15. Orange Trees


Michael returns, shrinking. Before he lifts his foot into the doorway, I come toward him and offer a hand. His fingers are long and cold, warm brown transforming to dust.

“Oh thank you. Thank you. Who are you?”

“It’s me, Grandpa. Your Joselia,” I say.

Michael cranes his head up, no longer concentrating upon the placement of his feet, and looks me in the face. His eyes are lacquered but flat. They pry me but with little strength. There is no moment of illumination and he returns to the incongruent dance of his feet. Michael is so light, helping him into the house is like wafting air.

I say, “Grandpa, how was your flight?”

“Where am I?”

“You’re home.”

“It’s cold here,” he says.

“Not your home in Jamaica, you’re home here.”

He acquiesces and I help him into a chair, removing his coat.

We talk about things anyone can access, like food, and I make him something to eat although he merely picks at it, fidgeting with the utensils. He asks me questions about who I am. Not questions, the question. I find saying my name does nothing because to him, I’ve stopped existing. I want to explain I am a possession of other people. I am not simply myself but his granddaughter. I am, we are the creation of other human beings, of a profoundly creative universe; and we are always coming in and out of being at the hand of someone’s conception of us. I want to tell Michael who I was before he arrived is a markedly more substantial person than the person he is confronting now. With his memories of me misplaced, I am hinged on an unsteady angle of what I knew to be, what is now and what is actually real. So I look at my grandfather squarely and repeat my name. That I am his. And within possession I have found the solace of love.


Michael tilled the earth for me. Pineapples. Coconuts. Star Apples. When I was born, he turned over soil to commemorate my entrance into this world. Behind the house in Old Porus, on the long narrow stretch of land, the trees and bushes are clustered together in an uneven triangle. He never explicitly said why he began to plant things, as he had not planted anything for his own children. Grandmother says he took to the ground and dirtied himself and this is how I recall him. Perched at the top of the orange tree, that sits in front of the house, tossing down the grooved orange globes to Mother. And I recall him in the fields of Water Mouth, lifting the brim of his Kangol hat to wipe the beads of liquid forming a line above his brow. The walks he and I would take into town — down the road of rusty dirt — to visit the affable shopkeepers at Barnett’s, the local grocery store fixed at the sometimes busy intersection of Old Porus Road. We would continue walking, past the post office, to the train tracks that barely felt the weight of freighters. Michael spoke with a tongue built by the bible. So each step we took was not only an aimless journey that would act as neural pathways back to the fortune of happiness, but as a pilgrimage towards God.


Mother and I were the two to sleep in Michael’s bed after her died. Grandmother had taken to wearing crimson underpants and a tape measure around her waist to prevent his not yet rested spirit from troubling her. Grandmother, prone to prolonged bouts of displeasure, was left mostly vacant after he died. The shrill in her voice leveled into unfolding melancholy. She readily accepted hugs from her family members, from friends, from strangers. Grandmother, for once, revealed herself to be vulnerable and hurt by the fate of old age and thus more easy to love.

I suggested Mother and I sleep in his room because I wanted to prove that I was unafraid of death. The dressers were neatly composed, as he would have left them. The lace curtains billowed with the island breeze and Grandmother made sure to tuck the sheets within the open spaces, between the mattress and frame, so that the secrets of the room should not escape.

His room smelled of his cologne.

Mother and I rifled through his belongings and Mother shared stories that are only shared in the event of someone’s death. I still wonder why that is and I have concluded: to expose a story of someone still alive is to undercut their ability to happen in real time. When you tell a story of past events about someone who is still living, you unintentionally shift their timeline into the past-present. You move them through time. And it is the responsibility of the object of the story to find their footing where they wish to exist.

Mother told me all of the stories she could remember, with no concern for preserving stories for the next day or the day after. I believe she was confident in the presence of so many tales — both long and short — that there was no possibility to shuffle through them all in any countable number of sittings.

When we finally slept, the evening instilled dread.

We awakened with questions and stories for each other.

She said, “I was dreaming and a shadowy figure entered the room. It was your Grandfather. And I couldn’t breathe. He was smothering me and I tried to yell and I tried to wake up. And then I did wake up, but the same thing was happening. I tried to rouse you, but you weren’t responding.”

I said, “It was in the middle of the night. I was scanning the room for something to look at long enough to learn everything about it. But there was nothing intricate enough to do that with. And then I heard the voice of your brothers, Mommy. They were in the living room laughing and I heard Grandpa laugh.”


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