And now they say you dead. That your body did wash up at Hot Pot in the middle of the night, and the old people – bow legged and curve-backed in bicycle shorts and shower caps – came down to the beach for them dawn baths and found your body.
The sea is hot where the run-off pipes from the power plant bury beneath the sand, and the current is capricious. You taught me that word – Capricious. You read it in Pride and Prejudice – your favourite book. I read it last year but I didn’t think it was nothing special. You said I too young to understand because the book is about grown people, and how they think and carry on. I think you just like the idea that a rude boy could turn soft for the right woman. But I never tell you so. You would have only stupse and walk way.
You is not the first body to wash up at Hot Pot, belly bloat and eyes black like cast iron. Anywhere them got water people going find a way to drown, Mummy always say. Though I doubt she going keep saying it. Water always killing body. Rotten, green pools in forgotten buckets breeding mosquitoes – the bad ones too, with the white and black striped legs, injecting you with diseases. It’s zika now but before that it was chikungunya and back when I was in primary school it was lepto.
You slap one against your thigh and it bursts with other people’s blood and you wipe it off and carry on because if you panic over every bite you would do nothing but panic all day.
Mummy make we put on shoes and we riot. We wore rubber sandals out the door and hide them in the bush, leather feet bare on the sun-soak tar. A boy in my form three class die after three weeks in the hospital. They thought it was lepto and blame he parents. The newsman curse our backwards ways. The road to the future cannot be walked barefoot, they say. But it turned out to be dengue that kill he, while we was busy laying blame.
It always water in the end that get you – one way or another.
They tell we to fear the ocean but we dive down for sand and bring it up in clenched fists. De sea ain’t got no back door, hear? Don’t swim after eating. Don’t swim on Easter. Don’t swim if the sargassum is thick in the swell. Don’t swim after four o’clock. But nobody can’t drive ten minutes on this island without hitting the coast and you never could learn to fear the wall of blue that kept you trap here.
They did tell we to fear god too but they never tell we to fear man, so man did passing through this house like trade winds since Daddy left. Some stay only one night; some stay near whole year. I could always tell when new man come to stay because Mummy wake up before even fowl-cock start hollering to cook stew beef and rice and peas and macaroni pie. Most of the men just ignore we or bring we KFC chicken and cheap plastic toy to play with. But that man was different. That man come ‘round while Mummy was at work, looking tall and strict in his starch uniform. That man bring you silver chain with heart pendant and tell you call he Daddy. That man go Miami and bring you American Eagle tee-shirt and Levi jeans. That man bring me chocolate and say, you ain’t no browning like you sister but you look sweet still for a dark ‘ting.
And now they say you dead. They saying it was an accident. In the Monday paper them got picture. You is just a blurry lump in the sand, a purple smudge on the glittering horizon. That’s the first thing that all wrong. That purple dress – you wasn’t wearing it when you tuck me in night before last, leaning in to shower me with kisses, smelling sweet like cherry brandy and body spray. The body spray is mine, a stocking-filler from our auntie in Miami. You got your own perfume, a real one, in a glass bottle, from one of the air-conditioned department stores in town. But you can’t wear it around Mummy in case she ask who buy it for you. Same man who buy the purple dress but Mummy can play fool when it suit she.
The dress was bought to wear to Queen’s Park on Christmas morning and is the fanciest bit of clothing you own. It cost more than the perfume. It cost so much, you wore it two Christmases in a row and wasn’t even shame because everybody done know how much it cost. That dress does always hang in the very back of our closet, on a wooden hanger with a big black garbage bag over it.
It was there in the closet last week. I waited until you had gone out and slipped inside it, the lace material the softest thing I ever feel on my skin. It was there night before last when you climbed out through our bedroom window, careful not to let the jalousie shutter slam and wake Mummy. Now that same dress wash up in the low tide, spreading out around your legs like man o’ war. I can’t see all that in the picture but I can imagine it. In my mind, you just a mermaid with seaweed knot in your hair and sand dollar over your eyes. Later, when I see you in the casket, you going look like a bloated barracuda. But for now it’s like you not really dead, just transform into a sea creature.
Yesterday, before them find your body, I sat at the kitchen table and eat bakes and listen to the morning call-in program with Mummy. You ain’t come home and Mummy was real vex. This was before police come knocking and before men from The Nation and The Advocate come with big camera to take picture of Mummy crying on our veranda in her nightie, hair in rollers still. Before all of that, Mummy was smashing pots and pans around the kitchen, frying flying fish and cussin’ stink because the Devil take she first born child. And she should have known the day you were born with them light eyes and that clear skin that you was going to be force-ripe. She hear from Cynthia who live down in Oistins that you does be at the fish fry every Friday smoking cigarettes and drinking rum with all kinds of men. Mummy say when you get home she going rain licks down on you like you is small child. No child of hers staying out all night and doing the Devil’s work. But you ain’t come home. And now Mummy crying for mercy from Jesus. Mummy want to know why God see fit to take her angel back to heaven.
Last night I dream that I did floating in the pool at the gymnasium. It’s interschool sports and the crowd cheering. But the pool empty except for me and you. My arm spread out wide at my side, and I can feel your hand beneath my back. Belly up, you say, use your leg and kick. Then next minute you floating next to me but we not in the pool no more; we at Brighton Beach at low tide and the rain is falling on my face and I love that feeling because the rain make the ocean feel warmer than it really is, and I don’t want to get out.
We in bed now and you making soft noises across the room and I think that you dying except you not – you giggling and the soft noises get drowned out by sheets and you laughing and dying and laughing and dying. When I peek out from underneath my blanket I don’t see you at all. You get swallow up by whale – big blue whale open his mouth and take you inside.