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Dog War

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The highly anticipated new novel and debut US publication from the legendary Jamaican author of The Lunatic and The Duppy.

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Excerpt from Dog War

“Lawd, I beg you, don’t drop a tin can ‘pon me head today!”

So muttered Precious Higginson as she sat before her bedroom vanity and pinned her hair one breezy Friday morning in her Jamaican mountain home.

Whether the morning was windless or breezy, Precious began every day with the same muttered prayer, for she knew from bitter experience that Almighty God sometimes got vexed and threw tin cans from heaven above onto the heads of heedless sinners roaming the world below. Indeed, just such a thing had happened to her as a child and had made her forever fearful of heavenly braining.

Then a mere girl of eleven, she had been sitting under a tree with a neighborhood boy. They had played over and over with the few makeshift wooden toys, climbed four or five trees, scampered up and down the beach, and were quickly bored to tears. To perk up the hour, the boy suggested that they fish inside each other’s pants to see what could be found there, and a squealing Precious was soon nastily groping down his drawers with all ten brazen fingers. The Almighty had witnessed the crime, and a few minutes later as Precious skipped merrily away from the scene of filthy fondling, He caused a tin can to be blown out of the branches of a tamarind tree, bonk her sharply on the head, and knock her to the ground.

Mummy came running over, clucking with materialistic comment and explanation. What rude boy had thrown that can into the branches? How unlucky for her one daughter to be passing under the tree just as a breeze dislodged the tin can! Why must the world always be so nastied up by coincidence and gravity?

But Mummy did not know where Precious’s fingers had just been digging this past hour or what forbidden part it had been fondling. Only Precious knew, and she had learned her lesson: Crotch fondling is not permitted without due authority of marriage paper. And if you don’t obey His will in this and other matters, God will surely lick you down with a tin can.

“Don’t drop tin can ‘pon you head! Good God, woman, you goin’ make de new maid hear you and walk off de job! God love a duck, somebody please tell me why de one wife I have in de world must start off every blessed morning with de same fool-fool argument.”

So bellowed the gruff voice of Theophilus, who stepped out of the bathroom wearing only a frowzy pair of drawers through which the snout of his brown penis sniffed suspiciously at the morning breeze. Precious modestly averted her gaze.

Theophilus dressed with fuss and clatter, for that was his nature. He was a dark-brown man who had a craving for rule and regulation and always seemed provoked. His face had too much ridge and sharp bone to it. Nose battled mouth for dominance, chin feuded with cheekbones, a simian ridge erupted violently out of his forehead like a continental shelf, and all warring parts were sealed under a lava flow of contentiousness that curdled the corners of his mouth and gave him the deadpan look befitting his role as headmaster of a secondary school.

Precious stared at her reflection in the mirror, scanning anxiously for pore and wrinkle and marbled gray strands of hair on her head.

She was forty-seven years old and invitingly padded in the way Third World women used to be before austere American dietitians began to run amok over the globe. Barely scribbled on by middle-aged wear and tear, her face was buffed smooth of bump and wrinkle. She had a soothing, matronly face and always seemed happy and content, as if she might at any minute bubble into a smile or gurgle into a laugh. Her complexion was the rich brown of healthy topsoil, and so long as Theophilus didn’t pester her, she was always as radiant as a godmother.

“Why pore must open up on me nose, eh?” she moaned at her reflection. “I wonder if I take too much condensed milk in me tea.”

“Pore opening up on you nose because you start off every blessed day with de same fool-fool argument. Keep it up for another twenty-eight year and you goin’ end up with a pothole on you nose much less pore.”

“Mind you make de maid see you naked,” Precious warned, as Theophilus backed out of the closet, carrying an armful of the day’s clothes.

“Dat all right,” snickered Theophilus. “De sight o’ Brutus will sweet her and start her day off proper.”

Then he deliberately and provocatively swaggered in full view of the open doorway while Precious stared with Bible-study attentiveness at a watermark on the bedroom ceiling and pretended she did not know who named Brutus or what on earth her husband was talking about.

She only knew that at forty-seven, even after twenty-eight years of marriage, she would dead before she addressed a penis by a Christian name.

Theophilus and Precious lived in an ancient wooden house perched like a jaunty schoolboy cap on the crest of a mountaintop. It was not the house in which they had reared their two children, both now grown and gone. Harold, their older child, was a dentist in Kingston with an island-wide practice and the father of two sons; Shirley, their second, was a Miami policewoman who had married a white American and borne two roughneck daughters.

The house in which these two had been raised was in Runaway Bay in a neighborhood where everything and everyone had been known, accepted, and familiar. For nearly twenty-eight years the Higginsons had lived there happily through the assorted childhood traumas of measles and incidental bruises; the woes of primary and secondary education; the post-adolescent muddling over career path; the tearful departure from the nest along with accompanying migration, marriage, and grandchildren. Precious would have been quite content to grow gray and stooped in that beloved old house, drop dead in her own backyard, and fly straight from Runaway Bay into well-earned heaven.

But then one morning Theophilus woke up craving a peak.

“A peak? What you mean?” Precious wondered, staring with perplexity at him over breakfast when he first raised the subject.

Theophilus sighed and brushed familiar neighborhood fly off his forehead.

Lately he had been restless, uneasy, not sleeping and snoring in his usual way, like a pregnant sow. Something was troubling his peace of mind, and now it was coming out.

“You know, Precious, I born and raise in mountain country. And every now and again when I look around me, I don’t see a peak. Not a peak to be seen.”

“For heaven’s sake, Theophilus! What are you talking ’bout?”

“Mountain peak, Precious! What other kind of peak could I be talking about? Mountain peak!”

“Don’t we have peak behind us?” Precious pointed at the shadowy drawing room wall behind which she knew, some miles away, loomed an unmistakable peak planted with tourist villas and apartments.

Theophilus scoffed.

“Dat is a hump, not a peak! Precious, listen to me, I have to speak me mind about dis! What I feel for is real mountain peak! You don’t know how I have me heart set on a house where I can see peak morning, noon, and night! De children grow and gone. Tourists crawling all over Runaway Bay. We have one little fool-fool hump behind we. I need peak, Precious. I want peak. I crave peak.”

Precious sighed. A twitch darted in the corner of her mouth like a pent-up guppy. “You want to move,” she surmised.

Theophilus nodded eagerly. “To a place with peak, Precious! To de mountains!”

Precious stirred her tea and drew doubting breath. Finally she said, “Theophilus, I am not a woman to oppose her husband. You want a peak, you get a peak.”

“God bless de day I marry you!” Theophilus exclaimed, leaning over and smacking a noisy kiss on her forehead.

Precious chuckled at his childish delight. “My goodness, Theophilus! You’re very welcome!”

A few months later the Higginsons sold their old house in Runaway Bay and moved into the mountain home where Precious had just greeted sunrise with her usual morning prayer.



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