Thursdays I would have a go at the maid in the garage. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Her name was Jim. With vodou, you can work out your frustration, your sexual confusion, your fear.
“What if you fear vodou?” I ask.
She laughs. “Then there is no hope for you!”
Jimina doesn’t know much about vodou. She knows a lot about lying. I lie and tell her I am seventeen, and she tells me the members of Haiti’s secret Bizango society can change themselves into animals. I ask, “What kinds of animals?” Secret societies were begat by the slaves of colonial Haiti as a way to reclaim their identities. She says, “Any animal they wish.”
After school on Thursdays I come home and Jimina has already cleaned the whole house. She has her own key. No one else is home. Jimina has me follow her to the garage so we don’t mess up any of the rooms or even stand on the carpeting she’s vacuumed in neat rows. She vacuums the bathroom rugs after she’s washed them, holds the near edge down with her foot while she pushes the vacuum across the rug, combing its hair in one direction. Standing, she hikes up her dress and stretches her panties to one side and allows me only to unzip and pull it out the fly. Something is saved by keeping as many clothes on as possible. Or something is added. I obey.
All of what she knows about vodou she gets from books. She was taking a literacy class, and they said she could pick any subject. In the vodou ceremony, people dance and sing to the rhythm of drums to honor the lwa, or vodou spirits. The music and dancing of one particular ceremony is called the yanvalou.
I go at her from behind. First she says, “Wait,” and does a little preparatory work on her own, and then: “Okay.” She is concentrating on someone or something that is not me. She talks to herself. Sometimes she recites what she has learned from her books, tonguing the words between gnashed teeth. The yanvalou is a solemn rhythm played on drums of different sizes, on an iron bell called an Ogan, and to a time signature of 12/8.
She is a large woman. I remember seeing in a children’s book a large woman being scaled by tiny firefighters with hoses and ladders. The woman must have been three stories high. She was on fire. Or she had eaten something spicy. Or they were giving her a bath. I try to wrap my arms around Jimina. But her rump is so full and round that to bend over to hug her I would slip out of her. I hold as much of her as I can.
She talks vodou and pretends to be someone she’s not and she tells me to give it to her, and I try with all my might to count the garden tools hung on the walls. I am up on the step and she is standing bent over and her hands are spread on the hood of our car because Thursday is one of the days my father gets a ride to the fire station and I thrust and thrust and I can’t make her budge.
In the evenings, while my parents are downstairs watching television or having glasses of wine, I am upstairs at my desk on which is spread my papers and folders and textbooks of schoolwork. In Haiti, there is a ritual on December 24th. The ritual involves drinking turtle blood and taking an herbal bath and eating a meal served on banana leaves. The short-handled thing with the three prong things. The long-handled thing with the bent end like a big fingernail to scrape at things with. The rake, of course. Two shovels. Pruning shears. The weed-whacker. The edger. The watering can. I have a science quiz every Monday. Tuesdays I come home to an empty house. My mother works Tuesdays and Thursdays eight to six at the picture-frame shop. Wednesdays I have math quizzes, but they’re open-book. I save myself all week for Thursdays, and I try to ejaculate without Jimina knowing so I can keep going for a second one, but she notices the extra lubricity and has me stop.
She satisfies herself while I’m going at it. “I don’t know enough about that yet,” she says. “Vodou,” she says. She laughs. I slow down and try to pace myself.
Jimina doesn’t wear a wedding ring, but she has children. She is not black or Haitian or an ethnicity you would assume from the vodou thing. She is olive-skinned and dark-haired and maybe she is Greek or Italian or Indian or Latin. She says she is a combination of many peoples, and that is why she is so big. She laughs. Jimina is not her real name. I embrace her from behind. She does not look at me while I am going at her. The sky-blue light cotton work clothes she wears do not vary. The seams of her dress and blouse are of white thread. She will not let me touch her breasts or her hair.
After it’s over, I slip out of her and lay across her back and wrap my arms around her body and inhale and squeeze and continue to make little humping motions against her. I shut my eyes and try to go perfectly unconscious.
She goes into the house and leaves me to zip up. She is heading for the bathroom where, I know, she will not step on the vacuumed rug. She reminds me to take off my shoes before coming inside. When we are in the house together, she is protective of her clean-up job and will not let me make a sandwich. She cannot bear to see the kitchen made a mess of so soon after her hard work. She carries her white nurse’s shoes with two fingers. She wears sock-booties over her thigh-high hose and will not put her shoes back on until she is standing outside the front door on our welcome mat. When she gathers her things, and only then takes the white cash-filled envelope with “Jimina” on it which my mother has placed on the counter next to Jimina’s purse, she goes out the front door and drops her shoes on the mat and steps right into them so her sock-bootied feet don’t touch the dirty welcome mat, and then she turns to close the door behind her and calls out, “Don’t you touch a thing,” echoing in the house with the slam of the door.
And I don’t.
I don’t touch a thing.
Feeding the spirits, the lwa, is a big part of practicing vodou. Each particular lwa has preferences. Azaka: corn, bread, brandy. Bawon Samdi: a black goat or hen. Danbala and Ayida Wedo: rice, milk, eggs. Ezili Freda: delicacies of all kinds. For many lwa, fiery liquor or rum is expected. In the vodou ritual, you are supposed to offer the food to the lwa, but you end up eating it yourself, and that becomes part of the celebration.
Her boyfriend comes by one Saturday afternoon. My father has the day off, and he opens the door, and I stand behind. The boyfriend has his hat in his hand. He can’t help glancing behind my father to peek into the foyer. He sees our family portrait on the wall heading up the staircase. He sees us three, me, dad, mom, and then notices me, the real me, standing there in the foyer. His eyes go wide. He might be the father of Jimina’s children, or maybe just a boyfriend. Or maybe a brother. I don’t know. He begins to shake.
“Can I help you?” asks my father, who has recently been made station chief.
The man looks ashamed as he presents as obliquely, as delicately as possible, shuffling up alongside the unspeakable, the story, with its inevitable biological consequence, and I am sent to a Jesuit boarding school for boys.
That’s how I end it. Just like that. It’s abrupt, I know. But it’s true. I am sent to a boarding school.
I told this ending to the boys in the first dorm I was in, and they called me “Papa.” So when I was moved to another dorm, I told the new boys that my mother comes home early one Thursday. She uses the automatic garage-door opener. The dark chains above me and Jimina spasm and grind, and the whole wall of the door breaks its vacuum seal and seems to catch fire. The opening-up sounds catch me right at the base of the spine. I pull out of Jimina. Mother can’t believe her eyes, watching the frame of the garage door going up and revealing the picture of our legs running across the garage toward the door to the house. Me with my white pecker bouncing along like a garden tool, like a vodou offering, and Jimina huffing after, yelling take my damn shoes off before I go inside. The new boys, they liked that ending. They wanted to hear more.
I told them, Thursdays, I slept like a baby.