“Rivah Mumma” by Dionne Peart
Akashic Books is proud to introduce a new flash fiction series, Duppy Thursday. Though we’re based in Brooklyn, our location envy of the Caribbean is evident throughout our catalog. One aspect of Caribbean literature that appeals to us is the integration of folklore into contemporary stories—a perfect example being Jamaican author Marlon James’s debut novel John Crow’s Devil, which we published to great critical acclaim in 2005. Whether it be the spider Anansi, the devil woman La Diablesse, the Soucouyant, Mama Dlo, or Papa Bois, these mythical beings have injected life (and death) into the literature of the region. As with our other flash fiction series, we challenge you to tell your story in 750 words or less.
This week, Dionne Peart takes us to the dangerous shores of Jamaica.
by Dionne Peart
Jamaica; River Maid
The constables looked at the river foaming angrily as it crashed against the rocks. Puzzled, their eyes searched the water where it flowed calmly into the sea, looking for some sign of Delroy—a shirt, a shoe, something to explain what had happened to him.
Gabrielle stood further back on the bridge looking conflicted, hoping they would find him—but then, hoping they wouldn’t, I guess. She too searched the waters with her one good eye, the other one still purplish and swollen. She covered her mouth with her hand. The police moved away from the river’s edge and clustered by their vehicle, pointing toward my house.
I stood in the doorway. “Gabrielle, come inside.”
Gabrielle obeyed, taking a seat at our small kitchen table, head bowed and hands resting on her swollen belly. I stood over the stove, stirring the gungo peas soup for our dinner. I rolled dumplings and added herbs to the pot. I hadn’t joined the search; I knew where Delroy was.
The officers walked toward the house. “I’ll do all the talking,” I said to Gabrielle over my shoulder. I could not look at the girl.
“Nana, when last you saw Delroy?” the taller one asked me when I’d allowed them inside.
“Three mornings ago,” I said. “The two of we sat here and watched him leave after breakfast. He said he was going for a walk down by the river for some peace and quiet. He never came back.”
Gabrielle nodded in agreement.
“Has anyone strange been around?” the tall one asked.
Gabrielle opened her mouth, but I shot her a warning look.
“No,” I said.
The shorter one squinted at Gabrielle. “What happened to your eye?”
“Delroy always bringing these girls in here who think they can back chat me. Wife or no, pregnant or not. I don’t business who she is—she must respect me in my house. And those who won’t listen shall feel,” I answered.
“You want to press charges, missus?”
Gabrielle shook her head. The officers shrugged shoulders and left.
I stirred the pot. “You should’ve left when I told you to. It didn’t have to come to this.”
“You didn’t leave,” Gabrielle returned the accusation.
We were both silent for a while, then Gabrielle said, “I heard that woman singing that day. Did you call her?”
I ignored the question. I never liked Gabrielle—mealy-mouthed and frail. It was clear from day one she would never be able to manage Delroy; that I would eventually have to step in at some point. Like someone had done for me.
“Did you call her?” Gabrielle asked again. “Why did she come?”
“Why do you think?” I set the steaming bowls on the table. Part of me wanted to throw one in her face. “Come, hurry up and eat. We must go back down to the river tonight.”
The moon’s glow barely penetrated through the canopy of mango trees, but I didn’t need lamplight. I knew the way down the hill to the river basin. I’d traveled it many times before. Too many. I’d come here for others. I’d hoped I would never have to come here for my own child, but Delroy had taken after his father. If only this girl had left before it had been too late. If only I had.
“I can’t see,” Gabrielle said.
“Hush,” I said. “Listen. Feel your way. You will have to learn the path. The time may come when you will need to call her. I’m not coming back here again.” I grabbed Gabrielle’s hand and slowly pulled her along, the lump in my throat growing with each step.
When we got close to the water, I pointed below. Gabrielle squinted, and then her eyes grew wide. The woman was perched casually on a large rock, her dark hair flowing down her back. She hummed, a sound both eerie and beautiful. My skin chilled. She turned around, exposing silvery scales where legs should’ve been.
“Did he suffer?” I asked.
“I sang and he came to me, slid in the water and let me take him down. It was over quickly.”
“Thank you,” I said. My eyes burned.
She nodded, then slipped below the water’s surface.
I pictured Delroy in his watery grave with the others Rivah Mumma had taken. Gentle deaths for troubled men.
At home, Gabrielle screamed again, her labor almost over. I knelt outside her door, listening for the baby’s cry.
I prayed it was not a boy.
DIONNE PEART was born in England to Jamaican parents and grew up in Canada. She now lives in Washington, DC, where she practices law. The Jamaica Gleaner recognized Dionne’s work as “part of an emerging genre of writing by Jamaicans in this society,” and BET.com featured her debut novel Somerset Grove on their “You Gotta Have It” list for January 2015. She is currently working on her next novel.
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a Caribbean location and incorporate some aspect of folklore, whether centrally or tangentially.
—Include the location and the referenced folk tale or figure of the story with your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Duppy Thursday are typically posted 2–4 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Mar 10, 2016