“Woman at the Gate” by Vashti Anderson
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, Vashti Anderson has a full house and an unwanted visitor.
We all sneezed. Or maybe I just sneezed, but we all looked away at exactly the same time and, at exactly the same time, looked back.
There were hundreds of us, hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, from all parts of the world—Toronto, Milwaukee, London—and one set of grandparents, all crammed into the breezy heat of the two-story, one-level house that my grandfather the architect created. Three bedrooms since 1947—one for my grandparents, one for four girls, and one for four boys. Anybody extra lived with the neighbors. At my grandmother’s insistence, we gathered there for holidays, walking on the creaky wooden floors at night, waking up to the sound of the analog phone ringer with the volume up way too high and the sharp swoosh, swoosh of her cocoyea broom. It would be Christmas in Trinidad, and the small artificial pine stood scrawny and ornamented, like a boy wearing ill-fitted pants in the front room. We watched my grandfather spray it with fake snow, knowing full well what real snow looked and felt like.
The days were filled with hot macaroni pie, bhodi, callalloo, peas and rice, chicken curry at lunch, and small sandwiches with tea at dinner. My grandfather retired early, blasting religious hymns from his bedroom radio to drown out the noise. Raucous talk into the night about politics and the new thing that involved stuffing a turkey with a duck, then a chicken, and then roasting the aberration filled the room.
But a voice came in like broken glass. It was persistent. My grandmother stood at the window. It was her house.
The voice came from the street below: “Excuse. I would like to speak to you please.”
My grandmother: “What is it you want?”
“Come down for a little.”
I followed a few cousins to the gallery, where we could get a clear view of the street yet remain hidden behind some well-placed potted plants. A woman stood by the locked gate, eyes shining in the dark. Her gestures were gentle, and she motioned for my grandmother to come down.
“You can say what you have to say from there.”
“Come down for a little. I would like to speak to you.” Her voice remained quiet and glassy, her head and body wrapped in what seemed like one continuous piece of cloth. “Let me speak to you for a minute.”
“What is it that you want?” My grandmother would often offer a plate of food or an odd job to anyone who asked, but something was keeping her pinned to the window. She had no intention of meeting the lady at the gate.
“Come down for a little.” Words like shadows sinking into the darkness.
“Tell me what it is you want.”
This back and forth was causing us to lose interest. I turned away from the huddle of cousins to sneeze, as is the polite thing to do, and turned back.
“Wait, where’d she go?” said my Canadian cousin in his thick, tundra accent. We all must’ve looked away at the same time and all turned back to darkness.
No sound, no trace. No robed figure making her way up or down Robertson Street, or the adjacent La Chapelle Street. The woman was gone. No bushes to hide in, and certainly she hadn’t climbed one of the mango trees that the neighbor boys looted at night. She truly vanished. It wasn’t just us kids with this delusion. The aunts and uncles gasped. My grandmother was the only one left unsurprised.
“La Diablesse,” she uttered quietly, matter-of-fact. “Have to watch out for those.”
One hoof, one foot, La Diablesse walks near the grass so as not to be identified by sound. She lures people away from their loved ones, causing them to vanish forever. My grandmother preferred a Christian burial.
VASHTI ANDERSON is a Trinidadian-American filmmaker who has won grants, recognition, and awards for her writing and directing. Moko Jumbie, her narrative feature film, is currently in post-production. Her narrative short film, Jeffrey’s Calypso, has been shown in festivals around the world and curated for special screenings. She holds an MFA in film from New York University, teaches courses in film at Hunter College, and has guest lectured at the University of the West Indies. She also writes about film and multimedia for A&U Magazine.
Posted: Nov 12, 2015
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