From our window you could see the yard and the frangipani tree and it was white like bone, like it was dead. Fat caterpillars, thick and black with yellow stripes, crawled on the branches and ate the long leaves and when the flowers came they soon fell away. We had a lime tree, and a rotting plum tree, and when I kicked it hard, tiny bees flew out. There was a breadfruit tree at the bottom of our yard; the shiny green leaves were thick and hard like plastic and the breadfruits were sweet and yellow. Aunt Tassi begged Roman to cut away the vine that bunched around the tree like hair, but he never did. He'd sooner cruise up the road to see his friend Ruth Mackenzie, who was pretty like a doll and married to Earl. Ruth walked around Black Rock as if she was somebody and she had her daughter, Clara Mackenzie, walking in the same way. If Aunt Tassi knew about Roman's visits to Ruth's house, she kept it to herself. But Mrs. Maingot knew, because she lived opposite.
There were plants in old paint tins growing on the Maingots' steps. One had huge spikes and Mrs. Maingot stuck eggs on the ends so that no one got cut. When you passed the house you could hear her singing her old spiritual songs in a high, sweet voice. Like me, her daughter Joan was in seventh grade. I often saw her walking to school with the Johnson boy, rising up on her tiptoes in that typical Joan way and swinging her stylish yellow bag with the Spanish lettering that her father had bought in Puerto Rico. It said Vida Feliz on one side, Happy Life on the other.
But Joan wasn't always so happy. When she was ten, her father died in a fishing boat accident on the way to Trinidad. They say sharks ate the four-man crew, but I don't know if that was true. When Mrs. Maingot heard the news she locked herself up in the house, and she bawled like an animal made half of cow and half of dog for two days. I never heard a cry like that before or since.
Everyone said how sad it was that Wilfred Maingot was dead; there was no body to bury and nowhere to lay flowers. We all went to St. John's church on Sunday as usual and Father Carmichael, whom I never liked (he had yellow teeth like fangs), delivered a special service for Wilfred. I looked at Joan standing across the aisle dressed in white with her plaits hanging like two black ropes and I thought she was nearly worse off than me. At least I could hope my father was alive and somewhere in the world.
The beach nearest our house was Courland Bay. There were often fishermen there with nothing better to do than drink and hang around under the trees, especially in the evenings. Now and then they made a fire and cooked a manicou or a goat and if we happened to be walking by, we saw the smoke puffing out into the sky. Roman used to say these men were badjohns and good-for-nothings. It takes one to know one.