Body of Land, Part I. Water


(I began researching this novel in the aftermath of the US invasion of Grenada, while covering the trials of those accused of murdering Maurice Bishop there in Grenada.  Here’s some background offered in Wikipedia, but as I say in the introduction, what I’m writing here is fiction; the people of Grenada will write their own histories:  The Wikipedia entry under: “People’s Revolutionary Government (Grenada)” reads:  The People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) was proclaimed on 13 March 1979 after the New Jewel Movement overthrew the government of Grenada in a revolution. The government suspended the constitution and ruled by decree until a factional conflict broke out, culminating in a United States military intervention on 25 October 1983.   


I  Body of Land – Water



Start again here, with a man thirty-two years old gone missing after the mayhem, a woman with his mother and her kids asleep there, asleep right beside her, a revolution on a small Caribbean island off the North American continent, a continent, another death, emigration.  Then start again.  That is the point.

The point is a place off St. Michaels where the heroes built a modern airport to encourage tourism.  It was soon occupied by a foreign army, pasty men whose skin is already blotchy red from the sun, and the leaders here, their bodies have gone missing.

Among the missing is Arthur, gone.  That is some distance from Mrs. Williams’ house, a dry place with better visibility whereas Mrs. Williams house is surrounded by trees and catches the rain coming in from the sea, where you can smell the cinnamon trees especially when the bark’s been peeled and where Vida is lying on the sofa.  Vida stares up at the cracks in the ceiling, her dark skin almost blue in this light, her two children asleep on a pallet spread out next to her on the floor.  She is not in her own home, but at Mrs. Williams’s because of the curfew, and has lain awake most of the night, sometimes raising herself toward the window to stare out into the dark.  It is before sunrise.  If she sits up now she might catch a glimpse of light through the wood slats of the louvred window.   A few wide wet leaves press in between the slats, moisture beading on the surface just as it beads on Vida’s face.

Occasionally a flashlight flickers on the mountain, a soldier signalling to the captain, drowsy and bored.  Capturing Fort Henry proved too easy, the island, the nation’s entire population fewer than most suburbs of New York or LA, the revolution over before the marines landed.

It used to be that lights went out one by one in town so that Vida and Arthur, if they were up early or still awake after a night together, would watch from the house until only a few lights remained lit in windows.  At that hour a silhouette of two bodies might be seen leaning against each other under a dim light on a veranda, or the light would glare all night on weekends in the rum shop, gradually blending into the blue sky as it lightened toward pink as the sun rose.  But now under martial law the population has embraced sleep hungrily.  Only the lights on the ship offshore glare as do a few lights up at the prison, far up the mountain.  The prison lights cast a glow and Vida stares up at them.  Lights that bright must spread deep shadows into the yard of the mental hospital that stands just beneath the prison.  Vida’s twin sister is an inmate at the hospital.  Perhaps her twin is still awake, sitting in the hall outside the nurses’ station where the night nurse waits, looking at nothing, looking like nothing is in her head because her head is full of drugs and disappointment.  Vera never got used to the place, and Vida never got used to the idea of the place, that her sister had to be there, black arms and legs sticking out of a blue shift getting skinny as a chicken.

The roosters are just now beginning to crow.  This is a place to start.  Start here although this is not history.  There is no telling what actually happened, is happening, will happen; it only feels as if everything is past, history.   One can start anywhere but Vida doesn’t know where to start.  They say Arthur may be dead, and if not when he is caught they will hang him anyway. The leader is certainly dead, the revolution as dead as its heroes, but this is no eulogy for them and there is to be no funeral; the bodies have gone missing.  That is that.  Vida is missing Arthur’s body.  People lose their heads, their minds, their marbles, their revolutions, but to lose a body – how then is one to believe a man is really dead?

In dreams that will not be remembered in daylight, people all through town are still being bombarded, planes scream over the mountains and helicopters hover over their heads.  They still do not know whether to run and hide or to cheer.  They don’t know what is expected, so they plunge even deeper into sleep. But not Vida.  It is not rest for her.  Her questions during the day are her questions at night, and her fears grow larger without her consciousness alert to resist them, so she waits in a half-sleep until morning and looks over at her daughter whose eyelids also flicker like moths.

There’s an astonishing stillness between them.  Vida doesn’t want to disturb her daughter who drifts back and forth between sleep and morning.  Vida wonders if the girl sees the same animals in the ceiling cracks as she does, or if the girl sees those animals Vida herself saw when she was a girl, but Vida doesn’t ask because she is hoping her daughter will drift back to sleep.  Then Vida might slip out of the room and out of the house before the children rise, to do what she has to do.

Among the many things Vida has to do this day is to check up on her sister, her cretin sister who sees through eyes like these, eyes that are the same age almost exactly, that cannot stay closed in sleep at night so that days are topsy-turvy.  Vida thinks this is how her sister is, that this may be a shared madness between them.  She looks up at the ceiling, at the cracks in the ceiling to distract herself, to calm herself, to prepare herself for what she has to do.  She has no idea what she has to do really, and what she sees are sheep.  Once she sees a sheep in the cracks, she can’t see anything but the sheep, and that seems like a pity to her now.  She must get up.  She says to herself, get up now, Vida.  It’s daylight.  Get up now.

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