If a girl can bleed without her mother then she can do anything. It come last month but you couldn’t pay me to talk to her about it. I want her to see me, one day, months down the road with a StayFree in my hand or the space between my towel and my titty. When she ask me what I’m doing with that, I’m going to say something rude. I was scared at first, there was more flesh than you can dream, the ads on TV don’t prepare you for what will come out of your body. You think is like blood from a cut, thin like box sorrel, not with small lumps like liver. It happened at school so I got a big box of pads from the guidance counsellor, my friend Mrs. Watson-Thomas. She also said I could come to her for Panadol whenever it come on me like river and laugh that sometimes period look like liver, kidney and even chicken gizzards. I make up my mind that I wasn’t eating gizzards again. We talk some more like we are both two big women, the way she only talk to me. That day she tell me about Mrs. White who teach grade 4, how she left comprehensive school downtown with only 4 subject, how she wear her work clothes too tight, how she didn’t have a teaching certificate, how she dress for people husband. I make a joke that her head look like bullfrog even though it didn’t because my friend Mrs. Watson-Thomas hate her. When she makes big laugh like this I wish she is my mother. But sometimes she sad, even crying, like when she tell me about her husband, who want the house he found her in because government make a new rule that now a man can eat what him never help cook. She tell me not to waste my time with men, to grow up and make a life for myself. That the only good man exist in TV and in Daniele Steel. She said a man will bring your face down to the ground and I believe her, I see how Mummy change.
So at least for now I can keep this period stuff to myself. It’s not that I want to hide it from Mummy but she tell Uncle Carlos nearly everything. Like that time I went into her draw and borrowed a panty. After that I nearly die of shame. Don’t want him learning about my bleeding too.
Uncle Carlos walk home between 9:30 and 10:00 pm every night, he work as a security at the big mall. By the end of the eight o’ clock news, my chest tighten up. Mummy ask me to check the house, ensure all the dishes clean, take the clothes off the line. If he see them, him saying it was on the line for three days. I am in charge of Uncle Carlos socks and small handkerchiefs. Sometimes I imagine the little gremlins in the foot powder commercial are jumping from his socks and into my fingers. I ask Mummy to get me gloves to wash them but she call me foolish and say that I going to high school soon. This is my worst chore, when he think I don‘t wash them good (and is true that sometimes I am just swirling them in water and rinse) he might slap me out of my sleep and I have to go outside—no matter how late—to wash them out again. I have to care his things because Uncle Carlos thinks he more handsome than all of us, where Mummy and me black—but Mummy blacker than me—Uncle Carlos is brown like the hard sweetie that come in the gold paper that sell at Woolworth. And he is always shaping him moustache with his blue Gillette razor. Mummy say him handsome but I do not see it. All I can see his belly that round like pig belly.
One time I ask Mummy if I could stop calling him Uncle Carlos. She don’t answer me and her face hard while hanging out the white clothes. So I just decided on my own. I say to him, “Mr Carlos, when I was small you said that I can either call you Uncle Carlos or Mr. Carlos…’’ before I finish Uncle Carlos jump out his seat and bax me in my face, splitting my lip for the first time. And then said to Mummy, “April, come get your wrenkin daughter.” He is calling me that since the day of the funeral. Sometimes I find it hard to hold my pee, I am 11 and wetting the bed.
Now Uncle Carlos started saying that I trying to destroy them relationship. Sometimes he will say it and then hold my mother in a hug, while me cleaning or doing my homework, he kisses my mother to bother me. I don’t know why he competing with me because he win everything already. Maybe the day he come to live with us or when Mummy start saying he is my father, even though it clear that he don’t want to be. Mummy always say that one day he might lick out my eye with the baxing and that he act like beating stick. He is only my father when it come to that. Every day he repeating how his hand don’t join church. How he going to send a bill to my real father for all the money he spend on me—which not true. Mummy give me lunch money and buy all my things, I am only eating Uncle Carlos food. But I already start calculating how many bread, rice and meat am eating every week until I reach 18. Now my total is $60, 000.00 if you calculate 1/3 of 5000 (the supermarket bill) times twelve times three years.
The doctors said Uncle Carlos mother died of lung cancer. I feel like I also have a part in it. When she lived with us that year, it was me who buy her cigarette. The shopkeepers would start saying things like, ‘’Likkle girl how much Craven A you buying for your granny?’’ even before I open my mouth to make my order. But she was not my granny, the same way Uncle Carlos was not my Uncle. And, I have a real granny who bring me number 11 mangoes and she hate Uncle Carlos and said his family patchy patchy. I didn’t understand at first but now I think it means that uncle Carlos’s mother was one of those women that couldn’t stay alone. Uncle Carlos telling Mummy that I hated him mother; I didn’t hate her, but how can you love someone who was always running you down with her belt?
She loved Mummy because she wake up 6 am every day and take two buses to a big office in town that have fishpond at the reception. But these fish can’t cook, I asked and Mummy said they come from a country where people grow them for decoration. Mummy don’t like them because when they breed they make big frothy bubbles that make the whole office smell stink. Compared to Mummy, Uncle Carlos mother hated Teddy wife. Sometimes she used to say Teddy wife a wukliss mampi who never want to work but want to send her pickney to prep school.
I met Teddy wife one time. We go outside to greet them, which was fine because Mummy said the Sunday dinner couldn’t stretch and otherwise I was getting stuck with piece of back. I stood close to Mummy while Uncle Carlos and Teddy chat. Teddy wife start asking me if I’m doing good in school, I forget to answer because I am shocked that she really look like a mampi. Her face round and tight and her body spread like butter in the seat beside Teddy. She has hairs sticking out of her chin and her neck sink deep into the skin so she remind me of library big book of turtles and tortoise. Teddy acting like a top man because him in a car, his hands on the steering wheel like him driving but the car not on. When them leave I hear Mummy and Uncle Carlos saying it cost hundreds of dollars a day to rent a car. She hope Teddy don’t call her phone begging nothing next week, asking her to stand security for another pay day loan. Teddy is making good money selling meat but is always begging from people.
I watch everybody get dressed and leave while I stay home in my yard clothes. Uncle Carlos was giving Egghead a bills to make a big pot of chicken foot soup for people coming back to the house. Egghead is a man everybody know, him fixing anything for 100 dollars. Egghead can paint your house, tile your bathroom, and putty your roof for a bills. But none of them things he ever do good, the painting always pass the line even if you give him thinner and only a blind person will ask Egghead to tile their bathroom.
Mummy tell anyone who ask why I wasn’t going to funeral that I am guarding our yard. I act fine to be staying with Egghead alone, told the big people, including to Uncle Carlos’s farrin sister, that it was my job to watch him. It feel like a sin to miss it, so I ask if the school shoes all right, but Mummy is busy putting powder on her face and then too busy putting on her red stone earrings. She hearing me but pretending not to. I not going to funeral because I don’t have church shoes.
Everyone leave and it is just me and Egghead. He is not like the other men in the scheme, I don’t fear him like the men that mix marl, the kind that take glass after glass of rum and water at Miss Brown shop gate. They are always the first to notice when your breast start to get tight in your uniform or your bottom start to cock off. They always offering a ride home on their bruck up bicycle even if they know you not lost. But Egghead never bother me in my uniform and, I think, too simple to try. Mummy said he was talking to the deaf woman up the street but I can’t imagine Egghead with any woman or any woman wanting to be with Egghead, even a deaf one.
So I am not watching Egghead much but feel him walking in and out of the kitchen to the big soup pot on the coal stove outside. He is boiling up soup in Mummy washroom but it not done yet and all we have are the blocks with the pieces of steel sticking out the top.
Egghead want to hear music so we put on Mummy’s old country music cassette. Kenny Rogers singing about a woman left him with crop in the field. I wondering what Kenny was growing. On this tiny piece of land, we can’t grow much but if I could, I would grow corn, the big ones you have to break in three piece to have space in the soup pot.
This place not like the big yard me and Mummy coming from, where we still have lots of dogs, plus chickens and in the morning me and cousin Sherine fight for who would get to throw the fowl feed. And then we betting pieces of our dinner meat to see whose fowl ate the most corn. Even when I lose I always win back my meat from her, just tell her to look at that lizard on the wall. As she turn her big head I jab it out of her plate. Since Mummy carry me to this place that I hear some people call matches box, I don’t have anybody to bet meat with. I only have Simone my neighbor who act maddy maddy but you can’t bet meat with somebody that don’t live in your house.
The chicken foot, my worst soup, is white, swell and bouncing in and out of the water. I wonder why people eat it, all you taste is fat in your mouth. Egghead now using big spoon to pull some green things out the water. Now him slicing up yellow yam to put in the pot.
He can’t find the green pepper so I go into the kitchen to help him. I bend down to take the seasonings from the bottom tray and the kitchen door slammed shut. The pot on the other side and is just me and Egghead. Telling me he not going to do anything bad to me. Say he just want to see my brassiere. His face look strange like he is not Egghead, not the Egghead who never bother me coming from school, who gave Simone and me money to buy ice cream last week. This is a different Egghead and he saying things like ‘’you’re big woman now’’. I run for the front door but Egghead outrun me. I feel his hand down my blouse then his fingers where they don’t belong. Him saying I’m ripe because of the hair. I feel so scared and shame I can’t hold my pee pee. Egghead push me off of him. It is coming now and I can’t stop it.
These days Uncle Carlos is always happy. His happiness makes me hate happiness. Spitting in his water only make me feel worse because he don’t know and is happy same way.
Mummy always look in pain, I think it is from that wild baby she has in her belly. They say boy pickney fight their mothers more. Sometimes, out of the blue, she try to force a hug and kiss on me but I think of how she makes Uncle Carlos grab her close and kiss her and I don’t want her to touch me, or put her mouth on my face. I am having a hard time remembering how life was before Uncle Carlos. Everything is different and worse, including my mother.
She like one of those fat bottom ants that come with the rain, except her bottom is on her belly. It is hard, she put my hand on it one time, even though I didn’t ask. The skin thin like a page from a composition book, and her belly shiny like the golden egg in Jack and the Beanstalk. Mummy is on maternity leave now, waiting for Uncle Carlos’s baby to come. Uncle Carlos is always talking about how is his party who make it so that breeding woman can stay home and watch TV. Mummy walking slow now so Uncle Carlos is helping her with a lot.
A bread can’t last two days in the house. Truth be told I am the one eating it. Mummy say I need to stop eating, that I am becoming one of these big swarthy women who shape bad. She asks me if I don’t want KW who she always teasing me about to like me. I am tired of hearing about people daughter, about so and so who fat but fat in a nice way. Who fat and don’t have belly.
Dr. Dorner shocked to see me when I went for my check up last week. He put me on the scale and moved the square back and forth. I gain 80 pounds since my visit last year. He use words like obese and pre-diabetes, he says is a shame because I am not even a teenager. Mummy supposed to put me on a diet ‘’posthaste,’’ Dr. Dorner said. But she is only strict for a day.
I feel hungrier but I do not know where this hunger is coming from. I am eating but nothing is filling me up. Mummy looking worse pained, she needs Uncle Carlos to take her to the bathroom now. She tell me Uncle Carlos’s baby coming soon, I wonder how long before he can wash socks.
Image credits: Jessica Ogden’s ‘A Dozen Dresses’ in the Beyond Fashion exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica: AP
Animated lamp: Joshua Lue Chee Kong
Patrina is a Jamaican working in development and is currently based in northern Nigeria where she lives with a precocious kitten and whatever the kitten brings home. She is currently working on a book of short stories examining and re-imagining life in the Caribbean.