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Writing the Storm

NATURAL DISASTERS IN OUR CARIBBEAN

A Special Edition

Shivanee Ramlochan, Guest Editor

Issue 10, June 2018

Works by: Isis Semaj-Hall, Richard Georges, Geoffrey Philp, Trevann Hamilton, Felene Cayetano, Brandon O’Brien H.K. Williams, Kwame McPherson, Jeremy Gardner, Steve D. Whittaker, Celia Sorhaindo, Shivanee Ramlochan

QUEER & LGBT CARIBBEAN LIT


Susumba’s Book Bag is a quarterly digital magazine dedicated to showcasing writing of the highest grade from new, emerging and established Caribbean writers at home and in the Diaspora. The magazine is an offshoot of the Caribbean arts and entertainment online magazine Susumba.com We will publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, interviews as well as reviews of Caribbean books. Occasionally, we will also publish one-act plays and monologues. Currently, we do not offer remuneration for the writings we publish, but we believe that writers should be paid for their work, and so we working on a way to do that in the near future.

Submission Guidelines We accept a maximum of 5 poems and 2 short stories at a time and we have no problem with simultaneous submissions but ask that you notify us immediately if the work is accepted elsewhere. We have no bias of genre or style. Our only requirement is that it be good, so send us your best stuff. Short stories should range from 2,500 to 3,500 words while flash fiction is from 10 600 words. We prefer our poetry to err on the side of Mervyn Morris, the shorter the better. We do accept longer work but if your poem is at the 33 to 64 line tipping point (longer than a page), please only submit two poems at a time. We try to keep our response time to a month, but alas we are human and so it may go beyond that. If you have not heard from us in 90 days, please feel free to send us a query. Though we publish quarterly, we currently accept submissions throughout the year, except in December. There is no reading fee, and submissions are only accepted via email. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission. Send your work as an attachment (.doc, .txt or .rtf), not in the body of the email. Works sent in the body of the email will not be accepted. Send submissions to info@susumba.com Subject: Lastname-Firstname-Submission

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A publication by Blue Banyan Books Cover Image - But If We Fly by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné Design: Tanya Batson-Savage

Editor’s Note Writing the Storm As this issue reaches you, storm season is upon us again. Our tenuous, squabbling global village has been told by meteorological authorities to expect more severe, frequent weather disruptions as our planet continues to change. ‘Disruption’ feels a handy, yet insufficient word for what daily life in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Dominica still resembles. What, after all, is daily life on Barbuda like, now? Who witnesses it? Witnessing the storm is the only way to write about it, or else write through it. This must be true no matter the kind of maelstrom you mean. You may be standing in water up to your thighs, in the exoskeleton of what used to be your kitchen, watching your front doors flapping like two distressed palms, open and shut, open, and shut. That’s a storm. You may find yourself weeping on the pavement outside your parents’ house, all the locks changed against you, your hand covering the rainbow flag decal on your now-homeless luggage. There’s a storm in there, too.

Guest Editor: Shivanee Ramlochan @novelniche

Sales info@susumba.com PO Box 5464, Liguanea PO, Kingston, Jamaica W.I. www.susumba.com

www.twitter.com/onsusumba www.facebook.com/Susumba 3


The Caribbean contributors to this special double issue live in the physical region, as well as in our diaspora. They have responded to this unusual call with yes, the sort of resilience for which we are frequently lauded as storm-survivors, and with so much more. There is terror in this work, and also elation. Dread tangles with the bladderwrack of joy. Distress tickles nostalgia; horror propositions wonderment; delight pulls on her tall boots and wades into the dark drink of uncertainty. As guest editor, I expected a multiplicity of response; I was overwhelmed in the best possible way with the sheer gift of so many diverging, converging ways to say, “I have survived, though others haven’t been so chosen, or so lucky. Look at the wild, triumphant improbability of me, surviving.” Some of these contributors have had their homes besieged by hurricanes. Some have spoken and sung in the public domain for the right to love whomsoever they choose, and to be allowed the autonomy of all their queer decisions. Some have books and prizes under their belts; others are new to the world of publication. Many of them seek to untangle the persistent question: how do you guard yourself against the inevitability of what you know will return? There will never be only one storm season, for the living. We surmount danger with mop buckets and food rations, with dancehall abandon and shots of pure cane rum. The poems and long and short-form fictions in this issue are navigators of the perilous, rapturous present: this space in which we find ourselves, cradled by the mountain-heads of our islands, guarding the strongest door in our house as if it will defend us, as if at any moment it might become our last port of call. What an honour it has been, to examine and pore over the work assembled in this space. Bold, provocative prose meets poetry that hums at an electric full tilt. Elegant flash fiction brings your eye to the smallest fluttering of detail, while speculative verse seeks to trace connective threads between the worlds we can imagine, and the one world we are charged, however desperately, with defending. Meanwhile, the sky outside your window might be darkening. You may have learned to intuit the secret language of clouds. Anti-gay protests might be mounting in your streets, buoyed by the promise of archaic legislature finally, in God we trust, being struck down. The storm of many names, the storm without as within, can but do what a storm by its nature seeks: to rage. In preparation for what lies ahead, and in affinity with what echoes inside you, take this work as companionate counsel. Listen to the language it speaks: of reclamation amidst rubble, of tears shed and structures rebuilt, of love struggling to connect, then arriving under cover of night. We are all in the process of surviving something. The contributions to this issue are all reminders that we can endure, though much is lost, and more still hangs, precarious in the balance of future reckonings. Our endurance is a field guide to the fullness of our spirit. See how we survive. Shivanee Ramlochan Guest Editor Chief About The Guest Editor

Shivanee Ramlochan is a Trinidadian poet, arts reporter and book blogger. She is the Book Reviews Editor for Caribbean Beat Magazine. Shivanee also writes about books for the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the Anglophone Caribbean's largest literary festival, as well as Paper Based Bookshop, Trinidad and Tobago's oldest independent Caribbean specialty bookseller. She is the deputy editor of The Caribbean Review of Books. Her first book of poems, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting, was published by Peepal Tree Press on October 3, 2017.


SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Contents 6

September to May

Isis Semaj-Hall

7

Atricial The Storm is Here and A New World is Awakening Still Life of a Ruin A Longer Loneliness

Richard Georges

10

The Mermaid of Providencia

Geoffrey Philp

13

Lightning Glass Beneath Shifting Sands

Neala Luna

14

Every Five Minutes

Trevann Hamilton

15

Doppelgänger

Felene Cayetano

20

Disappearing Act Invoked

Celia Sorhaindo

23

Amina

Kwame McPherson

24

White Smoke

H. K. Williams

25

Queen Halbetica

Jeremy Gardener

27

Gemini

Steve D. Wittaker

33

How Come You Find Yourself In All This

Brandon O’Brien

36

Everything Else They Prefer Hunt

Shivanee Ramlochan

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September to May by Isis Semaj-Hall “There is not’ing there. Not’ing. None. At. All.” Emelda had a look of desperation on her face as she spoke. Desperate for memory, maybe. I’m not sure. But something was taking over her countenance. Something like possession or its opposite. “Fi true, I try-try-try, but I don’t rememba anyt’ing. Juss dark. Everyt’ing juss dark up. Street dark. Sky dark. House dark. Everyt’ing dark up. And it stay like dat for six, seven, all eight-odd months. Di ‘ole place just dark.” I had been talking with Emelda about Barbuda, or what was left of it, then we drifted into a recollection of Gilbert. In the wake of Irma, I had asked her what she remembered of our big storm in Jamaica, and as she repeated “nothing at all,” the eye-wide hole in her memory became our shared lament. It was just Monday when Emelda had arrived at work with a tale to comically rival all others. Her daughter, not wanting to board two JUTC buses and three route taxis just to arrive on time at a Half Way Tree job that she despised, had run outside that morning, grabbed an old broom stick in one hand and a browned breadfruit tree leaf in the other and began chanting. “Hoobakaba! Habakaba! Call down di rain! Hoobakaba! Habakaba! Irma fi we!” I was howling on the floor, breathless as Emelda described her daughter’s Kartel-inspired Poco woman skank. “All dis Teanna ah do because she nuh waan go work,” Emelda managed to say between hiccups. She soaped another dish in the sink. Emelda pulled up the hem of her t-shirt to dab dimpled cheeks wet from laughter and each stroke seemed to sober the mood. “Mi have fi tell Teanna dat hurricane ah no joke ting.” “True. Neither is obeah,” I added while climbing back on to the breakfast bar’s stool. But Emelda seemed not to hear me. Her head shook slowly from left to right while her eyes, cast downward, seemed to still be searching through darkness for memory. “Mi rememba Septemba. Mi rememba the day of the storm. It was quiet-quiet. Not even dog ah bark. Then mi rememba di noise. God, di noise! Next t’ing, everyt’ing just dark. Bare darkness.” I listened. “There is not’ing there. Not’ing. None. At. All. Mi mind draw blank. Di next t’ing mi rememba is wedding. ‘Cause me and mi husband marry date is in May. But mi nuh know how mi get from Septemba to May. Only t’ing mi can remember is dark.”

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Richard Georges Atricial Remind me again, the way you carry your people, your family through the stark silence of the years. How the village grows, what brilliance can be found in it, and how toil can mean something, how burdens were always meant to be laid down somewhere cool and grassy. That the unspooling years must mean something besides the laughing stars. Again. Tell me how a soul moves through the body the same way bodies move through space – unthinking and bravely, like something wild beating waves in the current. This is not and has never been an ending thing. Birds do not know where they will land when they fly, yet few fall like too ripe fruit from the sky. The astonishment of exhaustion, winds too strong to buffet, of God giving more than their fragility can hope to bear. Remind me again, how people become weights, or how they become feathers. Then wings.

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Richard Georges

The Storm is Here and a New World is Awakening Survivor stories begin to meld together: the hollow wail of galvanize tearing away from the rafters; the house opening like the mouth of a cavern; the sky, the sea, the hungry storm. All of it pouring in. They say he held the door, still, long after the storm had taken him skyward, like hope. And so the cataclysm comes and all the warnings will not stop the sky devouring us. Here, every tree has been made a monument, every soul a witness that the next world is not, is not forever a more joyful one than this. We are all a little less now. We are only ever so far from ruin. I dream on still nights. A flying man, opening a door in the sky.

Still Life of a Ruin for David Knight Jr There is a modest house in Huntum’s Ghut, green and white and two-storied and roofless, its narrow louvers gone, an aperture where the patio was, and just clean air where trophies, books, pictures of the children should be. Still, amidst the crumbling city there is hope like green shoots pushing up through the rubble and mud. And now the singing birds loop like kites, the sun remains a star, and we are still here – rocks circled by blue. My friend says goodnight, the hillsides are dark and peaceful, fields lined with their naked trees like matchsticks. But this meagre house, roofless and gutted, vaunts its one door still hanging, still welcoming. Unblown and defiant.

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Richard Georges

A Longer Loneliness Come then. Along the road there will be lovers, the drinkers assemble where there are no walls, no dawns or nights, just a ceaseless twilight. And we lonely wanderers in search of bodies we know by the clarities of blue-gray light. This place will teach you how to make your selves small, narrowed into thinner spaces, always learning anew that the fire can consume you, the house you build (your borders, your monuments), can be broken. We have never been more alive than today. Look at the greenness blooming from the stiff trees! The island thrives. Yellow mornings peel away the clouds. The ticking sea keeps time on the coast. And do you see the pelicans measuring the breakers? They still know that there is life here and they and us and all of this are made of the same stardust, made with the same stinging love, made with the same delicate intemperance. This road we travel can yet be washed away, erased. But we are here. Now. There is still light. The drums are thick – there is so much to be found.

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The Mermaid of Providencia

for Latoya Nugent, Taitu Heron and the Tamborine Army

by Geoffrey Philp Every morning when Abuela Mercedes braided Marisela’s thick hair, she closed her eyes and listened to her grandmother’s stories about mermaids and La Llorona, who drowned disobedient girls. She believed every word because Abuela Mercedes was a good Christian who worshipped the Blessed Mother, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And Abuela Mercedes knew everything about the Holy Days, especially Good Friday. Marisela had tried to be a good Christian, but it wasn’t easy to follow her grandmother’s advice. Like last year on her thirteenth birthday when Tio Hector came back to live with them, Marisela went to his room and borrowed a hammer. “Don’t tell my mother that I gave you that hammer on Good Friday. She’ll say I gave you bad luck. Marisela wasn’t worried about bad luck. She was born on Good Friday, so she was born unlucky. She wanted to get an A on her schoolwork. If she got As in school, Tio Hector promised he would bring her candy from Bogota. Marisela took the hammer and fixed the nail in the only chair from the verandah that her grandmother allowed her to use. Whenever she did her homework on the chair, she had gotten an A. It was her lucky chair. “And don’t believe anything that bruja says. She’s angry because she raised you by herself.” “Do you know where my mother is?” Marisela looked down at her arms that were darker than her grandmother’s and Tio Hector’s. “Maybe La Llorona got her. Or maybe she joined the mermaids. Stranger things have happened on this island.” “And my father?” “I think he was a fisherman from San Andres. I don’t know. But don’t worry, you will always have me.” That’s why Marisela loved Tio Hector so much. He made her feel special. Marisela could tell him anything and he wouldn’t get upset like her grandmother. Tio Hector wanted to have fun, but Abuela Mercedes wanted him to be good.

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The Mermaid of Providencia Geoffrey Philp

And he was the only one who could get away with talking back to Abuela Mercedes. Later that same day after Marisela had fixed the chair, Tio Hector invited his friends, who had hung up their nets for the holiday, to drink with him. Of course, Abuela Mercedes disapproved. “Drinking on Good Friday?” When Tio Hector heard Abuela Mercedes’s voice, he halted with the crate of beers he was sneaking out the back door. “Callate, bruja,” said Tio Hector and he shrugged his shoulders. Just then, the crate slipped out of his hands and fell on the ground. “God is not to be mocked!” Tio Hector bent over and examined the crate. None of the bottles had been broken. “It’s a Good Friday miracle,” he grinned and opened a bottle. “Sin verguenza. God will punish you.” Although Abuela Mercedes couldn’t beat Tio Hector anymore, her warning came true when one of his friends was arrested on Christmas Eve. And now Marisela’s bad luck was getting worse. On Three Kings Day, Marisela soiled her dress in the mud and Abuela Mercedes beat her until she had welts over her body. When she showed Tio Hector the welts, he told her to take off her dress so that he could put an ointment on her back and between her breasts that had begun to show. Since then, Tio Hector had made her feel even more special. He told Marisela to meet him at a cove that no one else knew about so he could teach her how to swim. When Marisela asked him why she had to take off her clothes, he said, “You’re a mermaid like your mother. Mermaids don’t need clothes.” Then, Tio Hector tossed Marisela in the air and when he didn’t catch her, she fell in the water. When she looked up, she saw he wasn’t wearing his swim trunks. “This will be another of our secrets,” he said and came inside her. They met many times after that and although Marisela wasn’t sure about how she should feel because everything felt so good, but wrong, she kept his secrets until Palm Sunday when she started throwing up. Marisela couldn’t go to Abuela Mercedes, who was now suspicious of her every move, so she met Tio Hector at their favorite cove. “If my mother finds out, she’ll throw you out of the house. And where will you live?” “With you.” “You think I live here because I like it? But we can fix this. Meet me after Mass on Friday. I’ll ask one of my friends to take us over to San Andres to see a doctor who can help you.” Marisela didn’t like the sound of his voice when he said “you,” but there was nothing else that she could do, except trust her uncle. Marisela followed Tio Hector’s plan. Right after Mass and her chores, she met him at the cove. He glanced nervously at the bushes. “Are you sure my mother didn’t follow you here?” “Yes, but I’m scared, tio.”

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The Mermaid of Providencia Geoffrey Philp

“There’s no need to be scared,” he said and put his arm around her shoulders. Marisela shuddered and glanced at her feet. When she looked up, she saw her grandmother, still dressed in her church clothes, stomping through the mangroves. “You told me you had changed. Haven’t you learned anything since the last time?” Tio Hector pulled his arm away and ran toward the bushes. Abuela Mercedes shook her head. “Did he hurt you, mija?” Abuela Mercedes stretched out her arms. Marisela didn’t want another beating and ran toward the water. “Don’t go into the water on Good Friday. You will turn into a fish!” This was the first time Marisela had ever heard that warning and even though she didn’t know to swim properly, she plunged into the water and slipped out of her clothes. Any second now, she thought as she sank beneath the waves, the hairs on my arm will to turn into scales, my feet into a tail. I will grow gills and be free.

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Neala Luna Lightning Glass Beneath Shifting Sands We found our feet on a pebble-stone shore where Caribbean waves etch time on rock, and shattered continents crossed oceans gifting us minerals to mine for words. Our histories, a clanging maelstrom of salt, sweat and rain still ride Atlantic currents thrown up on stolen beaches, yet leave swash in swirling pools to teach travellers to trust: Listen to north-eastern winds for grace in hurling gale and doldrums, inhale each storm with grateful breath and exhale night’s lessons in whispers back to sea. Stoke Truth’s embers amidst Ego's ash to ignite voices that smoulder and singe, daring to burn off tainted, tortured skin, and stand triumphantly bare, open to the Sun the collective roaring essence of Us, our bones, our sight and untold storylines new born of earth, water, air and fire.

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Trevann Hamilton Every Five Minutes She wailed outside Lashing our zincs We huddled in the corner With a lit lamp. My mother prayed every five minutes My little brother shut his eyes every time the thunder boomed The man on the radio said one hour to landfall But how could it get any worse? The hours crawled onwards The sky grew darker The wind howled louder The rain knocked harshly at our window. The elements accepted an ungiven invitation We were soaked In the rain and our tears Muffled by the anger of the storm. We had nowhere to go until it was over So we huddled in a corner Clutching to hope My mother prayed every five minutes.

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Doppelgängers by Felene Cayetano Waiting impatiently is the worst kind of waiting. It's that waiting for the doctor to explain test results kind of wait; or, being six years old and waiting for your new two front teeth to grow kind of wait. God I hope she has at least half of my better qualities, is just enough of a nonconformist to stand out, but not too much, and can answer to all the accusations I've received on her behalf. I wonder if she's taller than me, has her hair as short or whether the likeness is more internal than physical. 3 more minutes...unless she's on Belize time then it'll be closer to 30 minutes more. Ten minutes later as I hummed Tarrus Riley's version of Human Nature while reading an ebook on my phone I heard another voice harmonizing the chorus with me. The voice belonged to a young lady who could convincingly play the part of a college-aged me on any stage or screen. She smoothed the back of her skirt and sat down beside me to finish the last verse before extending a hand to introduce herself. “Damn, those motherfuckers were right! You look like me!" Jada’s candor and tone in her first words to me betrayed her village roots. “Aah! You are my doppelgänger. Anyway, I'm older, which means that you look like me," was my reply. "You go through a lot of trouble to hide from people, or did we miss each other these past few attempts out of bad luck?" “Two questions. What da wah doppelgänger and why would I have to hide?" “A doppelgänger is somebody's look-alike. In the Garifuna culture that means you're related cause only so much of us were in those 5 or so ships from Balliceaux. From what I’ve read, the founders of your village are Waika and Mestizo with a few mahogany camp Creole. That makes me doubt we're related in any way. The answer to the second one is a story. The first time I knew you existed was two years ago on a Saturday when I was walking through the farmers market in San Ignacio. An unfamiliar woman came up to me stating through clenched teeth, 'I'm his wife.' “Excuse me?' I asked. She repeated, then went on to tell me how her wasband described me as the woman who gave him the best head he'd ever had. I laughed, firstly because I found the term

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Doppelgängers Felene Cayetano

wasband clever and secondly because this had to be a joke. Sheila, Sherreth and Damian, my cousins, had to have set up this woman to run joke on me. By her loud screaming and carrying on about how I was a no good homewrecka, how she wish I’d ketch fits and die lonely in a poor house I knew this was real. Sheila finally came and hugged the offender, telling her she was mistaken. I was her cousin, Christilina, from Belmopan not the fast village gyal who does play with Garrett. Just that quickly the lady turned from bembe to bestie. Her name was Evelyn and she said, 'Gyal sorry fi that! People described a gyal weh have you build, you natural hairstyle, you skin tone, you eyes and even you knock-knee walk so I just knew you were her. Please forgive me. My heart still hurt from how Garrett dropped me fi take up with a village gyal sake of what she learn inna some whore house back deh.' For a lee while I asked myself whether I looked like a village girl. If she/you were really that good or if Garrett was just looking for a way to insult his wife to justify cheating. I left those questions at the market, but soon after something else happened. A friend called me out of the blue to thank me for the seeds her son brought home. According to her son, I was teaching an evening class on knitting at the Belmopan Y. He recognized me and struck up a conversation which ended with some Garifuna words along with a gift of seeds. Was that you?" She smirked. I obviously wasn't going to get any answers out of her. We took a selfie that received over 125 Likes when I posted it on Facebook after a half-hour chat about everything except what I really wanted to know. She told me about her family, described village life then said she had to run a few errands before her ride left. Since I was stuck on finding out her character I listened for parallels, selectively told her about my job then highlighted snapshots of who I was at her age. I concluded that she was deliberately elusive in such a sly way I almost didn't notice ~~~ The second time we met was at La Cabañita, the diminutive more hospitable sibling of Belmopan's most popular night spot, La Cabaña. I figured a few drinks might get her to talking better than my non-finesse. She pulled up earlier this time as I was sipping a stout while discussing politics with a friend. He jumped up to embrace her in a way that suggested old ties. “Jada, you deh ya now? Last time I see you you mi got on uniform and midi try broke out before you time. You couldn't wait to grow up. How Granny?" “Hey Patrick. Hey Christilina. Everybody ok. You da big time you could go check them da yard, even take the government vehicle during the week." Her laughter revealed that she knew he was one of the few public servants who had enough integrity to stay within city limits except to complete some field work. He went to the bar. She filled his vacant seat and explained the connection,"Patrick know me before I know myself. His granny does live beside my granny back before light reached the village. All

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Doppelgängers Felene Cayetano

night the old lady used to use one fire to keep away the mosquitos and to light up the areas." Jada seemed like she was about to continue when the waitress took her order. She soon clanked her clear vodka wine cooler against my dark bottle saying, "To grannies!" I noted that she was a slow sipper like me. After her first sip she seemed to resume her thought, "How you know Patrick?" "Patrick used to work in my department before he got his degree in IT and moved up to Ministry of Finance. We stayed in touch because we're in the same running club. Every Wednesday a group of us run along the Ring Road at night and on weekends along the Hummingbird Highway. There've been some flakey people over the years but Patrick and I have remained consistent. Since we change our pace up along the way we got time to know each other well. We don't talk on the phone or anything, but we've gotten close over these past 3 or so years. He was the first person I recognized when I came in a few minutes ago. Nothing much to talk about except elections and neither of us wanted to start about politics. Until you came we were chatting about the usual things. Come to think of it, a while back he'd mentioned how I reminded him of a girl from his village. Seems like he meant you!" The alcohol must have loosened her tongue because she dropped an earful on me. It gave me time to study her features. Instead of having a widow's peak like me, her hairline in the front was a straight line that was quite low on her forehead. Her tiny almond-shaped eyes were spaced widely and she shaped her eyebrows in that permanently surprised fashion. We definitely had the same nose leading to similarly full lips. "Maybe! I run too, sometimes, so I might join your running club. One of the first times I knew about you was in church. Your corn tortilla lady, a Maya woman from Salvapan, asked me why I haven't been around in a while. We were in church so I thought the lady meant in service. The next week when she brought $1.50 worth of corn tortillas saying, 'I no forget you usual amount,' I knew what happened. It paid off to be you that time." "Which church? Somebody did tell me they saw me at some church in Salvapan once. My Spanish isn't too good so I wouldn't dare." "The church no really got a name. It’s before the bump close to Parque de Las Americas beside a lee shop you’ll see fold-up chairs facing a podium under two big blue tarps in front of a green bungalow. Anyway, I midi try improve me Spanish and get closer to Dios. Some of us need forgiveness, you know? After the tortilla incident though I no gone back. What would the Maya lady think of me when she realized I accepted her gift on false pretenses and inna church? My ma no raise me so! The very first time I heard about you I was walking along the seaside in San Pedro when a red skin woman with a lot of tattoos came up to me and called me by your name. It wasn't until she was literally in my face that she realized I was a different person. She thought I was just being stush ignoring her as if we were strangers. Through her I learned that you were from PG, you have two bredda and two sista. You were always top of the class so nobody was surprised when you won the scholarship to study in Australia. According to her it's been almost a decade but you no reach her caye yet after you returned from college. She talked to me like I was your sister. She told me about how you all used to

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Doppelgängers Felene Cayetano

jump off the pier every weekend and hang out together by the football field up till you got on the plane. We talked a good while.” “Ah, Kenny! Did she say anything else?” “Actually yes and no. She no say it outright but it sounded like when you get lonely the red gyal ready fi warm you bed...again?" "To the red gyal," I shouted over the music without giving energy to the insinuation and we brought our glasses of water together. We'd had three rounds of drinks and two of water with lively conversation. The way she ended the story I knew she knew more about me than I wanted her to know. At the same time, she knew I knew more about her than she wanted me to know. It wouldn't have been a night of drinking without a round of Q&A to find out whether the similarities were only in looks. We agreed to tell the whole truth or tell the truth about why we wouldn't answer. I started first, "Seaside or poolside? I'm seaside." "I da riverside." "That wasn't an option, but I'll let it go for now. Describe your favorite dish. Mine is a wellcooked traditional darasa." "Hmm. I like everything the same. You could put rice and beans with chicken and salad front of me any day of the week and I'll eat it same as chimole or boil up with pigtail. I no like your questions, they're lame! Tell me about you and Kendra or how come you end up di like corn tortilla so much when Garifuna people no make that." "You nosey! We no got that in common at all. I wanted to start with the easy questions then build up to the tough ones. Anyway, let's go! My first boyfriend was a Mestizo from Orange Walk but neither his family nor mine approved. The thing is, our families pretended that they were fine with it. I would go eat by his house a few nights a week and he would come by mine. When our parents started to notice that we were getting serious then they found everything wrong to tell us about each other. We didn't break up sake of that but that was one cause. After we broke up I still had a taste for his mom's tortilla so I started to buy a pound and half every week or two. Kendra is Kenny to me. She was the only other tomboy in school from primary school all the way to high school graduation. We spent as many hours together as all other best friends. Mostly di play football, bathe sea, study, joke and challenge one another. People started saying we were a couple around 2nd form after she cut her hair and got her first tattoo. I didn't care because people will always talk but she didn't want me to be stigmatized or at least get distracted from my studies. Those rumors changed our friendship a little bit until I kissed her by the pier so everybody could say that they were right all along and leave us alone. She got mad later on because she had to answer to the one or two women she was sneaking around with when they heard about the kiss. In my family we laughed about it, they consider Kenny a cousin. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since Kenny and I talked. She was the only one I told about the girl I dated in college. Your turn now. What's the story with Garrett?"

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Doppelgängers Felene Cayetano

"Garrett da wah lying no good dog. No think I no notice how you just sneak in that part about the college romance da di end. We ah talk bout that. Anyway, Garrett came to install light in the village for a few weeks then started to throw his line. He even swore to my granny that he was single. Being an older man, he had a lot going for him at work, he was helpful around the house and was a gentleman. By the time I found out about his wife I was in too deep. I know weh you wah know. I was a virgin before him, so yeah, I probably did give him the best head because you have to please a man in some way if you won't sex him. When I found out about his wife I cut him off and moved to Ladyville with my aunty. He tracked me down long after to say he'd left his wife. You know how they say cow fat . . . horse dead. I didn’t care by then. Da man da wa ass! He lied to me granny. You no fi do that. I di go out with somebody my age now. This one is a quiet guy I first met in sixth form. It turns out he heard I give good head too, so Garrett gave me some fame." "Sorry to hear that. Belize too small for any reputation to go away. People keep it in the back of their minds ready to cut you down without even checking if it's true. To the quiet ones!" We hoisted our glasses and laughed at the fact that we were toasting with water. "To doppelgängers!"

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Celia Sorhaindo Disappearing Act Rain here can melt things: Mountains to mud, people to primal pulp, personalities split. I saw it with my own wide eyes, flaming twin melting in torrent, all matted hair and mucus, rivulets of tears; like wet windscreen distortion; a drenched merging watercolour. blinked— sleight of hand unseen— and I was gone.

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Celia Sorhaindo

Invoked Santa Maria! Human you named me, teased me out from the labyrinth of your Dionysus dreams. I am your mother of a hurricane so look now, intimately into the white cosmic chaos of my cyclops eye; listen intently to the thundering doom of my clack-clack cloven hooves. In the folds of my fleeting calm you will hear me blow up the silence with maddening whispers whispers whispers. You will: try to make light of my dark, drink, laugh out loud, try to drown me out of your basement—I will flood you up the streaming stairs, silent—sober; try to close your heavy shutters and doors against my whipping my wailing—I will split them like coconuts; try to protect your children, swaddle them in crook of your fleshy arm—you will stifle them all the way to rigor mortis; smirk, pat your broad back for your safe house—I will trap you for days inside your mausoleum, force you to loath loved ones unburied bodies on your bloody marble kitchen table; cling onto the door of your en-suite bathroom, concrete sealed—in two ferocious shakes you will shiver, stare into a void, unhinged; try to seek shelter, a firm piece of ground to anchor yourself—I will chew off each of your seven covers, spittle them on ribs of flamboyant trees and bury you nude in red-brown putrid mud. Your rapacious black and white cat will saber-tooth your tongue down to a stump, claw out and play with your tonsils; your gold-chained pit bull will suck all grey-gloom night on your red-rich rawboned marrow. When I leave, for all I know, for all I care, you will seek to solve my riddle in rubble, ask why— my mayhem will be a lunatic’s mystery, pressure popping hurricane tied roofs but fluttering over nailed tin on shack; crushing crystal caressing calabash.

My wings are not of doves but black as Badb, my feathers not light but dense as tar, talons diabolical. There will be no olive-green foliage left to hide behind peace

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Celia Sorhaindo

of mind. I will turn you loose. I will tornado you out of your right mind. I will leave you leave you leave you with nothing worth saving— Thy. Will. Be. Done! Look up at this black tarpaulin sky: look into this moon, these stars, your only guiding lights now. — In the miraculous morning, home intact, my daughter burst open her heavy eyes and our swelled shutters and doors—stared, pointed at the flogged and naked, phantom trees; brutally splintered limbs pointing all over; black hollow knots in white tortured trunks mouthing—the horror. There is a toothless guabancex-grinning women called Mad Maria, living under a bus shelter in a now bare-bone village. She spins out skeletal arms and cackles when they still tease, call her name, relentlessly. I gifted my daughter the family name Maria. She struck on her 13th Birthday. She sang hauntingly with eyes closed the whole crashing night till dawn. I did not know her words but metronomed with castanet teeth and knocking knees. Careful... Maria Maria Maria— collateral beauty— bacchanal spirit— exposed we hope we may not re-cover.

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Amina by Kwame McPherson It happened as he said it would. It battered my wooden two-bed adobe with the ferocity of a woman scorned. I stood watching swirls of muddy water carpet the entire yard. An old fridge competed with plastic bags, dislodged from somewhere as they floated about, bobbing uncontrollably like coconuts on the sea at Boston Beach. My boss still expected me at work since he’d said so on our call half an hour ago. He was crazy. Nobody should be anywhere in Anima, even the RJR weatherman had said so: “Don’t venture out unless you’re a first responder.” Those warnings were over a month old, especially with the number of storms that had traversed the basin, moving from east to west; sometimes running directly through the middle hitting the Leeward then Windward Islands. But this time was different. This one was more terrifying. I didn’t want to think of the devastation outside of my zinc fence. Or deaths. I didn’t want to leave my family. Only last year, rushing water had taken away five of my neighbours. I leaned against the door jamb. At least I was dry. For now. My structure had one saving grace, I hoped. It was surrounded by other wooden structures, tightly squeezed together within the confines of a small tenement yard. Thank God, there was only one mango tree on the other side of the backyard. A single corrugated zinc covering ran over five dwellings, attaching each individual home to the other making one big building. The home of at least thirty people or more. I chose to look at the grey, wet morning, watching the rain pounding the sodden earth, turning it into a brown-brackish quagmire. I inhaled deeply. The air was fresh, a contrast to the gloomy clouds rolling above my head. I wasn’t mad. I know what I’d heard. I wondered if my boss had and was just ignoring the warnings. I shook my head and cursed the day I started the job, but then there were mouths to feed and clothes to put on the eaters. There was no choice. I had no choice.

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White Smoke by H.K. Williams Setting fire to pictures only looks easy on TV. Seven matchsticks later, yet nothing of substance is destroyed. Only a few sticks remain in the box; the sulphur coated sides are worn from her repeated strikes. So this time she waits for the flame to take root on the sulphur tip and become an orange blossom, and only then does she bring it toward the glossy corner. After few furtive licks the fire takes hold of the side where his arm once encircled her shoulder. His fingers and gold wedding band are the first to burn. A stiff breeze rushes past the curtain and the fire shoots up to meet it. Sudden heat sears her hand. The picture hisses when it falls onto the cold metal of the kitchen sink. The flame remains and she watches as their faces curl into a ball of grey ash. White smoke fills her face, her nose, her hair, confirming their month-old decision. She looks at the pile of pictures on the counter. Each photo ripped from the family albums that the years had fused them onto the mat board pages. Each photo left a streak of stubborn Kodak photo paper in its place. She should have burned the albums whole. “You need to give yourself time to go through the grieving process,” the therapist said. Google couldn’t decide how many stages there were. Most sites said five, a few others said seven but she hoped that the one that said four was right. “At least he’s letting you keep the house,” her friends said. He considered himself generous, letting her keep the house. Everything they had built in exchange for his freedom. “It’s more than fair.” And it would have been if she didn’t have to live with the tiny remembrances within. If she didn’t have to use medication to wrestle sleep from the silence, which now blanketed the house. She opens the tap and watches the ashes eddy around the sink before disappearing. She remains there waiting for a feeling. Anger, hurt, sadness, any one of the expected ones will do. There is none. Nothing lifts, nothing shifts, and nothing comes over her, except for the faded fruit patterned curtain dancing over her head.

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Jeremy Gardner Queen Halbetica Halbetica, child of desert rain was the daughter of the King and his slave who fell in love in the year before the storm and its flood that demolished and drowned half the nation For this, the slave was blamed and sacrificed to placate the angry goddess, Agaha, the Witch of the Void Halbetica was spared, kept a secret Taught arts martial, and of poetry As she learned, her movements improved her wordplay, it moved: the lost ones in the dungeons who could not respond for lack of tongue, the court that shunned her, the strays who gathered by her voice like it promised gifts of bone. Although she spoke, she never felt understood. Lonely, she trained with bo staff and tonfa in the gardens, by the water behind blindfolds to protect her

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Jeremy Gardner

Freedom like a tiger hunted her, pacing just outside her bars, past the guards, his amber eyes phosphorescing a predatory hypnosis How she dreamed of deaths by his jaws: the exhilaration of war mind games with sphinxes besides the toxic spurn of her father’s royal guilty conscience She wore a true smile on her promenade tended flowers on the balustrade then emptied her heart of all its blood at the age of seventeen a cold and curved dagger slipped between her ribs an act of solely her creation an act of lightless isolation A decision neither evil nor good And though the pool of her blood flowed outside the cage freedom’s tiger, out of respect, did not drink of it but cried as best he could producing a growl as low as thunder a precursor to the sky’s empathetic storm, a new storm, and the daughter’s flood to swallow the remainder of the nation turning the desert’s human filth into a paradise of spectacular blooms and vast, glorious emptiness Not one prisoner was left in its pregnant green. Only then was Halbetica Queen.

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Gemini by Steve D. Whittaker On a green hill not so far away, he joins patrons as they shuffle into the archway beneath Gemini’s bamboo sign. Like other first-timers he finds himself appreciating the ‘authenticity’, unaware of how much the regulars regard the marquee as emblematic of collective resilience. The dancefloor does not beckon to him as it calls to residents to move past the misfortunes brought on by catastrophic storms. There is no struggle to forgive the fury of Mother Nature’s godly hand of fate. No challenge to leave the broken roads, battered storefronts, abandoned houses, residual piles of debris, scattering of trees that survived and newly-reinstalled power lines outside. The dull drone of trauma and responsibility of recovery is not his to own or escape. Inside, the physical restoration of the space conceals all blemishes and cracks. He has no sense of where rafters had collapsed onto the main bar, sand far-flung from perforated sacks that had fallen through the roof, walls scraped by galvanized sheets and vinyl tiles stained by flood waters. All he sees are bodies, painted and repainted under the strobe lights. Red, blue, green and white. Repeat; reoscillate; color after color; shade to shade. It is both electric and concussive. His lips stay stiff, fists clenching inside his pant pockets. The mood does not penetrate any part of him. He moves toward and stands close to the speakers, the upbeat reggae music booming. He is un-swayed by the rhythms and bass, a monolith amidst clouds of fake smoke swirling around his feet. Perhaps he is the worst wallflower that Club Gemini’s dancefloor has ever seen. Across the room a quartet comments on the silent stranger. “I think he’s a missionary. One of those persons who go door to door to save un-savable souls,” Zen whispers, fingers waving as if casting a spell. Al and Dez laugh quietly. Henry says nothing. “Hmmm. Well those khaki chinos definitely suggest bible thumper,” Dez says, chin cradled in both hands. “But I can’t imagine establishments such as this one being on call lists or visitor plans.” Zen agrees. “Exactly. I’ll admit that maybe Gemini’s reputation of being the unassailable refuge for long-huddled masses makes it a prime target. But it’s off the beaten path. As are the people in it.”

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Gemini Steve D. Whittaker

“Speak for yourself,” Al protests, knuckles knocking on table. “I’m the epitome if not the archetype for standard, decent human being… but not so much of an upstanding citizen that I can’t use some advice on how to improve.” “You aren’t trying to improve so much as you’re trying to prove something,” Dez says. “And what am I trying to prove?” The engineer glares at the lawyer. “That you’re as good a dissenter as you are pretending to listen to advice. You’re the type to ask for the sale clerk’s opinion only to choose what you knew you wanted in the first place. You don’t want to be helped or saved. You just want to entertain yourself by entertaining other people.” “So unfair how true that is.” Al smirks. “Wait, is it me or is he occasionally looking in this general direction?” Zen asks. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Dez teases. Zen punches Dez’s arm. “No, I’m serious. At first, he seemed catatonic. Lost. Hypnotized even…” Half laughing, the lawyer quips, “Probably just a tourist then. They’re always standing around like mannequins, until they’re not.” “Maybe just a brown mannequin. But I think he’s stolen a few glances at this table.” “He definitely didn’t,” Al glares at Zen as she bites into a lemon wedge. “At best he’s looking for what he hasn’t lost. I mean, if he hasn’t even been hypnotized by the music and impressed with all the beautiful, hip-shaking, body-bumping fun going on in this indoor carnival, there is nothing at this table for him.” Dez chuckles. “How can you even tell if his irises are focused or not? Or see if his head moved? Perhaps he just finds it a chore having to tell muscle shirts from camisoles, fishnet from lace stockings; corsets from crop tops.” “I’d bet my favorite heels – the ones you’re currently wearing – that Mr. Conventional Family Values is neither curious or furious about all these beautiful shadows flickering under the changing lights,” Al insists. Just then, the stranger slightly tilts his head and shifts his leg. The tension in his face is somewhat eased, his shoulders less square and softer. “Okay, now tell me that’s not him looking this way,” Zen grimaces playfully. “Well,” Dez concedes. “Something’s definitely happening over here. At least in his mind.” “It’s either that or this song that started playing has left him both defeated and awakened. I think he’s actually breathing now,” Al jokes. “I would become concerned then if he starts tapping his feet,” Dez says. “Ha! He should be concerned if his body is hijacked by the music,” Al says. “Tonight has not been the DJ’s best. The selection is hardly, as you might say Dez, transformative enough.” “We should all be concerned,” Zen says solemnly. “Whether or not the music has taken hold, if he comes this way without knowing what he’s in for… we could all be in for a rough exchange.” “Nothing we haven’t dealt with before I suppose,” Al shrugs.

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Gemini Steve D. Whittaker

“As tragically true as that might be, it doesn’t mean I want my first Friday out since that damned storm hit to be derailed by some pleasure-seeking, but ultimately ignorant ‘phobe.” “Dez is right,” Zen raises a shot glass. “We are who we are and shouldn’t have to prepare to apologize to anyone or tolerate them if they have a problem with that.” “Here, here,” Al lifts her wine flute. Zen continues. “I shouldn’t have to be wearing my stethoscope… or Al, her hard hat… or Dez, her powdered wig or Henry his toque blanche to be identified as valuable and respected…” “For the last time, I’m an environmental engineer. I rarely wear hard hats,” Al starts to clarify. “Objection denied. More exciting description sustained,” Dez raises her plastic cup. “A nurse, an engineer, lawyer and a sous chef goes to a bar sounds like a cliché. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it? However, to say Desmond, Alex, Henry and Adasen went out to have fun, that’s just real. Even more real, is that Dez, Al, Henry and Zen emerged from the rubble and pain and loss of the hurricane to show the world how survival could look sexy! Can I get an amen from the son of a preacher man?” Henry snickers quietly, “Amen indeed.” He raises his shot glass and repeats, “Amen indeed!” The drinks come together and Al mimics an explosion with her mouth. Henry sighs loudly and stands up. “Headed to the bathroom?” Zen asks, standing up, towering over the chef. “No. I just need a moment.” “Why? Why do you need a moment? What’s wrong? You OK?” Dez palms Henry’s shoulder. “Nothing’s wrong, exactly. It’s just that the stranger we’ve spent almost ten minutes to eternity talking about…” He pauses. “Yea?” “Well he’s here for me. Well, sort of. Really, he’s here for Henry “the cook”, Henry the former altar boy and his now-grown-up childhood friend. He’s not here for this version of me.” He turns and walks away, his friend’s mouth agape. Dez slaps the table, insisting, “I knew it. Something told me. I damn well knew it!” “I may or may not be back right away if at all,” Henry shouts without looking back. Under the strobe lights, still streaming red, pulsing blue, glittering green and fluorescing white, Henry could see why it was so easy for others to assume his guest was confused or closeted. It was more than just his collared shirt, khaki pants and stoicism. His childhood friend had always presented as enigmatic. And as his father used to say, “mystery, any uncertainty, always unnerves people.” However, Michael was too smart to be confused. Even if he did walk into Gemini unknowingly, he was a disciple of Ockham’s Razor. The flare of the bartender’s camisole would have been a simple tipoff, perhaps second only to his prominent purple eyeshadow and the pink lighting over the many shelves of liquor. Then of course there were the patrons, some scantily clad, most brightly coutured regardless of body types or other ‘conventions’.

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Gemini Steve D. Whittaker

Arguably, the chosen coif of Amy, the host, might have provided some stronger evidence. It was very similar to the short Kid N Play style that Michael’s aunt Marcella had sported during their childhood years. Marcella, though she wore the most peculiar earrings, almost always wore sneakers but never a dress. Her smile was bright and beautiful, voice very deep, which made the British accent she would adopt after moving to Nottingham alluringly authoritative. “God save the Queen and if need be, also save us from having to help keep her monarchy,” Henry recalls her saying to his father. Michael, less than ten feet away, still is not showing any signs of recognition. He might as well be staring into the horizon, the way he is looking past his estranged friend as he approaches. However, Henry continues to reminisce. He recalls having to save the introverted expatriate from a sticky basement floor when he had too much to drink at a party. The chef had to walk Michael and his thengirlfriend, Janet, four blocks to an older cousin’s house, because carrying him home blackout drunk was too risky. Michael’s head tilts again and his eyes widen. He sees Henry, double-takes and then he smiles. “Oh my God,” he laughs and opens his arms. Henry grins and eases into Michael’s arms. Their embrace is solid but brief. Pulling apart, Henry suggests, “Maybe we should get a drink to help you process all the changes and differences since you last saw me.” “Maybe, but maybe I shouldn’t. Don’t want to risk missing any important details.” “Funny you should say that. I was just thinking, before you realized it was me, about the last time Mr. Straight and Narrow overdid it on the alcohol. You swore you’d never drink again and it was an end to a not-so-story-book romance with the fete-monster, Janet.” “Ha! Clearly I still drank after that. Janet, however, was a clear mistake. Or maybe I was.” She was too wild for you. And you were too mild for her. Growing pains.” “Among many.” “So I came with some friends. But I don’t think you’re ready to meet them yet. And vice versa. They are, in many ways, very Janet. So perhaps I can prepare you a bit first.” “Well, I defer to you. You’re going to have to take the lead on this part of the reunion. Or perhaps more accurately, my repatriation.” He swirls his finger in gesture. “From sandboxes to bar tops with fuchsia lighting,” Henry quips as they ease on to their stools. “And all it took for me to come home was a bad hurricane and a change in government.” “Quite a few years after the climax though… but at least you missed the worst parts.” “Anything to drink for you and your handsome guest, Henry?” the bartender interrupts. “We’re actually still thinking, Pierre. And we probably won’t decide until we’re better caught up, which could take a while. But some waters might help keep our throats from getting dry.” “That I can do,” says the bartender, pouring water from a pitcher into two tall glasses. “Just let me know if or when you’re ready to level up.” He then turns to Michael. “Welcome to Gemini, stranger. Hope you will find yourself being more familiar than not.”

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Gemini Steve D. Whittaker

Michael chuckles and raises his glass, “Thank you. Cheers, Pierre.” “So what do you think?” “About what?” “About being home. If at all you still call it home.” “Oh. Definitely different. More metropolitan in some areas for sure, from what I’ve seen among the damages anyway. Still, a good amount of what I’ve come across appears to have been knocked back in time.” “Sounds about right. That last part is courtesy of the hurricane mixed with good old fashioned, small island government neglect. Not everything here has progressed.” “Well. Not as progressive as you, eh.” “I will interpret that as a compliment, Michael. As ham-fisted as it would be.” “Definitely a compliment,” Michael leans in. “You’re the most evolved sight I’ve seen since coming back.” Henry pauses. “Hmm. Really? More so than the hotels with decency contracts? Or the traffic lights hanging over streets where marches for social issues are prohibited? Or how about this club that tries to provide refuge and recreation but constantly has its liquor licenses challenges, rent, utilities and even the most recent repair costs inflated without cause?” Henry shakes his head. “Michael, you couldn’t possibly have been looking closely.” “I think I have. Give or take a few things you just mentioned.” “Ha! I haven’t even begun to mention.” There is a lot more he could say, about the banning of “cross dressing characters” in folklore festivals despite the humor being very in line with our British, Shakespearean sensibilities and tales from our African origins. Or possibly the church which more or less forced his father to leave after he sermonized about theology, using the talents and voices of those who are different but not recognizing them or providing them with basic privileges? He only mentions some of it to Michael. Michael clears his throat and takes a drink. “That bit with your father is especially troubling. Still, you present as having more character and compassion than the average native despite all the transcendence or lack thereof. Not to mention more intelligence.” “Ha.” Henry kisses his teeth and sips his water. “I’m hardly intelligent. I’ve just picked up a thing or two from other marginalized, lonely and troubled people. Funny thing about troubled people. We’re painfully aware that we have to learn much more than almost everyone else while others can afford to refuse to be educated about us.” Michael nods. “Just as I said. You’re the most evolved.” “Well then, you really need to do more sight-seeing. I mean, I’m still mostly the same person from down the street who played steel pan, dominated in football, was awful at math but a beast in drama…”

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Gemini Steve D. Whittaker

Michael interrupts after a deep draught of his water. “Oh really? Still the same wretch who stole a fishing boat, peeled brackets of sugar cane with his teeth and used to have sex in the stock room of the college laboratory?” Henry chuckles. “Well. Can’t blame me for upgrading to borrowing yachts, cane rum without a chaser and moving beyond laboratory storerooms to the back of my restaurant.” “No blame or judgment here. Although I think that the health inspector might benefit from an anonymous tip about potential violations in the food preservation area.” The chef cackled. “Health inspector on top of being closed for weeks and being unable to sell drinks with “hurricane” or “storm” in the name? You seek to ruin me more than the weather, Mike.” Michael rolls his eyes and refocuses. “Come on, Henry. Some things remained the same. And some things changed. But what matters goes beyond our exchange now.” “Oh, dear,” Henry sighs. And after a long silence, “Now I have to ask about your wife and talk about the weather.” Patting Michael’s khakis, he continues, “So, how is Sara? How is she enjoying your vacation? Hope she wasn’t too bothered by the storm. And since it’s nicer out now, you should definitely bring her to Gemini next time you drop by. Anyone is welcome after all, right Pierre?” “Always,” shouts the bartender who is pouring drinks a few feet away. “Anyone,” Henry whispers in Michael’s ear. “Especially the lost and out-of-luck. Because, as my friend, Dez says, “Gemini is a place to find a match or even a rematch, but never a spaced to be ill- or out-matched.” And you can ask the hurricane about that one.” “I take it then, that I won’t be meeting your friends?” Getting up from the seat, Henry wags a finger. “Not tonight, Michael. You’re not ready. Even though my friends are surely prepared for the likes of you. Again, you can ask the hurricane about that…”

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Brandon O’Brien How Come You Find Yourself in All This & I didn’t have a word for it. I still don’t. all I know is on one night that has already been swallowed by bright Ariapita lights and the taste of sweet wine I kissed a boy in the backseat of a friend’s car and it was just a kiss. neither love nor lust nor longing nor loss. just learning, learning the water is fine no matter where the beach is. & the girl met me online, thought I was charming even at my most fragile, taught me not every word is gold or pink or black. she says the word love not like hold my hand and never let go but like take my hand lemme help you up, she says love like crystal, like a glass of water moments before you’re exhausted she smiles like a starburst she says she wishes we could meet every day I hear her test a name for how light or sweet it can be against the tongue is love, crystal-clear-crisp love that makes me wonder why anyone would hesitate calling her name at all. & let’s just be precise. you don’t have to like it. I don’t like that your favourite pastor drives a Q5 but I made my peace, I don’t like that the Trinity old boy who kept Boom Bye Bye in his back pocket also cheated on his girlfriend on her birthday then didn’t confess until Valentine’s Day

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Jeremy Gardner

but just because he’s a ass doh mean he hadda go to jail. & my learning isn’t the extra dollar the doubles man spent on grease-proof paper or the missing zero in the budget or the pause you take as you stare at the next bill & my learning isn’t Keyana’s hiding place or Sean’s torn clothes or Darryl Smith’s hands & love can be a transparent word sometimes & your Facebook comment reads what about crime? so I point at the place where we discard women but you whisper not like that nah man & your Facebook comment reads what about the children? so I point at your locked front door but you whisper not like that nah man & hypocrisy is a starmap leading to a sun far brighter than our own. call it Brimstone. in the future we will jet all our trash opinions there on rockets that run on bullshit & we have sung the anthem more times in three days than your local MP has stood at attention at the sound & love can be a transparent word sometimes & I want to be seen all the way through like a glass of water to be known, but not spectacular, to be visible, but not newsworthy, to be unbroken, to carry light into testaments when it strikes me

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Jeremy Gardner

& love can be learning & love can learn & under the sun, far from those lips of whenever, the anthem starts rocking against me in its entirety. sometimes when you love something, you go where its song calls you.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Shivanee Ramlochan Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt They killed Prabha and stuffed her, sari-hem first, down a ravine in rainy season. They wrapped her fuschia pallav around her neck, and made a gallows of her silk gauze. “Thai dupioni, love,” she’d breathed against his nape, after temple, three nights before. “The feel of it, when we break our fast together.” Suran braked at the airport lights. A plane was coming in from someplace inevitably colder, nosebound for the Piarco tarmac, wings wide and purple-tipped and ready to empty passengers into the festival night. The sides of the Jeep thrummed faintly as the plane passed directly overhead, vibrations spreading up the inside of his right thigh, resting somewhere south of his belt buckle. Rust was beginning to spread over the metal backs of the airport roundabout Scarlet Ibises, brown spots blooming under the cheap red paint. Last weekend’s rains had battered them out of shape, forced their wings slanted and anatomically imprecise. An Ibis with bones set this way would never fly right, Suran knew. It would sink to the bottom of the mangrove, settle thick around twisted roots, or else wind up in a poacher’s net, pink-breasted meat ready for a tanty’s proud Christmas curry. The first time they’d eaten Ibis, Suran had been twelve. He remembered spitting the bird flesh onto the Ranjan’s tiled porch, remembered the bright bell of Prabha’s laughter breaking over his ears. “Chupidee,” she’d hissed, bending to pick up the half chewed thigh. “More for Hero.” Her Rottweiler’s tongue curled around her palm as she fed him the thing that just fell from Suran’s mouth. She got down on her knees, petting the beast, planting a kiss behind his ear, stroking along the shine of his short coat. They fed Hero the rest of the wild meat that night, and every other night when the Ranjan’s rifles took down small game in the forest behind their house. “The ibis they buy,” Prabha said. “Everything else, they prefer hunt.” Iguana. Manicou. Deer with weak legs. It didn’t matter. No matter what Prabha’s parents and brothers dragged back to the dinner table, Suran had never been able to stomach any of it. “You want me to talk to her?” July edged the bed of her thumbnail with a small, plastic file. Scraps of magenta varnish chipped off her hands and onto the pressed skirt of her uniform. Suran

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt Shivanee Ramlochan

heard her suck her teeth, heard the impatient scrape of palms against serge, as she dusted the polish down her knees and onto the floor. “No, is alright. Might be something useful in her abuse.” Piarco gave way to St. Helena. Nothing stirred at the junction, except for a lone patron ducking into KFC, tugging his wallet loose from the back pocket of blue overalls. “Quiet,” July said, stowing her file in the glove compartment of the Jeep, peering at the sealed-up shopfronts, the empty gas station, the guest house perched atop St. Helena’s first ever mini-mart. “Is not here they used to have one set of hookers?” The “Easy Rest” sign flickered on and off, a neon plane with one glowing wing parked alongside an announcement for cheapest rates this side of the airport. “Something like that,” Suran replied, his gaze flickering over the step landing where Prabha’d waited, six years ago, to steal a snapshot of saffron yellow pumps sprawling outside a cargo worker’s room. “Gorgeous,” she’d breathed, her camera phone chiming in unison with the softness of her prayer. July waited, tapped her nails against the dash, still glancing up at the motel as though the rainslicked steps would deliver a tattoo of high heels on wet concrete, or the giggle of a voice plastered tongue to throat with whichever liquor worked longest. “Everyone’s busy in their backyards, drinking Coke and watching their kids burn their fingers with Starlites,” he told her, hanging a left past the Arouca taxi-stand, where no cars idled, engines running and old talk passing in a fluid lick of invective from one greasy ear to another cigarettedangling mouth. Nobody worked tonight, unless there was a need. The roads to Las Lomas hadn’t changed, except to get worse. Suran swerved the potholes he could recall, and weathered the unfamiliar sinks in the asphalt, the Jeep skittering grey water on the calves of girls delivering sweets to their neighbours’ glowing houses. One of them peered into the open window as they passed. “Ey! Wait for prasad!” She stuck a hand into the car. Her bangles clattered, glitter clinging to the hairs on her wrist and forearm. July took the two plastic Ziploc bags in her open palms, the smell of ghee and sugarsoaked raisins, flour drunk on milk and maraschino cherries filled the vehicle. “Shubh Divali,” the girl smiled, her hands on July’s and her eyes on Suran. He nodded. The bags jostled on July’s lap as he took another corner, avoiding a pothound crossing the road in unhurried, holy-night timing. “Put those in the back. That shit will stain your skirt. There’s always oil on the bags, no matter how much they try to wipe them clean.” “Slow down,” she said, fishing her notepad out of her pocket, uncapping a pen to scribble the witness’ name and occupation. Bar Owner, he saw her scrawl in her looping cursive. Related to Officer, she added as an afterthought, tucking the disclaimer, or declaration, just beneath his grandmother’s name. Her nib faltered over the final word. The bar was both open and closed, as it always was, since the first Divali he could remember. Both locks sat in their customary positions on the short length of chain link, the iron grate pulled shut

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt Shivanee Ramlochan

and double-proofed against bandits, bacchanal and bad credit. Gravel crunched under tyre wheels as he parked, crooked, the only vehicle in the yard. The whole family would be next door, at Uncle Poorna’s house, scattered throughout the red-curtained, gilt-ceilinged rooms, lazing exhausted around the pool in their gararas and crumpled kurtas, sequins dropping into the chlorine depths. His uncle’s balustrades were lined with deyas, most of them guttering out. He stood at the sealed entrance to Rahim’s Rest & Bar. Rumshops like these never closed for custom, no matter how locked they seemed on the outside. “Aji,” he called into the darkness. The last drunkard hadn’t bothered to rack up the pool cues, and they lay crossed over each other on the table, missing only a skull in the place where they were joined. He bit back the laugh, in the very moment that his grandmother stepped out to meet him, drying her hands in the folds of her housedress. “What you want?” She’d pinned the white lace hem of her orhni, tucking the other end in at the front of her bodice. The first time Suran had seen Prabha wear an orhni, it hadn’t been on Divali night, and it hadn’t been so anyone else could see, either. He swallowed, shifted. He wondered how many bullets he had in his gun. “Where were you on the night Prabha Ranjan was murdered, Aji?” She tilted her head back, laughed in the glow of the soft drink fridges, one hand propped on her waist where she was clutching the brass keyring tight. Her laugh was the same, like Mummy’s best kitchen plates shattering in something molten as ghee, but richer, just as rich as gold and heavier to carry. An empty beer bottle rolled near her feet, and she squatted to pick it up, hefting it in one palm as if testing it for the throw. He watched it bounce in her palm. He saw someone else’s oily fingerprints on it, and wondered if the drinker had stopped for a quick, sacred buzz after dropping off plastic or brown papered bags of flour soaked in milk and butter and enough sugar to kill a family slowly, over time. She laughed for what felt like a full minute, the gold in her front tooth glinting, made rich by the gold of her good humour. “Nobody kill that boy, Suran.” She narrowed her eyes, set the bottle down on the countertop behind her. “Is trip and fall he fall.” He stared at her, seeing the solitary white streak of chandan bisecting the wrinkles in her brow. He wondered who had done this year’s puja. Which fingers had pressed the wet powder to her skin, and which voice had recited the bhajans? He wanted to tell her that this year, for the first time, his saada roti swelled in a perfect, pregnant moon over the stovetop, and he’d nearly burned his hands on the tawa in sheer glee, in the recognition that he could make the only bread that mattered just as she showed him, in and out of every year. He closed his eyes, briefly. The taste of fresh saada, butter broken over its flame-warm back, crept over his tongue, and he bit hard until the acidic bloom of copper washed it clean again. “Please, Aji. It is illegal to lie to me. You know that.”

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt Shivanee Ramlochan

Her hand shot through the grating. Suran’s cheek hit the first lock as she dragged him up against the barricade that protected her business, clutching him by the shirtfront, her fingers twisting in the standard-issue heavy cotton, flicking off his badge like a poor excuse for precious metal. It landed in the drain with a damp thud. He heard the sound echo hollow in his ears, heard the Jeep door open, heard himself say, “No, it’s alright,” to July’s shouted cry of shock. He heard her cock her pistol, heard in the silence of the night that she wouldn’t use it. His grandmother looked past him, to a fixed point over his shoulder. She didn’t touch his skin. She didn’t touch any part of him that she might not be able to pray clean, beneath her mango tree the next morning. “You dirty boy,” she said, rattling him upright against her bars. “It is a sin to lie to me. It was always a sin to lie to me.” She shook him harder, as if trying to unhinge something in him that might rinse off in the next cycle of rain and river water. Her spit flecked in his cheeks, on the bridge of his nose, on the beds of eyelids he couldn’t open. “You dirty boy,” she decided, pushing him away with the flat of her palm. He staggered backwards, wiping the wetness from his face, feeling more moisture take its place. He knew he wouldn’t come clean. “Get out of my yard.” She turned and went back through the swinging door, through the corridor he and his brother painted three years ago, emptying out the dregs of one quart of apple white onto their paintbrushes, careful not to spill a drop. The jangle of her keys followed her, the uneven gait of one swollen, arthritic leg keeping offbeat time with the other. The loose end of her orhni fluttered down her back like a victory pennant, white lace wilting in the quiet of a Divali night folding in on itself. It was July who fished his badge out of the drain, wincing as she brushed spent cigarette ends from it and dried it on her oil-dappled skirt. “Anything?” she asked. He shook his head. “Look,” July pointed to the balcony of his uncle’s house. A young girl stood at the closest corner to the road, a plastic pitcher of oil held aloft in one hand, a cell phone in the other. Suran stepped as close as he could to the border of his uncle’s driveway, curled his fingers in the gate tipped by cast-iron fleurs de lis. Two trumpeting, Calcutta-shipped ceramic elephants framed the driveway pillars, garlands of hibiscus and white ixora looped around their thick necks, tangled in the ivory of their tusks. The girl set her oil pitcher down at her feet. She waved so hard that Suran could hear the triumphant peal of her bangles drifting down into the courtyard. He waved back, pocketing his badge, hoping that his gun was hidden well enough in the crease of his trousers. He could hear her bangles click and collide against each other, glass gliding over glass, as she tapped out a message on her phone, her head bent. The deyas she’d tended lit the long arm of the balcony with a gleam that promised they would meet the dawn. He knew what it was, to be the sole lamplighter in the small hours. His fingers ached, bereft of oil, at the memory. He tapped open the envelope that buzzed to life on the centre of his phone screen. “It’s really good to see you, Uncle Suran.”

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt Shivanee Ramlochan

When he looked up, her eyes were on his, deya-bright. He nodded, pressed his forehead to the gate, smiling hard enough to show her the truth in his white teeth. He smiled until his jaw ached. His phone buzzed again. “I’m sorry about what happened to Uncle Ranil.” Suran bit the inside of his cheek, bled more copper into the cavern of a mouth he suspected would never taste like melted butter on roti skin again. He tapped out a response. “He… she preferred to be called Prabha, sweetie.” He didn’t look up. He couldn’t. He watched the flower garlands swaying against the tusks of their gatekeeper gods, out of the periphery of his blurring vision. Maybe he could stay like this, frozen against the frame of his uncle’s gate. Maybe in the morning, his uncle’s dogs could break him open on their teeth like fresh Ibis meat, piercing through his skin to the pink, raw core. This way, this way, he might be something useful to his surname. His cell phone buzzed in his fist. “Uncle, I’m so sorry about what happened to Auntie Prahba.” When he looked up, she was gone. “Take me to the ravine,” he told July, tossing her the keys. “Take me where it happened.” The river that ran through the back of the Ranjan’s property was deep in some places. He and Prabha had learned this, as children, wading in the shallows, pitching stones over its thin throat, watching the rocks sink down to fathoms they could only guess at. They knew just what their parents would do, if they even dared of wading into those depths. The first time Prabha disobeyed her mother and father, she wore the switchmarks on the backs of her calves like lines of honour, displaying them to anyone who cared to see during recess, twirling this way, and that, in her khakis drawn up to the knee. “The stripes of an adventurer,” she said, winking at Suran. She dragged him into the boys’ bathroom that evening, and kissed him with the mouth of a girl who’s dared against her parents, a girl who knew the taste of dark water and the welts it was worth. Suran skidded down the embankment, into the heart of the ravine. The river rushed behind him, a roaring in his ears, deeper and wider than it was when Prabha tested it for the first time. He crouched down in the spot where July’s chalk marks still lingered, thick lines in white on government guttering. He pressed his hands over the skeleton she made, following it from end to end, filling in his palms with dirt and white dust. He smelled the beast before he saw him: Hero’s familiar stink, his fur damp from river walking, his tongue pink and lolling and licking into Suran’s hands before the policeman could stop him. Prabha’s hound tumbled into Suran’s arms, knocking him onto his side, stretching him out alongside the space where she lay for the last time. He pressed his nose into the Rottweiler’s coat, breathing in the flesh of a body that loved wild meat, breathing deep from the dog who’d eaten the very first thing he once found it impossible to swallow.

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SUSUMBA’SBOOKBAG June 2018

Everything Else, They Prefer Hunt Shivanee Ramlochan

“Snake,” he told Hero, clinging to the animal’s scruff, burying the shiver in his voice somewhere deep, somewhere safe, “let’s try snake next. Okay? Yeah. I don’t think your momma ever fed you snake. A nice, juicy mapipire. I’ll eat it with you. We’ll eat it all. I promise.” In the distance, on the borders of the Ranjan’s land, he heard rifle shots split the darkness, sinking oil and heat into it, piercing it with flares that burned brighter than a thousand deya lights. He shut his eyes, and listened to Prabha’s brothers, hunting.

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Writing the Storm - Book bag issue 10  

Our double issue of great Caribbean poetry, flash fiction and short stories focusing on Natural disasters and Caribbean Queer and LGBT lit

Writing the Storm - Book bag issue 10  

Our double issue of great Caribbean poetry, flash fiction and short stories focusing on Natural disasters and Caribbean Queer and LGBT lit

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