A couple grieve over the loss of a son and how to silence noisy kites, in different ways.
| A Conspiracy Of Kites
By: Derek Berry Thorpe
Attach yourself to a principle; A twineless kite is nothing more than flotsam in the wind; its cord is as umbilical for life as is to the fœtus. ~
April 6, 1971.
Tuesday 3:36 P.M.
Three days until Good Friday
There is a mere fortnight, on either side of Easter Sunday, where the wind howls like the Devil's breath.
A sinister type of gusting that persists in flirting with the hem of her black dress, even as she mourns graveside. Having to wrestle with her clothing, dab her tears and hold the hymnal booklet for herself and her husband, is proving near impossible.With the interment of the body complete, family and faculty of the university ebb away like a dark tide of the bereaved.
"My ankle is fine now, Algie. I'll be okay."
Nevertheless, Algernon Mayers unbuttons his jacket and supports her elbow down the gentle cemetery slope on the way back to their car.
"Do you think about death a lot, Kandy?" he asks, as professors from the university file past -- heads bowed and solemn.
"My death? Yes, a little. I need to make sure I'll be always here for you. Apart from that, no, not really."
"But wasn't Dean Jones well enough two weeks ago to deliver a faculty keynote speech?"
They pause next to their parked vehicle. "The girls on campus say our vice-dean died because he did not take care of his diabetes. Plus that extra weight he carried around his gut..." She hesitates to go further. She bites at the edge of her fingernail. Flushed, her pupils dart over Algie's shoulder and her chest heaves.
The ring of keys that Algie fishes from his pocket drops from his grasp and an agile faculty member picks them up and places them into Kandacy's palm. She takes a moment to compose herself after the throng walk by.
"Are you okay, Kandy?"
"Yes, I'm fine. But I was saying how tight your suit fits today, Algie. I'm not sure how many more events you can wear this to if you don't lose some weight."
"I will start something next week after Easter bank holiday, God willing, promise." He sucks in his abdomen, even though he knows his wife has already noted the bulge. The truth is, he has been making that promise for the better part of five years and her creativity runs low for inspiring him further.
He drives, but not very well. His vision has been deteriorating significantly but he manages to get them back to their home safely in Clermont, in the parish of St. Michael, on a ridge overlooking the University of the West Indies. The near misses have become so frequent, a threadbare patch of seat fabric has developed where she grips and scratches.
She opens the passenger door herself. She begins to favour her ankle again but then remembers there isn't any pain. Algie, almost robotic, is already opening the rusted wrought iron gate for her.
It squeals, as it usually does. He sucks his teeth and clenches his jaw at the grating noise. No matter how many times he takes it apart to grease the hinge, the gate still brays, mule-like, in arthritic protest.
She thanks him as she passes, cupping his cheek to calm his irritation. She points skyward to the kites above. A distraction that works temporarily.
"Look how pretty."
The field opposite their house has been recently harvested of its sugar cane. Relics of a once thriving plantation are still evident; a partially collapsed well in one corner of the field and a dilapidated windmill, cloaked in vines, not far off. Now, the open space is dotted with small boys taking advantage of the petulant breeze. Just overhead, colorful octagons and hexagons of various sizes snake against their anchors.
"Kite season again?" His jawline stiffens once more and the dimples on his cheek fade. "It's all a ploy to create unnecessary noise in my life... just like this gate. Thanks for reminding me what is missing in our lives."
He walks away. "Oh, Algie. Don't be like that."
Left in the exhaust of his irritation, the reason for Algie's behavior becomes apparent to her; The trifecta of the funeral, the creaking hinge that sounds identical to the carnival carousel, and the boys in the cane field, flying their kites.
Kandacy Mayers, a still attractive brown-skinned woman, lied to her husband at the cemetery when he asked if she was preoccupied with death. She misses Christan so much, but didn't want to lead Algie back into another crevasse of despair. But alone in the garden, she watches the trite parade in the sky and allows the afternoon sun to kiss her forehead.
The inside of the Mayers' home is tasteful and modest. Ornaments and photographs are dusted and in their place.
She changes out of her funeral wear and selects an outfit for work in the morning before realizing the university is closed for Easter holidays. Admittedly, she misses her job as an administrative assistant. The interaction with curious students and faculty can be intoxicating and quite satisfying. In all of her eighteen years at the campus the only mishap she's had, is toppling from a foot stool in the library and spraining her ankle two months ago. A nearby professor, with more than his fair share of muscles, saving her from worse injury.
Inside, Algie lies face up on his side of the bed, his head nestled inside the triangle of his arm. Still wearing his tight suit pants and socks, he broods within his own cloudy discontent.
"How would you like your fish this evening, dear?"
"Not hungry." In his mood, sour notes spring from an acid font and burns fresh and old wounds alike.
By most local assessment, Algernon Mayers 'married up' when Kandacy Sobers took his ring.The St. John parish folk considered the mulatto girl a catch. Wrapped in her flawless caramel skin, she projected a demure panache rarely found in country girls.
Algie, a lightning athlete in his youth, often spun heads with his speed. His equally smooth complexion is a thoroughbred's shade of charcoal, even darker than his own father's. A father who for decades, bequeathed his soul to please his plantation 'skipper'. Even after death from exhaustion between the rows of cotton plants, his family felt a gratitude that the British owner shoved him into a shallow depression on the estate and continued overseeing.
Kandacy's father, a man as coarse as beach sand with a skin tone to match, thought the young man had promise as a cricket fast bowler and gambled with his daughter's hand. He had already wagered on every paragraph in his life, why would he stop with Kandacy? She was just another possession.
She takes her bath, selects a robe, then sits before an open window on the western side to enjoy the impending sunset. The view down the ridge over the campus dorms and onto Paradise Beach is breathtaking. On the window sill, she places a red hibiscus plant on the left side, carefully, just so, and adjusts the drapes on the right.
Even more kites are visible from this new vista against the canvas of the blue-green ocean. The ones with the shorter tails, make erratic 'figure-eights' as if their proximity to the college confers a higher learning. The dance of the kites calm her in an odd way. She imagines they script secret messages to her against the clouds. Framed by her own window, she sits and combs her hair, smiling in her private world on a mother's memory of her only child. A miracle child in reality, as the season of her fertility started in Autumn and moved quickly into Winter.
'For as miracles go, what is lost, should also be recoverable,' she repeats.
In Barbados, there are three rites of passage for a lower-class small boy. Along with sitting in the barber's chair alone for a haircut, and being thrown off a jetty without knowing how to swim, learning how to build your own Easter kite is essential.
Although Algie swam like a fish the second he hit the ocean, Kandacy still cuts his hair with scissors. The buzz of the barber's razor upsets him to this day. Perhaps from a lack of patience, a young Algie never masters the art of kite making. His kites are barely able to fly and list miserably to one side before crashing. Algie knows, to set his kite apart from the others, a dominant 'bull' is vital. The semicircular flap of coloured paper at the twelve o' clock position, is designed for maximum vibration against the wind. When coupled with an overnight unattended 'stakeout', it is a true sign of proper construction and kite endurance. He fails repeatedly at both and by age fifteen he gives up kite flying and picks up a red cricket ball.
At one forty a.m, Algie Mayers wakes, but he is not sure which of his three issues is responsible; his full bladder, his empty stomach or the annoying mosquito buzzing in his ear. After a flush of the commode and a sliver of cheese, he assumes the mosquito will be a small hurdle in getting back to sleep.
In the still of the night, he looks over at Kandacy's form beneath the covers. He covets her rhythmic breathing; steady-- peaceful and wonders why it has taken so long for her to take the car keys from him and assume command of the driving. It is obvious his vision has become a liability.
'She is taunting me with her silence,' he muses.
The incessant droning is louder now but was never the fault of a mosquito. A kite, is staked out over their home and its bull vibrates like a flock of barber's razors. He folds the pillow around his ears but sleep still evades him.
'This is your fault, somehow,' he concludes. 'Just like how you stopped me from making the West Indies squad.'
It is as if the kite is hovering directly above their bedroom. The origin of the unmanned twine must surely be somewhere in the open cane field across the street. He has a mind to stomp out there in the gathering dew and cut the cord this very night.
Sleep now looks even more distant for him. He nudges her shoulder to see if she has any solutions but she remains in the land of Morpheus. Nothing to do but set up the fence to keep the memory of Christan at the carnival at bay.
It does not work.
In 1969, it is not uncommon for the island to be visited by 'Coney Island' type ships from Central or South America. That Friday evening was hot and humid as they entered the grounds opposite Brandon's beach near the city. The frenzy from the children generated a unique energy. The clowns juggled, the llamas spat and the merry-go-round was a blur. Kandacy dared to wear her three-quarter-length shorts and six-year-old Christan beamed with excitement. A mallet wielding man smashed the lever with all of his might but the weight traveled only halfway up the wire. Standing in line to ride the carousel, Christan pointed to a candy-stand, claiming hunger. She buys an assortment of chocolates and nuts in festive wrapping, and dispensed the bonbons to husband and son as the line inched forward. By the time he sat on his red plastic horse, Christan was already coughing. By the second revolution, Kandacy noticed her son turning ashen and gasping for air. Algie apologized that his wife begged the operator to stop the ride but he 'No hablo inglaís'. The boy is just scared of the ride and the shrieking of the gears, he thought. He wished Christan would just calm down. By the end of the ride the boy is limp and grunting through swollen lips. Kandacy begged Algie to call for help but he seemed more concerned about his own embarrassment.
The boy is dying.
The boy is dead.
She says he dies because Algie does not take the incident seriously. He says he dies because she buys the exotic nuts. And through it all, kneeling in the dirt, the gears of the carousel mock the pain of the Mayers' with its Latin screech.
Both want him back desperately.
At breakfast the next morning, the bags under Algie's eyes testify for his lack of sleep. Kandacy serves toast and salt fish, with a hot cup of barley oats in linseed oil and a teaspoon of molasses to taste. She asks if he could buy stamps and mail her Easter cards at the Campus post office in the afternoon. It's the last day it is open, but the cards are still destined to arrive after Easter anyway, no matter the scribble on the envelope. Otherwise, the conversation is sparse until something hits the roof and startles them both.
"What is that, Algie?"
"I-I don't know. A branch from the mango tree?"
They hear an object dragging across the corrugations of the roof sheets before it falls and lands in the front garden next to their car.
He makes his way to the porch in time to see a distressed kite floundering from their car. A small dark skinned boy is retrieving his snared kite string and tail from under the vehicle and Algie pounces.
"Hey, boy. You damage my car with that kite? If that falls on my property again I will mash it up one time!"
Kandacy joins him in a robe covering her night dress.
"Settle down, Algie, It's just a little boy."
The boy, now startled, clutches the kite to his chest, not knowing what next to do, as the property owner advances.
"Is this the same kite that you had staked out overnight? This had me up all night with that noisy bull of yours." Algie strides to a mere car's width between them. "I ought to snatch that kite away from you ..."
Then another little boy reveals himself. Popping up close to his friend on their side of the vehicle. A boy of similar age but with wild red hair and pale skin, holding more twine and tail. Algie brakes his advance.
'A white boy?' he recoils in surprise.
They both emerge in full, away from the car and collective apologies follow. In their retreat the red-haired boy pauses and cocks his neck at Kandy. He waves a tentative, 'Oh, hello', before they trot away up the road with their fractured kite.
At the breakfast table, Kandacy's brow is pinched with concern. "What were you going to do with that little boy and his kite, Algie?"
"Take it from him, I guess."
"You're a grown man for goodness sakes, and he's a child. And why did you stop once you saw the other child?"
"Well, I didn't know who the kite belonged to then."
"What would it have mattered who owned it? It is the same kite in the end." She swallows her last forkful of saltfish. "But you got second thoughts since you didn't know if the second boy's father was important, eh?"
"Well, what would you have done? Confiscated it and delivered to his parents? I can't take that noise at night, Kandy."
"That is one option, but why didn't you consider it when you thought it was the dark skinned boy's kite? All I know is that I wish Christan was still around to play with them."
"This is not about Christan, Kandy."
"It is about Christan...It's always about Christan, whether I say it out loud or not!" Her neck sags between her shoulders and she allows all of the air to escape her lungs. It is quite unusual for her to raise her voice at all. "Just leave me alone for a while. Let me finish these Easter cards and you can mail them later."
Gerald, Algie's single, younger brother, arrives to play a round of checkers on the patio. Algie's mood lightens considerably in that time likely due to Gerald letting him win a few games.
Kandacy finishes the ten or so greeting cards. She lowers the flame under the fish stew. She places a bright, yellow-leafed, croton plant in the window sill, just so and waters it, then gives her husband the stack of cards.
"Why don't you two take the short trip down the hill to the campus post office. I need ten stamps. By the time you get back, lunch will be ready."
Gerald insists he drives as he opens the creaky gate and they head out. They arrive, but Gerald sits on the hood and smokes while Algie enters the tiny university postal office. It's vacation time and the line is short. Only a father and son are ahead. The boy's father is tall and fair skinned with broad shoulders. A tattoo of a red anchor just peeps over the top of his shirt collar. The little boy is identical to the one he encountered on his property retrieving his kite.
A perfect opportunity to complain to the boy's father about his son's overnight stakeouts but Algie's resolve withers by the minute. The gentleman completes his business at the desk and leaves without Algie raising a single objection. He can't quite put his finger on his reticence to confront the white foreigner. He loosens his shoulders and flexes his neck as a discomfort rises. He does not recognize the phantom yoke of colonialism weighs heavy during these moments of indifference.
Letters stamped and mailed, Algie seeks Gerald's advice.
"See those people? The boy flies his kite over my house. Sometimes he stakes it out and that bull drives me mad all night. What you think I should do about it, destroy the kite or just cut the string?"
"I was going to ask how you would feel about someone destroying your kite when we were small, but I remember you used to do a pretty good job all by yourself," he sniggers.
"Why didn't you talk to the father when you were in there?"
"I don't know, maybe he might be Kandy's boss or something."
On the way back up the hill, Gerald says, "If I were you, I'd look into the situation a bit deeper. It is never a good thing when someone else tries to fly your own kite. Let us hope the season will end soon. Maybe try some cotton wool in your ears next time it happens."
The Good Friday service at James Street Methodist Church is marvelous. The reverend preaches the Passion of Christ and the organist pulls out all of the stops in the 'vox celeste' section on the organ panel. The music soars with the choir's sopranos and they frolick amidst the church rafters long after the hymn has ended.
The drive home is slow and halting. Algie narrowly misses a cyclist and Kandacy rakes the side of her car seat.
"Where are we headed? Do you want me to drive?"
"I was thinking of driving up through the city via Bay street towards the horse racing track. I'll be fine driving. These bicycle riders are just reckless."
The Garrison Savannah is a traditional area where families gather inside the perimeter of the racetrack to picnic and fly kites. She begs him to slow down to gaze at the family experience.
"Imagine we could be out there flying our kite with Christan if you had not fed him those South American nuts."
Her smile fades. She sits back in her seat and winds her window up.
'Did he purposefully drive all the way up here to shovel guilt on me?' They drive home in silence.
Later for lunch, Kandacy prepares his favourite meal; fried flying fish, brown rice, baked macaroni pie and sweet potatoes. She invites Gerald, and he compliments her cooking.
While the brothers set up for checkers on the patio she serves them dessert; coconut bread and rum raisin ice cream. The kites in the cane field dance in the sky.
"You know, Kandy, I saw the young red haired boy that staked out his kite two nights ago in the post office. I suppose it was his father with him and I gave both of them a tongue lashing. Yes, it was quite a scene down there," he lied.
"Oh good for you, Algie. Another victory, well done." He does not detect the platter of sarcasm on which it is served.
Gerald stops puffing on his cigarette and cocks an eyebrow. He wonders why his brother is lying about such a trivial event.
"I believe I know who you're talking about now. It rings a bell. Dr Jude Forester...muscular man with a neck tattoo? He's here on sabbatical from England. Mathematics department I'm told," she adds.
She busies herself in the kitchen; washing and tidying post lunch. The red hibiscus plant on the floor is placed onto the window sill and the blinds adjusted, just so. Soon it will be time to gaze at the horizon and watch the kites. Her brush, like a mini violin, will make music by the strands of her hair, with a tune for herself and the son she has lost.
At ten thirty five on Good Friday night, after the Mayers are safely in their bed and under cover, Algie is awakened by the drone of a kite bull. He is unsure if he's still within his nightmarish dream where its string is made from barbed wire and it swoops low on each pass. The kite's flatulent sounding flight is more raucous than at any other time. It farts against the wind. The noise, so offensive, that Algie can smell its odious contempt.
One hour into his nightmare in real time, he gives up trying to sleep and nudges his wife. She wakes. Brows knitted, lips pursed.
"What is it?"
"I can't take this anymore, Kandy."
"What, the kite noise? Okay, what would you like me to do about that?"
"This is ridiculous. It is like if it's just outside the window. I don't care who owns the kite, I am going out there to stop this madness."
"Don't be crazy. It's after eleven on Good Friday night. Why can't you wait until the morning?"
"I'm not putting up with this any longer."
"I thought you said you had a firm chat with the boy and his father."
"Well, it did not work. They are going to pay for their disrespect."
"Please don't. It's dark out there. What are you going to do?"
"I'll decide when I find the stakeout cord."
"I wish you wouldn't. Please be careful, Algie." She sits up in bed. Dread etched like a mask, all over her face.
He puts on his robe and garden shoes and leaves through the front door. Kandacy hears the front gate squeal, as it usually does. Her breaths fill her lungs with the succor for anxiety. In the peace of the night, she hears the faint footsteps through the cane trash in the open field. The kite still snorts against its tether... until it abruptly stops. Silence, save the whistle of the wind through the trees.
In time, footsteps in the open field once more, then the distinct metallic groan of their wrought iron gate.
She settles deeper under her blanket now. Relieved, but the rate of her heartbeats no less of a gallop.
"Is it over now, dear?" She watches while he sits at the edge of the mattress. The bed springs yawn under his weight.
"It's all over, but I really don't feel good about this."
She kneels behind his broad back and helps to remove his shirt. The red anchor tattoo on his neck is just visible in the shadows and she bathes it with a lingering kiss.
"I know it must have been hard, Jude. Did you push him into the well?"
"No, I didn't have to... he stumbled and tripped right into the low open face. He really could not see where he was going at all. I just cut the kite cord and left the baller nearby."
There is just enough light to see his own reflection in the dresser mirror with her kneeling behind him, stealing the tension from his shoulders and shunting it elsewhere. She coaxes his head back to the vacant pillow and they kiss in a heated union. A hunger created by the holidays and he not having a telephone at his disposal.
"At the funeral, you knew exactly what you were doing to me when you let your dress blow up in the wind...exposing your smooth legs and yellow knickers. Bloody hell. You knew I was craving you on the other side of the grave site, didn't you?"
"I could not believe you handed me the car keys you picked up on the path near our car. I thought you might have kissed me, right then in front of Algie. I could barely speak."
The kiss resumes with a different octane of fuel. The power in his forearms engulf her.
"Don't worry, it's going to be okay. He didn't suffer right, Jude?"
"No, I don't think so... but there's water down there too, so... I heard the splash."
"Oh, dear God."
"This room is not what I imagined it would be, but now that I finally have you in my arms, tell me...red flowers in the window and the drapes half drawn on the right means 'fly the kite low and loud overnight.' But you drew the drapes on the left so I was confused."
"That was a brilliant system you developed to communicate, Jude. I'm going to miss brushing my hair in the window knowing you were watching me. I was just hoping you'd see the yellow plant with your binoculars and rush to the post office with Paul before he got there. He never did approach you like he told me, right? I'd had enough of his spineless cowardice. He would have always deferred to your complexion and given you the benefit of the doubt."
"Did you know I fell in love with you the day I caught you falling from the library stool?"
"You should have been a bit quicker or else I would not have 'sprained' my ankle," she giggles.
"I am an applied mathematician in aerodynamics, my lady. I'm not superman, you know.
"You're my superman." Kandacy presses her bosom firmly against the whorls of hair on her lover's broad chest.
"Is your brother-in-law going to be a problem?"
"No. I'll tell Gerald that I believe Algie left in the night and that I did not realize he was gone until I woke in the morning. They will probably start searching on Monday or Tuesday."
She takes a shallow breath realizing now, her Easter fantasy will breathe along with her. What a perfect day for a resurrection.
"Jude, soon we will live together as a family, but this Easter Sunday, when you and Christan come over for lunch..." she hesitates.
"I beg pardon. You mean Paul, right?" He arches his brow.
"Oh, I meant to speak with you about that. Would you mind if I started calling your son --- no, our son, 'Christan'?"
'For as miracles go... what is lost, must also be recoverable.'