It was hot and humid. She wiped her forehead and sucked her teeth. "Lord have mercy! I ain' in no mood for this today," she muttered. Samuel Reubens had just dropped off some tourists at the dock, and he was cruising the small streets of Charlotte Amalie, looking for more people to take back to the ship. He spotted Clarita as she stepped out from the large arched doorways of the Social Service building. She was waving him down. "You going to have to help me find Lahida!" she declared, plopping down next to the driver. "We have to take her to the hospital. The governor sign the papers." Mrs . Bolentin heaved a sigh and slammed the door behind her. "And, Lord!" she said, fanning herself with A Shopper's Guide to St. Thomas that had been lying on the back seat, "I hope she don't start nothing because I am not ready for this today." "Best watch your pressure" he said, glancing at her determined face. Although he liked Clarita's feisty nature, he worried about her high blood pressure and how the job had aggravated it. He also didn't relish the idea of forcing anyone into his car. He thought about the tourists who smilingly paid his $35 fee for a tour of the island. Mentally scanning the grateful faces of those who claimed he was the best guide 163
164 Seasoning for the Mortar they'd ever had, Samuel continued up the road. As the green Chevrolet station wagon crept by the turpentine trees and the blue stone wall of Emancipation Gardens, he secretly prayed they wouldn't find her or that Lahida would get into the car without a fuss. The Chevy drove up by the Apollo Theater and passed the shacks of Savan, where thin dogs lay sleeping. ''And how we goan do it?" he asked, his eyes on the road. "With rope," Clarita laughed. It wasn't the same laughter she gave when something funny grabbed her; instead, it was the quick embar rassed kind. "I grab and you tie. She ain' strong; she too skinny." Perhaps Lahida understood her fate when she saw the large dark woman approach. Perhaps she was weak; after all, it was late and Lahida hadn't eaten anything all day. Still, the whole incident occurred in about five minutes. An eyewitness gave this account: "The car stop and out come Clarita Bolentin. Without a word, and with one hand, Clarita pick up the old woman and pitch she in the back seat, like an old piece of rag. All the time, Samuel, holding open the door, silent." After securing Lahida's signature by forcing her hand down on an ink pad, the nurses began undressing her. They stopped short when they went for the bird's claw and snake head, fearing the old woman might fight for it. But nothing happened. Lahida moved and sat and bent and leaned and raised and lowered her arms, just as she was instructed to do. If the women hadn't observed intelligence in Lahida's eyes, they would have concluded she was lost, as so many in the crazy ward were, but the look Lahida gave them made the nurses careful. Instead of jerking the pink smock over the emaciated woman's body, they slipped it gently on. "This is your pajamas," one nurse said, stand ing back to observe Lahida's response. Since there was none, the nurs es went on. "Now, what are we going to do with this hair of yours?" she asked, picking up a limp strand. Lahida passed a dry hand over the back of her thick, matted hair and shook her head. Believing her co-worker had taken on too much, the other nurse humphed as she threw the old woman's rags in a garbage bag. "But we have to comb out that mess you have on your head," the first nurse insisted, the comb high in the air. Lahida faced her. "You're not Goliath ... " the nurse began, but before she could fin ish her sentence, Lahida grabbed the comb and threw it across the
Patricia M. Fagan floor. The three women watched it hit the corner of the floor, and for a long, silent moment they stared at the pink plastic object. Finally, one nurse broke the silence and retrieved the comb. "If you don't want your hair touched, we not going to do it. Okay?" her voice was conciliatory. As they led Lahida down the hall to her room, men in pajamas and women in robes passed by. Some laughed, some giggled, some shrank away, some reached out, but Lahida moved past them. Inside the room, a small square window with heavy iron bars let in a shaft of golden afternoon light. A single bed with white sheets and an empty wooden night table were pushed against one wall. Lahida shuf fled straight for the window. "See you in the morning," the nurses said, leaving. As the lock snapped in the door, Lahida grabbed the bars of the window and peered out. The Crazy Ward stood apart from and in the shadow of the hospi tal. Perhaps it was just coincidence, but this long dark wing looked down onto the old slave graveyard. Under large mahogany trees, painted white rocks covered mounds where slaves, long ago, were laid to rest, and slabs of worn marble marked the resting place of the freeborn blacks. Once in a while, one of the Crazy Ward inmates told stories of seeing spirits rise from the rocks to roam the night. Now, the graveyard was used for the poor and the crazy, and four men were digging a fresh hole. Lahida watched them. A shout rang out from one of the windows in the Crazy Ward and the men stopped to look up. It was a good excuse to take a break. They were used to hearing screams and shouts from the windows above. After scanning the walls, they spotted Lahida's jagged silhouette on the second floor. "Tha's a woman?" the small, muscular man asked. "It look so," the tall digger responded. "Man doan have so much hair." "Well, I hope not, but from up there you never know." They laughed, wiped their foreheads and resumed working. The voice rang out again, but the men could not make out the meaning of the words. "Wha' the hell she saying, eh?" the tall man asked. "I do an know, mahn, and I doan give one damn. Le's jus' hurry up and finish; it's five o'clock." 165
166 Seasoning for the Mortar At the other end of town in a brand new concrete house, Mrs. Clarita Bolentin, whose husband had died two years ago, rested while her dinner cooked. As she lay on the bed she had ordered from Sears and Roebuck, she thought about the trip she had planned. Her two week vacation would be spent with her sister in Miami. They would go all over, to night clubs, to the malls, to the latest movies. She would get a new set of dishes and some new curtains and a bathroom ensemble. "I going to have good things," she promised herself as she turned onto her side. She spotted a lizard dart down the wall, but she was too tired to chase it. "Catch some mosquitoes!" she said, watching it disappear under the door. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, Clarita smelled her fish boiling on the stove. She jumped up and went into her kitchen. That afternoon at the wharf, she had bought some Old Wife from the fishermen and had boiled it with lemon and butter. Now sitting down to eat, she picked up the head with her fingers, cracked the skull between her teeth, and sucked out the brains. Then as she started on the eyes, she began to choke. After breakfast the following morning, the nurses gave Lahida a long grey cotton dress and a pair of black leather loafers to wear. This time they waited for the old woman to dress herself. If she did, they'd know Lahida could take instructions, and they'd allow her the freedom to come and go. It was their only test. As the sunlight filtered through the large mahogany trees of Hospital Road, the old woman walked down the street in a faded grey dress. On the other side of the island, Samuel Reubens, who usually picked up his friend for work, walked into the bright green concrete house to find Clarita slumped over a bowl. A month passed, and Lahida kept her routine: in the morning, she'd walk to the wharf where the boats from Nevis, Tortola, Puerto Rico, Anguilla and Antigua delivered and took on cargo. With vacant eyes, she moved into the crowd of sailors who loaded and unloaded the ships. The men did not notice her although she spent all her days there. And they didn't pay attention when one afternoon as the sun sank into the red sea, Lahida retrieved a large wet sack from the rocks along the wharf. No one said a word because burlap bags like this one often
Patricia M. Fagan washed up on shore. Everyone knew that inside lay a tangled mess of slimy decaying kittens. She might have thrown the bag into a dumpster. Who knows? One afternoon, on his way home, a sewage plant worker spotted the old woman trudging up the road. He had heard she was Puerto Rican, and he had heard she didn't speak. He also heard she might be a soucriant, but he didn't believe in such nonsense. He just wanted to say hello because that was his nature. As he approached her, he won dered why no one spoke Spanish to her, especially since they thought she was Puerto Rican. "De donde esta?" he asked, as he came up to the old woman. She stopped, and he felt she had understood because she looked right at him. "De donde esta?" he repeated. Her head moved. The two of them stood there; he in his khakis, and she in her grey dress. He dark, she light. People came to their front doors, to thei r stoops and to their win dows; everyone stopped what they were doing. "Wha' happen?" they asked. No one knew, so they turned down their mouths and shrugged their shoulders, keeping their eyes fixed on the couple. A crowd formed, and eyes moved from the worker to the old woman. Someone shouted to the man, "She ain' stink?" People laughed. Then silence. They all waited. Some got tired of no action, and they sucked their teeth in disgust , cut their eyes and announced: "Mahn, this is bullshit! I got things to do . " Others stood with one arm across their chests and the other hold ing their chins, as though they were listening to a great speech. And there were some who sat on their haunches, staring up at the worker and the old woman. Some voiced their original suspicions: "She ain' no woman; she a soucriant." "You ain't see the old woman feeble?" came a response. Meanwhile, others found out that the sewage plant man had asked Lahida "De donde esta? " and they started chanting the question: " Dedondeestadedondeestadedondeesta ... " 167
168 Seasoning for the Mortar Cars stopped and drivers got out to see what was going on. A man got up from his haunches and with his two arms spread out, he announced, "And we ain' no different from the Jews who killed Jesus Christ. Leave she 'lone, mahn. Leave she be." Some, nodding their heads in agreement, gathered to leave. A man sucked his teeth and responded he wasn't going because this wasn't Jesus Christ; this was just some damned crazy Puerto Rican woman who didn't belong on the street. Furthermore, he asked, "Why the hell all you stay so long if you had feel that way in the first place?'' "Mahn, it is you that is so ignorant. You don' even know how igno rant you is," someone else answered. "Come tell me to m'face," the man shouted. "A fight! A fight! Call Mr. White ... " a child cried out, running towards the front where the men stood facing each other. Everyone turned to observe the quarrel. One man picked up a stick; the other smashed an empty Heinekin bottle. Dogs barked. The leaves in the women's tongue trees rustled and rustled and rustled. The sewage plant worker moved away from Lahida to stop the fight. Lahida's right hand shot straight out to stop him from leaving her side, but it was too late: the man with the stick struck out, missing his opponent's face, and the sewage plant worker went down. Everyone waited for him to move, but he didn't. Both fighters dropped their weapons. People stared. They didn't notice the dry yellow arm fall back down. They didn't notice the dogs had stopped barking, and the wind had stopped moving through the leaves of the trees. And they didn't notice the old woman shuffle away, her head down. So when Lahida disappeared, no one asked about her.
Susan Brown Susan Brown was a resident of St. Croix for over 30 years and now lives and writes in Coral Gables, Florida. Seduction at Tivoli When Tangerine first come into my mother Miss Sue store, every body look up at her ball of orange hair and down at her pointy orange shoes and see the inbetween of her wrap in a flame orange dress, and when she open an orange color snap purse, dollar bills spring like snakes out of a joke box. Everybody laugh with this white-skin continental lady from the cruise ship Euphoria docked at our St. Olaf island in the south Caribbean Sea, and she right away hire Mr. Arvil Thomas and his taxi van to show her around. She ooh and she aah at the hills and she wan der past old orange trees and she pick yellow and orange wild flowers, until three in the afternoon. Tangerine turn away from the orange trees and wild flowers and she fall in love with Mr. Arvil Thomas (who is one good looking man). Euphoria cruise ship depart St. Olaf without her. Tangerine ride around with Mr. Arvil in his taxi-van. Everyday. She start walkin' in town. She start growin' big and one day in a little stone building with attached outhouse along Prosperity Road, Tangerine give easy birth to a girl, name her Tessa King. (Tessa and me born the same year. My mother, Miss Sue, give me all the history.) Next year, Tangerine bring forth a son, call him Barley King. Then Mr. Arvil Thomas sell his taxi-van and depart St. Olaf island forever. Tangerine still here. Tessa King is what you call mulatto. She tall and lean like Tangerine. Barley (he the mailman now), he dark and good looking, bulky strong like Mr. Arvil. 169
170 Seasoning for the Mortar Everybody on St. Olaf know Tangerine afflicted with the taint of the nymph. She love all men. She can' help herself, but she own fam ily don' wan her back in Boston. They send she money to stay away. Tangerine and Tessa live at Tivoli Plantation, past the Anglican cemetery northside of town. (Barley on his own.) The orange trees in the front yard decide Tangerine to buy Tivoli. It have a little wooden latch gate across the old carriage drive, and every morning old Mr. Latimer come out from town, rake Tivoli ground and paint tree trunks against bugs and he sweet talk branches into full blos som until we can smell them all the way into town, when the wind is right. Tivoli parlor is almost empty. Lil' lil' orange an' red speckle rugs (for prayers, Tangerine say) makin' a big X on the wood floor to where a marble top table with curly legs sit under a Dutch chandelier holdin' twelve glass chimney. Six chairs of St. Olaf mahogany line the side wall. A view of Boston Harbor full of old boats hang across from a framed pic ture of an old white man Tangerine cut out of a magazine . She claim him her ancestor. She xerox copies for Tessa and Barley. Each month, when Tangerine checks come, Barley King put them on the marble table inside the parlor at Tivoli. He anchor the envelopes with a fist-size piece of brain coral he keep for the purpose. Some days Tangerine drive to town, to the bank, then to my moth er store to buy lil' things to please she self, or to have a lil ' flirtation at Lime Tree Bar across the street. There not much to do on St. Olaf island. * * * My mother, Miss Sue , sit every day on a high stool behind the cash register in she store with a good view over everything from automatic pencils and pens to dictionaries and an atlas of the world with a piece of orange paper keepin' place of a full color map of Boston, Massachusetts. A locked case hold cameras and film, dairies with little keys, bridge talley and playing card. On the counter, copy books and three ring binders, packs of paper , lined or plain . Nex t to the counter, two round rack hold postcards of island girls hugging palm trees. * * * One day, Tangerine come to buy a tablet of yellow paper and a new pen with an orange shaft. She open her orange snap-purse and scream
Susan Brown happy when green monies spring out. My mother warn Tangerine to be careful. So next month, Tangerine skip goin' to the bank and come directly to my mother to cash she checks. My mother look hard at those checks made out to Margaret Beecher Smith . "My family's from Boston," Tangerine remind us, while she finger the strand of pearl she wear every day (even when she bathe in the sea). My mother scan those big check from international oil and telephone, make Tangerine get out I.D. and find for true, Tangerine IS Margaret Beecher Smith of Boston, so my mother stamp those check severely and deposit them under the counter and get out all her twenties and the fifties she keep in the box behind the island telephone directory on top of which rest a stout peeled stick my mother keep for defense. * * * Late one afternoon I come into the store and see Tessa (she work for my mother) smoothin' down her tight-tight skirt. "Let's go to the dock. A ship comin' in." Tangerine come with us. A lil' ship slide across the blue water like a toy comin' for us to play with. It name Serena, gleamin' gold. People on the ship (Tangerine say it's a yacht) wear short pants and fancy jeweleries and big designer shades protect their eyes. They stay on board , layin' in the sun, or peddlin' little half bicycles that go no place. They never leave the yacht-ship. Never set foot on St. Olaf soil. We see pink lamps in the windows and drinks on silver trays and hear sweet music playin'. Tangerine sigh somethin' terrible. Tessa and me lean on the dock poles and let the air fill our faces with the smell of perfumed money. We take deep breaths of it to carry home. It don ' last. At night, a million little white diamond lights outline tha t yacht ship against the night sky. We pray it'll stay forever. They never do. * * * Saturday , a shiny orange motor bike roll off the yacht-ship and roar past my mother store. Seein ' who's ridin ' it , Tessa and me hug each other. A golden-hair e d whit e boy wearin ' tight-tight j e ans on hi s long long legs, straddle that bike. He roar to a stop. A silver ring flash from his left thumb and two more rings shine from fingers he runnin' through his long golden hair, shakin ' it back, givin ' his head a toss so all 171
172 Seasoning for the Mortar the long waves fall into place. That man's arm muscles bulge from his little white shirt with the word Serena stitched in gold thread. He rise up on the bike, roar it loud in front of us and shoot like a rocket uphill to Rubner Daniel grocery. Next thing we know, Mr. Golden Hair roar back past my mother's store, that bike heavy with banana and papaya and such things and a full case of rum tied to the front. Tessa and me run to the dock and catch up just as Mr. Golden Hair unfold something he plump up and put on he head. A cook's hat. "Girl," laugh Tessa, fallin' against me, "that Mr. Golden Hair don' own that yacht-ship . He only the cook." Later, Mr. Golden Hair himself stride into my mother store. Stretchin' out his silver ringed fingers to pay for some bridge tallies for the yacht ladies, his eye run over Tangerine who just walk in and he can't miss her. Bendin' over the glass case lookin' at a diary with an orange cover, Tangerine skirt go way up and Mr. Golden Hair drop the bridge tallies. He shake his long curls and swivel his head so he include everybody in the store. "Thank you," he say in a loud accent from no place we know about. "That man act like he's been around the world three times," say Tessa King, "like he's seen a castle and a harem and lots of money, but none of it his." Tessa and me laugh and fall together. But Tangerine smile a big smile and her hair fan out as if touched by somethin' elec tric. * * * Next day we hear the motor bike roar up the Strand, but don' hear it come back. We wait and wait to see Golden Hair. The sun drop. Tessa and me give up waitin' and go home. We figure Golden Hair already inside the yacht-ship cookin'. * * * Early next mornin', we pass by the dock, and that white Serena yacht-ship already half-way to the horizon. Tessa King pout, "We been robbed." * * * Saturday, Tessa and me are up at Rubner Daniel's gettin' a slab of cheese and a johnny cake for my mother lunch. Tessa eyes go in one direction, her mouth talk in the other, "Look," she poke me.
Susan Brown No mistake. Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook, still wearin' the gold embroidered Serena shirt, askin' Rubner Daniels for a job. * * * Soon Mr. Golden Hair spend a lot of time at Lime Tree Bar. Sometime he lean against the wall of my mother store, silver rings gone and hair not shiny. Tessa and me don' think he glamorous anymore. He not wearin' the gold-embroidered Serena shirt. That show up on Dooley Hall, bartender at Lime Tree. Mr. Golden Hair reduced to a joke shirt printed, "Escaped." Tangerine come into my mother store a lot now, and one day cash a big check in front of everybody. It the same day my mother fightin' down bugs eatin' through a ream of paper she just open and Mr. Golden Hair run over an' say, "I'll do that," an he reach across my mother knee, grab the peeled stick from under the counter so she know he smell out the cash box already. Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook smackin' and cleanin' up bugs real fast, sprayin' the store all neat and shipshape, when Tangerine call, "Miss Sue, let me get everyone an ice tea from Lime Tree." She sound sweet, sweet, puffin ' her orange fingernails. "I'll help," Mr. Golden Hair call in his nowhere accent , an' they run across to Lime Tree, laughin' like two kids, an' we dyin' of thirst before they come back. * * * Sparks begin flyin' between Tangerine and Golden Hair. "Tangerine hungry for a man," mumble my mother Miss Sue, "but she need somethin' beyond a ship cook half her age." * * * Tangerine begin lookin' fine. But she come into my mother store wearin' Tessa clothes. The men at Lime Tree whistle when Tangerine pass by. Tessa whisper to me, "Girl, those tight clothes are a punish ment. That my mama those men whistle at. What she thinkin'?" Mr. Golden Hair, sweepin' the floor, see Tangerine wearin' Tessa jeans. His eyes click into hers, and she reach out like somethin' auto matic is movin' her arm and she stroke his golden hair. Right there, Tangerine and Mr. Golden Hair come overpower by somethin' BIG. They fly out the door together, he callin ' over his shoul der, "Be right back, Miss Sue, right back." But they gone. 173
174 Seasoning for the Mortar Next day, three o'clock , Mr. Golden Hair park the broom behind the door and take up a lil', lil' box of English tea he steal from Serena yacht, and he just walk out callin', "Be right back , Miss Sue, right back," and he winkin' and wavin' to the men loungin' out the window at Lime Tree. * * * Tangerine begin using Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook for all the little entertainments she been missin' . He move into Tivoli and she wash his golden hair. Tessa move out. To Barley's . * * * Tangerine come beamin' into my mother store. Standin' under the ceiling fan, she shiver just lookin' at Golden Hair wearin' a new shirt print with orange flowers. Like a big land owner, he carryin' a peeled stick and watchin' Mr. von Stade, the street sweeper bend aroun' explainin' exactly how he tie palm rushes to make his broom. Tangerine sigh. She look at Golden Hair, "He' s been all over the world . He's seen so much. Now he needs peace and comfort." My mother face stay stone still. She hear this before. Tessa whisper , " My mama bring out fancy tea cups and real silver for him. They play opera records, drink tea, take an afternoon nap in the big four poster. Like two kids playin' house." Tessa clap her hand over her mouth for sayin' too much. My mother, Miss Sue, roll her eyes when Golden Hair come back from Tangerine tea parties , hitchin' up his pants and wearin' a big grin on his face . * * * One day Barley King witness hollerin' and shoutin' after he secure mail under the coral rock on the table at Tivoli and meet Tangerine come from inspectin' the orange trees. When Barley embrace his mama, the mail sack lump down his shoulder and Tangerine cup it to a stop an' she see back of Barley, Mr. Golden Hair at the marble table open she mail, his thumbnail slittin' envelopes and he shakin' them so checks fall out. Tangerine push Barley aside and she onto Ship Cook in a screamin ' flash with the brain coral, but Ship Cook grab her wrist, put his free hand at the small of Tangie back and he bend her into compli ance , kiss her up and down everywhere until the coral rock come loose and drop.
Susan Brown Barley King report this to my mother, though he usually don' say much personal, he concern with United States mail he see being feder ally offended by Mr. Golden Hair pushin' Tangie checks into his own pocket. But then Barley see Golden Hair carry Tangerine upstairs and everything fall into place nice and easy for Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook. * * * After that, we don' see Tangerine much. "My mama's involved," Tessa say. Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook come into my mother store to cash Tangerine checks. My mother don' like givin' up her cash to him, but Tangerine sign and my mother examine those check very careful. One day, Tangerine herself come by. Her eyes have dark circles, and she careful walkin' as if the sidewalk go in' to drop out from under she feet. My mother ask Tangerine how she feelin', then notice Tangerine waist gone, her belly gettin ' round. Tangerine go over to Lime Tree and fall over a loose brick and Ship Cook come from the bar shoutin' and curse as if it Tangerine own fault and he jerk she upright like he jerkin' a dog. My mother want to call the police, but don'. Tangerine don' come to town anymore. My mother ask Tessa, "How Tangerine these days?" " Umm," Tessa shrug, like she have a mouthful of pins. When Barley King deliver the mail, my mother ask, "How Tangerine gettin' on?" Barley King just nod, "Nuh-huh." * * * One night, my mother decide she herself goin to Tivoli, uninvited, to see Tangerine. I go along. The moon come up so full we don' need car lights. Tivoli latch gate stand open. At the parlor door my mother call in "Haloo." She step across the Iii', Iii' prayer rugs to the marble table. The moon slide behind a cloud and the parlor go dark. Air so still the smell of oranges fill the house with awful sweetness that swell and push against the walls and give me a big headache. A big commotion come flyin' out upstairs. 175
176 Seasoning for the Mortar Mr. Golden Hair Ship Cook run from a room. He breathin' heavy. His bare feet slap slappin' the floor boards. Sweaty hair hang like yellow ropes. He fall to scrubbin' somethin' on the floor, rub, rub, like he rubbin' away a sin. "I come to see Tangerine," my mother voice slam like an iron bar on Ship's Cook shoulders. She go straight in Tangie's room. I follow. The room is hot and dark. Shutters close. Fan gain'. Lysol and orange smell fight each other. Tangerine in the high bed. She look cruel, cruel worn out, weepin' against the pillows, orange hair shootin' every which way. She naked . Her pearls gone . In that bed she have only herself. Where is the baby? I want a baby. I expect a baby. Maybe there was a baby. Now there's nothin'. Nothin' but blood and a terrible stink killin' the sweet-rotten smell of oranges and Mr. Golden Hair scrubbin' Lysol. My mother push me easy, "Child, get Latona. Now." I jump the prayer rugs, the path, the road, yell at Latona's house, "Come to Tivoli, come, come," and Latona see my face, say nothin', pull herbs dryin' in a tree and she heave herself up the road, up the path, over prayer rugs, upstairs and my mother pull Latona inside Tangerine room and close me out the door. My mother don' let Tessa in to see her own mama, so I pull Tessa to a room and we lay on a lil' bed, me holdin' Tessa cryin ' and beatin' her fists into the mattress. We know nuthin, nuthin, that night, Tessa and me. Nuthin at all. My head hurt with all the excitement and Latona croonin' and the oranges and the stink and then the moon cloud over, and somethin' swish past the door like a big cat and I fall asleep. * * * Next mornin', Barley King, on the dock deliverin' mail to the freighter from Guyana, he see Mister Golden Hair Ship Cook talkin' big to the Captain. Barley King see Ship Cook go inside the freighter from Guyana, but don' see him come out. By the time Barley King get his mind set on what to do, that freighter gone. Mr. Ship Cook gone with it. * * *
Susan Brown Tangerine hair fade somethin' ugly. She lose weight. She walk out side in the night to visit her orange trees. Tessa move back to Tivoli to watch her mama, but one day Tangerine give Tessa the slip and detach herself from the house. Tangerine visit her orange trees and she pick up the paint brush old Latimer usin' that day to make the latch gate a nice fresh orange color (like he do when the blossoms come thick and the tourists come thicker and pay Latimer a dollar each to snap pictures under the sweet smellin' trees), and Tangerine take up Latimer brush and she slap orange paint on her white-foot trees, then she stoop over and paint her own feet. She paint orange color up her legs and when she get to her knees (old Latimer watchin'), she fall down in exhaustion under a big shake of orange blossoms makin' her smell excessive sweet, and old Latimer (he used to such things) retrieve his brush and he fin ish pain tin' the latch gate like he always do this time of year. 177
178 Seasoning for the Mortar The Horse at Albertine Hall The way we came to have a horse was because the boy known to us simply as Young King lived at the low quarters of Albertine Hall on the west end of St. George Island, and stole our bicycle repeatedly, though the bicycle was close chained and padlocked to the genip tree in our yard a mile up the hill road at Lookout Point. Somehow, Young King released and rode the stolen bicycle along the sea road everyday after school where we'd be sure to see him. We'd stop, accuse him of having our bike, and Young King would cheerfully agree the bicycle was ours, but would not let go of the handlebars until we paid him 50 cents to retrieve it. This we did until one day, after we had paid more than the old bicycle was worth, we found it in the road outside Albertine Hall, run over by a quarry truck, and Young King himself arguing with the destroyed bike as if it w a s a live thing that had betrayed him. At the low quarters of Albertine Hall, Young King lived in an exot ic community of animals and people sharing a quadrangle of half-stone, half-wood, once slave quarters, where okra and plumbago, banana and mango grew against old walls smudged with cooking fires which sent up quite indecent smells. Even with eyes closed, you could follow your nose to Albertine Hall, lured by strange smelling smoke rising from compound fires burning the goat or young pig you saw trotting along the road only yesterday. For years, I tried unsuccessfully to trace the pungent smells floating out of Albertine Hall's low quarters to some imagined offensive place coupled with dangerous desire, where I might hallucinate while eating the darkly herbed meat turning on the spit, have it take me into the low rooms at Albertine Hall's old slave quarters where generations of immoralities would hysterically laugh at my white skinned innocence. A cloud of possession enclosed the community along the sea road at the foot of the hill on top of which, on a combed and curried, well tended lawn, Great Albertine Hall sat, secure behind its three-hundred year old wall. Inhabitants of the low quarters often strolled, or sat on the sea road itself. They shifted to let our truck pass, for they knew who we were, but other than Young King, did not greet us. A bit of sandy beach belonged unquestionably to Albertine Hall ' s low quarters. The beach was haphazardly guarded by a few sea grape
Susan Brown trees and thin strips of barbed wire so light against the western sky as to be almost invisible and, once, I answered a curious call to walk on the sand. Too late I saw the barbed wire, too late saw the beach peopled with men, some poking at sand mounded into small volcanoes, other men splayed seductively across overturned fishing boats, but I was already caught in the vortex of their primal atmosphere and spread apart the wire when, instantly, a barb shoved itself into my shoulder, tearing my blouse and my arm ran with blood. I backed away, gri maced, said nothing. The dark eyed men flashed looks one to the other , said nothing, continued to poke at the pitted volcanoes where charcoal smoldered. One day, on our way home from school, Young King rode out of the field at Albertine Hall on a lean white horse. Long of nose and dainty of foot, the horse was sort of white, not princely white, more crumpled sheet white, yellowing at the edges. Her mane was streaked dirty blonde as was her tail. She had a showgirllook, uncombed, wind blown, free spirited. Young King offered to sell her to us to replace the ruined bicycle. We gave Young King ten dollars cash for her. The horse was gen tle with the children, unexpectedly lovely in the moonlight on the hill up at our house on Lookout Point. In night air so quiet, while lying in bed, I heard the horse outside, cropping grass, heard her snort with sat isfaction. So spectral did this horse appear, we named her Shadow. While we were at school, Shadow was kept lightly tethered in the yard at our house. She seemed to enjoy life on the hill, until one day, we discovered Shadow carried within her some of the low quarter's pri mal blood, and every so often she answered its call, slipped her tether and trotted along the sea road back to Albertine Hall's low quarters. The horse seemed to need the scrubby fields below the Great Albertine lawn; fields alive with colts and mares, goats and chickens, crickets, chil dren, dogs, shouts and laughter, all held in the mysterious smoke of Albertine Hall's cooking fires. Every so often, Young King darted out of that smoke, ran alongside our homecoming truck, yelling, "I got you horse. She run away. I got you horse," and we had to ransom Shadow. It became another small business for Young King until one day my husband objected, and was apologetically allowed to buy a bag of charcoal as restitution. 179
180 Seasoning for the Mortar Albertine Hall's charcoal was not for everyone. It was not for sale in stores. It was a narcotic of dreams. Its knotty pieces, used sparingly, turned a meal of common food into a dream-like feast. It was as though Albertine Hall's charcoal was alive with stories held in branch es stolen from sap filled trees, or broken from well-tended bushes flow ering beside the Great Albertine door. Charcoal cooked in a cave of hot sand, sand older than time, sand which took in flowers and fish, snails and bones, flesh and membrane, reflections of sky, echoes of laughter, sand constantly perfecting itself just above the reach of crystalline waves . In those waves, Albertine Hall horses stretched beneath bodies of half-naked men gripping rope bridles punishingly tight, frothing the mouths of horses, as horses and men crashed and churned through waves rocking and splashing in a tick cleansing bath. Standing on the road, outside the barbed wire, women from Albertine Hall, wearing bil lowy skirts printed with small flowers, held the hands of little girls in pink, and watch frenzied men and horses bathe in the sea . Shadow never went into the sea like other horses from Albertine Hall. Instead, Shadow got pregnant. Up at our house, we watched Shadow's belly swell, fatten, though not as much as we would have liked. We watched over her, pulled a gal vanized tub of water into the buttressed shade of the kapok tree. We talked to Shadow, encouraged her, rubbed her long nose. She snorted back. We cut and brought fresh green guinea grass, served it in a pile at Shadow's feet. The children were gentle, refused to ride her now. We did not keep her tethered. Somehow it seemed wrong. But there was something in Shadow which kept her trotting along the sea road, returning to her birthplace in the fields at Albertine Hall, to be with goats and crickets and children, to eat spiney bush, to inhale the thick hypnotic smoke of Albertine Hall's low quarters. One evening, it was a Sunday, we left Shadow in our yard with fresh guinea grass and water while we went across the island to the movies in the old theater in Saint Olaf town. It was Continental night at the movies, that meant films shown in English, for continentals, statesiders, Europeans. Tuesday and Wedn e sday were films in Spanish. Thursday, theater closed. Friday and Saturday delivered wild and booming action films for the popula tion demanding them. Monday, a repeat of Sunday, but nobody ever went. Sunday it was to sit in the balcony with Paco, the manager of Ludwigson's Lumber yard, to greet the local senator who also owned
Susan Brown Delicia's Wine and Spirits. Henry and Myra Slater were always there, Eric P., the Realtor, was there with his wife and two boys, Rick from Ricky's Records, the Anglican Priest and the Lutheran minister and his wife sat next to Ricky. We saw Lawrence of Arabia . After the movie, after thick milkshakes sitting outside under flood lights at the Paradise Cream and Soda Shanty just outside of town, after the half hour ride home through dark hills in the rough springed truck, the children in the open bed singing into the sky, we drove into our yard and found Shadow down on her side by the kapok tree. At first we thought she was resting, readying for the birth. Her eyes were open, belly heaving. We ran to her, stroked her neck, cooed. We implored Shadow to say something. None of us knew what to do. The vet lived back across the island, near Paradise Cream. Telephone con nections were sporadic, unreliable. We convinced ourselves the birth would be natural for Shadow, she came from Albertine Hall where things were birthing all the time. Uneasily, we went to bed. Sometime after midnight we heard the horse cry out. We ran out side in the moonlight and watched helplessly as Shadow danced in mad circles around and around, a small gelatinous sac hanging from her as she ran around in crazy circles trying to loosen it , screaming for help we didn't know how to give. As we watched, the sac slid, fell free. Shadow walked away. Inside the sac curled equus, a tiny ancient form shining in mucous. We waited, stupid, powerless for Shadow to do what was needed; maybe lick open the sac, maybe just rest. We did not know. Maybe our pres ence bothered her. We retreated behind the buttress of the kapok tree, waited for Shadow to react. But she continued to walk around and around. Equus lay stilled in the sac. At dawn, I was awakened by Young King climbing onto our sleep ing porch. "Psst. .. psst" he whispered. "Come, missis, come," and with him alone I went. Shadow lay on the luxurious hilltop lawn of Great Albertine Hall. I dropped to her, stroked her neck, lay my face against her dirty, throb bing, almost human neck. Our eyes walled to each other in terror of what had happened. Beneath the strong hairs of her coat I could feel 181
182 Seasoning for the Mortar Shadow's heart racing. I called her name over and over, realizing Shadow had walked back to Albertine Hall, but on this walk she erred. Instead of using the sea road, careless of consequences, as if she already knew her fate, Shadow had climbed the fine grassy hill of Great Albertine Hall. A short-cut maybe, a dazed confusion perhaps, or a reunion with the stallion uppermost in her mind. Or, perhaps the horse was just going home. In the silence before dawn, as Shadow crossed the magnificent cut and curried Great Albertine lawn, someone behind the wall raised his rifle and shot. I called Shadow's name through tears of indignation, of sadness, of hate, of regret. Then, I pulled back, my eyes filled with wonder as Shadow, flat on her side on the soft grass, suddenly began to run. Her great white figure, flat, flat on her side on the velvet lawn, like an enor mous articulated horse, rhythmically pulled in her legs, stretched them out, again and again in perfect gallops. Shadow began to run as fast as a white horse can run to wherever white horses go. Pulling gracefully, smoothly, with greater and greater speed she ran in place, faster and faster, flat on her side on Great Albertine lawn, lovelier than ever she ran. Then she was still. I fell across Shadow's body, stroked the coarse neck hairs where the bullet had entered. I called her again and again, my tears mixed with Shadow's dark blood. I told her unbearable secrets to take with her, to comfort her, as anguish choked my throat. The maid from Great Albertine Hall, a full black woman, lifted me from the horse, gathered me to her, and with a tic of her head towards the house, muttered, "That man evil, evil. She cloaked me with her words, the strength of her arm, the smell of her starched dress. I had thought landowner power was no longer in effect on St. George island. I was wrong. A simple, errant horse had crossed old boundaries and was violently punished, yet I found myself incapable of fighting the power of this fury, of history, of affluence. I could only stand and weep beside the dead horse. The groundsman who had orders to shoot Shadow, could not look at me, though he knew me by name. He was not beyond knowing cer tain spirits will come to belabor him as well as the man who ordered the shoot. Six field hands appeared, pulled the horse onto a canvas sling, dragged her across the lawn, marking a bloody trail down the groomed
Susan Brown and grassy hill, past bushes that dropped fleshy leaves and crimson flowers in its wake. Women came silently out of Albertine Hall's low quarters, threw wash on the bush, pulled pots from the fire, took the hands of small girls and stood wordlessly on the road. Showing neither judgement nor sympathy, the women simply watched. Half down the hill, in a sudden slide, the canvas sling escaped. Men ran, stumbled, shouted, halted the sling just short of the sea road. Frantically, men scraped the dead horse onto the canvas, pulled it across the road, past women rooted in their dresses, past mute children. The groundsman cut the barbed wire, opened the beach. The men dragged the dead horse onto the old, old sand. Then, in cyclonic movement, the groundsman shouted orders, the men lunged forward shouting louder and louder, quicker and quicker, the clamor of their voices over-riding one another as if by sheer volume their outcries could save them from the taint of evil which was visited upon the horse this day. Alone, I walked out onto the forbidden sand, walked away from the women, away from the men, away from every place I knew, as from a great distance I heard tiny words yammering, cursing, praying, bawling injustices, tiny words I heard but did not hear, tiny words that grew big ger and bigger assaulted my ears, louder and louder, until with over powering grunts and heaves, the men, unable to bear the silence of their burden, slid the dead horse into the sea. 183
184 Seasoning for the Mortar Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel, born in Grenada, lived and taught on St. Thomas for sixteen years. She is currently a professor of English at Clark Atlanta University. Her specialties are British literature, Caribbean literature, African literature, Caribbean folklore and Caribbean religion. Teacher Jane I had just finished thumping Conway when I saw the saga man approaching. I loosened my hold on Conway, and he darted away while directing a last "Hop-and-Drop" at me. I shouted back: "I going to crank your bones for you, Cornpork. You better not let me catch you around here again, nonf' The threat sufficed for now because I was intrigued by the man walking up the road . Although I had never met him, I knew him immediately. We had all grown up in the village on the tale of Teacher Jane and Mr. Oliver. This man was Mr. Oliver. I could tell from his two-toned shoes, his hot tie, and his hat tilted on his head. He just reeked of Trinidad and the "big-time." In those days, Trinidad was Mecca for many Grenadians. Trinidad where the market was open on Sundays, where people spoke "nice-nice" not "break-up" like us in Grenada. For instance, where we said "kahna" for corner, they said "kuhnuh." Man, that was the way to talk, man. And every Grenadian going to Trinidad for two days came back with the "Trini" accent. Yes, this was Mr. Oliver from Trinidad. I wondered what he was doing in Grenada after all this time. He was an old, old man, now, after all. Teacher Jane had come with her parents from St. Vincent. They were very refined people who did not eat foods like saltfish and blogo. They ate chicken and rice even though it was not Christmas. In fact, although Teacher Jane's parents had been dead many years, when someone tried to put on airs, people would say to him, "But what you
Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel playing, at all , boy? You playing white? You think you Mr. Petty?" The implication being that Mr. Petty had had the right to "play white" by virtue of his social position. Teacher Jane had finished seventh standard in primary school and had then attended the Convent School for two years. If her father had not died at that time, she might have gone for her Senior Cambridge and her Higher School Certificates. These were almost magical educa tional things of which the locals spoke and of which they only had a very vague idea. However, Teacher Jane might have achieved them, and thus her status as a leader was secured . After Teacher Jane had left school, she had become a teacher in the Old Church. This was a Roman Catholic primary school. The edi fice was indeed an old R.C. church which had been relegated to being a school when a new building had been erected. Everyone called it the "Ole Church" as though that was its name. Teacher Jane taught here for several years before becoming headmistress then retiring. During this time, Mr. Hubert Oliver came to town. He was smooth, handsome, and sweet-talking. Teacher Jane, who had shunned all the local boys and men as not being good enough for her, fell for Mr. Oliver with a loud crash. Soon there was talk of mar riage. Mr. Oliver set the whole village to buzzing. Women talking at the standpipes or washing in the river gossiped: "Me dear chile, he bringing her flowers and thing, you hear." "I hear. Just the other day he bring her a fancy wristlet." "But the man too sweet. How come all the others ain't like that?" "But what all-you expect? Is Trinidad the man come out, after all!" And they all nodded and agreed that Trinidadian men had every-thing that Grenadian men lacked. The banns were announced in Church while old Mrs. Petty and Teacher Jane sat proudly in the first pew with Mr. Oliver. Then the wed ding date was set, the Church Hall engaged for the reception, and the hymns chosen. Teacher Jane was going to give the villagers a treat with her nuptial wedding. Miss Emelda, who was making the wedding dress, became important as the village women tried to glean information about the material and the pattern of the dress. She puffed out her cheeks, spat delicately, smiled mysteriously and declared in her newly discovered genteel speech: "I does not discurse pipple's business with the coorious. If you wants to see the dress, curme to the church for the marrieding." The 185
186 Seasoning for the Mortar other women began calling Miss Emelda "Discurse," "Pipple " and " Coorious." She paid no attention to them. She was being paid well by Teacher Jane for the dress. Then about three weeks before the wedding, Mr. Oliver left for Trinidad to buy the "furnitures." He went by plane because it would take too long by schooner. Teacher Jane went to the airport to see him off, then she came back and started making final preparations for the wedding. Miss Massie made the best black cake on the entire island, and soon she was shopping for prunes, raisins, cur rants , wine and all the ingredients for a really first class black wedding cake. Lesser bakers like Mr. Andrew were hired to make tea cakes , meat patties, etc. Chickens had been ordered from Mrs. Guillame and fish from Boysie. Miss Mattie and Miss Thelma, the best cooks, would be in charge of the cooking. There was a festive mood in the village because everyone expected to be at the reception . It wasn't a matter of having been invited . In Carrot Village, like in any other Grenadian village , a wedding was an open affair . Women and children especially looked on a wedding as an entertainment put on for their benefit. They would plan their work so that on the wedding day there would be little to do . Parents and chil dren would eat, bathe and dress and get to the church early. They would wait outside and when the wedding party approached, they would com ment: "Girl, you looking good. You eating pin. You sharp like a razor, boy. You cutting on both sides." Or: " Girl , what jumbi you see last night frighten you so!" Or: " Bon Dieu , but you ugly bad , oui." Or: "Girl you smiling now , but wait until tonight! He go jook you good ! " There would be some raucous laughter , and someone else would say: "But Sowsin! You ain ' t got no shame? You old enough to be the girl grandmother. Leave the girl alone." And Sowsin would answer, "Is me make it so? It ain't so longtime? Why you go worry your head because I say he go jook she? " And so on. Many times, the bride would be too nervous to hear the remarks. If she did, she would blush and p ass on into the church . There was no real malice intended and no offense was taken. So the villagers were looking for a good time at Teacher Jane and Mr. Oliver's wedding . It promised to be "fete for so!" Mr. Oliver was
Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel due back on the Thursday before the wedding Sunday, and the furniture would arrive the next day on the Carib Queen. Teacher Jane took a taxi to the airport to meet Mr. Oliver. However, Mr. Oliver missed the plane and would be in on the Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the rumors were flying. Mr. Oliver had run off with Teacher Jane's money. He had gone to Aruba. He had gone to Cura9ao, to New York. Wherever he had gone, the earth had swallowed him up. Well, the kommesse lasted quite a while. Some said that the shock of her daughter being jilted killed old Mrs. Petty. Teacher Jane kept on teaching until she retired, remaining for a while a celebrity of sorts. The women said: "I telling you! I did know longtime something wrong with that man. He too good-looking." "And you see how he quiet? Is them quiet-quiet one you have to watch." "Don't tell nobody this, girl. But is hear I hear he run off to New York with another woman." "I ain ' t surprised. You ain't know those 'Trickidadians', non. They bad too much!" And more in that vein. When I knew Teacher Jane, she was already old. Her bright bird like beady eyes never looked at me. They looked through me. I couldn't get away from her and those eyes. My mother who was sort of unof ficial leader of the village made me run errands for the older people. All the children did this, but Grandma Charlie, the mid-wife, and Teacher Jane were my special province. I didn't really mind because running errands or "making message" kept me out of the house legitimately. I could see my friends, have a friendly game of skip or hopscotch or stonenuts and still be back in plenty of time so as not to incur my mother's wrath. I never wanted to incur my mother's wrath. Mummy wasn't very big but, boy, her temper was legendary. Sometimes when I would exasperate her beyond human endurance, she would grab her slipper, the dog rope, a lizard tail plant, anything that was handy, and let me have it. On these occasions, I couldn't yell or scream or anything. Nobody was supposed to know that I was getting licks. Her command would be, "Swallow it!" And swallow it I did. After such a licking, I would be good for weeks. So I enjoyed running errands for Teacher Jane even though she sometimes made life difficult for us children. We couldn't talk to a boy, pee behind a banana tree, go to the standpipe unsupervised or do any 187
188 Seasoning for the Mortar of the things that we considered fun but which were denied to us by vil lage code. Teacher Jane's bird-eyes saw everything and everything she saw, she reported to our parents. Now I looked at the man who had reached where I was standing at the bottom of the hill. As he neared, I could see that his grandeur was time worn. The two-toned shoes although polished were cracked and run-down at the heels. The suit was shiny and patched in places, and the cardboard grip was held together by a neatly tied piece of rope. The years had not dealt kindly with Mr. Oliver's person either. His hair was sparse and slicked down in an effort to cover his baldness. There were creases and valleys in his face, and he carried another full set of luggage under his eyes. He was very thin; his skin stretching over his bones seemed hardly enough to hold them together. Placing one hand on my hip and playing big, I asked him, "You Mr. Oliver?" One of his eyebrows went up, and he answered in an amused voice, "Yes, I am Mr. Oliver." "You looking for Teacher Jane, not so?" I continued. The other eyebrow went up and he laughed. "Yes, I looking for Teacher Jane. How you know so much, little girl?" "People does talk," I answered wisely. "Anyhow, Teacher Jane liv ing in that house on the hill," and I pointed it out to him. "Thank you," he said and made a sweeteye at me. I cocked my head as he started jauntily up the hill. I looked to see if Teacher Jane was in her accustomed place, but the rocking chair was empty. I was torn between following the man up the hill to witness his reception by Teacher Jane and running home with this important piece of brango. The latter won and I raced home . I skidded to a halt in the kitchen. My mother was cooking dinner and my grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table shelling peas. I stared in surprise at my grandfather who was also at the kitchen table eating roast corn. "Mummy," I started, "you don't know what happen?" My mother turned a heavy frown on me, her light brown eyes snapping. "But, Eldica, what happen to you a-tall, you lose your manners?" I knew I was in trouble when she called me Eldica. Usually I was Eldie or Dica. I hastened to mend my error. "Sorry, Mummy. Good afternoon, Mummy, Grandma, and Grandpa." They returned the greeting although my grandfather kept his grey eyes disapprovingly on me. I didn't like Grandpa much. None
Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel of us grandchildren did. He didn't live with Grandma but with Miss Lizzie down the road. However, occasionally he would come to see Grandma and to make confusion. I didn't look at him again as I gave my news. "You know, Mummy, just now I standing up by the copper and I see this man coming up the road and is Mr. Oliver come. He looking for Teacher Jane!" My mother swung her heavy braids round to her back. "What you talking about, Dica? You ever see Mr. Oliver? What you know about that old-time story?" I stared at her. "But Mummy, everybody know about Mr. Oliver and Teacher Jane. " My mother looked at me steadily, but she wasn't angry. She knew that I didn't lie, particularly when I had done nothing wrong. "You see this man, Dica?" I nodded vigorously. She looked at my grandmother. "You think he come back in truth, Ma, after all these years?" My grandmother's fingers twinkled as the peas fell into the pan. "You never know what these good-fo-nothing men will do, Mai." She sucked her teeth loudly. "All o' them worthless." I was astonished. My grandmother was the last word in deportment, and she refrained from vulgar expressions such as sucking her teeth. She must have been truly disgusted with my grandfather this time. Grandpa cleared his throat. "That is for me, eh?" Grandma's only reply was, "I ain't talking to you." Grandpa was a handsome man. The three races which had gone into making him had each bequeathed its best qualities to him. He wasn't very tall, but his cedar complexion was smooth. His hair was neither straight nor kinky but somewhere in between and light brown. His grey eyes were startling in his brown face, and the uncharitable called him "Cateye." He seemed to be irresistible to women. He certainly had a lot of them. Grandma was very beautiful too. She was dark as a governor of plum and her skin was as smooth. Her rich black hair straight out of Africa hung in "bull" plaits round her head. Her eyes were truly black and everything about her breathed "lady." Grandma and Grandpa had beautiful children as well. Some of them were dark like Grandma and some were brown like Grandpa but they all looked alike and anybody could tell a Matisse from everybody else. The adults talked over the news I had brought, speculating and exclaiming and wondering. A short while later we heard Radio's voice 189
190 Seasoning for the Mortar as she came into the yard. "Eh, but Mai! Ma! Pa!, if all-you hear the brango!" Her voice was high and excited, her eyes glowing. She was big with news. Mummy was not usually malicious, but Radio had a habit of trying to be first with anything that happened in Carrot Village. I looked at Mummy and knew she was going to deflate Radio. "Hear what, Vincristine, that Mr. Oliver come and he gone to see Teacher Jane?'' I thought for sure that Radio would have a stroke. "But how you know? I just find out meself!" "Well, is not you alone could find out news, you know." Radio was eager to gossip, so she let Mummy's remark pass. "Well, all I could say is that he boldface bad. He have he brass coming hear fifty years after he was suppose to buy furniture! Eh-eh, if was me, eh, I hit him one box." "What she boxing him for? That story so dead now," Grandma said. "Teacher Jane done forget the old fool long." I noticed that Grandpa contented himself with his corn not putting in his twopence worth as the women spoke. After a while, I became bored and slipped outside to look up at Teacher Jane's house and to wonder what drama was taking place up there. Time passed . The whole village was poised and waiting for the big stroomoo everyone was sure would follow Mr. Oliver's reappearance. However, not a murmur came from Teacher Jane's house. For a while, the villagers kept looking up at the prim little cottage perched on the top of the hill, but the stiffly upright figure rarely sat in her rocking chair now. People wondered and speculated. "What you tink she ask him? Where he was for fifty years?" "Well, it take long for the money to done. Fifty years!" "Hmm. Maybe the money done long time, but he was too shame or too broken to come back." "You see him? You ain't see him?" "Boy, he look too bad. He look like one magar jumbi! Like they don't have no food in Trinidad!" While the adults expressed their opinions, I became curious. Teacher Jane never called me now to make message, and she had stopped spying on us. I knew that because when I kissed Ashley behind the tamarind tree, Mummy didn't find out. It really wasn't a big kiss since neither of us knew what we were doing, but it was an adventure. Our first tentative step into young adulthood. Nevertheless, both Ashley ' s mother and Mummy would have taken a dim view if they found out we were practicing this particular type of adult behavior. We children speculated as to what could be happening in Teacher Jane's house. The older ones began talking mysteriously about Teacher
Phyllis Briggs-Emm anuel Jane and Mr. Oliver doing "it." They thought that we younger ones didn't know what " it " was and made cr y ptic remarks about " it. " We knew what " it " was although I daresay our perception was somewhat distort ed, and we too wondered wisely if the two old people were doing " it. " Having no concrete evidence to go on, the village women sol v ed the mystery of Mr. Oliver's absence to their s a tisfaction. Teacher Jane had simply ordered him out, and to avoid being shamed, he had sneaked out in the middle of the night and returned to Trinidad . I did n ' t believe it. For one thing, somebod y would have seen him go. Pl a nes didn't fl y in the middle of the night , and where in Grenville Town he could put up without Radio or some other farst-mouth knowing? For another thing , Teacher Jane took to s itting in her accustomed place , and whenever I went to see if she had anything for me to do , she would watch me with those knowing beady bird-eyes . Then I noticed a peculiar smell coming from the direction of Teacher Jane's bedroom. Finally , one day , as I was sweeping the yard, I looked up at Teacher Jane's bedroom. Trying not to bre a the in the disgusting stench , I inched toward the window . Something told me to look around , and I whirled. There behind me was Teacher Jane with a cutlass in her hand! "And what are you looking for , Eldica Matisse? Did you lose your white cock or your white hen back there?" She took a step forward. I dropped the blacksage broom . " No , Teacher Jane. I sorry, Teacher Jane. I gone, Teacher Jane. " And I fled. When I got home, Mummy was resting, and Grandma was grating coconut for fudge. Mummy called , "Eldica ? Come and comb my hair for me. " "Yes , Mummy," I was breathless from my rapid dash. Grandma looked at me. "But wh a t wrong with you a-t all, Eldica ? Why you running as if you se e jumbi?" Mummy emerged from the house a nd sat on the steps. "What happen, Dica? " With trembling hands I unbraided Mummy's hair. While I parted and applied coconut oil to the roots , I told my mother and grandmother what I thought. "Mummy , she kill him, yes! Teacher Jane kill Mr. Oliver. " I told them about the stench and the cutlass in Tea cher Jane ' s hand. Mummy looked at Grandma. "You remember, Ma, I tell you I smell something funny ? I don't think the child making up a n a nc y 191
192 Seasoning for the Mortar story . I think Constable Edwards should look into this." My ears pricked up at the name of Constable Edwards. He was the handsomest man in the village, I thought, and he had always shown an interest in Mummy . I couldn't tell whether Mummy returned his regard or not because she was as polite and friendly to him as she was to everybody. That afternoon Mummy and Constable Edwards climbed the hill to Teacher Jane's house. As usual village telepathy took over and peo ple began gathering by twos and threes to observe and to gossip. Women stood with their arms folded or with babies on their hips. I sidled along the edge of the group of people and inched my way up the back of the hill. Teacher Jane was in her regular place rocking . When she saw Mummy and Constable Edwards, she called out, "Eh-eh, Mai Matisse, but what you doing climbing my hill, coming into my yard?" I heard Mummy's answer, "Good evening, Teacher Jane. How you doing? Constable Edwards want to ask you something." "And what you want to ask me, Rodney?" Constable Edwards took off his " big house" and twirled it in his hands . "Evening , Teacher Jane. People complaining that something stinking up here. I think maybe your latrine need to fix ." "But you playing bright or what? Latrine? Latrine?" And Teacher Jane sucked her teeth loudly . Her eyes glittered , and her usually neat hair was uncombed, standing up wildly on her head. It was then I knew that Teacher Jane was crazy. She was talking in the Creole and sucking her teeth. These were things that she never did because she was, as she told everyone who would listen, a "lady bred." Now she continued, " What you looking for in the bedroom." The Constable handed his hat to Mummy and entered the house. Later, we watched as the police van came to take away what was left of Mr. Oliver . Constable Edwards had found him lying on the bed, his blood decorating the once pristine white sheet, with his wandering feet, thieving hands, and lying tongue lying neatly at some distance from his body. Well, the rougoudou made headlines, and the newspaper came to take our pictures. Mummy reluctantly let me pose as the "little girl who first suspected that something was wrong." For a whole week Carrot Village was the talk of the island with people coming from Gouyave, Victoria and all the othe r exotic (to me) places on the island to see where the old lady had taken her revenge on a worthless man fifty years after he had betrayed her! For some reason, Grandpa's visits ceased during this time.
Phyllis Briggs-Emmanuel Well, that's my story. The main thing I was glad about is what hap pened when the police took Teacher Jane away. I was standing with the crowd of people who gathered when Teacher Jane was taken away. They would put her in the crazy house where she would remain until she died. As she was being helped into the police van, she stared straight at me, those bird-eyes shining knowingly. "You, Eldica Matisse. I going to tell you mother about you rude self. Mai, beat her, you hear? I see her ki. .. " Luckily, just then the door was shut and the van took off. I looked around to see my mother looking ominously at me. As the crowd began to break up, I spied Conway. "What you doing here?" I hissed, and I thumped him on the back, hard. Maybe I would be spanked for kissing Ashley after all, but Cornpork sure wasn't getting away with anything if I could help it! 193
194 Seasoning for the Mortar Davida Siwisa James was a long-time resident of St. Thomas, a former director of public relations at UVI and a columnist for the VI Daily News. Davida now resides in Los Angeles with her husband Robelto and her son, David. She is writing a new novel and, in addition to work ing at UCLA, has a freelance public relations/writing company. The Commute Roberta walks out of her apartment in Hull Bay past the crackled gray iguana and stray cats towards her jeep. The uneven stone steps are green with thin, velvety moss. It is one of those tropical mornings that is slightly damp. One of those mornings where you could feel both the breeze and moisture from the nearby ocean, but are not oppressed by true humidity nor subject yet to the burning sun. On one side of the stairway leading up from the house is a thick planting of lemon grass, mint, and other bush tea. On the other, is a wild hibiscus bush in des perate need of trimming. Several lizards hurry along the low wall, doing their up and down dance. The slight incline to the car is always a challenge for her too many pounds. Its uneven, pitted stone walkway is imbedded with footprints left years ago in wet cement. The tree-lined driveway is rich with half tall trees; and Max, the building's adopted mutt, lays happily in the dirt. Roberta reaches her jeep and looks back, as always, at the dull, nonde script beige house and more importantly to the glorious view of the bay beyond it. She can hear the crashing surf and smiles at the sound. She has parked, once again, too close to the side of the road and she has to step in the dirt next to the thorny shrubs to open her car door. She struggles with tote bag, purse and the mug of bush tea she will drink on the way to work. What then of the uniform brownstone buildings and sidewalks of the city and the lack of either iguana or crooked stone steps or green moss ?
Davida Siwisa James She waves to her neighbor, who is just driving off. He waves back , smiling and his three sons all turn back in their seats to wave as well. Fifteen years in the same building in New York and I knew m y next-door neighbor ' s name only from what I read on the mailbox. Smiles considered a rude, suspicious intrusion on city folk's privacy. The winding, steep, narrow private road that leads up to the main thoroughfare heading towards town is lined as well with trees on each side . One hanging tree limb with soft leaves brushes her car. The tops of two houses peek out from down the hill and a drab green one is at the top of the hill across from the mailboxes. She turns left onto the road towards town. She passes Bryan ' s Bar and winds her way towards E & M, the small North Side grocery. To her left, the blue ocean , the always present blue ocean, lays flat and peaceful, with houses dotted about in deep foliage on the hillsides . She looks up the hill to her right at just the right moment, towards her favorite house-a peach two-story building with cloth porch awnings. Such awnings are not commonly used in the Virgin Islands. A small herd of goats is making its way down the hill. They move in synchronized rhythms to loud goat talk and secret goat body language. Was there ever any building that caught my attention in that other place, among the stone and cement and soot? Was there a peach build ing or soft cloth awnings that I missed? I know I never saw a goat there , traversing boulevard or sidewalk. At the intersection where the north road meets the cars heading from Drake's Seat or the Sibilly School, she stops at the stop sign for the heavy traffic that converges at the corner . It is heavy only because there has been no other car in front of her until this point. Now , she stops as four cars with the right of way pass in front of her own. She looks down to the left and notices three mangoes on the ground . The tree from which they have fallen is heavy with more mangoes ready to drop. If I reach out my hand , perhaps I'll get lucky and one will fall into it and I'll have breakfast. The right-of-way cars pass and there is one car behind her. The temptation to jump out and pick up the mangoes or wait for one to drop into her hand gives way to the beep from the car behind her. She drives on, but the taste of mangoes is now on her tongue. There were trees on th a t one block where I lived in Harlem. Narrow, unnatural, out of place looking things with wire around the bases either to keep the dogs from pissing on them or children from digging at the roots . Which? I never knew. Does a skinny tree in front of 195
196 Seasoning for the Mortar all that stone and tar help? It grows eventually, sometimes to huge heights. Yes. It happens. But mangoes never drop before you. She drives on. This part of the drive is her least favorite, the wind ing road right before Drake's Seat that should be one-way but is two. The trees are thicker here and the air like that of a tropical rain forest. It is not a road for tourists or the faint of heart. You have very little room for error when there is oncoming traffic. It is best to get familiar with the potholes, the section where the little ankle-biter dog runs out, and the hidden driveways. When she reaches the overlook at Drake's Seat, she slows down, as she does each morning. This is part of her daily grace . Two or three vendors are already setting up. But she can see the huge, perfect arc of Magens Bay, one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. It is her most beautiful beach from afar and near. It is here she says her morn ing prayers-thanks God for sight and life and being a witness to this beauty and His majesty every day. She drives on, rounds the curve, always feeling blessed after passing this point. The 'A' train. The smells. The cramming. The Jack of grace . The groping hands. The vibration and the suddenness of moving, then stop ping, then moving and the mass of humanity that shook your presence before your first cup of coffee. Everyone looking away, avoiding eye contact. Thanking God ifyou exited the train unmolested. At the next intersection, the real traffic begins. Here, where the road turns down to Magens Bay at the Louisenhoj Castle, there is heavy traffic. Cars are coming up from town and more join slightly ahead at the intersection going towards Skyline Drive. She allows one or two cars to cross past her over to Magens Bay Road. There are several cars behind her, but she has time to allow memo ries to surface all the mornings she'd driven down this road to the beach, of making love in the water and his deft hands chasing the sand flies away from her thighs. She looks to the castle and fantasizes, as she does each morning, about what it must look like inside and who the people are who own it. How, she wonders, does one come to have enough money to build a stone castle on a tropical island at one of the most sce nic points on St. Thomas? Of course, they must know that thousands of people pause to ponder the very same thing she ponders at each passing. She wants to live there or at least be invited to tea or for a weekend. But her reverie is broken by the need to move on to the next brief interlude before Skyline Drive. She leaves castle thoughts behind .
Davida Siwisa James It reminds me of the "Witch's House" in Beverly Hills. At least. . . the wonder of it. Yes. When I would take the long cut-off of Wilshire Boulevard, the straight and easy way home, and my son and I would delight in the diversion through the small, beautiful, perfect streets in Beverly Hills. We would fantasize about which house we wanted to live in. Then, we'd come to the life-sized gingerbread house with slightly eerie corners and windows that everyone in L. A. who knew about it dubbed "the Witch's House." How many children had stared at that house waiting for Hansel and Gretel to exit? Past the Skyline Drive intersection, she gets ready for her second prayer of thanks. Easing down the road, a stream of cars in front of her now, she looks down at the three cruise ships in the harbor. This is the view. The harbor, the houses, the shadowy vision of St. Croix far on the horizon, the ships, and the feathery flamboyant tree where she looks each day to see if the red flowers would surprise her and turn into autumn leaves. She prays here, never to be complacent about the beauty, the blue of the ocean that seems as if in an artist's painting, the different shades of green among the plants and trees, the pastel houses, the cruise ships that look like big toy models from this height, and the knowledge that the red flowers of the flamboyant will be red even when they drop to the ground. She blinks, to recall this same view at night, with lights and twin kling dreams. The traffic, though heavy, moves at a steady pace down the hill. She can hold on to her reverie for several minutes. A fast clip if I was on the freeway, with us all moving ahead at 65 miles per hour, trying to avoid the slow cars moving at the speed limit of 55 or the daredevils pushing 80, dodging in and out, fearing for a slip up of another driver, eyes darting to make sure everyone obeyed the rules and did nothing reckless. No easing down a flamboyant-lined hill then. Bracing your heart then that you were able to get off at your exit without your heart skipping a beat or the adrenalin rising too high. At the exit, I'd find that display window in the children's department store and look for the bright reds and blues. If I saw them, I knew I was at the right exit and alive and unscathed, except for the easing tension of another freeway morning. The steep winding turn down Mafolie Hill lends itself to the grow ing, closer view of the harbor area. The cruise ships are lost to her now, but the wider blue ocean is out there in front. Here, the striking con trast between the different houses always amazes her. There is a strange broken stone structure with a small wooden house. A generator sits 197
198 Seasoning for the Mortar beside a painted wall that says "Mafolie Hotel." Sometimes, she sees a bent old man moving behind an open section of the wall. The houses further down the hill on either side are old, ancient wooden buildings. Some look abandoned until you see a body move inside or catch the movement of a hand on a curtain window. One house, slightly before Nikki Dee's, the closed nightclub, is a combination of peeling wood and grass and trees intertwined in solemn decay. There is more overgrowth than house showing now, as the years of abandon swallow the structure. This house reminds her of a Fritz Henle black and white photo of an old man leaning out of a window with wooden shutters. She imagines that when this house was alive, there were children and lovers and old peo ple, joyous sounds and inviting smells from kallaloo and goat water and fish and johnny cakes. There are, as well, the grand, fine-looking hous es in direct parallel to the modest ones and those being swallowed by roots and vines. Why is it I never wondered what used to Jay in the abandoned lots I played in as a child or the war-torn looking, deserted high-rises of the city? Was there no mystery to be pondered there? Or was the destruc tion of urban decay too obvious to ponder? Any deserted place once held life. Everything now abandoned was once occupied. Do the con crete and tar and hordes of people hinder daydreams? Or is it just harder to dream on a daily basis? The road leads down and heads toward Bunker Hill. She debates whether to turn right on the steep road or ease to the left towards the intersection at Lionel Roberts Stadium. Ahead, she sees the stone structure of Blackbeard's Castle and the hotel buildings. More cas tles, she thinks. A stray, dumpster chicken marches up and down on a small section of dirt, hoping for a fallen piece of something for breakfast. The road is dry and she turns right down Bunker Hill . Here, history assaults her. The houses on Bunker Hill defy gravity and the progress of time. On each side are the open guts so common to the St. Thomas of old days, where water ran either from the rain or the residents. This narrow street was never meant for parked cars and other cars traversing it through morning traffic. Did horses move down the steep inclines. It must have been built for walking. Wooden houses, shuttered, rich with secrets and the history of this hill, line each side of the narrow street. Someone told her that the house with the blue roof that looks so nondescript from the outside is quite spa cious and elegant on the inside. No doubt. These houses look like
Davida Siwisa James they bowed only to the modern convenience of electricity and running water. Otherwise, they are as they might have been a hundred years ago. There are people walking towards work or car or other destination. Small children and teenagers in blue or gray or plaid uniforms walk gaily and hesitantly towards their respective schools. She eases into Garden Street and glances at the hill going up towards Government House and the other historic buildings. Turning right onto Main Street, she waves at one or two shop women she knows. Some of the shop owners unlock the giant padlocks and move aside the heavy, beautiful wooden doors. They are standing in front of the rich stores that are A. H. Riise, Cardow, Colombian Emeralds and Tropicana. Stores that were once warehouses for rum and other goods in centuries past now hold diamonds, linen and exotic perfumes. She loves this time on Main Street, before the busyness of too many bodies and too much traffic. I never remember seeing clerks waiting outside or anyone open the doors to Macy's or Bloomingdale's . It always seemed that the stores were either open or closed and that the clerks had been planted there from the night before. Were the buildings once something else? Did they ever hold sugar cane or barrels of rum? Down Main Street, she passes the Market Square. The morning people sit on the benches, as always. Were slaves really sold there? Could it be that a black man now sits, waiting for the day's gossip and melee, on the same heavy table where his forefathers were sold? Or was it simply the market where fruits and vegetables were exchanged? She prefers to believe the stories that it was a slave market. Thus, each morning she prays for the souls of the slaves sold. She turns at the faded yellow building towards the waterfront and then turns right. She stops at the Frenchtown Post Office to pick up mail, pauses at the exit to buy the morning papers from the old man who sits there to sell the good and bad news. Should I go to the Frenchtown Deli? Wind my way down the narrow streets and smile at the old Frenchies and fishermen? Not today. She turns right, back towards Veteran's Drive. She swings back by Sub Base and stops at Frank's Bakery. Dumb bread and cheese, thank you. She smiles and greets several familiar faces and one friend. Here, there is a bakery in an area that was once a submarine base, run by the son of a man who has a gentle smile and quiet manner. Outside, a homeless man with a poor sense of direction 199
200 Seasoning for the Mortar directs traffic. She gets caught in a quick downpour that is over before it really begins. There was one building on Park Avenue, years ago, where the ven dor trolleys came on each floor with strong coffee and a selection of pas tries. One woman who rolled the trolleys looked at evel}'one vel}' directly and counted change very slowly, insisting you double-check it for accuracy. She definitely had a history. And then there were the countJess eateries and bakeries lined up block after block. I remember the one sportswear importer I worked for in the garment district that pro vided us with breakfast and lunch. The building deli delivered your choice of hot, toasted corn muffins, bagels and creme cheese, coffee and tea to our office. She continues her commute past the Moravian Church and school, with its tall stone walls. It was once a working plantation. Now, children study diligently during the day and wait anxiously for the last bell to ring before running from the thick stone walls that hold the myster ies of their ancestors . Beyond, to the airport turn-off, she watches a plane take off. Where is it going, when will it land? Driving so close by the airport is still a marvel to her. Kennedy Airport was so far away from Harlem and when you were there, you never had a sense of driving beside the planes. Was there a spot where she could have raced the airplanes? Did she miss that in her anxiety not to miss all the on and off ramps? She eyes her place of work, pulls up slowly and finds her usual spot, parking on the hill outside of her building. A deep hanging bougainvillea tree with white flowers borders one side and a flamboyant full of feeding iguanas is on the other. To the west, as far as her eye can reach, she glimpses two islands in the Puerto Rican chain-Vieques, where the bombs fall, and Culebra. A long, gray streak runs vertically from cloud to ocean. How amazing to view rain falling forty miles away and see it head ing slowly towards us. How beautiful. How worthy of another prayer. Before the distant islands, there is Sail Rock, the tiny cay with the illusion of sheer white. The ocean is that shocking, breathtaking blue that makes you pause to marvel at the beauty of living on a tropical island. It looks flat enough to walk upon. The hint of a rainbow appears on the airport runway courtesy of the quick downpour. She catches a glimpse of a mongoose running behind a bush just as she turns the handle to her office door. The slave markets and castle thoughts disappear.
Celeste R. Deary Celeste R. Deary was born in New York, raised on St. Thomas , Virgin Islands and currently lives in Harlem, where she's working on her first novel. A The Dreampiece Dis bank been here donkey years an' dey still ain' got nowhere ta park. Six measly spots . Wha' dey call dat? Convenience ? I call it rude. Jus' inconsiderate an' outta place. Now looka dis. Looka dis woman, no? Wha' she tink I sittin here fo' if not waitin ' fo' dat space?! I feel ta go ovah dere an' tell she bout she tiefin ' self. Eh, eh. I losin' it. S'pose ta be watchin' me pressure. Tings hard ' nough widout takin' on all dese triflin ' people what don' know no better. Lea' she have de space. She don' got it anyway. She prob ' ly need it mo' dan me. But who t'is could need it mo' dan me? Wid dese heels on, in dis heat, wid thirty-seven cents tame name. Who? I wouldn'ta even have ta be here if weren't fo' dat loose brain chile a mine. Derecia never know where she foot gon ' land when she pick it up. Come tellin ' me dis mornin' she need twen t y dollars , me last money , fo' de SAT test. Dis self same mornin'! Sh e had know 'bout de test , must had dat form in she bag fo' de last three weeks by d e looks a it. Oh, good, dere's a space. 'Bout time. An' I have ta go ta de bathroom so bad, but look a de time already, I can ' stop now. No sooner d a n I walk inta de bank do I hear me name bein ' bawl out inna way I wa' taught not ta answer. Deep in de crowd , ' bout twen ty fifth in lin e it look like ta me, I see a tounchy Iiddle ol' lady , no bigger dan a upright iguan a , wid a smile as warm an' friendly lookin ' a s a tub a hot water fo' me achin ' feet. An' she just a flaggin ' me down wid a pocketbook so humongous I didn' t see how she coulda lif'it ovah she head. 201
202 Seasoning for the Mortar "Lorraine! Lorraine! Lorraine Meyers! Girl, you put on weight. Come over here! Let me get a good look at you!" Who da is? I know dat lady. Who she is? Who is she? "Good afternoon, Ma'am. How are you today?" I say. I have ta pass her close cause she on de outside a de line. Oh, yeah, she use ta be one a Mommy friends, Mrs. Witherspun. Now why she gotta call attention ta me weight? "Well, Lorraine. It's been quite a while since I seen you; I don't get out too much no more. So how's your Mommy?" She wangle dat suitcase a her'n up on she shoulder an' grab ahold a me hand. "Mommy died, Mrs. Witherspun," I say, "almost two years ago. But thank you for askin'." "She did what? You gotta speak up, I don't hear like I use to. She did what you say?" "I said , my mother passed away, Mrs. Witherspun. But thank you for askin'." I try ta pull away. She pull me back. "She did? Passed on? Nobody told me." She start massagin' me hand. I tink she tink she tryna say she sorry fo' not knowin' an' sorry fo' bringin' it up an' sorry fo' makin' me repeat it, but it only makin' me have ta go ta de bathroom worse. " When?" "Two years ago next month." I tug at me hand. "About two years ago, you say. I musta been off island. I so sorry to hear that. We were the best of friends for years. Long rollin' years, up until she went and ... well, she was quite a woman, your Mommy. What you say she died of, eh sweetheart?" "If you don' mind, Mrs . Withers pun, I rather not talk ' bout it right now. An' I have ta get on line if I ever gon' get outta here dis afternoon. It was nice-" "Now, don't run off, Lorraine. Here, you can get on line right here in front of me. We can catch up. These nice people won't mind. Unhook that thing," she commanded. She mince backwards four, five feet widout raisin' she h e els from de floor. De elder gentleman in back a she try not ta yield, but as she almos' leanin' on him, an' he as skinny as a papaya tree in de first place, back he went. I look ovah de faces a de people 'round us, hopin' fo' some belligerent fool ta get me outta dis situation an' who do I see but
Celeste R. Deary one a Derecia's teachers. What she doin' here dis time a day? An' ain't dat Tyrone? Eh, eh. Jus' what I need. Me boyfriend Leon's fool friend. I hope he don' say nothin'. But nobody ain' say nothin'. So I went in. Mrs. Witherspun wait quietly while I unhook de velvet rope an' latch it back behind me. I felt like I wa' stealin'. I didn't z'actly get in front a she an' turn me back, but I stood kinda sideways an' start lookin' busy in me bag. "Thank you," I say. "Well, Ellie's gone. I can't hardly believe it. I can't hardly believe it. I liked her. She was different from me, of course. But still we was gals together. For years. Long rolling years. Did she ever quit smoking and drinking? She was the same age as me. What happen to her? T'was a accident? I hoped Ellie died peacefully." "She did, Mrs. Witherspun. As peacefully as possible." Den I tink dat ain' such a nice ting ta say ta a ol' lady who mubbe polishin' death's doorknob. "Was she in the hospital?" she ask. But she jus' don' give up. "Yes, Mrs. Witherspun, just for a little while," I say. "I hope they was good to her. Sometimes hospitals can be the wrong place to be when you in pain. Was she in pain, Lorraine?" I tryin' not ta get upset. I still have ta pee, I can' find me pen an' me feet startin' ta throb. "Mrs. Witherspun," I say, "Mommy died a liver cancer, in de hos pital after four months a bein' sick. But she restin' now an' I glad you remember her fondly." Dere, I tink I did good. "Of course I remember her. We used to have a ball together. She always leading me off to watch her get in trouble. A pretty woman, too. Always kept herself up. How's your father?" "Me father?" "Yes, your father. Ellie use ta be crazy 'bout him! Twas a pity they could never marry. Ellie use ta cry so 'bout that. How is he? Roland the Rascal we use to call him. Where is he now?" He ain' close enough ta hell. But a course me ain' say dat. "He's in Tradewinds," I say. "What you say?" "I tryin' ta whisper, we in a bank an' all, but as she half deaf an' I half a foot taller dan she so t'ain gon work. "He in de Tradewinds Nursing Home, Mrs. Witherspun." Dis time I do turn me back. 203
204 Seasoning for the Mortar "What you say?" She inch forward an' put she bony hand on me arm an' turn me back ta face her. "Roland? Roland the Rascal being cared for in the Tradewinds Nursing Home? By strangers? I don't believe it. How come?'' "I don' know," I mumble. "Wha' cha mean yo ain' know, you his daughter ain't you? Everybody know dat," she wave she arm indicatin' everybody dat was listenin', I guess, "even if you ain ' t got his name." She suck her teeth an' step back, distancin' her self from me. "Umph, umph, umph," she say. Did I lea' de whole ting drop dey?? No. I jump back in. "Mrs. Widaspun," an' me ain' bothering ta whispa no mo', "dat man was no kinda farda ta me an' nothin' but trouble ta me mudda neida." "But you sound so bitter, chile. He was jus' a man. He tried ta do right by you, much as he could, under the circumstances, you know, with him being married an' all. Why, I remember he use ta take you out for your every birthday. Now, didn't he, Lorraine?" I wish I coulda suck me teeth. "He took me out one time. One time, Mrs. Withaspun, when I was fourteen." "Oh, yes, I remember that time." She liddle body make dese spas tic motions an' I could hardly believe she wa' laughin'. "You was 'bout fourteen, right? He almost lost you inna pool game!" She laugh. "Or was it dominoes? At one of dem houses!" She laugh. "The rascal! Your Mommy was plenty vex wid him den. I remember. Still, Tradewinds? Lorraine, we all make mistakes." I wanted ta tell she dat he had make '!even udda mistakes jus' like me an' had six chil'ren from he wife at home an' ain' do right by none a we. But I wasn' raise ta be rude so I jus' say, "Excuse me, Mrs. Witherspun, I can't find my pen so I goin' go use de one on de count er." "You don't have to, child, I have one right here." She start rum magin' in she bag. "Them chains they got those things on never do be long enough no way. Here, here you go. Blackink. Just like they like it." I took de pen an ' start rummagin' in me bag. "Oh, Lorraine, guess what? I been standing here tryin' ta remem ber why I was so happy ta see you , today of all days, aside from de fact datI ain't seen you in so long and all a dat and it just came back ta me." Oh, Lord, I tink, shiftin' me weight, what next?
Celeste R. Deary "I had a dream about you!" Me stomach lurch up an' me palms start ta sweat an' I almos' broke me water right dere on de line. "You know 'bout my dreams, don't you, Lorraine? They come true. Well, not all of them. But I can tell. And this one. This one that I had last night. About you. It was one of them." Good or bad? Good or bad? Me mind felt like a dog dat had eat hot peppers an' is barkin' an' strainin' on he chain. "Mrs. Witherspun, you have to excuse me, I must find a restroom. Now." I unhook de velvet rope latch an' lea' it jus' so as I waddle away. I sure I waddlin' cause me ain' wan' take too long a stride. Me pocket book was hangin' open an' bouncin' on me hip. Every slap a de leather make me wan' cry but I so undone I can' even find de sense enough ta close it. I know where de bathroom is, an' I know it t'ain fo' customers, but I don't care. I goin' in. Afterwards, after, I tryin' ta catch meself , but I wan' jump up an' down an' scream, de way Pookie does do when you turn de TV away from Sesame Street. I thought 'bout takin' me shoes off but was 'fraid it'd hurt too much ta get dem back on. Told meself dat Mrs. Witherspun was just a lonely ol' lady who didn't always remember things right an' I shouldn't be pissed at her cause she spreading me busi ness in de street. I put on fresh lipstick. Mommy had tell me dat one time Mrs. Witherspun had a dream 'bout de Governor. He wasn't governor den. Only a teenager. Dey was all 'round de same age. She was so sure of dis one dream dat she wrote it all down, even de parts she did n ' t understand, an' seal dem in envelopes an' send dem all ovah de place. But he ain' pay her no mind, say she crazy , he gon be musician. Some kinda horn, I tink. Saxophone, maybe. Well she tell him he must never marry dat girl. I forget she name. Said even though he would love her he better not marry her, no matter what. Forty something odd years later, when he start campaignin' Mrs. Witherspun pull out she letters. Later on, when he give his inauguration speech she understand 'bout de train. Obviously, he ain' marry her, whosoever she was. Don' know why doh, probably had nothin' ta do wid dat. But still, some people do see tings. Good or bad? Nev e r mind. Me ain' wan ' know, I say. I can do widout knowin'. I don' have ta know. I goin' back outside, get on de end a de line an' forget 'bout dis, dat an' Miss Wither-Big-Mouth-Won't Mind-She-Own-Business-spun. Now dat I don' have ta pee I can wait forever. 205
206 Seasoning for the Mortar I try not ta look. Try ta amble on ovah behind dis fat lady but I hear she callin' me name, jus' like befo'. De line had hardly move. I couldn't ignore she 'cause everybody on line already knew me damn name. "Lorraine, I saved your space for you. You knew I would. You so humble, child. I like that. You just come right back here. These nice people don't mind." De nice people wave me through. I felt like a football player. You know when dey does do de roll call an' all a dem does get a pat on de behind befo' dey go out dere an' jump pon one 'nother? "So, Lorraine, you feel better now? Good . Good . I know you got a bad bladder. I remember, you didn't quit wetting the bed 'til you was almost seventeen." I heard 'bout nine different laughs. Up an' down de line. Hee. Hee. Hah. Hah. Ho. Ho. Includin' Derecia's teacher an' Leon's friend Tyrone an' Papaya Tree wid his scruffy headed self. Don ' take it on, I tell meself. Dat was years ago. An' what she know? I started wid me pocketbook again. Nine. I was nine. "So anyway, like I was saying, I had a dream about you last night. A very special dream." "Oh, yeah? A good dream, I hope?" I tryna act like I ain' really interested. Tryin' not ta be interested. Let's see, I tink, today is Tuesday an' I don ' get me check til Thursday, an' I gotta put gas in de car, dat's fifteen dollars, an' go ta de laundry, dat's another fifteen, an' Ameka goin' on a field trip wid she class an' I tink she say eight so I need at least-"Lorraine! Lorraine! Turn 'round here and look at me when I'm talking to you! Your Mommy didn't drag you up through no gutter!" I drop me hands ta m e sides instantly . "No, Ma'am. I'm sorry, Ma'am." "Uh huh," says Papaya Tree. "People pay good money to hear my dreams, you know." "Yes, Maam." "But you gotta listen carefully." " Y e s , Ma'am. " "And I'm telling you your dream, fresh, from last night, for free." "Yes, Ma'am." "Humph," she say.
Celeste R. Deary Papaya was 'bout ta say so too, but I sorta look at him sideways, not z'actly outta de corner a me eye, but kinda, an' he ain' say nothin'. Tyrone back dere laughin'. "Now, do you want to hear it or don'cha?" "Yes, Mrs. Witherspun, please do tell me 'bout your dream, Ma'am," I say. De whole line sigh. I swear, everybody on line seem ta exhale at de same damn time. "Well, pay attention then, and don't interrupt." "Yes, Ma'am." I stand quietly, humbly, waitin'. Mrs. Witherspun didn't say nothin' for a 1-o-n-g time. I start ta inch me hand toward me pocketbook ta get me checkbook but when dose chickenhawk eyes catch sight a de movement she humph again. So dere I is, wid me hand at half mast tryna look all eager an' grateful while Mrs. Witherspun soakin' up me contrition. Finally she begin. Loud? "Well, it started with you, Lorraine. In bed. All sweaty. Hair all messed up. In bed with-" She stop. De old nanny goat jus' stop. What Mommy do dis lady make she wan' treat me so? Tyrone cup he hand behind he one good ear, 'fraid it weren't workin' right. Two noisy schoolgirls join de end a de line an' somebody, me ain' know who, I tink t'was de teacher, but I don' know, somebody, actually shush dem. Oh, Lord, I tink. What kinda day is dis? "You was in bed with a fever." I practically had ta read she lips, so low she say dis part. Mommy send she, I tink, send she ta wrought up me nerves. "Wasn't AIDS or nothin'." She blastin' now, you know. "But you was talkin' all outta your head. Delirious, you know. With the fever. Cryin' and carryin' on about Raymond. You remember Raymond, don'tcha? Course you do. He's your boy's daddy. Gerald. Right? Well you was justa yellin' about 'don't go, Raymond, don't go'. I sure you was tryna keep him from goin' back in the trailer. Remember? Course you do. That was when you and him had run off to live together." She actually turn 'round an' speak ta Payaya Tree. "They was only in high school," she say, "you believe that?" She turn back ta me. "Anyway, that was when your Mommy had put you out. Can't say I blame her as disgraceful as you was behaving and all. And her boyfriend, what was his name? He didn't last long. But still he was important. What was his name, Lorraine?" 2(J7
208 Seasoning for the Mortar His name was Maxworth General. I could picture him clear, clear in me mind. " Maxworth." "Yes, that's right. Maxworth. Anyway, he, Maxworth, he's the one that rent all you some empty trailer he had at the edge of the parking lot. You remember? Of course you remember. And all you was just snotty teenagers, too. Setting up house. Humph. Least all you stayed in school. Course they didn't know you was pregnant then, yet, did they? The school I mean. 'Cept how they didn't figure it out what with Raymond making this baby crib in woodshop class and all, I don't know . Still, people had a way a minding they own business. You remem ber? Anyway it was there that Raymond died, right? Tryin' to get the baby crib outta the trailer the night it caught fire. Right?" Right! Right! Shut up, no?! "So, so anyway, you was bawling for Raymond to not go back in. Said you didn't want to take the chance. Let the crib burn. All you was safe and on and on you went and I saw the fire and everything, in the dream , or nightmare or whatever, and. . .and it was just horrible! Horrible, right? And you was doin' all kinda trashin' on the bed, but that was in the dream. I remember the real life too. Not you, but your poor Mommy. She liked to drink herself to death in the next few months. She like Raymond so, said he was coming to be such a good man, working so hard to take care a you." "Mommy said?" "Yes, your Mommy! She knew he loved you and woulda take good care a you. But all you was just too young! Too young to be jumping up in the face of love, shaming people . But you wouldn ' t know that, now would you? How your Mommy was hurting? You was too busy being mean and spiteful, now wasn't you?" Spiteful? Is dat how Mommy saw it ? I had me own grief ta deal wid. An' she had put me out, an' cuss me stink, hadn't she, jus' two months befo'? An' she had like Raymond? She never tell me dat. Not in all de years after neida, she never tell me dat. "Well, you was carryin' on so, in the dream, you know, that you woke your own self up and you went straight away to your vanity-You got a vanity, Lorraine?! " I felt like I had jus' drink sour milk. Why t'is dat when you need your mind clear your body does go on de attack? "Lorraine?!" "What?" Me ain' mean ta answer her so, it just come out.
Celeste R. Deary "Don't you answer me with no what! Now, I asked you if you got a vanity?" "Yes, Ma'am." Vanity? "I thought so. And is it white?" "Yes, Ma'am." Raymond. Raymond. Mommy. Of course I remember. "And does it have four legs or not?" Wha' she talkin' 'bout? "Excuse me, Mrs. Witherspun," I say, "what you say?" Den Papaya Tree say, "Mrs. Witherspun means to say does it have a solid back with just two legs in the front or is it more like a table with four legs? " "Like a table wid four legs," I say wid me head swivelin' from pil lar ta post cause I don't know who I s'pose ta answer. We move forward in line, couldn'ta been de first time, but t'was de only time I had ta actually move me body, you know? "I knew it. I know just what it looks like. Saw it in my dream. So anyway, you went straight to your vanity and of course you saw your hair all messed up and you was lookin' terrible and you turned this way and that looking at yourself and right then and there you said you was goin' into business for yourself." "Good for you," says Papaya. Business? What I know 'bout business? "What kind of business , Mrs. Witherspun?" "A salon," she say. "A beauty salon?" Well now, I never thought a dat. "No. No. The other one then. A saloon. You know, where they sell gin and rum and such." "A rum shop?!" Tyrone hollered. I recognized de sound, d e mixed up bongs of a fog horn an' a church bell. But Papaya come ta me defense. "Don't laugh," he say, four people back ta Tyrone , "they make a lot of money." "Yes, they do," says Mrs. Witherspun, "and anyway it was more like a bar. Or maybe a bar and restaurant. Anyway there was liquor." "Whe r e I get de money ta start dis business , Mrs. Witherspun?" "From your son. That bad boy of yours, by Raymond. Gerald. He's the one that's the gangster, right? Must be about twenty, right?" "He ain' no gangster an' he twenty-two!!" I yellin' now. 209
210 Seasoning for the Mortar "Well," she yellin' back, "he don't work! Ain't never worked! You his mother and his daddy dead! Yet he come up with thirty-five thou sand dollars and there you was! In business! You wanna tell me where he get it from!?" "He ain' no gangster." "Whatever," she say, like it ain' important. We gettin' nearer ta de head a de line. I get out me checkbook an' write meself a check. Den I turns back ta Mrs. Withers pun, I don come dis far already, an' I say, "So was de business successful, Mrs. Witherspun?" "Yes, dear, you made lots of money." "Anything else I should know?" "Oh, so you believe me now?" she say eyeing me up and down. If she weren't so ole l'da put she in she place good! "I don't doubt dat your dreams often come true, Mrs. Witherspun," I say, hopin' dat's enough. "Humph!" "Me mudda tole me de one 'bout de Governor." "That was a long time ago. This one's fresh." "Yes," I say. An' I done. Dat's as far as I goin'. "So, anyway," she say, "then you got married." Well! I nearly fall right ovah on de flo'. Try grab ahold a de vel vety ting, but a course dat ain' stable me an' I stumble 'round a good while. Married? Me? Wha' de hell fo'? "That's right. You married some tall fella with white hair." Leon??? "And you was happy, too. Wasn't like when you was common law with that other fella, what's his name? Ameka's father. The one that used to cuff you up. Or was that Pookie's father? How is Pookie, by the way? Now, she's a little sweetheart. No. No. Her father was the good looking man from the Church, right? The minister? Or was he a dea con? Must be the hand a God in that child, she so precious. Not like that other girl you got. Derecia. Who is her father anyway? I can never remember. Anyway, you was married. Good and legal." T'was my turn ta go up ta de teller an' I jus' turn off. But Mrs . Witherspun yell afta me. "What's the matter with you? You should be happy!" She took she place at de teller next ta mine an' continue. "You got your own money so you could finally get off welfare-"
Celeste R. Deary "Disability!" I shouts. Is disability for me back. But Mrs. Witherspun ignore me an' present she bankbook ta de teller wid a formal an' dignified soundin' 'Good afternoon, Miss', 'den she turn back tame. "-and somebody finally married you! That's more'n you ever had. And I see it comin'. In me dream. You should be happy!" Me ain' say a word. We finish at de same time an' you know wha de ole snake tongue iguana say ta me? Softly, all quiet an' secretive now? Mta she done wrung me out an' spread me wide? Fo' a rum shop an' a marriage license?! Little iguana say, "Lorraine? Lorraine? I got something to ask you. I need a favor. I know you'll do it for me, being your Mommy's child and all. But I don't want to ask you here, in the street. Let's go somewhere private, O.K? You understand. Come." An' jus' like dat, all of a sudden, I had ta pee again. 211
212 Seasoning for the Mortar Jessica D. Thorpe , former director of public relations at the University of the Virgin Islands, also worked as an editor and reporter on St. Thomas. Her work has appeared in Essence and Black Enterprise, among other publications. The Old Machete In a bare space where green has surrendered to life , a bitch twists its head to its tail, straining a chain and sisal tether . She scratches a particular tick with her teeth, then straightens and howls , long and low. The uncultivated melancholy ruptures the dawn and sullies the rest of the day. A woman cannot sleep. So she comes out of her solitary shanty and sits on concrete block steps and waits for high palms to bring her a breeze from the sea. The dog stretches the rope in hope of human touch. But the woman does not pat its head. She sits just so with elbows bent , resting a puffy face in her hand lightly , barely breathing the syrup of first light that trickles through gray-purple veil. She is waiting for the breeze. After a while the children stir. So the woman gets up from the dew cool cement and goes inside . The sun climbs into the morning and scatters night violet in search of the horizon. Yellow heat steam dries a puddle left by a midnight tor rent and a boy comes out of the same shanty. He gulps down his breakfast of coconut water and johnny cake, buckles his battered school books into a worn leather strap and steps into the raucous light. Again, the bitch twists and jumps at the end of her rope.
Jessica D. Thorpe "Wait for your sister," the woman orders as the door squeaks open and swings shut. The boy does not answer but minds. He was hurried to wash and to dress, then to eat and tie his books up because he does not want to see his mother. It is the third time in as many weeks she has come home bruised and crying in the heart of the night. He is vexed with her for leaving him alone to mind the shanty and angrier still at her tears and contu sions. He wants her to be at the gas stove again in the evenings, frying plantain and stewing fish for his supper. Outside, he leans against the trunk of the thick tree that holds the dog, and hugs her and rubs her between the ears. Inside, a bloated fly crawls through the louvered door and buzzes in as the woman finishes braiding a little girl's hair. She ties threadbare ribbon in the top and strokes the child's cheek lightly and they go together into the outside light. "I'll be late tonight," the woman says. "I will leave something to eat." She smiles, minding her puffed lip, as her children turn down the dirt road to school. The son does not turn around but the daughter runs back and hugs her mother tightly, quickly around the waist. "We will miss the bell," the boy calls in sullen impatience, still walking, keeping his back to where his mother stands holding her arms in the rising heat. A trade wind limps up from the ocean as a gray current churns portent inside a white-laced aquamarine wave. The day unfurls like a holocaust. When school is out the boy chews a blade of lemon grass and makes jokes with his friends in the schoolyard. Then he takes his sister by the hand and walks to their grandmother's house at the edge of town , by the water. "You stay here," he tells her. "M'Dere, I have to do an errand for mother." The little girl grumbles. Then she goes into the weatherbeaten cot tage. Fresh baked coconut drops promise unconditional love through open hurricane shutters and the boy longs briefly to stay and savor his grandmother's sweet kitchen and stories of old days. But he cannot. He has important business. So he leaves his strap of dog-eared books in the corner of the front gallery and begins down the road out of town into the cool rainforest. 213
214 Seasoning for the Mortar Quickly, before M'Dere can ask him. He walks for half an hour as the sun's maize fingertips paint long afternoon shadows and a silver brown mongoose slips noiselessly across his path. He comes to his uncle's lean-to in a gentle clearing. Beneath a broad palmed banana grove he sits on a large rock and wipes sweat from his forehead with the heel of his hand. Minutes pass and he wishes for something wet for his mouth. As he is thinking this, a wiry man with hair that falls in ropes to his waist comes out of the forest carrying a pail of mangoes and a long stem of green bananas on his shoulder. "What are you doing here?" the uncle asks matter-of-factly: "How is your mother?" The boy mumbles an obsequious answer and looks beyond the green leaf shelter to the succulence of the forest. The uncle puts down the bananas and the pail of mangoes and picks a coconut from a pile nearby. He unhooks his machete from his belt and squats and begins to turn and chop and turn until the hard hull shows white meat and cool water inside. He hands it to the boy. The boy drains the shell and reaches for a mango from another nearby pile. He strips off the tough green skin with his teeth and begins on the sweet flesh beneath, letting the juice run down his fingers onto his forearm. "I came to get a machete," he says after a while. The sun slips further down into the world. Overhead, the green whispers a secret to the wind. Holding down his own empty coconut in the palm of his hand, the uncle studies his only nephew now quietly and quickly. Then he takes up his machete again and on the ground cracks open the shell and peels off a piece of slick coconut meat and fingers it into his mouth. "What do you want with a machete?" the uncle asks, chewing slowly. "I ask you to come cut bananas with me, you say no, you want to make jokes with your friends." A mangy brown dog, lame with milk, comes from behind the lean-to and flops in a splotch of sunlight. "When I ask you to come pick mangoes and make extra pennies to help your mother, you have better things to do." The dog turns her head and yawns as skinny puppies stream in for an afternoon feast. The boy wipes stickiness from his mouth with the back of his hand and squints at the sun. "My mother says I am old
Jessica D. Thorpe enough to cut a banana branch," he answers, shifting on the hard rock. "She said come ask you for a machete so I cut one from the grove by the shanty." Their eyes meet and hold, and in the split second the dog twitches a fly from her mottled hide. The boy masks the taint of his heart with his uncle's presumption of innocence. Then he shrugs and looks away, watching first the dog and sucking at the pit of the mango, and digging next at an ant hole with the battered toe of his shoe. Then the boy stands and turns and pitches the mango seed deep into the forest. The uncle gets up from his squat and stretches lazily, like a cat. He laps at the edges of his emerald house, tidying his coconut pile, tossing empty shells back into the forest. He talks idly of book learning and family and of history and the meaning of life. "It is late. You better start home," the uncle says after a while, and wraps four fat mangoes in a banana leaf for his nephew to carry back to town. Together, they breathe thick afternoon heat as a bananaquit cuts the blue overhead. Then the boy turns to go. "How old are you now?" the uncle asks, calling the boy by name. The boy turns back around, standing loosely, holding the ripe fruit against his hip. "In a month, I will be fourteen." The uncle nods slightly, then disappears inside the green shed. The boy waits. After a moment the uncle comes back out and holds out an old machete. "Your grandfather cut can e with it many years ago," he says. "It is not a toy. Be mindful when you use it." The boy curls the wooden handle into his palm and steps back with a short smile and brief bow. Then he turns onto the path toward the road. He hurries back to his grandmother's house and hides the long knife outside in some bush. After Tanty's scolding, he is back home at the shanty with his sister, six coconut drops, tree mangoes and the old machete. After he and his sister have eaten what their mother left them, the boy sits outside on the concrete block steps while the little girl plays in the yard. In the sweeping dusk, he uses his mother's whetstone to hone the rusted blade of the old machete and listens for her to come home down the dirt road. He stops for a minute to examine three small notches on the knife's graying mahogany handle. 215
216 Seasoning for the Mortar The dog curls on her rope under the tree and puts her nose on her paws and watches. That morning, after the children leave for school, the woman goes back into the shanty and peers into the cracked mirror beside her bed. She touches a bruised place on her face gingerly. She gazes at the silver-framed photograph of herself and a young soldier hanging next to the broken mirror and wishes he could have known his father. For a melancholic moment, she wonders what the soldier in the picture would think of her now, and then wonders what her son thinks now. Then she heats the iron to press her uniform for the day's work at the other end of the island. Before she leaves, she fries fishcakes and plantain and puts them in the icebox for the children to heat up when they come home. At work, the patrons are irritable. It is nearly summer and they are not used to the heat or the fine Saharan dust that settles in their pores and singes their eyes. Red-faced and impatient, they complain that the eggs are too hard and the coffee is too cold. They send the woman back to the kitchen to make the eggs softer and the coffee fresher while they laugh nervously about tenuous investments and unreliable domestics. By noon, the woman's face throbs persistently. The make-up she has pressed onto her face to camouflage the swelling is caked with invis ible sand and itches. The flaming hibiscus she fastens into her hair every morning has melted. After the lunchtime bustle, she unties her apron and hurries away down the street, around corners and up a hill to a gingerbread cottage overlooking the sea. An ocean liner glints as it leaves the wharf. A brown pelican dips to the sea for its kill. On the high front gallery, the woman's sister is rocking and nurs ing a baby. Two small children play below in the fenced wild yard. The woman opens the gate and the nieces run to hug their auntie. The sis ter stops rocking when she sees the woman and shakes her head and sucks her teeth. "You cannot keep up this way," the sister scolds at the swell of the woman's face. "This is no good. Your children should not see you like this. This man is not their father." The woman moves her head up and down and says it will end this night. She will see the man at dusk and tell him. She looks out at the
Jessica D. Thorpe cerulean sky as the sister unlatches the sleeping baby from her breast. An afternoon breeze meanders in from where the ocean disappears into the horizon. "But Ezekiel needs shoes," the woman mutters after a moment. Her voice trails off with the trade wind. "Come, come inside," the sister says sharply, hoisting the infant to her shoulder, snapping a red flower from the hedge. "We will fix your face so you can go back to work." When work is over, twilight skips across the lapping waves and onto the land. Laughter and subtler sentiments drift carelessly into the evening through louvers left undone for the cool and the sun blows a pomegranate kiss to new stars. In a room in a broad concrete block house a man snores loudly. He is lying on his back with his round belly rising and falling to the rhythm of his loud breathing. The woman sits on the edge of the bed and fastens the blouse of her uniform. She smoothes her hair back with the palms of her hands and wonders if her children have eaten the food she left them. She gets up from the bed and sits on the chair beside it and puts on her shoes and thinks whether to wake the man or wait until he wakes up. The man snorts and rolls over. Through his sleep he sees the woman sitting near and reaches out for her. But he is too slow . The woman is much younger and out of range this time while his hands is still in the air. After a moment, he rubs the sleep from his eyes and props himself up on one elbow. The woman stands in front of the wall mirror now, tending her hair. "Come back here," the man says, patting the bed. He pulls the sheet around his big belly and watches the woman work her hair. "It's early still." "I have to go," the woman says quietly. "I have to go home to my children. You know." She waits for a minute, her arm akimbo. "Are you going to take me?" The man flops flat back on the bed, and dusk is well into the night before the woman begins home to her solitary shanty. The boy sits at the small table in the stuffy air inside, reading his school book by bare light bulb. The little girl sleeps soundly in the other room. 217
218 Seasoning for the Mortar When he hears the crunch of tires on the dirt road, he turns out the light quickly and listens. Then he takes up the old machete he has sharpened and hidden under his stained mattress and moves outside, quiet, quiet, crouching on the dark side of the dog's thick tree. The bitch wiggles and whines on its rope and he hushes her. By the rising light of the full moon the boy sees his mother get out of one side of the big car and the man come out of the other. The dog barks hard now, pulling against the chain and sisal tether. "I have to go in," the woman says in a hard whisper. "Now." "The children won't wake up," the man says louder. "And what if they do?" He is drunk. "And what if they do," he repeats, catching her wrists, first one and then the other, and pulling her to his round belly. "Come, say good night properly." The woman pulls away in night air that thickens ominously. The dog barks hysterically. "No," she whispers. "I told you I won't see you again." The man's face twists and he smiles darkly and tightens his grip on the woman's wrists. "You'll see me again," he snorts against the bitch's mounting frenzy. Now, without a noise, the boy stands and steps from the tree's shadow, holding the old machete flat against his leg. "Loose my moth er," he says hoarsely. The man is surprised, and so steps back and fastens both of the woman's wrists in his wide right palm and pulls her to the side, away from her son. "Loose her," the boy says again, his voice steadier. But the man holds the woman just so, tight, with his other hand on his fat hip, laugh ing against the pale curiosity of a falling star. "Oh, man of the house, eh? Your mother should teach you ... " But the end of the sentence is lost in the incandescent night. The boy draws his arm back and up and then down and the honed blade of the old machete melts soft pearl in the moonlight. The man is still holding the woman as the blood begins to flood from the top of his head over his eyes and onto his shirt. He reels and releases her and now she is screaming too with the chained bitch for her son to stop, for the boy to put the long knife down. The boy hears but pays no mind. Quickly, quickly, he swings the old machete up and swings it down again, and brings it down hard again, and then up and down again in
Jessica D. Thorpe spite of his mother's sobbing plea. He raises up and bears down again with both hands, now oblivious to the dog's hysteria. After a while, the boy is breathing hard and the man lies in a bloody pile in the bare space in front of the shanty where green has sur rendered to life . A full trade breeze rises from the ocean through the night palms and falls where the little girl stands in her nightclothes in the door of the shanty, watching by the light of the full moon. 219
Marvin E. Williams Marvin E. Williams (See biography on page 32) A Liberated Cast of Characters: Soursop Manjack Year: Jojo (Soursop's wife) Josie (Jojo's sister) Late 1970's PART ONE Scene One [Soursop's modest house with bedroom, Jiving room, and kitchenette exposed. Two wicker chairs sit in front of the house; out back, off the kitchenette, a washboard on a standing crate serves as a seat. Saturday, foreday. Soursop and Jojo sleep. Several cock crows pierce the silence. Soursop begins to stir. Dogs bark. Soursop eases out of bed. The barking picks up as Manjack, dressed in overalls and whistling " Barna Jam," comes to the front of the house and hollers.] Manjack: Soursop: Soursop, you ready or what? [He picks up his whistling.] [Soursop grabs the overalls off the chair and, moving like a thief, tiptoes to the window. Whispers.] Cut out that blasted noise. I coming, man. [He cat burglars back cross the room, kicking one then another object. Pauses, checks Jojo who appears agitated by the commotion. Meanwhile , Manjack bangs on the side of the house with a club, and shouts.] 221
222 Seasoning for the Mortar Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Man, you ain't ready yet? The fish them gon stop running soon. [To himself.] Lawd, these bachelor ain't got no heart atall. You think I could tell he what problem his noise could cause? No. He gon just laugh like the idiot he is. But let Jojo wake up, nuh. It gon be "Soursop, take mey to Woolworth to buy a girdle for Mespel wedding." Since Mespel wedding to that long-tall Hess man from Aruba announce Jojo got mey running a limousine service for Mespel. Harassing mey head. Lawd, help mey when her sis ter from Tobago come to visit we next month. [He rushes to get dressed, hopping on one foot as he tries to get into his clothes. Manjack starts drumming again, and singing "Barna Jam." Dogs bark and howl to Manjack's song.] [Jojo rolls over and groans. Jojo, still asleep, speaks.] Soursop, honey. [Bending toward his wife . ] Sweetheart, you call mey? [Jojo smiles but doesn't answer. Soursop takes a deep breath.] Good , she only talking in her sleep. [He picks up a bucket with fishing gear out of the kitchenette and moves swiftly out the house to confront Manjack who is really into his song now.] "Small barna, big barna, young barna, old barna, barna in between ... " [Throughout this scene the men ready their gear-stretching the lines, winding them on their spools, checking bait, etc.] [He jerks club from Manjack.] Manjack, your head good or what? It good like what. I ain ' t joking , you know . Yes, I know you ain't Joe King. You is Soursop James, former resident of 37 Pondbush now urban renew out Barren Spot. Keep it up. I just in a good mood, man, a singing mood. What wrong with that, eh? I don't like your choice of song, but nothing ain't wrong with singing. If tis that you was doing. What wrong with the song I was singing? Barna Jam, what a mashup.
Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Marvin E . Williams Another mash up of woman. What you talking bout? Barna, big one, is culture, heritage , sweet genes. What wrong with celebrating something so exquisite, so ... so we? Nothing you would understand. [Manjack starts to sing again.] Look, if you gotto sing you can't wait til the sun come up, man? And you must do it so loud? Calypso supposed to be sing loud. But you can't at least sing a calypso what all these dog round the place ain't know enough to howl along with? They howling in tune, eh? This song so pure every dog know it. Pure assishness. Pun intended. What shit you talking bout? These dog is island dog, man. They got calypso in they blood. Listen to this-Knock it off before you start, you hear me. Knock it off right now before me and you fall out over stupidness. What wrong with you, Soursop? Since when you ain't like to hear calypso? Nothing ain't wrong with me. Calypso should be left to calypsonians. And maybe not even to them. But you yourself say I gotta heapa potential to make calyp so. I was drunk when I say that. Look, tis wake up you trying to wake up mey wife and the rest of the neighborhood, nuh? You ain't worry bout no neighborhood; you worry bout your wife waking up. She got you under wraps , bwoy. You need to get liberated, man. Dog and all howl for theirs and get it. If you is any indication, tis dogs what making all the noise, keeping man back. Only man who dey under manners, heavy manners from woman, keeping man back. Let we go, you hear. Tis you who say you want to go catch fish, you know. If you stay here and keep hitting them wrong note you dey calling calypso and wake up Jojo, we ain ' t going fishing. At least not me. You ain't tired let that woman boss you round, man? Tain't a matter of she bossing me; tis just that she want mey to help her do some things today and I really ain't dey in 223
224 Seasoning for the Mortar Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: the mood for it. But if she catch mey, of course, mey mood have to undergo a radical change. [Sucks teeth.] You is a man or a mouse? When you married the two of them is the same thing. I believe in what Sparrow say. [Sings.] "Be ah man and not ah mouse; put some pepper in she souse; show that louse who is boss in the house." [Speaks.] Bam, braga dam! That's calypso. That's calypso for bachelor to hear. Besides, I ain't got Papa Jack problem. Tis a jack rabbit I be. Man, you damn well know what I mean. The thing is, mar ried or not, no woman ain't bossing me. I gon wear the pants not the panty in my house. A panty is a pants too, you know. Stop talk shit. Besides, woman does wear heapa pants nowadays. And they ain't got to be designer models neither. Tain't like long ago. You ain't notice? I mean, even pom-pom shorts ain't just exposing backside. I know what you mean. A gang of woman showing they ass for true. [Pause.] And I notice that it have a pack of manmouse, present company inclusive, who ain't like the man them from long ago. Evolution assbackwards. My father, man, that was man. Marmy was mey mother name and when he say "Marmy, jump," Mammy hit the trampoline. I gon carry on that tradition. Soursop: Tis you and your kind who got the woman shelter doing more business than they want. And the violence what you expousing is only a front for weak man who can't face the truth. Man always been mouse when it come to woman. We ... they ... allyu does only play rat when allyu round other man. Tain't nothing new. You know the difference? Long ago woman used to laugh behind man back and call he mouse; nowadays they does call we heapa pack rat mouse to our face. Wise up. Manjack: No woman could ever call me a mouse. Tis this damn American television what corrupting woman down here. Let any woman who think as the world turns it turn for she come play young and restless with me and I gon send her
Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Marvin E. Williams straight to our general hospital. Charles Harwood. Trust me, I would blue-black her eye them. Tis ah liberated man I be. Manjack, you ain't tired chat shit? No woman ain't gon call you a man if you hit her. Not with any sensitivity or con viction anyway. What kinda man feel he could find man hood in beating up woman? No woman ain't gon call you a man unless you is mouse enough to let her be a complete human. What that bullshit supposed to mean? It mean that a real man won't hit he woman; a real man would liberate heself from treating his woman like she infe rior, like she's meat, like she's a frigging punching bag for his craziness or his frustration or his insecurity or his excuse. Soursop, since you start playing scholar in your old age, reading book left and right, and messing round with them nursery rhyme you does call poetry, you talking pure shit. Let we go, man. We only making nar, I only knocking my head against a wall-you-and the sun coming up in another hour or so. [They gather up the fishing gear which they have sorted and begin to exit. Manjack stops and faces Soursop.] Them rastaman got the right idea, bwoy. Woman is to pro create and cook food from ground provision. Not give backchat and orders. No siree. A woman is supposed to support her man and see that he happy in the sight of Jah. If I wasn't so old I woulda been a rastaman . If you wasn't ah old jackass you woulda been ah young jack ass. Soursop, you really brainwash for true. What you trying to prove? That you is the original sensitive man, Captain Considerate? Oh Christ! All right, Captain Crunch, have it your way. Sometimes I does have to stop and wonder if you is the same sweet Soursop who used to be a proper gable around this island with woman falling all over you and you only saying "Get up and have pride in yourself' while you steady thiefing they pride and more ... 225
226 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: [Getting vexed] Look, man, everybody responsible for they own pride. Anyway, I outta that now. I grow up. Why you don't join me? No thanks but no thanks. [Shakes head in wonderment.] I does really have to stop and wonder sometimes for true. What happen to you, Sop? Jojo make you sour, no? Jojo help me to correct mey errors. No woman could correct my error them. Carve that in stone. Soursop: Yes. You is a serious cave man for true. A macho-saur. [Manjack sucks his teeth and Soursop grins as they exit . ] Scene Two [Two hours later. Lights come up to suggest daybreak. Jojo, still in bed, stretches, feels for Soursop, discovers he has already risen. Sits up and calls for him several times . Puts on bathrobe over her slip and goes into living room then kitchenette.] Jojo: He think he slick. Sneaking out in the dark like a local thief. Knowing full well I want he to drop me Sunny Isles. I give he fair warning yesterday. Wait til that sweet mouse come home nibbling round mey body for cheese. [She smiles and puts on kettle for tea as lights come up full. Leaves for Jiving room where she presses on a cassette tape. Soso's song whose lyrics go "Some man like a woman with a big bottom, plenty hips," etc . , comes on. Taken by the music, she starts to wind, checks herself, and flips tape off. Sucks teeth.] This damn tape must be Manjack own. I tired of man treating woman like slabs of corn pork. [Grins and winds a little, hearing the song she has turned off.] The music sweet though. [Flips back on the music and begins trashing back as she sings along.] Oh Lawd! [Flips off tape again, shakes head, grins.] What we need is some more woman calypsonian to tell them man about theyself. Shatter they illusion about they prowess in and outta bed. Bedroom bully, the dub man call heself. Ha! That's the problem in a nutshell. Too much bullies and not enough
Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Marvin E. Williams lovers. Role models for young boys who shamelessly mak ing love to they gun. [Sings.} "Woman want man who could use they lips as well as they move they hips." [Speaks.] Better than they move they hips. [Laughs.] Lawd, forgive mey for speaking the truth so early in the morning. [Returns to the kitchenette. There are several raps on front door before she goes to answer it. Josie is there with seven pieces of luggage; Jojo stands in momentary shock.] Lawd, Josie. What you doing here now? [Rushes forward and hugs her. Pushes her to arm's length to get a good look while Josie grins widely.} Girl, you look too good. When you come? How come you didn't warn me? How every body? [Notices luggage.] What you doing with all them suitcase? You plan to stay? Where you gon stay? [Laughs.] Stop, stop, sis. Ketch you breath. Yes, I plan to stay in truth. I figger I could stay with allyu until I get something. Girl, you look good youself. Marriage suit you. Soursop ain't gon be ready for this, you know. He ain't like these kinda surprise. From all the glowing things you write tell me about the mis ter, I not worry. What happen? You don't have you touch again? [She smiles so Jojo laughs.] You fast, you know. [Smile widens . ] Man is like ah lump of putty in ah artistic woman hand. Is easy to shape them. You don't need no heapa imagination. Keep talking loud like that let them hear you. I say let sleeping dogs lie with they myths for a blanket. [They laugh.] So, if man so easy to mold then how come you ain't got one at hand? Is because not enough putty to shape them I steady bounc ing up. They too gritty like sand or gravel or something. [They laugh.] Like you not going and invite me in you house, I see. Lawd, forgive mey. I just so shock to see you. Come, man. [They gather up the luggage and go in, put stuff away and move to the kitchenette where Jojo serves tea.] So, how you sweet Soursop? Growing sweeter with age . 227
228 Seasoning for the Mortar Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Mind he get overripe and spoil. I say growing sweeter not riper. Sweeter-heaven alone know how-in bed. Like you bragging. Bare facts, girl. [They laugh.] I had was to ask you about his friend. What he name again? Manjack. The wantobe calypsonian who can't even carry a tune. Well, if he could carry me, my music go tune he up. Stop it. You too fresh with yourself. You ain't self meet the man yet. Calypsonian, eh. Is what he does do? How he is? Sweet? He all right-although he feel he is macho man in print. He all time braying like a jackass. He way behind the times. A dinosaur in polyester pants. What you mean exactly? The man can't be that bad again. You should hear the man. He always singing loud about putting woman in they place when the truth is the only woman he ever had for any time in he place was he mother who dead the other day from natural causes. God bless her soul. But if you hear he talk you would think he was a real saga bwoy or something who got woman hand-over-fist and got them train good-good like them white people dog what does eat steak for dinner and even got they own bed and thing. Be serious no, girl. So he never get married? For about thirty-five seconds to a woman who was looking for her papers . But I ain't want to get into that debacle . [Pauses, reflects.] The thing is, he good-looking and every thing and he got a good foreman job with Public Works and plenty woman like he. Yet when I stop to think bout it, I never see he with no special woman. Maybe he attitude frighten them. Pure grandcharge, I bet. He still don't have a woman? Cool your heels, no man. Cool out, you just come. My heels cooling so long now that they chill. In fact, they chilly. And not just me heels either. Don't even talk about just come. Answer me question. Like I say, I don't see he with nobody special. I don't see he
Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Marvin E. Williams with nobody atall. Except Soursop. He always running off somewhere with mey husband. Sometimes I does wonder if one of these good days they gon elope. Hmm, hmm. I see. I don't think I go need a lot of putty for this one. Stop it. He might surprise you, give you a run for your money. I does do aerobics. I in shape. I hope he have stamina. Let's go in the living room and get comfortable. We have tons of catching up to do. Scene Three [They move into the living room, sit , and mime an involved conversa tion as lights go bright to indicate midday then fade to dark for several beats. They come back up bright with the women in the kitchen snack ing. Shortly , Soursop and Manjack enter with gear and a bucket offish. They pause in the yard sorting things as Jojo, hearing them, alerts Josie to their presence and goes outside with hands on hips.] Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Jojo: Soursop: Man jack: Jojo: [Almost to himself though Manjack, who's laughing at Jojo's combative posture, hears} Oh Gawd, Jojo, not now. Not in front this assbird. [Jojo smiles now, relaxes.] Don't let that smile fool you, bwoy; tis licks coming. Meain't worry bout licks because Jojo ain't into hitting me. But I have a feeling that curse like rain waiting in her smile although it clear not cloudy. [Moves jauntily towards men; Manjack moves aside where most of his comments here will serve as counterpoint and critique.] Soursop, darling, how much fish allyu catch? That question sound fishy, bwoy. Watch out. Bout. .. bout ten yellowtail snap ... snapper. Nothing else wasn't bit. .. biting and you love yellowtail anyway. [Coughs pointedly.] Since when you start to stam ... stam mer? Let me see them, nuh. They ain't too big, you know, Jojo. [Sings.] Tis big-big bamboo you want. Oh Lawd! They lovely yes. How much is ours? 229
230 Seasoning for the Mortar Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Jojo: Man jack: Jojo: Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Man jack: Something is rotten in the state of affairs. All. Since Manjack eating here everyday like he is a sup plementary breadwinner. Tis big-big bamboo you need. I gon clean them and cook them up right away. When you wash off and get settle, come help mey turn the fungy. [Sings.] Move leh mey get mey share, she licking Soursop without ah care. [Walking away, remembers Manjack and stops.] Eh-eh. Manjack, I forget you been there. How you do, man? I can't complain, Jojo. I can't complain atall. I dey good. I dey good and free as a bird. [Aside.] Ah assbird. Well, it good that you so free because it have somebody inside I want you to meet. Soursop, I want you to meet her too. Tis only when a man tired everybody does want he to meet people when they know full well that a tired man don't make good company. And besides that a man would rather not be introduce to no woman when he got on this heapa old clothes and stink ah fish. And maybe you could see clear to tell your company that I gon meet her later seeing as how I indispose at the moment. [Pauses and fidgets.] And I hope she enjoy her visit whoever she is and if she still around for awhile then perhaps maybe I might drop by and say hello although she shouldn't take that as a promise because I is a busy man who ain't like idleness and got heapa thing to do to keep meyself occupy fruitfully. [Begins to leave.] Manjack, you know you ain't got a damn thing to do. And what stupidness you talking about the clothes you got on too old for introductions? Only old clothes you does wear. Stop your stupidness, Manjack. She really want to meet you. And she understand you been fishing so that ain't no problem. Bring he in, Soursop. I going to tend to the fish. [She leaves.] [After a few beats, starts in but notices Manjack hanging back.] You ain't coming? Man, you can't wait? A man just trying to cool out and you
Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Marvin E. Williams acting like a Russian. You should pay more attention to the old saying them. You never hear "Don't rush the brush , you might get daub"? I ain't like people rush me, you know; it does get me well ignorant, you see me yah. What you fraid of? Stop stalling, nuh man . Fraida, fraida? Who you calling Stalling? Tis you is the Russian, not me. Just for that I got a good mind to leave you yah and go straight to my own yard. Everybody too damn hurry these fastfood nowadays. That's the problem with this world. Everybody running like wild ants and ain't have no particular place to go. Shit now , you can't wait? I sorry, man. I see how ignorant it does get you for true. That's supposed to be funny? Look, man, let we go in. I sure the woman is Jojo sister. What make you so sure? SusChrist, man. It make a difference who she be? No, ain't make no difference. But still. I know Jojo would of tell me something about meyself for running out the house this morning. If she wasn't trying to get on mey good side. All woman too slick. What her sister name? Josie. She from Tobago. Tobago? I didn't know Jojo was from Tobago. She don't have no accent or nothing. Yes, man. But she been here from small. I see a lot of pic tures of Josie and she pretty too bad. [Manjack perks up vis ibly.] It hard to believe she only two years younger than Jojo. You best not let Jojo hear you saying that. She would prob ably give Mighty Mouse, i.e. you, a proper cutassing. [Sucks teeth.] You coming or what? I coming, man, I coming. Bwoy, you more Russian than dead Khrushchev. You look like you want to stand out here until you dead like Khrushchev. [They move inside to the living room, Manjack stuffing his shirt in his pants, smoothing back hair, etc. They pause.] So, how I look? Like the jackass you is. [Manjack attempts to bolt; Soursop 231
232 Seasoning for the Mortar Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Josie: Manjack: Soursop: Josie: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: grabs him.] Take it easy, man. The woman ain't plan to judge you like you is in some kinda beauty contest. Like you was a stud ... or gelding on a farm. You talking shit because you married and ain't have noth ing to worry about. Why you don't just shut up and let me get meyself presentable. [Manjack continues his grooming while Soursop goes further in and notices the luggage. He staggers from their number.] But what is this a tall? [Manjack joins him.] It look like a family of awesome proportions visiting you, man. [Chuckles.] [Scratches head.] Jojo ain't tell me that Josie planning to stay for more than a week. She ain't tell me no such thing. [A refreshed Josie enters.] Jo ... jo. [Smitten.] Let we fire some rum. [Josie smiles throughout.] Josie-I recognize you from your picture them-Josie, I is Soursop. And this is mey old friend Manjack. Old is just a figure of speech, of course. [Pulls stomach in as Josie laughs.] [Extends hand.] Glad to meet you at last, Soursop. [Soursop pulls her in and kisses her on cheeks.] Jojo write tell me so much good things about you. You sound like you is a very good man. [Soursop grins foolishly; Manjack sucks teeth.] Manjack, I happy to meet you. [Moves forward, arms open for hug.] You ain't happier than me. [Josie steps back from his reach.] I mean, I glad to meet you too. [Josie enjoys his embarrassment; he turns to Soursop . ] Why you don't get the damn rum! Take it easy, man. Take it easy. [Manjack nervously wrings hands, etc.] So Josie, you look good, man. How long you planning to stay with we? I give you a week before you start bawling for Tobago. [Goes seductively to couch, sits.] I come to stay for good. If everything work out. [Rushes toward her.] Come to stay for good? All of a sudden wax stopping up your ear. You stay outta this. So, where you working and where you plan to stay? Don' t tell me you plan to pitch the woman out in the street.
Soursop: Man jack: Josie: Soursop: Josie: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Marvin E. Williams If you ain't want me pitch you out this house then you bet ter hush the frig up. Temper, temper. [Smiling] I here on a Kasha Hotel bond and Jojo say that you would happy to let me stay here until I find some place. [Paces.] Jojo say so, eh. She say so, eh. A architect can't fit two mampee in yah with we. [Stands, croons.] Jojo all time boasting how you so consid erate, kind, caring. But she ain't start to tell me how hand some you is. [Grins.] Heh-heh. Heh-heh . Of course you could stay with we till you get on your foot. [Josie gives him a warm hug and "dances" slowly away into the bedroom as the men look on hypnotized.] [Recovers; then with an affected voice and slight bow]Your wimpship, for once your wimping out pleases me. Kiss my ass. [Paces as Manjack laughs . ] Jojo ain't ah bad woman and she usually don't take advantage of me, but lately I notice that she abusing mey good nature. [Pause . ] I need to make a stand on this issue because ain't no way in the world Josie could fit in this 1il piece of house with we. But you so considerate , kind, caring, and handsome. Cut the shit. Face facts: your fate is to wilt under the ploys of woman. Take your ordain pressure quietly and dish out liquor like a good bwoy. Wait here. We gon see about that. [Storms out to the back of the house where Jojo is preparing the fish. Josie returns to the living room and sits across from Manjack.] Jojo, how come you ain't tell me that your sister was coming here to stay? I thought we used to communicate. [Turns swiftly.] What? You frighten me, man. What you say? I say, since when you going doing thing behind my back? Honey, what you talking bout? What thing I do behind your back? Invite your sister to stay here when you know we ain't have room to sneeze as it tis already. Soursop, I was as surprise as you when Josie come out that 233
234 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: taxi and start stalking the house with that mound ton of luggage. But since she was already here, what I coulda do except make what little space we have here available to her? She is mey sister, Soursop. It ain't make no sense trying to argue with you. [Starts to leave but turns back.] I see a pattern developing lately where you making promise left and right for me. That ain't fair atall, and I want you to know firsthand that I ain't gon stand for it. [Stands.] Soursop, honey. Soursop. I mean, tis fifteen years we married now and this is ah hell of ah time to start acting the fool with me. Taking me for granted. I ain't know what get into you other than age, but you better start cleaning up your act posthaste because I[In stitches] Oh, Lawd, Soursop. I ain't mean to laugh. [Laughs.] Oh Lawd, mey belly. What the hell you laughing for? You hear me say anything funny? Yes! [Riotous laughter] Sorry, honey. [Chuckles.] Sorry, man. Forgive me. [Laughs uneasily.] I is the one who should say sorry. I had sound like ah idiot, eh? [Laughter.] Yes! You ain't have to agree with me so strong, man. I love you. Even though only age get in me since we together? [They laugh and embrace.] I more than love you. Give me ah lil kiss, man. [They kiss.] Ummm. Thank you. [Disengages.] But how we gon manage this thing, man, Jojo? Don't worry, honey, we gon manage. I gon tell you the game plan later. Go entertain your guest them. [Chuckles.] Let me finish cleaning these fish yah. You want a rum and something? I fixing one for Manjack . Oh, I forget Josie. She does drink? Anything but liquor. Give her some of the passion fruit from the icebox. And yes, honey, you could make me ah drink. Rum and water. And make sure it strong. Gimme ah minute. [Goes to kitchenette speaking to himself] How ah man gon fight against a woman like that, eh?
Manjack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Josie: Man jack: Soursop: Marvin E. Williams Pure assishness to try. She too fair, logical, and loving, man. [While he gets drinks, Manjack gets up and through an elaborate but amateurish ploy makes his way over to Josie and sits. Soursop takes Jojo her drink and pauses on his way back to listen to Manjack who reclines as he speaks.] Yes, man, it have place like dirt here where ah woman as nice looking as you could lime. And, in fact, I would be happy too bad to take you out on the town being as how I does frequent all the spots and know all the real good band them. [Soursop stifles a snicker.] How come you not married, Manjack? Eh? Why you not married yet with ah island full of no doubt available women? Oh, that. It have so much confusing fish in the sea and I meticulous and selective and choosy. That's why I ain't bite no bait yet. But I ready to bite anytime I find the right fish. [Looks her over tellingly.] And if you want to go out sometime soon let me know because I could see right now that you like to lime and meain't no less than the same way. [Soursop stifles another laugh.] Well, I would like to see the place in truth. Let me take charge. Only for awhile. [Entranced, distracted] Eh? Nothing just yet. [Soursop enters with drinks.] See rum yah! Let we go back to the trough. [Stands.] You come back so quick? It only quick because, you dirty dog you, you been having fun. [Manjack grabs bottle off the tray along with a glass; pours and offers drink to Josie.] Eh-eh, who elect you mine host? Thanks, but I don't want no drink right now [Soursop laughs; Manjack glares at him before he downs drink.] What you braying like ah jackass for? [Pours himself another and downs it.] [Takes bottle and pours himself one.] All jackass does rec ognize they own species. 235
236 Seasoning for the Mortar Manjack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: [Reaches for bottle.] What you imprisoning the rum like some warden for? [Almost rising] You don't have enough of that rum, Manjack? [Laughs.] You hear she, Sop? Tis man I name. This lil bit of rum we drinking can't nearly get me high much less drunk. [Staggers, regains balance and grabs bottle away; staggers slightly as he moves to join Josie who promptly gets up.] Excuse me. I go help Jojo with the fish. [Leaves with a walk that enchants Manjack; Soursop sits with his drink.] [Still staring at the space Josie has passed through] She nice, eh? You say she is two years younger than Jojo? Yes. Bwoy, she ain't look a minute over twenty-five. And she solid-solid and pretty. Lawd, Sparrow right for true bout Tobago woman. [Sings.] "Nice and round like a butterball." [Speaks.] Sop, talk the truth. You think she like mey? She crazy about you, man. You can't see how she eyeing you and eating up your stale rap? Nothing ain't stale bout my rap, you hear. As a matter of fact it kinda fresh. You ain't see how she been blushing? But you right for true, you know. She was eating up mey words like ah gamadizer. You think she would go out with mey tonight to the quadrille they having down by the Hall? [Pours drink for both of them; Soursop takes the bottle and rests it on the coffee table.] You have to ask her that, man. Don't ask me. [Takes a sip.} And, furthermore, you sure you sober enough to carry any body any place? [Stands.] I sober like ah top. [Staggers.] And you staggering like one what tired spin too. Who staggering? [Staggers.] Soursop, you know I tired drink you under that old table you have in your kitchen. Stop talk shit and pour rum, man. [Picks up bottle.] Josie ain't look like she too like the fact that you dey drinking so much, you know. Watch mey, I is ah liberated man. Tain't her damn business how much rum I drink. [Pushes glass out to Soursop.] Fling Cruzan, man.
Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Marvin E. Williams [Begins to pour.] Tis your funeral. [Pulls away; liquor spills.] You really think she worry bout how much I drinking? Watch what foolishness you make. You drinking rum or what? I just ask a simple question, man. You ain't gotto go on so. [Sits.] She had just look ah lil upset when you think about it. If you is "ah liberated man" you ain't have to worry your head over what Josie think about you drinking . [Gets up and begins to clean up spill.] You right. Cut loose rum in mey cup. [Offers then pulls back glass.] But wait, man. She had look kinda funny when we was drinking for true. I gon drink ah lil bit after we eat dinner. You staying for dinner then? You deaf or what? You think I give you my fish them for joke? You is joke enough. You want to hear music? Play ah old Sparrow. In fact play "Tobago Girl." Let we honor our guest. [Going towards tape player] I didn't know you had ah guest. Not ah bad touch though. [Sometime during their conver sation Jojo and Josie moved inside, Jojo to cook, Josie to the bedroom. Now, as music plays, Manjack, going to bath room, bumps into Josie who's coming out. Stops and mimes speech. Josie blushes then signals yes with a smile. She joins Jojo and Manjack continues offstage . He returns shortly, dancing to the music. After several beats, Soursop turns the music down.] It look like something sweet you, man. [Manjack continues to dance.] Remember what they say: "What sweet in goat mouth sour in he backside." [Turns music off and Man jack sits.] She say she gon go to the dance with me. Stale rap? You think I does play, nuh? [Laughs . ] It look like Josie don't play neither. What? [Produces deck of cards.] I say let we play some rummy let me spank you. [Clears table and deals, and the men settle into their game.] 237
238 Seasoning for the Mortar Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: [Stirring pot] So what you think about our friend? Who? Manjack? No, the jumbie sitting there by you. Who else? He all right. But he does drink one set of rum. Not really, you know. I don't know who he trying to impress today with his drinking. He only all right? I just meet the man. What you expect? I ain't expect nothing. Excuse mey, but I thought I see dia monds in your eyes. [Laughs.] I don ' t know bout that, but he interesting yes . Another thing bothering me though. It look like you right about his ideas about woman in truth. Don't pay that too much mind. Manjack is ah shy man. All that talk is to cover up he shyness. I don't know again, girl. Like he want ah dog not ah woman. [Pause.] He ask me to go out with he tonight. So what you gon do? I going. What about his funny ideas? I concern but I not worry. I giving him plenty rope to hang himself . [They laugh as lights fade.] PART TWO Scene One [Six weeks later. It is dusk, and a well-dressed Manjack paces in front ofSoursop's house and grooms himself as he waits for Josie. Pulls afro comb out of his back pocket, raises it to his head but changes his mind. Pats already flawless hair instead. Brushes imaginary speck off pants, straightens tie. Adopts a soldier ' s posture as he paces. Whistles a Jove tune. Mimes asking a lady to dance, taking her hand, and leading her in a ballroom dance as he hums. Eventu ally Josie comes out dressed brilliantly . They give each other a brief kiss , hook arms , and leave smil ing as lights dim and go out.]
Marvin E. Williams Scene Two [Minutes later. Lights come on after a few beats. Jojo and Soursop are having dinner in the kitchenette.] Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: The love bird them fly the coop again, I notice. Dinner and dance, mey child. The fourth time this week. I self didn't know it had so much music on this island. The music dey in they head. Wait til it stop. Or at least change tempo. Still, Josie very happy and I feel good for her. And I think Manjack want to married her. At least he want the new marriage-to shack up with her til it last. Every time he come over here he pulling me aside and asking questions what ain't so subtle. Like what? [Stands, and in Manjack's voice] This house ain't too small for all allyu? Allyu must be butting up in one another can't done. You joking. I didn't know he was doing it with you too. How the crab hole treating allyu since I been yah last time? [Laughs and stands in the spirit of the mockery.} Sardine in ah can got more room than allyu. If ah mosquito fly in this house it gon be severely over crowded. Ah callaloo pot got less confusion than this house. I can't even stretch when I dey here. I fraid I slap one allyu. [Laughter becomes reflection; she sits.] Honey, traffic heavy in the house for true, you know. [Rejoining Jojo at table] I know, but tain't none ah Manjack damn scheming business. Besides, I get use to Josie being here. Me too, you know. She add something what been missing. [Sharply} What ? Ahh, ahh, nothing in particular. Company. Craziness. I don't know. Jojo: You don't know, eh? You think I don't see you scoping out backside? 239
240 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: [Laughs uneasily.] Behave yourself, Jojo. Maybe that's my problem. I alltime behaving. Tis take you taking me for granted. I love you, Jojo. My eyes, bad as they is, are for you only. Words. Borrowed ones at that. If something fit perfect, why change it? So when Manjack start up he slickness ... You don't start yours. You ain't getting off so easy. So when Manjack start up with "My house got room knock ing dog in stark contrast to this doghouse," I does stop he cold. I does tell he married the woman else she staying right here in the sardine-can-crab-hole-dog-house. But, Soursop, you can't speak for Josie. I know that. I just calling Manjack bluff. I know she good for he and I know he want to married her, but for some strange reason he dey dancing in place, holding strain when it come to marriage. Well, I know Josie love he and I think Manjack is ah change man. In ah kinda way, yes. He is a sharp bwoy overnight. He sell he old truck and buy ah brand new Mustang as becomes his new incorporated status. Crusing round town with Josie tight-tight up under he arm like she is sweat. .. or deodor ant. [Laughs.] Ah deoderant what making he sweat. And the way he tack down day-in-day-out. Sharp bwoy! I self ain't mind being home-up under he. Clinging on like Secret Ultra Dry. [They laugh.] The thing is, meain't self know he had so much clothes. This man been my friend for donkey years and I didn't know that he was ah closet gable. Ah real saga bwoy. And check the style. [Stands, mimicks.] Evening. I'm here to call on Miss Josie. Ah English but ler can't touch he. Pure pappyshow. Yes, Manjack change for true. He more assish than ever. He more clownish than ever. But in ah way he ain't really change atall. How you mean? Weeks now he liming with Josie and he still talking big about how woman must follow his program else he ain't
Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Marvin E. Williams want no part of them. And I ah lil surprise because I didn't think ah woman like Josie would allow such ah attitude. But I notice she going along with the program and looking like she happy with it. Who could explain love, eh? Manjack really showing her ah good time for true. Everyday after work he coming like ah hurricane, sweeping Josie up and taking her out for dinner and dance. When last we been out, Soursop? Oh Gawd, Sweets. Don't start that. Don't let them pretend teenagers influence your good senses. Why youth got to be squander on young people who ain't want it, hurrying to be older than they years? Why we have to stand up stupid-stupid like two tree and let age, like ah nest of woodlice, eat we away? [Reaches out to her with a smile; Jojo rejects gesture.] Until your sister come yah I was the only woodlice you used to worry bout. And I had ah open invitation to all your limb them. I was sleeping. Tis like comfort drug me and put me in ah kinda coma. But Josie-and Manjack too , the two of themact like ah antidote what wake me up. [Pauses, goes around table to face him directly.] Soursop, I wouldn't trade you for any man ... Only for ah Manjack. I serious. I wouldn't trade you for anybody. But you ain't everything, honey. I gon have to talk serious with Manjack. Tell he what shh . . . what stupidness he cause. He ain't cause no stupidness ... or no shit neither. What he do is give we ah model if we want to take it. Honey, don't lie, you ain't miss the excitement? [Holds and caresses her.] You know I ain't lying when I say you is major excitement, more than enough excitement for me. [Breaks away.] Don't sweet talk me, man. I serious. I dead serious too. It ain't working? No. Watch, honey, you know you ain't got to do nothing special to turn me on. Just sit down and look stupid-stupid and I want you. But what I talking bout different. And you know it. So stop playing the ass. 241
242 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: [Dreamily] The Vibratones at Eve's Garden, Tarco and Milo tearing up Plantation. Archie and his bwoys mashing up Vickey's and the Hideaway. Them dey was days. Booke and Bailey, Baga and Edgy. Archie on the solo sax and Wesley on the cylobox. [Sings.] "In St. Thomas at the Hideaway everybody was trashing back." [They trash back and Jojo sings chorus.] "Archie buck them up." "Don't go by Saint Cee if you ain't feel okay." [Really dancing now] "Archie buck mey up!" "Tis then Mattie Gru get up and start to break away." "Archie buck mey up!" "Tinny ling, tinny lay." "Buck mey up." "Yeaaah." "Archie buck them up." "Ah seh Archie fling mey down." ''And Archie bruk mey up." [Speaks.] Oh Christ! Music in your tailpart. [They struggle to catch breath.] J ojo, sweetheart, I really miss it, want it, need it in the heart of mey soul case. Meain't know bout you, but I gon take ah shower and get ready. Ready for what? I want you with mey, Soursop. But if you ain't coming, don't wait up because I going. And going, and go ... Go start the shower. I coming. [Sinks into chair and sighs as Jojo leaves , singing. Lights fade to black.] Scene Three [A week later. The men sit outside on chairs with glasses and their stub born bottle between them. Jojo in kitchenette cooking.] Manjack: Josie is ah woman, bwoy. She sweet too bad . And she know how to make ah man happy without forgetting her place. When I say jump, she flying. When I say sit, tis lying down she lying. When I say shut up, she does ask til when. When I say I is man, she does say I is men. Oh Gawd, I should
Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Marvin E . W i lliams write that down. Yes, man, she is ah perfect woman for mey . What you think, Sop ? I think she very nice , but I don' t believe she's the kind of woman who would stand for all this bossing around you talking bout. Your problem is that you like to spoil woman. Watch how Jojo does have her own way. Even got you liming when you ain't want to lime, bucking up when you bruking down. I is ah liberated man, bwoy. Josie know that and she respect herself when it come to me. What that book you show me the other day name? The New Improved Man? [Sucks teeth.] This old . . . this mature man ain't need no improv ing. Them book don' t teach you nothing but how to be ah good manmouse (no hyphen) . When it come to you "hen pecked" is putting it mildly. You better throw away them book and liberate yourself. I is as liberated a s I want to get. Don' t worry bout me. Meain't worry bout you; I sorry for you. Yes, bwoy. Josie is the kinda woman ah man should married if he want to live happy , in peace. Go on and married her then. A man should think serious about marriage before he jump in it. I mean, watch what it do to you. Atlas turn to alas . It obvious you seriously ready to married Josie. What frightening you? You ain't got to pretend with me. [Springs to feet.] Stop chat shit, no. Who frighten? Josie really got some funny ideas, bwoy. Hello. Acting like she is ah liberated woman and she must hav e equality. Bull junk like that. Going against nature. [Shaken by the thought , sits.] Going against nurture, you mean. Going against culture and tradition. I don' t know what culture and what tradition you talking bout. What about the African system of reciprocity or, to bring it down to your level, sharing ? Sharing what? Responsibilities, man. And power. And stature. Ah recent myth concocted by nationalist looking for woman 243
244 Seasoning for the Mortar converts and Iii wife; ah makeup history by so-called woman libbers and they sympathizers, you inclusive. Soursop: Our African-Caribbean warrior and rebel queen them is myth? Nzinga, Nita, Nanny, Queen Mary; them woman you calling just makeup history? Manjack: Exceptions to the rule. That's why people of your ilk does keep so much noise behind they name. What they do frighten allyu precisely because it unusual. Soursop: Keep that up and you gon lose Josie, you know. From what I could see she is more like one of them rebel queen than some meek queenie. Manjack: Lose her? Stop talking assishness like that, no man. You trying to frighten me? Soursop: I trying to tell you that you better ease up before you drive Josie away. Look, you love the woman, right? Manjack: Yes. I love her bad. More than air. More than water. More than food. Soursop: So why you can't leave the woman alone let her be ah woman, ah person? Manjack: [Leaps to feet.} Because love ain't mean surrender, you hear me. Love ain't mean dishing out your manhood to some woman, no matter how beautiful she is . I is ah man, you hear me. And I gon continue to be one. [Manjack storms off as Josie enters kitchenette from bedroom. She is Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: near tears.] I love the man but he is ah real ass. Honey, what happen? I thought I could of change him, but is no use. He won't change again. But allyu seem so happy, like everything working out. We happy. I happy. But I unhappy too. Is because this man is ah mule in truth. What happen? What he do? Is what and what that man not say. He pick me up from work yesterday and we drive out to the beach. I say eh-eh, this sweet man full of surprises. And he sweet, J ojo. I can't lie. [Dreamily} Sugarcakes I does call him every now and then when ... But?
Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: Marvin E. Williams But the ass, without leave or license, start one set of verbal abuse. Threatening to slap me in me tail if I don't give he what belong to him. What you take from he? Nothing. The man accuse me of thiefing ... trying to thief his manhood. His manhood? He say I is one of them kinda woman who feel she have to be boss, who feel she have to run things, and he ain't in that with me, and ah barrage of nonsense so. [Cups her sister's face . ] He hit you? And you not bailing me out? That man ... no man could put his hand on me. Is suicide he would be committing. I real ly can't understand some men, you know. I mean, what he fraid of? How I being meself going and reduce he? Tell me. Tis ah sickness, ah sickness I know you could cure. I doubt it. When you mix horse with jackass you go get mule. Manjack stubborn like hell and nobody go change that. But he love you, Josie. Tis just fraid he fraid to commit to marriage. That's why he hiding behind that macrone-ass macho talk. But, trust mey, he ain't really mean none of it. Well, is ah good job he do convincing me. I sold but I not for sale . Well, he think he mean it, but he ain't ready to face the truth, see the light yet. Which remind me, he see or had delight yet? Everytime we hug up tight-tight and start ah slow grind, delight does shine in he eye and them. But no, not yet. [They laugh.] No wonder he steady sniffing around you and panting with he tongue darn near beating he chest. I give the poor man less than ah month before he surrender. Or collapse. You wicked you know, girl. I ain't that type of woman . [Jojo glares.] In Manjack case I ain't that type of woman. And it killing me. Is doubts, seri ous doubts I have that I could hold out longer than him. I long past ready. He gon come running. . .I mean crawling with ah ring directly, man. Don't worry. 245
246 Seasoning for the Mortar Josie: Jojo: Josie: Jojo: I not worry bout that. I expect it. Is what it go commit me to that bothering me. Cause no amount oflove go make me surrender my independence, myself. I live too free ... And lonely. It had loneliness, yes. A whole set. But I live too free too long to accept that man nonsense. Is against my nature. Against all nature. Ah frigging death in life. Amen. [Darkness.] Scene Four [Afternoon two weeks later. A car pulls up to Soursop's house. Josie, dressed in a sexy negligee, goes to window and sees an agitated Manjack approaching. She hurries into living room to couch. Sits and pretends to read. Manjack raps; gets no answer; raps again. Calls.] Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie. Jo! [Josie sucks teeth, shifts position away from his call , flips pages idly.] Josie! Come nuh, woman. I know you in there. Soursop them tell me you home. Josie! Sweet stuffing, come nuh. Nobody home. I guess tis ah jumbie talking to me then. Yes. Ah jumbie. A nobody. The nobody jumbie you want me to be. Stop playing, nuh man. I need to see you. How you going and see Nobody again? Woman, open the blasted door! I ain't come here to play. No. You come to play play. Don't make me break down this damn door. I ain't playing like I mad, you know. I agree. You really mad in truth. [Struggles to calm himself.] Watch, what going on, love? What this all about? Certainly not love. What? You hear what I say. I gotto talk to you, doh doh. [Stifles a laugh. Rights her anger.] We talking. Not like this, for godsake, love bread. You hear what shit
Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Marvin E. Williams you have me talking? I begging you, let me in. [Flings magazine down, jumps up, takes a deep breath, and goes to window.] Manjack, what you want with me, eh? I want to say sorry. There. You said it. Good day. [Closes curtains.] [Falls to knees.] I begging you, sugar dumplin, let me in. [Opens curtains.] I let you in and you acting the ass. So stay out; stay away from me; go back to your caveman fan tasies. I caving in, Josie. My heart caving in without you. Tis three whole days now I ain't see you. I can't take much more of this. Come to your senses. I do that three days ago when you make to slap me in me tail. I leaving you to spare your life. [Springs to feet.] I didn't hit you. I can't hit no woman! Woman, I say I sorry. I'm afraid I agree with you. Tis ah ass you playing me for? I ain't begging no more. I demanding. I giving you five seconds to open this frigging door, then I kicking the rass of it in. I counting: One, two, three-[ Opens door but stands in doorway.] Nobody going and blame me for contributing to the delinquency of a psychot ic. The door open. Now what? Now we gon talk serious. [Gets an eyefull of her dress.] You put on that piece of thing to tease me, eh? I have no idea what you talking about. I was preparing to take a nap before you decide to start World War III. You wicked, you know. You know I was coming. You giving yourself undue credit. You prepare for me, eh? You make arrangement to torture me. [Sucks teeth.] Manjack, what the France you want? [Lusting over; pushes door open, and grabs her.] I want what they say them French man like . For starters . [Tries to kiss her.] [Pushes him away roughly.] Take control of yourself, man. You mad or what? [Moves in as she edges back.] Yes, I mad. Mad for you. 247
248 Seasoning for the Mortar Josie: Man jack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Man jack: Josie: Manjack: Josie: Jojo: Man jack: Jojo: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: And I taking control. Now. I taking what belong to me! [Pounces on her and wrestles her to floor.] [Struggles.] Police! Police! [Pins her solidly.] A jury of my peers ain't gon give me wrong. In fact, they gon ask me how I hold out so long. [Struggles up to a half sitting position.] Man jack, you going and do ah thing like this to me in truth? And in people house? [Relaxes hold.] Don't confuse me. We gotto do it now . I bursting at the seams. [Pushes her back down.] You think is you one bursting at the seams? My seams got so much run in it that it shredding. Then what we waiting for? A more romantic moment. When everything perfect. Your house. Candle lights , soft music, me at mey best, giving like you never get, making you bawl. [Snaps out of the spell spun by her reverie.] Tricks. No, tricks. I serious. [She gives a sexy wiggle.] Oh Godddd. What you bawling for? [Wiggles slower , longer.] Call me name. Sweet Godddd . Remember it well. [Throws him off her; springs to her feet; Manjack massages his hurt back.] Let us get ah thing or two straight. This body is mine, not yours. Not no man. Now get up and get the hell out of here. And don't come back until you bring champagne. [She storms into bedroom and Manjack crawls out the house, nearly bumping into Soursop and Jojo who enter with some packages . ] Manjack, you all right? I fine. I just drop something. So you say. [She goes in.] [Laughs.] I see you adopt the posture of a liberated man. [Groans, rubs back and knees.] Stop chat shit and help me up, nub man. [Rests down packages and helps Manjack into a chair . ] Josie fling you down with the gauntlet, nub? Mock mey pain. Hold on a minute, man. Let me get some rum.
Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Marvin E. Wj]]iams Good. Make yourself useful instead of grinning like ah ass. [Soursop laughs as he retrieves packages and takes them into the house, returns with rum and glasses to a still aching Manjack.] Dish out rum, no man. What happen? Jojo rationing you again? [Takes glass from Soursop who laughs and pours. Manjack takes a big swallow. Ponders the glass.] Soursop, you know me good, right? Right. [Sits and refills Manjack's glass.] You think I is marrieding material? [Takes a swallow.] No. I don't know why I does bother to ask you anything, you know. You ain't tired joke? You ain't tired ask me shit? You more experience in these kinda thing than me, so what big thing it tis if I ask you ah few things, eh? I just sick and tired of your indecision. If you love the woman, married her. She looking forward to it because she fall in love with ah cunomuno like you. But if you don't want marriage-and heaven know you need it like ah baby need milk-then leave her alone. But stop asking me all kinda bullshit, okay? Okay, man, okay. But what you think bout marriage in gen eral? Oh Christ. I think tis ah institution your membership would disgrace. [After a long, nervous swallow] I want you to be mey best man. [Grins foolishly.] [Stands, offers hand.] Praise the Lawd. When is the big day? In three weeks. I pop the question outside her job today. I even bruise up mey knee playing romantic. Tis the first weekend in June. Josie tired hint that she had always want to be ah June bride. You think I making the right decision? Manjack, bwoy, I just glad you make ah decision period. But allyu work everything out? About your man-woman thing, I mean. That settle long time. I is man and the mold fling way. So you say. And mean. I done got the ring them and thing, everything 249
250 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: square away with the church and so , and I keeping the reception at my place. You think it big enough? Of course it big enough. But what you think? [Laughing] I think everything gon be all right, man. Let's go out and celebrate. Fire big rum. Ah bachelor party of two. [Manjack continues to sit, worried.] You could still use ah lil taste, right? [Stands slowly.] I could use ah big-ass taste, if you really want to know the truth. This wedding business is ah hell of ah thing. You think it too late to call it off? I mean, I only tell two-three people so far. And I only tell them I might get married 4 pm on Saturday June 3rd. Moravian Church in West. Reception to follow immediately with Blinky them cafooning music at my house. Unless things fall through. [Sympathetic.] Stop talk shit, man. Let we go get drunk. It might be your last chance before Josie fling down the gaunt let. You think I is you, no? I forget. You is ah liberated man. [Laughs.] You going drinking or you have to go ask permission first? [Hugs Manjack around shoulders.] Let we go, man. [Hollers to Jojo as they leave.] Jojo, we going by the club for awhile. [Manjack is smug a s she answers; they exit and lights fade.] Scene Five [Late afternoon five weeks later. Soursop and Jojo sit in the living room, Soursop reading a newspaper , Jojo reading a novel . Jojo puts her book away and goes to the front window. She looks longingly outside , shakes her head in the negative , and returns to the living room. She goes to the stereo, briefly scans the tape collection, selects "Pikey's Waltz " and puts it into the machine but does not play it. She turns to Soursop.] Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: I really miss Josie . I know you must miss Manjack. [Without looking up from his paper] The sea does miss water? The desert does miss dirt? You ain ' t tired lie?
Marvin E. Williams Soursop: [Laughing] Of course I miss he ... and, at the risk of getting on your jealous side, I miss Josie too. [They laugh.] The honeymoon must be sweet them. Tain't one week they say they was going for? Tis bout twelve days they gone now. Jojo: So I see you been counting too. Since they wedding I can't get this waltz out my head. [She puts the song on and dances for a few seconds while Soursop buries himself in the paper.] Don't bother hide. Come waltz with mey, man. Soursop: [Almost under his breath] SusChrist, man. Manjack harass ing me even in absentia . [He gets up and, with a wide grin, joins Jojo and they dance for about twenty or so seconds with music up. Music falls but stays on as they continue.] You remember how we tear this waltz up at the wedding? Jojo: Why you think I can't get it out mey head? [They laugh.] What ah Manjack. You had see he when they was repeating the wedding vows? Soursop: [He disengages from Jojo and mimicks.] I don't do. Don' t. I mean do. Jojo: And the man hand them been trembling so much. [Demonstrates] I don't know how he get the ring on Josie finger. Soursop: Poor feller. He darn near stab up her finger to put on the thing. Jojo: But Josie dress was beautiful though. And they really had look good together. [Soursop nods his agreement.] And the reception was a real fete. Manjack ain't play like he could throw ah party. The man full of surprises. Soursop: Roast goat and rum for spite . I smuggle out ah half case of scotch with the champagne we been drinking like royalty for darn near two weeks now. The scotch dey out in the car. You want some? Jojo: No, but I gon take some of the champagne . [Soursop goes to kitchenette and gets champagne and glasses while Jojo picks back up her dance.] Soursop: [Pours the liquor.] You had notice how Manjack was thirsty-thirsty to join the fellers at the trough but Josie won't let he? Jojo: [Takes glass.] No, man. I was too busy boogieing, roasting ah time. Trashing back and backing trash talk with trash . [They laugh and clink glasses.] 251
252 Seasoning for the Mortar Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Jojo: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Jojo: Manjack: Soursop: Jojo: Man jack: Jojo: Man jack: Jojo: Man jack: Jojo: Man jack: Soursop: Well, everytime Manjack make ah note toward the trough, Josie buckle her arm in his and drag he close. And though she pulling he hard nobody ain't notice because she steady smiling up in the guest them face meanwhile and saying "Glad allyu come." She had method, you check? That's my sister. [They kiss glasses and drink.] [Returning to his seat with the champagne] She only release he when it was time to leave for the honeymoon. [Sits on Soursop's lap; wistfully] Old San Juan. Honey, when last we take ah trip? I longing for ah second honey moon . [Stands, pulls her up.] Well, this house so empty and quiet, it come like we have ah "no disturb" sign on our front door. Let we go to the honeymoon suite. It calling. [Lifts her towards bedroom as Manjack approaches the house and bangs on the door.] Soursop, why you got this place batten down like you expecting hurricane? Open the damn door. Shit. The bedroom calling, but Manjack calling harder. [He puts her down and they hurry to answer the door.] Manjack, allyu back! Where Josie? No hello, sir dog. Just where Josie. And people under the impression allyu is my friend. [He walks past the couple into the living room. They trail behind him.] The honeymoon certainly ain't cut your shit. How things, man? [The men hug.] Not to break up this lovefeast, but where Josie? Home? Yes, the queen has claimed the throne in my castle. Her majesty say she will grace your doormat later as she has a ton-load of man mess to clear from her palace. I took the opportunity to haul ass. [They all laugh as the men sit.] So how was the honeymoon? Josie say it's over. Be serious, nuh, man. How it went? The story waits to be told. I wasting my time here. I going by mey sister. Knock allyu self out. [She picks up purse and keys and leaves.] Where the rum? We been drinking champagne.
Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Marvin E. Williams Repeating for the near deaf: Where the rum? [Laughing as he goes into kitchenette for a bottle of rum] Okay, brother, rum coming up. [Stands, paces. Soursop returns and pours two shots. Manjack downs his quickly, takes the bottle from Soursop, and pours out an even larger portion for himself. He takes a healthy swallow as Soursop, intrigued, retires to his seat to observe an increasingly agitated Manjack.] To steady mey nerves. That last shot could make a bull bassidy. [Suddenly stops pacing and sits next to Soursop.] Oh Lawd, Soursop, Josie sweet but she change already, man. She change too bad. Sus Christ, man. I particularly ask you bout married life and your ass only been there making joke and acting ignorant. [Amused.] The honeymoon was a big success then. [Manjack sucks his teeth.] Hold on, man. Cool your heels. Cool out. What you talking about? I talking bout the fact that Josie blackmail mey love; the fact that Josie lie down next to mey in that hotel in Old San Juan, playing that bitch Lysistrata, and won't let me touch her until I agree to all kinda assishness. So she make you understand Greek . [Laughs.] You laughing like ah idiot, but this thing serious. Woman too damn devious you see them there. She had mey at her mercy but she wasn't merciful at all. She lie down naked in ah black see-through negligee, acting sexy-sexy, purring like ah cyat but when I meow back she won't let me touch her. She won't let me touch her although I been swearing mey love for her and begging her, sweetheart, to please return to her senses. [Enjoying this] So what she make you agree to? [Gives him drink which he gulps down.] She say like she is some bigtime judge or somebody, that from now henceforth I was to treat her civil and not presume that I could boss her around because tis woman she name and she ain't plan to put up with that kinda oldtime nonsense. Then she stop to purr and snarl. [Laughs.] Have another drink, man. Stop talking shit. 253
254 Seasoning for the Mortar Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Man jack: Soursop: Manjack: Soursop: Laugh. [Takes bottle, puts it to his lips, and slugs.] The woman purr, meow, and snarl. Then she say she is my pussycat and my behavior gon determine what kind of cyat I gon get. She say furthermore if I ever dare try anything like bossing she around she gon show me drill sargeant. [Snapping heels together.] Tention! Keep piassing. She say she got as much right as any man, and the fact of the matter is she ain't approve of her husband drinking rum like it was water. [Swigs, grimaces, wipes mouth and gives Soursop the bottle.] Watch your rass, bwoy. [Waves it off.] Moreover, if I think I gon be liming every minute with you I lie and all kinda shit like that she make me agree to. Then the real purring start. To hell with you. Tis your damn wife what put all this lime in her head and make her sour. And although she still sweet like what, she lil more bitter than I expect. A match made in heaven. But the worse thing she plan to do ... Sop, I can't tell you why. [Laughs sheepishly.] The worse thing she have plan for mey is ah pet name. MOUSIE. That crazy woman want to call mey "Mousie" in public. You see mey predicament? What predicament? [Sings as lights fade and Manjack glares.] "Be ah mouse to be ah man; let the woman stand hand in hand; only ah damn jackass don't understand."
256 Seasoning for the Mortar Susan Brown (See biography on page 169) Days of Rum and Locusts "Food before aesthetics." Bertolt Brecht We had just thrown the seeds from our breakfast papaya into the bush below our house at Butler Bay and were still hungry when the shout came: Look Look Let me see Jemesee Jemesee. The children battled for the binoculars kept ready to spot any movement on the horizon. At 17o north of the equator, on the west end of St. Croix, far north of Frederiksted town, we faced a long sky stretched above the sea with very little movement upon it, though we once saw a huge spouting whale , and the occasional cruise ship moved across the horizon like a paper toy. Inter-island ships were few and small. We ate and drank that which was on the island or in its waters: local lobster, grouper, jack, or goat, beef, yam, tania, papaya, mango, coconut. We drank milk from local cows, rum from sugar cane, and once in a great while came the luxury of something else when the shout rang out, Mom, Mom, the Alcoa ' s comin! Alcoa! In the 1960's , the Aluminum Company of America's ship steamed through the Caribbean stopping at small islands, and on the long ago morning of the children's shout, we watched the Alcoa turn from the horizon and aggressively head toward our island, St. Croix. I still remember things that came to us on the Alcoa: pipes, bath room fittings, stoves, refrigerators, books, dusting powder, magazines,
Susan Brown perhaps a small red tricycle or Christmas chocolates frozen in the hold, school shirts and bed sheets from the Sears catalogue , but best of all, the Alcoa brought meat, aged American meat. With the ship still a speck on the horizon, I grabbed my shoes, dug in the freezer for the lump of cash kept behind a bag of green peas, charged the Land Rover into life, bounced it down the rough hill road, turned left at the baobab tree, ran fast on the sea road in an exhilarating race trying to beat the Alcoa to the dock. The ship became visible between branches of the golden shower trees, grew bigger and bigger as it neared land, finally, in its enormity, seemed to rise above the road itself and ride in the flowering branches. But I was stalled in the road by a herd of goats. The children jumped past the goats, ran toward the already ringing school bell while I beat my fists against the horn, screamed indignities to the already confused goats, and inched past. By the time I reached town, people stood in the street in front of #86 Queen, waiting for Mr. Alcano Francis to unbar the four green doors of his butchery. Patiently, everyone waited. The doors stayed shut. . .15 minutes ... 20 ... 30. My head hurt; I forgot to wear a hat. Sweat trick led down my back. Then half of a double door opened. Mr. Francis stepped outside, held up his hand and we waited while he fitted long iron door hooks into rings set in the stone-wall. Suddenly, all four doors opened, exposing the entire butcher shop and its contents to the street, to wind, to dust, to people, to a disturbance of dogs all surging forward in a powerful wave; but Mr. Francis, white apron tied around his sturdy body, his face beaming with excitement, was already positioned behind his counter, his cleaver held high and ready. Two assistant butchers guarded the back wall which was swathed in a mantle of animal flesh. A massive bull, painfully bare, his pinky white body speared onto an enormous hook beside smaller, less ago nized looking carcasses of lamb, of pork, lengths of ribs. Overhead fans shook. The jammed butchery was already hot, pungent with the scent of animal blood, the sweat of humans pushing and shoving and shouting above the whine of the saw cutting through bone, the cleaver smacking out pieces of meat. Suet flew from a hatchet, bones cracked apart and the primitive smell of raw meat overwhelmed me. Voices rose above voices arguing for their share: Cut it so. No man, I done cut it already. You don take it, somebody else want it. 257
258 Seasoning for the Mortar You don charge me more? I take it man. OK And without missing a beat, Mr. Francis slashed, wrapped meat, handed the customer a ticket, wiped his hands on his already blood messed apron and sang across to me, Come, Missis. He knew I had a pocketful of cash. He knew what I wanted. Every Saturday, when I bought local meat in his shop, I asked him about the Alcoa, double checking against its posting on the wall of the hardware store. Come, Missis, come. Mr. Francis shouted impatiently. I leaned into the crowd, gained the counter and watched him carefully unwrap the full carcass of a well aged American pig. Like a sculptor at his stone, Mr. Francis carved out the roast and chops he knew my family longed for. Dogs of various lineage eased into the store. I sidestepped the men's boots, kicking the dogs away and retreated to a corner, watched an elegantly tall woman in straw hat and head tie expertly pull out a machete embedded in a big stem of plan tains hung on a stout rope knotted over the rafter. She whacked off what she needed and with a decisive slash, returned the machete to the stem. Ineptly, I grasped the handle. The woman took it from my hand, sucked her teeth in light-hearted derision, cut plantains for me, invited me to return the blade to the stem, and laughed at my feebleness to do so. Over a mound of sawdust covered with burlap sacks, women picked loose yams and tanias, dropped them into folds of their skirts. I dropped tanias in my basket to later make a kind of soup I'd heard about, and for good measure, took five big yams. I liked being in the butcher shop; it was gemiitlich, a German word for a good-natured, cozy hubbub, an atmosphere which touched back to butcher shops of my New Jersey childhood. On St. Croix, we were known as a white, "continental" family from the United States, outsiders, if you will, not born on the island. My hus band was known for his independent historical questioning and his dig ging in fields for artifacts. Our children attended St. Patrick's School in Frederiksted, taught by coifed and starched, ruler-wielding nuns from Belgium, tuition five dollars a month per child. I was recognized as the lady who sat on street curbs and drew pictures of houses, bought john ny cakes and guava tarts at the (then National) Bakery and bought local
Susan Brown meat at Mr. Francis' butcher shop. It was evident I had a family to feed , and the need for food brought me into the midst of the butcher shop this day along with bank tellers, ribbon clerks, house maids, field work ers, firemen, the street sweeper, a seamstress I knew, restaurant work ers, the postmaster's wife, all of them anxious as I for the taste of aged American meat. The butcher's wife watched from inside a small booth crested with Victorian cutwork. A handsome, dark eyed woman with long fingered hands, she greeted me, scooped up the cash I pushed under the grilled window. Her fine gold bracelets moved up and down her arms as she clicked out a ticket on a brass encrusted register, turned aside, hand wrote a receipt which I, besotted with success, waved high overhead as I pushed through the crowd calling, Excuse, 'scuse, good morning, 'scuse please, and finally reached Mr. Francis at the counter and claimed my paper wrapped pig. There were other places I could go for meat (though not Alcoa meat, which came in only at Frederiksted's deep water dock). In Christiansted, nine miles across the island, Mr. Rasmussen's big gro cery had icy food bins full of frozen local goat legs knocking chunks of fresh, unaged pig, or heavily salted hams that needed to be soaked for days. He had clean, shiny tins of Danish ham, packages of unaged beef from local cattle. (Chicken, by the way, was a rare treat. Chickens were private prop erty, in backyards or wandering the street. I recall seeing beautiful, free roaming onyx feathered roosters, fat brown hens, but soon learned every fowl, including the occasional waddling Muscovy duck, belonged to someone. To get fresh chicken, I had to wait until Mr. Bischoff's eggproducing hens, housed in insanely noisy henneries up Mahagony Road , hidden behind prize-winning hibiscus bushes , became exhausted from egg-laying; and when an end was put to them, Mr. Bischoff let me know and I would dash up the road for a dead chicken, dash home again and make a fricassee). In the long gaps between chicken fatigue and visits of the Alcoa, I fed the family on local beef bought from Mr. Francis's Frederiksted butcher shop. I didn't want to go far from the West-end where we lived ; I didn't know mid-island cattle, saw them only from a distance, in the hills, noble brown animals accompanied by skinny-legged white egret tick-birds. West-end cattle were smaller, less leather bodied, more famil iar. Close to home they roamed, attended by their own regiments of 259
260 Seasoning for the Mortar tick cleansing birds. I saw them every day in roadside fields I passed on the way to school, got to know the cattle like old friends, always there. It was on Thursdays I had to be careful, speeding along the narrow sea road, coming suddenly upon and unable to pass Mr. Francis' slow-mov ing blue, slat-sided truck filled with moaning, rocking cattle on the way to the abattoir, for I knew I would meet them again, in another guiseand soon. The butcher's routine was unwavering; Thursday, slaughter. Friday, worker's payday. Saturday, butcher shop open, one day only. It is an abstraction to buy meat dead cold and shrink wrapped, as in today's supermarkets. It was another thing for me to follow meat live, on the hoof, on the road to slaughter. Saturday's meat was indeed that of the moaning cattle in the blue truck. In the butcher shop, the very new meat vibrated, seemed to pulse on the paper as Mr. Francis hefted my portion onto the scale. Newly butchered meat does not hold together well and it continued to pulse at home, in the kitchen, in the bowl. Neither salt nor onion restrained the meat. It was not runny, but was very wet and slippery, difficult to han dle until one day, a woman I had often seen in the butcher shop told me about the oatmeal. 'Trow it in. Raw oatmeal. It hold the new meat for you. Make a shape. Season it. Season it good. As an afterthought, she nodded toward the house across from the butcher shop and repeated, Season it good. She thus endowed me with an important bit of information earned after more than a year buying, being seen, and being remembered in the butcher shop. I tried the oatmeal and meat mixture, but it seemed dry and had a dull smell, yet I kept using the combination because it seemed to make the children strong, which I believe was true in part, because the meat, filled with fresh blood (long a symbol of the life source) was also doused with a handful of seasoning made of rock salt and local herbs I bought from a lady who sold locusts. The sale of locusts was posted on a piece of cardboard nailed to the house across from the butcher shop which, by a nod, had been indicat ed as the place to buy seasoning. I reached up to the porch rail, bought two jars at 25 each, went home and liberally spooned herb-locust sea soning out of the old jam jars in which it was packed. I hoped the new meat would gain an exotic flavor. In two weeks, I had used up both jars of seasoning and decided to buy ten more, just to have it handy. The lady of the locusts leaned over her porch rail and asked:
Susan Brown Eh eh, Missis, you like my seasoning? Oh yes, I replied. I use it on the meat. The ground up locust wings and bodies seem to hold Mr. Francis' new meat together, and give it a good taste. The woman peered into my face, leaned back and howled: Owe, Missis. Locust? Locust? She looked over the rail at her card board sign, Locust, Locust be the name of carob pods. They seeds carry pulp you eat. . . I sell carob pods, not locust bugs! Doubled with laugh ter, she stumbled into her house. I told no one. The pulverized winged locust of my mind had long ago entered the herb seasoning and there it stayed, a convenient myth around which to spin stories to enhance the strange tasting meat until it was completely devoured and rewarded with a washdown of Cruzan Rum dolloped in a child's cup of powdered milk. The excellent locust seasoning proved itself on new meat, on scrambled eggs, on chicken hot, chicken cold, even Alcoa pork was sea soned with seasoning, then served with canned sauerkraut, fried plan tains, mashed yams and, to clear the palate, a cool slice of papaya. Of course, it's all changed now. Gone, the Alcoa sightings, gone, the butcher shop, the abattoir. Supermarkets are standard and well stocked. Everything is available on the island today. But, lording it over all foodstuffs, stronger than ever, is local "locust" seasoning. Not found on supermarket shelves, you must search for it. The search is to enjoy the island of St. Croix. 261
262 Seasoning for the Mortar Marvin E. Williams (See biography on page 32) A Stranger's Homecoming The sirens that broke through the loud spray of water did not con cern me. Strange, and I noted it then, but in my three-day visit, I had adjusted to their New York City frequency and persistence. Strange because this was Frederiksted, St. Croix. Stranger still because I had accepted them and their implications. It was a far cry from my youth when fire sirens, themselves sparse, blared more often than those of the police. I had often bragged to my friends in the States that as a kid I had lived in relative bliss until I left the island for college. The absence of sirens underscored that. I continued my shower and then dressed, strapped my cowhide carrying case on my left shoulder, and climbed over the front porch gates to the yard. A vicious growl, snapping of teeth, and a harsh bark then yelp drew my attention to two emigrant dogs who fought to stake out feeding territory in my mother's yard. The thinner of the two, the female, tucked her tail between her hind legs and scampered out the yard to the safety of the dry weeds and shrubs that buried the once man icured lawn of a neighboring house. I sympathized with her plight, and on impulse, marched to the back of the house and chased the overly aggressive male out of the yard. Later I would make sure that the female got the lion's share of my scraps. The heat of the sun penetrated my garments to hug and squeeze me like a bodysuit that with time might become a straight jacket. Sweat had already began to drench my t-shirt. My God, I thought as I lifted my arms to increase the ventilation, it was only ten in the morning. A quick gush of wind rattled the parched pods in a neighbor's half-living flamboyant tree. A withered limb staggered briefly in the breeze and fell, cracking in three pieces on the hard ground. I recalled that earlier
Marvin E . Williams that morning, like every morning since my return, the sky had worn its rain face. Dark brooding clouds had drifted together like a flock of graceful crows whose gathering, at least for me, formed an image of impending doom. But within minutes, it seemed, the clouds cleared and floated like white gaulins, no less ominous in some hinterland of my folk mind. Dust whirled up from the panting dirt road, some of it lodging in my nostrils. A brand new jeep swung around the curve hidden behind the dense though drab foliage on the right side of the road, sending another regiment of dust swirling into the air and my face. A clack of transistorized voices jerked my eyes to the bare hills. Eight or more police vehicles were stacked one behind the other, their blue and white metal giving disquieting color to the drab terrain. No wonder I heard all those sirens, I thought, as I crossed from the dirt unto the paved road that led to the main highway. A civilian car was parked on the side of the road and the owner stood behind the opened front door to the passenger seat looking with bemusement at the frenetic activity above. What's going on? I asked him. Some of them boy rob a bank minutes ago and they abandon the getaway car in the vicin ity. Probably Fiazon and he partner them, the civilian said with a touch of boredom and disgust. It became clear to me through the man's attitude that this kind of crime had become commonplace. I moved a few yards up from the man and continued to observe the spectacle. Less than two minutes later a police ranger cruised down the hill, the officer seemingly scanning the area for the bank robbers. As the vehicle drew closer I was surprised to see that the driver was a young white cop. A day before I had noticed a white man pumping gas in a mid-island gas station and a young white woman selling ornate beads and shells and other crafts by Sunny Isle shopping center. But white cops? There was something troubling about that. I thought about the relationship between white policemen and the black community upstate, and I shuddered. How many of them were there here? I won dered. In any case, I assured myself, they can't pull the same bullshit down here. Not here. The ranger pulled to my side of the road and stopped about ten yards away from me. With walkie-talkie in his left hand and right hand hidden below the slowly opening door , the cop signaled me over. I felt no real fear as I approached the vehicle ; nonetheless my white cop-black man antennae shot up. What the hell did he want from me? This was 263
264 Seasoning for the Mortar home, I had done nothing, I was on my way to accept a literary prize at the university and to see old friends. The man simply wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything. Obviously. But then the cop, eyes riveted on me, his right hand unbuttoning the strap to his holstered gun, began radioing in a description of me: "I have a tall black male about six foot four here, carrying a leather bag and wearing ... " I panicked and heard but did not hear the rest of the description. I saw the still holstered gun clutched tightly in the cop's right hand and I shook visibly. What the hell was going on here? Had I come home to be killed by a white cop who had mistaken my identity? I wished that the cop had a black partner, a native, someone whom I knew and who knew me. But would any of the seemingly very young cops on the beat or any of them involved in this manhunt recognize me anymore if ever they did? Still, a black ... native policeman would be more reassuring. "Do you mind opening your bag?" came with cool authority, pre tending to be a question. Do you mind telling me why? crossed my mind, but I stifled the question when the officer lifted the weapon an inch or so out of its holster. I began to unbuckle the belts to the bag and my hands shook wildly, mostly in terror but partly because I kept my eyes glued to the gun and so could not see what I was doing. And even as I fumbled to open the case I plotted desperate strategies should the nightmare happen. I could slam the car door against the cop's body, knock him off balance, then relieve him of his gun and waste the bul lets on his racist rass. I could fling the relatively heavy bag through the door's open window and knock the gun free of the cop's hand, retrieve it, and pepper his ass with he own bullet them. I could not read the cop's thoughts, not really. There was a touch of not exactly fear in his blue eyes; there certainly was no hate, no attitude beyond caution and confidence that bordered on cockiness (because he doubted that I was a real danger?). I was not sure that I liked that; and I hope, without dar ing to look around, that the civilian was closely monitoring all of this. Why won't another cop come to give this man support. .. before he panic or something and shoot me? I wondered. I finally got the case open and I extended it to the officer's gaze, somehow shuffling the contents to reveal much paper and several small books. The cop seemed satisfied, but even as I secured the case with trembling hands he did not take his steady hand from his revolver. Just before I turned to walk away, as far and as quickly away from the scene as I could, the cop in his still calm and commanding manner asked
Marvin E. Williams almost as an afterthought: "You have any ID?" Shit, I thought, what's wrong with this white man? What he want from me? But I said weakly, "Yes, in the bag." He motioned that he wanted to see it. So once again I unstrapped the case, this time reaching into it (was the cop set ting me up to shoot me? Had some prankster earlier put something incriminating, marijuana or crack or something in my bag?) and extracting my wallet with my free hand. I held the wallet out and the cop, still refusing to let go of the weapon, tried to open it with his walkie-talkie hand. After a few futile attempts to flip the wallet open, he commanded, "You open it." I tucked the semi-bulging case under my left arm and with insanely dancing fingers opened the wallet. Shit. Small pictures of my daughters slipped into the plastic holder and covered my face on the Cornell University faculty ID card. For some reason this added to my fright and increased the frenzy in my fingers' dance. "Why are you so nervous?" the cop asked, his tone softening but his determination unwavering. "Because you have your hand on your gun and I don't know you," I blurted out. "Well, we can't take any chances. The guys who robbed the bank are carrying uzis and other semiautomatic weapons. We can't take any chances with weapons like those," he reiterated. "The man just doing he job, young man. He gotto check," the civil ian's voice came from behind me to remind me that my witness was still there. Fuck you, I thought. Why he got to search me and why he threatening to pull his gun on me? Your servile rass talking shit because tain't you going through this bullshit. I finally freed my children's pictures from the face of my photograph and offered it to the cop's view. The officer nodded his satisfaction, then said, "Sorry to scare you so much, but we have to be thorough." I said nothing, but a collage of emotions attacked me-relief, fear that lingered, humiliation, and anger. I had never really considered what my reaction would be if once again, as happened on the interstate highway outside of New York City, I was accosted by a policeman-espe cially a white one-for no good reason. The cop drove away, still scanning the dry thicket. I closed my bag, exhaled, and attempted to steady my nerves with a cigarette. I remained pissed with the civilian, although now that the crisis was over I could accept the logic and reasonableness of the man's words . But 265
266 Seasoning for the Mortar surely the man could have somehow intervened, told the cop that I, Marvin Williams, born and raised in St. Croix, a lecturer at Cornell University, was obviously not one of the culprits. Didn't my scholarly demeanor, my dress, my bearing speak eloquently to my innocence? But I was a stranger to both men, I was forced to admit; and on a besieged island all strangers are suspect. I got out of the taxibus in front of the Williams Library in Christiansted and decided to check out its collection. The front door was boarded up and the sign on it said one could get in through the entrance in the back yard. Inside was dark, stuffy and crowded with books seemingly stacked haphazardly everywhere. I was one of the only three or so patrons, and I noticed that there were few employees. The building itself still wore the damages dealt by Hurricane Hugo almost four years earlier. Where was the Virgin Islands or Caribbean section? I asked myself. I located an employee and put the question to her. She was sorry, she said, but that collection, housed on the second floor, was virtually wiped out by the hurricane. It would take years to build it back up, and even then there were rare items that could never be recovered. Without actually planning to go there, I found myself walking by Jeltrup's Bookshop and entered it, and then on Company Street went into a black-owned variety shop with an impressive collection of arts and crafts. I brought carvings of two female figures in supplication or self-contemplation. Suddenly I felt a presence behind me, eyes probing me. Without quite stopping, I turned sidewise and saw two policemen sitting in a squad car which stood semi-hidden at an intersection. They were star ing at me, sizing me up. I turned back to my path focusing on main taining a steady pace, struggling to depress my earlier fright that had once again begun to rise up in me. Several yards later I took a furtive glance, and when I saw the squad car moving extremely slowly in my direction, it was all that I could do to keep from making a mad dash down the street. But reason told me that running would implicate me in a crime I didn't have any part in. Okay, maybe I looked like one of the suspects, but how many times would I have to run the risk of some trigger happy cop shooting me? Then the thought occurred to me to go into a store and have somebody print me a t-shirt that read "Tain't Me Rob the Bank." In spite of myself the thought made me chuckle. The car had still not overtaken me and my fear was turning to anger. Just as I was about to confront the cops, a young woman , dressed
Marvin E. Williams in near rags and hungry looking, crossed from the other side of the street and called to me: "Mister, you could give me one of your ciga rettes?" I had not even been aware that I was smoking, but now without answering I proffered the pack of Newport to her. I glanced up at the cops and I could read something in their eyes that told me that my interaction with the young woman removed me from their suspicion. "Take a couple of them," I told her as the cops drove by. She thanked me and accepted my offer of a light. She smiled, exposing brownish damaged teeth, and returned to where she had come from. With my unease revived, I decided to hurry to the University and my friend Johnette where it would be relatively safe. She was waiting for me on the couch outside her office; her wide smile reassured and steadied me. We drove the narrow, bumpy, unpaved road to her house, chatting about the state of the island but feeling, remembering again the powerful emotions that locked us together in our youth. We noticed little things-that we had never prepared a meal for each other; that in our first tentative steps back toward each other the outer layer of our complicated masks revealed two people who had not changed in fundamental ways; that though I could remember almost every significant detail of our earlier life and times, she had forgotten almost everything except the "care" for me that remained smoldering within her; that we had become so mature and clearly we understood nothing about life back then; that our cropping strands of gray hair could not pretend to tell us how old we felt; that we brought a welcomed peace, almost an indispensable serenity, to each other. And as we basked in the rays of our company, I peeked in on the myriad inner layers of my mask and concluded that every man is an island though his waters must visit the continent, touch the main. We ate a steak dinner she prepared and after cleaning the kitchen we retir ed to the porch. I told her that she had a beautiful view of the island and naively surmised that since she lived in a spot pretty difficult to get to, she must be tolerably safe from the burglars I had been hear ing and reading so much about. To date her house had been burglar ized three times , in spite of guard dogs, some of which were murdered in the process, and she had lost most of her jewelry. At present she was in no hurry to replace various stolen items for she would just be sup plying the thieves. She described the initial shock and feeling of viola tion when she first returned home to find her house broken into and personal valuables taken. But she had grown accustomed to the thiev-267
268 Seasoning for the Mortar ery, the vandalism, although they left her no less angry and frustrated. Johnette's resignation and near acceptance of these violations amazed me. I asked myself: having lived my entire life in another St. Croix and an Ithaca whose safety and slow pace matched it, could I bring myself to live in what appeared to be an advancing concrete jungle where one's well-being was a function of stupid chance? As the night wore on we spoke of warmer, less depersonalizing things-where fortune and decisions had taken us; what relationships and pitfalls we had engaged in; whether our breaking up had been wise; what type of truce, if any, we could forge toward a reconciliation; whether that would be wise given our vulnerability. In any case the con versation was a sun, however muted by the clouds of pain and distances, that had me sprouting towards its nurturing heat. And more immedi ately if not more, our cocooning exchange provided a cover from the onslaught of ruptures that had left my sensibilities punch-drunk and reeling. We would give us more thought, but now she had to drop me to the Golden Rock Shopping Center to get a taxi before it was too late . Moments after Johnette left following the last of our many unsuc cessful good-byes, I knew we had lingered in our need too long. The plaza whose activities had earlier been brisk was now unsettlingly quiet. And now I recalled with a certain anguish that a few seconds before we were able to pull ourselves from each other, I had seen a taxibus enter the plaza and waited briefly until several passengers got on. I looked at my watch and found to my dismay that it was now 10:45. Some min utes later most of the lights went out in Pueblo Supermarket, the only store still open, and the last batch of customers and employees had begun to leave the plaza. Shortly thereafter the plaza was bare save for a young man in his late teens or early twenties and myself. What appeared to be the night manager and one or two security people sat talking leisurely in the lighted front of the store, but their presence could not still my inflating fear. A brand new Mazda with tinted glasses partially rolled down and a boombox blasting out a reggae dub circled the plaza. It stopped momentarily across from me so that its two young male occupants could get a closer look at me. I felt myself begin to shake, perhaps imperceptibly, as they lingered; I breathed out relief when they raced away with tires screeching. I thought to myself, they going come back. Where were the frigging taxis? A patrol car entered the shopping cen ter and traced the route of the Mazda, the two officers giving me a
Marvin E . Williams steady gaze. I could not decide which twosome I preferred, for both menaced me with their surveillance, and my earlier run-in with the police gave me little faith in their ability to see me as anything but a suspect. I knew they too would be back. A taxi cruised in the circle bearing hope of a possible reprieve. But the driver hardly paused to look at me and the young man who walked over from his perch at the mouth of the plaza with unmistakable alacrity. Shit , he must have said with me. Feeling a sort of fraternity or seeking to forge one to silence our unease , we nodded hello. Then he asked, "How far you going?" "Whim," I said , and thought I detected a look of pity in his eyes. He smiled like someone who knew their lot was much better than some unfortunate soul's and said, "I going William's Delight, meyson." I didn't think he was that much better off than me. But as if to answer my thought he explained: "I taking a bus to Grove and then I walking if I gotto." With that he ambled back to his roost, leaving me to con template whether I should adopt the same approach. No, I told myself for the present, I couldn't do that. My God, how could I? Everyone who cared to speak on it had said that Grove Place was a drug haven and a virtual shooting gallery. No, I would hold out in the plaza as long as I could. Then? Another boomboxer, this time a Suzuki, came into the plaza and repeated the earlier pattern . Only this time I noticed that the guy in the passenger seat seemed to be paying particular attention to my carrying case. By reflex I shifted it to the other side of my body. I could have sworn the guy gave my effort a bemused and threatening smile. As they sped off I gave my fraternity brother a quick glance in time to see his body relax with their leaving. This was not good. It was not merely my paranoia that was pestering me. This young man, an islander who as yet had probably not left home for an extended time, was scared stupid. This was underscored by his soliloquy which I overhead: "Meyson, what I doing out yah this time ah night? I must be crazy. Not me out this late without a ride again." This really was more than I could take. I simply had to do something, had to get the hell out this circle before I got myself shot by cops or robbers . I thought of walking to downtown Christiansted to the waterfront taxi stand. Perhaps it would be easier to display my badge of good citizenship (my demeanor?) under light. I would keep that as an option, but right now I didn't think it wise to walk such a distance alone. 269
270 Seasoning for the Mortar Another taxibus drove in and, happily, it stopped. The driver rolled down his window. He was going only as far as Sunny Isle. I walked away dejected though not at all surprised. I told my frat brother, who asked, what the driver had said. Two more boomboxing cars entered and cir cled the plaza, and I suddenly admitted that their sound frightened me, announced the approach of torment if not doom. Then it occurred to me to call my oldest sister who lived nearby in Catherine's Rest. And I had to do so quickly before Pueblo closed altogether . The managers trusted my appearance enough to let me use the phone, and I dialed her number with slightly trembling fingers. "Paulette," I said as she picked up the phone, "this Marvin. I by Pueblo up from you. It dark, police and young hoodlum types steady eyeing me, and this morning self a cop damn near pull he gun on me over the bank robbery, and ain't look like no taxi want to stop, and I terrify. So I was wondering if you could pick me up." I can't remember whether she laughed, but perhaps she didn't, given the desperation I must have sounded. She would be there directly to pick me up in her husband's truck. Did I want to sleep over by their house until the next day? "Paulette, if you ain't mind I rather go by Mammy. After all what hap pen today that's the only place I could sleep easy, feel at home. I know it sound crazy but tis true." She said she understood and that she would be there soon. During the drive to our mother's house I related my ordeal to Paulette in detail. Laughing, she told me that not only must I have looked like one of the suspects sought in the robbery, but that my bag also gave the cops cause to question me. Apparently many young men operating outside the law carried the tools of their trade, guns and drugs, in similar cases. She felt that my unknown identity as well as the case drew hoodlum types' interest as well. Was I a drug dealer or an undercover cop? My skin prickled at the thought of being caught between lawmen and hitmen. I wanted no part of either group. For the rest of my stay I would leave my cowhide bag at home away from the too preoccupied gazes of the combatants. At noon two days later I caught a taxibus into Grove Place to visit a friend who served as a counselor in a post-Hugo relief and rehabilita tion center. Since she was busy I decided to explore the immediate environment. I would go further but it was impressed upon me that crack lords had taken over the village and were not playing to shoot
Marvin E. Williams strangers. Indeed recently a sort of town meeting had been called as irate residents intended to reclaim their neighborhood from the drug pushers and users. The organizers invited one of the leading narcotics agents to help them plot strategy. Not long into the meeting some of the drug runners busted into the premises and fired a volley of shots at the narc who barely escaped with his life. This story returned to rein in my desire to wider explore the neighborhood. I took the narrow footpath behind the building and wandered about thirty yards in until I came upon a housing project that checked my progress. Perhaps it was simply that I had recently arrived from the States, but the project conjured up images of crack dens and violence. From this distance I observed the seemingly normal, even mundane, activities of mothers caring for their young children, one or two groups of lovers (unemployed?) holding hands and strolling about, older peo ple looking over their porches, a few chickens scratching about for snacks. I reversed my field, passed the center, and crossed the street to stand under an expansive, dry tamarind tree bereft of fruit or foliage . In spite of the tree's barrenness and with a reflex I thought dead, my mouth began to water with the memory of sour tamarind I often ate and bitter tamarind leaves I sometimes chewed as a mouthwash. I surveyed the grounds beneath the tree and wondered about the mounds of soda and beer cans, the bottles that mixed in with a welter of paper and torn cardboard boxes. Had this always been the norm and I was simply seeing with foreign, critical eyes? Had the island always been on a headlong dash to become an inner city, gagging with decay, gushing with life, and making me want to holler? Or had my remem brances been so selective and skewed? I took out my notebook and wrote: Memory is a curious museum whose artifacts shift shapes, sizes, positions constantly. How then does one trust it? One trusts the pas sions it provokes if not the details it provides. Memory is intimate dis tance, the past as hearth or horror. I slapped the notebook shut and returned it to my satchel. For me the hearth had become horror. And it was those imbal ances between memory in agitated stasis and the island in dynamic growth that now had me struggling to regain some semblance of bal ance. And I recalled that when I had phoned my mother to inform her that I would be home in a few days for a week's visit, there was, in her dour response, an imbalance too. But I shook it off, anchored myself in the dream/memory of the island that had nurtured so much of my 271
272 Seasoning for the Mortar poetry, the robust flora and fauna of my youth that I would return to reclaim in their totality. As I stood amid the trauma and decay of the tamarind tree, I could not accept that the island had expanded beyond my portrait of it; that it bulged with blocks of people, cars, drugs, and hustlers; that this swelling made the island of my memory shrink into drying patches of old friends whose new lives propelled me from active participant in an idyllic dream to passive observer of a nightmare that intensified with the closing of physical distance that opened spiritual distance. I could not shake the disturbing sense that I was a voyeur, stealing studied glances at a passionate, doomed orgy both perverse and erotic. Even the advice of my brother had marked me as an outsider: "Doan go where people might not know you. It dangerous." Although painful to hear and even more to accept, the warning had a visceral resonance for I myself had earlier noted in private that I seemed to know almost no one. I didn't know how long it was before I became aware of the empty beer and soda bottles exploding around me. At first the explosions seemed to come from a distance, so wrapped up was I in thought. But then they drew closer and closer, calling me to witness and perhaps dodge the dangerous shards of glass that flew up from the street in search of flesh. For a time I looked dumbfounded at the shattering mis siles not bothering to locate their source. But I wondered in a detached way what the hell was going on. Clearly it had nothing to do with me. After all, I was simply standing under a tamarind tree minding my own business, contemplating our life. Then angry voices broke through my cocoon of ignorance and dragged my gaze to about thirty-five yards up the road. A group of about ten young men, half of them wearing dread locks, flitted about below a cement court with a single basketball hoop like angry jack-spaniards raised from their nest. "Who you be?" furious, scattered voices demanded. Yes, now I remembered that when I had first crossed the road to the tree, I had noticed the men. Some of them shot hoops and the others chatted or gambled in animation around several new cars one of whose jukebox blasted reggae. "Ah seh who de fuck you be? Wha yo rass wan yah?" I turned away from the increasingly belligerent shouts and searched down the road for the object of the men's wrath. There was no one. They meant me, I realized, and became shocked and a little scared . I could say or do nothing, so I continued to gape stupidly at my enemies
Marvin E. Williams whose nest I had bumbled into. I understood that my inaction fueled their anger, but I was unable to grasp why my presence triggered their action. Several of the men, now screaming almost hysterically, ran a few yards in my direction and heaved a payload of bottles that shattered nettlingly close to me. "Wha de fuck yo doing dey? Who yo scunt be?" they bristled at my silence. And now I became mad, keeping quiet to further provoke and itch ing to fight should one of the missiles or its shrapnel hit me. Who the hell were they to try and intimidate me, dare to drive me away from any piece of this island, my island? They obviously didn ' t know me, how crazy I could get when people, for no particular reason , messed with me! Let they rass come, I steamed. But they were coming , closer and closer, to hurl their weapons and I grew steadily nervous. I recalled once again my brother ' s warning about the consequences of being an unknown. I was tempted to shout: I is Marvin Williams from West, high school basketball, football and baseball star, good stu dent, from an old Crucian family who don't play to kick ass. Who the fuck allyu be in allyu useless rass ? That's the real question. But I could see that the men were in their early to mid-twenties and so could not possibly know me-though I thought briefly that some of them might have heard about me. But shit no. I owed them no explanation , and if they rass was as bad as they playing then let them come. But they continued to come nearer, throwing as many invectives as bottles. I decided I could not possibly take on all of them without seri ously getting hurt. So I retained my silence and my dignity and strolled as if at leisure but with disdain back across the road toward the shelter under cover of an old acquaintance from the neighborhood who walked by oblivious to the attack. " Milton , what wrong with them bwoy, meyson?" I asked. But the passerby did not slow down or look in my direction. He simply said in a drug, probably alcohol, induced da z e : "Me na ah mind them bwoy, yo know. " The young men saw the exchange between Milton and me and paused. "Milton, who he be ? " they hollered at the man's retreating back. "Me na ah mind they crazy rass . " And he semi-loped from the scene locked in his own world. The last of the bottles exploded behind me as I hustled into the building , mad, humiliated, sad, and shaken. I sat in what I now considered only the relative safety of one of the small unoccupied rooms that looked out unto the street , trying to make sense of it all even as I attempted to calm down. What in the world 273
274 Seasoning for the Mortar could have provoked this attack? One could invoke the legendary Grovian "paranoia" that saw outsiders, non-Grovians, as some kind of threat, as trespassers prepared to do harm. In sports, in politics, you name it, they had a tendency to see themselves as besieged by people from the two main towns-ignored, passed over, or belittled. And I sup posed on some level their persecution complex could be explained. After all, "Grovians stupid you hear" was not an uncommon expression during my youth. But this traditional chip on the shoulder could not explain the young men's passion and-I thought I saw it for the first time-fear. And if I was right, then what could they be afraid of? Somehow without quite knowing what, my instincts told me that it had something to do with drugs. Whatever became of the Grove Place of Bull and Bread day when the village opened its doors to the island in a grand celebration that recalled the festivities commemorating the birth of the first indigenous labor union? How would crack and violence affect that come November 1st? What skewed meaning, if any meaning at all, would they give to Liberty Day? I myself should have had an uzi, I fumed. A couple of them in fact. Give back fire for fire. Clean out the drug dens, the drug lords. Teach them once and for all that it wasn't everybody who was willing to back down from them, surrender to them, throw up their hands in despair and catch the next plane to some relatively safe hamlet in the States. Give me five, six good men who ready to go to war, who ready to restore sanity to this island gone psychotic, who ready to bring back community and respect for life. Only couple weeks of training we noble vigilantes would need, then we would march out to reclaim our streets. I was mad and this fantasy gave some succor to my anger. When I entered the customs area at the airport the next day I could hug the tension, it was so voluptuous. The place was packed with cus toms agents, almost all of whom were packing their guns. Although I carried my cowhide bag on my shoulder now, it did not occur to me that I would again be seen as a suspect. Even as I got my declaration form checked at the gate, I noticed a pronounced nervousness that made me uneasy. A majority of the agents gave me furtive glances and some of them touched their pistols as if to make certain they were there. Strange. I surveyed the area quickly to see if I myself could spot anyone who seemed suspicious. I saw no one who could fit that description. It couldn't be me they were looking at, could it? No way. My unease was
Marvin E. Williams checked by my recognition of at least three of the agents, one of whom was even a distant cousin of mine. I lifted my bags over to one of the inspection stations manned by a woman. I was about to place the bags unto the stand behind which she stood when she commanded in a mixture of fear and hostility, "Put them on the ground." I almost dropped the bags in my shock. Perhaps reading my surprise as innocence, her combative posture and her features softened markedly. Many agents' eyes burned into my back. Shit, I thought, so close to escaping this nightmare and now this. "Oh hello. You get so big I didn't even recognize you," another woman officer approached from the side and said. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from many of the agents who relaxed considerably with their colleague's words to me. "I saw you on TV the other night about winning the prize," she continued, "and you were good." I think I mumbled "Thank you." I grabbed my bags and laid them on the conveyor belt as yet another woman agent, a youngish white woman, gave me an indeci pherable smile. I hate airplanes but I never looked so forward to enter ing one, nestling in its sanctuary. 275
276 Seasoning for the Mortar Erika J. Waters was formerly a professor of English at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix, and has published articles and reviews on Caribbean literature for over 25 years. She co-edited Critical Issues in West Indian Literature (1984), edited New Writing from the Caribbean (1994), co-edited Contemporary Drama of the Caribbean (2001), and was the founding editor of The Caribbean Writer. She now lives in Maine and teaches part-time at the University of Southern Maine. Traffic Lights and the Human Condition A very long time ago, a stranger came up to me at a party. "I know you," he said, shifting his paper plate of chicken leg and johnny cake, and aiming his finger at my chest. "I let you in at Centerline Road, and you didn't honk!" Embarrassed, flustered, I recognized his face and knew he was right. I had been too rushed and frustrated with the endless line of traf fic that morning. I thanked him then, and acknowledged all similar ges tures ever after. I had violated a minor but significant ritual, one that was enacted a hundred times each day on this island which at that time had only a handful of traffic lights. You drive up to a corner and stop at the stop sign and the kindly driver in the red Toyota opposite motions you to turn. Once you turn, some recognition-a wave, a honk, a flash of lights-is quite naturally expected. When I first came to St. Croix nearly 25 years ago, it was at the tail end of a massive change. Cars only became commonplace in the 60s, and there were few traffic lights. One friend remembers his childhood
Erika 1. Waters in the 1950s when there was so little traffic in Frederiksted town, that he could lie down in the middle of the street and be rarely disturbed. Christiansted was busier, but there were so few cars that the sound of a car's horn was enough to identify a driver. I have another friend whose license plate read simply "75." Then suddenly we had a four-lane super highway with as many as 10 traffic lights. Population soared with the growth of Hess Oil Refinery. Now, a generation later, there are thousands of cars and increasingly conjested intersections. We even have the occasional traf fic jam (although not as prevalent as on St. Thomas) and a rush hour worthy of a small city. Such vehicular growth has forced the replacement of yield signs and stop signs with elaborate light systems at many intersections around the island. While necessary, the addition of each and every traf fic light represents untold losses in the possibility of human contact, for in the interchange between two drivers at a stop sign, personal contact, though fleeting, occurs: eyes Jock and gestures are exchanged. Some sort of human bond is created between peoples of different back grounds, races and lifestyles. Not that there isn ' t a downside, as well, for all too often, our inter action is negative, even hostile. Drivers have shaken fists at me, shrugged exaggeratedly, and proffered various obscene gestures to indi cate, I assume, that I was either too slow or too indecisive, or simply too stupid. My fondest memory is of one man in a dented-up Nissan station wagon furiously shaking his fist at me until we were nearly on top of each other in the middle of a busy intersection. At this point, he apparently recognized me, and his fist transformed into an embarrassed wave. Even here, though, one could argue, there was valuable human contact, since I like to think that my angry friend learned something about tolerance and the deceptive anonymity of a small island. Traffic lights, however, demand no personal interchange (positive or negative), require no reliance on the kindness of strangers, whatso ever. A driver stares fixedly at the traffic light, oblivious to all other drivers and often his surroundings of coconut palms and bougainvillea as well. When the light changes, he or she simply puts foot to the pedal. A robot could do no worse. While the depersonalization of society cannot be blamed on traffic lights , their proliferation on our island has definitely paralleled the 277
278 Seasoning for the Mortar major changes here and in the United States. Traffic lights have aug mented the polarized society we have today in our island microcosm. We've all lost, some might say, a sense of broader community. Surely the extreme is the modern Western American city, like Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, streets are laid out like graph paper. Avenues of eight lanes traverse the city, and it is entirely possible, even probable, with staggered light systems, to drive 20 miles or so and never even notice another driver. It's a futuristic nightmare of automatons on the road. Connected here are the other accoutrement of a vehicular society which seem designed to further isolate and alienate drivers . Air condi tioning, once unheard of even in the tropics, is now standard equip ment. Driving in a closed little bubble, with music playing, we shut out the sounds of fellow drivers, virtually daring human contact to occur. Tinted glass, which prevents people looking into our car, ensures no human intrusion. Car telephones complete the perfect insular world. A driver with tinted windows, waiting at a stop light, listening to his CD player (not a radio with real human voices), and talking on his car phone is a million miles away from that place, totally dissociated from the here and now, is in effect his own little island-and may well epito mize the driver of the future. If one can stereotype drivers (Parisians are insane and Bostonians are trained in Paris), then Crucian drivers are considered polite even by St. Thomian standards. In days gone by, when life was slower, drivers would drive with one hand out the window, and often waved their hands wildly to warn of an impending stop, displaying an almost obsessive awareness of the driver behind. Drivers here were particularly famous for yielding to other driverswhether or not it was safe to do so . To yield to other drivers was simply good manners, the way one person might hold a door for another, or let another person enter first. I myself recently swerved and barely missed a huge mahogany tree-when a man a few cars in front of me stopped suddenly, without warning, to allow a driver to enter the main road. While such road etiquette can obviously be dangerous, it speaks volumes about how drivers relate to each other as individuals. Unfortunately, we see such manners less and less these days. In fact, a recent US News & World Report survery indicated that 71% of the population agreed that vehicular etiquette had worsened in the past 10 years. I certainly concur. But why?
Erika J. Waters For one thing, on St. Croix there are so many more cars and so many more people rushing around. Where are we rushing to, I wonder as I witness the high-speed maneuverings around me. I'm part of the mad dash as well, of course, and frequently have to force myself to take a few deep breaths and question my perceived urgency. But another reason road etiquette has deteriorated over the years is that traffic lights have removed the responsiblity for our society to communicate in a unique arena, for rich or poor, we're all equals on the roads. We need not warn the driver behind us of an oncoming stop on the East Airport Road because the traffic light can be seen overhead a quarter-mile away. We don't yield to other drivers at Five Corners in Christiansted because there's a little arrow that turns green to tell us when we must. It isn't so much that we don't care about our fellow driv ers today, but that we don't have to care. Maybe it's true, as I sometimes think when I travel this island, that the world today is divided into two types of people: those who see an upcoming red light and rush to it-only to wait-and those who slow down in anticipation. Maybe there's nothing to be done about these changes I've noticed here, except to admit that our driving styles reflect our lives and our lives have, in fact, changed. But at times I'm nostalgic for the days before the profusion of stop lights, when we waved and thanked other drivers and led slower lives. And if driving symbolizes our attitudes, I'm nostalgic for the days when our island world was one where people cared about each other, even about strangers. I've no doubt that the island is too populated and too marked by fractions now for me to meet a stranger at a party who chastises me for my manners. Besides, given the speed with which today's world goes by, he'd undoubtedly be too busy to comment. 279
280 Seasoning for the Mortar In the Aftermath of Hurricane Hugo: An Elegy for My Books First published in Belle Lettres (Spring 1991). When the roof blew off my house, I did not at first realize I would lose all my books. I was more concerned at the time whether my family would survive the storm, huddled in a storeroom in the blackest dark I have ever experienced . Instead of thinking of books, I was listening to crashing glass and bomb like thuds of splintering beams on the tile floor above our heads, our only protection from the 200 miles-per-hour winds of Hurricane Hugo. The next day, though, I found my books lying like so many bloat ed, dead fish in water and crushed glass. Some were swollen and unreadable already, and others, exposed now to the continuing drizzle, would never survive. I didn't even have a dry place to save them, and, in truth, I was too concerned with keeping my one year-old daughter away from the layer of glass that covered our floor and from the bees buzzing angrily around us, homeless now with the roof gone. I was far too horrified at the detritus of my life as it surrounded me, blown about by the one hundred or so tornadoes that had accompanied the hurri cane. In the next few days, we sifted through the debris of molding clothes, broken pottery, sodden pillows, rancid food, and bits of pieces of paper (One was inscribed, "Be my Valentine, from your loving sis ter"). By then it was dawning on me that my books, perhaps better than photo albums, tell the story of who I am-my interests, my family, my years in New York and the years spent on St. Croix, mostly as a profes sor of English at the University of the Virgin Islands. At home, in the days before Hugo, occasionally, my eyes would light on a battered copy of An Introduction to Existentialism, and I would remember the day I bought it at age fifteen, refusing a bag and carrying it with the title clearly displayed to impress passersby and subway riders alike. And there had been a copy of Ginsberg's Kaddish with my own inscription: "An Amazing Book." Also on my bookshelves were my undergraduate textbooks from NYU, shipped to St. Croix at considerable trouble and expense for no
Erika J. Waters particular reason, just to have them with me. The books I had used for my doctoral dissertation were carefully stacked there , too-l hadn't burned them as one of my fellow students had. Because I had written on the Caribbean, many had been an ordeal to acquire and were out of print. Gone, too, were my father's college texts. Detailed notes and exclamations filled the margins, often admonishing the author, citing an inaccuracy or agreeing enthusiastically. Each time I would use, for example, my father's personally annotated study of Shakespeare, the romantic image of him as an idealistic college student resembling a young Gregory Peck would appear before me. Some had my mother's bookplate in them, along with his signature, indicating they had shared that book. In the many years since their divorce, I always found com fort in that image of my young parents excitedly discussing a novel or play. Swept away by Hurricane Hugo, then, was my personal history, recorded book by book . Each bore memories of people who gave me that book or borrowed it or also loved it; or of places, a bookshop in Venice Beach, California, an antiquarian sale in Bath, England. For who are we if not our books? My collection revealed me as no mirror could. I have often thought that a good interview question would be to describe the contents of your bookshelf . All readers instinc tively know how books reveal values when they examine each other's bookshelves and respond in various degrees of approbation or horror. Who has not been shocked or disappointed to find a particular novel on the shelf of a person you thought shared your values? And because lit erature is my profession, my bookshelves represented my professional identity as well. Samuel Johnson understood that being able to find information was one kind of knowledge, and my books had been references, to re read and to study. I had foreign dictionaries, critical studies, old copies of journals. Although I didn't use my books daily, their presence gave me confidence nonetheless, not unlike, I suppose, the woman who keeps her diamonds in her safety deposit box. Without those " diamonds," to my surprise, I began to feel strange ly lacking in confidence. My books, it seems, had given me intellectu al strength, a crucial undergirding. 281
282 Seasoning for the Mortar I needed my books around me, apparently, in a visceral sense. Without them I felt strangely lonely. Many had been peering out at me behind faded and torn covers for over twenty years; they were familiar faces. I wanted my huge Random House Dictionary, my smart, leather bound poems of Oscar Wilde, my first edition of In the Castle of My Skin, my slipcased Wuthering Heights within reach . This became clear to me a few weeks after the storm when, a refugee from the storm's devastation, I was in Cambridge visiting an old college friend. Lucy's bookshelves looked just like mine, pre-Hugo. She, too, had been an English major and had collected many of the same books I had . Mter seeing her copy of Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems with the cover ripped like mine, I had an overwhelming urge to fill my arms with her books. There is no happy ending to this story of Hugo's destruction. Slowly I am buying new books, and I have begun to replace the specific ones I need to buoy up my professional self-esteem. However, like the despondent dog owner who vows never to own another dog , I had vowed henceforth to limit my personal book collection and to spend more time in libraries.
Carrol B. Flaming Carrol B. Fleming (See biography on page 58) A The Writing Beach White paper. Blank sand. Bound by beckoning horizon or empty margin, both empty and unexplored in the distances: how writing is like beachcombing; gathering shells and seadrift, like collecting words. There are days you find nothing worth sa v ing , others when you are offered too much to appreciate. All the same, the writer must be will ing to walk the same stretch of sand each day in search of some unknown. A whole page of smooth coral sand, shells and seawrack invisible in the distance . Begin to walk, head down with an open mind, slowly, let thought look sharply, don't hesitate to kneel or squat or sit bare-thighed in warm sand, get close. Sometimes you must sift with your hands through piles of broken adjectives to find perfect shells. Some shores are rocky and barren and you must take a stick or the thick curve of conch or whelk and scrape the rocks aside to find what the sea's given up. Patience. Time. Walking the beach is the key . Search thoroughly. Gather dross, the bits, the small pieces. Willingly grab for that stray image that rises like flies from a pile of seaweed. Then, stir the pile, gulp the tang of salt, look again; many prizes are hidden. There will be days after storm tides when the beach will be so rich, you will not get far, for gathering each detail. There will be much in front of you, yet you will be unable to resist the windows that b e acon f a r down the shore. You run toward a spot of color, that vague ide a, in the distance with the wind chafing your cheeks. It could just as easily be a battered red gas can as a Portuguese glass ball or a bottle inscribed in Arabic. The possibilities are endless. Race with it. 283
284 Seasoning for the Mortar There will be other days, weeks, months when you do not wish to walk the beach at all; the desk a barrier island threatened by storm. It will be too hot, too cold, you will have a headache or a stomachache, too frail to accept the imperfections you will write, unable to bend for a sand dollar, knowing that when you pick it up and turn it over, it will be bird-drilled through the center; a thought that circles without heart. Whatever ends up on a certain beach is directly related to what lives offshore, in nearby sands, or is the result of wind and currents. These are givens like the weather. Both beach and write deal with exter nal and tidal weather. This means that you will bring whatever is strong with you the moment to your writing. It encompasses immediate geography as well as the shape of distant headlands. It's a landscape as distinct as the width of your shoulders or the arch of your foot. A writer's landscape built of childhood, of family, experience, adventure, all of which will come to rest on your page, however fragmented by the journey; a per sonal view as buoyant as the test of sea urchins washed from the reef offshore. The great global currents may bring surprises from far off; the translucent coils of spirulas, the internal ram's horn shell of deep water squid up from the depths, an image of yourself at four riding the minia ture fire truck around the dusty streets of Brawley; Amazonian seed pods washed seaward, or the rare coconuts that ride the Gulf Stream clear to Britain. Like the global currents, our passages are chartable, bringing the riches of experience to shore. But one must be willing to walk that blank paper, to collect the stray bits and sort the connections.
Author/ Title Index -A-A Stranger's Homecoming, 262 Adamon, 115 Anthem to Ecology, 68 Art as Becoming a Way to Live, 45 Awa/Ahwe, 81 B -Benjie's Eulogy, 137 Briggs-Emmanuel, Phyllis, 184 Brown, Susan, 169, 256 Brownies, 124 -c-Callwood, Barbara M., 25 Campbell, Marty, 44 Caribbean Night, 100 Carnival Stray, 91 Casting Down Arms, 94 Columbus Revisited, 96 Conjured by Surfaces, 42 Crucian Time, 61 n -Dawn's Early Light, 98 Dey Music Gawn, 25 Daydreams on a Subway Train, 101 Days of Rum and Locusts, 256 Deary, Celeste R., 201 Death by Drowning, 29 December Tingles , 37 Departing Christiansted in a January, 19 DiLorenzo, Gabrielle, 64 Downwind Tale, 39 Dubby Shoonk, Frederiksted, 44 E -Each One Must Walk This Way, 90 Easter Sunday, 148 Election Time-Again, 87 Emanuel, Gene K., 81 p -Fagan, Patricia M., 100, 154 Fleming, Carrol B., 58, 283 Flute-man, Whey Part you Dey?, 74 Freedom City, Homecoming, 33 From Exile, 18 From My Island , 15 o -Gershator, David, 49 Gershator, Phillis, 54 H -Ham's Bluff, 38 Happy Hour/St. Thomas, 53 Harkins-Pierre, Patricia, 28 Henry, Alice V,. 23 Highfield, Arnold R., 17 Hodge, Caryn K., 105 Hurricane Thanksgiving , 32 Homecoming, St. Croix , 112 285
2 8 6 Author I Title Index In De Midst of De Storm, 56 In Miss Emma's Shack, 154 In the Aftermath of Hurricane Hugo: An Elegy for My Books, 280 Jones-Hendrickson, Simon B., 76 Joseph, Regina, 56 Jumbie, 31 James, Davida Siwisa, 194 King/ish Hooked, 104 La Playa, 49 Lahida the Cat, 160 Lake, Edgar Othaniel, 98 Liberated, 221 Lukey, Katherine, 112 MacKay, Amy, 102 Man Love, 106 Masquerade, 14 Melone, Kate, 42 Murphy, Patricia Gill, 46 Myvette, Sharmane, 94 Night Rite, Freedom City, 35 Nugent, Winston, 96 O'Day, Jeanne, 61 Old Mama on a Journey, 89 Paiewonsky, Isidor, 104 Passion Play, 30 Playgrounds, 26 Poet Not Taken, 59 Regular Departures, 17 Resources, 58 Roach, Tregenza A., 108 Rogers-Green, Carmen, 83 Romeo-Mark, Althea, 89, 141 Saharan Dust, 63 Sarah Seh, 84 Screaming in our Hearts, 76 Seduction at Tivoli, 169 Sister of Light, 28 Skipping Stones, 129 Sufi Meditation: the Arcades of Saint Croix, 46 Sunday, 102 Sunset Legacy, 43 Sylvester, Mark, 74 Synagogue Sand, 51
Author I Title Index T -Tale of Two Trees, 54 Tall Man Gan, 72 Teacher Jane, 184 Terra Incognita/Taino Incognito, 50 The 5th Grade Atlas, 62 The Commute, 194 The Dreampiece, 201 The Guineaman, 20 The Horse at Albertine Hall, 178 The Leatherback Turtle Lays its Eggs, 48 The Limbo Marriage, 64 The Mill Ruin Above Ham's Bluff, 36 The Old Machete, 212 The Times of Sunday, 108 The Waterfront's Women; The Waterfront's Men, 141 The Writing Beach, 283 Thorpe, Jessica D. , 212 Three Diamonds in the Sky, 78 Tonight, 83 Traffic Lights and the Human Condition, 276 Turkman, Erik, 14 Two Sides ah de Same Coin, 23 u -v -w -Waters, Erika J., 276 When Oyo Come, You Gon' Know, 105 White, Narcissa , 137 Williams, Marvin E., 32, 115, 221,262 Where the Saints Still Glow, 70 x -y -z -287