I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
Another drop of sweat boiled off the curls of Gerrad’s armpit and, tickling slightly, coursed down his side. The twitch broke his concentration from the exam paper before him, and searching for a breeze, he glanced through the big window to his left. Nothing there but the blinding glare of a hot young day. “Barely past its ten o’clock stop, and I’m sweating steam already,” Gerrad thought, as his eyes roved about the room.
He stopped abruptly, and returned tensely to his paper. But only a moment later, lids lowered as possible, he began covertly shifting attention up to the rostrum where the proctor sat. Where the heat had set her unconsciously fanning for a breeze with her wide skirt—slowly swinging her knees open and closed, and open, and closed.
Gerrad took one look, then rested his straining eye muscles. Then he went totally casual: first he made the casual reconnaissance noting the others preoccupied with reading, writing, and pondering over correct answers. Then, most casually, he rearranged his posture, hunkering down, easing the angle for his now so casual eyes. Finally, all set behind the hand rested casually on his brow, Gerrad squinted sharply up the dark bellows of her skirt. And with familiar suddenness, the lighter shade of what he glimpsed undammed his pent-up blood into swift waves surging down his swelling crotch.
Somewhere behind, a commotion cut through, and she promptly stood up; roused by the scraping chair and overloud sighs—the gallerying of a first-finished test-taker. As she walked past up the aisle, Gerrad caught scent of her sweat, pungent in-between the fragrant bouquet of bottled flowers she wore. Somehow the conflicting aromas unreasonably powered another fattening in his crotch.
Itchy all over, uncomfortably stiff in his lap, he rubbed his nose to forestall the sneeze that threatened. It passed, but left him afidget to a vague urge hiding in the back of his mind. Then quite abruptly, as the notion fully possessed him, he relaxed completely. Yes! he dared it. Right there in the aisle seat of the front row, he’d risk a quickie jay-o and get softening ease.
The immediate distraction was the proctor shushing the show-off-who-thought-he-was-first. As the fellow swaggered from the room Gerrad ground his back teeth with chagrin. He himself could’ve walked out the room at least ten minutes ago. The exam had been a snap—easy as peeping round his fingers. His recent dark glimpse brought back to mind, Gerrad began inventing situation around its scarce detail.
With a thrill, he could picture her legs flagging submission to the prickling heat. But going past the fascination above her knees, his imagination came up blank but for a fever of excitement. Was that valley cool? Moist? Was it sweating hot? What would it do for him? And how would he test the mystery?
Meantime, slyly, Gerrad shifted in his chair, repositioning to conceal the bulge in his lap. He jammed his stomach to the desktop, so that by huddling over, his left hand supporting a heavy head, he assumed the slouching attitude of one industriously reading over his answers. His right hand, though, he fitted familiarly over the swollen pulsing in his lap.
Just at the ready, experience began a worry about inevitable and embarrassing wet-spots. That was like saying, “Watch your step!” to a rushing mob, though. Already, just his close accomplishment was riding Gerrad, whipping him on. And pulling like the serpent powerful, the fleshed temptation probed and swayed longer down inside his leg. Under its pressure for attention, he glibbed to himself that he’d hide the spots with question sheets, note-paper; whatever shallow blind to block away his pipsqueak anxiety.
Then, not fighting it anymore, he squeezed his handful through his pants, and thrilled to it … until an exquisite, bursting rapture had pained and passed and calmed him down.
A sigh escaped softly behind the draining relief, and he bent his head to rest on the desktop. He closed his eyes—wiped out by the empty power that had swept him over. As always, it had been so swift. Like a fleet hot wind, it had rushed over him, burning his passion away, leaving only a tiny consternation.
Ten minutes later, feeling flaccid as sails in a doldrum, he placed his answers on the proctor’s desk, and left the room. He had timed his move to coincide with her attentions to the anxieties of a late-finisher. And, with his books held to his lap, he exited so smoothly, he felt certain no one had noticed the damp stains of evidence.
Gerrad squatted in the shade of a roadside tree studying the weeds and wondering what to do for company. His pants were dry now, and it’d be another half hour before lunch bell when his two main buddies would get out their classes. After lunch they’d return to their regular afternoon schedule. But since he had no more of these special scholarship exams today, he’d have four hours—until five o’clock—before being due home: A lot of free time to waste. Gerrad considered persuading them to make l’ecole biche and go river-bathing with him. After a moment’s promise though, the idea wilted when he considered the unshaded two-mile trek to the river basin. They wouldn’t like it either. In fact, beyond the tree’s umbrella, the stinging sun discouraged every plan but staying in the shadows.
Thinking ease and cool, he got an idea that swiftly decided him not to wait for his friends. He’d go the public library and browse. He recalled a book he had sneaked from the “Adult” stacks. In it were some really good parts about this countrywoman and her crude gardener. Maybe the author had written another story like it. A teasing thrill began a journey downward from his quickened heart, and pulled him on his way.
Gerrad decided to meander two blocks out his way and pass by the Girls’ High. Although he knew it was not recess time, it was worth a try. A stray thrill might still be out there in tardy schoolgirls horsing about the playing fields. Those netballers wore skin-thin shorty-shorts that showed the most after perspiration.
This is how he was these last few months past his 15th birthday: Where Gerrad’s paths crossed femaleness, his attitude had assumed this gambler’s hopeful nonchalance. On the spur of the moment, he’d alter any program for routes female in potential. Alert as a stare, he prowled about clothing stores with their suggestive mannequins and piles of slinky underthings, and bookstores with racks of revealing women’s magazines, and the jumping upper seats at stadiums, and women’s washday clotheslines. Wherever there was chance for a feminine charge, Gerrad tried being there.
This Girls’ High was a favorite detour. On luckier days he had caught sights of skin panty-high naked, in rough-housing juxtapositions which suggested dreams he could not imagine without such substance. When these good scenes aroused him, he’d press hot against the wall, and jam there taut like a branding iron until his passion burst and doused itself to manageability. Then afterwards, he’d rouse and droop off on his way, never fully bowed, and ever ready to rise again and strike.
This time, though, when he came to the schoolyard, only it was bare.
Back on the road to the library, in the brilliant afternoon, Gerrad looked up and spied it. Against a background of black-green leaves, the mango gleamed like a sunset in shades of crimson and yellow. It was a ripe Julie—the premier grafted variety—and hung like a beacon above a formidable hibiscus fence about two meters high, with thick branching stems entwined to form a stalwart barrier.
Gerrad studied fruit and fence confidently; the beautiful Julie already so working his mouth pipes he could almost taste it. As for the fence, he didn’t mind it much; getting beyond it was more or less taking a deservedly high step up to a grand prize. Gerrad believed mango Julie was—from aroma to swallow—the most delicious, totally satisfying fruit in existence. In furthering this theory of its excellence, he researched it devotedly by gourmandizing every sample he could find.
He preferred to pick it from the tree himself. Hefted, the best ones had a firm, sullen weight. And if it was ready ripe, he’d caress it all over in the hold of his hand while it still hung pendulous and vulnerable, maybe drawing a final suckle from its mother tree. Then he’d pluck it; enjoying the reluctant snap. And then it was the bite, the squeezing teeth, the yield of succulent flesh, the warm wet spurt and sweetest slurp. He sucked up a drool just from thoughts of it.
Barefoot now—having doffed and hidden his sneakers to better quarry the Julie tree—Gerrad tested a less dense spot among the tangle of hibiscus fence. Most of the individual trees were bushy with green leaves and hand-sized, red or yellow flowers, and taller than he. Though it looked cushion-soft and pretty, the living-stems fence was so close-plaited, it took Gerrad’s utmost strength to make it through this weakest gap. But finally, after paying well in determined striving and bloody scrapings and scratches, he forced apart some stiff inner branches and stole into the fence’s garden side.
For a moment, he remained half-buried in the cool leaves and reconnoitered his spoils. At least an acre of untended greenery lay before him. Wild grass and flowering weeds formed a pretty, continuous carpet until about halfway along, when this gave to an arbour of fruit trees promising cool shade from their lofty foliage ceiling.
As though sunstruck, Gerrad stood amazed at the sheer variety of fruit the garden presented. Like a fry in front a hookshaped worm, he greedily scrutinized his prospects. About him were sun-faced guavas, blackly ripe sweet and sour cherries, several other varieties of mangoes, fat guanábanas, three, no! five full-bunched yellow-dwarf coconut palms, clusters of pee-wah palms, and more, more, and much, much more. Bright, multi-globed grappes of purples, or salmon-reds, or varied browns interrupted like extravagant pastry decorations on the generally dark-green leafy background. And he was plumb in the middle of the party’s cake!
He gaped about, making out what had to be a sapodilla tree with its sticky-juiced sweet fruit jutting directly from the stem like matte-brown breasts. He doubted only because never before had he seen sapodilla so big, so fat, so promising juicy. The garden’s abundant variety was incredible, yet Gerrad sensed there was still more. Quite on its own, a smug, astonished, high-pitched giggle laughed out of him. But then abruptly, at his own noise, before the rest of him could join the fun, his skin chilled and his hairs rose, and he became ultra alert. It had occurred to him all this was too grand to be so available. There had to be some hazard here.
He slurped around some spit in a mouth suddenly dry, and edged nearer to the cooler canopy of the fruity arbour, tensing even more. The whole place seemed too waiting; passive and quiet and biding like a trap. All the fruit—everything might be poised and ready like tasty bait. The only free movement in the arbour was the shafts of sunshine flickering hither thither over the leafstrewn ground like searching spotlights, or fleeing eyes.
Gerrad’s cautioned thoughts returned to the Julie he had glimpsed. At least he’d try for that, then handle whatever developed afterwards. He ventured in its direction, and after peering up and about some, found it hanging on its branch at the outskirts of the treasure trove. A multitude of verdant leaves hid it so well, that, but for the breeze and blind luck, he’d have missed it. Gerrad now alertly pressed close to the fence in a stalking semi-crouch and started for the bole of the mango tree.
As he came to the Julie tree, he saw it typically ridiculously easy to climb. Convenient branches made like a step-ladder to a pantry. For a veteran conqueror of barriers like concealed spike-fences, vicious dogs, and watchmanning owners, this tree seemed begging for relief. So, not questioning fortune further, but still cautious, Gerrad was soon seating himself in the crook of the proper branch. Once quite comfortable there, he plucked, and continued his research of the unparalleled fruit.
While appraising a second Julie, he got to considering his promising fair tomorrows. He’d have to exploit his bounty very carefully. No one else must know of this garden of nectar. He must hoard it well, make it a lasting heaven. First job, though, would be to inventory the trove like a buccaneer wou … !!
A silent scream seized his awareness. He was being watched!
Helplessly, he passed wind, then gasped through the stinking embarrassment. The flatulence had been a loud, sharp burst; a shot his watcher must’ve heard. Gerrad fought with a desperate urge to fly and jump and run out of there. He gritted his teeth and mustered self-control. He was not some simple thief. He must not scramble away like a scavenging straydog. He had to face out this owner who tried playing him like a fly in a spider’s trap. So with the sample’s honey-juice forgotten and dripping all over his hands, Gerrad began searching out his watcher.
He felt a queer excitement as he doubled here as stalked and stalker. Hunting times before, during kills of iguanas and quail, and even agouti, he had tried games of feeling both sides. Now he realized they’d been mere practice, training runs; no how did they have the zing of this true experience.
Strictly, he kept the perfect silence of the garden. He was stiller than the trees; except for his tensing muscles. He kept fixed as sculpture; except for his slow eyes gleaning the sameness of the bush for minor shifts and subtle changes in its pattern. He searched the secrets of the dusky arbour, eyes sharp as glints of sunlight, nostrils aquiver at the air. He listened too; hard enough to hear the leaves if they fell. Most scantily, he moved his search, and then only with deliberate purpose so as not to himself create the break of pattern which he sought.
And then, with a thrill, he discovered the eyes; although he was careful, and suppressed his wild satisfaction at the victory.
It was a woman, he guessed. She was standing among the stout, leaf-swathed suckers of a banana stool. Without knowing it, he had been looking in her direction all while eating the Julie.
He pretended to search as before he’d found her out; with every sweep, detailing her better from betwixt her setting. The hanging dried leaves, with their shredded brownness, camouflaged her perfectly. Everything about her: her planted upright stance, her colour, and her clothes, blended exactly into the clump of plants. She didn’t move, and seemed to be gazing directly at him. Then she did it again, and Gerrad realized what his hunting eye had caught to reveal her to him.
She had fluttered her eyelid. As Gerrad made another peeping sweep, she did it again, and he realized he was wasting his sneaking. The woman, indistinct behind the stand of banana shoots, was whore-bold winking at him. He strained to see her better as she remained surrounded by the palisade of fleshy sprouts. The only thing he saw clearly was the lewd suggestion in her distant eyes. A look so coarse and plain that already he was succumbing to its gutty message, and with sudden spasms close to hurting, he jetted spurt after fiery spurt of burning semen into his pants.
Bewildered, and weak in the throes of orgasm, Gerrad blindly grasped at a branch to support him. He held on, limply spent; his eyes a beam to the woman’s face; caught there while she seemed to come into focus: the harsh domineering mask with gleaming, vulgar eyes, and cracked lips, and tangled hair, dirty with burrs.
Then the woman broke the thrall and turned away from him. Once, she looked back slowly, then went farther into the arbour out of view. Released from his petite mort, he stirred and listlessly climbed back down to earth.
With no intent to follow, he looked long at where she had gone. He felt sheepish and disgusted with himself. Who was she, and what’d happen now? Was she laughing at him? He had been so sudden, so inexpert, so quick, and so juvenile! Yet he couldn’t have mistaken that look in her eyes. It had been a plain, leading-on look, its message clear and carnal. What he had done, she’d certainly shared and bidden.
He sighed, and hawked and spat in her direction, then turned to prowl—less pounce in his crouch now—back to his gap in the fence. All the way, spent semen slicked against his thigh, sticky cool, and a sweaty lethargy resisted his need to be active again in the sunlit open.
Back in the street with his sneakers on, he looked at himself with the scratches and scrapes and semen stains and all, and one thing became certain. Library browsing was out of the question.
Twenty minutes later, Gerrad was jogging steadily homewards. From waist to knees his jeans were sopping wet, as though sweat-drenched from a long run. This was the impression sought when he had poured tap water in around his waist until the semen stains were nicely absorbed in the blot. His jogging now was to work up a sweat to support that evidence. With the prevailing heat and two miles yet to home, such sweat was more than certain. He also endured the grind as self-punishment for his unmentionableness in the garden. All the same, every now and then an invigorating question sprinted through his stress to tease him: Would she be there another time?
It was two days before circumstances allowed Gerrad to visit the grove again. This time his destination was as certain as his route direct. He had also made some special preparations for the jaunt. Dressing for school that morning, intentions set, he had carefully chosen his pants; ones cut full and roomy, with two side pockets. The left pocket had the specialty of an enormous hole. The crumpled-up man-sized handkerchief in it now was one of the few things it could contain. One other item completed his equipment kit: a contraceptive rubber. Its label guaranteed it as “lubricated, ultra-sensitive, and featuring a reservoir tip.”
Gerrad quickly entered the garden through the fat, green fence. He stood there inside for a minute or so, enjoying the embrace of the soft hibiscus leaves. Although he glanced constantly at the clump of banana trees, he saw no one. His gaze never lingered there however, but expectantly scouted the surrounding foliage. Gradually though, her absence soothing him, he relaxed and began wandering about. Close at hand, the honey-gold sheen of a ripe guava caught his eye. A little jump, and he was paid in full for his try. The guava’s taste was well worthy of its colour, and it turned his interest to more flavorful research. Inevitably however, his not-so-aimless meandering returned him to the banana stool cluster.
From this close up he was impressed by the robust vitality of the shoots and suckers: they reminded of sturdy, well-fed soldiers mustered at protective ease. Like a caress to his admiration, he heard a soft breeze sashaying through the shreds of their hanging dried leaves. It reached him, cool on his face, just as it bathed him with a frowzy, putrid stench. Instinctively, Gerrad snorted out the stink, held his breath, and swung around to head another way. And his heart almost burst itself as he did. Like a thumping drum, it drowned out the news of every other sense, announcing only the surprise his eyes had sprung. The woman was there.
She was sitting low down on an upraised root not more than 15 feet away. She was looking at him that way, and seizing him fast with it. She had locked his stolen gaze right into hers, and he was more than powerless in his daze.
Again, she was camouflaged, although discernible in her low-leveled recline. She wore something loose, earth-brown, sack-like that covered her completely—even to her hands. Her face, though, he could better make out, and realized he was mistaken in his earlier impression of prune-folds skin and cracked lips. It seemed now she was only old as someone’s mother.
The woman changed her pose unsubtly: Under her enveloping clothes, she boldly dropped her knees apart. And as if the suggestion was command to his plans, Gerrad’s left hand homed to its two-holed pocket.
A fumble around the kerchief, through the specialty, and he could grasp the surging bulk and tug it in; feeling it so hard, it hurt. He gloved the kerchief around its warmth and thrilled with the pulse of its might. A thought flickered that it could burst like a sizzling sausage, and that was fleeting distraction from the torrid fancy that the woman was deliberately open and widening for him under her earth-brown sack. He squeezed and wrung at this, milking the notion until it surrendered life. Until he was spewing his sperm like it was spit.
He became aware again in a happy lassitude, holding the soggy handkerchief around his lessened tumescence. Fingers spread apart like strangers in a bathroom, he pulled his hand from the pocket. Released, his penis slipped through the pocket’s hole and fell thickly against his leg. He sighed long and closed his eyes. In his pocket he felt the mess soaking through. So he took out the loaded handkerchief and tossed it away near the banana stool. Then he stooped and cleaned off his hand on the grass. Close to the earth down there, he thought of the woman and feeling very shy, half-straightened up to look at her. But she had gone.
It had been a long hard one. Last night, after chores, home work, play, and a fight with his younger brother, Gerrad was exhausted when he went to sleep. Yet, this morning come found him strained and tired, not rested at all. He rolled over on his belly, and despite the intrusive sounds of his brother’s toiling in the yard, he tried commanding some sleep from the new day. He closed his eyes firmly, and tried to think darkness and quiet. He thought instead, that maybe he wasn’t enjoying the sleep-late privilege he had already paid his brother for: Wanting an uninterrupted time for certain planned activities, he had bought this chore-free Saturday from his brother. The price was waiver of interest on an outstanding 20-dollar loan. When he made the deal, a sweet anticipation was this luxury of late-morning snoozing. Now Gerrad felt cheated as his eyelids became belligerent at trying to avoid each other.
All the long gone night he had been fielding battles. They had left him tender-skinned, sore-eyed, and confused. His dreams had been weird and crazy, unlike any before in how they seemed real without being actual. As if he had been split in two. Within and without, he could see himself be himself. And every sequence of the madness revolved around the garden-woman’s face: a lingering etching in his mind, a mask framing the essence of his obsession. Every different dream scene had excited him further, was more erotic, more incredible, more disgustingly arousing as sequences and details switched, or repeated, ever-always dissolving without providing him consummation; abandoning him to lie wide-eyed tired with his chafing, absurd, swollen blood in hand, jerking it monotonously; futilely shifting the skin again and again, rubbing, polishing helplessly, anxious and frustrated for some kind of ease or climax. And all night long, he never won this simple peace.
Later on, when he left the house during the hottest part of the afternoon, he told them he was going to “cool out.” He intended the phrase with private duplicity: in his brother’s ear, to remind him of his stewardship. For himself, it meant his arbour of fleshy delights.
The day he walked was fine; bright with crisp sunshine, lending every surface new polish. Gerrad strode along light as a bounce, feeling jolly and sharp with anticipation’s energy. As if ready for a game, he wore a loose T-shirt, soccer shorts, and sneakers. When he arrived at it, he leaped onto the fence like a lion.
Once through, he headed directly to the bananas, slowing his pace to a stunned stop when he realized the woman wasn’t there. He had so totally committed himself, he assumed her compliance. Now her absence left him at a loss for what to do. He ranged around hopefully, special senses attuned only for her, searching, making sure. But she wasn’t there.
His purpose in a vacuum, he was reluctant to leave this part of the garden. His eyes kept turning expectantly to the banana clump. Then he remembered his sodden handkerchief and went to where he had tossed it. A moment’s searching around showed that it was gone, even as a piercing certainty declared that she had taken it; which set him speculating about her intent with it, and aroused the well-liked swelling. Within his thin, loose soccer shorts, it met no resistance at all.
And suddenly the vacuum filled as she arrived. He looked quickly at the banana cluster. She was standing a little farther beyond it, partially blocked by a hanging frond, and nothing else. She was out there in the open. He could see her distinctly. He shifted the sprig away and studied the faded brown sack for hints of her form beneath it. From the sag of the sack, all he could say was, she wasn’t fat. Then his eyes were to her face, and all his attention was commanded.
But for a cast of demanding lechery, it was an empty place of ancient eye that hooked and pulled enchanted him. As he moved in closer, the woman, too, began shifting slowly, although not towards him, but off to the side as if keeping within opposite sides of a noose. Parrying in this manner, they danced well into the shady dome of the foliage. Then here, shrouded from the sun, she stopped and let him approach.
Her gaze, he saw, was riveted at his crotch, and reflexively his groin responded. So much so, he had to stop walking as the massive erection forced itself out the side of his shorts. Rampant, it probed the air, unbalancing him as it quested with an ardour greater than he. Impaled by her imperious eye, he now recalled the dreadful dreams that had fired him up so without granting release. He knew a vague sense of danger, like a warning birdcall. But he shunned the presentiment. Her promise had him strong. It suppressed his natural fear.
Just her look devastated him with its suggestion of feral wantonness; of a willingness for crudest rutting. Gerrad could not resist. Desire had him strong in hand, stolid and slack of will. Yearning only to reach her, he arched his hips forward, straining like a bow, jutting out his crotch to her in offering.
Once more a tiny instinct of self-preservation recoiled. It hinted urgently that there was menace about the garden-woman. It bade him watch her mouth and how hungry it was set, to remember the decay stench that wafted through the pretty grove with her. He had never heard a bird there, he recalled, never seen a butterfly. Then that part of him fell quiet, as his attention for such concerns weakened and vanished. This macabre game was too far along for pausing now. The answer to the mystery was too close and he craved it from a peak of passion he just could not climb down.
Then, at that exact moment, as if she had divined his limits, the woman stuck her hand up between her straddled legs! With her shoulder slightly bent forward, she groped up under her loose clothes, and somehow the common, half-stooped pose suggested a surrender; as if she had given in to him. And at this unexpected, obscene perfection, Gerrad felt terribly little and lost, and trembling in anticipation, he squeezed his eyes tightly closed.
He remembered feeling this afraid of the sapping ecstasy when he had first started handling himself. He thought he had grown braver since. Now he knew a peculiar loss of dignity that the fear was still there; that it might go on too long and waste him up; that it had returned at such a time.
But now, a clarion’s peal was trilling every corner of his being and summoning every swift point of excitement he possessed. They roughed through him, rippling along his arms and trampling over shoulders, racing down his back, streaming up his calves and over his haunches. He sensed their brutish might as they massed about his groin. There, mob-eager, they rallied, garnering their power for a rampage.
Then, Gerrad felt the forceful rush begin and exulted in an instant of lonely climax, before the rapture was shattered by a shock of draining pain. Something dry and sharp had punctured and impaled him. In a coffin of terror, retching tight-eyed from the agony, he strained and cleaved the hedge of his barring eyelids and saw the horrid soucouyaunt squatting before him, his own thick red gore spurting on her skull-hard face as it crowded his crotch with snarling, gnawing maws that were consuming him.
Then, as his soul shrank at the full horror of it, her hungry eyes glared up to his and Gerrad knew a final keen despair. For all he found in her bleak pools of death was baleful mockery.
Kelvin Christopher James is a Trinidadian living and writing in Harlem. His collection, Jumping Ship and Other Stories, will be published in April by Villard Books of Random House.
I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee