FathomOnline

 

 Fathom 2003

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Patrick Pearce (2)
Eva Holland (4)
Julie MacManus (2)
Michelle Damour
Myka Tucker Abramsonmn (2)
Jordan Penney
Brad MacDonald
Kate Buttery (3)
Nikiki Martain
Bethany Jost
Joshua Cotton
Jasmine Somers/Angela Day
Jasmine Somers
Chantelle Rip

Prose

Morgan Dambergs
David Bain

[PDF]

David Bain

 

 

Religion In Pirate’s Wells

I

     Sun come down strong ‘bout ten. Out ‘mongst the tall corn in the rocky field, where the treacherous ground looking to twist my swollen ankles and throw me down, bust up my fat, heavy lips and broad nose, while the heat beat down till nothing can stand straight no more, except the stalks. Bugs out here too, buzzing and fussing, busy with molesting us. Mosquitoes, horseflies, sand fleas, other bitin’ bugs I don’t even know the name of, waiting on us. Waiting hungry, like we hungry, but ain’t no breakfast, not this time of year, not for us. Bugs eat good though.
     My stretch of field stand bout a mile back from the sea. Take me a good hour to walk from the settlement, ‘cause the path up from the road so bad, but I ain’t working my own land. All the women from Pirate’s Wells working in the Co­-op field today. The closest field to the settlement, and the biggest too. More than enough work for everyone. I’m looking at the plants, figure on a good harvest next two months; might make enough on my share to get the house painted up for Christmas. The black blade of my cutlass flashes dangerous arcs off its silver bright edge, like it stabbing beams of light back at the glaring sun. Been swingin’ that cutlass since eight this morning, fightin’ back the bush; but it keep encroaching on our field, stubborn and hard, not willing to be anything other than itself, like everything else on this island. It’s a short blade cutlass, foot an’ a half long, heavy steel, rounded and broad across the top narrower toward the thick wood handle, strong, sharp enough to shear rock if it have to. Fit good in my hand. The calluses cross my broad palm keep my grip firm even when sweat turn the handle slick. I scrub the salty perspiration off my face ‘fore it can get down to my eyes, use a wide and short fingered hand, to do it. A strong hand, rough and hard like a man’s, scarred with ugly, gnarled joints and hangnails, brown and thick and chewed off near the quick with my teeth. Look at my hands you know what work is. Look at my hands you know what Island Life is all about.
     “Mornin’ ladies.”
     “Mornin,” I says. Don’t care much for Darrel Murphy. He may be Commissioner, but he a lousy man. Sit in his house all day, pretendin’ to make long distance phone calls and sort mail, just gettin’ fat, puttin’ Product in his hair ‘til now it startin’ to fall out. Man take bribes too, or just plain cheat and steal. Construction permit only cost $50 in Nassau, if it come through Darrel somehow it cost $100. Liquor license, Death Certificate same thing. Wasn’t no such thing as drugs on the island before Darrel took office. Now we just stink with it.
     “Miss Ida,” his eye don’t never lift higher than my chest. “Mighty fine day today.”
     “Umhum.” I says.
     First time I ever seen him was when Franklin helped me off the boat. Commish and half the settlement turned out to welcome my man home, and he was proud to show me off, his new bride. I met with my share of hugs and kisses, kindly old ladies, beaming decayed smiles and fresh joy at our union, offering to help me fix up the little place Franklin and I would share while we got our own house bUilt. Commish didn’t bother to pull my husband aside when he said, “Well boy, she black as tar, but ‘least she gat shape. Just have to hope the children get your color.”
     I look at him now the way I looked at him then. Like he just something the breeze brought to my nostrils and soon enough the breeze gon’ take him away again. He still flash me a greasy smile, yellow as his skin.
     “Corn lookin’ fine I must say, comin’ along good?”
     “Umhum.” I says. Put my hands on my hips and stretch out my back, where it’s tight from bending low all morning. Bastard most pop his eyes out they sockets looking at my breasts rise. Me and Franklin never had any children, never had a reason to lose the shape I brought to the island.
     “Lord knows you ladies work hard enough. Guess we gonna have a rich harvest this season.”
     “Umhum.” I says.
     “Don’t figure you heard any more on Franklin?”
     “How your wife Commish?” I says. I don’t need to ask him, she been out here in the fields with the rest of us since first thing this morning. She standin’ right over yonder, watchin’ him with hot eyes, shamed right down to her guts. My heart go out to her, married to man like him.
     He smile at me. He get my message, but he still smile them big yellow teeth at me. I ain’t smilin’ back.
     “Miss Ida, it’s done been close on a year now. Why don’t you let me fill out the Death Certificate for you? At least you be getting’ a pension.”
     “Doin’ fine without a pension.” I tell him. “Don’t need no Death Certificate.” I bring up my cutlass, let the blade res’ on my shoulder. He understand what I mean. I don’t need no Death Certificate yet.
     “Well, good day to you Miss Ida.” He shuffle his fat self off. The rest of the women in the field pretend like they ain’t seen nothin’. Like it just good manners for him not to speak a word to anyone of them. His wife watch him go, her eyes still hot and stinging wet. My heart go out to her, but I gat nothing to say.

II

     I ring out and hang up the laundry I left to soak once I get back to the house me and Franklin built right out on the water. Every day we get a strong breeze off the sea, even when the weather turn cool it never take more than a couple hours to dry the clothes. I sweep out, run the mop over the floorboards, check on my crabs in the pen and take a little bit of fish out the freezer to thaw while I wait for the clothes to dry. Once they picked in, I get ‘em folded quick, then sit down on my porch and look out over the water. Keep my hands busy with a needle and thread while my eyes drift out over the easy swells. Be another few hours before sunset bring the men back from the sea, but my eyes stare out over the endless waves anyhow. I’m not really expecting to see anything anymore, it’s just habit now to look out over the water.
     “Hey Miss Ida.” Sophi Tucker holler at me from down the beach. She a pretty woman with silvering hair and smooth, nut-brown skin, a solid woman walking with a string of conch in each hand, still dripping from the sea, her big straw hat flopping like her heavy breasts with every step. Sophi breasts start to grow when she was ten years old, her oldest grandchild that age now and it look like Sophi breasts ain’t stop growin’ yet. Next to me, she Darrel Murphy favorite person to talk to. When Murphy come round she put on her crochet shawl, could be 100° easy, but she wrap herself up to keep that man eyes off her.
     “Hey Sophi, where you get them conch?”
     She smile at me. Her round cheeks dimpling and her eyes flashing like she a schoolgirl with a secret. She walk strong, like the talcum soft, white sand under feet ain’t nothing worse than the tar road running though the middle of the settlement, and reach my house quick.
     “Junior’s two boys took the small boat out this mornin’.” She tell me, hauling herself up the steps to join me in the shade. “Come back with half a boat full.”
     “Those boys business in schoo1.” She look at me, her eyes sayin’ “So what, it ain’t my business.
     I nodded. “How much they sellin’ ‘em for?” “Got these two strings for $20.”
     “Should get down there and pick up string before they sell out.” I told her. She swung a string toward me and let it fall at my feet. The heavy shells scratched the worn surface of the porch, another set of scars to tell the story of my simple house. Least these scars can be seen, they not the silent gouges I carry.
     “Figured you would want a string. Jus’ gimme the $10 Sunday at church.”
     She sit on a sturdy wooden stool beside me and let her eyes wander over the pants I’m hemming up before she turn ‘em to join my own, staring out at the horizon, taking a fast sojourn to end of it and finding more tranquil sea, more space and horizon.
     I feel like she want to ask me, who pants I’m sewing, but I know it would make her sad to hear the answer. I don’t feel sad though. Feel natural to me, Franklin still my husband, wherever he is. I don’t mind doing for him. ‘Sides, outside of these pants, I ain’t got much use for green thread.
     Sitting together we make a strange pair, me and Sophi, I’m not nearly her age, but most times I seem to act the elder, most days I seem to feel older. She a handsome woman, still turns heads when she dress up for Service, I be lucky if I escape comment. One time she told me that together we make the perfect woman, her face on my body, say if that was the case we could have every man on the island walking backwards or doing cartwheels. I don’t doubt it, when it come to men Sophi know more than every other woman in the settlement. Her husband a lucky man.
     “You cooking up some chowder tonight?” I ask her. Sophie cook up a mean chowder when she get ready. Cook it in a big pot and freeze most of it in ice-cream containers to send for her children in Nassau on the boat. She usually put some in small container for me too, send it over with her grandchild. I send back a little fried fish I know her husband like and some fresh baked bread. It’s our own little tradition.
     Sophi put her hands on her hips and heave a sigh that get her breasts to bouncing. “You never think ‘bout leavin’ here Ida?” She lookin’ out at the water different now, lookin’ as though she hear someone call in’ her name out there.  “You ain’t from here. You still got your people in Freeport. Why you don’t get yourself back to them, ‘stead of livin’ here all alone.”
     I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to that. Sophi my one real friend here in Pirate Wells, she the only one I can talk to. If she think it time for me to go, maybe it time.
     “You didn’t grow up here,” she go on. “You know how to live in a big city, you been to school, know how to work a real job. You don’t need to stay in this little settlement, with no nurse and one police constable. You come from better child.”
     “I’m not leaving’,” my mouth say while my brain still tryin’ to puzzle out what she tellin’ me. She look at me hard, listenin’ hard to what my mouth tellin’ her, though it still talkin’ without my brain tellin’ it what to say. “This Where Franklin brought me to live, this where we built our house, where we plan to have our children. This where he gon’ find me waitin’ when he get back.”
     “Honey,” her pretty little mouth pinch tight holdin’ back tears. “You know Franklin ain’t coming back. Not after this long.” She put her big, rough, strong hand over mine, rubbing the ashy, dry skin on the back of my hand with her thick palm. “He’s dead child. The storm claimed him. Him and the boat.”
     “Ain’t no body.” I tell her, surprised by how soft my voice sound in the still afternoon heat.
     “He dead.” She tell me again. She don’t say it to hurt me. When news reached the settlement last year no one cried for my husband like Sophi, he was another son to her. I let go the needle and squeeze her hand back, loving this big, wonderful woman.
     “Maybe,” I say back. This time my mouth and my brain talkin’ together.
     “But he not dead to me. I ain’t leaving. This my home now.”
     Sophi don’t look at me, she fix her eyes on the pants in my lap. I never see when she take her leave. I stay on my porch, watching the sea, my fingers keep sewing, my conch stay at my feet, dripping, my eyes keep watching. Seem like now I can almost hear someone call my name, almost see that face, familiar, gentle; eyes like bright sunshine through a tinted window, inviting, trusting; skin like moist, brown earth, like good, strong wood, sweet like rich honey from wild mango blossoms; soft and taught and warm.

III

     “Bless the Lord,” Preacher say.
     “Amen,” we say.
     “Brothers and sisters,” he say, “let us turn in our text today to the book of First Corinthians, chapter 7, verses 1­5.” His voice get loud when he start to read, like the words each climbing a Jacob’s Ladder to reach the ears of heaven, not just our own. “Paul writes, ‘Because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.’” He pause, his eyes cutting through all of us sitting in the church, sweating now cause suddenly it seem a lot hotter in the building. “In verses 8-9 the apostle acknowledges that there are advantages to remaining unmarried, but hastens to add: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.”
     “Now let all God’s children say amen!”
     “Amen,” we say.
     “Bless the Lord,” he say.
     “Amen Preacher,” we say.
     “Brother’s and sisters, we talkin’ about burning.” He lean down when he say this, put both hands on the sides of the narrow, rough pine pulpit and stoop close over his open Bible, staring at us with bulging eyes like he can see our sin for himself. “Burning with hell’s own flames of lust and iniquity.”
     This message been a long time coming I think to myself. I shout my Amen right along with the rest, hoping that Darrel Murphy listening good. Rev. Hawkins one of the few men in the settlement I can stand. He not a handsome man, not with his round eyes, showing too much white, and his crooked teeth, but when he not in the pulpit he talk soft, walk soft, he a humble man, always asking, always mannerly and generous. And when he look at Sister Hawkins, you can see it something real there.
     “Lemme tell you what’s gonna happen to you if you let the hell fire rage in you. Rage in your loins, rage in your mind, rage in your bed!” Preacher thunder down on us. His voice seem like it coming from outside him now, too big for his body; it fill up the church till it seem like the wood pews tremble with every word, like he only the trumpet and God himself blowing us a new song.
     Like all the women I stand up and praise God. I wave my white handkerchief in surrender and encourage my Preacher to bring the word. And Preacher spitting fire now, holy fire, goggle-eyed like some old testament prophet and ready to work wonders; if he led the way out into the bay right now all of us would get baptized again. All over the church, though, men starting to sit small, couple glance at their watches and shift in their seats, feeling the need to be somewhere else right now. Only the Commish sit tall, a dull smile on his face, his beady, evil eyes staring straight up at the man of God, too bold and brassy for the Holy Spirit to convict. If God were to try to touch his heart, man would probably say, hands off me Jesus, you messin my coat. I spend too much time thinking ‘bout Darrel Murphy I’ll just spoil my Sunday. I give my attention back to Preacher.
     “You gon’ bust Hell wide open!” Preacher slap his hands together and throw ‘em wide. Sound like dynamite. We knew it was coming but we still jump. “You gonna bust hell wide open,” he say it soft now, tears in eyes like this already the funeral for someone we know gone to the devil, “if you don’t change.”
     “My Lord,” we say, “gotta change.”
     “Bless the Lord,” he say. “We have to change, every one of us. We have to let go of the way we used to do things. Let go of the way we used to think about things. Let go of the past.”
     Now, suddenly, Preacher fix his eyes dead on me. He surprise me. “We gotta let go. Let go of what we used to have, and what we used to be,” he say, and I know he talkin’ right to me. “Let it go,” he keep tell in’ me, “whatever it is we holdin’ on to, cause it keepin’ us from seein’ things clear. Keepin’ us from doin’ what we need to do, and what we need to do is change. Change our mind, change our talk, change our walk, change our ways. Take hold of what right in front of us.”
     His words falling like heavy blows across my head and shoulders, even though he still talkin’ soft. Knock the strength out my legs, knock the breath out my body and fold me back into my seat like wet linen. His words rattle round in my head till they start to hurt. “We gotta let it go and change.”

IV

     Most Sunday evening’s I spend visiting. Take a pan of potato bread or carrot cake and go round to Sophi and couple other ladies, trade food and tales, talk ‘bout Service and sometimes sing a little. Today my headache follow me home from church. Stay with me all afternoon until it chase me to bed with a damp cloth over my eyes. Sophi come visiting earlier. Present me with her chowder and sit by my bed, singing low, deep. Singing more with the breeze than with any melody written by man, the kind of singing we let out in the field when the sun make you dizzy if you try to bend down and more dizzy still if you stand straight up. In the song you hear the sharp crack of the whip and the heavy jangle of chains. Feel like I’m in chains now, feel like somebody been whipping me all day. She keep singing to me though, the kind of moaning, weeping song that rise up from the bedside of someone who’s dying, from sorrow and passion too deep for words, cause you’re left behind.
     I wanted to die.
     Sophie looked at me with her dark, kind eyes and pillowed my aching head on her chest, holding me like I never let her do when I got the news ‘bout Franklin. It gonna get worse she told me. Not that she said it with her mouth, but she said it all the same. Darrel Murphy want you, her eyes tell me, and her hands tell me, no matter how Preacher meant it, Murphy gon’ use today to help break you down, so it gon’ get worse.
     “Oh Lord.” I pray.
     Sophie just sing. She craddle me, rock me, pat my shoulders and sing the timeless, tuneless dirge of our people. Right then it seem like her advice to leave was the best idea I come across. And I hated Darrel Murphy, hated the Preacher, for making me want to leave what me and Franklin built together.

V

     Morning find me in my field, sound of me working rouse the birds out they nests to start singing, but I can’t find the heart to join ‘em today. The mosquitoes surprised to see me out so early, they buzz me plenty trying to figure out what I think I’m doing, but they too confused to bite much. Leastways I don’t pay them no mind, I swing my cutlass hard, attacking every piece of bush or weed like it belong to Murphy. Saw big rat, fat enough to challenge any cat in Pirate’s Wells, troubling my pumpkin patch. I knocked him dead with a rock and wished I had carried stones in my purse to give Preacher on Sunday. Give him a new perspective on the David and Goliath story. Before long sweat turn the back of my dress wet, and I’m breathing heavy, still too mad to feel tired though.
     “Mornin’ Miss Ida.” The voice come from close behind me. It Darrel Murphy, smiling broad and looking cool and fresh in the morning sun. He give me a start, sneaking up on me like he done. Ain’t natural for a man so big to move quiet like he do.
     “Umhum,” I says. I walk couple steps away from him, assault another piece of bush, chop at it so hard shards of rock spray out and sparks fly off the cutlass. Every swing I make is a curse I rain down on his head.
As usual he don’t take the hint. “Fine day we havin’ Miss Ida.”
     “Umhum.” I says, still chopping even though ain’t no weed left.
     “You workin’ mighty hard.”
     “Umhum.” I says, feeling a thick fog roll up from the back of my neck, through my head and across my vision. Suddenly, the cutlass feel light as air in my hand. Like I’m swinging an arc of sunshine, like I got the very sword of God in my hand.
     “Be easier if you had a man to help you carry some of the load.” I ain’t looking at him, but I feel his big wide grin, nasty like a damp slug trail across my body. “You need a man Miss Ida.”
     “Got me a man.” I tell him, marveling at how strong my arm feel now, like it all spring and steel instead of flesh and bone. Like I could fell a tree with one cut. And I’m still chopping at where the last weed grew. Still sending shards of stone and sparks of fire spinning out into the air.
     “Your man is dead Miss Ida.”
     For the first time that morning I look up at Commissioner Darrel Murphy. I look at him like the Sea Hawk looks at a bone fish, like he not a man to me no more, just a piece of meat don’t know it ‘bout to be dinner. Standing there with his sausage fat fingers tucked into his too tight belt, hair slicked back with the gray colored out, wearing Sunday shoes out into the rocky field simply because he can afford to have five other pairs waiting for him at home. Fat off the sweat of others, rich with stolen wealth, and telling me my man is dead. He not even a piece of meat, he just a worm, something any old bird can snatch away, or any heel can press into paste.
     Now I know the reason God suddenly made my arm strong, made my blade light. I see it clear as the glorious morning painting the sky, clear as the air smelling of sea salt and healthy land. I breathe deep, taking in the command of my Creator with the sweet breath of life into my lungs. Finally, he see something in my face that cause his smile to falter.
     “My man is dead Commish,” I tell him, my voice ice cold, not hateful, I don’t hate this man no more, but cold like the inside of a deep freeze, cold and hollow like the frozen hold of the freight boat that comes to the island twice a month. “But he still my man.”
     I ain’t stop chopping yet. Murphy’s eyes start to flicker, following the glittering edge of my cutlass. His throat do a little bobble under his double chins, like he trying to swallow something that can’t go down, something stuck in his craw. I know if I stand up now he a dead man. More dead than Franklin could ever be. He realize it too.
     “Miss Ida,” he start to say something then change his mind. Good thing, talking ‘bout the worst thing he could do right now. Anyway ain’t nothing left to be said, not between us. God knows what it is between us. Not hate, not no more, the hate come from the fear he put in me, but I can’t fear this man no more. Ain’t nothing about him I could fear now, and Judgment is all that’s left between us. That’s why God touched me right now, filled me up with His righteous anger and Holy Ghost power. This nasty filth in the shape of a man wanted a Delilah; he pressed me everyday of my grief to be his Jezebel. But God raised me up, and for Delilah Murphy got Samson, for his Jezebel he faced the wrath of Elijah. Oh I could testify.
     And still my arm ain’t getting tired, I’m still chopping, splintering rock and earth at every swing, setting the whole world to ringing with sound of my cutlass flashing, striking. I’m just looking at him and chopping.
     “How your wife Comrnish?” I ask the question easy. As usual he don’t answer, but he realize that she ain’t here to see what he tryin’ to do. He realize ain’t nobody here to witness whatever might happen to a man this far from the settlement.
     He turn slow, he don’t want to take his eyes off me now, and walk back down the path to the road where his car is waiting. Drive off to sit in his office and pretend to make long distance phone calls and sort mail. When I hear his car start to drive I feel my arm suddenly get tired. Feel my cutlass drag my hand to the ground like a hundred pound weight and pain’s dull teeth gnaw down on my shoulder and all my right side so tears spurt down my cheeks like rivers from a hot spring.
     But they are tears of joy, praise God.

last updated August 17, 2007 | © 2007 Fathom Publishing
poetry, prose, and artwork © individual authours | website created by Alana Paul