Excerpt from The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Polished Hoe

by Austin Clarke

The Polished Hoe
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 480 pages
    Jun 2004, 480 pages

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"Sargeant send me to get your Statement offa you before he come himself. All we know is what you say when you call, that something happen, and you want Sargeant to come, and take your Statement, first-hand, from you. We don't know what happen and we don't yet know what is the circumstances. Sargeant would look after that. He say to say he have another important assignment. I am consequently here until Sargeant comes. But Sargeant coming. . .

"Soon, I hope."

"Sargeant soon will be here."

". . . and so, what I mean by a bright night and the moon shining, is merely a comparison of my disposition towards darkness and light; something, as Wilberforce calls it, like the ironies of life. Ironies. He uses it all the time, and would say, 'Sitting down to eat food is full of ironies.' 'Life is full of ironies.' 'A full moon is full of ironies.' That is Wilberforce favourite word for it. Ironies.

"When there is a full moon, people behave strange. But tonight, with no moon at all, my behaviour was still strange, granted.

"Tonight, a Sunday, in spite of no moon, the act that I committed, however the people in this Island wish to label it, is not a act, or behaviour of a woman ruled by a full moon; nor of a woman who chooses darkness over light, to move in, or to hide her act in.

"My footprints that you say might be evidence, was, in the darkness, strong footprints, if not stronger even than my temperriment itself. And my act went along with that. I was determined. And deliberate. Because I knew what my cause was. And I had a cause.

The lights dip from their brilliance; and for just one second, it is dark in the front-house, where they are; dark, as when, long ago, the wind would run through these same windows, and brush aside the flames from the mantles of the large acetylene lamps that have Home Sweet Home printed in white letters on their polished lampshades. Just for one moment, that moment that it takes for a mouse the same colour as the carpet to steal into a corner.

But wind cannot play those tricks with the electric lighting. The two bulbs hang low, just above their heads, from two long, ugly brown electrical wires, on which, during the day, and especially late at night, flies and other bugs make their homes, and their graves; and are stuck to death.

The wind continues pushing itself through the windows, and brings on its breath the smell of flowers, poinsettia and lady-of-the-night and the strong smell of sugar-cane juice from the Factory. And the lingering intoxicating smell of burnt sugar canes; and the pungency of burnt cane trash, comes into the front-house with them ...

"From the time, way-way back, when Ma, my mother, out of need, sent me while I was still a lil girl, seven or eight, to the Plantation to work in the fields, from that time, I had a cause. And in particular from that day, when the midwife delivered Wilberforce, I have had a cause.

"And I am very sorry to have to talk this way to you, a Constable, sitting in my front-house, on a Sunday night, filling in for Sargeant, who promise me faithfully, to come later, and take my Statement.

"Incidentally, Sargeant and me, went-school together. Did you know that? He was always inquisitive. Always hunting-down answers.

And lizards which he put in cigarette boxes, as coffins, to bury them. Now, we are from two different sides of the paling. But. . ."

"How I should write-down your name, in its official status, ma'am?"

"My name is Mary-Mathilda. My full name is Mary Gertrude Mathilda. But I drop Gertrude because of my maid."

"The whole Village know your names and your surnames, ma'am. And they worships you."

"It began, this whole thing, many-many years ago, on a Sunday. A Sunday morning, close to midday, about ten-to-twelve o'clock. We were in the Church Yard of Sin-Davids Anglican Church. Near the graves and tombs and tombstones; where they buried Englishmen and sailors from Lord Horatio Nelson's fleet that went down in these waters.

From The Polished Hoe by Austin Clarke. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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