Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » June 2017 » “Adela, My Mother and the Young Lizard Catcher” by Kristen Petry

“Adela, My Mother and the Young Lizard Catcher” by Kristen Petry

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, Kristen Petry shares a mystical encounter with a legendary queen. 

Adela, My Mother and the Young Lizard Catcher
by Kristen Petry
The African Queen Fabia; Kingston, Jamaica

Adela sits at her desk in the Kingston parliament building, which looks like a Moorish palace. The Prime Minister declared victory last night, but the election results are too close to call. The rioters have turned into murderers. People are hungry. Peter is Adela’s husband. His lineage is English Colonial and she is a Jamaican princess, a descendant of African Queen Fabia. Adela is fair skinned; an unlucky thing. Neither black nor white people claim her, and caring about it is futile.

“Didn’t you hear me?” Peter hisses.

Machine guns fire nearby. Peter pulls Adela through the dark corridors because the electrical service is out. Bad-men shout in English and Patois; a woman is hysterical. Adela hears her despair until, abruptly, the screaming stops.  

She runs with Peter down many flights of stairs, carpeted in red wool and anchored with gold rods. In the rotunda, on the ground floor, there’s a gargantuan bonfire fed by Fautille chairs, silk drapery and chaos.

Adela and Peter turn sharply, before the crowd notices. In a side passageway, they climb out a window, hang from the sill, and drop to the flagstone terrace. Adela’s skirt hitches up. She scrapes her thighs and bruises her knees. Their hearts hammer in the summery heat.

Miraculously, their blue Peugeot remains where they left it. They leap in, racing down paved lanes to a pair of black frilled gates, a gravel drive and their white columned house. Peter stops at the porch, and Adela gets out, thinking only of Thomas, their five year old son.

The house is deserted. Adela’s feet tap on the floor, to my hiding place in the wall. I know she’s come for me and I throw aside the paneling door.

“You were supposed to wait for me to knock,” she inhales. “What if I were a Bad-man?”

I leap into her arms and ride off, clinging monkey-like to her waist. She stands on the wide \ porch. Bad-men are in the garden, trying to pull Papa out of the locked car.

They laugh sickly, these men I don’t know, except for the young gardener who catches lizards for me with a delicate grass noose. They kick him as he curls and squirms in pain. Others rock the car ferociously. It is too much and I begin to cry.

“Ssshhh,” Mama whispers, “Remember?”

Somehow, I do. She puts me down and the floor feels very solid under my feet. She snaps her fingers and hums notes from a Sunday hymn with ancient rhythms. I clap along, the way she taught me, calling God and Queen Fabia. She couldn’t defend herself from the slave trade, but now her spirit roars overhead, louder than hurricane winds fueled by Heaven’s rage.

The Bad-men scatter like ants, running and falling over each other to escape. Later they drink more Red Stripe than usual to dull the fear. The Peugeot lies on its side, but Mama rights it like a book on a shelf.

We get into the car when Papa unlocks the door. He starts the engine. With forehead bleeding, he drives to the airport, recklessly passing anything in the way. We abandon the car outside the terminal and Papa holds me tightly. His chest thumps and heaves on panicked breaths. We run with Mama, out back, to the small plane by the hanger, under the control tower.

The plane’s ladder is down. We climb up and Papa helps the pilot fasten the door shut behind us. We fall into our seats, relieved and exhausted, flying away, over jungles, city buildings, beach resorts, and out-skirted pockets of sand and shacks. That’s where the Bad-men lived, at least until they stole our house.

Many years later, Adela, my mother, is recently dead of a cancer that hurried and I’ve come back to Jamaica, the first time since we left, to figure things out.

I drive a Mini down lanes that were once smooth, but are now pitted with tufts of green weeds. Naked children run after us, their brown skin glowing softly or dust-dry in patches. They know my local guide. It is too dangerous here for Americans to travel alone.

Our once-white house is grey with mildew, there is no glass in the windows, and some of the roof has collapsed. I stop the car near the frilled gate, which is bleeding orange with rust and hanging askew.

“Long time,” my guide says softly, his hand resting briefly on mine, older now, but once the young Lizard Catcher.


KRISTEN PETRY is a native New Jerseyan living in Naples, Florida. Her master’s degree – in Landscape Architecture – trained her to design upscale gardens and study people. She’s working on a novel about a crooked real estate developer whose mafia connected scamming has everyone waiting for the next shoe to drop. Her relationship to Queen Fabia and all things Caribbean is purely imaginary.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Duppy Thursday flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—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 info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jun 15, 2017

Category: Original Fiction, Duppy Thursday | Tags: , , , , , , ,