It wasn't me. Mrs Queenie Bligh, she wasn't even there. This woman
was a beauty -- he couldn't get enough of her. He liked the downy
softness of the blonde hairs on her legs. Her nipples were the pinkest
he'd ever seen. Her throat -- he just had to kiss her throat. This
woman was as sexy as any starlet on a silver screen. The zebra of
their legs twined and untwined together on the bed. Her hands, pale as
a ghost's, caressed every part of his nut-brown skin. She was so
desirable he polished her with hot breath -- his tongue lapping
between her legs like a cat with cream. It wasn't me. This woman
watching his buttocks rise and fall sucked at every finger on his
hand. She clawed his back and cried out until his mouth lowering down
filled hers with his eager tongue. It wasn't me. This woman panted and
thrust and bit. And when he rolled her over she yelped wickedly into
the pillow. Mrs Queenie Bligh would never do such a thing. That one,
Mrs Bligh, usually worked out what she could make for dinner during
sexual relations with her husband. But this woman, if it hadn't been
for the blackout, could have lit up London.
I'd felt him leave me in the night. With me naked under the slovenly bedclothes, the side of the bed that he'd heated so nicely gradually grew stone cold. I knew Michael, and the other two, were all down to catch an early train in the morning -- they'd asked about the best route to the station. It wasn't long before they were all jumping the stairs and slamming their way out, back to their squadron for more active service. But there was a gentle knock on my bedroom door before they left -- once, twice. It even opened a crack before it was carefully shut. It seemed so feeble to me just to say a simple goodbye. Truth of it was, Michael Roberts deserved a fanfare with trumpets and dancers. But with Arthur waking me so urgently it did occur to me that perhaps I was wrong -- that there was still a woolly-haired black head or a foot with five nigger toes where my buttoned-up, pyjamaed husband should have been.
'What is it, Arthur?' I asked. There are times when his eyebrows just will not do. Like a dog trying to get his master to come to rescue the kid down the well, I had to guess what these grunts and pointing fingers and headflicking movements meant. 'Oh, for pity's sake,' I finally snapped. 'There's nothing wrong with your voice, Arthur -- can't you just bloody well say it for once?' A blank curtain dragged across his eager expression and I immediately regretted what I'd said. I was so sorry.
He'd found a battered leather wallet that Sergeant Michael Roberts must have mislaid or forgotten in his rush to get away. There were photographs in its tattered inside. One of an old negro man standing formally in front of a house. Looking to all the world like a chimpanzee in clothes, this lord of the manor stood behind a seated black woman with white hair and a face as grumpy as Monday morning. Another was of a little darkie girl with fuzzywuzzy hair tied in ribbons as big as bandages. They were like any airman's photos, dog eared and fading with sentiment. The wallet must have fallen from his jacket when he was rummaging for his war-time weapons of seduction -- his tin of ham, his orange. But there was something about its tattiness that let you know this wallet had been places. Stuffed into a pocket, jammed into a kit-bag, sheltered in a hat. It was so beloved its preciousness warmed my fingers as I held it. It might even have been his good-luck charm. I was told that most flyers had them -- that they weren't safe flying without them. This was Michael Roberts's fortune and it had no place lying in my hand. So I dressed quickly with the idea of catching him at the station, handing it to him before it was too late. And, anyway, it was easier to find a coloured man in RAF uniform at a station than it was to spend the morning looking apologetically into Arthur's face and finding his wanton trollop of a daughter-in-law could no longer stare him in the eye.
From Small Island by Andrea Levy. Copyright Andrea Levy 2004. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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