Jamaica sat in the middle of the floor with memories surrounding her, staring up at her from a hundred photos of dead loves, hopes, and dreams. She didn't remember what day it was, couldn't remember what yesterday had been or where it had gone. A cold wind tapped at the window glass, slipped uninvited around the sill and across the floor. It stroked her ankle and draped itself around her neck like a scarf.
The faces laughed, smiled, and mugged for the camera but there was no sound of laughter in the house. This was a house of defeat. A house where dreams had shriveled up, died, and turned to dust. The very wind that slipped along her arms stirred and blew the dust away. Away, as if it had never been.
She wished it were as easy to brush away the memories and the pain. But those remained, shrouded in the darkness of the long night of her life. Never in all the years she had lived could she remember a time when she felt such utter despair. To the contrary, her life was filled with brilliant moments of light and laughter, as the photos arrayed around her bore witness. She was 70 and she was so tired.
She picked up the photo of a laughing, sparkling boy, whose mischief glittered from beautiful blue eyes. His smile had warmed the hearts of anyone who passed within its glow. Even now, just looking at his picture she could feel his little arms circle her neck and hear his sweet voice whisper, “I love you, Mamaica!” He had been such a love. She had adored him.
She laid the photo with the rest and shuffled them around until she found another of a group of boys about 10. He was there among them, still laughing, with eyes still full of mischief. And still the darling of everyone he met. Everyone thought he would become something brilliant, a doctor, a teacher, a president. Nothing was impossible for him.
She lay this photo down as well and selected another from beneath the array. This time, the same boys were older and girls clung to the arms of some of them. They were all 16 or 17 years old at the time, as she recalled. The church had taken them all to one of those theme parks and this was taken just after they arrived and had climbed off the bus. They were all laughing, except for some of the girls, who were attempting their first chic look. Their hair fell across one eye and they tried in vain to slouch and pout the way the models did. It was equally unattractive on them.
She saw him, there in the center of the group with two of the prettiest girls, one on each arm. His head was thrown back and his mouth shouting his laughter. She could still hear it. Abandoned, joyous laughter. He had had a beautiful laugh. The mischief was not visible here but she knew it had still been present. But it was changing and she had not seen it. No one had.
She knew what the sound meant the moment she heard it. Anyone who had ever come to the house had asked the same question, “Why don’t you grease that hinge, Jamaica?” But she could never bring herself to do it. The familiar creak of the screen door was a sound that harked back to her childhood. It was a comforting sound that reminded her of the smell of biscuits in the oven, sheets on the line, and her mother’s voice, but not now, not today. Today, it was the sound of death.
She watched the doorway and waited. The sound of his feet was muted on the thick carpet in the hallway. She wondered he made any sound at all. He had always been able to slip up on folks. She remember when . . . but no, she wouldn’t go there now. It was too late. Time had run out. She had thought, had hoped even, that he would wait until she was asleep and then, perhaps smother her. Or that he would have slipped her something to put her to sleep. He could have come when she was unaware. But that would have taken some of his own pleasure. It would have robbed him.
Then, he was there, in the archway, smiling at her just as he always did. Except, for his eyes, those beautiful eyes. She marveled again at the way those eyes ran in that side of the family. They popped up here and there, giving away a relationship everyone may have forgotten or wanted to forget. But she never forgot. She had loved the man who had fathered these eyes. She had loved the boy, too.
She watched him as he approached her, trying to see the little boy from long ago, the one who had smiled up at her and tugged on her apron, asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But she saw no sign of him. He was back there, in the past, captured only in the photos around her.
“Hello, Jamaica. I see you are reminiscing again.” He stopped, squatted, and looked at the photos scattered around her. He smiled. “Lots of our old friends, I see.”
She didn’t reply, just watched and waited for what she knew must be coming.
“Ah,” he reached down and picked a photo from the floor, “Sunny Harper. Now there was a girl. Beautiful, sweet, kind, loving. Everyone’s darling. I do miss her, don’t you?” He slipped the photo into his jacket pocket. “You won’t mind if I keep this one, will you?
She sat silent. This was typical for him. He liked tormenting his prey. He would tire of it but if he thought she would struggle, he would take his time. She didn’t want to die but if she must, she wanted it to come quickly.
“You know why I am here.”
It wasn’t a question and she didn’t answer.
“You see I have the feeling that you are getting a conscience. Amazing, really, at your age. You have gone all these years and minded your own business but now, you want to unburden yourself.”
“I said nothing because I didn’t know nothing to tell. I only suspected and the police won’t listen to an old woman and her suspicions.”
“But you know now.”
“And you will tell someone.”
Again, she didn’t answer. She saw the flicker of emotion flash across his face but she didn’t know what it was exactly. Not pleasure, not anger, not even puzzlement. Disappointment? Could he be feeling remorse?
“You need help, darlin’. Really, you need to see a doctor. Now-a-days, they help folks like you all the time.” She knew, as she said it, she had made a mistake but it was too late.
He was angry, his eyes flashing, “Folks like me? What folks like me? You ever seen anyone like me around here? No, of course not. I’m an aberration, a freak. You think I’m crazy.” He paused a moment then added, “But you’re the only one who thinks that.”
She shook her head and looked at her photos. So many people she had known. So many children. “No, I never thought that about you. Never. I loved you. But you hurt folks, hurt them for pleasure.”
“Pleasure? You think I like to see people in pain? I didn’t hurt anyone. I gave them great pleasure. They hurt themselves by betraying me. I loved Sunny. All she had to do was love me back.”
She looked up into the handsome face. Surely that beautiful boy was there somewhere. She pleaded one more time, “Sweetheart, let me help you. I’ll go with you. I’ll stand by you whatever it takes. I won’t let them hurt you.”
He threw back his head and laughed with the abandon of the boy in the photo. But it was like looking in a fun house mirror. He was twisted and distorted. Not the boy she remembered at all. And then, her heart broke for the last time. Jamaica clutched her chest and gasped.
The sound silenced his laughter and he looked at her. “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer, partly because she wouldn’t give him one moment’s warning and partly because the pain was so great. She had planned everything to the moment. He couldn’t know until it was too late. She had done all she could to do the right thing and now it would be up to someone else to see justice done. She hoped it was enough for her own redemption. The pain tightened and she clutched her chest, groaning in pain.
“Jamaica?” He reached out and took her arms and shook her. His voice became a snarl, “You stupid woman, what have you done? You can’t die yet. I’m not done yet. I want to tell you about the others. You can’t die.”
“I told them. They’ll know what you are . . . what you’ve done.” Breathing was so hard but she had to get the words out, had to let him know. “I wanted to protect you . . . I loved you so much. But I couldn’t bear it. You had no right to do those things. I saw you . . . I saw . . .saw . . . Sunny.”
“NO! No one saw. You’re just guessing. I made sure.” She didn’t answer and his anger escalated. “Die you old fool! No one will ever know. I’ll burn the place down and you will be burned to ashes. The wind will blow you away and no one will ever know what happened to you . . . to anyone!”
The pain of his words tore through her, and if felt as if her were ripping her heart through her chest. Jamaica looked into his eyes and wondered when they had begun to look like chips of ice. They were so cold, so cold that the warmth of her body was sucked away. The pain in her chest spread and penetrated her bones. She had to say it, one final victory. She opened her mouth but words, sharp as knives, seemed caught in her chest. She prayed for one more moment, just one.
She pushed the darkness back and leaned close to him, “I hid it. I hid it and they will know.’ Then she smiled at him, “I didn’t take my medicine just in case. They’ll know you did this.’ She fell silent and then, “I forgive you, love.”
The room fell silent as she crumpled into a heap in the center of the floor. The only sound was the wind whistling around the window and the harsh breathing of the man kneeling in the floor.
“Jamaica? Jamaica! What did you hide? What?” He reached out, shook her until her head rolled around and her own fixed blue eyes looked up at him. And for the first time that he could remember since he was a child, he was frightened. He felt them, all around him, tugging at him, and prodding him. For years he had kept them appeased and at bay and tonight they had anticipated what was to come. But she had deprived them . . . she had deprived him. And now they were angry . . . he could feel it. The room was filled with their anger.
He had to leave, to get out, now. They might still be satisfied. There might still be a way. He got up, looked down at the lifeless form at his feet. Perhaps she would be enough for tonight. Perhaps they would allow him time to make up for the miscalculation. Jamaica had always had a soft spot for him but he had underestimated her. Surely, they would understand that. He hurried from the house, locking the door behind him. Only when he was safely in his car did he remove the latex gloves he had worn. No one would ever connect him with this night. No one could possibly know. No one.