“The Cat has Claws” by Joanne C. Hillhouse
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, we’ll travel to Ottos, Antigua with Joanne C. Hillhouse and her story of concealing a grisly crime. We’ll be back with more dark tales in 2014, so keep your eyes open, your friends close, and your enemies closer.
The Cat has Claws
by Joanne C. Hillhouse
“No, man, this heat ah try kill people!”
Goldine paused in her walk up the bumpy path to Pastor Williams’s house. She removed the straw hat keeping company with her soaking wet head kerchief; fanned with it, for all the good that did. She looked up the road to where the house stood alone, alabaster white against the green hills rolling away from it. The crotons, bougainvillea, pussy tail, and other foliage in the expansive yard looked limp.
Goldine’s hand was the one responsible for the way that garden had thrived under the previous occupant, the now-retired Pastor Wells. Three months earlier, though, she’d been let go. Pastor Williams said his wife wanted to take care of the house and property. Then she-self had called this morning just as Goldine was boiling up her morning cocoa. There she was now, waving from the showy-new brass-iron slide gate like she and Goldine were old friends.
Goldine walked on, squeezed past the woman and through the gate with a rough greeting, went to the familiar wooden toolshed at the side of the house, and set to work.
At some point, the woman brought Goldine a glass of water, at another point a glass of lemonade, but mostly she sat on the porch watching, face as ghostly white as a brown woman could get—bleaching cream and pan tappa face powder, no doubt.
When the tools were put away—this would be more than a day’s work—she waved anxiously to Goldine.
“Could you help me with something, please?”
Goldine was of a mind to tell her no, but she did have a soft spot for Pastor Williams, remembered him running about the village as a boy, before he’d gone away to study in Trinidad. Wasn’t his fault he’d fallen for some Trickidadian instead of coming back and marrying a nice Antiguan girl like most had figured he would.
The woman led her through the house. Goldine hadn’t been indoors since Pastor Wells left. The place was different: thick gold drapes, dainty china on the retiled kitchen island, and those creepy ceramic cats that stared at you all the time. Goldine shivered. The Pastor’s dwelling was now air-conditioned and the heat outside felt far, far away.
Still, the smell hit Goldine the minute she set foot in the bedroom.
“I’ve cleaned and cleaned, but the smell . . .” the woman fussed. “I don’t know what’s causing it.”
It smelled like something had died—a rat, a bat, a cat, something. Goldine wondered what Ms. Petriehay wanted her to do about it.
“I’m a gardener, not—”
“I know, I know . . . but I can’t lift this alone.”
Now why would anyone want to be throwing out a perfectly good mattress? But Goldine didn’t ask any questions; just bore the bulk of the load, like she did in all areas of her life, and before long the mattress was laid out outside the gate for the bulk waste collectors.
“I’ve already called them,” the woman said.
So why didn’t she have them help her move it out? Goldine huffed. Maybe she said it out loud without realizing, because “I don’t like strangers in the house” were the next words out of the woman’s mouth. Goldine didn’t ask after the Pastor;the woman had explained, when she called, that he was on some kind of vague extended leave and would be off island for a while.
She attempted to tip Goldine, but Goldine just sucked her teeth and went on her way.
When Goldine returned the next day, it was early still and the collectors hadn’t been by as yet. The mattress lay where they’d left it, partly blocking the gate. Goldine kicked at it in annoyance as she made to open the gate.
That’s when the hand fell out. Goldine stared. It was just a hand—innocent looking, really, brown with black hairs, manicured nails, bruised knuckles, and a Rolex. Pastor Williams wore a Rolex. He’d left Antigua a village boy and returned a blinged-out Pastor with a trophy wife who had dougla-ish hair and soft-as-butter skin, a wife kept locked away from the world like one of those porcelain cats. Cats had claws.
“Everything okay, Goldine?” the wife called out now from the porch, startling her.
Goldine’s mouth worked for a moment before sound came out.
“Yes, miss,” she said, heart thumping, “everything fine.”
JOANNE C. HILLHOUSE is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. Her books are the novel Oh Gad!, the novellas The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and the children’s picture book Fish Outta Water. She’s also been published in the anthologies In the Black: New African Canadian Literature, So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End: An Anthology of Antiguan and Barbudan Writing, For Women: In Tribute to Nina Simone, as well as several journals, both poetry and fiction. Joanne’s story ‘Amelia’—recently shortlisted for the Small Axe prize—is forthcoming in Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press’s Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean. Joanne writes primarily from character but also enjoys experimenting with new forms; “The Cat has Claws” is her first attempt at noir. She runs the Wadadli Pen writing programme to nurture and showcase creative works by young people in Antigua and Barbuda. Visit http://jhohadli.wordpress.com for more.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Dec 16, 2013
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