Turtle, Under Cover
Kyle Ingrid Johnson
I can’t be a West Indian woman. I’m New England born and raised. It’s the mid-1980s and my friend and fellow cruise-ship crew member, Lincoln, and I are living on a very small island in his home country, running a nightclub. My new neighbor says, “You can be no West Indian woman until . . .” She always wants to teach me something useful. I listen to her, anxious to learn, but not wanting to attempt a transformation. I simply want to live comfortably here.
The woman hanging clothes on the line is telling me I have a lot to learn to live in her country. I have learned a great deal already. I am thinking of all the books I have read; she is thinking about practicality.
How to clean a fish. I have read all about them in a book, studied their photographs and colors. I recognize them now: grouper, bonefish, snapper—many kinds of snapper; I like the yellowtail and also the red. There’s Sailor’s Choice, a name I love, and angelfish, which I want to use in combination with inn should I ever own one—the Angelfish Inn.
My neighbor, Truly, has a tough side that appeals to me. She’s sturdy and muscular, and even though she often wears dresses, it’s because the weather is hot and she wants to stay cool. I have seen her in trousers—I’m thinking of the day she was fixing her car—and I keep picturing her in a bar in P-Town, a place I might be if I wasn’t here.
Truly looks indignant when I tell her the fishermen clean the fish for me down at the docks. “You can be no West Indian woman until. . .” She starts off most of her sentences this way. She frowns. Why would I want the men to do what I could do for myself? She’s right, of course, but I wonder how much time I want to invest in learning. I am more of an observer. That said, I don’t stand by and watch her hang clothes. My hand dips into the jar that holds the wooden clothespins and I help her hang the sheets.
B-Bo and Sunny run the kitchen at our nightclub. They tell me that I was seen hanging laundry with Truly Corey. That true? I explain that she has been teaching me to clean fish, prepare conch, how to fix rock lobster. She is trying to teach me how to be a West Indian woman. B-Bo and Sunny exchange a look. They tell me that they cook all that food right here in the bar. “Just buy it from us. Better for you.”