An excerpt from Trinidadian writer Sharon Millar's The Gayelle, published in The Whale House and Other Stories (Peepal Tree Press, 2015)
The Gayelle (excerpt)
by Sharon Millar
Photograhy by: Nadia Huggins
The cistern in his grandfather’s house stretches as far as little Mannie can see. When Benita puts him in the hammock after lunch, Mannie sees the cistern at the end of the veranda, the violet water hyacinths come up like torches from the surface. The coconut trees beyond the water stand on the surface, and he is sure the calm un-punctured expanse is as solid as the blanket under him. Sometimes he sucks his thumb and hums, the vibration in his mouth moving to the top of his head and becoming part of the slide into unconsciousness. In the minutes before he drifts off to sleep, the green turns luminous, its calmness part of the suspended state between waking and sleeping. On this day in late June, he is lightly sweating when he wakes and he is hot. He slips out of the hammock and unclips the black latch on the gallery gate as he has seen his mother do many times before. He has just turned three and is seldom still. From the gate it is only a few feet to the deep end of the cistern. It is a great shock to him that the surface of the water is not solid. He sinks in slow motion, opening his mouth to cry but the water rushes in and clogs his lungs. He does not yet know of things like abalones and clams, fish or eels but in the deep green of fresh water, he thinks he sees things that he will later come to know as things of the deep sea.
Benita is boiling a pot of zebapique, stripping and crushing the bitter leaves, when she hears the latch of the gate. A winnow of air brings the sound of ruptured water straight to her belly. It resonates as a vibration, a sense of something changing in the air of the house. When Benita runs to Mannie, he is lying on the bottom of the cistern, glowing like the inside of a shell. Wailing Benita breaks the surface with Mannie’s limp body and lays him under the green canopy of overhanging ferns. Her mother brings herbs while Benita breathes life into the limp lungs, pumping the baby chest and feeling the fingerling ribs under her palms. When Mannie begins coughing, Benita keens and keens over his wet head. Mannie’s father is deep in the forest fighting roosters.