Sunday, July 09, 2017



She climbed the last hill toward home, the heavy bag trailing behind her. Her calves ached; her legs felt like jelly.  She paused, dropped the bag, and shook out her hands to get the blood circulating again.  The blisters on her feet hurt almost as much as the red welts across her fingers and palm. Am army-green jeep rattled by splashing smelly, slime-green canal water all over her already stained clothing. She sighed and rounded the corner. From there, she could see the rain-soaked boards of the two-roomed lean-to she called home.  She sighed again.
Her two older boys and their playmates were in the yard pitching marbles, and making typical boy-noises. She entered unnoticed through the chicken-wire gate. They did not skip a beat. Too drained to deal with her rambunctious two-year-old twins,  she thanked God for Jean who was keeping them overnight to give her a much-needed break. 
Rhon was at home, sitting at the dining table staring into a half-full bottle of Jack Iron  as though it held the answers to all life’s questions.  She already knew.
“Another wasted day, huh?”
He nodded, his balding head  bowed low.  Like Ivy, he seemed much older than his twenty-seven years. The customary twinkle in his eyes was long gone, his dimpled smile now just a faded memory.
From his elevated shoulders and hunched back, Ivy could tell he was bracing for another fight. He said he hated her nagging and her accusing looks. She knew he was having none of it tonight. Good, because she was not up to it either. 
Once inside the door, she deposited her load, walked over to him, and kissed his forehead. He looked up. She could see the surprise in his eyes. It was not that she didn’t enjoy showing him affection, but of late, he was making it near impossible for her to feel any tenderness towards him. Since the construction site where he worked shut down operations, every day he just sat at home and drank, claiming no-one would hire him.  It was Jean who attended to the twins while she was working.
But tonight, she needed the strength of human touch. Ivy embraced the only man she had ever she loved. It didn’t matter that he was such a disappointment. He buried his head in her bosom, his shoulders heaving. When he spoke, the smell of alcohol rose to greet her. She swallowed hard and shook her head.
 “I fed up, Momi,”he said. “A man can’t feel like a man in this place no more. I try everything – carpentry, masonry, plumbing . . . nobody building nothing these days. Everybody want you to work but nobody could afford to pay.”
Ivy dug into her pockets and produced eight crinkled dollar bills. She handed them to him and gestured in the direction of the bag, full of cassava, green fig, and corn.    “Don’t worry. We have food for today and tomorrow. We going take it a day at a time.”
“ I don‘t want your money, Momi.” He pushed them back in her direction.  “I is the man of the house, not you. How you think it make me feel to know is me wife that providing for me and me family?“
“Yes, but ain’t you self say it easier for women to find work on this island than men these days?“
 “Yes. Is true. And that is why every man leaving. They say it have plenty work in Trinidad. Uncle Tommy, Cousin Arthur, Glenford, Ivan . . . they all gone. Stowaway. That’s the last thing I want, but what choice I have here, eh? You tell me, since you always know everything.”
”You better not be thinking of going.” Ivy raised her voice an octave, her eyes wide, her body trembling. “We could make it right here if we stick together.”
He pushed back his chair and stood up, towering above her, but lacking the customary aplomb of his stance.
“It ain’t easy, Momi.”
Ivy hugged him. “You not leaving me here alone. Rhon. How I going manage with the four boys -- me one?”
“Don’t worry, Momi. You going be alright.”
He ate little that evening.  Ivy, too, had lost her appetite.  They sat facing each other lost in thought. After  the boys were asleep, they lay side by side in their bed staring at separate scenes on the ceiling, not saying anything. Ivy wanted him to hold her, kiss her, make love to her like he used to, but these days he seemed to lack even that desire.  She wanted to reach out and touch him but dared not. Not again, because, of late, every time she tried, he pushed her away and said, “I’m not in the mood. Go to sleep, Momi.”
Every night it was the same thing, and when he did initiate any intimacy with her, it was more like he was punishing her for his troubles.  So tonight, despite her deep ache for him, she willed herself to fall asleep while he continued to stare at the spreading water stains on the celotex above.
By the time she woke up to get Danny and Eze ready for school next morning, he was already gone. 
“Mammy, where Daddy?” Ezekiel asked, his eyes wide, stark white, and unblinking. Daniel, the oldest, just kept quiet, but his knowing eyes told her he, too, was awaiting her response.
“He leave early.  Gone up Craigston side to see if they hiring.”
But Rhondell did not return that night, nor the next, nor the next. With only six thousand residents and thirteen square miles, Carriacou did not have many places to hide. No one had seen him.
“I sure Rhondell stowaway like everybody else.” Jean said. “Ask Cap’n Crooks if he see him.”
But Ivy didn’t have to ask; she already knew. 
It took six months for his first letter to arrive. He said he was in Trinidad lodging with his Uncle Tommy in Belmont and looking for work. She received no more after that, but refused to give up hope. And at nights, she still yearned for him.  Veront and Vernon were turning three,  too young to even remember what their father looked like, but eight-year-old Ezekiel asked for him every day. Ten-year-old Daniel, the oldest, never did.
“So beautiful!” Jean exclaimed, whistling through her teeth, when she walked in on Ivy that morning, almost a year after Rhon left.  Just out of the shower, Ivy was examining her half-clothed body in the full length mirror, wondering why she looked so much older than her years.
Jean plumped her heavy-set, mannish frame down on the  bed causing it to creak and sag.  She tossed her locks and leaned back on both elbows laughing at Ivy’s embarrasment as she watched her haul up the top of the dress  to cover her nakedness. 
“Vee, why you keep hiding under these big dresses?” Jean asked, getting up and coming to stand behind her, putting her arms around her and snuggling against her neck.
Ivy shrugged her shoulders and stepped away, deflecting Jean’s touch.
“I tell you already, Jean, I ain’t one of you. I not no Madivine and ain’t never going be. I have Rhondell; he coming back to me soon.”
                  Jean pursed her lips, but said nothing, instead helping Ivy tidy the room. There were clothes strewn all over. Ivy, always a neat freak, had been letting things slip since Rhondell left. It didn’t seem to matter what she nor the house looked like any more. Nothing mattered. Ivy stuffed the last of the dirty laundry into the wicker hamper swearing under her breath “Damn Rhon!” and slammed the lid down so hard a loose cocoyea arrow pierced her palm. She swore again and withdrew her hand, thinking of the many travails of her life.
 “You want me make you feel better?”Jean  asked, taking hold of the injured hand,  her fingers massaging Ivy’s palm. 
Ivy thought she protested but she wasn’t sure because the next thing she knew, she was in Jean’s arms and Jean was kissing her making her hot, and hungry all over. 
“No, No, Jean. Remember Rhon.” But her No was frail and not at all what her body was screaming. Her protests grew weaker the more insistent Jean’s caresses became. Soon she was kissing Jean back without restraint and pressing her body into Jean’s, wanting it never to stop. When it was over, Jean held her and comforted her while she cried.  If  Rhon ever found out, she’d lose him for sure. She knew then.  She had to leave.
She stood with the children on lower deck watching the schooner cut a foaming path through the deep green waters, while the exhaust fumes rose thick and ominous.    She had sent a letter to Rhon telling him they were coming. She couldn’t wait to see him.  It had been a rough ride. The journey from Grenada on The Island Queen took three days,  overcrowded as it was with its cargo of bananas and vendors carrying crates of seasonal produce for sale in the Port of Spain market.  Cap’n Crooks had allowed them free passage on the Osprey to St. Georges. She bought their schooner tickets with two hundred dollars she had scrimped and saved. In her bosom was another hundred from Jean to tide her over. Her sister, Princess, had given her the black dress with red and yellow hibiscus flowers, the Panama hat and the white open-toe, wedge-heeled shoes she was wearing. They were all too big. The dress swung, her toes pushed forward and hung over the shoes, but she didn’t care.  Soon she’d be with her Rhon and they’d be a family again.
“If it doesn’t work out, come on back home to me,” Jean had said, kissing her on the neck, causing her to shiver. “I going be waiting. We can be happy together. You know that. You just too stubborn to admit it.”
Ivy pretended she had not heard.
They entered The Dragon’s Mouth, that narrow, tempestuous channel between North-West Trinidad and Eastern Venezuela where they said the waters of the Gulf of Paria waged war with those of the Caribbean Sea.  Mountains towered on either side. Darkness descended swiftly over the Bocas obliterating any distinguishing line between sea and sky until they rounded the point and the flickering lights of Port of Spain came into view. They were almost there.
Ivy hugged her boys, imagining how harrowing this journey must have been for Rhondell, braving the fury of Kick ‘em Jenny, then, stashed away below near the hot boilers, praying not to be discovered.  Tonight, in his arms, she’ll show him how much she appreciated his sacrifice. This time she wouldn’t care whether he was in the mood or not. It had been too long.  Maybe she’ll get that daughter she hoped for after all.
Uncle Tommy, a short, casually dressed teddy-bear of a man with a ready laugh, gray goatee and wiry hair protruding out of his ears, was there to greet them.  Jessie, his prim Trinidadian wife -- tall, stern, angular, be-spectacled, neatly-attired, with not a strand of her professionally-styled hair out of place, stood at his side. Uncle Tommy scooped up Veront, lifting him onto his shoulder while Vernon clung to his leg.
“You two the spitting image of your Daddy!”
Jessie extended her hand to Ivy and said in an affected, city accent,
“I’ve heard so much about you, Ivy.” She enunciated every word as though each was a separate, stand-alone sentence.
“Pleased to meet you.” Ivy said, looking around. “Where’s Rhon?”
Jessie turned away, took out her compact, and proceeded to powder her face. Ivy stood peeling the skin around her finger nails, drawing blood while she awaited an answer.
“Said he had some business meeting. By the time we get home, he should be back.” Tommy said. 
“What business meeting?” Ivy asked. “ He couldn’t set it up for another time? He didn’t know we was coming?”
Without replying, Tommy loaded their bags into the back of his shiny black Austin. The boys piled in first leaving Ivy to sit jammed against the left door handle.
Port-of Spain was all bright lights and flashing neon marquees, too much for them to absorb all at once.
 “Want some nuts, boys?” Tommy asked when a vendor came to the driver’s window at the red light.
The boys looked to Ivy for approval.  She nodded, her mind on Rhondell. 
Twenty minutes later, they swung into a narrow, paved street. The car came to a stop in front of  a two-storeyed yellow concrete house with baskets of hanging plants framing the upstairs verandah. Downstairs was a shop of some sort.
“Jessie’s beauty salon,” Tommy explained.
Their living room was filled with ornate Victorian furniture, red velvet throw cushions, artifical floral arrangements and white porcelain figurines.  There was barely room to walk.  Rhon was not there but came soon afterward.  Something about him was different. Ivy was overcome with shyness. When they were alone that night, she cozied up to him. He didn’t push her away. And he didn’t say, “Go to sleep, Momi.”  She had questions, but they could wait.
“Why you didn’t write?” she asked next morning.
“You know I don’t like writing.”
                  “Yes but . . . .”
“Look, woman, I  been busting my ass here trying to earn a living.”
 “And you ever wonder how we was eating?”
“You strong. I know you could hold on til I send something.”
“And when that was going to be, Rhon? When cock get teeth?”
“It ain’t easy out here, you know, especially for us smallislanders. They laugh at us and tell us go back Carriacou.  Steady work hard to come by.”
“So why you didn’t come back home?”
“To what? More nagging and frustration?”
 “You find somebody else, Rhon?”
He spun around, his eyes glowing. “You see the same damn thing again. That’s why I could never saddle horses with you. You always thinking the worst.”
There was a wall between them she could not climb.  She thought of Jean, her adoring looks, her tender kisses. 
What the hell was she thinking? She was not like that. Besides, she had put an end to it.
 “Why you fooling yourself, Vee?” Jean had said. “The man ain’t coming back. You and me,  we good together, girl.”
Ivy shook the image from her head.
They settled into a comfortable routine -- Rhon going daily in search of work, the kids to school, and Ivy helping Jessie in the salon.  But Rhon grew more and more distant. Every night he came home late, reeking of alcohol, and railed at her lest she dared comment. Their lovemaking had become infrequent,  joyless sessions she came to dread. She cringed internally and shrank away everytime he touched her. Her fantasies of Jean helped her through each unpleasant interlude.
                  On the Sunday before Christmas, Rhon got up earlier than usual.  Ivy, too, was wide awake; she had something to tell him that she had been postponing.
“Huh?” He emerged from the bathrom, fully dressed.
“Where you going so early this Sunday morning?”
“Going to try me luck in the Maracaibo oilfields.  Boat leaving at nine.”
 “And is now you telling me that?”
“Because I know how you going react.  You ain’t change.“
 Ivy sprang out of bed. “So you abandoning us again, Rhon?”
Rhondell’s eyes blazed. “Look, woman.” He never called her Momi anymore. “Nobody asked you to come here, you know. If it bother you so much, go back home and continue working zami with your Madvine friend. I hear she have cancer.”
She slapped him hard. He caught her arms, pinning them to her side.
                  “You might as well,”he said. “Nothing I do ever good enough for you.”
Ivy screamed and spat in his face, her head reeling from the news. Rhon shoved her away, picked up his already-packed duffel bag, and headed to the door.
“Don’t bother to get up. I going write when I get there.” He slammed the door and was gone.
He hadn’t even given her the chance to tell him she was pregnant – not that finding out would have made any difference. His mind was already made up. But hers was on Jean.
“Oh God! Oh God, no! No!”
She had been in premature labor a full two days before she felt the urge to bear down.
“Push!” Maudelyn, the midwife, coaxed her, “Push!”
She had no energy left, no will to fight.  Jessie was over in the corner, powdering her face as usual.
“Jessie, for Chrissake, put down that damn compact and bring the scissors. We have to cut her,” Maudelyn shouted.
“Rhon! Rhon!” Ivy cried. She had not heard from him once since his departure.
“Rhondell going be here soon, darling. Come on, push!” Maudelyn said. 
But Ivy was slipping fast into delirium.
“Don’t leave me, Jean!” she pleaded, digging her fingers into Jessie’s arm.
Jessie and Maude looked at each other. 
Minutes later, they placed her daughter in the crook of her arms, wrapped in the pastel pink blanket she had picked out. Ivy stared enthralled at the wrinkled, waxen, blue face. She kissed the closed eyelids and cold, purple lips. The baby did not cry. Ivy didn’t care. She had her Rhonda,  the little girl she always wanted. 
And then, she found herself in a field of wildflowers running towards a smiling Jean.  It was so good to see her again.  But wait, she must first let the boys see their little sister. In the adjoining  room where they slept, she kissed each one on the forehead. Daniel opened his eyes and stared at her.
 “Be good now. And take care of your brothers til Daddy come back, you hear.”
He nodded. He was strong like her.
She smiled, took a long, deep breath, and with her baby cradled in her arms, surrendered herself into Jean’s embrace.


©KPLewis (Kalypsoul)

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