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The Absentee Husband by Austin Mitchell - HTML preview

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Part Two

 

“Where is she, Alrick? The little hussey, who says she’s pregnant for you. So you’re hiding her from me. That’s why you don’t want to come home. That’s why you’re shortening my money.”

Maisie hadn’t entered the house before she started shouting.

“Shut up, what’s the matter with you? Every

time you come up here, you have to make a ruckus. Can’t you understand that it’s only decent people live up here.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up. So I’m not decent? I’m going to show that little girl how decent I am. I just want to find out where she lives.”

Alrick jumped into the truck and drove away. He heard Maisie shouting after him, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. He stopped at Syd’s house to warn Gwen that his wife was around. She hissed her teeth and said that she wasn’t afraid of her. He had to give her money to buy food. She offered to cook and bring food for him. He refused, saying that he always ate with the other workers.

That same evening he heard about a ruckus in Keswick. It was between Gwen and Maisie. How the hell had Maisie found out where Gwen was?

***

“So I found out about your girlfriend. She’s

carrying a big stomach for you, Alrick. That’s what you’re up here doing. I should have listened to your mother. She told me that you came from a wild breed.”

He nearly fell into a trap by saying that her stomach wasn’t all that big. But he caught himself at the last moment. He wondered if she had been setting a trap for him.

“Did she tell you that she was pregnant for me?”

Maisie burst out laughing.

“She boasted before me and several other women and even some men. She claimed that she has you now and I’m not going to get you back.”

“That’s why you came up here?”

“Alrick, you’re my husband. What’s wrong if I come up here to look after your welfare?”

“Nothing’s wrong, except that you’re listening to a lot of rumors.”

“Swear to me Alrick, that girl, Gwen, isn’t pregnant for you.”

But he walked away. She followed him.

“I heard that it’s another man’s baby she’s carrying. She was sleeping with every boy in the village and even some grown men too. When none of them would own up she put it on you.”

“How do you know so much and it’s the second time you’re coming up here?”

“People tell me lots of things. They’re laughing at you behind your back. Imagine, a big married man like you is making this little girl twist you around her fingers. Go and tell her to go and find the father of her baby. If you don’t want to do it, I will.”

He looked at her.

“I see, you’ve come up here to make trouble.”

“Trouble, how am I making trouble? I’m trying to protect you from a gold digger. That girl is a liar. Alrick, I will do her something before I leave up here.”

She stormed off into the house. When he came to bed she was already snoring. That morning she packed her bags and went out into the village square and took a bus into Kingston.

***

The next morning as they lay in bed down at Syd’s house, Gwen said.

“Your wife said that I was giving you a jacket. I don’t even know the boy she was accusing of fathering my baby.”

“She was just trying to be nasty. I know what I did.”

He felt her stomach. She was now three months pregnant. Alrick was worried as Syd would soon be back for his house. Already he had begun seeking to rent another one bedroom for her. He didn’t want her to stay with him as that would only enrage Maisie some more.

“I can’t believe that very soon, I’ll be giving you a bouncing baby boy.”

“How do you know that it will be a boy?”

“I just feel so. I hope your wife doesn’t come up here again. I don’t want to be in any tracing match with her.”

“I can’t stop her from coming up here.”

Soon they fell into a deep sleep.

Later that day, against her protests, he left to look for Maisie. Gwen cursed him and even threatened to leave him.

***

“So you’ve come home Alrick? Or is it your clothes you’ve come for?”

He had just parked the truck near their gate and gotten out.

“What the hell’s the matter with you, woman? I live in this house too or have you forgotten?”

“You’re an absentee husband. Ever since you’ve met this Gwen, your mind has changed towards me. But you can stay with her because as far as I’m concerned, everything is finished between us.”

She stormed off into the house. Alrick watched her go before heading to Larry Brown’s bar, a short distance down the road to drink a beer and greet some of his friends. He was on his second beer when he felt a hand touch his shoulder. He turned around to see who it was. It was Sully, a local laborer. At first he thought that the man wanted him to buy him a drink or to find out how the work in Keswick was going on.

Alrick stepped outside.

“Bindy is at your house nearly every day.”

At first he was going to slam the man for trying to slander his wife. But then he remembered something about Bindy. It had been widely rumored that the man had gotten a mother and daughter pregnant at the same time. He had run away from the community, although proclaiming his innocence. However, everybody who saw the boy and girl agreed that they were Bindy’s children.

“What the hell are you saying, Sully?”

“Ask anybody, Alrick. I’m not telling you a lie.”

He bought a beer for Sully before heading back to his house.

Maisie was on the veranda looking out.

“You’ve come home early.”

He sat in a chair opposite her. She was swaying in a rocking chair.

“So Bindy has been visiting you almost every night.”

“Have you heard that he has been sleeping in your bed too?”

“So what has he been doing here, just talking to you?”

“What do you expect? You’re gone for two weeks at a time. What’s wrong if I talk to Bindy?”

He finished drinking the rest of the beer he had brought home.

“I don’t want any man visiting my house when I’m not around.”

She had stopped rocking in the rocking chair.

“You’d like me to stay in the house and only talk to the children, wouldn’t you?”

“I didn’t say that. Okay, are you seeing any other man while I’m away?”

She looked at him.

“You’re a wicked man. You left me here with six children to look after. You expect me to keep a man on top of that.”

But Alrick was still not convinced. Sully would never have come to him with such a story if he hadn’t seen something to arouse his suspicions.

He stood up.

“Listen, I’m going back to the country.”

“At this time of the night? You’re rushing back to Gwen?”

He didn’t answer her. He simply went inside the house, took the clothes he needed. He went and jumped into the truck and drove off. She was still in the chair, rocking herself.

That night he stayed up at the Powell’s house and didn’t go down to where Gwen was.

He made his own breakfast that morning. He made some fritters, and cooked ackee and salt fish. He washed it down with some coffee.

Around eleven o’clock he went to have a bath in the river. He and some other men went fishing. He paid a woman who was washing clothes in the river, to clean the fish for him. He used a piece of string to tie his fish together. He cooked all the fish that evening. He roasted a large breadfruit and ate some of it along with two of the fishes. He decided to let the rest stay for later and for his breakfast in the morning.

Later that evening, he went up to the village square. He got into playing some ludo and domino games outside, Bigger’s bar. He left the bar at ten o’clock that night.

He walked home to see Gwen waiting on him. A teenaged girl and a little boy were with her. He knew that they were her relatives.

“What are you doing out here at this time of the night? Aren’t you afraid of catching a relapse?”

She brushed aside his questions.

“You came back up here last night. Why didn’t you come and stay with me?”

She didn’t give him any time to answer.

“You make me wonder, what have I done to you?”

“You haven’t done me anything.”

“Oh, it’s your wife. You and her are having problems because of me.”

“I told you already, that it’s nothing like that.”

She shook her head to show that she didn’t believe him.

“You don’t normally return from Kingston until Monday morning. It’s the first time since you’re up here that you’ve ever returned from down there on a Saturday evening. And you ignored me the whole time.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you. I just wanted to be by myself.”

“Listen, Alrick, I disgraced myself when I got pregnant for you. My mother is still upset with me. Single girls aren’t supposed to get pregnant until they’re married. Look what I did, I got pregnant for a married man.”

“Seems to me you’re putting all the blame on me.”

“I’m taking myself out of your life, Alrick. I’m going to live with one of my cousins. All I ask is that you support my baby.”

And without giving him a chance to reply, she wheeled and stormed away. The boy and the girl ran after her. He heard them talking, but he couldn’t make out what they were talking about.

Before he went to bed that night he sat thinking. What the hell had he gotten mixed up with that little girl for? He hadn’t been lonely. He had to admit that she had pushed herself on him. Was he so weak that he couldn’t have resisted her?

Had Maisie gotten frustrated with him and sought out another lover in Bindy? He wasn’t going to put up with that. When next he was in Kingston he would confront Bindy about it.

Thursday evening he drove home. He reached Kingston at around seven o’clock. All the children were surprised to see him. He had brought things for them like sugar cane and ripe bananas. Maisie wasn’t at home. His biggest daughter, Wendy, said that she had gone to visit her sister, Hilda, over in Vineyard Town.

He drove to look for his daughter, Cindy, who lived with her mother, Agnes, on Oxford Street. He gave her money and some of the things he had brought from the country. Cindy said that the area was getting bad and her mother was looking somewhere for them to go. He left, promising her that he would check around to see if he could find somewhere for them. She was working at a department store on King Street.

It was the same thing with his son, Sam, on Maxfield Avenue. The area was getting bad as men from outside the community were raiding the area, robbing the mainly Chinese grocers. He gave him some money and warned him not to get into bad company. The youth assured him that as soon as he finished his apprenticeship he would be looking a job. Alrick told him that he would check some people he knew.

He asked him about, Max, his other son who lived on Mountain View Avenue. Sam said that it was about two weeks now that he hadn’t seen Max. He also understood that the area was getting bad. He gave him some money to give Max before he drove back home. He knew that Max was going to technical school.

When he reached back it was about nine thirty. Maisie was in the living room, eating some food and watching their small black and white television set. She was also drinking a soda.

“So your baby mother let you go for one night. It must be because her belly is too big for you to do anything.”

“Is there something wrong if I come home to my family on a weekday?”

She jerked back her head and laughed.

“That’s not the way I heard it. The girl has moved out of Syd’s house and is living with one of her cousins.”

“You’re living in Kingston. How come you know so much about what is happening in the country?”

“Because I make it my business.”

They continued to argue until it was time for bed. Outside it had started raining. Although they slept in the same bed there had been no physical contact between them since the upheaval about Gwen began.

Alrick returned to the veranda to watch the rain. He hoped that it wasn’t falling as hard in the country as that could produce landslides making it difficult for big vehicles like his truck to pass.

In July, Gwen had her baby. It was home

delivered as was the custom those days in the country areas. He went to look for her the next day. All of her relatives in the yard that day said that the baby resembled him very much. Miss Della, was in the yard, but she didn’t speak to him.

The next week when he returned to Kingston, Maisie gathered all the children in their living room.

“Dennis, Wendy, Iris, Jason, Debbie and Sean, you have a new baby brother in the country. What’s his name, Alrick?”

He didn’t answer her, but went to sit on the veranda. She came out there after him.

“Does the baby resemble you? My spies tell me that he’s the dead stamp of you.”

“You know it was a mistake I made with that girl.”

“You’re just saying that. But we’re already living separate lives. You can go back to her as far as I’m concerned.”

They spent the rest of the evening quarrelling. When he reached Keswick that Monday morning he was in a sour mood.

***

In September of that year, he and Gwen

started talking again. Three months later, Alrick didn’t know how it happened, but she got pregnant. When Maisie heard she was up in arms. She swore that they were not going to live in the same house. She went to live with her sister over in Vineyard Town, taking the three smallest children with her. She swore that she wasn’t coming back to the house.

***

Gwen had her second baby in September

of the next year. It was a girl. Alrick was now

living with her full time. He had gotten a house to rent from a man called Ambrose Gray. So he had moved from the Powell’s house. Syd had come back and was occupying his house.

Alrick decided not to have any more children with Gwen. He knew that her brother was filing immigration papers for her. Two years after she had her last baby she left for the States.

 

August 7,1963

2305 Mason Avenue

Apartment 16A, 10666

Bronx, New York

United States of America

 

My dear Alrick,

You will realize that I have reached safe and sound. The plane ride was very nice and we got good food to eat on the plane although it was small. I have my own room. My brother’s wife, Melanie seems to be a nice person. His two children, Jessica and Justin are very nice. They say they can’t wait to meet Alicia and Pablo. My sister came down to look for me on Sunday. She brought her husband and their three children and we all had dinner together. We all had a grand time.

My brother has found me a job as an assistant in a nursing home. He has promised to take me in the mornings until I know which train to take.

Bye for now.

Love, Gwen.

 

Although he was living in Keswick, he heard that Maisie had moved back home. He went there to give her money for the children.

He was beginning to miss Gwen when he decided to move again and live with Sylvia. Sylvia was living at her late parent’s house in Nelson a mile from Keswick. She had two children with Benny but they were living with him and his new woman.

She had in fact taken Benny to court over the custody of her children. She lost the custody case when it was proved that Benny was in a more stable relationship and was better able to take care of the children than her.

Gwen wrote Alrick a letter cursing him off. She sent for her children and he let them go. He was already aware that she was having relations with a man over there.

Gwen had two more children before she

got married to Coby Anson, a railroad worker. When Alrick heard he was devastated. Sylvia managed to calm him down. Her parents had

about six acres of land. Thirty nine year old Sylvia, had a baby boy for him in 1969.

Alrick sold his truck, bought a pickup and he and Sylvia would go all over the island selling produce from the farm. He’s still living with her as Maisie has refused to give him a divorce.

Alrick was proud of his three biggest children. Cindy was working at a clothing store in Parade as a supervisor. Sam was working as a mechanic with a company that imported motor vehicles into the island. Max was working in a bank on Duke Street.

Of his children with Maisie, Dennis was now a soldier. Wendy was a teacher at an all girls school in Cross Roads and Iris was at nursing school. The three younger ones were all in high school.

One thing which is still a mystery to Alrick is the fact that he has heard the names of other men being called as Maisie’s lovers. All these men, including Bindy have denied the claim. But Alrick is still mystified that in all his visits to the house he has never seen Bindy or any other man there. He has discussed the matter with friends. Some have advised him to use a detective on her. Others have said that is the mystery about a woman.

The End.

 

Jamaican word-meaning

 

backsiding-beating, flogging

bankra-clothes basket

in the way-pregnant

parasol-umbrella

 

 

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