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In Search of Grape Ape

From: Callaloo
Volume 37, Number 5, Fall 2014
pp. 1083-1092 | 10.1353/cal.2014.0192

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In Search of Grape Ape

Irmadine stooped before her dressing table, tilting her head at a variety of awkward angles so she could see herself between the brown splotches that had been growing like giant amoeba, silent but always lurking, somewhere between or behind her mirror. She both smiled and winced at the image before her: smooth dark skin and full hips, but sad eyes and angry cheekbones. The previous night she had gone to a revival meeting, a shot of tonic for her soul, and like a drunken sailor ended up oversleeping. Now she was running late and fluttered the palms of her hands to smooth stray hairs that had escaped from her unprocessed hair that was braided into neat cane rows.

Wedged into the top right corner of the disfigured mirror was a photograph. A crack as thin as a hair of spider’s web had over the years traveled menacingly from underneath the photo towards the mirror’s center. A square of toilet paper held to the top of the photo by Celo tape covered it from easy viewing. Irmadine lifted the paper veil for only a few seconds. The photo: a fading image of Irmadine in a floral swimsuit—two-pieces seductively held together in the center by a large brass ring. Her skin glistened in the sunshine and beside her stood a handsome man, short and stocky with dimples, his arms around her waist. They stood in a clear pool of water that reached their knees, and in the background an impatient waterfall roared over rock steps framed by exotic greenery. Her heart began to gallop like it was trying to keep pace with the waterfall. She lowered the toilet paper and slapped the palm of her hand on the picture as if she were stemming the flow of blood from a wound. Who would believe that was only a decade earlier when she was twenty-two, maybe twenty-three. To Irmadine it may as well have been a century. Aside from the picture, the only thing left of him now was a bottle of Old Spice stashed in the corner of her underwear draw. When she needed to flee from the present, for just a moment, she would uncap it and hold it under her nostrils until she thought she would pass out. In addition to the Old Spice, of course, there was Gloria.

A jumble of far less exotic items crowded the dresser: an opened bottle of Bellrose hair oil; a green pillbox hat with a feather; several ribbons, clasps, and other hair accessories spilling out of a rusting Royal Dansk cookie tin; two empty mugs with a thin settling of Milo at the bottom, and two empty plates smeared with a blend of oil, tomato skin, and tiny fish bones. Aside from the dresser and the bed, the small bedroom could not hold any furniture and opened into a kitchen matched in proportion to the miniature fish bones it produced. Irmadine packed up the dirty dishes and hurried into the kitchen.

Gloria, Irmadine’s eight-year-old daughter, lay sprawled on the bed, hovering over the Andy Capp comic strip in a week old copy of the Jamaica Gleaner. There was something enchanted, Gloria thought, about the world tucked inside newspaper pages or wedged [End Page 1083] into televisions sets, the same world of Grape Ape and Daffy Duck, where everything always, always worked out. Gloria’s hair was nicely combed into three plaits—one to the top of her head and two to the back that were adorned with crisply ironed blue ribbons. She had cherubic dimples, and people always complimented her on her sweet smile. “She not force-ripe,” women at her mother’s church would say, “like some of them other girls who want to think them is big woman when them is just pickney.” Gloria had put lotion on her calves and arms as her mother repeatedly instructed, and she wore the same dress from the night before—pretty pink background with white flowers and puffed sleeves.

Irmadine finished washing the dishes and wiping down the counters with a cloudy mixture of water and...