“Tomcat Beretta” by Patricia Powell (from Kingston Noir)
by Patricia Powell
New Kingston (from Kingston Noir)
Mita landed in Kingston at three and instructed the cabby to take her to the Courtleigh . . . Knutsford Boulevard . . . New Kingston.
A slip of paper with the addresses and names was getting damp in her bra. She gazed out the window at the glittering sea, trying hard to relax, but it was impossible. The sea hugged the side of the flat smooth road for miles until it cut away from the sea altogether and became narrow and rutted and cars swerved dangerously past the meager little houses leaning shoulder to shoulder. Soon they were in the heart of midtown in slow-moving traffic, the sidewalks overflowing with people, and floors and floors of office windows climbing to the sky.
At the hotel, she paid cash up front for a week, hung out the Do Not Disturb sign, and slipped into bed.
It was night when she woke. The room was dark and her throat was dry. She sat up, lowered her feet to the floor, unsure of how much time had passed, unsure of where she was. Her toes were tense. They’d become used to concrete. They cringed against the carpet, then relaxed. Fuck. How long had she been asleep?
She showered, oiled her scalp until it shone—the head was still shaven—slipped into a shimmering black dress that hugged her curves, and gashed her lips with burgundy.
Downstairs in the lobby there was a band of old timers playing ska. Couples danced close by the pool. Around the corner was the bar. People were laughing and talking loud and smoking and drinking there. Dense clouds of smoke hung heavily around their heads. She elbowed her way up to the counter, ordered two shots of Appleton back to back, swallowed them down swiftly, and nursed the third while studying the bartenders. There were three of them, all wearing sparkling white shirts and black trousers. She was looking for the one named Ralph. She’d been told he had a runaway eye. When she spotted him, she waved him over, ordered a plate of cow foot stew.
This Ralph did not look anything like his uncle Gracie, she thought. He wore a big badge of a mustache and he was attractive and flirtatious and when he smiled he showed all his teeth and they were big and magnificent and bright. She paid him in cash and when he handed back her change, she clamped his hand with hers. She eased her mouth to his ear. I need a gun right away, she said. Fear creamed from the pores on his hot cheek. She could smell it. His hand stirred, shivered. She held it down. He dragged it. She let go. He straightened up and glowered. The runaway eye began to roam along the wall behind her. The other one fixed her like a nail.
Who the fuck you is? he said, without moving his lips. The ridiculous little badge over his mouth trembled.
I’m Gracie’s friend, she said, taking care to sound and look at ease. Gracie in San Francisco. He sent me to you. He said you’d . . . know . . .
Gracie, he said, looking her up and down. His face was tense. You know Gracie? Gracie no dead?
He’s in prison, she said.
His cheeks bagged a little.
I need it right away, she said, sliding an envelope toward him. Tomorrow morning first thing. Her voice was low and hard. Room 211. She did not look at him again. She slipped off the stool and stepped out, her shoulder blades drawn tight.
A man in a dark shirt who had been eyeing her eased up from his seat at the bar, laid out a few dollars on the counter, and trailed her outside into the courtyard.
The night was black and there was neither moon nor stars in the sky, just the unbearable heat settling down heavily on her face and bare arms and blotching her dress at once.
When the man appeared beside her she said nothing to him, and he said nothing to her. But she could feel his gentle presence right away and her shoulders that had edged themselves up near her ears softened. She sighed long and deep into the night. He was tall. But that’s all she could make out. He was little more than a shadow softened even more by smoke. The eye of his cigarette winked each time he sucked in. She spoke only after he had crushed the butt into the concrete.
I’d love a cigarette, she said, facing him.
Smoke was still trailing from the corner of his mouth.
She narrowed her eyes to see him more clearly in the weak wash of light from the bar and the street. He cocked his head as if thinking, fumbled in his pocket, brought out a crumpled pack of Benson & Hedges. When he struck the match, she could see the shape and color of his eyes, the scattering of moles on his face, and she could tell he was a man who was content with his own company, neither happy nor sad, but good to the core. No, he wouldn’t need anything from her . . . didn’t need much from anybody, maybe now and then a little closeness, but that’s all. The shirt hung loosely off his square shoulders.
Music from the band skittered toward them and they stood silent together and smoked. She could smell Old Spice on him and the Dragon stout he’d been drinking. Out on the roadway the lights of passing cars flashed, their engines revving and whining. From somewhere distant came the tap-tap of pistols. She thought briefly of the bartender, Ralph. She knew she had frightened him. That’s how things get done down there, Gracie had said. Act like a badass. She shook her head slowly. Gracie was in for life. Probably wouldn’t see his country again. She sucked deeply on the cigarette and breathed out heavily from way down deep inside. Was really a miracle how she got out. A fucking miracle. But that was another story altogether. In the sky she saw an airplane’s winking lights. And every now and again the wind would shift and bring the smell of gas, of exhaust, and, although they were miles from the sea, of kelp.
Mita and the man in the black shirt and cream pants stayed together smoking in silence till the pack was done. By then an understanding had formed between them. He turned to leave and she followed him. She wanted company tonight and she liked his quiet, his calm.
He had a suite on the highest floor and he took her through the tall glass doors that led out to the balcony. Red and silver lights were sparkling and shaking and slurring for miles into the distance. The breeze was just as hot as it was downstairs but had more flutter. Toy cars zigzagged ten floors below, the sound of them stretching and shortening, fading and growing, then melting away in waves.
What can I get you? he said when they were back inside. The room had a pair of matching couches. The flat screen on the wall was on, but silent. Soccer. She stood in front of it, watching but not really seeing, marking time, with drinks.
Suddenly his breath was warm on her neck. Was this even what she wanted? She turned into him. Now they were too close. His long, mole-sprinkled face was narrow and kind. He reminded her of a horse. She stepped away. What could he get her? What did she want? A bath, she said.
And it surprised her to hear her need jump out so fierce in front of this man she’d met less than an hour before.
A bath coming up, he said, and disappeared.
Inside the bedroom there was a suitcase open on the bed and she rummaged through it quickly without disturbing the neatly folded trousers, the striped shirts with stiff collars, his white briefs. She couldn’t tell if he was going or coming. Back in the living room, she switched the channel to tennis. Serena was playing Wimbledon. She turned it off and poured herself a glass of water.
She still hadn’t decided yet if she would sleep with him. She had not been with anyone, man or woman, in years. He wasn’t exactly her type though she had no earthly idea what that was anymore. For a minute, her ex-husband had been her type, and then the woman she’d lived with for seven years before had been her type. She couldn’t say that about the transients in between . . . and this man now . . . he didn’t look like he could hold her, he didn’t look strong, but then again she could relax with him. Wasn’t easy to relax after six years. Would’ve been twenty without early release. But she wanted to learn how to rest again and start her life over.
The man called out to her, and as she approached the bathroom she could see that he had turned out the lights and arranged candles in a row on the edge of the tub. Their flames gave off a soft moon glow. The water was perfumed with ylang-ylang and scattered with rose petals he’d gotten from the bouquet on the nightstand.
He did not hover. He was respectful. He stepped out while she undressed and returned only after she had slipped in. He was down to his boxers and his dick inside them was hard, but his movements over her body were languid. He sponged her back and her neck and her breasts and her clavicles. He sponged her feet; he sponged her polished toes. There was desire in his touch, patience in his movements. But he asked nothing of her. For this she was grateful. Right now she only wanted care and she liked that he could sense this. She closed her eyes. She let her face soften.
She must’ve dozed off, for when she woke again she was naked in his bed under his sheets and she could hear him snoring on the couch in the living room. She put a hand to her eyes. The sun was bright through the half-turned blinds.
She let herself out without looking at him. She left him as a sound.
Mita returned to her room to find a plastic bag wrapped in duct tape on the chair near the window. She edged up to it, a tiny smile breaking the corners of her lips. So, things were working then, she thought. The boy had come through. She sat on the bed in her black dress from the night before and turned the package over slowly.
It was small, less than half a pound, and flat . . . no roundness or grooves, so no barrel. She imagined a semiautomatic. Something that could fit easily in her purse, like the one she used to take with her to work at the lot.
It was wrapped in a dense wad of tape and plastic and newspaper. It took forever to tear through the layers.
That fucker! she cried when all the unwrapping was done. The metal chinked the concrete wall and thunked on the carpet when she flung it.
An L-joint piece of copper pipe.
She grabbed the piece of plumbing and tore downstairs to the bar to deal with that fucking boy. She could see through the glass wall that the lights were off. The chairs turned down. The place was closed. She pounded on the wooden door. Tried the lock. Leaned in with her shoulder. That fucker!
A watchman in a uniform appeared. He looked about twenty or so.
Bar not open yet, miss, not until this evening, bout five.
What about Ralph? she said.
I’m going to kill him, she said. As there is a God. He took two hundred of my good, good money.
The watchman started to grin and then he stopped himself and straightened up his face.
Ralph is a sweet boy, miss. Women grab onto him. You have to watch yourself. He make plenty woman cry.
She looked at the watchman for a second. Finally she caught on. She put the pipe behind her.
When is he working again? You know?
It was now Monday. Three whole fucking days she had to wait. Three! Who had that kind of money to waste on a hotel? Who had that kind of time? She kissed her teeth sharply and hurried back upstairs. She had to think quick.
She brewed coffee in the one-cup maker on top of the minibar. She brewed it bitter and strong and drank it quick, standing by the window, curtains smothering the light from outside. Then she made a second cup. And while this one cooled she carved out a new plan. When she began to drink again, she was calmer and she slurped noisily from the cup.
After she’d gotten out of prison, the first thing Mita did was to track down her ex-husband Errol. This had taken her nearly six weeks. When she finally got hold of his number, she called him. By then he’d already moved back to Jamaica with Moira, their only child.
I’m coming to get her, she’d said. For that was all she wanted: to see her girl. I haven’t seen her in six years, she said, and six years is a damn long time.
He’d paused for so long she thought he’d hung up.
Finally he’d said to her, Over my dead body.
She couldn’t believe her ears. After all she’d gone through. After all that fucker had done to her. Then it will be over your dead body, asshole, she’d said in return, and hung up.
It had taken her a month to gather up the money to make the trip.
After she was finished with her second cup, Mita showered, changed her clothes, put the pipe inside her purse. She went downstairs and got a cab.
Valentine Castle Avenue, she told the driver.
You mean off Red Hills Road? His eyes searched her face in the rearview mirror.
She glared at him. Yes, she said softly. How the hell was she to know?
The drive was slow in the white Corolla, bumper-to-bumper. This was never the way she thought she’d visit her husband’s country. But this was life. She listened to the horns blare incessantly around her and watched as the dust from the construction sites pillowed up over the whole world turning it white. On the radio, callers were complaining to a man named Mr. Thwaites.
Last time she’d seen her daughter she was four. Long skinny legs like her father, big shiny forehead like her. What would she look like now, at ten years old? Would she even recognize her? That thought brought a pain to her stomach. But it didn’t matter. They’d come to know each other. In time.
Just up from the big clock tower, at a traffic light in Half Way Tree, a swarm of vendors mobbed the car, rattling the door handles, pressing their faces against the glass. Mita drew her arms tight against her sides. Double-checked that she’d locked the doors.
The driver gestured roughly at the crowd. Shouted. Cursed. Ordered them to move, but they didn’t care. A boy no more than seven had already started to wash and scrub the windshield. She locked eyes with him for a second then turned away. What if she couldn’t get her girl? What if this whole trip was a waste of time? What if she didn’t even get a chance to see her child?
Thirty minutes later she was easing out of the taxi by the bus stop in front of a bakery flanked by a row of shops, and for a while she just walked, noting her surroundings. A sign told her she was on Red Hills Road.
The sun was high and hot and she sweated inside her sleeveless white dress and white pumps. Even the mangy dogs roaming the empty streets seemed stunned by the heat. Four men played dominoes on a table under a tree.
Empress! One of them called.
She hurried on.
The address was on a side street, more residential. The houses were long and rectangular and they all had the same red clay roofs and glimmering white walls and sprinklers spinning madly in the yards, which had rosebushes and fruit trees growing behind the wrought-iron gates. She found number ten. A Bombay mango tree stood beside the gate and she rested underneath its branches for a while watching the croaking lizards as they stuck out their yellow tongues at her and nodded.
She smoked two cigarettes while an hour passed and still she saw and heard no one except for the rhythmic thwacking of a machete trimming grass two or so houses away. It was midmorning. Inside her chest a mix of feelings battered against her heart. The red mailbox latched to the gate had two airmail envelopes. She stuffed them in her purse. Then she scaled the fence, one eye turned over her shoulder in case there was a dog—she had the piece of old pipe ready—and tiptoed around the barred windows. The heavy drapes were drawn. She could not see in.
In the backyard there was a playpen and a swing. She noticed shoes under a coconut tree . . . red sneakers good for climbing . . . the size of about ten-year-old feet. She brought them to her nose and that was when she heard the growl.
Before she could turn, a dark gray blur had turned solid and heavy against her chest. The shoes and her purse flew from her hands. The pipe fell out and slid across the grass. She rolled clumsily toward it. The dog pranced forward, pawing her as it barked. It wanted to play but she couldn’t really tell. Its eyes were small and hard and dark and otherworldly. Its nails were ripping at her dress. She was on her back but still turning when she felt the metal in her hand. She swung. The dog, its hot mouth near her neck, yelped and flopped down shivering. There was blood on its face but not much. She could tell from its eyes it was stunned.
She went back the next day and the day afterward. She went at all hours of the day and night peering through the barred windows, walking by the gate and pretending not to look though she had the corners of her eyes peeled. The dog kept his distance. If he came close, even looked like he was going to bark, she just raised her arm and glared at him.
Hullo, can I help you?
She spun at the sound of the voice. It was early evening. Shadows creeping in.
I notice you come by all the time. The woman wiped her hands on her apron and extended them. You looking for the people next door? Mr. Errol and them?
She swallowed at the sound of her ex-husband’s name.
Them on vacation. Coming back tomorrow. She paused. Boy, you favor the little girl, bad.
Moira, you mean?
Yes, you must be relation. You have the same eyes, the same cheeks. I think the mother dead, not so? She shook her head slowly.
Mita started to answer.
Anyway, my name is Winsome, if you need anything. They’ll be back tomorrow. Is summertime now and they travel often, especially with the children out of school and everything. But my name is Winsome. All right. She smiled big and bright and sashayed back inside the house.
Mita stalked down the road.
So she was dead. That’s what the fucker who had sent her to prison and stolen her child was telling people. She was dead. That’s probably what he’d told her daughter too.
Well, she was going to show him dead. She was going to fucking show him.
That night her friend, or was it her lover—she wasn’t sure how to think of him—drew the bath and lit the candles. It was becoming ritual for them now, except that tonight she wanted to scream. She paced the two small rooms, moving from the couch to the bed to the couch again, her breath shallow, her eyes wide, the TV on the wall mute and brilliant with pictures.
Will you just stay still? he cried out finally.
She looked at him, turned away, fell into one of the couches, drew her knees to her breasts, balled her fists, and wailed.
He stood and watched her for a while. He didn’t ask her a word. That was the understanding between them. After she’d wept until she’d emptied, he moved behind the couch and she sat up and he massaged her neck and shoulders till she fell asleep. He brought her to his bed and undressed her, closed the door behind him, and went to sleep on the couch.
When Mita returned to Valentine Castle Avenue the next day, the front yard was filled with bands of children—children shrieking, children crying, children shouting and jumping and tugging and fighting and spitting and doubled over laughing.
Was it some kind of birthday party? She didn’t want to draw attention to herself, so she walked by without stopping, glancing every now and then as she passed the long line of cars parked against the curb. On the veranda she saw people who walked and talked and looked like her ex-husband. But she did not see him. And she did not see her girl.
She walked by the house a second time and paused in the shade of a mango tree. She would snatch her if she saw her, just so. She would take her girl. Bring her back to California. Find work again. Make her a home. The piece of pipe was in her bag. Just in case. What was good for his dog would be good for him. A gun would be better. Just to scare him. But she had no gun. That fucker had fooled her.
She lit a cigarette and imagined Errol’s face as she last saw it. Saw the gun pressed to his Adam’s apple. Saw his eyes big and wild with fear. If push came to shove she’d use it, she told herself. She would. She wouldn’t back down. She’d go back to prison if it came to that. At least it would be for something she’d actually done.
Then she saw her.
Moira was standing by herself under a tree off to the side. Tall and straight. It had been many years, and the girl was at a distance, but Mita knew in her heart it was her. And the cigarette slipped from her fingers and lay smoldering in the grass.
She watched her daughter talking to herself. She couldn’t hear what she was saying, but from twenty yards away she could tell that her voice was high and thin.
Moira, she called out, careful not to speak too loudly, not to draw attention. She didn’t want the other children to see, but some were already looking and pointing. She moved closer to the white concrete fence, and called again over the hedge: My love, is that you?
She held her breath. The girl turned. Her face was framed by two long plaits that fell halfway down her chest. Her eyes were big and wise, an old woman already.
Just that morning, Mita had gone to the store and bought her a polka dot dress with spaghetti straps. Just that morning, she had bought her a pair of barrettes for her hair, colored clips. She had bought her a set of six panties with assorted stripes.
Moira? she called again, as the girl eyed her with interest.
Who are you? said the girl.
I am Mita.
Mita, the girl said, moving closer. So close Mita could smell the castor oil in her hair.
The little girl pulled back. My mother’s name is also Mita, she said.
Yes? Mita said. Hope filling her voice. And where’s your mother?
Dead. Dead like a door post. And whatever light had been in Moira’s face was blown out now. She cocked her head then cackled for a long time. My mother is dead, she told Mita again.
And it was like a knife in Mita’s belly. Who told you that? she cried. She was trying not to scream.
She went to sleep one night and did not wake the next morning. My dad woke to find her dead beside him.
Who told you that?
For me to know and you to find out.
If it’s your father, he lied to you. If it’s anybody, they lied to you.
My daddy is not a liar. My daddy is good to me. He loves me.
Look at me good, Moira. Come closer. Can’t you see it’s me? It’s me, Mita. Your mother. Don’t you remember?
You are crazy, Moira said, taking several backward steps. She began to glance toward the veranda at the adults. Her voice turned cold and flat.
My mother is dead, she said. And whoever you are, Miss Mita, you are crazy with a capital C.
She spun away after that. Mita watched her trot across the grass, ignoring the other children, and disappear inside the house.
From a place outside herself Mita could see the children in the yard watching her and pointing. She could see their lips open and close. But heard no sound at all.
That night, she took off her clothes and called Wallace into the bedroom. She had no sensations at all in her limbs.
Fuck me, she said to him.
Not like this, he said, sitting on the bed next to her in the dark. It’s like you’ve seen a ghost. He ran his hand across her face. Her eyes didn’t register. You’re not even here, he said.
There was the sound of water running in the tub, there was the scent of ylang-ylang perfuming the air. There were the candles already turning to grease.
She couldn’t feel herself. She wanted to feel herself. You’re a faggot, she hissed.
Come he said, reaching out his arms to her.
But she pulled away, got dressed in the living room, grabbed her purse, and shunted out. She could not stand still. The elevator took more than ten seconds to come. She walked the ten floors down to the bar, where she demanded a double scotch.
It was a slow night. The place was almost empty. She began to look around for Ralph. Three men sat studying their amber drinks at a table in a corner. Smooth jazz piped in from tiny speakers in the walls. As she ordered her second drink she made out that there was a woman eating by herself at another table. A plump, fair-skinned woman digging into something meaty.
Then she saw him. Ralph. He was sitting at a table in a far corner talking with a man whose back was turned to her. Still, she recognized the steeply sloping shoulders right away. It was Errol. The ex-husband. Errol.
Her breath grew shallow. She turned her lips inside her mouth to wet them. He had grown large and bald. From the width of him, she could see he’d grown a gut.
But there he was throwing back his head and laughing, a sound she would recognize anywhere, the hearty roar of it. He had his feet perched on the rung of the chair. He still wore brown loafers with the penny in the groove. And there was Ralph. That fucking little rat. It was obvious now they were friends.
As if they could feel her eyes, the two of them turned in her direction at once. A flicker of smile crossed the ex-husband’s face. Ralph, though, looked terribly unhappy.
Everything that happened afterward happened quickly.
She woke up in Wallace’s room. And when she saw his face swollen and bruised, she started to cry. Every bone in her body hurt. Every muscle in her body hurt. He had put ointment on all her wounds and bandaged her up.
It’s not so bad, he said. He had stretched her out next to him on the couch, her head cradled in his lap.
If we had fucked, she said, this wouldn’t have happened. She meant it as a joke and she tried to laugh, but her lips were so swollen, they didn’t move at all.
He had a bowl of ice; he put a cube on her lips and another on his. Just rest yourself, he said.
I won’t rest till I finish what I started down there tonight.
People who can’t fight mustn’t fight, he said. If you step to a man with a piece of pipe and a Red Stripe bottle like that, what you think the man going do? It wasn’t right for him to manhandle you like that and box-box you up, but still . . . Is not just a defense thing, you know. Is a pride thing. A man thing. From the way he was box-boxing you up, I can tell it was about pride. That was a man defending pride.
He nursed her in his room for two days, and on the third day he asked her, What the hell is this about?
By this time all the swelling had gone down.
It’s a long story, she said.
They were in the tub, facing each other. They were like an old married couple. Naked with soft nipples. Familiar.
When she tried to blow him off, he said, We have time.
She hated to have to go back to those years. Travel down those memories. But there were his eyes, hard and steady on her.
Moira was about four, she said. And the marriage was pretty much done. We’d fight over everything. And sometimes it’d get so bad I’d leave and go and live with my sister. Then weeks would pass and he’d call and say we should try again and then we’d get back and the same shit would happen again.
And then his cousin came to live with us for a while and it was like evil had stepped through the door. She paused. She took a sip of the local rotgut rum Wallace liked. We couldn’t stop fucking, she said heavily. And all this time he was stealing from Errol. Errol had a used car business that was doing pretty good. And the two of them were always quarreling over money, and the accountant, Mr. Sams, was always complaining to Errol. And this cousin said it was money Errol owed him.
She stopped to drain the glass of overproof and then to pour a fresh shot from the bottle and to put in more ice from the bucket on the floor. She turned on more hot water as well, and when the temperature in the tub was just right she turned off the tap and continued.
I couldn’t stop it with this guy. It was like an addiction. And then one day Errol found out. After that, I took Moira and left for good. He tried to throw out the cousin, but he’d just come out of prison, he didn’t have anywhere to go. Week after I moved, the cousin called me. We met up in a hotel room. As usual we fucked. And before I even got back to my sister’s, the police picked me up. There was all this money he’d put in my purse, Errol’s money, and the gun, the gun that bastard used to shoot Mr. Sams with.
So Errol got the kid and you went to prison.
She said nothing at first. Then: Don’t even know what happen to that bastard Carlton.
Carlton who? He has a last name?
Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?
Lewis, she said. Carlton Lewis.
He described Carlton from head to toe. She shifted uneasily in the water.
Dead, he said. Big news in the papers. Police shootout some years back. Drugs. They kill him.
So what the hell is really going on with you?
I came so I could see my kid, she said. That’s all. Just to see her face again, talk to her, touch her hands, listen to her breath. She looks like my mother. Exact stamp of her.
Wallace looked up at the ceiling. I can get you the kid, he said.
Really? She stared at the long strong neck and the circles of hair around his nipples.
That easy to arrange. When you want her—today? Tomorrow?
He kept his eyes on the ceiling as they talked.
Just so? she said. Her stomach felt suddenly queasy. Who exactly was this man?
He reached over the edge of the tub for a glass of rum, took a sip. Looked in her direction but not in her eyes, just a bit above them, somewhere between her hairline and her brows. When he stopped sipping, his Adam’s apple kept moving up and down.
I think I need to talk to him first, she said.
He looked her in the eye now.
I can’t just take her like that. He’s holding her hostage. There’s something he wants from me.
He’s punishing you, he said, for fucking his cousin. As I said, what happened the other night was a pride thing.
I know, she said. But there’s something else. I have to figure out what will make him let her go. I have to give him something.
He started to speak and she raised her hand. Let me just think, Wallace, please. They were quiet for several moments. And for the first time, she was afraid. Genuinely afraid. Who was this man? And then she poured herself half a tumbler of rum and downed it quickly. She started to bathe him. Just so she could think, buy time. She soaped the wrinkles and folds of his skin speckled with moles and he brought his eyelids together and moaned. It was soft, his skin, and it hung loosely on the heavy bones of his slim body. For a while there was only the breath between them, loud and raggedy in the room, and the flickering candles making shadows on their faces. She wanted to just relax again, she wanted the innocence again, but all that was gone now. When the water grew cool again, they stepped out and towel dried.
I’m going over there, she said.
He looked at her. You want me close by, just in case? His voice was soft and it unnerved her.
She laughed. And it was a reckless laugh. I don’t think so, she said.
I wouldn’t play with that man, not after those blows he gave you.
I know, she said. But I’m putting down my weapon. I just going same as you see me.
That’s noble and all, he said. But let me come with you. I’ll park a little ways off so you can have your privacy.
She arrived just as the sun was sinking. The sky was a fiery red. Wallace dropped her off near the bus stop. And she walked. She had a gun. A Tomcat Beretta, semiautomatic, Wallace wouldn’t let up until she’d taken it. It was a nice gun, as guns go, small, light, easy to handle. She’d owned one before when she lived with Errol and they had the used car business. It gave her a little boost, though, the gun. She could feel it in her girth, the way she moved down the road, as if this earth belonged to her. She waved to the men playing dominoes under the tree. She stopped in a shop to buy tamarind balls and the Star.
She saw Errol before he could see her and she watched him for a long time. He was in the front garden, about ten paces from the fence. His brown face was wrapped in white gauze and he was there pruning a wild rosebush. As she got up closer, she could actually hear him. He was singing under his breath.
He jerked up suddenly, perhaps sensing her, and a vein as big as a pipe throbbed in his neck.
I know you know I didn’t shoot Mr. Sams or take your money, she said, her voice low. I know you put me away because of what happened with Carlton. What had happened to our marriage. I know you wanted to punish me. You wanted me gone. You wanted somebody to pay. And I paid, Errol, six years of prison time. Longer than anybody should have to pay for a little fuck. And maybe it’s my time to see her now, to raise her now. Maybe it’s my time now.
He’d been listening and studying her, but now he sucked his teeth, now he muttered something caustic underneath his breath and turned away from her, now he went back to his pruning, and he gave her his back.
She thought to pull out the gun and whack him hard across his face. Whack him until it was mush. She was talking to him. She was fucking talking to him. She at least deserved his attention.
But as she reached into her purse, she noticed the glistening lines on his cheeks. She noticed his slow-moving lips. How you could shame me like that? he muttered. How you could bring me so low?
Look, I had no business doing what I did with Carlton. It was wrong. Damn wrong, she said. And I know it cut you up. But prison, Wallace. Prison? You think I deserved to go to prison for that? Now you tell me. Six whole years I sat up in that hellhole. Because you feel shame. Because I bring you down low. Because of your pride. Your manhood. What if right now I should punish you for what you did to me? Cause I could very well do that to you right now. I could crush you right now, Errol. But I am not going to do that. I just want to be with Moira. That’s all. I just want to feel her close again. And so everything is up to you now. Everything is up to you. And I would advise you to make the right choice this time. I would advise you to act right.
She watched his shoulders heaving. She glanced at her watch. Ten minutes had passed. Wallace would be driving by soon. He would do so only once, he’d said. If she missed him she’d be on her own.
Errol still had not turned to face her, still had not said anything, but she knew him. He was listening; he was turning things over. His shoulders had grown slack.
She took her hand from her purse, backed away from the gate, and began walking in reverse. As she stepped away, she thought she caught the movement of a curtain. She stopped. Looked.
Errol threw down the shears and hurried inside. Should she wait? She continued her slow retreat, hoping to hear Errol or Moira’s voice, continuing to hope when it made no sense to think she’d be able to hear them from so far.
When she got to the main road she continued walking backward, stumbling at times, but her hand still in her purse, holding the gun.
Wallace was sitting in his Mercedes SUV at the bus stop.
Half an hour of driving elapsed before she spoke. She didn’t even recognize her own voice. You know what, Wallace? Turn round this damn vehicle right now. I can’t go home. I have to get my girl. I have to get her now.
PATRICIA POWELL was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. She is the author of Me Dying Trial, A Small Gathering of Bones, The Pagoda, and The Fullness of Everything. A recipient of a PEN New England Discovery Award and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, Powell lives in Northern California and teaches in the MFA program at Mills College.
Posted: May 15, 2013
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