CELESTE MOHAMMED - WHITE ENVELOPE
Celeste Mohammed is a lawyer, emerging writer, and mother of a gregarious toddler. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Cambridge, Mass. and lives on the Caribbean island of Trinidad.
In the kitchen, setting the table, when I hear Mr. H open the front door. I hear when the li’l metal feet on his briefcase touch the coffee-table. I hear the fabric rustle when he pass through the brocade dividing the front room and bedroom; and then I hear the click-clacking when he pass through the beaded curtain into the kitchen. Now he grabbing my waist and biting my neck. “You good to put in house, girl!” he saying. And I giggling, the way I’s always react whenever he trying to talk like he from ‘round here, from Pleasantview. Still though, the moment he mention putting me in house, my heart start flapping like a hummingbird wing. I can’t wait to tell him the news. My mother say I shouldn’t say nothing; but she wrong – she don’t know the man like how I know him.
I start dishing out the food and I feeling Mr. H eyes following every-which-way I turn. He love me, I know it, he does always tell me. And I love him too, in a kinda way. I mean, it hard not to feel sorry for him: the poor man been living a lie he whole life. Except when he here with me. Early o’clock he did tell me the whole story ‘bout he and he wife, Mona The Witch. When he was twenty, the marriage get arrange but, because all the money did come from she side, she family treat him like a dog. He stick it out for the children, though. And now, the only reason is because he and The Witch so tangle-up in the cloth business. “Divorces are rare in the Syrian community,” Mr. H does say, “it’s simply bad for business.” But he been putting some money away - for years now - and one day soon he should have enough to say “Fuck it!” and start a new store and a new life. After all, he only fifty-nine, he always saying. Mr. H come just like me: longing for a new life bad, bad, bad.
I rest down the spaghetti in front him and ruffle the li’l semi-circle of hair he still have. I watch him make the Sign of the Cross and then he start attacking the food. He does come round once or twice a week and, every time, I does make sure and cook something from that Italian recipe-book. The one I did borrow from work and photo-copy after he did say how much he love pasta. Poor thing: Mona don’t cook, and all he does get home is maid food.
Slapping the plastic tablecloth now, he bawl, “My God, Gail! This Bolognese is divine.” Then he keep-on smiling and glancing over the wine glass at me while we eating. I want to tell him, I want to tell him, but I know is better to wait till he finish the food and the wine and he in a nice mellow mood.
“You’re really improving with those…the cutlery,” he say. “Almost natural.” But he don’t know how I did beg my friend, Crystal, to teach me to eat with knife-and-fork; and how much I does practice when I here by myself. I want Mr. H to see I could learn new things, I could blend in good with his lifestyle. Just because I start off in Pleasantview don’t mean I bound to stay here.
Now, he swallowing the last mouthful. “Well, boy am I glad I came straight here,” he say. “I hate keeping all that cash from the store on me – especially in this neck-of-the-woods – but I was starving and this was excellent, darling.”
I pour Mr. H a second glass of wine – is his favourite. The name on a paper in my wallet, just in case I ever have to ask somebody in the grocery. But sometimes, while I brushing my teeth, I does pout in the mirror and practice it in a sexy voice: “Bow-jho-lay”.
He loosen his pants button and push back from the table. He patting his knee. “Come here,” he say, “that meal deserves a kiss.” He licking the last drop of sauce from the crease of his mouth. His tongue and teeth red too, from the wine, and when he flash a broad smile and pull me down in his lap, I don’t know why but my mind run on Dracula.
I let Mr. H shift me round to make room for his pot-belly. “You putting on a little weight?” he ask. He did say the same thing last week but I didn’t take the test then, so I didn’t want to jinx nothing by talking before I was sure, sure, sure. Now I certain.
“Yeah,” I giggle, “and is all your fault.” I start stroking his scaly white scalp and kissing his forehead. My child-father, my child-father. Look how far we come, nah. Look how I manage to turn things ‘round from where we did start-off.
Last year, when I did just get the cashier job in Textile Kingdom, the first impression I did have of my boss, Mr. H, was that he look like a hunchback from the movies. Ugly: short, squat, with pudgy, hairy hands and I could tell the rest of him was cover-up in the same coarse hair. It had a day I went in his office, to collect the cash-drawer to start my shift. When he grab me and pull me so, on top his bulging crotch, I was really surprise – I nearly bawl out. But by the time he wrap his hand in my hair and drag my face down to his, I realise what was coming. I let him have my mouth. And when his tarantula-looking hand crawl up under my skirt, although I did stiffen up with fright, I didn’t push it away. And when he bend me over the desk, I just bite my lip and grip on the edge till it feel like the skin over my knuckles was busting open. Yes, I small in body; but I bear that man weight and I never flinch. I did switch-off. I was picturing my mother, Janice, and hearing the advice she did give me the day I leave high-school: “Listen, you is a sexy girl; any man go want what you have between your leg. Put a price-tag on it and find a man who could pay that. Don’t be stupid like me and waste your life on no Pleasantview man.” And I was already thinking I would let Mr. H to do this thing again. And again. And again. No matter how he ugly. No matter how it hurting. And I was telling myself is not rape if I could make him pay me for what he take. Make him give me a new life outside Pleasantview.
I take a deep breath and push the air up my nose-hole, up inside my head, trying to push out the memory of that first, scary time. With the air come Mr. H smell: cigar and dusty cloth. It don’t usually bother me but tonight it upsetting my stomach. I hear that does happen to some women in this early stage.
He nuzzling my neck, rubbing my back, teasing in his Pleasantview accent, “Is too much nice life. Ain’t?”
Yes, Mr. H truly, truly give me a nice life over the last year. Soon after that first time in the office, he did make me throw out my room-mate, Crystal, and he start paying the full rent here. Then, Mona The Witch, did find out ‘bout us and fire me from Textile Kingdom. Mr. H lie down next to me, that very same night, tracing the star-shaped birthmark on my leg. He say, “When I was your age I wanted to be an architect. I designed that white house, you know.”
“For true? It nice, man,” I did say.
Turning on his elbow and stroking my face he ask me, “What you wanted to be when you were a little girl?”
“A chef,” I did say.
“Yes, I should’ve guessed,” he smile. “You do love to cook.”
Two days after that talk, Mr. H pick me up – not in the big Benz that Vishnu, the chauffeur, does drive; but in the smaller one he does drive himself – and he take me to meet the Wallaces, the people who own the snackette where I working now. “You will be safe with Uncle as your boss,” Mr. H did say. “He is eighty-something. Too old to pull at you. But if he tries it, let me know.”
For Carnival, Mr. H parade me, like a beauty-queen, through the VVIP Section of almost every big-shot party. Then, for Easter we went to that hotel, in Tobago, where all the foreign white-people does go. Parasail, snorkel – man, I do all kinda thing Mona The Witch never do with him. “I forgot how to feel like this,” Mr. H did say when we was walking the beach one evening. “She stole my best years. But you, Gail, you’ve given me back my youth.” And for my birthday, just last month, Mr. H give me a ring. Custom-made by his jeweler, he say. A single garnet solitaire – my birthstone – it look like the most perfect drop of blood just happen to land on a circle of twenty-four-karat gold. When he slip it on my finger, he say, “I wish this were a diamond. But one day it will be, my darling.”
All this in my mind now, as I sitting down here in his lap, and I feeling so excited. No more stepping over shit-smelling drains, no more bullets popping all hours of the night, no more wondering when the garbage truck will pass, no more feeling shame to write my address on a form. Me and my child go be up the hill, on a quiet street, playing on a green, green lawn and just waiting for “Daddy” to come home from his new store. I will have a proper family. Which woman in Pleasantview have that? No running-down man and showing up on man job to cuss for pampers and milk – none of that for me. I have Mr. H and he have me and we going after that new life, starting tonight. With both hands, I gather up Mr. H cheeks till he looking like a big baby himself. I lock-on to his eyes, like I’s a doctor checking for cataract.
“I pregnant,” I say. “Eight weeks.”
They get wide, and wider, and wider still; then suddenly they smaller than ever - a squint. He shaking off my touch the way a dog does shed water. “You’re kidding?”
“No. I very serious.” I grinning still, watching him like how people does watch for eclipse.
But then Mr. H jump up and start pacing the kitchen, questions clattering the air like fireworks. When did I find out? Have I been to the doctor? Who have I told besides him?
I was expecting this kinda interrogation and walking ‘round, like if he name Matlock. Oh God, this man could be so dramatic sometimes! I answer everything - calm, calm with a li’l smirk - because I know that’s his way: he can’t listen unless he know every single detail.
Finally, Mr. H stop wearing out my rubber-tiles – “linoleum”, he does call it. He sit down, pulling the chair closer till our knees touching, then he sandwich my hands as if we praying the Act of Contrition – like he does sometimes insist after we done make love. The white, crinkly leather on his face shaping-up a smile. In a tender whisper he say, “Not to worry, my darling. We’ll solve this. I have a guy. Best in class. He’s quick and discreet. I promise: you won’t feel a pinch.”
A cramping start up in my belly. I want to pull away but Mr. H have my fingers lace-up with his.
He saying, “I’ll even go with you…I’ll be right there…”
The cramping turn into a stabbing – a inside-out stabbing. I understand exactly what the man saying, but I don’t understand why he saying it. I start crying and I hear every sentence coming out the same way, “But you say…But you say…Ain’t you say…” But Mr. H have a plaster for every sore tonight: he too old; he can’t get divorced because of the business; he don’t have enough money put away.
“But you say is a fresh start you want. Together. So you would never have to go back to that big, lonely house…Ain’t you say you have so much regrets? That you wish you did married somebody like me? That you wish you could go back and be a better father? You don’t remember? This is what we been talking about, this is our dream!”
“Good God, Gail! Don’t be such a child! Think. Do you know what would happen if people pursued every silly dream they ever had?”
I run to the bedroom, my panty-drawer – the place I does keep everything important – and I pull out the li’l cardboard box with the garnet ring. I push it right up in Mr. H face. “What happen to this? Eh? You did wish it was a diamond. We have a good reason now.”
The man skin-up he nose like I is something dead in the road. “Clearly, I’ve put too much faith in you, Gail. Don’t you grasp the difference between birthday tidings and a marriage proposal?”
I pelt the ring box and watch it bounce off he greasy forehead.
Well, is now the man get vicious! Spitting venom like a cornered cobra: “What the hell were you thinking? Why didn’t you protect yourself? Are you trying to trap me?”
Trap? Like he forget: I used to buy the pills and take them…most days…nobody perfect. And is I used to beg him to be careful, to wear a rubbers; but it had so much times he did get carried away, bawling how he need it skin-to-skin. So, how he could blame me? I didn’t plan this. This is God work.
I trying to tell Mr. H these things, but it useless. I never yet see him get-on so. All of a sudden he like a raving monster – not the nice hunchback – a real monster. And he just twisting everything, ripping through our whole relationship and I don’t know what magic words go make him turn back into the prince I know. I double-over in the chair and start bawling my liver-string out.
“Shut up! Before your neighbours hear,” Mr. H say. And I try. I really, really try. I clamp my own hand over my own mouth, until the only noise coming out is the kind you does hear sick people making in the hospital. No, no, how he could do me this? How?
Mr. H ain’t saying nothing. But his face the colour it does be after sex and his lips is a tight, white line. Outta the corner of my eye, I watch him leave the kitchen and walk through the bedroom - past the king-size bed he did buy for Christmas - to the front room where his briefcase is.
I have this twitch – like a false-start in the blocks – to run behind him. But I don’t hear the door so I wait. I tell myself he just cooling down. He rethinking all the nasty things he just say. He regretting them. He feeling shame. “Is ok,” I tell him in my mind. “Just come back. I forgive you. We have a family to think ‘bout.”
Mr. H back now, holding a white envelope and a piece of note-paper with a ugly, ragged edge where it tear off. Like a TV magician, he bring the envelope down, eye-level, and start flicking a pile of hundred-dollar bills. Then, he fold-up the note-paper and tuck it behind the cash. In a deadly tone he say, “Gail, I will not step foot in this apartment until you call this doctor and make the arrangements. You have a month. Then, I stop paying rent.”
With that, Mr. H gone.
Four hours later, I still by the table. Is like when you trying to wake up from a nightmare but you can’t move - like something holding you down - and you can’t scream neither. Every time I look at this damn envelope I know it was real. But then what was fake? Everything I ever hear him say? Everything I ever see in his eyes? No! I not crazy, I didn’t make it up. Nobody could lie so good. Fake real tears? No! It must be something I do wrong tonight: I choose the wrong words maybe.
Or maybe you just wrong, a voice in my head pipe-up. Maybe Janice was right. She did warn me not to tell Mr. H I pregnant. She did come out and say it plain, plain, “Girl, if you know what side your bread butter on, you will throw-way that child and keep your man. It too early for that. You ain’t really get nothing much from he yet. Make him mind you till you get house and car and your bank-book fat. Then you could take the risk.”
I did get vex when Janice tell me that. “I shoulda know you would say so,” I did tell her. “Children was always disposable for you. Like maxi-pad, ain’t?”
It wasn’t a nice thing to say. Every Friday night, my father, Luther Sr. used to come home drunk, beat her and then cry, “Oh Gawwwd! Ah love yuh, Janice! Why you does make me have to beat you for? Eh? Why, Janice?” One night, after he beat she till she face twist, she move out and leave we. I was twelve, Luther Jr. was seventeen – old enough to know we couldn’t really blame her. But still, I woulda never do my children that. I don’t want to be like Janice. I not throwing away my child. I want my child to have a proper family.
I go fix this, I have to fix this. It can’t end so.
I ain’t sleep whole night. The tossing and turning; the crying. And Mr. H words in my head like a record sticking. And his face. Oh God, that face: a white cloud turning grey with rage. I don’t understand it. The man give me a whole year of words and feelings and everything heading in one direction and then - Bam! - last night, U-turn.
I throw open the top half of my kitchen door. Is only 7:00 but the sunlight barging in, as if it was waiting on the back-step whole night. Is the kinda heat does make green things turn brown and dead. Through the glare, I peep up by the back-house to see if Miss Ivy windows open yet. I been thinking bout her since 4 o’clock when I did get up to pee.
I need help. I need advice from somebody who know Mr. H longer than me. Yes! The windows open and the flowered curtain tie-up in a knot.
On the first knock, Miss Ivy answer. “A-A! Gail, what happen doux-doux? How your face hang down like Tom Dooley so? Something wrong?”
Miss Ivy talking like she surprise but, underneath, I getting a vibes like she was expecting me. It have me uncomfortable and I almost make a excuse to leave, but I don’t know nobody else to ask for help. I steady myself and tell Miss Ivy I have a urgent problem so I need her to read the cards and tell me what to do.
“Come in, nah,” she say, like she excited.
I sit down on Miss Ivy cream-and-yellow couch and, almost right away, my thighs start sweating till they glue-down on the clear plastic that covering the cushions. While Miss Ivy knocking pan and kettle in the li’l makeshift kitchen, I take in the whole place. I never been in one of these back-house apartments before. Miss Ivy have it neat and clean but is just one room: only a wobbly fiber-board screen blocking off she jail-style bed; and she does share a toilet with Mr. Winston, the old man living next-door. Through the thin paneling I hearing his TV on that Seventh Day Adventist program. I wonder if he might hear what I telling Miss Ivy? But I have worse things to worry about: if I don’t change Mr. H mind by month-end, I might be making baby in one of these cardboard-box apartment. Nah! No, Jesus, not my child. Not my half-Syrian child.
Growing up in Pleasantview hard enough if you poor and black; but it worse if you light-skin and have good hair. Then everybody know some high-colour man did take your mother for a ass, and that you have a fine, respectable Daddy who don’t want you. You come like a double-joke. No, not my child.
Miss Ivy reach back now with the deck of cards she does use to see the future. She rest it down on the wobbly centre-table between us. “Give me the full story,” she say, “and don’t ‘fraid to call name.”
I start talking and then I start crying but the old lady just sit down there, stoneface, sipping she orange-peel tea. She never once blink and when I done explaining, is me who have to drop my gaze.
“What it is you really want, m’child?” she ask.
“How you mean, Miss Ivy?” I stutter. “God bless me with a child and a child-father who could take we outta Pleasantview. I have a chance for a proper family. I want my family, Miss Ivy.”
Resting down her mug, she say, “Gail, doux-doux, God will never bless you with a next woman husband. And I could put my head on a block: He ain’t bless you with Mr. H.”
“How you could say that, Miss Ivy? You ain’t even watch the cards yet and you talking so negative?”
“I don’t have to watch the cards to tell you ‘bout Mr. H. I clean that man toilet for twenty years. It have nothing I don’t know ‘bout he. That’s why I could tell you, straight to your face, the man is a womanizer. Don’t fool yourself – you is not the first.”
“Oh, but I is the last, though! I know he had girls before - he confess and tell me all that. But he was just searching. It different with me and him. The connection –it just…special. Even he say so.”
“Special? Ha, Lord! You think you special, li’l girl? So, you better than all them other li’l girls who did come in here and sit down right where you sitting down to tell me the same story?”
“Yes, Miss Ivy. I make myself different to them. I learn from Mr. H and I try to uplift myself.” And it have other reasons I could give her too, reasons why I know me and Mr. H meant to be together. Like how he does hold on to me and cry sometimes, telling me I’s the only innocent thing he ever know, I’s the only girl who never beg him for money and that’s why he trust me with his life. And how he does tell me all his personal business: it hurt him bad, bad that he never had a son; and he does feel guilty ‘bout his last daughter, Kimberley – they never get along and he feel that’s why she turn lesbian. The man have a hard shell but a melting heart. He grieving for a family – just like me. But I can’t tell Miss Ivy all this - is none of she damn business - so she and me just sit down here, watching one another hard.
“M’daughter,” she finally sigh – loud, loud - as if she so wise and I so stupid. “You want the child or you don’t want the child? Decide your mind. Because you ain’t getting the man. Forget that. Soon, he go cut you off and pass you straight like a full bus. Mark my words.”
“You was with him, nah?”
“Talk the truth, Miss Ivy. You fuck Mr. H, ain’t?
She not answering and suddenly she can’t watch me in my eye. The bitch jealous, oui. Just like Janice. Two old quenk who bitter with how their life turn out so they trying to poison my chance for happiness. I not taking the bait.
A week pass in a whoosh on the calendar. But in my mind it feel like a year.
Through it all, I had to try and stay hopeful. I didn’t miss a step at work and I never tell nobody my troubles. In fact, I didn’t talk much at all; I was busy listening. For Uncle to call my name and hand me a telephone message from Mr. H. For the big Benz to pull-up on the street and for Vishnu to wind down the glass and say, “Come. The Bossman want to see you.” At home, for the ring of the phone, the honk of the horn. I was jumpy, jumpy whole week: running, at the sound of every big engine, to peep through the louvres. I never once stop listening – not even in my sleep.
And when I wasn’t listening, I was thinking. Geez, I been thinking! Till I get a permanent headache.
But now is Friday morning, start of the second week, and still no sign of Mr. H. I in the bathroom getting ready for work but my mind far. I studying what to do. I didn’t rush the man, I give him time to mellow and I give myself time to figure out what I do wrong that night. I was aiming too high, telling Mr. H to leave Mona. That’s what scare him: divorce. He frighten ‘bout the money, the business. I feel he woulda react different if I did say we coulda just continue how we was going: him visiting, minding me…and the child.
I soaping my skin like I trying to rub off the stink of all the things he did say that night. I dip in the bucket, full the old butter container with water and soak down myself. Suds rolling off my body and I lean against the wall, into that clean, clean feeling.
I lock-off the pipe. Decision-time: I calling-in sick. Today, today, I walking up in that cloth-store and facing Mr. H. Not to make a scene or nothing. But to let him know I seeing things different now. He’s a proud fella. I’s the one who need to make the first move here. And today is a good day for that. Mona don’t go in on Fridays – tea-party day. Mr. H will be alone in the store. We go have the office to weself. Miss Ivy say I can’t have the child and the man. Well, she wrong: with a li’l compromise, I keeping both. And I not leaving Mr. H office until he say, “Go ahead, start looking for a bigger place.”
Ten o’clock is the best time to slip in the store without being too noticeable. I leave home at quarter-to and flag down a taxi heading north, to Pleasantview Junction. A straight road and I in the front-seat. For the whole drive, every time I glance up I seeing Mr. H white mansion far up on the hill – it come like “N” on a compass. Mona must be inside, with she friends, nibbling pastry. I don’t want what is hers. Only what he promise me.
As we reaching closer and closer to the Junction, my heart start beating faster and faster. I rehearsing in my head everything I want to tell Mr. H. Muscles clenching everywhere – my hands, between my legs, my jaw. I get out the car in front Textile Kingdom and stare at the sign for a second. I did stand up right here last year - for the job interview – and I did feel the same way, like all my hope hanging on this one conversation.
A deep breath, then I push the door. Timing perfect: the store busy enough that the sales-girls all distracted, jostling one another for commission. I slip-in, between the bolts of cloth, and head down to the back of the store.
The office have a huge window, one-way glass. Mr. H could look out but people in the store can’t see in. I wonder if he seeing me now. I know he in there: I smelling his Hong Wing coffee. I sure he have the newspaper spread open on the desk.
I reach the office-door. It have a glass panel with some plastic mini-blinds. The rule is: if the blinds open, you just knock and walk in; if they close, you knock and wait.
The blinds close this morning. But through the crooked, curl-up strips I getting a side-view of Mr. H potbelly and the top of some woman head. I seeing enough to know that I shouldn’t walk in. That I should spin ‘round right now and leave the cloth-store quick, quick. But only one thought pounding in my head, heavy, heavy like a bass-line: Is my fault, is my fault. I wait too long.
Panic, all over my body, making me feel hot like when I did have dengue. I wring the doorknob and burst in the room. They hear, so they start scrambling. The girl ducking under the desk, Mr. H trying to fix his crotch. Then he spin his chair all the way round and, finally, he see me.
“Gail,” he say, face ripening like a mango. He tapping under the desk. “You can go now, Sandy.” She crawl out the room like a stinking cockroach.
“Is only a week,” I say. “What you doing?”
“Well…I…” Mr. H start to say something in a shaky voice, then he stop.
We staring down one another. Inside, I telling myself to focus, begging myself not to get side-track by what I just see, reminding myself that I come with a higher purpose.
Then, is like Mr. H get over the shock of me appearing in his office. His tone change, getting rougher. “So why are you here, Gail? I hope to tell me you’ve come to your senses?”
“Yes,” I say, pressing my thumbnails-and-them deep down in my finger-flesh. Just say it, Gail. Just say it.
“Well?” Mr. H ask.
I swallow the gallon of spit in my throat. “You don’t have to leave Mona.”
“I was wrong to pressure you. I know your situation. I sorry.”
Mr. H nodding, giving me a li’l half-smile. “Apology accepted. Now let’s move on, shall we?” He showing me the chair on the other side of his desk.
I sit, feeling a li’l more at ease. “That’s what I come to tell you. You does treat me good and I grateful. I ready for us to move on. Nothing really have to change. I not going and ask for more. Only thing: I was hoping we could get a bigger place now – with the baby coming, nah.”
He blinking plenty. Now Mr. H talking slow, slow, like English ain’t my mudder-tongue too. “Gail, have you made arrangements with the doctor?”
“No, I thought…”
“Why can’t you get it?” He spring up, slamming he two fist on the desk. “I don’t want any fucking child!” Like a bad pit-bull breaking the chain, Mr. H rush round the desk and coming at me. He grab my arm so hard I feel every one of his fingertips and he talking with his teeth lock-up like a gate. “What I want, Gail, is for you to stop dreaming. I want you to get your ass up, get out of my office and go call the fucking doctor. Now!”
He pulling me out the chair. Pulling hard.
“No,” I say, trying to free-up my arm. “I not going nowhere!” I try to make myself heavy. I grip-on the handle but Mr. H so strong he make one pull and the aluminium chair spinning a half-circle. “No! No!” Another big tug and I land on the tile floor. Damn hard: my insides shaking-up; I picturing purple jello. “Oh God, the child!” I say.
I try to scramble to my feet. My arm slipping from him, so Mr. H grab my pony-tail. I crying and kicking, still screaming “No! No!” but he dragging me to the office-door.
He screaming too, “Security! Security!” Footsteps running-up behind us. Two man grab me – one each side – and they pull me up. “No! No!” I refuse to walk so they carrying me through the store. My legs dragging on the ground like a invalid. Everybody watching – customers, sales-girls – everybody. The fuckers dump me outside on the pavement, in Pleasantview Junction, like a bag of stinking garbage. I cry out one long, last, “No!” and I pelt my shoes behind them.
As the taxi reach the apartment, I practically run out and kick-down my own front door. It still swinging on the hinges when I charge through the front-room and head straight for the old cedar chest-of-drawers - the one thing Janice ever give me. I remembering her advice now and yes, I know what side my bread butter on. I not bringing no innocent child into this world - this ketch tail world - call Pleasantview. I not watering down milk and rationing pampers - have the child crawling ‘round with shit in he batty for half day - ‘cause I don’t know when next I could buy. No sick child - snatty-nose turning pneumonia – deading on my hand ‘cause I can’t pay for doctor and medicine. Nah! Before it come to that, let me just done everything right now! Put everybody outta they damn misery!
I start groping inside the panty-drawer. My fingers knocking camphor-balls – Clax! Clax! – against the wood. Tiptoeing, I reach deeper and feel the box with the garnet ring. Then, I feel a long lump near the top right corner. That’s it! I pull-out the white envelope, rip the side open and the notepaper fly-out, sailing down to the floor like a parachute. When I bend for it, all the cash in the envelope tumble out and settle round my foot – a blue, paper puddle. I step out of it and grab the cordless phone from next to the bed. I dial, but my fingers trembling so much, I have to start over. I make the appointment with Dr. Narayansingh – Tuesday at 10:00.
I make another call right afterward. To Mr. H cell-phone. Vishnu answer, “Nah. The Bossman busy.” He hang up.
I curl up on the bed, cordless in hand. I call back a million times but no answer. I just want this whole thing to be over. None of this woulda happen if I didn’t get pregnant. I just want to go back to normal, like how it was before last week - before the baby - when I was the person Mr. H love, instead of the person he hate. But as I pull the coverlet over my head I have this sinking feeling: things might never be normal between me and Mr. H again. Not even if I go Tuesday. Is like something slip outta balance between us today. It have me asking myself if I could ever lie-down under the man again, now that I know he ain’t ever going to give me the price I calling. For what he taking. For what he did take that first day, in the office.
Is the feeling that I peeing-down myself that wake me. My eyes open to a room full-up with shadows – I must be sleep through the whole afternoon. I swipe inside my thigh. Wet. Sitting up, I stare at my fingers. A black water, black like Coca-Cola, but more thick. I smush it and it thin out enough for me to see it actually red – a dark, Beaujolais red. Blood. And something more spongy. Clots? Flesh? I feel another big whoosh pass from me. I jump off the bed and run to the back-door screaming for Miss Ivy.
She find me on the floor, clutching my ball-up cotton dress like it could ever plug this leak.
“Father! Tell me you didn’t try for yourself,” she say, grabbing a kitchen towel.
“No,” I say, “I was sleeping when...the blood…it just come down...”
“Don’t worry,” she say, “sometimes they could still save it.”
She bawling for Mr. Winston - he have a car - and they help me in the back-seat. By the time I rest my head on Miss Ivy lap, the towel between my legs soak-up and it have blood everywhere: on the upholstery, the glass, Miss Ivy robe; on Mr. Winston hands as he easing the vehicle out the long, narrow yard. My blood? The baby blood? It have any difference? Our blood. We losing too much.
I start screaming, over and over again. “Allyuh hurry up! Please! Please!”
I don’t care one ass ‘bout Tuesday. All I know is that it have a baby – a real, live baby – right now in my belly. The two of we is a family right now, and we didn’t have to ask nobody permission for that. And I know that I never, ever in my life want anything more than what I want right now: to not lose this child, this chance for love. Every other fear done leak out and gone with all them clots.
Finally, the back-tyres drop from the grassy yard to the road. Mr. Winston hands shaking as much as mines, but he bawling, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. My sister does work Casualty. I know the nurses-and-them. Don’t worry.”
“No! Not the General Hospital,” I say. “Santa Marta Private. It closer. I have money. Reverse-back, reverse-back! Now!”
I squeeze Miss Ivy hand. Finally, I know the answer for what she did ask me last week. Decide your mind, she did say. Who you really want, she did say. So I tell her now, “The child, Miss Ivy, is only the child I want. Run quick. In the drawer by my bed: a white envelope.”