lay on his back on the naked concrete of his veranda. He had begged Willie Brown’s son, Vin, to buy some rope for him. Miss
Birdie’s shop was a quarter of a mile away and it was about an hour ago that he
had given the boy the money. He had a sneaky feeling that he had spent the money
on something else and would probably take a short cut to avoid passing his yard
when he was returning from the shop. He
would catch him one of these days and make him return the money or tell his
father about what had happened. But then, he wondered if he would be around to
collect his money from the youth.
He thought about other
ways of doing it. He remembered what Stanford Ranger had done five years ago.
He, along with several persons had passed the man by the side of the road and
had even told him ‘Good morning.’ Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember if
he had replied to his greetings. He was as surprised as most villagers had been
to learn that evening that the man had used cord to hang himself. In fact, he
was dead when he called to him that morning!
He looked through the
windows at the empty house. Curdel had gone with everything. She had only left
his clothes scattered on the floor. Last night, Miss Delphine, one of his neighbors, had lent him a cot, but
by this morning she had sent for it. He had only asked the youth to buy the
rope for him because he knew that Miss Birdie wouldn’t sell him. She knew of
his latest troubles and also knew that he didn’t have any animals to use a rope
to tie. It was she, who had sold Stanford the cord to hang himself.
Already people were
calling him all sorts of nicknames, ‘Woman beater, ‘No Mattress’, Empty House.
Watchie wanted to end it all.
He considered himself a
failure. So the woman had gone with everything. Why had he taken up with a woman
thirty years younger than him? His friends always said that he was looking for
trouble. The big leather belt was gone too. He had used it to beat her every
evening he came home from work. Winky, or sometimes it would be Curphy or Miss
Gladys was always there to give him news about Curdel.
“A man passed through
He would get all enraged
and swung the leather belt without mercy.
She had called the police on him twice. But she had dropped the charges
both times after he begged her. Her brothers had warned him on more than one
occasion. He knew where she had gone. If he went there for anything belonging
to him he would end up in a fight with one or all of her three brothers.
Maybe the next time he
saw her, she would be married and all that. He remembered Leta. Her daughter
had squealed on her to her husband about the men coming to her while he was
abroad. Roofa had hastily put her out. The last time he saw her, she told him that
it was the best thing he ever did for
Looking back, he
wondered if it was Wackle Dennis’s example he had followed. Wackle did construction work and he had to be
out most of the day. On the way home he
would stop at more than one bar and would hear all sorts of stories about
Kathlene, his stay at home woman. He would come home, all riled up, especially
if his dinner wasn’t ready. Despite her denial
of his accusations he would lay his belt into her. It was about eight years now
since she had disappeared with all her
possessions. Wackle had travelled the
fourteen parishes in a futile attempt to find her. Sometimes people would come
to him about seeing her and he would be off to find her. He had even put out a missing person report,
all to no avail.
Wackle had to move from the
district in order to get another woman, Melda. One day they had a quarrel and
he went for his belt, but Melda pulled an ice pick on him. He hadn’t heard
anything from him after that.
Somebody was calling his
name. He got up, it was Miss Verline from up the road. She pulled the gate and
came in without an invitation.
“So at last Curdel gone.
So what are you going to do now, Dickson?”
She always called him by
“I don’t know, Miss Verline.”
“Miss Delphine lent you the cot. You mean
she couldn’t let you keep it until you can buy a mattress?”
Watchie hung down his
“Anyway, I’m sorry for
what happen, but Dickson, you treated her too bad you know. You are not to
listen to people because they were telling you lies.”
She got up and sauntered
away, leaving him more confused than ever.
Five minutes later,
there was a knocking on the gate again. Watchie remained motionless.
“Dickson, it’s me,
Smithy, let me in. I want to talk to you.”
He wished the man would
go away. He went and opened the gate.
“You are keeping up
Watchie tried to show a
“I’m not going to let
that get me down, Smithy.”
In his mind, he knew that
he was lying. He saw the man staring intently through the windows.
“Then Deldphine took
back the little mattress that she lent you?”
He nodded. Jesus Christ,
the woman had walked all over the district spreading the news that she had lent
him the cot.
“You and I are about the
same age, Watchie. From I saw you take
up with that little girl I know that it was trouble you bring on yourself.
He groaned. Why didn’t
Smithy go about his business and leave him alone?
“Then tell me something,
Watchie, it’s the cold concrete you are going to sleep on tonight? You are an
ageable man, aren’t you afraid of catching pneumonia?”
‘’I am all right,
Smithy. When night comes, I have some board around the back of the house l can sleep on.”
The man grunted.
“I am going, I’m sorry I
don’t have a bed to lend you.”
He heaved a sigh of
relief as he saw him stand up and made for the gate.
He didn’t want anybody
to feel sorry for him. Even if Smithy had a mattress to lend him, he wouldn’t
be borrowing it. Jesus Christ, look what he had come to, people wanting to lend
him their mattress.
He wanted people to
leave him alone while he contemplated the biggest decision of his life.
He went around to the
back of the board house. He had the two room house on a lease and sale
agreement. He had heard people say that Curdel should have burnt down the house
when she was leaving.
He would wait until
after dusk before he did anything. He looked at the trees at the back of the
yard. Both were too low for him to jump out and break his neck. He wanted a
quick end. He didn’t want to feel any pain. Why not do it from the star apple
tree over Welcome’s farm? Welcome had never stopped him from picking star apples
off the tree. It was in full bearing now. He would use a ladder to climb the
tree. He would then dive off headlong on the big rock stone under the tree.
He sat on a piece of
board. He was going to do it. He didn’t have to be drunk. He heard some girls
passing and talking loudly. As he listened to the loudest girl of all he
couldn’t help thinking about Cheyanne.
He hadn’t seen his daughter in ten years after Selta moved out on him.
She would be about eighteen now. He doubted if he lived twenty more years he would ever see Odette, his
three year old daughter with Curdell or Delona, her six year old daughter.
Watchie smoked two
cigarettes and told himself that he was ready. He made his way down to the tree. He positioned the ladder on
the tree and began to climb it. He could see the branch from which he would
He made his way branch
by branch. At last he was nearing the branch. He could see himself flying
through the air to his death.
Desperately he tried to
hold on to another limb.
Two months later, he
opened his eyes to behold Cheyanne.
“Daddy, it’s me
Cheyanne. Daddy, it’s so you were hungry, to be climbing a star apple tree so
late in the evening?”
“Cheyanne, is it really
you? Come give daddy a hug, my daughter.”
After they finished
hugging each other, he said.
“I saw some ripe star
apples and used a ladder to go and get them.”
He looked around as some
people walked into the room. They were Smithy, Miss Verline and Miss Delphine.
They all congratulated
Cheyanne on how big she had grown.
There was the general
talk about how he was feeling and conditions at the hospital. He told them that
in another two weeks he would be back home.
“You still want the rope
that Vin bought for you, Dickson?” Smithy asked.
“Then daddy, what were you
going to do with the rope?” Cheyanne asked.
“I wanted to run a line
in the room and hang my clothes on it.
Curdel took away all of my suitcases.”
He didn’t know whether they believed him or
He was put through
the mill by the two women and his daughter. Smithy was the worst. He was still
insistent that he had examined the limb from which he had fallen and there were
no star apples there. Watchie insisted that star apples were there when he
had dropped off.
Two weeks later he came
out of hospital. He didn’t know which good person, it was but there was a bed
in his bedroom. The next month he was back at work. His bosses loaned him some
money to buy some more furniture.
At fifty five Watchie is
thankful that his life has been spared. Cheyanne has promised to come and look for him
regularly. In addition, he has begun visiting a nearby church. Some of the
church members visit him regularly and he had increased his visits to church.The
Austin's blog: stredwick.blogspot.com