I don’t remember the incident; I was only two at the time. Neither do you, probably; you were only four. But we heard the story often, of when the knives disappeared.
You filched the knives after seeing Gramma, while washing dishes in the outdoor sink, pause just long enough to grab a boning knife from the drying rack and, with one deadly throw, dispatch a mongoose over ten yards away as it ran off with one of the chickens. You took the knives to the corner of the yard behind the vegetable plot, where you practiced your throwing skills on the old tamarind tree.
On the day that ended your knife-throwing career, you were practicing your behind-the-back method. You didn’t see me head toward the tree.
Mum stitched me up while you watched. She made you promise not to throw knives anymore, and you kept your word.
You taught me to drive when I was twelve, after Daddy declared that women didn’t belong behind the wheel of a car until they were at least twenty-one. When Daddy forbade me from going to my high school senior dance because there would be boys there, you drove four hours to Montego Bay to yank me out of history class one Friday.
“Emergency,” you told my teacher. Then, you drove us back to Kingston, took me shopping for clothes, and brought me to one of your wild parties. I was seventeen and had never been to a boy-girl party. I was too shy to dance with anyone except you, but I picked up a lot of useful information about boy/girl interaction from my observation post behind the bougainvillea bushes.
And, the tamarind tree. We were about eleven and nine when you convinced me that together we were strong enough to take down the tree with an axe and machete. When that didn’t work, we tried to set it on fire. We hatched the plan to get rid of the tree right after the goats ran off and Daddy gave you the beating that still gives me nightmares.
I tiptoed into your room not knowing what I would find. I saw a motionless lump in your bed. Blood dotted the sheet. I stopped breathing. My trembling caused water to slosh to the floor, spilled from your favorite blue enamel mug I was bringing to you. From somewhere in the room I heard a low wail. In the very moment, I realized I was the source of that pitiful mewl, the lump in the bed moved. You threw off the sheet, sat up, winked at me. I dropped the mug. It bounced along the uneven wooden floor, spilling the rest of the water, as I ran to you. I will never forget how tenderly you held me while I sobbed and gulped.
“Is awright, is awright,” you said.
Then you pushed me away.
“Stop now, mi no dead.”
You wiped my face with a corner of the bloody sheet.
“Do you hate me?” I asked.
“No, man,” you said. “Better me than you.”
I had watched Daddy choose the switch, watched him reach up to pull the branches toward him till he found one with the perfect sinewy combination of girth and give to cause maximum pain. I watched him use the machete to cut the branch, strip off the leaves and bark, leaving just enough at the base of the switch to protect his hand. I watched the sap ooze, form little white beads, as he pared away the bark. The sap would burn into the welts raised by the switch. You didn’t make a sound, not a peep. Didn’t make a single attempt to deny culpability for the lost goats.
I had acted on impulse. I couldn’t bear the thought of my pets being dinner for rich tourists in Montego Bay. I opened the gate to the pen and shooed the goats out. I wonder if Daddy ever found out I was the guilty one.
Do you remember the time you saw me crying outside my third-grade classroom? I couldn’t catch my breath to tell you why. You marched into the room, locked the door, and beat the crap out of all six boys there. Fists and bodies flew. Books, desks, and chairs, too. Leaving the boys groaning on the floor, you came out of the room, patted me on the shoulder, and assured me, “They won’t bother you anymore.”
Only one of the boys had bothered me. The others had come to my rescue.
Nicholas Winch had a crush on me but I always ignored him. He used my plaits to tie me to my chair, and that’s what made me cry. Nobody ever bothered me again at school.
The rest of the family still marvels that you haven’t ended up in jail. Daddy used to say if he lined up a thousand angels and one devil in angel-disguise, you would zero in on the devil to be your best friend. I knew better—you always protected me from the devils.
Pixie-Ann Healy moved to the US from Jamaica in 1975. She lives in Hampstead, NC with her husband of forty years and their motorcycle, Dawg.