In the first installment of this short, a neighborhood woman, Roselyn, made moves to visit a bereft father, and Ana's grade school class' teacher left the students alone, all after a massive storm has visited the island on which they live. Holmes, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to THE2NDHAND's 10th-anniversary collection, currently in fund-raising mode, in a collaboration with T2H editors Todd Dills and C.T. Ballentine. Preorder your copy of the book.
"Just let me see the first one," said Philip. "I know I got it right, I just want to make sure you didn't get it wrong."
Ana put her head on the desk. Turtles. Armadillos. Hermit crabs.
"What, you think I'll tell on you?" He kneaded her shoulders. "So tense."
She wriggled her shoulders. Philip tightened his grip.
Richard, taking an interest, pulled a soaked, chewy pencil out of his mouth and stuck the eraser end into Philip's ear.
"This idiot boy bothering you, Ana?" asked gallant Richard.
Ana kept her head on the desk, ready for any and all attempts at a choreographed paper-thieving maneuver.
"Get your own girl," said Philip, shaking Richard's spit out of his ear.
"Ana's already my girl. Haven't you heard? We're engaged."
"Engaged!" Philip flung his arms around Richard. "Well! We should start planning your honeymoon."
"Anywhere the lady fancies."
Ana wanted to jam her elbow into Philip's eye, gouge a prize chunk from Richard's neck.
"My parents went to Amsterdam for their honeymoon. I found a box of pictures from the trip at the back of their closet."
"You're a liar, Richard. Everything you've ever said is a lie."
"Not the first time I've seen them naked."
Clusters of girls formed around magazines and pilfered cosmetics. They took turns primping each other--applying globs of mascara and lip-gloss to their infantile faces. Some students took the opportunity to nap, head resting on the desk, or bent backwards at the neck. A boy stood watch at the window while his cohorts stole chalk from the cabinet. Miss Meade's manila folder had been compromised.
"We're not talking to Amy today," Carol grunted into Ana's ear. "So don't try to sit with her or we won't talk to you either." Wet, putrid breath.
Like Ana, Carol was of mixed descent, but something had occurred during gestation that made her distinct. It was as though Carol's mother's African genes had repelled those of her Irish father's, and the two ethnicities stood their ground, proudly and individually presenting themselves, stubborn as oil and water. The result was a motley of light and dark skin, of misplaced freckles and coarse coils of hair. The tension between the backgrounds was clearly and most sinisterly manifest in the lower half of her face, where a wide and flat nose sat above thin, bloodless lips.
Not surprisingly then, Carol was acutely aware of her advantage. She had been endowed with the power to manipulate. The innate mischief implemental in her creation had matured to govern the creature glaring into Ana's eyes. Carol was a bully.
"Look at me when I talk to you." Carol's was the voice of a rottweiler.
Carol selected girls daily -- girls to be excluded from all social activities. She passed the word on at the beginning of the day, and by lunch, the chosen girl would be sitting alone on the ground drawing designs in the dirt with a stick. The girl would be too distraught to eat and so would forfeit her lunch to Carol.
"What's that in your pocket?" said Philip, prodding at Richard's khakis.
Cellophane crinkled inside Richard's pants. "You bring condoms to school?" Philip snickered, flicking the side of Ana's face.
"You're right, they'd just fall off." He snatched a ruler from a nearby desk and swatted at Richard's crotch.
"Alright, fine, alright." Philip leaned in closer to Richard, lowering his voice. "Tell me. You brought sweets?"
"No," said Richard, covering his pocket.
"Give me one," Phillip whispered.
"I only have one left."
"Cut it in half."
"It's too small."
"Fuck off, that's my favourite! Cut it, quick, before she comes back." They both glanced at the door. Philip produced a Swiss army knife and knelt at Ana's desk. "Give it here." The operation was rushed and clumsy. Richard passed the sweet to Philip who held it down and pressed the blade across its centre, widthwise. The sweet shattered and sprayed purple shrapnel. After salvaging the larger pieces for himself, Philip handed the dregs back to Richard.
"The shit?" Richard stared at the broken mess of candy in his palm.
"There were cracks in it from before, fat ass."
"In here." Stewart's voice came rasping down the corridor, followed by a hard wet clearing of the throat.
He was seated in a wicker chair by the bedroom window. Roselyn exercised the same caution approaching a man's room as she did entering the stalls of public restrooms. She opened doors with a knee or a foot. If knobs or bolts were involved she would first wrap her hand in a tissue, or if that was not available, the fabric of her shirt. She would stand, or she would squat, but she would never, ever sit.
Stew was large of belly but otherwise insubstantial, the kind of man often seen sitting with his knees wide open and the neck of a beer bottle dangling from between two knuckles. The room was dim, its only window facing away from the sun, and contained the palpable musk of unwashed hair and perpetually damp fabric. "Well, Mrs. Posey, surprise surprise. What can I do you for?" He scanned Roselyn's body several times over, lingering for a moment or two longer on those areas where skin was exposed -- thin shins and a canal of chest between the top few buttons of a cambric blouse.
"I'm so sorry, were you sleeping?" said Roselyn, focusing her eyes on the floor in front of her.
"No, not at all. I'm watching the children," said Stew, scratching between his thighs.
"Right. Your youngest told me you were up here. I hope I'm not disrupting you, it's just, I saw a girl sitting on your wall and I hadn't seen her in the neighbourhood before."
"Must be from next door. Audrey's girl."
"I know Audrey's girl. This is not Audrey's girl."
"What does she look like?"
"It'll be a friend from school," said Stew, belching into his shoulder.
Roselyn held onto the doorframe, taking discreet breaths out of the air drifting down the corridor. Amidst the quiet unique to houses without electricity on a small mountain scheme, she could make out the sound of a dog scratching itself behind the ear with a hind leg, digging deep into its flesh for ticks and fleas; birds carrying out lengthy conversations; pipes dripping onto plants and cement; driveways being swept with stiff brooms.
Stew's bedroom contained only the essentials. The bed sheets were of a cheap, thin cotton, darkened by years of unclean bodies settling in its centre, worn thin where they had been stretched over the corners of the mattress. There was a single pillow, which looked about as soft as a stack of newspapers, and a ratty quilt stuffed between the bed and the wall. At the foot of the bed was a standing fan, rusted and sullen, its blue blades angled like a sunflower at dusk. A chest of drawers stood next to the closet, topped with a single crocheted doily.
"I'm sorry we rushed off after the funeral," said Roselyn. "Arthur had to get back to work. I had the kids at home. You know how it is."
"Tell me how it is."
Roselyn hesitated. "We were all very sorry to hear."
"It wasn't terrible."
"Sue told me. Peaceful. It's all any of us can hope for."
"In her sleep, in her chair. Book on her lap. Can't for the life of me remember which book. I've been trying. Seems important, doesn't it?"
"I'm so sorry."
"That's three times now."
"Three times now you've apologized. It's all I heard at the funeral. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I'm starting to think Mother's death was the result of organized crime."
"It was her time."
"It was not her time."
"Of course it wasn't."
"She walked up this hill no problem; got around fine on her own. Everyone in the house could have been sick, but she never even so much as coughed."
"I really only came to ask about the girl."
"On the wall."
"The friend from school."
"Your nieces didn't seem to know her."
"Not surprised. They're oblivious to everything that goes on around them."
"Your mother was a remarkable woman."
Stew laughed. "Do you think I don't know my mother was a remarkable woman? Saintly woman. Stubborn woman." He yawned. Another stench. "She's still here, you know. She hasn't left us."
Outside, the girls chased and tormented each other. Rapid heels punched pavement while continuous laughter was punctuated by yelps, piggish squeals, and what could only have been the impact of open palms against unsuspecting bottoms.
"Last time I saw her, she was in the kitchen. The girls talk to her like it's nothing. We're lucky. Some people just up and leave. She didn't have to come back. We came home after the funeral and there she was, waiting for us in her chair. You know the one. It's funny, in my heart I knew I couldn't open that door without seeing her."
"You don't looked shocked," said Stew, smiling at Roselyn with half of his face.
He stood and moved past Roselyn toward the stairs. "After you," he said, sweeping the air with an upturned hand, indicating the path she was to follow.
"I've taken up too much of your time," she said.
They walked down the stairs, Stew following closely behind. There was no denying that there was something of Grandma Smyth still lingering in the house. It was an atmospheric disposition. The light sifting through the drapes belonged to her. Roselyn had seen her embroidering pillowcases and handkerchiefs in this light. Other times, she sat reading the paper, or she drummed her fingers while she waited for an oven-timer to sound. After a death, Roselyn felt that light should change, dampen, amass weight. Here nothing had changed. It would not have been at all out of the ordinary if Grandma Smyth were to walk in from the adjacent room holding a platter piled high with shortbread cookies.
"What can I offer you?" Stew asked. "There's water in the pitcher but no ice. Or there's tea, but you would have to make it yourself. I wouldn't know what to do with a bag of tea."
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