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  • Devil in the Shape of a Rooster
  • Soraya Jennalee Palmer (bio)

“Mommy, what’s a condom?” I ask.

“What?” she says.

Mom’s cooking now which means she’ll be pleasantly distracted for at least another four hours by my estimation (which means I’m more likely to get a nod and a smile, less likely to get a beating). She’s been cooking and walking around the house a lot lately considering how big she’s been getting, what with my new sister on the way in eight weeks or so, according to Sasha. It’s a particularly good time to talk to Mom since Sasha’s got test prep after school all week, leaving the kitchen to be championed by my mother and me alone.

Mom’s looking after a pot of callaloo on the stove, swizzling the okra and bhagi and coconut milk faster than before.

“Remember that scene in the movie The Mask where Jim Carrey starts making balloon animals?” she asks without looking up from her pot. “At one point he pulls out a condom instead of a balloon. That’s what a condom is.” Her body looks small and oval like an egg, her copper forehead glistens like pearls from the heat of the burner.

“Oh,” I say, but I’m sure there’s more to this question. “It’s for Sex Ed, Mom.” Actually, I’m asking because about a week ago, Sasha brought one home to show me. Sasha says you use the condom to penetrate the woman. They call it “penetrate” because the man gets sharp down there right before he pierces the woman, which hurts until she gets used to it. “Six months tops,” Sasha says, “He pierces her till he’s finished—or tired.”

Now considering the nature of my wondering, I’m sure to make good use of our wooden countertop so that I look as lady-like as possible, clasping my hands together and resting them on my knees, far away from my crotch.

“Sex Ed? Already? How old are you?”

Mom loves to remind us how, since having me, she’s been losing track of important things like our ages, names, and birth dates. Lord knows what she’ll do when the third one comes along.

“I’m twelve, Mom.”

“Twelve?”

“In two weeks.”

She stops swizzling, looks from me to her rising belly and then back to the pot again.

“Huh. Yuh get yuh period yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Good,” she says still swizzling. “Come learn to make callaloo while yuh father not here. You know how he love to quarrel about Trini people food. It soon finish, but at least you could learn to swizzle. Learning to use the swizzle stick is a lot more important for adulthood than knowing about condoms. Trust me.” [End Page 1112]

I uncross my legs from lady-like position on the kitchen stool and go to stand beside her. “Now plenty people like to use a blender for callaloo. Don’t fall into that habit. It’s a lazy habit and it’s hard to break. Proper callaloo should be swizzled.”

She puts the stick in my hand. With hesitance I start to rub my hands back and forth around it trying to get the rest of the spinach and okra to turn to mush under the weight of the wooden eight pointed star. The stick keeps slipping from my fingers; it won’t just stay in place and mash the food like it’s supposed to. My hands are quickly becoming tired and the solids left in the pot aren’t looking any mushier.

“But Mom—”

“Besides, I don’t like what they teach you in these liberal American schools. American boys like to do experiments on young black girls, you know. Think about that before asking me to go by this one and that one house for dinner.”

When my mother starts to feel on edge her dialect switches from New York to Mayaro so fast you think you’re talking to two different people—which is true. My mother in the US and my mother in Trinidad are often two different people. Lately, she talks about...

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