Digital artwork by Adam Ferriss
Miller decide he making Mas.
Don't ask me who tell him he capable—is something he just dream up one afternoon he was tottering about in the yard, making like he planting garden, pulling weeds, pouring fertilizer. A thing he let drop after a while of looking like he in a daze, when I had to keep a close eye on the blade of the hoe and the hook of the sickle near his heels and hands.
"Mas," Miller insisting.
"Miller, what Mas it is you think you making?"
"Ah, boy," says Miller, and that is all he would say.
Miller is one of the ones a good mother would warn you about—never too far away from women or parties, and nobody ain't have a clue how he getting the money to pay for either one. Miller just appear on the top step outside the middle shop-door one Saturday morning about six months ago and say he looking for work. When he come in, everybody else went silent, because say what you want, Miller was clean. Just-bathe-and-Jergens-smelling-like-cologne kind of clean. The kind of clean the men in the shop keep for Christmas. Miller was wearing a red shirt, an orange tie, a pair of concrete-grey Jimmy Dean corduroys and some long-mouth, light-brown, hard-sole shoes. I did always like them kind of corduroys, so when he ask, "mistress, you got any work?" like work was flour selling in sacks, I say "what kinda work?" And some one or other of them good-for-nothing rum-drinkers sprawled over dominoes in the corner whistle. And then some others laugh, 'cause it wasn't a secret I don't tolerate no whistling in my shop. But nobody was saying who whistled, and when the person whistle, I was looking at Miller.
"Anything I could do with my hands," says Miller, "I good with my hands."
And the body whistled again. And the laughing start up again—Concorde, Griffith, Postman, D.Brown and Flex, everybody skinning. So I say, "Mister Griffith, get the hell outta my shop," 'cause Stevenson used to say you can't let these types think you getting soft, and anyways, Griffith looked the drunkest and the stretch of his words was saying he already had enough and it was probably about time he left anyway. Since Griffith kill those people with the bus, he can't stop drinking. Not even noon on a Saturday morning and he drinking rum already. Griffith start protesting, "Mistress-s-s, not me, I didn't do it." And Concorde say, "It wasn't Griffith, Mistress," probably 'cause he was fixing to relieve Griffith of the pocket money his wife give him through one of his frig-up card games. Week after week, Griffith does lose that fifty, sometimes more, usually when Concorde realize Griffith drunk enough to think he wiser than one of Concorde card-tricks. People say Concorde went to prison in New York for some of them tricks. Anybody with half a brain would know better than to play with him.
"You hear what I say?"
Griffith scrape back the Coca-cola-colored bench he was sitting on, and his shoulders curve inwards in one of his threadbare, blue bus-driver shirts, and he shake his head and suck his teeth and he stand up and he shuffle out, squinting at the morning sun when he leave the doorway, like something crawling out when you move a rock. When the sun hit him he put on the hat. Even though he get fired long time, Griffith still wearing the bus-driver hat with the little tin plate with his driver number on it. Concorde stupse, and toss his locks so his gold chains rattle, but he stay sitting down. Concorde is a lot of things, but stupid ain't one.
"I got some painting to do, at the back," I say to Miller, "you could paint?"
Miller was smiling, "Paint? Man, I born holding a paint-brush."
And he come right up to the shop counter and smile at me some more. Miller was a good-looking fella. Skin the smooth, bright brown of a tamarind seed, with two rows of white, white teeth he kept exposing and a head full of pitch-black hair with the half-moon curls of question marks. Miller might've been mixed with Indian or something, but he never said what.
Miller came behind the counter that day, and took off his shoes and walked right through my house to the shed at the back. Polite boy, Miller was, 'cause while he was walking through he didn't look left nor right, not at the blood pressure medication on the table, nor the open door to my unmade bed, nor the picture of Stevenson in the chair in front of the television. By afternoon I had him started on the shed I kept the drink bottles in. He put those nice corduroys and the tie on a nail in the post holding up the clothesline, spread out some newspaper on the rough ground, stood barefoot on last week's news and started to paint. He wouldn't charge much, said Miller, what he really wanted was food and a room. Looking to get back on his feet is what he said. And it might have been those bright white teeth that made me forget to ask him what it was had knocked him off them.
And that was how Miller came to inhabit the room in the yard, the room I used to think I might fix up to hold karaoke in on a Friday night when people wanted somewhere to go to. It was a big room, red paint covering walls and floor, with Doublemint-green doorframes outlining everywhere you could get in or out and mustard yellow chicken wire all round the top letting in air. Served me right, said Mallory Purdue one Sunday in church, for paying a Rasta to paint it for me when her Purdue could've done the job good and well, given clear instructions and time. Hiring a Rasta instead of her Purdue was why my shed was blazing bright like some Haile Selassie-I iration temple. She would've told Purdue what colors to buy, said Mallory, and the shed would've turned out a lot better than that. Then Mallory joined back in on the Nicene Creed. She had upset me so much, by the "Amen" I was planning to have it up and running by the end of that month, to have a little part partitioned off for a bar and a bathroom, once I could see my hand to pay the plumber.
Karaoke was big fun them times. A lot of people used to travel behind God back, just to stand in front of a wide-screen and hold a microphone and sing Kenny Rogers from the words on the monitor. When my Stevenson was alive he used to take me to a few of those karaoke sessions, when we could convince someone we trusted to hold on at the rumshop. I'd put on a nice skirt and a blouse and bangles and we'd take a drive in Stevenson's old Vauxhall and get out at that little galvanize place in Black Rock and Stevenson would sing me John Holt like there wasn't nobody else in the room.
But the karaoke at my place never got off the ground, cause after the painting of the shed, it was the fixing of the wrought-iron gate separating the house from the rum-shop, and then it was the roof needing new galvanize, and then the house needed painting too. Miller stayed in the room—and not because he was doing such a good job or nothing. Truth be told, Miller wasn't no A-Class handyman. Mallory Purdue pointed out more than once he hadn't primed the wood properly, and the wood grain showed through in parts. In other parts, Mallory noted, Miller had failed to remove dust and dirt before dragging the paintbrush over the patches of color Stevenson had put on three years ago so there were rolled-up bits of colored dust on the floor beneath the still-patchy wall. Mallory pointed out, too, that the wrought-iron gate still creaked and had to be lifted a little for the latches to meet to secure it closed. Heaven knows, said spinster-seamstress Mallory, what flaws in the roof would be discovered should we ever be so unfortunate as to have another hurricane like the one took her Uncle Harley in 1952.
But by then, Miller had a couple more corduroys on the post and a calendar on the wall in the room, marking time beside the rusting Pepsi signs and biscuit posters there when my Stevenson was still alive. I didn't like the evidence of a parade of girls visiting Miller in that room (a haircomb here, an ear-ring there) but by then I had come to like the idea of a man in that shed in the yard, looking over things, keeping burglars at bay, even if Mallory said I was a vulnerable old woman, recently widowed, and it wasn't safe for me to be sleeping in a house at night with God-knows-what kind of man right there in my yard. By then, Miller had become company. On Friday evenings, right after he'd helped me unload the weekend drinks from the Coca-Cola truck and packed them into the coolers, in the few quiet moments before the brawl of the night-time crowd, we'd sit down, me and Miller, on a little bench by the back door, and talk about things while the day dimmed. Things like how a woman like me came to be running a rumshop in the dirtiest part of St. Christopher, things like how my Stevenson died, things like why I never had children and if I ever felt lonely. When I think about it now, I did the talking most of those times, Miller mostly smoked, but I didn't mind, even though my Stevenson had died of the cancer—and he'd never smoked a day. Me and Miller sat close on the bench and I felt more than saw the puffs rise from the profile of his lips and nose. I sensed the graceful tilt of those long, long fingers, holding the cigarette and sucking on it. Sometimes I would look at those fingers, and wonder at how smooth and straight they were, how beautiful the beds of his nails. My nails were ruined from all the washing of clothes and cups and saucers. What, I wondered, could have been the history of a man with fingers like this? But I never asked him.
When I asked Miller on one of those evenings, what he thought he was best at, hoping to find an odd-job he could excel in, Miller said he would have been an artist, if life had gone his way. He liked art, Miller explained, he could take a bit of charcoal and draw a rooster in perspective at the end of a lane better than anyone else he'd come across. What about me, said Miller, was there anything else I'd have wanted to be if I wasn't this?
I told Miller I'd never thought about it.
I can't say when it was exactly things begin to change with me and Miller. When Miller came it was January, and I remember it 'cause Mallory Purdue said it must have been the last of the grace of the Holy Spirit I had left over from Christmas that made me give him a job and allow him to stay there in the first place. Not that I'm harsh or anything, said Mallory, but since my Stevenson died a person could mistake me for being mean. You can't be too nice, I told her, not if you're a widow getting on in years running a rum-shop, lots of young, drunk men dealing with daily, and barely able to lift the cutlass you keep underneath the counter.
I couldn't say when exactly it was, but by June, something was different. Miller started to be an irritation.
First there was that morning Purdue didn't come to help with the black pudding. It's a lot for anyone to do on their own. People start coming for their black pudding as early as 10 AM, sometimes earlier, so Purdue and I are usually at it by five. Grating sweet potatoes, stuffing pig intestines, walking quiet round each other in the kitchen so none of the belly's burst while they steaming. Purdue was perfect for helping with the black pudding—nobody could get a word out of him save for Mallory. No danger of the bellies bursting on account of him. But that June morning Purdue didn't turn up. Which was a real problem for me 'cause in between the black pudding, I usually still serving customers in the shop. When I called him, Mallory says he's down with something and he can't make it. And that alone shoulda told me something bad was about to happen, 'cause Purdue's never been sick a day in his life. Anyway, when I hung up from Mallory, I was standing there, thinking things over, when Miller comes out into the yard. He didn't wear a shirt to bed the night before, this Miller, and what he wore can hardly even be called shorts. I'd never seen it before 'cause I'd never usually be standing there staring at him that time on a Saturday morning—I'd be getting on with the black pudding and the shop. Miller came out of the room with a shred of a pants on looking like he'd put them through my grater. Torn, all over, like somebody did it on purpose, and what should be fastened at the waist wasn't, so the fly of the pants was hanging open far lower than was decent. And Miller was... scratching himself, inside those shorts, like he'd unfastened the waistband himself just so he could have a good dig at his privates. Somehow Miller turned after he hawked and spat. And there was me—quiet.
"Morning, Mistress," said Miller.
"Morning," says me, and then I went trying to fix my mind back on the problem of the black pudding. But my mind wouldn't leave the sight of Miller—all those question marks beneath his navel burned the back of my eyes. It took me a while before I looked back at the orders I scratched down in a booklet I bought in town. I kept the book in my hand, not-seeing all those orders.
"You want the furniture mended today, right Mistress?"
"Yeah, you sure you alright with the carpentry, Miller?"
"Carpentry?" says Miller, "Man, I born doing carpentry, man."
"Is just to fix up some of the rickety benches," I say, "and that first table by the bar."
"That table can't fix," is what Miller said, "it gone, Mistress."
"You can build a new one, then?"
Miller nodded, smile perpetual, like sunrise. Miller walk over to me, ask if he could borrow the booklet, to sketch a little diagram, to show me how he plan to build this table. I can't remember if I reply, but the next thing I know, Miller next to me and he take the booklet out of my hand, take the lead pencil from my pocket, start sketching this diagram. Next to me, first thing in the morning, Miler didn't smell like Jergens, but I didn't mind. And as much as Mallory say I should fire him, and let her Purdue help me if I wanted help, plus her Purdue would probably charge me a lot less, much as Mallory say it is unsafe to have such a man in my household and I should let him go, right at that minute, firing Miller was the fartherest things from my mind. Nobody else knew Miller been doing all these odd jobs for me, and never ask me for a cent. I start to feel a little guilty, like Purdue being absent make me see the value in what Miller helping me with, and he didn't even get the few dollars I used to give Mallory for Purdue. I give it to Mallory because Purdue is simple, "slow" as they say. Maybe then it strike me that I giving Purdue a couple dollars for one morning a week making black pudding and Miller, that painting, and fixing and galvanizing, Miller ain't getting nothing at all but a hard red floor to sleep on and whatever food left from the bar.
"Miller," I remember saying, "Purdue ain't coming this morning, you think you could help me out in the rumshop—just sharing drinks from behind the bar for a couple hours so I can get ahead with the black-pudding? I will pay you for it."
"I can't take no money from you, Mistress," is what Miller said. And as much as I insisted, he wouldn't agree to take a cent.
"You starting today?" I ask him.
"Course, Mistress!" Miller says, smiling sunrise again, "you want me start now?"
"After your bath," I tell him, "you sure you can handle pouring drinks for the fellas?
"Drinks?" says Miller, "I born pouring drinks, man."
And everything was okay until a chicken-necked girl in one of Miller's nice shirts and nothing else, came outside and said she needed to pee. Now, I know Miller is a man and everything, and men will have their women. But up until that point Miller's girls might as well have been ghosts 'cause he was never so stupid as to let me see one in the flesh. But sure enough, there was a near-naked one in one of his shirts, not even ashamed to be seen by a God-fearing woman like me. So I ignored her, and I started thinking maybe it was time for Miller to move on. And I told him I'd prefer him not to have visitors stay overnight. It was my house, I told him, and I had a right to say who could be on my property.
"Yes, Mistress," is what Miller said, but he didn't look too pleased about it.
Of course, right after he said that and I went to open up the shop and fetch a new bottle of Old Gold from the locked cabinet at the top of the bar, I fell and broke my leg
And I should've seen that as a sign.
So that is how Miller start working behind the bar in the rumshop, dispensing the sweetbreads, the turnovers, the tacky servings of black bitch and tamarind syrup my Stevenson loved and nobody else sells anymore. Mallory Purdue said she told me, after the Reverend came to administer prayers, that my Stevenson woulda turned in his grave to see me trusting the pouring of pints and gills and shots to one such as Miller. Well, Mallory says she told me, but I don't remember it. Shortly after that I started to forget things, and that might've been one of them. Anyways, I told Mallory it was really her fault, cause if her simple-minded brother had turned up for work that day, none of this woulda happened.
Mallory says maybe the fall affected me, maybe I hit my head or something. But I told Mallory Purdue hers was the family with the egg-shell skulls and the simple-mindedness. When I told her that, she stopped sitting next to me in church for an entire fortnight.
But it was true I started to forget things after that. I started to forget things like to tell Miller I don't allow Griffith more than one flask a day, for example, unless he pay upfront and in full because he never have the cash if you wait until later, and definitely not if Concorde catch him in a card-game. Like, that same Griffith could never be a candidate for credit. To begin with, he getting his money from his wife since the Transport Board let him go for taking that bus down the gully and two people dying with it. And Griffith wife ain't have no patience with him since he don't make money. Fifty dollars a week, she give him, and is fifty dollars no matter how much eye-water he cry. If Griffith lose the fifty with Concorde he could only get the drinks the others sponsor him, and I need to know who sponsoring first, before I pour a drop. Is things like that I forgot to tell Miller.
Mostly, after the fall, I lay on my back in the recliner chair and talked to Stevenson's picture. And sometimes when I finished saying something, I was actually shocked my Stevenson didn't answer.
As Mallory tells it, the very first day Miller start behind the bar, he give credit to Griffith. Mallory say Purdue say Griffith didn't even ask for a flask that day, having already lost his fifty with Concorde, but Miller offer him the flask. Purdue may be slow, says Mallory, but he ain't no liar, and even he could see it was tomfoolery. One flask on credit, with me flat on my back in my front-room with the leg up, and no-body making the black pudding, ain't no kill-cow I suppose. But is the little things.
Second thing I forget to tell Miller is the no-whores rule. Letting the bright-eye girls from Bush Hill in the shop woulda never happen with me in my rightful mind in my spot behind the bar. But one four-foot whore with a short foot and a gold lamé jacket pass by one night business was slow, and before you know it, Miller had her inside, mesmerizing her with that white, white smile without making her pay a blasted cent for what he was selling. Purdue tell Mallory he was sure that whore woulda give Miller whatever money he charge her, on account of that smile. But Miller wouldn't hear of letting that hop-along whore pay him even for the ham cutter she had. Miller say, he would rather spot her a meal from the rumshop larder than know she went and sell her body for something to eat. That whore like Miller so much, next night she come back with two friends. Is nothing wrong with more customers, but whores are slack—not stupid. They ain't getting so drunk they don't know what they doing later. And once they in the rumshop making nice in soft-drink-colored get-ups? Well, don't take a genius to know the men in the rumshop going start thinking "bout whether they want to spend the money on the whores or the rum. And the rum can't get on its knees.
Mallory says she warned me, but she's like that. She always knew in the hindsight recount. And by her telling, she usually not only knew but she warned me. Imagine, said Mallory, Stevenson gone and left me running the rumshop and I let some no-breed man come and turn it into a whorehouse as well. After that I tried my best to will the leg better, but the Doctor said healing takes a little longer when you're getting older so I had to rest myself for a few more weeks after the cast came off.
Eventually, I start to tell myself to be thankful there was a man in the shop again, and that things could be worse and at least I had Miller to hold on for me while I rested the leg, 'cause Purdue was out of the question and Johnno, who used to hold on sometimes when Stevenson was alive, went and got himself killed swimming on Good Friday.
Mallory reported Purdue say Miller start to get more and more careless, aimless almost, giving a pour more than a gill required, being careless with the refills and the ordering. Most of the time, Purdue told her, Miller like he dreaming, like his mind far, far away. Mallory say this Miller letting the shop go to the dogs.
You wouldn't have known it by the regulars, though, Purdue admitted. The regulars love Miller can't done. Purdue say they respect him when he give D.Brown one of his corduroys to wear to his daughter's christening 'cause D. Brown didn't have no nice pants since he came outta jail the last time. And they admire how he talk Flex out of beating his baby-mother new boyfriend for telling his son he hot-headed and ignorant just like his father. Purdue say the regulars went wild when they see Miller baiting the Jehovah's Witnesses one morning they turn up with pamphlets. Purdue say Miller shout them in the road and tell them a pleasant goodmorning and give them that bleach-white smile so one of the Jehovah Witness girls decide to be brave and try to save his soul for Christ. And she walk up to the door and Purdue say Miller wait until she get to the top-step and ask him if he would be interested in buying a pamphlet about the life after death to pull a two dollar bill from his pocket and stretch it out to her in his palm. Purdue say Miller wait until the Witness girl put the pamphlet in his hand to draw back the two-dollar and hold the girl arm and say he will buy a pamphlet from them—but only if they come inside the rumshop and buy a rum from him first. Purdue say the men in the rumshop tell that joke for days.
Purdue say by now Griffith, especially, believe in Miller like Jesus and Miller hardly get to come behind the bar in the morning and turn on the radio and start wiping the backs of the bottles before Griffith in the shop, sitting up tall, squaring his shoulders and saying, "Miller, give me a flask there, man," And Miller would pour it without seeing a dollar.
Purdue say, one day Concorde get real angry cause Miller ain't letting him get Griffith in a card game. Miller keep telling Griffith, " you ain't wanna play no cards with Concorde, man, rest yourself," Then, when Concorde catch him when Miller back was turned, Miller come back and station himself right over Griffith left shoulder and tell him every card to play till Griffith beat Concorde, once, twice, twenty times, and win back his money and more besides.
"Man, what kinda facking idiot you is?" Concorde spit out at Miller after too many lost games to mention, "let de facking man play for heself, nuh?"
"You ain't want to play no more cards, Griffith," Miller saying, "go long home to your wife, nah?"
"Cards? Cards? You know something about cards?" Concorde say.
"Cards? I born playing cards, man" says Miller.
But by the time the Doctor said I could stand a whole day on my feet again, the furniture in the shop still wasn't mended, the floor in the red room wasn't repainted and the shop was losing money by the day with Miller behind the counter. One afternoon, not too long after I was able to trust the leg again to climb the ladder to the premium spirits lock-up in the cupboard above the larder, I closed the shop doors and invited Miller out to weed the garden while I watched him for signs of the daze Mallory say Purdue said he was struggling under.
"What you planning to do this summer?" I ask Miller, introducing the possibility of something other than working for me.
Which is when Miller say he playing Mas.
With the jump-up less than a month away, I thought he meant he'd be playing with a band. One of the classy ones, most likely, with the women in bikini costumes from Trinidad and the politicians and the cricketers and the lawyers and so in shades and sneakers behind them. But no, says Miller, he playing a Mas he planning to make. Wouldn't it be fun, says Miller, if everybody from the rum-shop could play, if we could make the costumes ourselves. He have a friend have a band, says Miller, would let us join up with them as one section. Would have to pay a little something, 'cause all the bands have to pay, and we can't piggy-back off the friend. Wouldn't cost much, says Miller, for the Mas he has in mind, and if the rumshop sponsor it, it could get a lot of publicity. Lotta tourists does come in to play mas, says Miller, nuff. I tell Miller first of all, as a Christian woman, I can't jump in no Mas band, and I can't sponsor nothing either—business bad as it is, but he welcome to work on it and I would give whatever help I can. And then I took back the shop keys.
The Mas business start that same day, so I get back to work and Miller start a mas camp in the red room. Pretty soon Griffith and Purdue and even tricky Concorde and the gaggle of whores in there day after day with Miller in between scissors and felt and sequins and glitter the lot of them conjure up. Purdue say there was a lot of talk about a title for the band, a theme for the Mas, as Miller said. Mallory say Miller made a lot of sketches of things—feathers and fanfare and characters from dreams and fables. I never did see him draw the rooster in perspective, but from all reports the costume drawings didn't look like much. Eventually, said Purdue, they did away with all that and decided to play "inclusive Mas" so everybody could come as whatever they wanted, as long as they made the costume there in the yard. Miller would organize everything with the friend.
The group of them do what they could. Griffith didn't drink a drop for two weeks straight to save his part of the contribution Miller have to make to the friend band for the Mas. Then another week he bring some money for Miller to buy the materials for his costume and say he get it from his wife, who was probably thinking a little extra money would encourage her good-for-nothing Griffith to stop drinking rum. Griffith say he playing "Death" Mas. Miller went and buy him four yards of black satin and one of the whores make a hooded cape and borrow the mopstick to put the sickle on. Is a good thing, Mallory say when she heard about it, that I didn't have much need for the sickle 'cause the hop-along whore decide to decorate the blade with glitter. Mallory said this on her knees during the communion prayers. She hope they know what they doing, said Mallory, 'cause as far as she know, she is the only proper seamstress in St. Christopher and nobody ain't ask her nothing about cutting or sewing nothing for the band.
Purdue say Miller tell the lot of them the main thing about Mas is the sentiment behind it. He had Griffith practicing how to move like death: slow and somber, Miller say, but when you strike, you strike like lightening. Concorde wasn't going to play, Purdue say, still being sore about the card games with Griffith. But Miller tell him he must play Jester Mas 'cause only he can play it. Jester is a high Mas, says Miller, Jesters ain't no joke. And Concorde take his fortune off from round his neck so Miller could measure him for the neck-piece with the points with bells Jesters wear. Miller find a girl from the university theatre arts program to draw a half-happy, half-sad face on Concorde in white and black and red chalk-paints and to make the collar with accordion pleated felt, and one of the whores lend him a green velvet cat-suit Concorde wasn't easily persuaded to put on. But by the time Miller finished, Purdue say, Concorde was hopping left to right the way Miller say a jester should. Purdue say by the time Miller was done Concorde was asking Miller if he should make up a card table and hitch it to the front of him while he playing Mas, cause he is the kind of Jester that good with card tricks.
Purdue say two of the whores went say they playing wild cat Mas and start spending all night meowing and practicing they slink and one even curse the other one for picking a fare one time they was supposed to be working in the red-room mas camp.
Well, all this time, business in the shop suffering. Who coming, coming to Miller Mas camp and a lot of days, I find myself shining bottles of Mount Gay once, twice, three times, when I barely used to have the time to wipe off anything once. I find myself standing behind the counter, watching flies come in and land on the sugar-cakes nobody buying, eating the tamarind sludge meself 'cause even the school children who pass on the street after school and come in the shop to buy sweeties for fifty cents, even the school children running straight round the back to check out the Mas and see if they have any glitter or felt or anything left over they could make their own Mas with.
So one night I confront Miller about this Mas thing.
"It taking up all your time," I tell him, "days now and you still ain't build the table."
Miller smile that sunrise smile at me, stitching a polyester satin skirt on Flex, who was playing Ms. St. Christopher Beauty Queen. "Just now," says Miller, "I going have it for you before you could look "round twice."
Grand Kadooment two days away and the table still not built.
I go around the back of the shop one evening, when the air whistling through the shop get to be too much and the inventory been counted and re-counted and confirm I could tell the drinks truck not to bother with any deliveries this month. I confront Miller, fitting the death cape on kiss-me-crutch Griffith, standing up there, serious, serious, like if he is the subject of a funeral rite or something. Something in me went to war.
"Griffith, your wife ain't calling you home? Why you don't get down the road before she come up here with the cuckoo stick and break what left of your back for you?"
After we had communion the Sunday after, Mallory say I shouldn't feel bad about the back reference. If he break his back when the bus went down in the gully, Mallory say, then he break his back. It wasn't a lie, said Mallory, and if all those kiss-me-tail drunkards in the rumshop want to help Griffith forget it was the flask of white rum he went looking for under the driver's seat of that bus that make it veer off that road and take those two innocents to their graves, then let them. But everybody ain't got to play pretend, says Mallory, Griffith should thank the Good Lord all he got was a broken back he recover from.
But when I said it, all the people in the red-room went quiet, start to look at Griffith with the old pity rounding his shoulders in the first place.
"You hear me?" I was shouting, "you ain't have to go home and sleep so you could get up and look for work tomorrow? You ain't got no more bus to drive?"
Griffith look at me, and then at Miller, and then at me and then at Miller. And Miller just taking the pins from between his lips with those pretty, pretty fingers, tucking and seaming the shadow of death without saying nothing.
"Don't make a fuss, Mistress, everything cool."
"Concorde, I ask your jailbird behind anything? I want to know why ya'll out here keeping all this blasted noise in my head outside my shop."
One of the whores suck her teeth and the other one grumbled.
All this time, Miller just taking the pins from his teeth, quiet, not even looking at me.
Griffith start to shuffle from one foot to the other, like he was ready to take flight. It was only Miller and the pins keeping him there, perched atop an upturned Ju-C crate like some shrouded statue too many birds already shat on.
Concorde sucked his teeth, started taking off the jester costume.
"I want all o' ya'll off my place," is what I said next, "now!"
Even the jukebox went quiet, then. The whores gathered up their lamé and started to file away, while Griffith start to wilt before my very eyes.
"Somebody care about your facking place?" spat Miller, suddenly scornful, "somebody care about you?"
Concorde whistled, but nobody laughed, everybody waited.
I felt a rush like I imagine my Stevenson must have when he died—a sudden uprising of soul and spirit, and energy begging to be released. It raised my hand and my howling and I very nearly lunged at him. It was Concorde who held on to me while Miller spat his pins, gathered Griffith and his things and left the red room.
Mallory says Purdue told her later it was a good thing I didn't hit Miller, heaven only knows what he might have done to me. Mallory says she always knew there was something not to be trusted about him. Mallory said a few weeks after all of St. Christopher save me, Mallory and Purdue, played rumshop Mas at the stadium. She said it when she relayed how Purdue told her Constable Morris and a whole car load of police went to the house of one of the whores (which is where Miller moved the Mas camp) the day after the jump-up, hoping to question a certain Martin Miller, wanted for grievous bodily harm and aggravated robbery in St. Vincent. Miller hadn't turned up to play the Mas, said Purdue, and the whores were so sore they sucked their teeth when the Police asked and said they didn't know where Miller was. Chances are, Purdue said, Miller was long gone by then. When the Police searched the new Mas Camp all they found of Miller's was his unworn costume—he had planned to play Saga Boy in white jodhpurs and sequined Spanish Bolero and a panorama of women's faces smiling on him from his head-piece.
Purdue said when Miller left, he left a whole heap of women in St. Christopher crying. Mallory said, much as she asked him, Purdue wouldn't tell her exactly which ones. I knew, even if Mallory wouldn't admit it, that Purdue plays his simple-mindedness when it suits him. Right after the peace greeting, Mallory said if betting wasn't a sin, she'd bet a lot of Miller's women were there in that very church service where we stood.
But, crying women or no, people said after the Mas it was the best they'd ever experienced. They said they'd be doing it again the next year, and the one after that. Not the Mas with the costumes mass-produced in Trinidad—all glitter and sequins and the jump-up and the drinking being the thing. No, the people from St. Christopher said they'd be known in future for their inclusive Mas. And usually after they said that, there'd be a silence and then Griffith would say, with an air of disbelief "Mistress, you never hear Miller since that first Mas?"
And I, barely able to talk from bustling this way and that behind the bar, would say no and Concorde would say "Miller was a kinda man for true," and shake his locks and the thick gold strands woven around his neck would clink and clatter, and Concorde would say, "Another flask, Mistress," and Griffith, in full slouch, would brighten with the promise of rum, and pat his fist on the table and say, "You playing cards, Concorde?" and Concorde would say, "You feel like losing, Griffith?"
And Griffith would say, "Leh we play, man," and proceed to lose whatever money he had on him.
And sometimes, in the midst of the slamming dominoes and the raucous cackling of the whores and the bakery delivering bread and Flex giving a story about the baby-mother's new boyfriend and Purdue bringing the drinks out of the back and stacking them in the cooler and D. Brown telling bawdy jokes under the stare of the women sprawled across the posters on the wall of the rum-shop, I'd watch the road and think about Miller.
I'd wonder if he'd escaped the Police and left the island and whether he was someplace, drawing roosters in perspective, being someone else entirely. I never thought he'd come back, though.
Miller wasn't that type.