The World So Wide

Issue 39 by Zilla Jones

The World So Wide
Summary

Felicity Alexander is an international opera star from Winnipeg, Canada, and single mother to two teenaged daughters. Her own mother is Dolores, a woman from Grenada in the Caribbean, and her absent father is from Ukraine. As a music student in London, England, Felicity had a romantic relationship with Claude Buckingham, who is now Deputy Prime Minister in the socialist government that has seized control of Grenada in a bloodless coup. During her rise to fame, she has never forgotten Claude. She returns to Grenada to perform at the request of the government, but her return coincides with another more violent coup by a hostile faction who execute Claude and the rest of the cabinet. This is followed by an American invasion. The trauma that results from these events will take decades more to untangle.

CHAPTER 34

Winnipeg, September 8, 1983

Dolores stood for a moment outside the door of Neil Rosenblatt’s office, checking that the bow of her blouse was properly tied.

“You can just go on in, Mrs Alexander,” sang the assistant from her desk, where, under cover of the school calendar, she was surreptitiously re-reading a letter from her boyfriend who was travelling abroad. Dolores straightened her shoulders.

“You wanted to see me, Neil?” she asked.

The man behind the desk pushed his glasses down his nose and set aside the pile of student information forms that he was perusing.

“Ah, Dolores,” he said with a smile. “Do you have a moment? Sit down.” He indicated the one chair that was not taken up with piles of folders. It was the beginning of the school year, and the paperwork was at its heaviest.

Dolores dipped her head in assent and sat.

“As you know, I am retiring at the end of this year,” Neil said.

Dolores nodded. Neil had previously told her that he was turning sixty-five in a few months. His wife had died three years ago or so and he wanted to spend more time on the West Coast with their two sons and their grandchildren.

“The superintendent had a discussion with me as to who should take over the leadership of this school,” he continued. Dolores felt a prickling at the bottom of her stomach and sat up very straight. “I explained that this school is currently going through a difficult time, with – with a lot of people from outside the country, um, well – ”

“A high proportion of our student body is made up of recent immigrants,” Dolores cut in.

“That’s correct. And then there are the individuals migrating from the northern parts of our province, (Dolores knew he meant Aboriginal people) and we’ve been struggling with – er – sectarian violence – ”

“Gangs,” Dolores said firmly. Clear communication was not one of Neil’s strengths.

“Gangs,” he agreed. “Well, it has been a – erm – challenge for us and I told him that you have been wonderful at enforcing discipline and stability at the school and gaining the respect of our students, and that – keeping it – um, um, continuity, that is – would be the most important thing going forward.”

Dolores’ mouth was dry. She tried to swallow but felt too much pressure in her throat to accomplish the task.

“Well, the long and short of it is that he – he – I cannot make a promise but I believe you will be promoted from Assistant Principal to Principal effective at the end of this year,” Neil proclaimed. He then said apologetically, “We had to look at your personnel records for a date of birth and we see that you would have – ah – ”

“I just turned sixty-two,” Dolores said. “So I have three years until mandatory retirement.”

“That’s right,” Neil said. “It would be a short-term appointment to stabilize the school and then they would cast a wider net.” He cleared his throat. “I believe they like the idea of you being a role model. You would be the school division’s first – um – ”

“Black principal,” Dolores supplied, almost singing the words. She wanted to run out into the street and shout them to the sky. But she forced her face to remain neutral.

“That’s right,” Neil said, relieved that she had spoken the phrase.

“Well, thank you for telling me that, Neil. I appreciate your support.” She stood up to go.

“There’s one more thing,” Neil said, now polishing his glasses with his tie.

Dolores lowered herself back into her chair.

“I was wondering if – if you – ” He put his glasses back on and looked down at his desk, repeatedly clicking the base of a pen he held in his hand. “Since I will be retired and we will no longer be working together, you see – if one night you had the time, that is – ”

Dolores realized with a gruesome fascination what Neil was trying to do. “Are you asking me out, Neil?” she said gently.

He nodded. “I thought – dinner sometime – ”

Dolores allowed her mind to flicker ahead. She pictured a small restaurant, dark, a candle on the table throwing the wrinkles on each of their faces into sharp relief, a waiter hovering, pretending not to notice the difference in their skin colours but unable to stop his lip curling up a bit. She imagined that she might laugh, loosen up, enjoy the full beam of Neil’s attention. But then her thoughts raced ahead to after, in the car, when Neil, feeling entitled because he had earlier handed over the little black folder containing his credit card, would paw at the front of her blouse with his hairy pink hands, or bring his face in close to her face, his stubble pricking her smoothness. She shuddered. No. No. She could not be touched again, especially not by someone so pale. She gulped.

“Neil, I’m very flattered, but, well, I don’t think it would be a good idea,” she said.

Neil’s eyes sloped downwards. “It was worth a try,” he said quietly. “I’ve been lonely since Sarah died, and – ”

“I admire and respect you greatly, Neil,” Dolores said. “Please don’t question that. I just don’t know if I’m ready for such a step in my life.”

“It’s all right,” he said sadly. After a moment, he added, “Please don’t worry that this will affect my, um, recommendation for your – uh – promotion.” Sensing that he wanted to be left alone, Dolores stood again and said,

“Well, I had better get back to work. Thank you for your confidence in me, Neil.”

As she left his office, she rejoiced to herself. She was going to be a principal! In Grenada, principal was a position that garnered great respect, second only to doctors or lawyers. And here in Canada, being a Black principal was an honour not only for the individual, but for the entire community. She was also pleased that Neil, a decent man and a principal himself, had asked her out, despite her reluctance to accept. Despite her long years of celibacy, she rejoiced to know that she was still attractive to men.

The struggle had yielded fruit, praise God. Amen.

********

After work, Dolores stopped by Felicity’s house to tell her about her impending promotion. She was disconcerted to find her daughter at five-thirty in the evening sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and an opera score, still wearing her pyjamas and robe with her hair in disarray. When Dolores questioned her about this, Felicity became defensive.

“I just flew in from Tokyo,” she said.

“Three days ago,” Dolores griped.

“Well, I’m still jet-lagged. And I was working my ass off. Twelve hours of rehearsals a day for two weeks.” Felicity picked up a letter. “Anyway, Mom, I’m glad you came by, because I was about to call you. I got this invitation to go to Grenada to sing, and I thought it might be nice if you and the girls came too.”

“Grenada?” Dolores goggled. Grenada did not have big fancy opera houses or concert halls. The people there would not know what to make of opera.

“They’re having an international showcase of Grenadian talent from home and abroad,” Felicity said. “The government wants to invite leaders from other countries in the region to show off the accomplishments of Grenada.”

Dolores frowned. “So this invitation is from the government? You mean Neville Carpenter and his – gang?”

Felicity slammed the letter down. “They’re not a gang, Mom! They’ve increased employment, education, agriculture – they’re doing really good things for the country.”

“And rounding people up and throwing them in jail,” Dolores sniffed.

“That’s not true. That’s just their enemies trying to make them look bad.”

“Well, what do they want with you? I wouldn’t trust those people,” Dolores griped. “Why are you even considering helping them?”

“I knew Neville Carpenter in university, remember I told you? And some of the others in his government.”

“I don’t know why you were bothering with that when you had your studies to attend to.”

“Mom, come on. The point is, they recognize me as a musician of Grenadian heritage and they want me to perform, and I want to do it.” Her eyes radiated conviction. “And it would be nice for the girls to go. They’ve never seen Grenada. I’ll be busy with rehearsals so I thought if you came you could show them around.”

“I don’t want anything to do with Neville Carpenter’s government,” Dolores declared. “I don’t support Communists.”

“Fine,” Felicity said. “I’ll just take them myself and figure it out. Forget it.” She tossed the letter aside and folded her arms. “Why are you here, anyway?”

Dolores had momentarily forgotten her promotion in her irritation at her daughter. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I wanted to see if you wanted to come to Bible study next week, that’s all.”

Felicity laughed. “You’re still trying to get me back to church, Mom?” The universe shifted back to its normal position.

********

The trip to Grenada involved a flight to Toronto, another flight to Barbados, and a shorter flight on a small plane to Grenada. Felicity and Adele sat in front of Dolores and Mara. Dolores was still annoyed that she had given in to Felicity and agreed to come, while Felicity had a pile of music in front of her on the plastic tray which she flipped through constantly. Adele could feel the nervous jitters radiating from her mother.

Nobody spoke much through the long flight into the night with the dark ocean stretching out beneath them. They ordered a taxi at the airport, and as it sped down the almost deserted highway, Felicity pointed to the large billboards lit from above with hanging lanterns. They held posters proclaiming slogans such as “Black is Beautiful,” “Education is the future for the Black race,” “Cooperative socialism for all,” “March forward together.”

Speaking suddenly out of the darkness, Felicity said, “The only posters there used to be ads for foreign products, but Neville Carpenter’s government banned roadside advertising and changed the billboards to positive sayings to inspire people.” Dolores sucked her teeth in disgust.

They were all bleary-eyed and bad-tempered by the time the taxi creaked up the hill to disgorge them and their luggage in front of Dolores’ childhood house.

Dolores and Felicity stood in the crushing, all-encompassing dark, looking in dismay at the long cracks running down the walls of the house, with large clumps of leaves poking through, the jagged hole in the roof, the overgrown yard with tangles of brush erupting through the paving stones. This was not the small, modest but neatly kept house that loomed so large in Felicity’s childhood memories.

“It looks like shit,” Felicity said bleakly. “Aunt Beulah let it run to shit.”

“Language, Felicity,” said Dolores, but with no real bite. She pushed open the rotting gate and they proceeded to the side door. Dismayed, Adele shot Mara a glance. What Third World hellhole had they been dragged out of school for?

A large woman appeared, wearing a loose cotton caftan-type garment, a headscarf knotted around her head like the ones Mom and Grandma wore to bed when they wanted to keep their hair straight.

“So you back,” she grunted.

“Hello, Beulah,” said Dolores.

“You sleep upstairs and don’t make no trouble, you hear me?” She turned and walked away, leaving the four of them to somehow push and pull the suitcases up the ladder into the tiny room, where two mattresses awaited them on the floor.

“We’ll go to a hotel,” Felicity panted, once they were in the room. “Tomorrow. We’ll go after my first rehearsal.”

CHAPTER 35

Vincennes, Grenada, October 11, 1983

Dolores felt as if she were swimming through the thick haze of heat and humidity, still weighed down with fatigue from the previous day’s travel. In the unfamiliar setting, Mara and Adele had retreated into the whiny, childish behavior they had left behind years ago, and Dolores found herself vaguely offended. These girls had been around the world with their mother, and they had never come back from Florence, Hamburg, Osaka, or San Francisco complaining about the weather, the food, the bugs. But here they were in Grenada acting as if nothing here was good enough for them. There was no hot water in the shower. The sun rose too early. Tonka beans tasted gross. There was no air conditioning. Their roots were here, so why was this country, small though it might be, not as glorious to them as the cities of Europe or Asia?

Beulah was hiding behind her wall of perceived slights and inferiority and it was left to Dolores to cook, wash the dishes and sweep the floor, as the girls refused to help. Adele’s Walkman was glued to her head – Dolores secretly hoped that she had brought insufficient batteries for it – and Mara disappeared into her school books. Felicity, as usual, had escaped the binding closeness of the hot little house to go to a rehearsal for the arts showcase, and Dolores resented her the most as this had all been her idea.

Her thoughts were broken by a neighbour shouting, “Turn your radio on, eh! Is a coup!”

The house still not having electricity, the radio was turned off whenever possible to conserve battery power. Beulah came waddling out of her room where she had been taking a nap as Dolores fiddled with the dials. “Hurry up, nah!” Beulah chided her, but fell silent as the solemn voice of the announcer broke through the static.

“ – the opposition’s demands. Neville Carpenter and members of his cabinet are being confined at his home by the Popular Front.”

“I repeat. The Popular Front led by Mark Henry is now the government of Grenada. We have deposed the Black Pearls of Freedom party led by Neville Carpenter and Claude Buckingham, as they would not agree to our demands and they are enemies of the people.”

“Ah, man! They take over the radio too?” said Beulah in dismay, as Dolores shushed her.

“ – will be shot on sight. I repeat, please stay in your homes until further notice.”

Dolores’ mind immediately flashed to Felicity. She would be in St George’s. How would she find her way back up to Vincennes, being unfamiliar with the island, and apparently now with an island-wide curfew in effect? She looked at the girls. They seemed oblivious to what was happening, with Adele still sequestered behind her headphones and Mara reading.

“Girls,” she said loudly and Mara looked up. Adele continued to stare into space until Mara tapped her and she reluctantly pulled her headphones off.

“Girls, there’s been a coup,” she said, but the term had no meaning to them, and she struggled to explain. When she was finished, Adele immediately said,

“What about Mom?”

Beulah, still standing with her arms crossed, said, “What about she? She stay in St. George’s, is better for us up here.”

Dolores warned Adele with her eyes to stay quiet. She said, “They won’t hurt foreigners, don’t worry. That’s the last thing they need. Maybe she’ll go the embassy.” She wasn’t sure if Grenada even had a Canadian embassy, but the girls didn’t know that.

Beulah snorted. “Always different rules for all of you, ain’t it?” But she knew that behind her disdain was fear – her son Arnold was part of Neville Carpenter’s militia.

The day passed slowly and crawled into night. Dolores cooked, using ingredients sparingly as there was no way of knowing when they could go out to get more. She went out to the yard for water from the tap and hauled in a large pumpkin that would yield soup for several days. The continuous radio announcement rattled on: “I repeat. The Popular Front led by Mark Henry is now the government of Grenada…” The voice sounded very aware of its importance, of the drama of the moment. It was probably the biggest thing that the owner of the voice had ever been asked to do. It filled so much space in the house that no one else spoke.

When night fell, Dolores turned the radio off. She lay awake in bed and could hear the girls shifting around on their mattresses and twisting in their sheets, also unable to sleep. Beulah’s loud snores reached them from below.

The next morning brought no change. The radio announcement continued, and in Dolores’ mind the voice grew wearier with each iteration, though of course she knew it was a recording that did not vary. Felicity did not return. Mara and Adele sat silently at the kitchen table, rubbing their eyes and biting back the questions Dolores knew they had about their mother, and Beulah stayed in her bedroom, no doubt worrying about Arnold. In Canada, when Dolores watched the news and saw that there were coups and takeovers in other countries, it always sounded as if the situation was urgent, violent, with constant motion and change. But here, there was just a slow waiting, with minutes dropping one by one into a well of emptiness. Dolores almost wanted something terrible to happen, just to feel connected to the world.

She needed to find out if there was a Canadian Embassy and speak to them about Felicity, who for all she knew was already ensconced there, being well fed and regaling enthralled bureaucrats with tales of her daring escape and perhaps an impromptu recital. However, the only phone she knew of in the area was that of the nursing station, which was made off-limits by the curfew. Not knowing the embassy’s phone number, if one existed, she would have to call Rose in Winnipeg first and see if she could look it up.

Dolores waited until it was dark and everyone was in their beds. When peering through the window did not reveal any lanterns or movement, she decided it was time. She needed to wear dark clothing to evade detection, not the bright florals that were the only items she had brought. Knowing Felicity often wore black, Dolores opened her daughter’s suitcase, grabbing at the first items she saw, and pulled on a dark T-shirt and pants from Felicity’s suitcase. She had never worn a pair of pants before, and they felt loose and unfamiliar on her. She put on a pair of sandals and crept outside. Moving in pants was strange, like having someone else’s skin on, but Dolores had to admit to herself that she had a greater range of motion. She could crawl close to the ground without worrying about a skirt dragging in the dirt or flipping up and displaying her underwear. For the first time in her life, Dolores intentionally and deliberately broke a rule – the island-wide curfew – as she crept up the hill to the nursing station.

The door was locked. Dolores had expected this, and she used a large stone that she had picked up from the garden to smash one of the windows. Panting and sweating, she piled some rotting branches under it, climbed on them, and pulled herself up over the wooden sill. As her legs made contact with the floorboards, something dark skittered past her and she screamed, then realized it was a rat. She waited for her heartbeat to slow and then crept into the room, looking for the phone, but a distant rumble stopped her short. It sounded as if a vehicle was coming up the hill.

Dolores crouched against the wall in the dark, hearing the rustling of the rats, pressing her back into the wood and praying silently, “Lord Jesus, please keep me hidden, and safe in Your arms…” The rumble came closer and bright headlights cast their glare through the broken window. She shuddered as she shrank further into the wall. The truck disappeared into the night and when there were no further sounds, she resumed her search for the phone, finally locating it on a table near the opposite window. Panting, she snatched it up, but it was dead. She pressed buttons repeatedly, to no avail. Teeth gritted in despair, she threw the phone at the wall, watching as it bounced off the wood and onto the floor. It was not like Dolores to throw something – that was behavior usually engaged in by Felicity. Perhaps she was filling the gap her daughter had left, absorbing Felicity’s demeanour through her clothing.

Dolores stood in the middle of the floor, trying to breathe deeply in the hot, muggy air that grasped at her, mocking her. They were cut off from the world. There was no way to reach anyone outside the hateful house of her childhood. She was back where her life had begun, cooped up with her resentful sister and the ghost of her mother, a few boards of wood all that lay between her and the clawing creepers of the rainforest. Everything else no longer existed.

Before leaving the nursing station, Dolores had the presence of mind to look around and take anything that might be useful to her household if there were to be an extended siege. This was something else she had never done – take things that was not hers. She scrabbled around in drawers and cupboards and found some paper bags which she filled with batteries, bandages, medicines, powdered milk, canned goods, scissors, towels, soap. She crept back down the road balancing the precious items in her arms, rationalizing that someone else would have thought of it and done the same thing as her, sooner or later. Shedding Felicity’s sweat-soaked clothes, she crawled into bed but did not sleep.

CHAPTER 36.

The days dragged on, extending into a week. Adele worked herself into a frenzy, crying and asking incessantly for her mother as if she was a little girl. Dolores despised her granddaughter’s weakness even as she was filled with pride in Mara, who sat quietly at the table with her schoolbooks every day. Beulah was not so impressed. “Dat one is like you,” she said, her disgusted expression making it clear it was not a favourable comparison.

Dolores was beginning to fear that Felicity was dead. No one from the Embassy had contacted them, but perhaps that was because the Embassy was no more. They had no information as to what might be happening in the capital below these hills.

On the eighth day, the dullness of waiting was broken when a neighbour began shouting in the street, “Carp is dead! Buck is dead! All of them dead!” Beulah came out of her bedroom where she had closeted herself since Arnold died, refusing to speak to Dolores or the girls. She turned the radio on and a different voice than the one that had droned on about the curfew was speaking.

“ – the government of Mark Henry is now the undisputed socialist government of Grenada. The allegiance of the army is with Mark Henry now. We do not want to spill any more blood of the Grenadian proletariat. We repeat, those of you who are still fighting for the Black Pearls of Freedom, stand down. Neville Carpenter is dead as is Claude Buckingham and all members of their cabinet. The total island-wide curfew remains.”

Later that day, the heavy silence was broken by the sounds of vehicle doors slamming and men shouting. Dolores ran to the living room to see two military style trucks. A man in tattered fatigues, a large bleeding scratch across his nose, ran to the house shouting, “He dead! Arnold dead! Dem kill him!”

Dolores grasped the window sill. Sticking her head out around the frame, she said, “Dead? How?”

“He fightin’ with us,” the man panted, “and Mark Henry’s men shoot him. I see it happen.”

“Where were you fighting?” she asked.

“At Carp’s house. We trying to get him free, yuh see?”

“Where is his body?” Dolores knew that, for Beulah, this would be the most important thing.

“Someone go bury it. We thought to bring it back, but with curfew, none a you can bury anyway, so it done.”

The man looked over his shoulder. “I need to go,” he said, but Dolores said,

“Wait! Have there been many people killed?”

“A few. I don’t know how many. Them people with Henry just shooting just so and everyone run.”

“Did you see any women, any light-skinned women, get shot?” Dolores asked, though she couldn’t imagine that Felicity would be anywhere near Neville Carpenter’s house. Surely they hadn’t been rehearsing there.

“No, ma’am. I need to go,” he repeated, already running.

Dolores knocked on Beulah’s door. “What you want?” Beulah shouted, and Dolores drew a big breath.

“Beulah, Arnold is dead,” she said. “Mark Henry’s people shot him.”

Beulah began wailing, “Mih son dead! Mih son dead!” Other wails rose in solidarity from the neighbour’s homes as they also learned the news. As predicted, Beulah was especially upset at the lack of a body for the funeral. Mara and Adele were alarmed by the volume and intensity of Beulah’s grief, but as they had never met Arnold, they did not feel anything themselves, and retreated yet again into Adele’s Walkman and Mara’s books.

The next day, an army jeep rattled up the hill and a soldier called out for someone to come. Dolores went out into the yard and the soldier handed over a sack of rice and a jar of milk powder. “No one will go hungry in a Mark Henry government,” he proclaimed. He inquired if anyone in the house required medical treatment. “No,” Dolores said, “but we have a missing person. A Canadian. A light-skinned woman. Have you seen her?”

The soldier looked at her strangely. “Ma’am, what would a light-skinned Canadian woman be doing where we is? We fighting with guns. No place for women.”

Dolores resigned herself to Felicity having died and been given a quick burial similar to the one Arnold had received. Adele cried furtively for her mother, while Mara was stoic, continuing to do her schoolwork, and Beulah wailed for Arnold. Each day was the same – hours of Adele’s tears, Beulah’s bawling, the drone of the radio announcer, the constant heat, and Dolores trying to maintain a routine and pass the time with laundry, cooking, dishes, and praying and reading her Bible, though it was difficult to concentrate on those, as images of Felicity floated repeatedly into her mind and left her raging at God. The curfew continued, punctuated with boasts from the new government over the radio that they were the true socialist government of Grenada, that they were already negotiating with allies, and promising a full Marxist revolution. From time to time, soldiers brought food. Dolores asked repeatedly if anyone had seen Felicity, if someone could contact the Canadian embassy, but she was met with blank stares each time.

Three days after the death of Neville Carpenter, Dolores awoke from a fitful sleep to the sound of helicopters whirring overhead. There were dozens and dozens of them, and she could make out the American flag near their tails. White pieces of paper floated through the sky behind the helicopters as they clumped together and flew north. One piece of paper landed next to Dolores. She picked it up and read, “The United States Army is responding to cries of distress from Grenada. The current Communist government is not democratic, so we have come to restore law and order. We come with peace toward the people of Grenada. Do not panic or fear and remain in your homes.”

Dolores looked up to the sky where golden streaks heralded the dawn. She wanted to thank God for this miracle of the Americans finally arriving, but it was too late for Felicity, and the words of praise died in her throat.

The following evening, she was summoned into the yard by one of the neighbours calling, “Teacher Dolores, yuh daughter home!”

Dolores looked around in confusion, having heard no vehicle or voices, and then she saw Felicity, staggering up the road toward the house. Her daughter’s hair looked as if it had never been combed in her life, rising from her head in a tidal wave of frizz, with leaves and twigs sticking to the knotted mass. As she got closer, Dolores saw that Felicity’s blue flowery sun dress was torn in several places, the skirt hanging down in frayed ribbons and stained with dirt and blood. Streaks of dark blood had dried up and down her legs, disappearing under her ragged hemline. Round black bruises were scattered across her thighs. Her face, too, was muddy, with tear tracks tracing rivers through the dirt, and one side of it appeared purple with more bruises, one eye swollen almost shut. The heel of one sandal had snapped and listed to one side, contributing to her erratic gait. Dolores stood motionless. The air was unusually still, without a finger of a breeze – the sheets hanging on the clothesline did not move an inch. No birds were chirping; it was as if they had also fallen silent to witness the awfulness of the scene unfolding below them. The only sound was Felicity’s heels scraping across the dirt as she stumbled on.

When she reached the yard, she collapsed onto her knees and began retching, vomiting onto the stepping stones, but all that came out was a small puddle of bile and saliva. She lay gasping, her cheek pressed to the ground.

“Oh Lord Jesus,” Dolores whispered. She ran to Felicity’s side. “Felicity, who did this to you?” Felicity turned her head away. “Come on, come in the house and let’s get you cleaned up,” Dolores said briskly. Felicity curled up into a ball and made a small moan.

“Felicity.” Dolores yanked on her arm repeatedly and somehow got her daughter up and into the house. She was going to suggest that Felicity take a shower, but she headed straight for the mattress that laid on the living room floor and collapsed onto it.

“Mom!” Adele shrieked, and hurtled down the ladder to where Felicity lay. She threw herself on top of her mother. “You’re back! I can’t believe you’re back!” Felicity swatted at her as if she were a fly, and flipped over to face the other way. “Mom!” Adele’s lip began to tremble.

“Adele, leave her alone,” Dolores ordered. “She just got back and she isn’t well.” Adele ran back up the stairs, crying. Mara stuck her head through the hole in the ceiling and withdrew it again. Beulah shuffled into the room.

“I see Her Highness come back,” she said, her voice raspy. Then she took another look at Felicity. “Who do that?” she whispered, seeing the blood.

Dolores shrugged in dismay. After unsuccessfully trying to get Felicity to talk, to wash, to eat or drink, Dolores left her alone where she lay, eyes open and staring.

CHAPTER 37

For days, Felicity lay on the mattress, the stink of her filling the room. She drank only a little water when Dolores forced a straw into her mouth, or swallowed soup when Dolores spooned it into her, the metal scraping against her teeth. She urinated on the mattress where she lay. The rest of the family generally avoided the room except when Dolores fed Felicity. Sometimes, Dolores read the Bible to her daughter. Felicity rarely reacted, but Dolores thought she saw a flame in Felicity’s eyes when she read “Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord.” The few times that Adele attempted to snuggle next to Felicity, Felicity pushed her daughter away with astounding force.

The war with the Americans raged on. The soldiers who made periodic visits insisted that they were winning, as did the radio. There were rumours that the Cubans were on the island helping the Grenadians, that the Americans planned to use a nuclear bomb, that they were throwing bodies into the sea. Dolores lost hope that they would ever leave this room, that Felicity would ever speak again. The food she had stolen from the nursing station was sustaining them still, but once it was gone, they would be limited to whatever their land could produce and the soldiers delivered.

Then one morning, a Jeep rattled up the road while Dolores was in the yard hanging laundry. Assuming it was Mark Henry’s men with another delivery, Dolores continued with her task, tired of those useless soldiers with their blank faces, their lack of knowledge and their meagre rations.

She was surprised when the Jeep door slammed and she saw that, of the two men walking towards them, one was white, and clearly a foreign white, sunburned pink.

“Good morning, ma’am,” he said.

She looked up and saw an American flag sewn to his uniform. “Good morning,” she responded tremulously.

“We received intelligence that there are Canadian citizens in this house. Is this true?”

Hope saluted to attention in Dolores’ chest. “There are,” she said. “Myself, my daughter, and my two granddaughters.”

The American soldier looked her up and down. “You are are a Canadian citizen?” he said.

“I am.”

“Your embassy has asked us to assist with evacuations. Would you like to be evacuated, ma’am?”

“Evac – ” Dolores could not even speak the word but nodded fiercely.

“We need to verify that you have valid passports, and then we leave right away.”

Dolores thought of Felicity, unwashed and unresponsive on the mattress. She could not travel in such a state.

“We’ll need some time to pack,” she said.

“Ma’am, the sooner we leave, the better.”

Dolores pulled the strength of her new role as a school principal into her bones and from there, to her voice. “We need some time to get ready,” she repeated. “You can wait here for us and we will be out shortly.” She strode toward the house without giving them a chance to argue. At the doorway, she bumped into Beulah, who snarled,

“So, you decide now you not from Grenada? You a foreign, and you go back to foreign.”

Dolores looked at her sister. “I’ll ask if we can bring you. Maybe we can sponsor you.”

Beulah put her hands on her hips. “No thank you. This is me country, even if it mean shit to you. My son’s body is here, so I ain’t going.”

“Oh.” Dolores had forgotten about Arnold. Then she remembered the soldiers watching the seconds tick by in the Jeep, and she pushed past Beulah.

“Girls!” she called. “Come now!”

They scrambled down the ladder, truculent and closed-off as ever.

“We are being evacuated by the Americans. You need to get dressed and pack your things immediately.”

Their questions tumbled out. Which Americans? How did they find us? How are we getting home?

“Just go and get ready and stop talking,” said Dolores the principal. “I have enough to do, dealing with your mother.”

More questions: how would she get Mom to move? What if she wouldn’t wake up?

“Get up those stairs right now and get ready! Not another word!” Dolores shouted.

Beulah shuffled into the room. “If you think you taking the girls and leaving that one, you wrong,” she declared, pointing to Felicity.

“I’m not leaving her!” Dolores said. She strode over the mattress. “Felicity Alexander, you listen to me right now,” she barked. She should have been stricter with Felicity from the beginning. “You get up this minute, do you hear me?” She yanked on Felicity’s arm, trying to pull her up. Felicity tried to swat her mother away, but she was weakened after many days with little sustenance. Dolores pulled harder, and Felicity rolled off the mattress to the floor. Dolores yanked again until Felicity was on her feet. She marched Felicity to the laundry room, sat her on the toilet, and began stripping off her daughter’s ripped, stained dress as a small trickle of urine flowed into the toilet. She noted that Felicity was not wearing underwear.

Dolores had not seen her daughter naked since she became a woman and was taken aback at the sight of her ample breasts, soft and fleshy as compared to Dolores’ neat, trim ones. She pushed Felicity under the shower and turned it on. When Felicity just stood there, Dolores sucked her teeth in impatience, grabbed the bar of soap, and washed her daughter as she hadn’t done in decades – under the arms, under the breasts, even reaching between her legs into her thicket of hair. She was alarmed to see the water running dark red with dried blood. Then she pushed Felicity’s head under the water, letting it run into the knots and tangles. She left her standing there for a moment so she herself could urinate and splash cold water on her sweaty face.

After Dolores turned the water off, she pushed Felicity, naked and dripping, back to the mattress, and called for Adele to bring Felicity’s suitcase down. A honk came from the street and she knew the Americans were getting impatient. When the suitcase arrived, Dolores flicked through Felicity’s clothes to find an acceptable outfit and dressed her daughter like a baby.

“Girls!” called Dolores. “Take your suitcases out to that Jeep, and tell them we will be right there. Use the bathroom first.” As her granddaughters complied, she turned her attention to Felicity’s hair. War or not, Felicity could not leave the house with her in such a state. Grabbing her large metal comb and tub of grease, she pushed Felicity to the floor and gripped her between her knees, as she had done when Felicity was little, not tackling all the knots, but smoothing it enough to allow her to gather its wet curtains together and weave them into a French braid. Then she felt inside the zippered pocket in the lining of her own suitcase and pulled out their four Canadian passports.

She brought the last two suitcases to the doorway and gestured for the soldiers to come for them. Then she pulled Felicity up to her feet and shuffled with her through the door.

“So, you off.” Beulah’s voice cut through the space between them.

Dolores turned back. “Beulah,” she said, “there’s the children, and I have to get Felicity home.” She could feel Felicity trembling as she leaned against her.

“All of you think you special? There’s children in Grenada. Sick, hurt people in Grenada. They ain’t leaving.”

The guilt would rot Dolores’ heart in another minute. But the guilt had always been there. She had guilt enough about Felicity: that she’d chosen to raise her away from family, that she hadn’t given her a father, that she couldn’t show her the kind of love she knew she needed. And foolishly, she had not stopped Felicity from coming back to this hateful house a second time. She would not fail Felicity now. She needed to get her to safety in Canada, and nothing else mattered.

She turned and guided Felicity to the Jeep, looking back only once. Her sister stood stubbornly in the doorway, but for once, Dolores thought she detected sadness rather than anger flitting across her face.

When Felicity saw the soldiers, she stopped dead and refused to move. Dolores could feel her trembling. The Black soldier smiled and said, “Hello, Ma’am,” but Felicity just stood there, her chest heaving. “What’s wrong with her?” the Black soldier asked.

Dolores shook her head, both an expression of despair and a warning not to pry, and concentrated on shoving Felicity inside the Jeep. The white soldier came back from throwing the suitcases into the flatbed and asked to see their Canadian passports. Satisfied, he said,

“The plan is that we’ll get you to safe ground and onto a chopper to Barbados, and from there, your embassy will take over and fly you to Toronto and from there to wherever your home is.”

“Winnipeg,” Dolores said, the word a blessing on her tongue.

“What on earth are you still doing in this country?” the solider continued. “Everyone else evacuated days ago.”

“We didn’t have a phone,” Dolores explained. “How did you find us anyway?”

“Our men captured some enemy forces,” said the soldier, “and one of them said one of his colleagues who was killed had family from Canada up in – how do you say it – Vincennes.”

Arnold, Dolores realized. Even after death, Arnold had sent them help.

As the Jeep rattled down the hill, the white soldier said he was from Minnesota, which spurred a little conversation with Dolores about her best friend Rose whose parents were from Minnesota, and the Black one said he was from Alabama. After these pleasantries, everyone fell silent. Dolores watched the houses, stores, churches, nursing stations bump by, a series of small, wooden buildings, painted signs, and too often, signs of disrepair. She had tried to leave this place twice before, and yet she knew now that it would never leave her.

As they reached the highway into St. George’s, Dolores heard Felicity gasp. She followed her gaze. American soldiers in uniforms were on ladders, reaching up to the billboards as they stripped off the words “Black is Beautiful” and “Education is the future” and replaced them with “Drink Coco-cola” and “Nestle cares.” There were jeeps and tanks everywhere lining the side of the road, but few other vehicles. They passed through a checkpoint where a group of soldiers holding guns almost as long as themselves had a conversation with their driver before waving them through.

When they approached the capital, Dolores noted flashes of brightness from the hills ringing it, and realized that she was watching the fighting between Mark Henry’s troops and the United States. They were whisked to the rooftop of a bank, where a helicopter sat, its blades churning up gravel dust.

The soldiers got out and lifted their suitcases into the helicopter. Dolores pulled Felicity out of the Jeep behind Mara and Adele. The helicopter was so loud she had to shout her thank yous. Then another soldier jumped out of the helicopter, yelling “Hurry, hurry.” He guided the girls up the ladder into the helicopter. As their frightened faces disappeared, Dolores indicated with gestures that it would be very difficult to get Felicity into the chopper. That soldier ran over to a nearby Jeep and an enormous soldier, his red sunburned arms bulging, thicker than trees, approached and scooped Felicity into his arms in one quick movement. She thrashed silently like a fish as he ascended the ladder, Dolores following and pulling down Felicity’s skirt which had flipped up as he deposited her on the helicopter floor like a sack of rice.

“Welcome,” shouted a voice. “I’m Corporal Hanson. We’re going to try to avoid the heaviest fighting, so it may be a bit more complicated of a flight. Hold on!” He gave a signal to the pilot and the helicopter lifted. Dolores, Mara and Adele squatted on the metal floor and Felicity flopped back against a helicopter wall, her eyes black and vacant, endless pools of darkness sucking in more darkness. The chopper rose over the green forested hills of Grenada. From far above, Dolores saw dark figures scrambling around like erratic insects, saw more choppers hovering in the sky above them like malevolent birds, flashes going off periodically. The Grenadians were fighting back, resisting the Americans.

Her heart squeezed. Her final betrayal after so many others was to leave Grenada with the Americans, consigning her family to their eventual win, the crackdowns, the shortages, the grieving. She knew that Mark Henry’s regime had no right to exist, had seized power by killing another leader who had also come to power without a democratic process, and that it was good and right that the Americans should restore order, and yet, the thought of their boots stomping all over this tiny green island left her bereft. The helicopter zigzagged sharply to the left and the pilot yelled something to his companion. Dolores’ stomach lurched with sudden nausea, both at the darting movements of the helicopter and the realization that they could die – they could be shot down by either the Grenadian or the American forces. The girls were silent, their eyes fixed on the ground. Dolores made an effort to summon Jesus, and begged for protection as the helicopter lurched through the skies.

When they reached the coast, Dolores looked over at Felicity and saw that she was shuddering, even with her cardigan pulled tightly around her. Dolores saw some khakhi blankets lying in a corner of the helicopter and crawled over to get one, then scooted back to Felicity and wrapped it around her shoulders. Felicity hunched over as if she had a stomach ache, clutching the blanket to herself, her eyes still staring at horrors Dolores would not let herself contemplate. Looking down through the hole in the floor of the helicopter and swallowing her growing nausea, Dolores watched as Grenada disappeared, whirling quickly into oblivion so that all that lay below them was the churning sea.

About the Author

Zilla Jones

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I am a Black female writer who is determined to use my voice, and recent events have only increased that determination. I have been working on my novel The World So Wide off and on for many years through various trials and tribulations, and I finally finished the first draft during the Covid-19 lockdown. My novel is centred around a fictionalized version of real events in Grenada, a tiny island in the Caribbean: events which have resounded through my own life. It is about trauma; about remembering and forgetting, losing and finding oneself.