This morning, I’d like to welcome Yvonne Blackwood to the Write Stuff. Yvonne is sharing an excerpt from her yet-to-be-published novel, The Guarded Virgin. (Note: the hurricane referenced in this excerpt is 1951’s devastating Hurricane Charlie, not to be confused with 2004’s Hurricane Charley.) I know you are going to enjoy this one, so Yvonne, you have the floor!
Excerpt from Chapter 7 The Guarded Virgin
This summer—1951—Novelette takes off to Westmoreland as usual. I go to the post office in Fairhaven town every few days to collect letters, but I don’t hear from her for three whole weeks. I can’t understand it. We had parted good friends, and promised to write each other as we always do. Usually she would write first to say she arrived safely, and give me a run-down of what is going on at Seaford Town. I would reply and tell her what’s going on here, and back and forth we would write. On August 16th, I go to the post office for the umpteenth time. This time, finally, I receive a letter from her. I rip it open and read it right there outside the post office. It’s a short one, and it baffles me. In fact it doesn’t have much detail like her letters of previous years; it really tells me little.
This summer has been a tough one. I miss you and all the fun things we used to do. My relatives here are okay but very nosey. I wanted to tell you something before I left for the holidays but I didn’t know how to say it. You are so GOOD and focused; I am NOT.
I met someone before I left Fairhaven for the holidays. It was like electricity the first time he touched me. I was scared and thrilled and worried and excited all rolled up into one. I can’t tell you his name, and I know my mother and father will kill me if they knew I’ve told you this much. I walked two miles to the post office to mail this letter myself; to make sure no one reads it. This is our secret. I just have to share it with you before I burst.
Write soon but don’t ask any questions about the secret in your letter and don’t mention it.
Your friend always,
I rush home, grab my writing pad and fountain pen, and begin to reply right away. I want to know what she is talking about, why she took so long to write, and what this big secret is. After writing a couple of lines it hits me like a thunder bolt; the holidays are almost over. A mental calculation tells me that it will take about four or five days for my letter to reach Novelette, and a similar time-frame to receive her response if she replies immediately. With a sinking feeling, I realize that there is no point writing now. I’ll just have to wait for her to return. I rip up what I had written. All of a sudden, my mind goes into a tailspin. Casting my mind back to the past, and I see a clear picture. I’ve never seen Novelette pay the slightest attention to any boy, either at school or at church. I actually think she hates boys since they call her “Porky” to her face. When I’d shared my secret with her that I liked Frederick Donaldson, she’d laughed and said, “Ah, Winnie! That scrawny boy? Forget it.” She never once said she liked any boy. Now she’s writing to say a boy touched her and how it was thrilling. This is pure madness! I’m going to sleep on it to clear my head.
* * *
I awake early the next morning as is customary, and start on my chores. First, I pick a basket of succulent Spanish needles to feed the rabbits with. The blades are wet as if it rained during the night, but it’s just from the overnight dew. The rabbits love it though; after eating it, it seems that all they ever do is pee and excrete little pellets that fall through the slots of their pen to the ground beneath. With the rabbits taken care of, I go and tether the goats to a guava tree in a grassy area of our land that isn’t cultivated. At least they can scurry for their own food. I call the chickens together in front of our kitchen and throw out a bowl of corn on the ground for them to eat. They gobble up the seeds before you can sing the first verse of Mary had a little lamb. I plan to check for eggs later. Finally, using a broom that my brother, Amos, made from thatch leaves, I sweep the yard—hard caked-up red dirt—removing all thrash and loose soil that has been blown about by the wind.
By 11:00 o’clock I notice that the animals are very restless. The rooster, normally quiet by this time, continues to crow non-stop. Jane, our donkey, begins to bray at intervals, which is the most unusual thing of all. I’d forgotten Jane even has a voice; she uses it so rarely. To add to the mayhem, our dogs, Rex and Bruno, begin to howl. Outside, the air is as calm as if the whole district is holding its breath. I rush into the kitchen where Vera is preparing lunch.
“Vera, something very strange is happening. Do you hear Jane braying, and the dogs howling?” I ask.
“Yes I hear them. What is it?”
“I don’t know, but something’s in the air.”
“Let’s go turn on the radio,” Vera says. She covers the food with a tea towel and we go into the hall to listen to the radio. There’s a bit of static at first, then it clears up. Nat King Cole’s smooth voice filters through the airways singing his latest hit, Too Young. Vera and I sing along.
They try to tell us we’re too young Too young to really be in love. . .
We know all the words. When the song ends, an announcer comes on. He warns that Jamaica is in the path of Hurricane Charlie. It is a category 4 storm and is expected to hit Kingston in the afternoon.
“So that’s what the animals are sensing,” Vera says. “I’m amazed that they can pick up on something like this.”
Fear begins to creep into my mind. “What is a category 4 storm, anyway?”
“I don’t know all the details about these weather things, but I know it’s the second-highest hurricane rating according to the scale they use to measure hurricanes. Winds can get up to150 miles an hour.”
“What do we do now?” I’m beginning to shake. Although I’ve never experienced a full-blown hurricane, I’ve experience storms before. The lightning, thunder, winds, and heavy rains scare me.
Seeing fear in my eyes, Vera says, “Manchester is sheltered by the mountain ranges; the storm may not hit this part of the island. Anyway, we still have to prepare. Run to the field and tell Ma and our brothers about the announcement. We’ll have to board up the windows—that is if we have any boards. We need to fetch water from the tank to fill up the pitchers and buckets. We have to make sure we have kerosene for the lamps; battery for the flashlight, and get some canned bully beef and bread. There are a few things we have to do to prepare; hurricanes can last for days.”
I’m stunned. I stand in the hall as if turned to stone.
Go! Go!” Vera yells.
I sprint to the field far back from our house to give Mother and my brothers the news.
* * *
By 4:00 p.m. the sky changes colour to a strange violet-red mixed in with shades of orange. Standing on the verandah, I see towering storm clouds forming. The clouds look angry. I’d never seen anything like it before. The colours mingle together and appear like colours you would see in a roaring fire when you throw in wood that is wet. At this point there is no wind, just an eerie silence. Maybe, as Vera had said, the storm won’t reach our parish.
Shortly after, the sun sets and darkness descends like a thief in the night; one minute light, the next darkness —no in between twilight. Suddenly, I hear a roaring sound like a train coming too fast into a station. A wind, building up speed, rushes toward Fairhaven. Mesmerized, I stand and stare into the distance. The first blast slams into our house; it knocks me flat on my back onto the verandah floor. I scream.
Mother yells from inside the house, “Winsome, get in here immediately.”
I want to rush inside, but I can’t stand. My feet feel like they’re made out of Jell-O.
Oh God, don’t let me die out here. Think Winsome, think.
I roll over, and crawl on my hands and knees, to the door leading into the hall. Fighting the wind, I manage to wrench the door open, and hanging onto it, I swing my body into the house. I lock it behind me, then sit on the floor panting, trying to catch my breath. Mother and my brothers are standing around the radio. It’s turned on but only produces static noises.
Mother turns to look at me. “What on earth were you thinking, standing out on the verandah? This is a hurricane. A sheet of zinc from somebody’s roof could have sliced off your head! It’s only going to get worse. Go to the bedroom and stay there.”
I stumble like one of the drunkards on a Saturday night in Fairhaven town into our bedroom and find Vera there. She seems almost as frightened as I am. We hugged each other as we sit on our bed. Rain begins to pour. The noise of the wind and the trees thrashing wildly outside, sounds like it is the end of the world. The sound of the wind becomes louder, changing from a hissing sound to a screaming, moaning sound. It forces its way through every joint and crevice in the windows and doors as it presses itself against the house from every side. Coming in titanic, unstoppable gusts, the wind shakes our house like it is a doll’s house. Drops of water begin to drip through small holes in the roof. Our roof is made from cedar shingles. I suspect that the dripping is coming through the holes made by the nails that anchor the shingles. Vera and I look around for containers to catch the water.
Yvonne Blackwood is an author, columnist, blogger, and speaker. Published books include: the very successful Into Africa a Personal Journey—ranked in the top five best-selling books under Ghana on Amazon.com in 2002; the hilarious Will That Be Cash or Cuffs? set in a supermarket chain, and Into Africa: The Return.
Yvonne has published several short stories and won the millennium short story contest held by the Canadian Authors Association, Toronto Branch, in 2000. The story, Best Friends, is published in an anthology titled In all Directions. She is a contributor to the fabulous anthology Canadian Voices.
Yvonne has written numerous articles for several newspapers including Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star. She currently writes an interesting blog at http://www.blackwoodyvonne.com and owns the website http://www.healthytealovers.com
In addition, Yvonne is a retired career banker and a world traveler.