Authors: Nikki Woods
A car engine cut off and Toy's tail shot straight out, sniffing the air and barking in earnest, knowing good and well she wasn't gonna do anything should it be an intruder. I smoothed her slightly arched back reassuringly â thanking her for her loyalty.
A door slammed and a lilting high-pitched voice floated across the verandah into the front room. “Kiiiiiinnnnnggggston!” Bianca always managed to draw out my name and then end it on a sing-songy note. Too bad she was tone deaf.
I unfolded my legs, flung off my grandmother's afghan, and set the computer aside. I'd always felt a little inadequate next to Biancaâmy features considered a little too black, my hair a little too nappy. I checked my appearance in the hallway mirror, tucking a few stray strands of hair behind my ear and wiping some crud from the side of my mouth just as Bianca entered the house amidst a cloud of expensive perfume and stale ganja smoke.
“Bianca. It's so good to see you, sweetie,” I said and meant it. She was by far the most genuine person I knew; and I needed genuine right now.
She put her bag down and rushed to embrace me. Her body was warm, her hug comforting, and for the first time since my arrival, I felt somewhat at ease.
“How ya do?” she asked and spun me around with one hand. “Go on girl, witcha bad self.
You looking damn good. You must have given up the sweets.”
I struck a pose and we both dissolved into laughter. It didn't matter how long ago I lost my baby fat, family members still saw me as Mama Grace's chunky granddaughter.
“Had to. And I have to give up more and more every year to stay this way.”
Bianca frowned, her light brown eyes assessing me. “I hope you aren't doing anything crazyânot eating, throwing up, taking pills and everything! You know you Americans always take things to a whole ânother level.”
“You look good, too,” I responded, pulling her long ponytail. “And you've grown.” I poked her left breast and my finger hit a silicone wall. Bianca dissolved into laughter. Growing up, we would compare our bodies, standing naked in the bathroom, inspecting each other's newly acquired assets. We would dissect like physicians and evaluate like men. “When did you get these?”
Bianca cupped both of her breasts and squeezed them together. “Last year. My birthday present to myself. Well, actually, Daddy paid for them, but he doesn't know that yet. Remember when I went to New York? Well, shopping was only part of the reason. I came back with these and Daddy almost had a fit. He calmed down only after I told him some boyfriend had footed the bill.”
I nodded and smiled, imagining Uncle Lee's expressionâhis rugged face somber, his fists clenched, but anger controlled. A prime candidate for a stroke, absolutely nothing made Uncle Lee happy and absolutely everything pissed him off. Breast implants could only fall into the second category. It may be status quo in the United States, but was still a bit taboo to older Jamaicans. “You like?”
I nodded again. “What size cup are you now?”
“I went from a B cup to a perfect size D.”
In my nonprofessional opinion, I thought a D might be a conservative estimate. Double D was more like it. They looked to be quite a bit bigger than my generous C cup.
“Are you happy with them?”
She giggled and shimmied her shoulders like Marilyn Monroe. “Don't I look happy?”
“Perky is more like it.” I poked the right one this time. No give, no softness, no squeezability. The nipples popped out even through her shirt. Cuddling with Bianca could now be dangerous. Move the wrong way and you risked losing an eye. “You're not worried?”
“Worried about what?”
“Worried that your boobs could explode! Don't you watch TV? They just aired a special report on
detailing the monstrosities that happen when silicone leaks into your system.”
Bianca crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “Nah. You can't worry over every little thing. You know us women, anything to look good. Besides, I went to a really good doctor. He does a lot of models and movie stars in the states.”
When I realized that we were still standing in the doorway, I grabbed one of her bags. “ Let's put your stuff in the back room. Did you eat? There's not much in the ice box, but I'm sure I can scrape something together.”
“I'm not hungry, more thirsty than anything and I brought my own beverages. Let me change first, then we can catch up.”
As I picked up everything off the floor in the front room, I heard Bianca moving around and I imagined the room looked as if hit by a Saks Fifth Avenue tornado â clothes and shoes everywhere.
Bianca returned in a tank top and thong. Glasses clinked in her hand and she swung a bottle of wine. I spread a quilt in the middle of the floor.
“Oh, wait a minute!” I yelled and trotted back to my room. Bianca plopped down on the floor, already popping the cork.
I yanked my suitcases from underneath my bed and combed through the largest one until I found the stash of goodies I smuggled in from the states: potato chips, candy bars, pretzels, and cheddar-cheese popcorn. I swung by the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of hot sauce.
“All right.” I sat beside Bianca, stretching out on the quilt. I accepted a glass of white wine and laid my bounty between us. The glass was cool to my lips, the wine refreshing as I took a hefty swallow.
“Yeah, man!” Bianca broke open a bag of Frito Lay's and shook some hot sauce right in the bag. “Let the pig-out fest begin.”
Two glasses of wine later, I was so relaxed I could no longer tell the difference between the floor and my body. Bianca had shared way too much information about her horse farm and the horse-breeding process. I never knew how much was involved in artificially inseminating a horse. I didn't think it was the kind of knowledge that I would need anytime soon and the visual that I had now was not the most pleasant one. But to hear Bianca tell it, inseminating horses was the next best thing to playing God.
“I'm creating life!” She gestured with her hands, her brow wrinkled.”
It all sounded gross, but I had to give it to her, she seemed to know her stuff. Which was good because Bianca was known for never finishing anything she started.
I stuck a potato chip in my mouth, wiping the excess grease on my leg.
“What about the family?” I asked Bianca before she could start talking about horse sperm again.
“What do you mean, what about the family? What about them?” Her eyes narrowed and she freed her hair from the ponytail, mussing it with her hand.
“Anything new going on?”
“Nope. Them still crazy.” She flipped onto her stomach and picked a piece of lint off the blanket. I figured one more glass of wine was what she needed to loosen her tongue so I filled it
to the brim and watched her take a healthy swig before adding, “Even crazier now that they know about Mama Grace's letter.”
“You've heard about that already?”
“Who hasn't?” She shrugged. I waited, but Bianca wasn't giving up any information easily.
“I can't believe how nosey Aunt Bea is. I just found out about it, and it's my letter.”
Bianca finished her third glass of wine and poured a fourth. The first bottle of wine now bone dry, she bounced up and stumbled to the back, giggling stupidly when she stubbed her toe. “ Everyone's vexed!” she yelled. A few minutes later she reappeared, a fresh bottle of wine in her hand. Her brown eyes were foggy from wine, but she took in my hurt expression. “Oh really Kingston, you can't possibly be surprised? You had to know they would be pissed off! Has anyone stopped by to pay their condolences? Don't families usually band together during a time like this? They're not here because they feel that they've been cheated out of something. But mark my words, they'll be at the funeral, showing a good face to the public â all done up in their mourning black, playing the role of the bereaved and they'll definitely be here for the reading of the will. You better believe that! But I'll be damned if they're going to support you in private.”
Eyes shimmering with passion, Bianca took a deep breath and her words slowed. “All of Mama Grace's children have a million and one reasons why she should have picked them to distribute her estate, even though none of them are qualified, not even Mommy. She's sloshed ninety-eight percent of the time, but still thinks she's capable of handling her mother's business affairs. And why would she pick Uncle Paul? He wasn't even talking to her when she died. He didn't visit her while she was sick. He may not even come to the funeral.
“Nobody took care of Mama Grace like they should have, not even me. And now everyone is standing around with their hands out, mad because Mama Grace saw right through them. It would serve all of them right if she did leave everything to you. They don't deserve a thing.” Silent tears dripped down Bianca's face.
I pushed a stray piece of hair from her wet cheek. “Is that what they think, Bianca? That Mama Grace left everything to me? It's not true! I'm just the executor of her estate. I just make sure her wishes are carried out. That's all! None of us will know what the deal is until after the funeral.”
“Even if she did leave everything to you,” she began again and when I started to object, she raised her hand to stop me. “Even if she did leave everything to you, it would be right. For
whatever reason, Mama Grace ended up with a messed-up bunch of spoiled children and grandchildren. Most of us are idiots and the rest are damn fools. But not you, Kingston, and certainly not your mother. You two were the sparkle in Mama Grace's eyes. She was too kindhearted, her spirit too gentle to ever say something like that. But then, she really didn't have to. We all knew and it still didn't change the way we acted.” She sniffed and raked her arm under her nose, leaving a trail of snot that I dabbed at with a greasy napkin.
“Kingston,” she continued, her voice now small. “I live two hours away and I only saw her one time while she was sick. Rumor has it that some neighbor down the street cared more for her than her own children.” Bianca was sobbing now, and with her thin shoulders shaking, she looked so small. Her hair fell forward creating a veil around her face. She paused, wrapping her arms around her middle, trying to collect herself. “How many grandchildren does she have? Why are we the only two here? Where are her sisters? Mama Grace never did nothing but good to all of us.”
I took her in my arms. My tears mixed with hers and I tasted the saltiness of them as we consoled each other.
“Shhhhh!” I rocked her back and forth, her whole body shook with the force of her pain. “ It's okay, Bianca. We do the best we can at any given moment. Mama Grace knows that.”
Suddenly, the sorrow turned to rage and Bianca rolled her eyes upward before looking square into mine. “That's bull and you know it. Letting down the ones that love you when they
need you the most is not the best you can do. I should have been here, Bumble Bee.” She hadn't called me by my nickname since we were little and she refused to call me Kingston because according to a five-year-old Bianca, no one is named after a city.
Guilt could be cruel and as much as I wanted to alleviate Bianca's anguish, it was not for me to do. I agreed with everything she said; but not wanting to add to Bianca's pain, I kept my thoughts to myself. Besides, I had my own pile of grief and regret to deal with. She should have been here. We all should have. I could have visited more, or made sure she had someone there at all times. Mama Grace deserved better than a bunch of no-good insensitive children and grandchildren. And regardless of what anyone else may think, I felt as if I had earned a spot in that group, too.
Americans flocked in droves to psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and as a free last resortâtalk showsâto share their problems with strangers across the world. But as dysfunctional as my family was, in Jamaica you didn't talk about such issues. To my family, if you didn't talk about it, well then, it did not exist.
My arms started to feel numb; Bianca had fallen asleep and was fast becoming dead weight. I jostled her and she stirred briefly before her head rolled back down. I laid her gently on the quilt, careful to avoid the debris of chips and popcorn.
The wine was causing an enormous amount of pressure on my bladder and I dashed to the bathroom, narrowly missing Mama Grace's china cabinet.
When I returned, Bianca was sitting up, shoving popcorn into her mouth, scavenged from what was spread out on the quilt. There were little pieces of lint clinging to a few of the kernels.
I laughed and sat opposite her, legs crossed Indian style. Music blasted from a house down the street, horns and loud voices competed with the dance hall beats. “Your drunk up!”
“Not me. I can drink a lot more than this.” A hiccup punctuated her statement.
“I can see that.” I laughed and tussled her already-messed-up hair, feeling an overwhelming sense of tenderness for Bianca. “All right, now tell me the gossip in your life. A new boyfriend, perhaps?”
Bianca tried for another sip of wine and came close to hitting her nose. She frowned. “ Please, my horses are getting more action than me and I am not too sure that I care anymore.”
I wrinkled my nose. “How can you not care? Aren't there times when you just need some?”
“I was lying when I said I didn't care, okay? I care and of course there are times when I just need some. But when you start to think on all the trouble that goes along with it, it's not worth it. And then when you do find a man that has things right in his life, he's lacking elsewhere if you know what I mean.” She started putting the crumbs in a neat pile on one corner of the blanket.
“Wow! That's a terrible campaign slogan for a Jamaican Man.”
“Is it different in the states?” she asked pointedly; and that shut me up. “Check it out,Kingston. When a man first looks at a woman, he has enough niceness and lyrics and promises to give her the world.” Lazily, she slipped back into the island slang of patois. “No amount of âme love is deepa dan the deepest sea and higha dan the airplane can fly' and he means every word.