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You Rockerchair
Why my mother don’t like me?
     I ask Ansin, my grandmother. I say, How it is my mother never did like me?
     She steups. Kiss she teeth. And smooth-out that news she was reading in. Raise it up again to give it a little flip. At the top. And you could feel the vexness in that flip too.
     I say, Is cause I ent got no father?
     I did reach to six years then. Six going pon seven. That evening whilst I was lying pon the flooring in the parlour-room reading my school lessons, pillow tuck-up under my chin, my first primer for my homework. Daf-fo-dils de-light in spring—Mr Wordsworth’s daffodils. And Ansin sitting pon the settee reading in she news. Dusk descending pon we fast now but we didn’t want to light the pitchoil-lamp. Not as yet. Call them mosquitos—sandflies arrive in dusk, swarm in dusk. Cause we didn’t have none of Mr Wordsworth’s daffodils—nor we didn’t have no spring for them flowers to weep happy over neither—but we sure had sandflies to wake the dead.
     I raise my chin from out my primer, ask again, Why my mother don’t like me? She can’t even look me in my face. Is cause I ent got no father?
     Ansin say, You mother got one child and that’s she boy. You know good as me.
     I say—But he ent living neither. He dead. Selwing dead-der-than-doornails!
     Ansin push a next steups at that. For me say he name. Speak it aloud. And vexface with me. Vexness jump from them news leafs to overtake in she face. Make me to feel geegeeree—to deal with she now.
     But I follow-through. I forbear against my geegeeree.
     I say, He dead already but I is—I is! I living good very good and only innocent little child so why she—why my mother can’t look for me? How a mother bound to look for she child? Bound-and-blige.
     I say, What I do to warrant that? innocent child like I is?
     I say, Is cause I ent got no father?
     Ansin say, Why you always studying you head pon that? And agitating?
     She say, You go give youself a serious palsy agitating like that. Always beating pon the same blasted drum. Grate pon a person’s nerves! Cause got some things in this world make for change, and some don’t.
     And that is just one.

I was going at the Primary four months already. Something so. Got my nuniform press-out nice—well Ansin press it out nice for me. Cause that iron heavy. Soot-up all you clothes if you ent watchful for it. When that plank-iron come off the fire. Soot-up all underneath. My navy skirt with pleats that my Uncle Sims sew out for me special. In he tailoring-shop. Nice white school-shirt. Take my measurements standing up top the Bay Rum barrel. And Uncle Sims mark-out that navy broadcloth with a little slice of white soap, and cut and sew special for me. Soft white cotton for my school-shirt.
     White soap for navy, rose-colour soap for white. Little slice.
     And I did want my shirt to be always tuck inside. Nice and neat. Two nuniforms. Wash-and-wear. That one could wash whilst the next could wear. And I beg Ansin to press it out every evening cause I did want my nuniform to always be looking fresh. Pleats twirling round in my skirt. When you wind you waist little bit to twirl them round! Give you hips a little motiont, and give them pleats some motiont too. White ribbons tie in bowties for Ansin to finish out my braids. Match my school-shirt. Six little white butterflies fluttering round my head when I walk to school. My crepe-sole shoes and my tall white socks. School books and pencils and spare papers I got keeping in my satchel. My tan gift to me. Despite that it was still a little bit big, for me to carry pon my narrow young-girl back, but I don’t bother. I don’t mind. Cause she don’t use it no more—my Tantee K—she graduate from the Admentery long time, so she could find a work in casheerings now. Cause she head very good with maths. Work behind the counter in the dry goods store, HiLo in town, or Chesterson & Co Imports & Ex down by the wharfs. Wherever she could find a piece of work. She headtie print in stars-and-stripes that come like she nuniform for she casheerings.
     Make she to look professional, she say. She special head-tie.
     Me in my nuniform and my satchel to look professional for my Primary too.

I don’t know who tell me bout he.
     I just—I did had this feeling. You know, sneak up from behind when you ent looking for it. Like slippery like. Giddy. Like that ground did slipping-way from under my feet. And I couldn’t grip it proper. My feet in my little crepe-sole shoes and my tall white socks.
     He wasn’t living in Sherman by we. But he house wasn’t so far neither. Turn by Crossroads walk up the hill and back down again bout a mile. Direction of where the wharfs is. Further long by there. Cause if you walk a couple miles more, past he house, you would reach by seaside. He was living in Station. Well I don’t know if it call so in truth—if that name did write-out official pon them govment survey maps—but we call it so anyway.
     Cause got the big canes-crushing machine keeping there. Hide-up inside the tall warehouse. Cement-block siding, pour-cement flooring, cement-slab roof—everything the same dead fishbelly-colour—not a lick of paint. Like something leave behind unfinish. Despite that warehouse was there so many years already, long before I reach inside the picture to know it.
     Well scarcely nobody never see that machine, but everybody know it there. Cause you could hear it grinding-way—clatter-clatter-clatter—whilst that machine working all in the day and all in the night. Never pause to take a breath. Never catch a break less it buss.
     Boiler-room there with five tall cauldrons line-up to boil the juice in. How I could say is five? And not three or four or six? Well I don’t know but everybody know is five. Boiling up the juice and boiling it back down. Smell of molasses-bottom. Like when you make a fricassee chicken, number one step for you to cook a fricassee chicken. Same smell. Same heavy black molasses-smoke rising off the pan, out the stack. Wholetime. Where all the canes go in pon this side—off-load from donkeycarts and pushcarts and kick-a-shaw pullcarts—every kinda cart that you could think up to tote canes with, and come out in barrels pon the next side. Wood barrels. Full-up with juice. With those barrels loaded onto lorries to carry down to the freighters waiting by the wharfs. Ferry them way to the rum distilleries.
     Angostura. Fernandes. Mount Gay.
     How those barrels stamp.
     Golden Ages Bay Rum.
     Only got a few houses by Station, build for them machine-workers to live in. Unna could suppose? But he didn’t have nothing to do with that machine. Nor canes neither. He house was up by there, but he didn’t have one damn to do with canes. He was a notch higher up—above canes—he was a joiner. Name of Widston. Uses to make furnitures. And got he joinery-shop to make the furnitures in back behind the house.
     How I could know? How I could learn that?
     Well I just couldn’t say. Maybe I hear he name mention by some person? Ansin or my tan or some neighbour? Somebody drop a mention of he, in the passing like, and I just latch-on. And that name just stick. Lodge itself inside my young-girl brain.
     Onliest thing I could tell you is one Wednesday morning when I was walking to school—my nuniform and books-satchel carrying pon my back, butterfly-bowties bouncing round my head, same as every, same as always—but this time I just pass it straight. My Primary. Like out a dream. Like dream-walking. Cause I didn’t even know where I did going. Just follow my feet. My white crepe-sole shoes and my white socks walking cross the black tarmat.
     Just keep to going straight, and turn left at Crossroads, and keep walking up the hill—reach to that lookout side the road where you could stop and peer down over the sea sparkling so blue below—and you could catch a fresh-cool. Despite that you hotting-up still. You could catch a splash of mind-cool, how I call it, only to peer down over that sparkling sea so far below. You could catch a few breaths of mind-cool, turn again and keep to walking down the hill, and walk straight by Station. At he house. He shop behind the tall zinc-chain fence, barbs turning overtop, treacherous barbs.
     Behind where he had he joinery-shop at.
     But that shop wasn’t nothing more than piece-a-roof. Tall galvanize roof, open air like calypso-tent, hard dirt floor below and no walls to it. Big wide workbench park-up right in the middle, all the tools line-up underneath, hook-up below. Hammers with rubber heads and wood heads and iron heads. Different sizes of augers and raspers and rulers and planers and vice-grips. Different sizes of saws and sizes of clamps. All hook-up underneath. Lined up big-to-small.
     But that wasn’t even the bestest part. Of this joinery-shop.
     Bestest part is all the furnitures!
     Hanging from that tall galvanize piece-a-roof. All round. Hanging down from the wood beams, different furnitures hanging from different ropes with hooks. Same as the tools line-up underneath—but these furnitures were hanging overhead! Standing up stiff in the air. Not moving a pinch. Still as Scarlet Ibis corner-a-crab.
     Till a soft seabreeze sweep through. Start all them furnitures to sway. Little bit at first, and then some more, and more again.
     And now them furnitures take-off flying!
     All together, swinging this way and swinging that way. Big chairs and little chairs and chairs with sidearms and chairs that ent got no sidearms. Stools tall and short and middle-scale. Picnic tables and picnic benches. Dining-at tables hook-up by one leg. Short three-legged bedside-tables and taller buffet-tables make with four. School-desks. School-bookshelfs. Little horse make for little children to ride pon. Little wood car for them to drive in. And little coffinbox for little children to dead in too. Big coffinbox for big people. Step-ladders. Walking-canes. Billiard-pikes. Crutches for people to walk pon with mash-up feet. Boottoos to beat a fish’s head—beat a tief’s head in too. Boottoos for police to wear and criminals to carry and fraid-people to hide-up under the beds. Banister-rails. Flag- posts. Cricket-bats. Baseball-mallets. Pair of shoes—wood shoes!—that I never see no kinda shoes like that in my life.
     I wasn’t so tall neither. But I had to snake a path through just the same. Amongst all them flying furnitures. When the seabreeze sweep through—soon as I arrive!—like if that seabreeze had it planned. Cause soon as I could step-foot in this joinery-shop seabreeze appear. My feet shuffling this way and my head ducking that way. To snake a path through. Arrive at he big workbench park-up in the middle.
     Before he. Cross from he.
     He was wearing a white overalls, pants roll by he ankles. No shoes nor shirt wearing under he overalls neither, nor marino-vest-shirt. He was bareback—shoulder muscles showing through—perspiration shining cross he broad back. He strong arms. Overalls the opposite kinda bright—cause they were sucking-in all the light. Eat-up that sunlight quicker than Frosted Flakes! Don’t spit it back. So bright them overalls could startle you eyes to look pon. The first. After you snake through. You eyes blinking and peering through the sideways-filtering light. Reflecting off those furnitures swaying all round.
     Overalls without a blemish to them—not a one!—not one drop of glue nor paint nor varnish. Not a mark of woods-rub to blemish the brightness. Strauss & Co in stitch-writing cross he double-breasted front-pocket. Bib-and-Brace below. Stitch-thread a fire-engine-red colour against the white.
     He was busy making a furniture-piece when I reach.
     But I couldn’t tell you what. Only sections of smooth-sanded wood in different shapes and different sizes, line-up cross he benchtop. Twelve to fifteen pieces, something so, cause I never pause to count them out. I was too busy taking everything in to pause and count them pieces out.
     Take up a furniture-piece and work it little bit with he planer. Wood-curls turning off the end. Turning off the finish-line of each long smooth stroke. Soft corkscrew-curls. Floating down and mingling gentle round he bare feet. He toes. Soft and pleasant to watch at. How them wood-curls fall through the air in different living corkscrews. If you watch close. You study good. How them corkscrew-curls twirl and whirl theyself through the air! How they enjoying the sunlight!
     Put the planer down and rest that furniture-piece down. Take up a next piece to work with he rasper, or auger, or hammer-chisel or some other kinda tools. Shape it or smooth it or notch it out. Bore in a hole. Scrape out a groove. Put that furniture-piece down and move on to a next piece and come back to the first piece to work some more.
     Auger. Rasper. Chisel. Plane.
     Auger. Rasper. Chisel. Plane.
     And pinkie-nail!
     Cause he had a next tool again, one last tool to name and that was he grown-out pinkie-nail. Of he right hand. Cause that pinkie-nail make special to dig wood-grains out a groove. Scoop wood-dust out a bore. Scrape stray glue-pearls squeezing out a joint.
     All like that.
     Whole morning long. He doing he woodworking—morning into midday into afternoon—and me just standing there. Watching up at he. Not moving a pinch.
     He wasn’t saying nothing nor I wasn’t saying nothing neither. Neither one. He wasn’t scarcely paying me a mind! Just leave me to standing there gazing up at he.
     Sometimes he play he radio. Music-hour. Not no talk-show—politricks!—cause soon as talk-show start he shut it down. He like music-hour. Whistle out a tune. Calypso song that I could place sometimes. Reggie. Pop. Hillbilly. R&B—he favourite! How he whistle and clap he thigh for R&B! Till music-hour finish. And shut he radio down so you could hear the rasper rasping again. Planer planing. Moving soft and slow and methodical over the white wood.
     Hear it sweeter now. Like that music jump-ship from out that radio and splash inside the planer—du-dum du-dum du-dum. One-drop reggae bass-rhythm. Soca rasping out from he rasper zim-zee-zim-zim. Four beats on the floor. Saw singing out a slow lock-jaw Hillbilly saw-saw-saw.
     And you could smell that wood working fresh too. A white kinda smell. Clean. To match he overalls. Cause if the colour white could have a scent it would be like that.
     Take a break to drink a mauby.
     Cause he had he crate of half-size bottles there. Pale green used Coca-Cola glassbottles. Refilled with mauby and recapped in Matouks. Stamped pon the crate-side and stamped pon the bottle-caps—butter-yellow letters over peanut-brown. Never mind that mauby blacker than Cocoa-Cola. Never mind those bottles remain press-out in Coca-Cola still. Inside the glass. Under the bottle-skin. Cause they turn in Matouks now.
     Take up a bottle and wipe off the wood-dust with a piece of soft cloth. Flip the cap with he churchkey. Jingle-jingle. When he pull he keyring from he side-pocket. Flip the cap. Push he keyring back down.
     But not so fast! Not so quick as that! To tell bout he!
     Cause he don’t flip he mauby-cap just so. Not he. He do it with a style. Slow and purposeful and full-up with style—how that churchkey hold in he long fingers, how he flip and how he pour it out after. Pinkie-nail curling overtop. Like if the whole world bound to stop and hold-up they breath only to watch at he mauby-cap flip. He mauby-bottle pour. Tilting up and tilting down—slow, templetive, full-up with style—pale-green bottle holding in he narrow fingers, soft clear finger-pads pressing against the green glass. Mauby blacker than the devil’s backside pon the other side.
     Cause he mauby-drinking got a style to it too.
     He don’t take he mauby out the bottle. Not like everybody else. Not he! He pour it out. In a clear drinking-glass. That he could see. Slow and purposeful each time he take up he drinking-glass—each templetive step, each careful manoeuvre, each sip—and you could see that pleasure showing in he face.
     Make you want to drink some too! Despite that you know better—Drink a mauby? little child?—you know better than that! You smarter than that already!
     Turn you mouth to waters still. Only to watch up in he face so full-up with pleasure whilst he drinking he mauby.
     Style-up for heself.
     Unna could only suppose? Unna could only imagine? Cause I was near invisible to he. Standing there before he big bench looking up. Whilst he drinking he mauby. Whilst he working he wood.

Next day same thing.
     Pass that schoolyard straight. Dream-walking again. Pass Crossroads and up and down and go past Station direct to he joinery-shop behind the house. And still I couldn’t say what is the furniture-piece he was making. He had a few parts glued now, clamp-up together and setting overnight. White glue squeezing out the joints in little beads. Little pearls. But still I couldn’t say what.
     Just watching up at he working the whole morning long, past mauby-time, into afternoon. More clamps and more vice-grips and more glue-pearls squeezing out the joints. When he tight he vice-grips down. Whilst that glue was setting-up.
     And still I couldn’t say.
     But then all-a-sudden I could—I could!
     Open my mouth for the first time. Since I arrive in this joinery-shop.
     Is a rockerchair! I say. A little rockerchair make for little children to ride in!
     He smile. Look down over he workbench and smile, put he clamp down slow and look down at me and smile. Like he did seeing me now. First time since I arrive in this joinery-shop two days before—three!—three days already cause this Friday now. Wednesday-to-Friday is three days.
     He smile, and wrinkle he corner-eye at me.
     He say, Make for you.
     I hold-up my breath a sec.
     I say—Wha?
     He wrinkle he corner-eye back down at me again, say again—This rockerchair make special for you. Inscribe with you name.
     He say—This rockerchair got you name etch-out inside the wood! For you to know.
     But still I pause.
     I say slow, quiet—What is my name?
     He steups. And frown he face down at me.
     He say, Bee!
     He say, Bee is you hername. B-E-E mark right here pon this side rail!
     And touch the three letters tap-tap-tap with he pinkie-nail.
     I say, Cause you is my father?
     He take up he rasper and rest it down slow again. Look down pon me again.
     He say, Yes.
     He say, I is you father.
     And that’s how I come to know he. Easy as that.
     My father.

Now he take up the varnish-tin. Jimmy off the lid with two twists of he wrist holding a flatnose screwdriver. And dip he rag-corner in. Rub that white smooth-sanded wood to a nice ginger-brown. Rub it in and rub it back out. Piece-by-piece. Part-by-part. Start up to top by the chair-back, rub down long the sidearms, finish down to bottom by those rocker-rails.
     Rub it in and rub it back out. Nice-and-slow. Nice ginger-brown.
     Smell like pitch-oil! That varnish—harsh pitch-oil scent, the first—but then it grow softer. Grow smoother. Grow more to nice.
     Flip the chair and varnish the undersides of them rocker-rails too. Make my B-E-E to stand out the brighter.
     Flip back again and clear-way he benchtop of loose tools. Sweep it clean of wood-curls, wood-dust, wood-smites. And set that little rockerchair down in the centre of he benchtop. And give a little shove. Watch at how it rocking back-and-forth. Gliding up-and- down. Smooth-and-clean. Click-click. In the balance. Shove again and watch again.
     And look down pon me again. Over he wide workbench. Smile he corner-eyes down pon me again.
     He say, You would take a mauby with me before you go home?
     But I couldn’t answer he! Just stand there in the silent with my breath catching in my throat.
     He say, You reach a big-girl now. So you could share a mauby with me before you go-long. Whilst this varnish setting-up.
     But still I couldn’t answer he. Cause I was confused. Cause he only ever take one.
     One bottle. One cap. One drinking-glass.
     And too besides little children don’t be drinking no mauby! Mauby ent no kinda drink make for little children to drink!
     Everybody know that.
     But he flip the cap still and share out in two glasses for we.
     He say, You reach a big-girl now. So you share a mauby with me. Father-daughter.
     But still I wasn’t hearing he cause now I was watching at my glass foaming. My clear drinking-glass with that pitch-black mauby foaming-up inside. When I raise-up my glass to my nose to take a sniff.
     Oh my Jesus this thing did smell so bad! Like toejam. Like Uncle Rucus feet when he take-out he rubberboots. He cornfull toes with toejam.
     I could smell that terrible smell up to today. Up to right now. I could taste the taste!
     Cause mauby taste worster than mauby smell. If such a thing could even be possible? Mauby taste bitter and sweet together. Over-sweet. Over-bitter. Overboard syrupy-sick sweet.
     And bitter bitter bitter. Gall out the Bible.
     When I sip.
     I couldn’t drink it not a-tall but I drink it still. Pinch my nostrils closed and drink it down. Right to that clear drinking-glass bottom. Fast. Cause I couldn’t find no other way. Just drink it down fast like that. Fast as I could go.
     In one. Most in one.
     Cause Widston didn’t even make a start on he own yet. He mauby-share. When I already drink down mines.
     He say—Not so hurry, Bee!
     He say, Mauby ent supposed to drink like that! fast like that! hurry-hurry-run-for-curry like that!
     But I couldn’t hear he cause I was dizzy. Giddy. Ground slipping-way under my feet. My crepe-sole shoes and my tall white socks. Everything spinning. When I rest my empty glass back down pon he benchtop—and I turn and I run. But I couldn’t run neither! I couldn’t move my feet good cause I was dizzy. And francing seabreeze come sweeping through right at the same moment! To send all the furnitures swaying again. Cause every which way I turn is a next furniture-piece swooping down pon me! flying straight in my face!
     Table. Chair. Ladder. Boottoo.
     Cane. Desk. Stool. Horse. Car.
     I turn and run and turn and run but I couldn’t run. I couldn’t get nowhere. Turn in circles. Run in zig-zags. Till somehow I find my way to that tall zinc-chain fence—barbs turning overtop, treacherous barbs!—my moist little hands grasping at those cold zinc-chain links. And all that mauby come-up. Pon my white shirt. Come back up as black. Mauby-black. My navy school-skirt with pleats. My tall white socks and white crepe-sole shoes. Come-up foaming out from my mouth, black foam, from my nose, and I was crying.
     Cause I hate he! This Widston. So much of hatred bearing I couldn’t even see he through my tears. My rage. When I stumble back to he workbench, my books-satchel sitting below still, he standing above and frowning down.
     I take up my books-satchel and I turn.
     To go. Home.
     He say, Wait!
     But I was walking. I was a busting-a-stride already cause I just want to get-way. Far from he. Far as I could go.
     He say again—Wait!
     He say, You ent carrying you rockerchair with you? Bee?
     You leaving without you rockerchair?

Robert Antoni’s books include As Flies to Whatless BoysDivina Trace, Blessed Is the Fruit, My Grandmother’s Erotic Folktales, and Carnival. Equal parts Trinidadian, Bahamian, and US citizen, Antoni is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Commonwealth Writers Prize, and NEA grant.