Sweetmouth from Issue 94
My son—my only-born child—he the rake of the island. Rake an old word for a low kind of dog with a big eye for the ladies. And rake also a thing with teeth that tear at the ground under your feet.
We live on one of the small islands. Not on one of the tourist wallows with big palm trees and fat hotels and jewelry made from shells. No gentriman with dollars or euros come stay here, so we pass the time mixing in each other’s business. We trade in secrets.
My son—I call him Rake though you know that not the name his dadi and I set on him at baptism—he sow his seed across the island but deny the fruit that should tote his name. The sower, not the reaper. That how I come to be a granny—boku times—with no grandchicks to hold or scold.
Some of my little ones, they raised by the someday husbands and the sometime boyfriends of the ladies my son steal away with the power of his wicked tongue and slippery hands. Or may could be his slippery tongue and wicked hands. They say he filled with sweetmouth and can talk a lady into any damn thing. Some of my grandbabies raised by their grannies on their mamas’ side. Some run loose. None run to me.
The lady at the bait shop, she tell me the wild girl who live in bushes and live on scraps my granddaughter. Her words make a fist inside my stomach. We have an island law: you do me, I do you. So I tell her how her husband visit a lady down the road when he supposed to be driving his taxicab, and the fist in my stomach shrink to a finger. The bait shop lady say she don’t believe me cause her man come home with taxi money jingling in his pockets. I say his visits so tickle the lady down the road she tell him to keep his meter running and she pay for the pleasure. So the lady at the bait shop believe me. And I believe her.
For a month, I try to bring the wild titi in to live with me, but she run off. I think, Okay, I introduce myself: Your granny here. At last. But then I think, This give her Rake for a father. No girl need that. So time, it creep past my window, carrying this titi back and forth, always dirty, sometimes hurt, maybe lonesome. I put out bowls of food for her, like a stray cat.
One day the lady in the washhouse tell me Rake a sick man, sure to die. I go see him.
He lie there on the bed, looking through the ceiling up at heaven. He tell me he clean now. No more ladies, no more rum. He leaving all that rough business behind. I think about the wild girl he leave behind.
He talk some about God who love him just the same as if he always clean. I try to think how come he make friends with God after a whole life of God damn this and God damn that.
I think how from the time he old enough to talk, he talk back. From the time he big enough to help his dadi, he help him to an early grave. Can’t say for God, but I know my man don’t look for no Rake to come tearing up the clouds in heaven.
So I speak to him in my granny voice, half song, half story. I sing him the secrets of the island—what man touching the privates of the lady that always his favorite one, what man sleep in the bed he sleep in last week, who laugh, who dance, who drink rum and cola, who drink beer.
Soft as dreaming I whisper, Listen close. That buzz-buzz noise not mosquitoes looking for a drink, not bees in the flowers, not flies on warm slops. That the island talking to itself, the womens wondering which one gone and put poison in your cup, the mens laughing and taking bets for which day you die, and your childrens just carrying on as though you never live at all.
His eyes fall to the floor. They can’t get up.
I say, You suffering yet?