Acknowledging Jean (Rhys)
Jamaica was a far away land when England ruled the seas, thought Grace Poole. Now, everything was so close and admiralty law, the law of the sea, the reach of sea upon which land rested, permeated every crevice. Who were these rulers with such power? Who mandated such conformity?
When Antoinette, the deranged Creole girl looked up at her, Grace shuddered. How had she come to do the bidding of these secret rulers, to lord over Antoinette? Who was the madwoman, the madman?
Always searching for hidden magic and signs in nature, Antoinette was beyond reach. Or was she? Her father, mad too. An ungodly inheritance and connection between them. Or not. What if, instead, a natural reaction, unguarded?
Grace steadied her hand, ready to take the next drink when she realized, gazing into the smoky glass, something suffocated all of them, made them less than they were, dazed them into conformity and consensus. Something crept out of the wide sea, got onto the land, dug into souls, captured hearts.
The Sargasso, the sea, the wideness of the insanity. Surely, anyone with good intent would wave in the water like a slim reed. Until, they knew they were sane and the others insane. And then they would look at others differently, with compassion and insight.
“Watch her and never let her out of your sight,” Masters had said in his American voice, the new rulers whose stretch exceeded all bounds, who inherited the reach of the English, who maintained military bases on every continent, who were NATO, the IMF, the World Bank and encircled the Far East and played rough in the Mid East, the Caspian and placed black-op weapons in space, whose central bank flooded the world with IOU’s. The global, interstellar policy.
“Keep your mouth shut, never tell anyone how I keep her and I’ll pay you twice as much as any of my servants. Make her quiet and you will become well-off.”
And that was their secret, the reach of their admiralty law. His words reverberated in her mind, keep your mouth shut, never tell anyone how I keep her and I’ll pay you twice as much as any of my servants. Make her quiet. The domestic policy.
We were all, all of us, nothing more than servants to them, she understood. And we were all to be quiet and they would pay all of us to make one another quiet. And that was their secret. And that was our work. To serve and to be quiet and to make others become quiet and to work without flinching for wages. That was American. Those were the Masters.
She put the glass onto the small wooden eating stand, got onto her hands and knees and gently lifted Antoinette’s head off the floor and, in a burst of insight, distinguished between the sane and the insane, brushed the caked drool from Antoinette’s lips and peered through the window at a brightly colored Velvet Thrush, singing for a sign.
~ Stephen J. Bergstrom