Arts & Culture / Convergence / Vol. 2 No. 1-2

Not Even Anywhere Place

Felandus Thames, Hottentot Marilyn

Image Credit: Felandus Thames, Hottentot Marilyn, 48″ x 48″ x 3″, Acrylic, enamel and oil on canvas over panel, 2009 – 2017

               Jericho first met Jablesse where all gay men meet–behind the parish church, in the shadows cast by thorned silk-cotton trees, until the shadows are layered, and thickest. When he arrived, Jablesse was drowning in tall grass, only his shoulders and head were visible above the green–he turned to stare, not in the once-up-and-down, which saw and dismissed, but an unblinking inspection.

               Jericho worked up the courage to yell out, ‘Aren’t you afraid of centipedes?’ The stare stood its ground, if anything it intensified, and Jericho had to study the patterns in the beaten earth.

               Jablesse surprised him by replying, “Hope dey bite me. Centipede is good eating” Jericho let out his home laugh–a shrill burst, ending in buried snorts. He covered his mouth and leaned against the damp coral-stone wall, waiting for the wild cocks to crow midnight. Despite that exchange, nothing yet felt like an invitation. Jericho had witnessed him lingering by the edges of this cruising spot before, but they had never met in words–only in furtive looks and the seabed silence between looks.

               Beyond the wall was a cemetery full of ancient sepulchers that had caved in from neglect, and a small plot with a white wooden cross where his father was buried. Every time he came this way, he would pat the cross and urinate on his father’s grave–helping along the thick grass that would soon overtake it. And every time he would stand there until the night closed back in, and the smell of his own urine shamed him into moving on. The rest of the short walk would always be filled with his father’s voice–its constant needling–its violent punctuation with backhands and belts–its ‘faggot’ and ‘bullerman’ jabbed into Jericho’s chest.

               Tonight he felt like his father’s duppy had come back from elsewhere and was watching him watch Jablesse. He lost hold of his verve, the put-together swagger that he had practiced in the mirror, and began to hesitate.

               “You stayin’, or you goin’?”

               Jericho looked up and into eyes that were watching him keenly. He knew that if he left he would never come back, but staying felt equally impossible, “Is there a place for in-between?”

               “I ain’t find it yet.”

               Jablesse stood, smiling wide, all of his teeth were white and sharp. He was drowning in a white dinner jacket–like a boy wearing his father’s. Underneath, Jericho could make out a wiry frame, but the rest of him was concealed by tall grass. With every glance his skin colour shifted–now lighter, now darker. It had to be a trick of shadows. Nobody could be all things at once.

               “Call me Jablesse.”

               They shook hands, which was already unusual because it was not part of the cruising ritual that Jericho had spent hours studying from the sidelines. Usually, the men nodded, sometimes a light touch, and then they would pair off together. It was a language that Jericho did not understand or know how to replicate. He held onto Jablesse’s hand, noticing how it also chose to linger in his grip, how soft it was, how sure of itself.

               “How come I ain’t eva see you here before?”

               “I’m quiet. I blend in.”

               “You mean you ‘fraid.”

               He smiled as he said this and rubbed his thumb over the back of Jericho’s hand, “Used to be you could stan’ here and watch twenty, thirty men pass through before midnight. All lookin’ de same, all wantin’ de same.”

               “What changed?”

               “Cell phone get big, church get small. Why stand ‘round waitin’ for sometin’ that might neva come?”

               Jericho smiled, “You look too young to have all that old-talk.”

               Jablesse tilted his head, mirroring Jericho’s smile, “I not followin’ how you young boys does talk. All de new words like ‘Grindr’ and ‘Queer’–what part they come from, and how soon before they could go?”

               He laughed then, and Jericho thought it must be his home laugh–it was a loud cackle that softened out into something that could be mistaken for hiccups. Jericho savored that small victory, riding it he asked, “How do I get to know you?”

               He tried to still the part of himself that was second-guessing; he always put the word ‘know’ in place of ‘fuck’. Jablesse looked at him as if he had just revealed his whole hand, but there was a gentleness there too.

               “Are you going to run off if I come out of the grass?”

               Jericho shook his head. Jablesse stepped out, his grip on Jericho’s hand growing tighter and more insistent during that moment of transition.

               First the right leg, with its white pant that scraped the marl. Jericho wanted to ask if he could bend down, roll the pant leg up, protect it from being sullied. What a hassle it must be to keep clean, he thought. Before he could move, the left leg passed through the curtain of green.

               Jablesse began to say ‘sorry’ but it was ruptured halfway through and the word ‘so’ hung in the air.

               The suit pants was shorn at the knee and the cowfoot went bare. It seemed to arrive suddenly out of that white column of fabric, the hair on it speckled, black and brown. It appeared soft, cared for.

               Jablesse looked away, as if eyes on his cowfoot were painful. “Does it hurt? What about hoof-crack, pain in the heels, lameness?” As the questions tumbled out, Jericho’s nervous jabbering gave way to actual concern.

               “Why you know so much ‘bout hooves?”

               “My dad was a jockey.”

               “You got to come to terms wit’ cruelness to whip a horse.”

               Jericho tensed up. A strange impulsec ame over him to defend the man whose grave he had just desecrated, “He cared about his horses. He took them to the beach and washed them in the ocean. He had his horse sounds, mimicking their soft nickering.”

               Jericho paused, losing steam, “I rode out all of Hurricane Ira in a rusty pen because he wanted to make sure his horse was safe. I was ten; he told me my screaming was upsetting the horse. So. Yes. Cruel.”

               Jablesse had that mischievous glint in his eyes that Jericho had first noticed when he asked about centipedes, “I’m sure he woulda see clearly dat dis ain’t cowfoot, but a horsefoot. Everyone gets it wrong–nobody clarifies with me.”

               Jericho knelt to study the horsefoot but Jablesse pulled him up,“Tek my word for it. Is not lies I lyin.”

               “I haven’t thought about hoof-crack in fifteen years? Isn’t that strange?”

               “Most men holler out when they see my horsefoot, yet you jus’ standin’ dere askin’ bout strangeness? You is strangeness.”

               Clouds parted, revealing a crescent moon. It stretched the shadows and gave texture to the darkness. Jablesse pulled his hand away and started towards the edge of the canefield; his white suit seemed to capture the new light, and offer it back as a beacon. He beckoned Jericho on to follow. It was a simple wave, unambiguous, but Jericho always looked for the no hidden in every yes.

               He could make out the breadfruit trees that grew in the yard of the nearest house, the distant shimmer of a bus stop, the even-farther-off illumination of cars on the main road. He thought about sitting and waiting out the night, arriving at sunrise still standing in the middle of a decision–only failing to choose–not choosing wrong. In the distance all of the cars were speeding away, and the breadfruits were falling to be lost in the tall grass.

               Jablesse was gone, but the path in the cane remained open. A path that Jericho had never seen before, even though he thought he knew this area well. And he was walking towards it, the only thought racing through his mind—he has such soft hands.

               Jablesse walked on ahead, “A woman in dis village does shoe my horse foot. She great-granddaughta spend all she time playin’ some new video game on de computer. De old woman complain about it bad bad to me. She say, ‘Rage does give my frail body de strength of Jehovah,’—and then she drives nails into my hoof.”

               Jericho had asked—“Do you know where we are going?”—Jablesse had never answered that question. Instead, he had rambled on, even as they took ever more confusing loops and turns,looking back often, his teeth somehow sharper and whiter than before.

               Head-high sugarcane stalks formed a perimeter wall on either side, but the path was wide and beaten. Somewhere a rat had died. Jericho had lived near cane long enough to know that every stage of a decaying rat had a different smell. This time the skin had just started to slough from bone.

               Everywhere sticks snapped under pressure and small gaps in the cane promised witness. If he were alone tonight, he would already be running. He looked ahead, at the small man in the white dinner jacket, compensating for his horsefoot by leaning on his right with each step. Curiosity won out; he could not turn back now.

               A cane-cutting machine was stopped in the middle of the path. Jericho remembered being terrified of these when he was younger–they were too loud, too vicious, too unstoppable. Even now its steel incisors were flecked with dirt and bits of shredded grass,and its red spout periscoped over the sea of green. Jablesse climbed the rickety ladder and into the unlocked cockpit.

               Jericho hesitated below. “You’ve come this far,” The voice was softer, distant, “But I ain’t compellin’ nobody.”

               The ladder was cold. Jericho climbed it with pretend care, trying to understand his decision in six remaining rungs. Just before he could step down, Jablesse leaned over the edge and offered a hand.

               The machine’s cockpit was small. It had one plastic seat, but they were both small and could fit if they pressed together. Jericho could feel the hair of the horse foot against his bare leg.

               “Now you may stroke it,” Jablesse said, bringing Jericho’s hand to rest on the soft hair. Jericho could feel the soft trail of hair under his hand, and if he closed his eyes it felt like one of his father’s horses—but still his hand remained limp—“I don’t know what to do,” he admitted.

               Jablesse pulled his hand away, his voice unsure, “I actually doan like it… Not really. Men tink it mus’ feel nice all dis soft hair–but it only nice fuh dem.”

               “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with,” Jericho said, meaning it.

               Again Jablesse looked shocked, he smiled and leaned in close, “You a curious one–when I see you walk up, wit yuh head down and you hands ‘cross your stomach like yuh frighten someone gun’ spoil you–I thought you was gunna be easy.”

               Jericho looked up, trying to effect a look that was both defiant and bold, but Jablesse’s gaze was soft. There was no contest there.

               “You not easy at all.”

               Jablesse slowly took off his white dinner jacket. Underneath, his skin was pale and flecked with scars—wounds that Jericho did not feel he was allowed to ask about—around his neck was a silver chain. He reached for his belt, which was pulled tight, holding up a pair of pants that was oversized and baggy.

               “Dis what you want?” Jablesse asked, paused in the ceremony of unfastening the first belt-loop. He seemed drained, somehow unwell in this small space, and hesitant to continue.

               “Is there a place for in-between?” Jericho repeated, trying to make light, his head shaking its true intention—no.

               They sat for a while, legs still touching. Both doors of the cane-cutter were closed and the air inside was growing damp and warm.

               Jablesse began softly singing that year’s Road March, but de second warnin’, wasn’t long in comin’, hear de people shoutin’ (hear de people shoutin’).

               “I only returned to the island in October, I missed all of Crop Over,” Jericho confessed.

               “I listen at de edge of village fetes, and to passin’ cars,” Jablesse said, “You can learn the whole world like that.”

               The silence never returned. The moon retreated behind clouds as Jablesse’s lips found his neck. In that shadow world, Jablesse kept pulling back (resting his forehead against Jericho’s cheek, chin, chest) before whispering, ‘You alright, you alright,’–as if he was trying to reassure a stray and potentially skittish dog.

               Jericho watched it unfold, a passenger in his body. His breathing shamed him, he never imagined that he could be held hostage by himself, by his own need. Moonlight returned as his jeans were unbuttoned.

               Jablesse shifted, lowering his head to Jericho’s crotch–Jericho pulled him back almost pleading with him, “No, not that. Not yet.”

               “You alright, you good,” Jablesse whispered, returning his hand. Stroking. Helping Jericho climb. Taking him right to the summit of the mountain.

               At the top, his body shuddering, his eyes closed, Jericho felt a deep and profound fear. He did not know if he could reciprocate. Shame rushed in. He felt his father’s eyes on him from elsewhere.

               But Jablesse turned his chin until their foreheads were touching and kissed him—kissed him until the thoughts had ridden themselves out. Kissed him until his breath was his own again.
Yet, somewhere in the other man’s eyes Jericho saw a pity that made him turn cold. He managed to say, “What do you like?” but it came out sounding as “Please stop touching me.”

               By the time he had noticed the mistake, and had worked up the courage to correct it, Jablesse had put on his jacket and opened the cockpit door.

               They walked until Jericho could hear the one three a.m. car.

               At the edge of the canefield, Jablesse stopped. In the distance a few dogs sounded off, yanking at chains, barking at the mysterious smell

               “Is this it?” Jericho asked.

               “What more you want?” Jablesse looked tired and defeated.

               “I thought La Jablesse was supposed to lead their victim in circles–until they grew delirious and woke up naked in the middle of a field–or were torn apart by a pack of wild dogs?”

               Jablesse smirked, “Dat’s jus’ de stories. Soul don’t taste good.”“What does it taste like?”

               “Eff I say chicken–will you stop askin’?”

               “Did I do something wrong?”

               The dogs in their barking had run circles around the coconut trees they were shackled to, their chains dug into the bark, scraping, scraping. A jalousie window was thrown open and a voice was yelling for quiet.

               Jericho said, “I’m sorry for touching your horsefoot–I didn’t know.”

               Jablesse never left the sharp shadows of the canefield, even now his left foot was tucked behind his right, even here he was hiding.

               “You surprise me by lettin’ go, I used to havin’ to hold on ‘til it over.”

               Jericho did not know how to reply to that. “I don’t know how to end one of these.”

               Jablesse looked at the ground, “You set out to mek a fool of me tonight?”

               There were so many things he could hide from himself, but Jablesse had proven expert at scouring him–finding all of the things he wanted to leave vague and untended. “You still see cow foot. Even aftah all dat happen. Is lies I lyin’?”

               Jericho did not understand, but he wanted this to be over. He wanted the safety of his loneliness to process the night. Put it away.

               “La Jablesse is nuttin’ but story to you–I lead you stray, I walk you through canefield at midnight, I do the worst tings to you.”

               Jericho could say nothing. The other man retreated into the cane, favouring his horsefoot. He waved over his shoulder—not an invitation, but a farewell. This time it was not ambiguous. Even Jericho knew it was goodbye.

               He turned to study the row of dark houses, but tonight he could not face them. He did not have the strength of a new-morning to rebuild his lies, to do exactly what Jablesse said he would. He could not walk to the end of the road and climb the stairs to the silent, critical void that his father’s duppy would have left for him. He could not go deeper into the canefields and embarrass himself further by crying out for Jablesse. He had finally found it, the ‘in-between’. He laughed suddenly, turning to announce his discovery to the empty space where Jablesse had just stood, but there was no path in the tall cane.

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