Thirty

 

 

“Old man beat us, all of us. Even d’a dog. Mama? He put so many of us babies on her she died young. Younger d’an I am now.” She sits up straight.

“When she died. D’a whole t’ing fell apa’rt. I never saw him again. I was old’ah. The old’est. Some o’ mama’s relations took d’a little ones. I never saw d’em befo’h d’at. Must have been a’fra’yd of him. Maybe I couldn’t forgive…. I ran off.” Her eyes drop, “Never said good bye to them little ones.”

“I was tall for my age. Kind’a like a boy. Felt like one. Did not take much to con’vince me d’ere was no future being a girl.”

“I was used to hid’ing so I hid in the day. Went out at night. Easier d’at way. Dressed like a boy. I stole what I needed. K’ept t’a myself.”

She sits. Her back straight. Chin out.

“Couldn’t hide it for’ev’a.” She runs her hands down her sides to her hips. “Don’t know what I would’f done. The priest was no help.” She swallows hard.

“You don’t want all d’at! You want’a know how I get into d’a liquor business? D’at what you want t’a know.”

I couldn’t interrupt.

She went on, “Livin’ at night in d’a town is h’ard. I got com’fortable around bars, clubs, joints. Guess I was smart enough not t’a fall for d’a goods on off’a. Cu’rious…. Some men… h’ave it t’all. Clothes. Good food. A good bed. Company. Funny…. Not d’a owners. Not d’ose men. ”

She went quiet. Her gaze turned aft over the stern. Nothing to see out there but the dark night. I watched her face, She barely knows I’m here.

She shuddered and took in a deep breath. She turned towards me. Her eyes reading me like a book. I couldn’t hold her gaze. Her hands lay clasped on her lap.

She shook her head and went on, “Not like it t’is now back d’en! Back d’en! I’m talking like it t’was d’e olden days! Not d’at fa’ back. Befo’h Pro’hibit’ion. Ten yea’as? Ten yea’as….”

“Only one way into d’at life – fo’ a girl. No way! Not fo’ me. Be somebody’s da’ame….”

“Y’a don’t want t’a know…. Not gonna tell ya what went on. Put a still togeth’a. Sold what I made t’a a f’ew joints. Paid d’a bills.”

“Nassau… it ch’anged aft’a d’a war…. First t’was all ne’avy boys. Sailors lookin’ t’a forget. Sca’ared. Lookin’ fo’ courage in a bottle. Aft’a d’a war d’ey all left. You lot moved in, Americans. Buy anyt’ing and everyt’ing. A bottle, a barrel… anyt’ing d’at smell of al’cohol.” She shakes her head side to side.

“Next I knew I had a we’a’house full. An office. Twenty men we’rk for me!”

“Yea, it’s legal he’ah…. But wi’d d’at much money pourin’ in….”

“Americans! T’ugs! The cops? Pro’tect me? A lo’cal bus’iness woman? Hah! D’ey bought and paid fo’. Bought and paid fo’.”

“Local outfits got taken ov’ah. Men ke’illed or dis’appear’ad. Me? I’m caught in d’a middle.”

“I don’t know. Maybe t’was easi’ah fo’ me? I don’t t’row my weight around. Act the Big Man! I ke’ept low. Stay’ed out of sight.”

“When I could….”

“Plenty o’ men want t’a he’elp me. Pro’tect me. All I he’ave to do is lie down…. Got t’a al’way’s play one ‘gainst anoth’ah. And anoth’ah. Ke’ep ‘em guessin’!” She smiles.

“I zig when d’ey zag! Some of d’em we’rk for me. Dre’am of movin’ up by marryin’ d’a boss!” She chuckles.

“No way t’a li’eve.”

We sit in the dark night. Quiet.

The look on her face. Artemis Phillips’ story pops into my mind, Something about Diana….

A sigh off the night breeze brushes past us. She gathers her arms around herself, She’s cold. I hold up a finger, Wait here. And slip below.

I hand her a sweater. Watch her pull it over her shoulders and tie the long sleeves around her neck. I pull on my second-oldest flannel shirt layered over the other one, “Feels cold!” Been down here in the Tropics for too long!

“T’anks.” We stand face to face. The moon is high over my shoulder. The light falls on her face. I imagine I can see the girl in the woman before me. Her story stretches back to populate the night. A vague feeling surfaces as a question. I realize I have a lot of questions….

Something paddles by under Actæon’s stern. We hear a loud splash! A muffled cry, then silence.

A ‘caiman? She must think so too. We both shiver. Step closer.

She says,“Mac? Mac’Far’le’ane. I should go.” She turns. Headed for her dinghy.

I take one more look over the stern. Moonlight reflects off ripples expanding in circles under my feet, “No. Not tonight.” I grasp her arm before she moves beyond my reach. Looking towards the hatch I say, “Stay. You can have my cabin. I’ll sleep up forward…, with Skilly in the foc’s’l.”

“No” She says, “I’m n’ot puttin’ you out of you’ah bed.”

“There’s another bunk to port.”

“Fine. T’anks.” She makes a half turn, breathing in the night, and with her hand resting on the companionway slide, says, “I will”

 

 

Continue…

 

 

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