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Stabroek News

Literary Arts - Vicky
published: Sunday | April 29, 2007

Karlene Morgan, Contributor

'You should take a vacation, you look really strung out.' Vicky throws her bag on to the nearest chair and slips into the one across from me. She is late as usual. She sweeps the caf with a long glance, picking out the people she knows: people who, like herself, wear their nails long and dripping red. She wiggles her fingers at some and her lips curl slightly as she accepts the open admiration of the men she doesn't yet know. In a corner, a fat woman in a bandana is reading tea leaves. Two girls giggle at her predictions. Maybe when this is over, I'll have my own future read.

I am indeed strung out, but I expect that to change in a matter of minutes. As if reading my thoughts, Vicky reaches into her bag, fishes out an official-looking envelope and places it to one side of the table. 'Are you ready for this?' She asks, imitating the tagline of a popular radio disc jockey.

'Bring it on sister,' I respond, hoping my voice sounds light and airy.

'Do you think Vicky is pretty?'

I waited for my brother to answer; I was 14. I watched him closely and could almost see his brain scanning every aspect of her face: the overly thick lips, the copper-coloured skin, the fiercely copper-coloured hair. His jaw slackened in discovery. 'God, no!' And then, with a sheepish grin: 'But man, is she smoky!'

I cut my eyes at him. Vicky was, after all, our cousin.

Everyone told me I was the cute one. But cute didn't seem to matter when Vicky came into the room. Maybe it was a kind of recklessness about her that left people both exasperated and awed. One Saturday night, a group of us teenagers managed to get through to a popular radio quiz show. 'Win up to twenny dollars', the host twanged. 'Answer the bonus question and take double or nothing.'

'You take the questions, we'll back you up,' my brother said.

Twenty dollars was a fine sum. With such money, we, all six of us, could go to the movies, buy snacks and have change for taxi fare. As I answered the final question, everyone let out a whoop. Then came the usual, 'Will you taaake a shot at the double?'

'Yes!' Vicky shouted into the phone.

The room fell into a stunned silence. The bonus question stumped us. When it was over, Vicky shrugged. 'Well, at least we had fun.'

In time, when someone in our group did something we thought incredibly reckless, flamboyant or selfish, we dismissed him or her as having had 'a Vicky moment'. We mostly forgave her because she had had a rough time, what with Uncle Claude, her father, getting every helper who ever worked in their house pregnant, and Aunt Selma running off to live with a man who operated the water sports centre where they vacationed every year. We forgave her most things. But it was impossible to forgive her for Paul.

I fell in love with Paul the first day I saw him. We were after the same book in the library. It was the last copy and there was a verbal tug-of-war.

'You can have it.'

'It's OK. I don't mind.'

'You reached for it first.'

It would have gone on forever but he pressed the book into my hands and made me promise to give it back to him in exactly one week. He had long fingers and a slow, gap-toothed smile.

I had been a little afraid of the boys I met on campus. They seemed overheated - all coiled up and ready to spring. Paul was different. We sort of eased into each other. We cut classes, went to free concerts in the nearby park, spent long, lazy hours in the botanical gardens reading poetry. He laughed at my struggles with Middle English.

'Hey, there are guys writing about us, ordinary West Indians, and you're reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?'

I told him I wanted to remain a virgin until I was married. He was quiet for a long time, then said: 'You're serious, aren't you?'

Then one evening Vicky dropped in on my dorm for a visit. At the time, she was somewhere between a shack in Negril where she had been smoking her brains out, and a job as playmaker at a north coast hotel. I watched Paul's face assume the same dazed look I had seen on just about every man's face when he met Vicky. We played Scrabble and, though I won, I could just as easily not have been there.

That night I gave myself to Paul. When he left I cried. Everything about my first coupling had had the taste and smell of goodbye.

She didn't deserve him - this warm, wonderful, funny man who read poems and knew words for every thought, feeling or state. He didn't deserve her - a girl who background-checked all her men and only bothered with those who had money.

'Girl, the man's fine and his Daddy's got stuff.'

She frequented the campus now. Her hemlines got a little longer - just. Her breasts didn't seem so ready to pop out of her blouse anymore, though there was always a hint they might reconsider. She even talked of registering the next year. But Vicky was Vicky. She couldn't resist a flirt, even with the men behind the counter in the cafeteria. I knew her experiment with Paul wouldn't last. I was prepared to wait.

'Watch my girl for me.'

We all laughed. Paul was off on a four-month research stint in England. I promised I would watch her, and I did. Was it Scratcher or Noisesome or Wonderloo? I was never sure which of the men who lounged on the corridors of the men's block was the target of her attention. Maybe it was all of them. In the month before Paul returned, though she had got a job as assistant to somebody on campus, she spent an extraordinary amount of time hanging out with the men.

Then Paul was back, Vicky was pregnant, and he, the fool, was ecstatic. I turned down their invitation to shop for baby things and, just before the baby was due, I told him.

'Why now?'

'I really didn't want to say anything, but I couldn't let you go on.'

He sat on the edge of my bed, shoulders slumped, staring at the floor. I waited for a long time and, when he said nothing, I kneeled before him and raised my arms. He stiffened and I felt something warm plop on my face before he rose and let himself out.

I wasn't even aware that Vicky had gone to stay at our house until Mama called to tell me about the DNA test.

'Why man so wicked, eeh? Fool with the girl and now want to say the baby isn't his. You should see how the poor girl cut up.'

She don't see cut up yet, I thought.

'So, how's Christalee?' I ask.

Vicky has ordered one of those vodka drinks she always takes. I am having tea.

'She's with Momma, though God knows that woman shouldn't be allowed to screw up two children.'

The tea leaf reader is now dealing cards, laying them out according to some mystic inspiration. The squealing girls gather up their things and leave, and the woman looks lazily around the room, hoping for another customer.

'Well, are you going to open it?' I tilt my chin in the direction of the envelope.

'Why the hell not? You know me, always ready for a flutter.'

I watch fascinated as pointed red nails ease the envelope open. The DNA report which will establish once and for all if Paul is Christalee's father seems to emerge in slow motion.

'Well, that's that.'

She shoves it towards me. I look at it, then look again, trying to descipher the meaning of what's written there. She is squeezing the juice from a sliver of orange into her vodka and stirring, just a little too vigorously, I think. My brain won't give me the right words, but I must make one last try.

'Did you ever think the baby wouldn't be his?'


For a moment her make-up seems to crack and my mind goes reeling back to another morning, light years before, when Vicky had cracked. It had rained heavily the night before. Next morning, we discovered our dog had delivered during the night. She had made a vain effort to save the newborn pups but all had perished. Vicky had been inconsolable. For a moment her face has the same screwy look it did that morning, but it is gone as quickly as it came.

'Well, I'm on my way. Thanks for the sister support and all that.' She drains her glass, leans over and touches my cheek lightly.

'So what will you do now?'

'Now?' Her laugh is hard, metallic. 'Now I will eff him for every cent he and his rich daddy ever made.'

She is gone in a whirl of perfume.

The tea leaf reader has a new customer. I can't find the strength to signal the waiter for his cheque.


- Karlene Morgan

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