Publish Date: May 28, 2014

Julie E. Justicz 

The fresh catch that landed mid-October came not from England, like her predecessors, but from a tiny Welsh hamlet. In every other way, she fit the species of teachers Dede was accustomed to: early twenties, glue-white, and completely overdressed for the island school. She showed Tuesday morning, wearing a turquoise top, a black skirt, and clicky heels, unlatched a stiff leather briefcase to pull out a stack of papers and a grip of pencils. When she turned to the blackboard, sweat islands dotted the silky ocean of her blouse. 

Miss Evans. Her script was tidy, but the chalk skipped and broke when she tried to add the name of her hometown: Llanrhy . . . r. . .n. She brushed yellow dust from her skirt, took a deep breath. 

"I'm delighted to be here," she sing-songed in that Welsh way. Her eyes told another story. Wide-set and wide-open, they scanned the rows of desks with a mixture of curiosity and dismay. Student faces rain-bowed back at her; hair spectrumed too—from blond to red to black—some of it spit-slickened, some plaited, some matted into coral fingers. Dede wished she'd brushed hers out before school, instead of leaving it in yesterday's unbalanced, overly-chlorinated pigtails. 

"It's a shame we couldn't start the school year off together." Miss Evans' cheeks turned puce. "Not to worry, though. We'll make up for lost time." She swallowed hard and looked for something to lean against. It was only 9:30, but already muggy and hot in the trailer--even for the well-acclimated and appropriately dressed. Dede doubted Miss Evans would make it to the end of the school day, never mind the end of the term, if she didn't get a glass of water and sit down soon. Dede waved her arm so she could offer to go and get a drink from the main office. 

"Ye-e-es?" Miss Evans spread the vowel into rolling hills. 

Jethro guffawed as if Miss Evans's lovely accent were a joke, and shoved his long tanned legs out towards the blackboard. Dede changed her mind about fetching water--too risky to leave Miss Evans alone just yet. 

"How do you pronounce the name of your village, Miss?" 

Dede had visited Aberdyfy, a small town in mid-Wales, with her parents once when she was seven or eight; she remembered slate beaches, grey sea, green mountains blending into a sky softened with drizzle. Beautiful in that monochrome way of the good old U.K. Nothing like the sharp contrasts of the Bahamas. 

"It's Llan-rhych-wyn," Ms. Evans said, her voice like two wine glasses clinking. "And you are?" 

"Domini Dawes, Miss, but everyone calls me Dede." 

She sat up straight, chin up. Another teacher meant another chance to present herself as well-liked and plucky, like the heroine of those boarding school books. A Tippy, or Kit. The kind of girl who hosts midnight feasts. Nothing like the truth. 

When Dede had first arrived on the island three years ago, and her hair got tangled and streaky from sun and the ocean, the other white students at Sunward labeled her "Cave Lady." This school year, though, all of them—blacks, whites, and in-betweens, friends, enemies, and neutrals—agreed on "DooDoo." They threw it at her every chance they got. Only Johnny McGuinn, the caretaker at the flats, treated her with any respect. "Miss Domini," he'd called her when they first met beside the pool over the summer and he shook her hand like she was somebody special. 

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Dede," Miss Evans said, as if assessing her good points and faults. 

Dede's face rapid-burned. She felt afraid of what Miss Evans saw in her, but wanted her to keep looking. She wanted to hold her teacher's attention and ask her more questions, like "Why did you choose to teach here? Couldn't you get a job somewhere decent, like London?" Dede's mother didn't like it when she asked too many questions. "No one likes a precocious child," Mum would say as if precocious meant rude, instead of intellectually mature and naturally inquisitive. She could be so English sometimes, sprinkling praise on her criticisms and criticisms on her praise. 

"Before we begin work," Miss Evans said, rubbing her hands together, "We should get to know each other. I'd like to hear an interesting biographical fact from each of you . . . Shall I call names? Is there an attendance list?" 

Good question. Dede hadn't seen one since sometime last year . . . Miss Morley had kept a register in the top drawer of the teacher's desk . . . but that was bound to be gone or outdated. This school year, anywhere between nine and fourteen kids showed up in the middle-school trailer most days. That was the age range, too. Timmy Stoltz, the youngest of the bunch, was a red-haired American and a rabid nose-picker. He sat on Dede's left in the second row and irritated her to no end with his constant prattle. His Dad operated a fleet of glass-bottomed boats for tourists; but on weekends they trawled the out islands in their big vessel, looking for pirate treasure. Jethro Ingraham was the oldest student, and a straw-haired white Bahamian-- a Conchy Joe--who disliked school almost as much as he hated the British. He plonked himself right in front of Dede every day and tormented her every chance he got. Loads of girls in school liked him because he would tell crude jokes. Dede couldn't wait for him to move on to Freeport High 

next year. While she pulled down the class average in height and weight—five feet and six stone—Dede had no doubt that she was close to the top of the school in brains. How should she demonstrate her perspicacity to Miss Evans? Did Miss Evans even know what perspicacity meant? 

Miss Evans continued, "Whilst everyone thinks of a nugget to share, I should tell you a bit about myself. I was born in Wales. I have four younger brothers, who are loads and loads of fun. The youngest, David—we say Di, in Welsh—is thirteen. My father is a farmer and he trains border collies. My mother teaches at the local school. I went to Uni in London. I love teaching and I am excited to be here." 

Jethro yawned and stretched his long legs out so far that he nudged Miss Evans's polished black shoe. She withdrew a step and bumped up against the chalk ledge. 

Hold your ground, Dede thought. 

"Who would like to go next?" Miss Evans said. 

Dede tried to block Jethro out of her thoughts so she could come up with a personal detail to intrigue Miss Evans. What to say? That she and Mum had left England almost three years ago after Mum spotted an advert in the Midland Telegraph and thought it a good idea to apply for a job—her first ever—and in the Caribbean. That back then even saying Grand Bahama felt like an adventure. That when Mum learned she'd been made Short-Term Hospitality Clerk at a casino, the real fun began--she took Dede shopping for a bathing suit at the central Birmingham Marks & Spencers and they skipped up and down the aisles, holding hands. That a fortnight later, they said good-bye to dear old Dad and another coal-soot March in the Midlands. That Mum promised him, "We'll be back for summer holidays." That Dad didn't fuss. Like always, he sat in front of the television, watching the Birmingham City Football Club fall apart mid-season. 

That Dede didn't fuss either, because she didn't know any better then. Should she just come right out and tell Miss Evans that she wanted to go back to Birmingham? 

Dede raised her hand, but Timmy started talking without waiting his turn. Wrecks off the Abacos, bones buried in the walls of underwater caves. Blah blah blah. Dede'd heard it a million times. Miss Evans nodded and smiled as if she were intrigued. That wouldn't last long. Dede'd listened to the same bloody stories for almost three years. She had to get away; so tired of being stuck in a moldy trailer with a bunch of sub-tropical idiots. She'd turn twelve in . . . she checked her Timex . . . in thirteen days. October 23, 1975. Didn't she deserve to attend a school that would prepare her properly for her O Levels? 

But Mum was all wrapped up in her not-so-secret boyfriend, Silvio, who'd helped her get a Bahamian work permit, thanks to his friends in the commonwealth government. Which meant Mum could stay on and work on after Bahamian Independence. Indefinitely. Would Dede have to go to high school here, too? Dad still wrote occasionally, but he hadn't come to visit once. His last letter mentioned that his beloved Blues had been relegated to Division 2. As if Dede cared one iota about football. Did he still watch every second of every bloody game? Sometimes, Dede's thoughts echoed her mother's words, just as her mother's words sometimes interrupted her thoughts. No one likes a precocious child, Domini. 

Miss Evans sighed loudly. Timmy was still going on about buccaneers: Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny and how they stole the sloop, "Revenge." Anne Bonny avoided hanging, Timmy said, because she was preggers. Miss Evans's smile had melted and she leaned against the blackboard; sweat drip-dripped down her neck and into the v of her blouse. 

Dede raised her hand again. When Miss Evans called on her, she offered to get water. She'd run fast, in case Jethro had planned something special for the teacher's first day. 

"That would be lovely, Dede. Thank you." 

Jethro coughed several times as Dede walked across the trailer, punctuating each hack with "Careful, DooDoo." By the time she got to the trailer door, the whole class was snickering. 

As she raced across the playground, rocks slipped into her sandals and she had to stop, balance on one foot and empty out her shoes. In front of her, the main office building housed the head mistress, Mrs. Parks, and a young Bahamian secretary named Miss Hibbert, and also the teachers' lounge. Teachers came and went pretty fast: they never liked the heat, the cramped quarters, the hodge-podge of students who viewed island school as a lark—something to put up with until their proper education began. Dede stayed on in the same sweaty double-wide, making her way through the 186 colour-coded comprehension booklets in the Read Brittania series: red, blue, white—outdated stories about fox hunting in Warwickshire; the differences between wheat, barley and oats; a runner named Roger Bannister who broke the four-minute mile. What would happen when she finished all the whites? 

She adjusted her shoe strap and scrambled over the rock garden behind the office building. Garden: discarded chunks of limestone from school construction, more like. Lizards scurried over the crags as Dede rushed into the office through the back door, remembering at the last minute to close it softly. Miss Hibbert hated slamming. The school secretary sat behind her desk, talking on the phone, put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered: 

"Yes?" "I came to fetch a glass of wateror the new teacher." 

Miss Hibbert pointed to the teachers' lounge and went back to her conversation. 

Dede found a red plastic cup on a draining board and filled it up. On her back way out, Dede asked Miss Hibbert if there was a class list for the middle trailer. The secretary looked annoyed and shook her head. She covered up the mouthpiece again. 

"If the new teacher has any problems, tell her to come see me at lunch." 

To start the afternoon session, Miss Evans patted a pile of papers on her desk. An asse-e-essment, she lilted. Not a te-e-est. Though it sounded very much like one: Math, maps and metaphors. Dede had been around long enough to know that when a grown-up insisted something was NOT what you suspected, then it most assuredly was. Not a test. Not a permanent move. Not a boyfriend. She could play the same game, though; she could stare right back into any adult eyes and say Not a problem. The truth was Dede actually liked tests. Mum had gypped her out of the Eleven-Plus in England, so this impromptu exam would be her first real chance to shine in quite a while. She cracked her knuckles and asked Miss Evans if she could help hand out the …assessments. 

When Miss Evans replied, "Why, yes, Dede, thank you," she elbow-crooked a pile and hurried along each row of desks, trying not to flash glee in placing a copy of the not-a-test face down on the desk of every student. Dede knew that she could out-assess them all. And when Miss Evans looked over the answers tonight, she would see Dede's brilliance and ring up Mum to insist that she make proper plans for her daughter's education. Then Mum would have to snap out of her fantasy life and get Dede back to England. A proper school. Roedean. King Edwards. 

"Here you are, Enid; "Here you are Natalie; Here you are, Jethro." 

Miss Evans followed doling out brand new pencils; she didn't see Jethro kick Dede in the shin and whisper, "You're aching for a breaking, DooDoo." 

The clock on the trailer wall was broken, so Dede offered to loan Miss Evans her Timex. Already a step ahead, Miss Evans pulled a stopwatch out of the bowels of her briefcase. After Dede returned to her seat, Miss Evans told the class to pick up their pencils; then she finger-clicked the start. Dede's heart thumped happily. She felt that she was going to do well. She had to. She had to show them all what she was capable of achieving. She imagined herself in a new school uniform—topped off with a blazer and a straw boater. In a few short years, she could be Head Girl. 

The first few questions proved easy. Analogies: Island is to archipelago as country is to ________________. Chronological is to time as ordinal is to __________. Dede snaked her left arm around the paper, hung her head low to obstruct Timmy's line of sight. He was such a little snot-digging cheat, always copying work or wasting time. Usually, Dede tried not to let Timmy distract her, but today too much was at stake. She needed Miss Evans to understand her capabilities. Colt is to stallion as filly is to ___________. Ha! Dede had been out of the UK for a while, but she still had horse sense. Unlike Jethro who bragged that he'd never even set foot in England and had never finished a book. He also boasted that that he could trace his ancestry back to Puritans who'd fled England and settled on the island of Eleuthera in the mid-1600s. Well, he'd have no excuse for bollocksing up the next section—Bahamian geography and culture. Name two major crops grown on the islands during the 19th century. Cotton and sugar. What is the main industry of the Bahamas today? Tourism. What do the colours in the Bahamian flag symbolize? Black for the people, blue for the sky and the water, yellow for the sun. When did the Bahamas gain independence from England? That would have been . . . three or was it four teachers ago? 

Fifteen minutes in. The trailer sweated. On Dede's right, Prudence started to moan and tug at her dreadlocks. Long-legged, jet-black and super-fast on the playground, Prudence was a quiet, studious girl in the classroom but she'd get all worked up when she couldn't figure out maths problems. Now, Prudence rocked and wailed in her seat, her hair waving like a sea fan. Miss Evans didn't know yet that Prudence's parents died last winter in a boating accident, a tropical storm coming up out of nowhere. Prudence sometimes fell into terrible crying spells when numbers overwhelmed her. Dede wondered if she should raise her hand to explain, but Miss Evans was already coming over. 

She put a hand on Prudence's shoulder. "Just do you be-e-est. That's all I ask of you." 

She gave Prudence a Polo mint from the pocket of her skirt. Prudence eyed it warily, then popped it in her mouth. Miss Evans returned to the front of the class, and Prudence sucked the mint and continued rocking. 

Jethro picked at a scab on his elbow until blood bubbled and threatened to roll. Why did the other girls think Jethro was so special? Yes, he was tall, yes he had muscles, but he was also disgusting and mean. Last week he'd cornered a frog by the administration building and dropped a rock on it. She shook her head to make herself concentrate. On the test. Not on all the island gits. 

Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension: 

From 1940 to 1945, Edward VIII, Britain's Duke of Windsor, served as governor of the Bahamas. He had abdicated the throne of England to marry Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee. At first, many Bahamians thought the duke was callow and unlikeable. During a terrible fire in the city of Nassau in 1942, he helped battle the blaze. His act of valour helped win the hearts and minds of the natives. 

Jethro stood up and stomped to side of the trailer; he yelled over his shoulder that he needed a piss. Yes, he used that word again, even after the paddling he got last Spring. But Miss Evans didn't react as he said it, she just watched him push open the trailer door and disappear. 

Maybe she was used to kids talking that way in Wales. Or maybe she was scared, on her first day and all. She probably had no clue what to do with Jethro. Dede raised her hand to offer a suggestion. She could whisper in Miss Evans's ear, for instance, that Miss Braithwaite once got a week of good behavior out of Jethro after she asked him to kill all the cockroaches in the broom closet. She paid a penny for every carcass. 

"Yes," Miss Evans said, wiping her forehead. "What is it now, Dede?" 

Dede caught the reprimand. "Never mind, Miss." 

Fine. She'd have to learn about Jethro the hard way. 

Several vocabulary questions followed the comprehension paragraph: Abdicated, valour, Callow. Easy, easier, easiest. Mum used to sing to Dad: Try to remember the kind of September when you were a young and callow fellow. Turn the page again and a happy shift to the mathematics section. Dede's favourite subject. Something pinged the outside of the trailer. Miss Evans hurried toward the sound; as she moved, a volley of rocks pocked the tin. Stupid, bloody Jethro. If he'd left dents in the trailed, maybe he'd get more than a paddling this time. Maybe he'd get expelled. Would that mean he'd get sent away to school? Dede held her breath. Miss Evans's face flushed conch-belly pink as she ran the inside walls of the trailer, down the long side, across the short, then back up the other length, following the fusillade. Perimeter = 2L + 2W. Dede liked geometry much better than algebra; somehow shapes: circles, rhombi, squares, triangles, trapezoids––fit her brain, managed all her thoughts, much better than the order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally was the mnemonic Miss Morley taught last year, but Dede found it distracting. What had Aunt Sally even done that needed forgiveness? Left her husband to run off somewhere? Not a divorce, she'd probably said, just a trial separation

Limestone meteored through the mini-window and landed in the classroom. Outside, Jethro whooped. He thought he could get away with anything and so far he was right. Supposedly, he was the reason Miss Popplewell left two years ago. Supposedly, he'd locked her in the trailer after school one day, and supposedly, she spent the whole night alone, a prisoner in her own class. And when the custodian found her the next morning, Miss Popplewell was so frightened, she just ran home, packed her bags, and headed straight to the airport. 

Miss Evans rushed to the trailer door. "Keep working, cla-a-ass," She said, before stepping down onto the playground. 

Dede bit her thumb nail and read the next problem. If the radius of a circle is 2.5 centimetres, what is its circumference? Circumference equals Pi times diameter. If Dede wrote out as much of Pi as she could remember, would it impress or annoy Miss Evans? C=Pi x D. She filled two lines on the test page with pi, grouping the numbers in sets of five, which was how she'd memorized them . . . slices of pi. No one likes a smarty pants, Mum's voice said. So Dede erased back to 3.14159. Ugly pink-brown rubber worms rolled over her assessment. She brushed them onto the floor. Dede love numbers and colours. If she could, she'd make an original colour for pi. But for now, one slice of pi should be enough for Dede to demonstrate her superior intelligence without making her seem like a complete show-off. Besides, three-quarters of the class probably didn't even know what an irrational number was. Did Miss Evans? Did Mum? She'd dropped out of school after her O levels to marry Dad. To have Dede. No one had to explain that they weren't happy together for very long. She'd heard them fighting for months before the move. Not fights, Mum said. Disagreements. Some of the topics of their "not fights": His Complete and Utter Lack of Ambition. The Way She Acted Around Other Men. Football, Bloody Football. No one had to tell Dede that they weren't even together anymore. 

Dede finished, turned the test over, stood up and walked to the trailer's side window. She looked out across the playground. Miss Evans had Jethro in a corner by the administration building and it seemed that she was giving him a bloody good tongue-lashing. Jethro hung his head and stared at the ground. Dede couldn't help but smile. Then Jethro bent on one knee in the rock garden, as if asking forgiveness. What was Miss Evans saying . . . what could she possibly say that would have that effect? Maybe she'd threatened to take him in to see the Mrs. Parks, who would call Jethro's father. Then Jethro would have to leave Sunward forever. Perhaps he'd go away to boarding school in England. Cheerio, Jethro! Only . . . . that was what Dede wanted for herself. 

"Sit down, Doo-Doo," Timmy said. "Or else . . ." 

"Or else what, you little snot?" Timmy was too young to be treating her so disrespectfully. 

Across the yard, Miss Evans put a hand on Jethro's elbow and pulled him up to standing. Dede wished she had bionic ears like Jaime Sommers, the Six Million Dollar Man’s girlfriend, who'd been terribly injured in a skydiving accident. With her new parts, Jaime could detect sounds much too quiet for most people to hear. That would be incredible, to be able to hear through walls not only at school, but also at the flats. Sometimes, Dede tried pushing her ear against Mr. McGuinn's walls at night to hear what was going on inside but she never got any good information. Mr. McGuinn just had his telly on too loud. 

Beyond the main office, just past the driveway, she saw a car slow down and park on the shoulder outside the school fence. It was yellow . . or was that just the sunlight hitting it? Was it him. . .Mr. McGuinn? Dede twisted her neck for a better view. Had he come to give offer her a ride home? She checked her watched, only 2:23 p.m. He said he often drove this way. No 

problem at all to pick her up. Mum had said not to inconvenience him, but if he was here anyway . . . If she had the bionic man's eye Dede could beep-beep-beep in and see Mr. McGuinn's expressions, even the usual sun-peel on his forehead. If it was him, she'd take the ride today. 

Miss Evans started to walk back across the playground. Jethro heeled. Dede hurried back to her seat and pretended to check over her assessment one last time. When Miss Evans came into the trailer a few seconds later, she had rolled up her sleeves and pony-tailed her hair to reveal ears. Big sticking out ears like Prince Charles who’d come to the Bahamas for Independence festivities in 1973. Supposedly, he'd danced at ten balls and made lots of friends. A right twit, Mum said like all the Windsors. Miss Evans's wet spots under her arms were even bigger than her ears, but she seemed otherwise unfazed by whatever had happened with Jethro. The tough Welsh farm girl in her showed when Jethro slunk in behind her, sank into his seat like a remorseful border collie. What could she possibly have said to get him under control? Jethro had never cared before about teachers' threats or punishments before. What words? Dede would love to know what kind of words filled him with shame and made him pay for his bad behaviour. She smiled in her seat, and tried to make eye contact with her super new teacher. Yes, Miss Evans was truly promising. If she could get Jethro to bow his head, kneel, and obey, then surely, surely, she must also have the power to get Dede off this cracked and crooked island. 

Miss Evans stood in front and clapped her hands once. 

"Now, class, ass-ess-ment time is up. Turn your papers over and stop working. Will somebody please help me collect them all?" 

Dede sat up tall and raised her hand. 

"Je-e-thro," Miss Evans said, though he hadn't volunteered. 

He completed the task slowly, proceeding along each of the three rows, not saying anything, not annoying anyone. He walked to Miss Evans's desk and set all the papers in a pile, then patted the edges even. He arranged the pencils in the empty red water cup, like a bouquet of yellow stems, points aiming toward the ceiling. Then he dug both hands deep in his pockets, and stood beside the blackboard. 

"Thank you kindly, Je-e-thro," Miss Evans said. "You can return to your seat now." 

He remained standing, staring out at the classroom. 

"Is there something else?" Miss Evans said. 

"I’d like to share my biographical detail now, since I didn't get a chance this morning." 

Dede's gut churned a warning. She wanted to prepare Miss Evans . . .but maybe she was wrong. Hadn't she witnessed a humbled Jethro on the playground a little while ago? 

"All right," Miss Evans said so loud and confident that it was almost like bragging. "Tell us your tidbit." 

With his hands still deep in his pockets, Jethro hitched his shorts, tossed his red-blond hair, and used his full wattage smile. An actor before his audience. "Thank you kindly, Miss Evans." 

Dede raised her hand but either Miss Evans didn't see her or chose to ignore her again. Too late now anyhow. Jethro owned center stage. 

"My name, as you know, is Jethro Ingraham and I was born and raised in Freeport, Bahamas. I have no brothers, not even one called Di, so that's no fun at all. My father is a lousy no-good politician, not a ruddy sheep farmer. I don't like school. Or teachers. But I do love the Bahamas." 

Dede didn't dare look at Miss Evans; instead she focused on Jethro, on every little part of him that she loathed. His reckless, sun-bleached hair, the wide blue eyes that other girls said were dreamy, his chapped lips, the pimple scabs on his arms. 

"I especially love island life, in all its forms." He pulled something out of his right pocket and set it on top of the test papers. "A curly-tailed lizard," He held its body with his thumb and index finger, "Leicephalus carinatus. Fast and curious, fairly easy to catch. I got this one when Miss Evans was lecturing me about etiquette and education. These buggers are easy to corner, but you can't pin them down for long. . . because . . ." 

He grabbed a sharp pencil from cup and raised it above the desk. Then he stabbed the lizard through the thickest part of its tail. Miss Evans screamed, covered her mouth and backed up into the black board. It crashed against the trailer wall. Chalk scattered and rolled across the floor. Half of the class yelled out, half laughed, desks and chairs scraped as students jumped from their seats. Dede remained in her second row center spot. Her stomach heaved, but she would watch Jethro's performance to the end. She would not give him the satisfaction of running away. 

"Enough." Miss Evans had regained her footing. "That is enough." Her face the colour of raw chicken. "Everyone sit down." 

Jethro released his finger hold on the lizard's belly; the creature jerked forward, shed its tail, fell from the desk and scurried into the chaos. Jethro found his desk. His torso heaved with adrenaline and pride as he sank into his seat. 

"Welcome to Bahamaland, Miss Evans," he said softly. "I do so you enjoy your stay." 

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