‘You should step in,’ she says, reaching for the security chain but finding it already dangling freely. Her eyes only then darting up to meet mine.
I crouch to unlace my shoes, avoiding the stool that has always been untrustworthy. I hang my coat on the peg tucked invisibly beside the fuse-box. She notices these gestures and slows with thought while leading me through this shipwreck of a home. The same drafts and groaning floors, the same wildlife calendar with the moose of September 1987, now two years out of date. In the kitchen, she sets a kettle on the element and turns the stove dial while saying ‘on.’ Then checks again to make sure.
The gas has been disconnected. I see this immediately and know that we will wait in vain for the flame to catch or the kettle to scratch to a boil. She is silent now and her eyes are downcast and away from me. There’s a cavernous rhythm that seems to emanate from the floorboards and rafters, though this is only the lake having its say in the quiet of our brooding. This could continue for a long time. With the sun going its way and the shadows thickening around us. With this old woman, my mother, so entirely unwilling to admit that she has forgotten me. With both of us free from our past.
I do this.
I stand and unbuckle my belt. I unbutton and zip down and let my pants fall to my knees. Mother doesn’t laugh at me advancing with wobbly duck steps. She doesn’t panic when her hand is held and guided to the skin of a dark young man.
Here. Press your fingers against the walnut-shaped lump of bone at the side of my knee. Hold them there until my knee bends and some rogue tendon bunches against that lump and against your fingers before suddenly snapping over. With a click. My body’s trick.
‘He have strange bones,’ she says. ‘Quarrels deep in he flesh.’
‘He grandmother too. You can’t do nothing for bones. They like history. But you can boil zaboca leaves to remedy body ache. And planten leaves to slow bleeding. And there used to be something called scientific plant which could protect you against curses and bad magic....’
‘Your son. Your youngest son. remember, Mother?’
‘Aloe on light burns. Everyone does remember that. But there was something else. something wet and pithy they could give you when you burns was brutal. When you skin was gloving off....’
I stay with Mother, though I haven’t truly been invited to stay. On that first evening of my return, Mother walks suddenly out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. I hear the low grate of a deadbolt. Later, I make my way up to the other bedroom on the second floor. The bunk bed that I once shared with my brother is still made, though the sheets and pillows
smell of dampness.
My bedroom window looks out over the weathered edge of the bluffs to a great lake touched by the dying light of the city. Below, some forty feet down, a few trees lean about on a shore of sand and waterlogged litter. Dancing leaves and the tumble of an empty potato chip bag. Despite the view and the fact that many consider the surrounding neighbourhood ‘a good part of Scarborough,’ our place is difficult to boast of. We are alone in a cul-de-sac once used as a dump for real-estate developers. The house is old and bracing now for the final assaults of erosion. Even in summer, all windows facing south are kept shut. Because of the railway track, scarcely ten feet away.
I’m jolted awake during the night. The house has taken on some brutal energy, and dust motes have turned the slanting moonlight from the window into solid beams. The noise peaks and only then is it clear to me that a freight train is passing. I wait for the caboose to pass and the lake sounds to pool back. I watch the wind blowing ghosts into the drapes. I dream, close to waking, of the sound of footsteps in the air above me.
Page 1 of 2
Excerpted from Soucouyant by David Chariandy. Copyright 2007 by David Chariandy. Excerpted with permission from Arsenal Pulp Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.In the morning, I walk in on a young woman sitting with Mother at the kitchen table and reading a book. She has hair of wild bronze, frizzy mixed-girl hair barely kept in check by an elastic, and she is wearing the white two-pocketed shirt that Mother used to make me put on for special occasions. She has apparently set food in front of my mother, cornmeal porridge with sugar and vanilla essence beaten in. A pot of tea so strong that it seems to stain the cups and corrode the spoons. Seeing me, she stands abruptly, her hand darting involuntarily to a mark on her neck. For the shortest while, she reads my face and body before dropping her hand and sitting back down.
‘I’m her son,’ I say.
She picks up an eating spoon to offer some of the porridge to Mother, who purses her lips but otherwise doesn’t move her face. The book is now splayed cover up on the table. The Diatonic Mode in Modern Music, the title reads. The mark on her neck is red. A puzzle against the light brown of her skin, the sharpness of her collarbone. A birthmark most likely.
‘Are you a nurse?’ I ask. ‘I’m just visiting. I won’t get in your way.’
‘How considerate of you,’ she replies.
And then ignores me, though her eyes look like they’re thinking far beyond her continued attempts to feed Mother. I nod and leave quietly, spending most of the morning and afternoon in my room and staying clear.
In the evening, I’m alone in the sitting room when I hear from above the sounds of a faucet squeaking open and the deepening rush of water in the bathroom tub. I hear two voices and muffled splashes, then the young woman singing and Mother joining in without hesitation or flaw. I want to hear more of this singing and to know how Mother can manage to carry any song at all in her condition. I wait for the bath noises to stop and the drain to stop sucking, but I walk upstairs and into Mother’s room before it’s at all safe to do so. Mother is topless and facing me, and the young woman is standing behind her, giving her a massage. Mother’s eyes are closed and she is still humming, her voice grating as the young woman kneads into the flesh hidden from my sight. The glossy wrinkles on Mother’s upper shoulders and neck, the portents of her body’s true damage. There’s an oily thickness in the air and on my tongue, and the nakedness and intimacy humiliates me somehow. I turn to leave but not before the young woman catches my discomfort and smiles wickedly.
I hear it that night. unmistakable this time, the young woman in the attic above. The creak of her movements.
Page 2 of 2
Excerpted from Soucouyant by David Chariandy. Copyright 2007 by David Chariandy. Excerpted with permission from Arsenal Pulp Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without permission in writing from the publisher.