Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Glass Bottle Dancer

When de words “glass bottle dancer” come to me as I was day-dreaming, listening to music on de radio, I thought it sounded like someting I’d like to see, didn’t tink it would change me whole life. I imagine it might mean taking a bunch of soda and beer bottles, laying dem on dey sides and stepping on dem widout having dem roll away. I thought a limbo dancer might do it to add someting special to dere act.

Me limbo ain’t dat low. Nothing in me life particularly high or low, but de idea of glass bottle dancing came to me every time somebody took me parking space, or cut in front of me in line, or call me out me name. Every time me boss say I must call Harbor Market and remind dat greedy cheater dat moving he expired foods from de expensive side of town to he other shop on de poor people side of town ain’t nice, ain’t fair, and is against regulations. When day after day I must den pick up de people dem phone and talk to de store owners while dey laying on dey yachts in de marina and I can’t cuss dem stink but must be polite and act like dis de first warning and we don’t speak every month. Is times like dat dat glass bottle dancing does jump to de forefront of me mind like dat gon’ do anyting to change de world.

Day come when Miss Aggie, who make one hundred and six on she last birthday, die dead. She sit down on de park bench, resting, as she always do when she going from helping de children wid dey homework in de library after school, to stopping by de rum shop to have two shot glasses a gin wid a half wedge a lime and a garlic clove. She does stop dere five days a week making jokes and telling tall tales. She laughter does bust out de door and sashay down de street. But dat day she sit down on de bench in de park and ain’t get up.

Look dere, I say to meself, Ms. Aggie live a good life. She do good tings and she had fun. She wrinkles more laugh dan frown. She a doer, not a watcher. So, Mable, I say, Mistress Mable DelaCourt—I does call meself by me full name when I need to be stern—you may be two hundred and twenty nine pounds, you may be shape like a ripe avocado what done fell from de tree, bruised and almost bursting, and you may be looking fifty years in de baby of she eye, but you gon’ teach youself glass bottle dancing.

Wasn’t no trouble to gather de bottles. Me husband, Franklin, we does call him Boy-oh even doh he is two years older dan me and ain’t no ways childlike, and we four children—I know you ain’t bound to remember dere names but I gon’ call dem for you anyway cause dey precious and important to me—Gloria, Kenyatta, Rue, and Finality. Dey all like soda pop and beer, so it have plenty bottles in de trash. I fish dem out and hide dem under de casha bush in de backyard ’til I have enough. Bout thirty.

A Saturday come when I in de house alone. I try do de ting.

Well, mehson, was a lot harder dan in me imagination. I lay all de bottles out in de yard, close to de casha bush, in case I have to shove dem back quickly to hide. Me ain’t want nobody asking me what I doing. Me ain’t know meself why I doing dis irrational ting, plus sneaking ’round like I ain’t have de right to soda and beer bottles in me own house, me own garbage. I take off me yard slippers and rest me big toe on one Brow Cream soda bottle, testing. First ting, it hot. Hotter dan hot sand at de beach. Me ain’t expect dat and me foot jump back like it had meet wid jack spaniard sting. I stare down de hill to de blue of de ocean, imagining de coolness soothing me big toe.

“Mommy, what you doing?”

Me youngest home from majorette practice. I suppose to pick she up at five thirty. Who de rass give she a ride home? Make she sneak up on me like dis?

“What you mean what I doing? You ain’t see me tallying up dese bottles for de recycling?”

“De Governor said we aren’t doing dat anymore, remember? He said if anybody recycling anything, it won’t be us. We’re sending all our garbage to dem stateside. Unsorted. Remember?”

She taking Civics in she second year of high school. She know everyting. Finality. If I had know she was gon’ be so “last word-ish” I woulda name she “Dat’s enough, Rose,” instead.

“Well, I sorting. And recycling. Ain’t right to have all dis mess just sitting ’pon Muddah Earth like, like, like—” I fumbling now, cause I wasn’t expecting dis, “so much trash.” I know dat’s weak so I launch into full muddah tongue.

“And what you doing home so early? I was to come get you for five thirty. Who car you was riding in? Why you ain’t call me? Better not be dat Roland. I know from me cousin at de DMV he got car but no driver’s license. You sister in town too. You ain’t tink to look for she? Coulda saved me a trip. You father know where you are? What happen to practice? You and Miss Malveaux butting heads again?”

“Oh, Mommy,” she say, as if I is any and all kind a problem to she.

I watch she straight back as she move off heading to de side door. Jeez and bread, mehson, in addition to attitude she growing hips, too.

I put all de bottles back under de bush and go inside to start chopping vegetables for a salad. It Saturday, I don’t cook no hot meal on Saturday.

Boy-oh reach home from he netball coaching ’round seven thirty. He meet me in de living room wid me feet up on de couch listening to de radio. It have a show I like where people does go all ’round de world talking to Black musicians.

“Mable, how you do? You sick?” he say, like dis de first Saturday we spending together in all dese twenty-seven years and he ain’t know I ain’t cooking today.

“I good, man. How was practice?” I ain’t move off de couch. All de other days I does push and push and push ’til I exhausted. Boy-oh take tings in he stride, of course he do, he have me.

“Dem girls getting really good,” he say. “We might take championship dis year.”

He does say dis every year. He have more faith dan me because by de time de girls get good and know how to work together dey does go off to college.

“You ain’t cook?” He rest he haunches down on de couch next to me thighs, lean in close, and put he sweaty hand on me forehead, as if feeling for a fever. He drag he hand down me face and neck and let it rest on me right breast.

“Junie-Ann stop running from de ball den?” I take he hand down gently and hold it in me lap. De skin of he fingers thick and hard. He is a teacher but he built like he born to carry weight. He turn he fingers to knead me thigh. Watching dem young girls run ’round does always make him come home feeling randy.

“She getting better,” he say. “You know is she father dat push she into netball, but I tink she starting to enjoy it little bit.”

He raise up and go put he bag in de hall closet, get a beer from de fridge, and disappear into de bedroom to go bathe. I miss de part on de radio where dey had spell de name of de woman singer in Sweden.

• • • •

“Good evening, beautiful brown full-bodied lady, how you do dis fine twilight? You smelling nice nice. I’d really like to give you some babies, about seventy-three or seventy-four would make us proud, don’t you tink? We’d make a lovely swarm together. Can I get a ride?”

“Really, Oswald. Is dat how you want to approach me?” Treevia tuck her wings in close, lower her hind parts protectively and waved she left antenna at Oswald as if clearing de air. “I see you. Yes, you handsome. Yes, you healthy-looking. Where you stay? I thought you was over by where de man does park de car, but me ain’t smell dat oil and gas odor on you.”

“Me dear Treevia, I could call you Treevia, right? Me wouldn’t dare harbor meself where me could be disturb from a sweet and restful slumber by de back-breaking pressure of one of dem brutish tires ending me life. No, desire of mine, I does relax over by de trash bins on de sunset side of de house. It not dat far. Is a great variety of eating places within walking distance. It got historical, traditional, innovative, vegetarian, pescatarian, and de usual fusion. You feeling hungry? Come by me for a while and let me tempt you.”

Oswald turn, hoping to be followed.

“You can stop showing off anytime now, Oswald. I have plenty children already.”

Treevia start to move off towards she nest at de base of de casha bush beside de hibiscus hedge. She had spent de night enjoying de warmth and aromas of de almost empty beer and soda bottles. But wid de sun on de rise she didn’t have time to be standing out here in de open refusing Oswald again.

“Besides,” she continue, “if I decide to make more babies, I demanding more dan a smear of mushy mess, de majority of which does end up dribbling down me legs, causing even more of all you to follow me ’round.”

“Is so it go? Treevia, you are certainly worth trailing behind. I always admire de fine way you carry youself. Come on over to my place. Let me feed you while you tell me your demands. Your coloring attracts me, dose lovely dark patches down your back. I would gaze at dem while we . . .”

“Ain’t gon’ be no gazing.”

Treevia turn to go.

Oswald scurry a little to her left. Maybe she hadn’t gotten a good look at his wings. How strong dey were. How unusually long. He flutter dem open, just a little.

“At least let me escort you to your nest.”

She changed direction.

“Oh, don’t be like dat, fine lady. I just want to ensure your safety. Wouldn’t want you to be prey for any hungry bird like dat bananaquit up dere in de flamboyant tree.”

Treevia look up. What bird? What bananaquit? She ain’t see no bird.

“And I’d protect our children just as well.”

Oswald opened he wings to their full extension. Face to face wid Treevia now. He grin.

• • • •

I been practicing for over six months now. I does come out in de back yard for ’bout two hours in de middle of de night. Don’t nobody notice. If I sex up Boy-oh hard he does sleep like he dead. If he sex me too too good I mightn’ get up neither, but dat don’ happen enough to keep me from practice.

First I used to come in me nighty but dat change when I fall down too many times. Now I does keep a ole pair of jeans by de back porch. I does roll dem up and put dem in a plastic bag cause one time I find a mahogany bird on de left leg. Me ain’t know who was more shock, me or she. It wave it antennae at me as if in warning before skittering away. I could see t’was a she cause she belly fat fat wid eggs. I screech loud and jump ’round like I was dancing for true. People say when I scream I does sound like a horny cat so I sure dem inside sleeping ain’t even turn over. Of course I had tink to step ’pon she, but as she was moving fast and she was outside, in her home, not inside in mine, I calm meself. I is a muddah too. Plastic bag make we both happy.

Once de bottles dem all lay out in a rough square I rest most of me leg weight ’pon de nearest one. A ting I learn is to put dem down in a grid pattern, so dey ain’t all facing de same way. Den dey ain’t so quick to dash me to de ground. I roll me foot on de first one. Toes, arch, heel, back and forth, ’til me foot know de bottle and de bottle know me. Den I roll over two bottles, den three. I ain’t standing on it yet, mind. Just me leg weight. Den I switch off and do de other foot, de other leg. Come time I tink, but Mable, you schupid or what? Why you lay out thirty bottles when you only practicing wid six? But I like de look of all a dem splayed out in front a me. Dey know I coming, soon as I get good enough. Is like dey is a ocean of glass and I learning to swim. Some a dem I must curl me toes to grip and others I must make me foot more round. Before I put me full heavy weight, what me doctor ain’t happy ’bout, but me and Boy-oh does enjoy, I decide to try two foot together. I sit down on de ground, raise me knees in de air and learn to roll de two a dem same time, moving in circles, triangles, checkerboard squares. Heel, toe rhythms. One ting I tell you, me belly gon’ flatter doing dat. Weeks go by ’til I feel to move up to sitting in a folding chair I bring from de back porch. I making de patterns more intricate. But I still ain’t standing ’pon dem for real yet.

• • • •

“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy, guess what?”

Dat is me middle daughter, Rue, screaming into de phone while I at work. I keep trying tell she dese tings have microphones but she does talk like ole people on de phone. Always yelling. But dat is she all over. She gon’ talk, she gon’ tell and when she excited she gon’ yell. She call me on me work number too, cause she know me cell phone pack down in me bag. I take de black receiver, plastered over wid Property of Consumer Affairs, out de back door. De green garbage bins busy feeding flies and I step more into de parking lot.

“Okay, I listening. What happen, Rue?”

“I got it. I got it! I got it.”

Rue be going for so much me ain’t sure what we celebrating. Dean’s List? Valedictorian? Scholarship Award? She graduating from University of the Virgin Islands in June. We still working out how to pay for she Master’s in Journalism.

“I was picked to be secondary announcer at Calypso Tent. I’m going to be live on air! On the radio and TV. And people will be streaming it from all over the world!”

“Wooy-yoii, chile, dat is great. Just great. I so proud of you. When you find out? Just now?”

“Yes, Doc Cyril called me. I sent him an audition tape. Lots of people did. And he picked me! Me!”

“I know you gon’ be wonderful, Rue. You made to do dis. You does see everyting and tell all. You is just right for de job. He gon’ love working wid you.”

“I hope so. I have a meeting with him next week. And then every two weeks until Carnival.”

“Un-huh.” She calming down a little and I could bring de phone closer to me ear. I notice I standing on one foot, circling me ankle in de air. I switch to de other foot. De heat getting to me, de stench of food waste from de cookshop two doors down. De cement alley come like a oven baking everyting in sight.

“I glad you call me. Dis wonderful news. You gon’ call you father now?”

“I’ll call him later, when he gets home. I have to go back to class. I’ll come visit on Sunday. What you cooking?”

“I gon’ surprise you,” I tell she, but really ain’t gon’ be no surprise. I gon’ make she favorites.

• • • •

Treevia napping in de green Ting soda bottle when she find sheself swooping through de air and den placed back on de cooling ground. She could see a bright light swinging about ’til it come to shine directly in she eyes and she wanted to run, run and hide, but she couldn’t self see what was going on. T’wasn’t de moon, moving so close and fierce. Nor even de back porch light, which all a dem had done get used to. Treevia wish she was in de dark brown Red Stripe beer bottle instead, where she would blend in little more. She creep nearer de opening and peer out, antennae twitching wid fear. Could she make a run for it? Climb over all dem bottles? Up and down de slippery waves of glass and make it back to de hibiscus hedge before death find she? She was still to teach she youngest how to make green leaf mold. She and she muddah suppose to go foraging for dead crab leavings next bright moon.

Treevia had see de woman, Mable, come out in de night and play wid de bottles many times before. But she had never come dis early. Dis time, as de commotion continue, wid bottles landing everywhere and de light from de woman hand lantern searching out de creator’s own footsteps Treevia could only wait and wonder why she always take such risks. She know she love de slight pressure she feel when crawling into each new bottle. She know she love to wallow in de smells and pooling puddles. She wonder if she best friends and worst enemies both right and she gon’ die a death dat swarms will be warned about for generations. Treeviaitis: Death by stupidity.

De light steadied and stilled and Treevia move closer to de neck of de bottle to peek out. A foot. Mable’s naked foot came down at her. Treevia screamed.

• • • •

I had just finish working out a very simple routine when Boy-oh come sneaking up behind me and I almost break a bottle I land so hard.

“Mable, what you doing out here in de middle of de night, baby?”

He say it gently, like he tink I crazy and he gon’ have to take me to de building widout no windows.

“Nothing,” I say. De lie all around me.

“You been getting up in de night a lot. I thought you was watching TV. Someting wrong? You feeling all right? You ain’t sick, are you? Or talking to some man on de phone?”

“No, man. I ain’t talking to nobody. You ain’t see de phone dere on de charger where I does leave it?”

“Den what you doing?” He step closer. “Why you have all dese bottles strewn about de yard?”

I start to pick dem up, gathering seven a dem in de crook a me arm. I could carry a lot one time now after almost a year.

“I teaching meself to dance on bottles,” I mumble. He hear me doh.

“What schupidness you talking, woman?”

I turn to him, ready to claim ain’t nothing again. Den I get hot.

“Is schupidness, yes, but is my schupidness. I ain’t bothering nobody and I having a good time wid it. If you ain’t happy for me den leave me alone.”

He reel back, not expecting how mad he make me so fast.

“Mable, baby,” he say, putting on he seductive voice, “leave dat for now and come get in de bed. You need to rest.”

I suck me teeth and carry me bottles over to de casha bush, throwing dem down harder dan I usually do. I go back for more and he stand dere watching me. Big hands in he pajama pants pockets. I ain’t know why pajama pants does have pockets—we must pay for dreams now?

“I coming soon,” I tell he.

By de time I reach de bedroom after taking off de jeans and washing me face and feet, Boy-oh was done sleep and snoring. As he feel me besides him, he push he hardness on me backside, wrap he hand around me right breast, and start to stroking me head which I had done braid and cover for de night.

“You acting crazy, woman. You know dat?”

“Is a harmless crazy,” I say. “Get used to it.” I still mad.

• • • •

Next morning hear what Boy-oh tell me.

“I gon’ help you. I is a good coach. Tonight lemme see what you doing.”

I turn from de stove.

“Why?” I ask he.

“’Cause I see de light in you eye. From when we had first meet.”

I turn back to de stove, a big grin splitting me face.

“All right,” I tell he, “I show you.”

• • • •

You tink Boy-oh keep he mouth shut? No, he tell everybody. He tell Finality and Rue, call Gloria and Kenyatta who both stateside in college already.

“You Mommy gon’ be in Parade,” he say. He getting mix up, he so excited. “No, no, not Parade. Tent. Calypso tent night. She gon’ perform. Dancing on glass bottles. She have dis routine. You have to see it to believe it. Is like magic, like a miracle, ’cause you know you muddah ain’t no lightweight.”

Kenyatta, who always practical, ask what kind of shoes I wearing and what song I dancing to. Gloria come wid, “Mommy, do you really tink that’s safe?”

“When last you see safe?” I ask she. “Once you born, safe done.”

Rue tink it’s wonderful because, and she ain’t say it like dis, but I know, whether I good or bad is more publicity for she. And Finality, she barely want to talk to me ’cause I’s an embarrassment. She sixteen.

• • • •

After Treevia’s near-death experience when Mable foot almost crush she in a Jarritos Tamarind soda bottle, she decide to give Oswald a ride. He was right ’bout all de good places to eat round by his side of de house. Dey been walking out at night together through de whole of de hurricane season and she carrying. She had make six broods already and he had five heself, so when dey all together dey make a green tree look brown.

One night Oswald say dey should all go up in de flamboyant tree to watch what Mable and Boy-oh doing. Dey start to gather dere every night. Oswald does keep up a running commentary on de happenings in de yard. He know more about humans dan any of dem ’cause he does watch de television and listen to de radio through de window. More dan once he jokes had make everyone in de tree flutter wid laughter ’til Mable and Boy-oh notice dem and decide practice done for de night.

• • • •

Since Boy-oh done tell everybody he know dat I gon’ be in Calypso Tent, everybody got someting to say. One set a people is “you really shouldn’t” and “ain’t you too old?” and dey want to say “too fat” but dey ain’t dare. And de next set giving me suggestions and ideas. Next ting you know, I have a costume and a headdress. I decide to do me dance to a steel pan version of de song I tink gon’ make Road March. De song name “Flinging Ting” and is about dancing, pelting waist, wukking up, but I like to tink when I step ’pon de bottles, dat de soda does fly out and go up de noses of de people who doing evil.

Boy-oh help me choreograph de steps. Dat was one of de hardest tings I ever do. Harder even dan learning to ride life’s ups and downs and not take it out on de people ’round me. Harder even dan learning to let de multi-colored vessels buoy me, even doh I know I should be falling and getting cut to shreds. In time I start to arrange de bottles so de size, placement, and colors help me remember de steps. De sound dey make when I move on dem only I could hear, but it add to de rhythm and keep me pointing, flexing, and arching. Keep me dancing ’til de song done.

• • • •

“You have your two-legged, your four-legged, your six-legged, your winged, and your scaled. We, being gifted wid wings and legs, have to help dose wid limited abilities,” Oswald say.

He standing on a dying flower. It bright orange color make a good background and dey could all see him clear clear. He voice not loud and dem in de middle have to repeat he words for dem on de far side.

“Me ain’t see why you want us to help dem now, in dis way,” Uncle Yellow Shading to Beige say. He always contrary and grumpy because he never get to mate. It to do wid he coloring.

“Uncle Yellow Shading to Beige, we all know you as kind and generous, directly descended from de original, primordial line of de keepers of de soil—”

“Listen here, Oswald, don’t you try tell me what me and mine, and you and yours, and all of us, been doing since time began. We know dat, what me want to know is why me should leave me comfortable, fragrant hole to go in motor vehicle following after dese two-legged hairless primates? We live good in dere yard, yes, de food good ’round here, but we do what come natural and ain’t owe dem no more dan dat. What why you got for dat, eh?”

When dem in de back get de word, dey bring dere opposition forward in a loud chorus.

“Yeah, why?”


“Dat’s easy,” Oswald shout, “it’ll be fun.”

Treevia know he losing dem.

“Dey need us. But dey don’t know dey need us and dey don’t appreciate us,” Treevia say. “Dis a chance to show dem how beautiful we are.”

“What’s appreciate taste like, Mama?” one of Treevia’s youngest ask. “Taste like chicken?”

“No, it more like ice cream,” Treevia answer, “delicious but not necessarily nutritious.”

“Well, who need it den?” Uncle Yellow Shading to Beige raise up, getting ready to leave.

“Consider shoes,” Oswald bellow.

“Shoes?” Treevia look over at Oswald wid she antennae drooping.

“Dere will always be shoes, right? Who here ain’t had a wild scare wid shoes?” Oswald turn, looking behind heself into de empty air as if death stalking dem all now.

It quickly gon’ quiet as everyone strain to see de threat.

“Dere will always be shoes,” Oswald turn back and bawl out again. De anxious among dem jump, ready to fly.

“Bird shoes. Mongoose shoes. Poison spray shoes. Am I right? Rat shoes. Tire shoes. Dere will always be some kind of shoe ready to squeeze de ooze out of you, and leave you belly up. But until dat night come, leh we make some fun. What I saying is, leh we all be all together shoeless.”

Oswald spread he wings and flutter dem wide. He bounce up and down on de flower, shouting at dem, shoeless, shoeless, shoeless. When he miss he landing and fall gracelessly to de ground, dey lean to stare down at him. One ting dey all, except Uncle Yellow Shading to Beige, agree on, Oswald certainly entertaining.

• • • •

De big day come and we in de car driving down to de baseball stadium where de Calypso Tent being held. It only four thirty in de afternoon and de show don’t start ’til seven. We rest de bottles near enough to de stage so it would only take about ten minutes to get dem set up. De audience gon’ be restless but it can’t be helped. I so nervous I can’t self enjoy de other people acts. Me muddah ears does perk up every time I hear me daughter’s voice through de loudspeakers and I know she doing good. Boy-oh rubbing me hands and even me feet when I does sit down, trying to keep me calm. I running through de routine in me head, matching each note wid a step.

When time come, Boy-oh and Finality go on stage to place de bottles. Rue on stage wid Doc Cyril and dey keeping de audience laughing. Doc Cyril teasing Finality because he know she is Rue’s sister even doh she covered from head to foot in a clown costume. Boy-oh ain’t bother wid no disguise, as he had done tell everybody and when he decide to do a ting he have no shame.

It my turn now and de music start. De bottles set up good in de hexagon shape we had practice. Me costume, a brown bodysuit wid strips of different colored filmy cellophane, twirl and catch de light as I move. It make a crinkling sound like de fizz of a bubbly drink. Me headdress is a tight-fitting crown wid a three-foot spray of white feathers shooting up in de air. I dance ’round de stage one time, letting me body and de bottles and me feet feel dis new place.

Soon as I step on de first bottle it crack and crumble. It had happen when I first start practicing but not in a long long time since. Is de difference between de wood stage floor and de soft ground of me backyard. I gon’ look a fool in front of everybody. De one ting I try to do for me, for fun, gon’ bring me head low. Lower dan it ever been before when I was doing all dat was necessary, widout nothin’ frivolous.

A sharp pain gon’ up me foot and I could feel de lightning of it all de way up to me groin. Me eyes fill up wid tears. I had try teach me children to do right, to strive, to be responsible. Dis me chance to teach dem to reach for joy, for happiness, for fun born of foolishness, and I making a mess of it.

I step on de next bottle slower, losing de beat, trying not to panic. I could feel me blood pulsing outta de arch of me foot and I feel de slipperiness and know I in trouble. I carry on even doh I could hear de audience murmuring and feel de shame crawling on me skin. I breathe hard and look past de lights up into de night sky, avoiding de faces of people I been revolving around on dis small island me whole life. Just when I feel I could get back into de rhythm despite de sharpness of de pain, de music gon’ bad.

I hear Boy-oh cussing, but he smart and had bring a back-up recording which he was playing same time. De speakers not strong but me and most of de people close to de stage could hear it. De audience gon’ quiet quiet. Come de last chorus de blood from me bleeding foot causing me to glide and shimmy in ways I never practice. Arms flailing, waist pelting, knees bending, I barely maintaining me balance. But me ain’t fall yet.

Next ting I hear de audience screaming. Could it be me dey celebrating? Me, who all me life had do all me shoulds and none of me coulds? De smile I had wear for de stage turn real.

• • • •

When I reach off de stage, I find Boy-oh face stiff wid shock.

I can’t hear Rue at all, but Doc Cyril repeating like a crazy man, “I never see dat before.”

• • • •

Treevia, Oswald, and de swarm had made their way into all de car’s crevices. De big open field, fill up wid people and lights, loud music and good tings to eat was too much temptation to be ignored and de swarm had scatter. Treevia and Oswald had follow Mable, Boy-oh, and Finality, but Mable dance was almost done by de time Oswald cajole everyone to come back and line up on de roof of de stage.

When Mable do she final move, hop-stepping to de front, wid she arms floating like butterfly wings, de rainbow colored cellophane tapes on she costume lapping up de stage lights and flinging colors like sparks, Oswald, Treevia, and all he could find jump from de roof and flutter in de air behind she. De many weeks of sticky soda and beer on dere wings catch de light and shade de flavors into bright colors. Dey arrange deyselves in de shape of de flamboyant tree dey know so well and hang dere, swaying as if being touched by a small breeze. Den for dey own finale, dey form up into dey own shape. One huge, glistening blattella asahinai. Eight hundred and thirty-eight roaches, fluttering in de air as one, right behind de grinning Mable. Defying shoes.

• • • •

I don’t work at de Department of Consumer Affairs no more.

Dey call me De Roach Lady.

I dance, dey come, and I lead de roaches out de people homes and up into de hills. Everybody happy and nobody sick or dying. Harbor Market, nor none a dem, ain’t sell none a dem poisonous pesticides for months.

Gloria and Kenyatta glad dey in de States, even doh I been on de news four times already. Boy-oh tink is great since me income triple and he almost famous. Rue okay, she all about Rue and know how to make a good ting better. Finality, well, she can’t wait to be grown and move out.

Me? I hope I make Miss Aggie proud.

Celeste Rita Baker

Celeste Rita Baker (she/her) is the author of Back, Belly and Side, a book of short stories, some in Standard English and some in Caribbean Dialect. A Virgin Islander currently living in New York City, she has published stories in The Caribbean Writer (“The Dreamprice”), Calabash (“Responding in Kind and Jumbie from Bordeaux”), Abyss & Apex (“Name Calling”), Outcast Hours (“Not Just Ivy”), Strange Horizons (“De MotherJumpers”) and several other places. A proud graduate of Clarion West 2019, she loves doing live readings and has participated in the Blerd City Con and the BSAM Memphis Con and has taken many other opportunities to share her work with audiences, sometimes in costumes that she makes herself. Her website is and she’s quietly on Twitter as @tenwest55.