Cutlass through Water

• October 2017

The cutlass, left in the car trunk for days, now rested on the passenger seat. Wiyo Sorzana petted the wooden handle, carefully avoiding the stone-sharpened blade. Badmind as Ginny was, he would still miss her. Gaff, however, deserved a few slashes to the head. But then, what good would that do? Wiyo was no longer sure he wanted a woman sullied by Gaff’s hands. For years, Gaff tried to inveigle Wiyo to come on trips to Central—the gut of the island, he called it—to meet up with the country-bookie girls for a meal and a quick brush in his car. “The wife go never find out. Cutlass don’t leave mark in water,” was Gaff’s favorite assurance. Wiyo declined the pleasure cruise every time. “Nah, boy, I not on that.” So Gaff would skip town solo, waving Wiyo goodbye. “Well, please yourself!” he would shout from the window of his Porche Cayenne. For kicks, Wiyo would reply, “Please God!” to which Gaff would always laugh, nod his head, and zip off on the mission. The fella was so slick, when he was done, he would drop the girls by the corner with taxi money. No stories, no worries.

Wiyo knew he was no match for a fella like Gaff. If Wiyo could be rid of this scourge of a man, maybe he and Ginny could have a chance as a couple again. They could live platonically like the saints—together, but touching only in sickness, when absolutely necessary. Then again, it wasn’t like he could lay all the blame strictly on Gaff. Ginny was bright enough at the numbers to know who could mind her better. It was straightforward sums, like in primary school. Less than versus more than. One thing was sure: one of them had to be struck from the simple equation. He just had to make up his mind who.

Wiyo arrived early for the afternoon “meeting,” murder invading his mind. Don’t admit to the lawyer that it was an arranged meeting. Just that you showed up blind-vex and at the last minute remembered the gardener’s cutlass. He replayed his future case over and over. Passion crime, it was called in America. America, America. He should have gone to America and gotten a real education like his brother. Then he would not have to do this thing and sin his soul. But despite all the well-connected friendships of his enclave of oilfield men, business owners or CEOs of their wives’ families’ companies, Wiyo plodded along career-wise. In his well-populated Catholic family of ten, his parents did not have to even hint that there was no extra change floating around for a useless business or petrochemical degree. Education beyond O-levels was less critical than attending weekly mass. Deciding to do A-levels meant sights on America or Canada. But in the Sorzana family, all you might get was the cost of a student visa and a one-way ticket. He wasn’t cut out to beat books, and besides, his father said he had no need of qualifications to work in the oilfields of Venezuela. “You much smarter than those panyoles,” he assured Wiyo, even though Sorzanas were most likely themselves panyoles before they reached Trinidad.

Ginny was everything decent. Everything a Sorzana man could want. From a like-minded “south” family. A smart girl, studying accounts. “She placed sixth in the common entrance exam,” Wiyo would boast about his new girl. His father had slapped his back. “Boy, marry her quick. She could budget a household and balance a checkbook.” From age seventeen, Wiyo took sales jobs and strolled clipboard-armed through air-conditioned showrooms, waiting for his fortune to walk through the door. Wiyo bought Ginny a diamond-dust ring in nine-karat gold from the “Pot-o-geese” downtown jewelers. He got a discount for claiming that they were family since generations ago, when God was a boy. He wasn’t an island scholar, but he had worked hard for his Ginny. His father was right: he got the oil job in Venezuela through family contacts and a bit of charming bullshitting. It took two decades, but he moved from roustabout to mud man to driller. He joked that he finally had bread and that he and Ginny had bred. Four children with skin as smooth as the innards of a young coconut; surely that was worth something. Worth everything. Today they had to tabulate that worth in the form of visitation schedules, support payments, school fees, and extra-curricular activities. Maybe they would even work out a fixed sum Wiyo would have to pay.

Today, somebody was getting chopped.

Wiyo pulled up in his truck in front of his own cash-built house. A meeting with the hornerman in my house and I have to make an appointment, he steupsed to himself. As usual, he trod in mud. And usually he would exclaim in a “high language” of creative expletives that he had learned from working with Maturin men, but today for some reason he was calm. On the outside porch, he laid the cutlass on the wooden bench beside the front door. The bench was an elaborately designed, almost gaudy piece of furniture he had bought from a one-off job in Indonesia so that he and Ginny could have a rum and soda on an afternoon and watch the neighbors exercising. He had put the bench in a more shaded area of the porch, where afternoon light dappled a mosaic onto it. But he could tell someone had deliberately caused the bench suffering. It had been moved into direct sun and was in desperate need of sanding and sealing.

Before he knocked, Wiyo scraped the sticky mud from under his boots on the bristly Christmas mat. Ginny hated those heavy boots. Wiyo was always clomping into the house and then tossing the infernal boot pile just anywhere. She hated his newly acquired cuss-response to everything too. So common. A rig pig. “This is not the rig platform!” she would scream at him in the rainy season, when he walked inside after sloshing through the bare patch near the outside foyer, a bald spot that no matter how many times you planted or fertilized would not catch. “Wear a pair of shoes like a man!”

“Wiyo” was a ridiculous name for a big man. “How shtew-pid,” scoffed Ginny, rolling the sibilance of the shtew the first time he told her what “the fellas” dubbed him. Every man in Wiyo’s lime since teenage years had earned a nickname. Some were too embarrassed to admit the pejorative origins of theirs. Often the rest of the group had just plain forgotten. But Wiyo’s was an easy one: the fella was as straightforward as his name. As far as they could remember, Wiyo won the title by being the annoying questioner. The youngest in the group, he asked to have things explained to him in detail time and time again. Fella’s not so sharp but he has a good heart.

Privately, the fellas never called each other by their Christian names, or even by their surnames, as they did in secondary school. Whether in the bar or at a rented house in China Bay, it was the usual crew: Wiyo, Blags, Papi, Chink, and so on. Like blasted cartoon characters, Ginny would say. And, of course, Gaff. He was the man with the hook that could put a hole through you, they laughed. And where was the hook?, anyone new to their circle would ask. The men would nearly kill themselves laughing, like prurient schoolboys, laughing at the same rude joke.

Ginny opened the door for Wiyo, her face pulled by frown lines. He noticed how fresh she looked, even with her forehead rippled in annoyance. He looked at her pool-blue glaring eyes that wouldn’t look straight back at him. She moved to let him pass, her arm stretched toward the living room where Gaff was sitting cross-legged in Birkenstocks, like the lord of the manor. Gaff rose right away to shake his hand. “Wiyo boy, glad you came . . .”

Hackles raised, Wiyo quickly cut him off. “Don’t fucking call me that. I am no fucking friend of yours.”

Gaff smirked, pleased to have exposed a wound. “But I calling you Wiyo for years. Old habits die hard . . . like old friendships.”

He knew Wiyo, a God-wary man, was going to give the speech-off about the brimstone hell-hotel that awaited adultering-fornicators on the other side. Wiyo, with his foppish hair in his eyes, only three years younger than Gaff, looked like a youth. Gaff had the Mongol-man look. Half Portuguese, half Chinese, likely with other bloods stirred in. He had a wide brawn like Genghis Khan, he often joked about himself. Genghis Khan had pumpkin-vine relatives right here in Trinidad, he swore.

Wiyo folded his arms and glanced at the gypsum ceiling job he had installed three months ago. But wait, a leak mark already? There were rough brush marks with the wrong shade of paint pasted over to cover up. The brush waves looked permanent. This had been the most troublesome room in the house. After the sandpapering, a toxic snowdrift wafted for days, invading nostrils and lungs. Ginny thought she would go mad, searching for hours online for the most effective home nebulizers. When Wiyo complained about the credit card bills and skybox charges and all the copious tins of salbutamol piling up in the bathroom drawers, she accused him of triggering asthma and sleep apnea in the children. They would all die young of bad hearts for the sake of smooth drywall in the TV room. 

A laugh busted from Wiyo, “Ah ha ha. Yes they do die hard.” But he continued staring at the waves in the middle of his once-perfect ceiling. The only way that was coming out would be sanding it down to flatten those marks and mudding over it, sanding again and again and more paint. A tiresome job, and the spot where the leak started would still show. More asthma attacks to be had. “Wiyo boy, we here to talk business here. Like you daydreaming?” Gaff huffed at the permanent schoolboy. But Wiyo noticed him glance over to Ginny and nod. She responded wordlessly, slipping out of the room. His heart plunged at the sight of her leaving—he never had that kind of power over her. Gaff knew this process would be more than easy. The schoolboy would have no choice.

 “Look, Gaff,” Wiyo lowered his attention from the ceiling, but sounded defeated already. “No sense planning and debating. We have to do what is best, not so?” Gaff nodded slyly with a look that said, How can an uneducated ass like you, leaving no impression on the world, ever know what’s best? World spinning right here in this room and instead of looking for solid ground, you watching the sky.

Warm breeze passed through the louvered windows that were cracked ajar. It cooled Wiyo’s head and made him feel oddly comfortable, even though he was used to the air conditioner blowing into the room like a cold front, if in no other room of the house but this one. It reminded him of a soca-parang song: Love me up like a Christmas breeze, feeling so nice. Come and love me up like a Christmas breeze, feeling so nice. He sprawled uncouth, legs wide open, suddenly reclining on one of the chairs in his former living room. Gaff watched him in disdain. Where did he think he was? These were serious matters. Wiyo steepled his fingers under his chin, looking at the smugness on his conqueror’s face, “Gaff boy, I feeling so nice. Having clear, clear thoughts on matters. I want to spare everyone more trouble. For all you’ve done, I want to give you a gift.”

“Give me a gift, eh?” Gaff was intrigued, ready for battle.

“Yes. I was thinking you could adopt them. Legally.”

That kept Gaff’s silence for a few seconds, until he repeated Wiyo’s last three words, turning them into a question.

Wiyo nodded, not wanting to repeat himself. The thought of it was logical, but it caused him a heart-pain. He wanted the breeze to come again.

“Ah-adopt who? The children?” Gaff stammered. Wiyo nodded again in return. Come, breeze, come.

“B-but how-how can you even consider that, man? Don’t you have feelings for them?”

Wiyo shrugged. “What should I feel? They were my children with Ginny while she was my wife, and now she’s going to be yours. Kind of goes together, don’t you find?”

 “Boy, you really gone mad!” Sweat-water had formed on Gaff’s forehead.

Wiyo continued, “I know you are a bright man, Gaff. Smarter than me. Think logic. Think psychology. Think how confusing it would be for them. Time with me, time with you guys, all the up and down. All that wasted gas. It’s even bad for the environment.” Wiyo spoke calm as an undisturbed pool, which riled Gaff even more.

“But the fact remains they are your children. Your children!”

“Facts always changing, pardner. She was my wife once too. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem anymore, but I was just thinking logically. This is just best for everybody. You decided to take her in, you hadda to take them too. They would only resent me anyway, find a way to blame one of us for not being there enough. If I am not there and it’s only you, no blame or bad feelings. You can all focus on each other.”

“B-but what if they want to see you?” Gaff stammered again.

“Sure. I suppose if it’s convenient. But actually it mightn’t be so convenient, now I think of it. It would just make things too mixed up.”

“Mixed up!” Gaff sprang up, “You realize how mixed up you sound right now, boy?”

“Not-at-all,” Wiyo laughed. “I find this is clear streaming thoughts, boy. I thought you love her? Don’t you want her to be happy and all? You see how she is with me. She can’t even stand my head”

“H-happy? What does this have to do with—”

Wiyo broke in. “Happiness! That is what you guys wanted a stab at. To take the full brunt of happiness, you have to dive in, boy. I letting go and you get to take on my life. You will feel free! You’re going to like the children. Ginny raised them okay, and she said I practically never helped, in fact, I damage-up their hearts, or something so. Anyway, they wouldn’t think of me much after a while.”

“So you are thinking of this like a transfer of ownership. Like they are property or something?” Gaff gibed with heavy sarcasm.

“Nah, boy, better. No stamp duty!” Wiyo laughed like he was with his old riding partner again. Gaff shook his head at this insipid man with his insipid proposition. 

“You don’t seem grateful. You know it’s not like I charging you for them. They aren’t my land.” 

“But they are your responsibility!”

Wiyo chuckled slightly. “Well, you know I thought so about my wife, but we buss up. So marry her, to be yours. Maca fouchette. And you’re making enough to mind the kids too. Aren’t you glad to do that? That means more than any gene-pool.”

“Children are different in the eyes of the law. You going to face that in court. By the way you talking, Ginny is going to find you there!” Gaff threatened on her behalf.

“Oh gosh man, Gaff! You really want to put the children through that? Drown them in custody battles and money? That is no way to show love. I thought you were a loving man? A man so filled with love. Certainly more than I could ever give her. Fella, I real admire the kinda love she says you have for her. I just don’t have it in me, I guess. Didn’t know you could feel so strong about someone that you could take on children you didn’t even breed! Boy, you is man! You is man! Shake my hand there!” Wiyo stretched out his hand to seal the contract.

“Shake your blasted hand? Like you mad? Don’t frigging touch my hand!” Gaff was shouting louder with each sentence now, for Ginny to hear. But he didn’t even know if he wanted her to hear.

“Well, what happen? What kinda spirit possess you, boy? A love like that must mean you love all of her. Children included. Things clear to me now, boy. She is for you, they are for you. Maca fouchette! Those kids, watch them good! They are all her. One hundred percent. Ask her yourself. She always told me they were “all-her.” She always thanked God they took nothing for me. Best you take all! Like I was never here. Cutlass through water . . .”

Wiyo watched Gaff fall into his recliner, a model Wiyo had brought in from a job-training trip to Houston. “Oh yeah, Gaff, that is American La-Z-Boy. Top of its line. Another gift for you. It looking like your new throne already!”

Gaff did not answer. The Mongol conqueror sank in the lesser man’s throne, charged heavily with his estate.

No divorce. Wiyo could do what he wanted financially with Ginny and the children, and it was his house, so he could come and go as he pleased. To get Wiyo to agree to divorce, Ginny would have no choice but to agree to the complete sever. A clean cut. Life would happen as if Wiyo never came.

He walked past her, his head cool as water. She looked soft and pretty still, but her face was changing in waves. Disturbance. Water was forming in her eyes. Was it rage or remorse, he couldn’t tell. Water could come from either one, he thought. Would she cry? Could he have that effect? The sweetest, softest breeze could bring water to your eyes too. Love me up like Christmas breeze, feeling so nice. She came to the porch to watch him leave, something she had not done in months. When he was gone, she noticed the gardener’s cutlass that looked like it had been sharpened only yesterday. Sharp enough to slice through water and not disturb it for long. The bench it lay on looked sun-crusted and tired. Geez-and-ages, it looked rough. Years of neglect showed on its laths. It needed attention, but it was too far faded now to ever get back to its original state. How did she not notice before? She went to the shed, found the roughest sandpaper and a tin of sealant, and began scraping and scraping. The scraping went on into the night.

 

Gilberte O’Sullivan’s literary work appears in the online journals Moko and past simple. Gilberte was featured at the Bocas Literature Festival’s “Who’s Next” in 2014 and “Stand and Deliver” in 2017. Currently, Gilberte is completing an MFA in fiction writing at the University of the West Indies.