Read The Book of Night Women Online

Authors: Marlon James

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

The Book of Night Women (3 page)

BOOK: The Book of Night Women
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Lilith quiet. She think to run through the door but the thought of other Johnny-jumpers coming still her. She try to think like a woman.
—W . . . what you want from little girl? she say.
—Who tell you say you little? Penelope have two young’un and she look younger than you. Anyway, since you make me come all the way over yah fi de cho-cho me nah run round no more.
The Johnny-jumper take off him shirt and pull down him pantaloons. She remember him now, the same boy who say the day before that he was coming for her. She try not to look at how he ready. Plenty man come to Circe hut with it already sticking through they breeches, but they keep them on when Circe tell her to get out. And though that madman Tantalus show him cocky all the time it swing low like lame dog. Lilith thinking ’bout her bush, and how nobody tell her that is man who must decide what happen to it.
—What you name? she say.
—Dem call me Paris. You know who Paris be?
She don’t answer.
—Big, big hero. Massa Jack say dat Paris stop the Trojan War.
—Circe say—
—Circe already get what she lookin’ for. Me no care ’bout she. Anyway, hear what. Pussy not doin’ me no favour all de way over deh, so get you black arse over yah.
She don’t know what to do. The Johnny-jumper on the floor with him hand waking up him cocky. She try to think that she is Circe who choose who she rut. She try to think she is Circe who don’t care when Lilith walk in on her and a free coloured from in town. If she just think ’bout that or anything else. The bat in the ackee tree, the pretty great house that just whitewash, mayhaps when she done think, he done rut. She make one step.
—Make haste, cow, he say.
He regarding her like he done fuck her already. He already grinning like man do when he leave Circe hut. The whip and cutlass on the floor. He was one of them man who didn’t even have to beat and thump and slap, him voice was enough. She feel the voice on top of her, grabbing her neck and scratching her breast. Better he jump at her like a wild beast than frighten her to come over and make her feel that she be the reason why he doin’ what he do. Better to get rip to pieces by the bush dog or wild boar in the hills than feel that she walk up to a man by herself and let him ravage her. By going to him, she rapin’ herself. The whip and cutlass on the floor. The girl move over to the man. He getting himself excited. Her heart punching a hole through her chest. The whip and the cutlass on the floor. She walk right up to him and as he hold him hand out to grab her, she dash past him and run to the fire. She grab the pot of cerasee tea and don’t care that it burnin’ her finger.
—Wha de—the man say but before him could even shift, she turn over the pot of tea on him face. The girl once hear pig scream with knife halfway ’cross it neck and she hear woman scream ’cause slave-driver take ’way her newborn young’un, but she never hear scream like that. The man bellow loud and shake the room. And didn’t stop. She scream too. He roll all over the ground and grab him face and scream more when skin and flesh coming off. The girl watching him face bubbling up and popping and the naked man spinning and bawling and jerking in the dirt. He screaming too loud. She cover her ear hard and shut her eye tight but she still hearing he scream and seeing him face. She screaming too, bawling for the noise to stop stop stop. Somebody was goin’ hear. Stop stop stop. And when they hear they would come. And then they would kill her because nobody that young must have so much wickedness. Stop stop stop. That was the first time she feel the darkness. True darkness and true womanness that make man scream. She shudder and she feel ’fraid and proud and wicked and she feel good. So good so that she get more ’fraid. The man jerking like he have fits and he still screaming. Stop stop stop stop. Somebody was goin’ hear.
Then the boy grab her foot and pull her down. The girl bawling and the boy bawling too. She turn ’way from him face. The pain too much for the boy and him fall over again and writhing and yelling. She go to run and he grab her foot again, him nails digging into her heel and she bawling like her heel just catch fire. The girl try to kick him off but him hand too strong, as if the screaming and the madness was making him stronger. Him bellowing now, like old dog or the darkest, evillest animal. The boy pull her ankle and the girl drop hard on her face. He pulling the girl towards him. She screaming. He pulling. She grab the cutlass.
Circe come right after dusk to see the floor ’wash in red. She follow the blood quick and stop at the naked Johnny-jumper foot. From foot up to thigh the black skin all chopped up with pink flesh peeking. From neck up be nothing but red. The blood didn’t stop there. The trail leave him body then turn left as if goin’ to the window. Under the window be the girl, crouching and hiding from the light. Her dress and her arms cover up in red. The cutlass at her foot, her eye wide open like dead owl and her breathing short and quick. Then she shoot a look at Circe and her two green eye make the big woman jump. Circe run out of the hut.
By nightfall she come back with Homer and two other womens. Homer walk right in but the other two womens stop when they see the body and look at the girl. Shit, one of the woman say. Lilith look straight at the three, her green eye flashing like wild animal.
—She is a mad raas, the other woman say.
Homer shush her. The woman frown. That woman short almost like a midget and her eye uncanny looking. She drive the carryall carriage that come to take the body. Homer walk over to the Johnny-jumper. Then she look at the girl. The womens, except Circe, wrap the body in black cloth. Homer shove the boy head in a sack. They put the body in the back of the carriage and the short woman ride off.
—Stupid bitch. The whole o’ we dead now, Circe say.
The girl start to cry.
—Save you bawling, pussyhole. Time soon come when you goin’ bawl till you bleed.
—Shut up, Circe, Homer say.
—You shut up, dry-up cow. Me look like you pickney?
Homer look at Circe and Circe hiss.
—Come chile, we have to make haste, Homer say to the girl. Homer hold out her hand. The girl don’t look Homer in the face.
—Too spirited. She too spirited, that damn girl, Circe say. He was just goin’ cut her down a notch. Get rid of that damn pride. She just a nigger girl.
Homer stop.
—What you just say?
—She too spirited. Think she be some nigger queen. She too spirited! She did need a man to fix her, damn girl.
The girl sob. Homer walk right over to Circe and slap her right cheek so hard that Circe stagger. Then she slap the left and Circe yell.
—You dead, you hear me? The two of you dead, Circe say. She bawling now. Homer grab Circe face by the cheek and squeeze hard.
—No nigger dead on this estate unless me say so, you hear me? And no nigger live either, Homer say and push Circe away.
Homer take the girl out of the hut. Circe still cussing. The girl can’t bear to look up in the sky or at Homer beside her so she stare at the ground as she walk. Even then she didn’t see the ground change from dirt to cut stone to wood floor until she feel the change under her foot. Homer open a door and they step into a dark kitchen that smell of ginger and pimento. Homer light a lamp in the dark. Orange light wash over the room but the girl still couldn’t make out anything other than a big counter in the center. Homer take her hand and lead her to another door.
Steps lead down to a cellar. The girl couldn’t see much more than the step in front of her, but smell something like that one stick of cinnamon that Circe have that she forbidden to touch. Homer lift up the candle and throw light all over the room.
—Over there, she say, pointing to a carpet on the floor.
—Over there you goin’ stay.
Homer go back up the stairs and each step she make leave the room darker and darker. When Homer reach the top of the stairs the room turn into pitch.
—Don’t come out until me tell you to, Homer say and shut the door.
JACK WILKINS STRUT SO FAR AND WIDE OVER MONTPELIER that some nigger forget that Montpelier done have a massa. But most never even seen Massa Patrick Wilson in the flesh. The law start and end with Jack Wilkins, that is what all nigger who born there or get stole from the Africa come to see. But as Wilkins start to get on in years him grip on the estate slip and plenty slave-driver and even Johnny-jumper start to do as they please. Montpelier was going to the dogs and every man with a whip or a gun mark out five hogshead for himself and every woman as he own wench. Johnny-jumper takin’ liberty too and one try to take Lilith. That error he wasn’t goin’ make twice.
Lilith wake up in a darkness that grip her throat. She try to scream, but the dark steal her voice. She trembling and the air smell old. Lilith can’t see her hand. This was not night darkness that show things once the eye get used to it. Lilith blink plenty time and swing out her hand thinking the air goin’ be thick like mud. She try to run, but trip over something and fall. The wood floor creak with old age. She fling around her hand like a madwoman and strike a shelf that let loose the smell of pimento. Lilith forget the pain in her knuckle and feel along the shelf, her hand touching bottle and bowl and sack until she come to the wall. She move along slow, her back to the wall until she reach a corner where the smell change to salt meat and the no-smell of flour and sugar. She move against the wall and trip again, over a sack. Lilith cuss and try to pretend that she not frighten. At first she think the scurrying was her mind gone aflutter in the dark. But then she hear scurrying again, on the floor and above. Rats. Lilith clutch herself ’cause she can’t see nothing. She run away from the sound and trip again. As she land on the floor, something jump on her back and jump off.
A light open up and flood the stairs and banister.
—Quit with you screaming, fool! she say. Lilith don’t know is who. The woman is only a shadow and not thin like Homer. She go to close the door and Lilith wish to scream out no, but then the woman leave the door ajar a little, enough for one thin blade of light to cut all the way down to the floor. That light show Lilith where she be, near the steps and surrounded by barrels, some upright and some flat. She set herself on a barrel and wait.
A long time, she reckon. Long enough that what she know happen, what she think happen and what she feel goin’ happen bend and stretch and break and mix back into each other so that she could no longer tell for sure which was which. The shadow on the floor dark and sharp but it then start to creep across the wood like blood. Lilith pull up her feet and squeeze herself in tight. In the dark she smell him, the field stink of the Johnny-jumper, the frowsy arm and raw crotch that bring back sweat and wood and blood. She hear him scream. She hear him skin crack and pop and think she goin’ vomit until she realise that something was frying upstairs in the kitchen.
The door open wide again and a figure come down, that she know for sure. The figure walk down the steps careful-like but with her back straight and her head high. She carrying a tray that she set down on a barrel next to Lilith.
—Don’t waste me food, Homer say. She turn to go back upstairs.
—Me . . .
—Me . . . Lilith say.
—Bucket in the corner. Piss and shit in that if you have to, Homer say and leave her.
Homer leave the door open a little wider and from there Lilith hear the kitchen come to life. Man voice and woman voice talking and laughing and cussing. And pot frying and hot water hissing and things chopping, and one smell after another floating down in the cellar to keep her company. White people food. Lilith think she was goin’ glut on just the smell alone, so much was coming. Then she smell the tray next to her and grab a johnnycake. She don’t swallow the first before she stuff another in. Her mouth can barely handle it, to chew down something that don’t taste like potato. She put something in her mouth that feel like meat but Lilith eat meat only once, so she not sure. This meat full of salt and have plenty little sharp bones that she have to spit out. Lilith rub her fingers in the oil and lick the bowl clean. Then she hear more laughing and more cussing and silence when Homer talk. Something about going into Kingston to get some herring and other fish to settle the Massa Patrick head.
—Like he got no head to settle, a woman say and everybody laugh again. Lilith did think the massa was Jack Wilkins and can’t remember seeing this other massa.
—Gorgon say only last week he open war ’pon de rose bush, a woman say. More laughing.
—Shithouse. First Tantalus, then the massa, and even Massa Jack not too righted in him old days. Damn estate cursed.
—You hush you mouth before mad backra hush it for good, another woman say.
—Nothing wrong with Massa Jack head, ’cept that is whiskey own it, a man say.
—And even that don’t tame him breeches none, a woman say.
More laughing again. Laughing was a strange sound to Lilith. Something that strike her as a house nigger thing ’cause no laughter happen in Circe hut. Lilith listen for the day to change. The noise of the kitchen as they make breakfast. The quiet when they gone to the dining room to serve the massa and mistress. The noise when they come back and the smell of lunch cooking. The quiet when they gone to serve and the mumbling, laughing and quiet cussing that come with them eating they own lunch upstairs. A man belch loud and a woman say thank merciful Jesus that is not you other hole, to which he fart loud. More laughing. Maybe house-slave life was everything Lilith think.
By Lilith own reckoning two day pass. She have only the talking and joking upstairs, the smell of breakfast, different from lunch and supper and the blade of light from the door that go from bright to weak to gone, to tell her how time pass. Sometimes she wish she could hear all of what they say so that she could laugh too. Lilith sit in the dark and think about how a real laugh would sound. She chuckle under her breath and cover her lips as if somebody was watching. Even with the little light she could feel the dark moving in close. And the rats. Most time Homer bring the food. Other time is one of the two other womens who help get rid of the Johnny-jumper body. Neither woman talk to her much other than to remind her to not go upstairs. Sometimes she hear whispering and wonder if is about her.
BOOK: The Book of Night Women
13.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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