2 pages theme paper -Arun1990
Courtesy of Suzanne Drams.
sang," "L'ame Soeur," "La Virago," and "La Montagne de Feu," which is published for the first time in the present anthology.'
The author's energy and spontaneity are reflected in her novel and stories, sweeping the reader along with her passion for life, her love of the Caribbean, and her affinity with Caribbean women. Consider the touching, lively Rehvana and the cooler, methodical Matildana, mulatto sisters and protagonists of L'autre qui danse. Their common experiences as Martiniquaises exiled in Paris lead them away from Africanness, away from easy assimilation with the French, to hope, self-awareness, and mutual esteem.2 Consider Emma B., protagonist of the short story "De sueur, de sucre et de sang" : an attractive, warm mulatto woman married to the notary public since the age of 16, who lives isolated
Suzanne Dracius Suzanne Dracius approfondies) in literature and (1951— ) is a civilization, and wrote her doctoral descendant of Blacks thesis on Saint Peter and Pompeii. from Africa, Whites Since returning to Martinique in from France, Caribbean 1982, Dracius has taught French Indians and Indians textual analysis (analyse de texte) from India, and has a and Latin language, literature, and Chinese great- civilization at the Universite des grandmother. Like Antilles et de la Guyane, directed the Matildana, heroine of writing and literary creation her novel L'autre qui workshop at the Universite du temps danse (1989), Dracius is libre, and taught literature at a lycee "bien plantee dans la in Fort-de-France. Professor, writer, confusion de ses sangs" and mother of one son, Dracius still (well situated in the finds time for dance and music, two intermingling of her themes of her first novel. The second bloodlines). She was novel, now in preparation, will be
born in Fort-de-France, spent her titled La mangeuse de lotus. Her childhood in Martinique, and moved poems in Creole, with French to Sceaux, France, near Paris. She translations, were published in 1993 completed a university bachelor's in Brussels, Belgium, in the journals degree (licence) and a master's in the Negzagonal and Aux Horizons du sud. classics at the Sorbonne, prepared a She has written several short stories,
D.E.A. (Diplome d'etudes among them "De sueur, de sucre et de
and bored in their large home in Fort-de-France. Attracted irresistibly by the odors of caramel and sugar cane alcohol, the young bride descends to the distillery her husband has prohibited her from visiting; there she finds a world of workers' sweat, of liquid sugar, and of mutilating machines—[un monde] « de sueur, de sucre et de sang. »
1. Biographical and bibliographical information: editors' interviews with Suzanne Dracius, Arcata, California, April 1998, and by telephone January 1999,
2. Serge Medeuf, <<Entretien avec Suzanne Dracius,>> Antilla, April 17-23, 1989.
"Sweat, Sugar, and Blood" (1992) Suzanne Dracius-PinalieMMartinique
I don't know if Emma loves Emile. But that is not the question. The young mulatto woman is sixteen. Milky as a cherimoya fruit, tender as
the heart of a palm cabbage, two days must pass for her to become legally married, my great aunt Emma B.
You see the day after tomorrow Emma must marry Master Emile B., a leading citizen, notary public of Fort-de-France. Everything is ready: the lilies, the organdie, the damask and the tulle, and the dizzying mousseline, and even the royal orchids sent for from Balata, still palpitating with the humidity of the jungle, all white, immaculate. Around her everyone speaks of trousseau, coiffure and veil and gown fittings, train, posture, and again toilette.
Emma reels in this marriage as if in a whirlwind of white.
The third day after her wedding, Master Emile B. placed a short kiss on her lips, then recommended, as he departed, that she be sure not to venture into the neighborhood of the Distillery. Besides his notary public office on Perrinon Street in downtown Fort-de-France, Master Emile B1 inherited an antiquated little distillery that stubbornly manages to keep operating, up there, on the Didier Plateau. Since the property is vast, he had the old plantation home restored, with its old stones and wook from French Guyana. Emma lives there now, alongside her husband, who is new only to her, for there are a good number of (chabins) tots from Coco Hill who can brag from now on about being the bastards of B. But Emma never encounters any of these street children. She never goes to Coco Hill, on the other side of the road. It isn't any place for her, if you believe plump Mrs. Sonson. Every God-givien day, Master Emile drives down to his office, leaving her alone in Upper Didier with the women servants: Man Sonson, the cook, and little Da, Sirisia. Emma didn't think it useful to hire any more domestics.
Each morning, the same kiss, the same wish of "Have a good morning" and the same warning: "Don't go walking down by the Distilliery."
"What does he imagine?" thinks Emma, protesting to herself. "Is he afraid that I'll go get drunk on rum? But who does he think I am? I'm no longer a child! Besides, the carafes of alcohol are all within my reach on the bar in the living room, and not under lock and key; I would only have to reach out my hand..."
Maybe Emile fears the powerful erotic charge emanating from those big supple muscular bodies, their skin iridescent with sweat? Emma has only glimpsed them, the Distillery workers, when they came to offer their congratulations to the newlyweds, all brilliantined, vaselined, sporting ties and smelling of the eau de cologne "Star." But they disappeared as soon as they had arrived.
So the first days of her marriage passed. The morning of the eighth day, while Emile was absorbed in his daily
toilette, always as long as a day without bread--Emma had verified, with a glance into the bathroom, that her husband was quite busy passing the (coupe-chou ) scissors over his green mulatto beard, carefully rearranging the contour of that goatee which Emma was surprised to find a little ridiculous, at that precise instant--, the young bride, half-veiled, stole as if in a dream to the end of the veranda, at the opposite end of the house from the bathroom, to the place where, protected by the fronds of the fleurit-six-mois and the crimson curtain of hibiscus
from the Barbados, she knew she could watch to her content two or three curves of the road to the Distillery. Never could she take in the whole road with one glance, she knew already: tufts of giant bamboo masked a major portion of it. But where the fuzzy hair consented to open apart, there appeared a hole of light uncovering the end of a path. Emma needed nothing more.
The morning veils of fog had lifted in silence. The starlings, in the filaos, had begun their racket: chirping as if squabbling, they would go on until twilight again. Noisy and haloed in calm, the serenity of the daybreak gave new life to the woods agitated from below by the sparrow-like sissis in their branches, to the cocks hurrying to be the first to crow and thus to proclaim their supremacy, leading the cackling of the hens, and on to the acrobatic little anolis, green lizards already on the hunt, stretched out on a dwarf date palm, and to Emma, who had lept from her bed, her bare feet on the humid tiles, a hand gathering the lace of her nightgown around her neck.
"How cool it is, when the cock crows at dawn!" says Emma to herself, shivering. From the cold? From the feeling of being out of place?
Suddenly, sharp, cutting the air, rises the voice of a male devil that Emma isn't, alas, able to see.
Emma closes her eyes, lends her ear: "I pe ke ni siklon, man di'w! Pa fe lafet epi mwen! Ase betyize, ou ka plen
tete mwen epi tout se kouyonnad-la ! " ("There will be no cyclone, I tell you! Don't tell me stories! Stop with your
foolishness, I've had it up to here with your cheap tricks!") A second voice loses patience, insists on joining in. "Fesa ou le! Mwen, man za pare. Zalimet, luil, petrol, bouji, man sa fe tout
provizyon mwen. Kite Nsye Sklon vini ! " ("Do what you like! Me, I'm already prepared. Matches, lamp oil, gas,
candles, I've already gotten my provisions in. Let Mr. Cyclone come ahead!") "Gade'y ! I pa ka menm koute. Yen ki chonje i ka chonje toubonnman." ("Look at him! He doesn't even listen. He just keeps on dreaming,
This voice is still new, it tries to cover the other one. It will do so easily. It is a third man who speaks. Emma doesn't recognize in it either the timbre or the language of the first two. This one speaks a very rough creole. Ah hah! A man from the North! she says to herself, without bothering too much to ask herself why. "Sa ou ni an ka-kabech, ou, neg ? Ase depotjole ko-ko'w ! Ou ka sanm an t-toupi mabyal."
("But what do you have in that head of yours, my man ? Stop worrying about it ! You look like a t-toupie mabiale,") laughs a sharper voice.
Which of them just spoke? She's getting lost. Not the first man, she's sure. That voice, she would recognize it among a thousand, now that she has heard it. A flush rises in her face. Emma holds back a shiver. Of fever, this time? Ah! Get to the open space, so she can see them!
But when they arrive there, she won't be able to hear them any more. Already their voices are dissolving, their words are getting lost in the air. She can no longer distinguish what they are saying. All that reaches her now is a burst of hammered staccato syllables, always the same, incoherent: te-te-ke-pe-ka-pou-
pouki, the careful barking of the one who stammers and speaks more loudly than the others. To compensate, she says to herself.
"The air of Upper Didier is healthy, but at the present time we still need to watch out for invasions of spiders, clothing mites and ravers that leave droppings or lay all sorts of eggs in the hems of your clothes," explains little Da to Emma.
Emma jumps, promptly leaves her secret observation post, And Man Sonson goes one step further: "If you pack your clothes tight in the closet for a long time, you won't find
them when you come back again!... But Sirisia, my girl, stop fidgiting like that, you won't be able to finish your ironing, my dear, ah, Dear Lord! What kind of hot and cold is she looking for there?... So you think you're going to manage the burning square with your face all wet and then all that perspiration cooled off all over your body?"
Master Emile must have finished his interminable toilette. Standing straight and tall, his goatee triumphant, he is going to begin his daily ceremonial: good morning, good kiss and good advice... • That's it,off he goes at the wheel of his Panhard.
Up there, in the big house, Emma is getting bored. A hot odor of caramel and cane sugar alcohol rising from the Distillery
comes to tease her nostrils. The young woman enjoys sniffing, stronger than the perfume of a rum punch, much more inebriating than a rum-and-fruit juice planteur or that "tropical cocktail" people serve at the Annual Grand Officers Ball, the troubling fragrance, a mystery for her, of rum in the process of being made.
While waiting for Madame's first labor pains, little Da went out of her way to caress the trousseau of the newborn child with all the force of her imagination. Since then the trousseau concern is endless. Sirisia never stops washing, rewashing, ironing and washing the diapers once again, with the bibs and the little sleeved vests, the small sheets with English embroidery and the tiny mosquito netting. They would never consider preserving in mothballs everything that will touch the infant either up close or further away! "That would tear off his skin, poor little devil, and then the odor is going to suffocate him," assures Man Sonson in such a doctoral tone of voice. Now Da makes it a point of honor to watch jealously over B., the future heir to come, even though he is not yet conceived, even if Emma has her head much fuller than her belly for the moment. Whether Madame wishes it or not, he will be born and he will be male, there's no need to question that, "no good trying to get out of it," Man Sonson would emphasize if anyone should question it. Besides, a boy's first name has already been reserved for him, they could just add an "e," should it by some unlucky chance be a girl. If Monsieur had chosen "Arsene" instead of "Henri," it would have been even simpler, there would be nothing to change at all. That's Man Sonson's opinion,: even though "Arsene" means virile, she doesn't see any problem with decking a girl out with the name, since she will always have plenty of her own femininity! In any case, Man Sonson doesn't know Greek. It's really the least of her concerns. On the other hand, it poses a serious problem for the baptism, for the godfather designated in advance will refuse to sponsor, for the first time in his life, a representative of the female sex: "That brings bad luck..." If he gave his consent, it was for a boy. For a girl, it's another affair; he didn't even
think of that eventuality when he so firmly said, "Yes." One is so honored to sponsor a little male, so honored, but for a little pisser-in-secret...
Of course Emma enjoys listening to the jeremiads of the sententious Man Sonson who says her rosary of miseries, past, present, and future, while she scales the fish.
But the mystery of those men!...
Master Emile B. announced as he left that he wouldn't come up again for lunch today. As often happens, he has a business luncheon that will keep him in Fort-de-France.Tjip! Sometimes he even keeps such bad company that he has lunch at the market, eating a blaff -spiced fish or a court bouillon with red pepper served by imposing capresses on a plank of wood on trestles.
Never did Master Emile speak of taking Emma one day. She supposes that it just isn't done.
"rite tafiateuse, so you sip your punch without even waiting for me?" It's Aunt Herminie who just arrived. That's true, Godmother is having lunch here today, obviously! Each time
that Master B. needs to have lunch in town, he delegates "Cousin Herminie" to be "Godmother" for Emma, who is her niece as well as the one who carried her to the baptismal font--a B. from Saint-Pierre, not a B. from Fort-de-France, which makes all the difference. The B.'s from Saint-Pierre show a certain paternalism tinged with condescendence with respect to the B.'s from Fort-de-France; they have a square in their name right in the middle of Saint-Pierre in honor of one of their family who was a principal figure in that town--Emma has forgotten why--, but the B.'s from Fort-de-France have more money.
The historic and nevertheless penniless mulatto revels in the fact that the B. family is a great one, but Emma responds with a laugh:
"You mustn't confuse "great family" with "large family"!" Great or not, the B. Family has never captivated Emma. Lunch grows long. Godmother speaks all alone without realizing it; Emma
is no longer with her. Emma is in her own thoughts. Emma is outside the house. If there is one thing that really bothers her, it's not being able to get to know
anything. To know only one side of life. She cannot see anything, get to know anything. At least, know anything for
herself. Because she is "the mulatto's wife," "the boss's wife," and a mulatto woman herself, she isn't supposed to go see what is happening down below, what they are doing there, in there, inside the Distillery. She can barely snatch bits of conversation, when they arrive in the morning or when they leave, in the evening, their workday finished. If she hears them, they are still invisible, and as soon as she finally sees them, she can no longer hear them, they are too far away. Then they enter the Distillery. This moment is not one she sees, it's something she imagines, which must happen long afterwards, once they have passed the last meandering curve of the road where she has a last vision of the group of big men walking, always big despite the distance: she has never set foot in that satanic Distillery! It is for her an unknown world, the interior of the Distillery. She would like to go inside, see what they do there, find out how they set about doing their work, these men she just glimpses daily, men she observes on the sly, yes, learn how they manage to make rum from the juice of the sugar canes. Rum,
Emma has drunk it, with a good amount of sugar syrup and lime. Sugar cane, she has tasted. But that prohibited alchemy...
Oh! She learned many things, at the Colonial Boarding School on Ernest- Renan street, which attracts all the young ladies of "goodfoyalaises families" with their high collars and secular resolve. But everything ended so fast! Emma remained hungry. She wasn't a bad student, she swallowed entire chapters of the History of France and Navarre; she knows all her coursework in Natural and Physical Sciences and even the Geography of the wide world; she knows such pertinent facts as the name of the person who broke the Soissons vase and everything about auricles and ventricles, but she knows nothing about the production of rum happening only a few strides away.
Nothing seems more mysterious to her today than what is right nearby, that Distillery which encloses tall men with beautiful blue-black bodies that she can only watch pass by. Now that she is married, a woman, a bride, mistress of her own home, potential mother, nothing is more foreign to her than that world so close by, than that side of humanity to which she has no access.
They have raised a barrier between Emma and that world. Between their sex and her own.
Profiting from Godmother's nap, Emma slipped like a mongoose to the limits of the Other World. Clandestinely, furtively, without Man Sonson suspecting anything, or even Sirisia, a person so "up on things."
It is their time out too, it seems. It's normal: Godmother is always served her meals early, out of respect for her age.
A man stands on the threshold, his torso naked. After the effort, he slips his undershirt back on to keep from catching his death of cold. The undone weave of the knit shirt leaves bits of cloth which adhere to his sweaty skin. Emma recognized him instantly: it's the one with the voice, the first voice, the clearest, the one who best rips the air at dawn each day. She would put her hand into its fire.
What he would need is a good shower! But a cold shower, or even lukewarm, on such a sweaty body, that's just what makes one get sick. At least that's what the Bid People preach, so forget the shower! If Man Sonson were there, that's just what she would say to her, sacree pistache! But him, he already knows...
The man with the tank shirt wet with sweat stretched his long arms, then walked with slow steps to the shade to squat down, further away.
Others joined him outside, sat down with him under the most generous mango tree. They took out of their bags a large piece of breadfruit, some fried balaou, some accras, a hunk of cod: it's Friday. They eat with concentration, without saying a word. Wet Shirt pours a round of wide glasses of clear liquid, agricultural rum, surely, or perhaps simply water?
Emma doesn't dare go speak to them. She doesn't even dare approach them. Is it their muteness which makes such an impression on her? She only knows them as "speakers," when she spies on them in the morning. It is first of all through language that their complicity passes, by the shared secret of all those words that she steals from them, day after day--those creole words... Is it their silence which stops her, or the Insurmountable Barrier between her and that universe? Insurmountable perhaps, but certainly not one you couldn't find a way around...
Emma circles the group of men, at a good distance, to avoid being seen. Nearly on all fours she arrives at the back of the building, succeeds in
climbing over the sill of a low window.
Her blood dripped over the sugar canes, spattered the cane sticks. The escapade to the Distillery cost Emma three fingers. Such was the
price. And more, since she cried out. And especially because the men, who had already come running, shocked, at the sound of the machine inexplicably restarted, soon came to their senses in time to stop the crusher while one of them, the strongest, Wet Shirt, grabbed onto Emma's body with all the strength of his muscles, stretched to the point of bursting.
The man managed to brake the voracious thrust of the machine. --Otherwise that monster was going to crush her hand, the whole hand,
and then her arm, and then her whole body, don't you know!... Ah! Jesus-Marie- Joseph and all the saints, what did Madame have to go playing around those machines for? sobbed Man Sonson.
A good doctor of the family called for the emergency provides the necessary care to Emma's mutilated hand and Master EmileB., called abruptly from his work, made no comment. She was punished well enough for her disobedience! Never had they seen her so silent., in the depth of her eyes a light which would never go out. Jubilation, it was, the light in Emma's eyes...
Having lost the use of the fingers she knew how to use the best, Emma B. lived awkwardly--I refuse to say clumsily--, her life of a foyalaise lady, only one hand gloved, the left, first in white, then in navy blue, and finally in pearl grey. Fools said: "Luckily it wasn't the right hand!"
Some people saw a mystery there, others a kind of troubling charm; yet others read in it a sign of singularity or a form of provocation, though they wouldn't have been able to say exactly what sort. Very few knew what to believe; very few were in on the secret of Emma's rebellion.
When Emma died, in her one hundred second year, Oreste, her seventeenth child, placed on her deathbed--or should I say wedding bed?--the pearled glove of white cotton, the first, the one which she wore until the day of her fiftieth wedding anniversary. Washed, rewashed, ironed, it wasn't ,even yellowed.
Ni krik, ni krak. All that is not a tale. It truly happened to my great-aunt, Emma B. Thanks to that frenzy of sweat, sugar and blood mixed together, Emma had
a powerful sensation at least once in her life.
Les Filaos, 5 avril 1992
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