Mar 23, 2020 News
(An excerpt from the upcoming novel “LIVING WITH THE MASTERS” by Valerie Coddett and Harold A. Bascom)
Valerie Coddett, who was born in New Amsterdam Berbice, began collecting art in her home in Flushing, Queens, New York, and now her home is a literal gallery. In every nook and cranny of her home are paintings by artists from Haiti, Guyana and the wider Caribbean, the USA, and other countries. It was no wonder she began writing a “novelette” titled, “Living With the Masters.” She asked herself, “What if I woke up and all my paintings were alive and the artists who painted them were on a plane with me—sharing moments with me—conversing with me and with one another? It can be a fantasy and a document of the paintings in my home. Why not?”
But then she met Guyanese playwright/artist/novelist/developmental editor, Harold A. Bascom, and he suggested she turned her ‘novelette’ into a much deeper and grander project: a full novel, retaining the novelette’s title. Valerie, a woman who is ever conscious of her limitations, knew she would need help to turn her novelette into a full novel, and so entered a verbal contract with Harold Bascom to be her co-writer for the novel currently being written.
The following excerpt from the manuscript is set on an astral plane where Zella, the protagonist, invokes memories from New Amsterdam to stave off fears of impending evil. Enjoy.
Zella Anderson, caught outside her body, was afraid—afraid for herself as an attached spirit. Something was coming and it not an effigy of wood and cloth with a pair of horns in which a human danced. From the look of terror in the eyes of many who filled her home, Zella knew malevolence foreshadowed the astral space she was caught in.
She was never one to run, but every impulse in her was to bolt, but she could not move. She was rooted. Scream! But her lips felt stuck together with something that felt like goo—like melted chewing gum. “Think of N.A! something deep in her whispered calmly. “Think of home; think of New Amsterdam!”
She stood on the verandah in the glow of the setting sun. The bread-seller slowly rode into sight from his various prior routes off Main Street. He pedaled against the wind as he declared his presence at the ‘top of his lungs’ as her mom would say.
“Bread! Bread, bread-for-sale! Bread, bread – come-get-yuh-bread!”
The scent of his baked goods whetted Zella’s appetite. Her mouth watered. Would her mom buy any this time? Zella looked around, expecting her mother to be hustling out. Her mother didn’t emerge. She must be talking with daddy in the bedroom. The door was locked.
The bread seller, still shouting musically, was going by now; his wicker basket balanced on top of the bicycle’s handlebar, his right-hand steering while the left hand clutched the rim of the basket with fresh, crisp, plaited loaves swollen and bursting with flavor from the ingredients—especially butter and aniseed.
And then he was gone.
“Think, N.A!” the voice whispered from deep within Zella rooted in fear.
She thought of the old household that consisted of her parents, two sisters and their grandmother.
“Think of the yard!”
Zella thought of the red hibiscus flowers that grew in abundance at the front, from which a coconut tree strained to reach the sky. Its wending trunk stood imposingly tall, creating a challenge to youngsters in the neighborhood who tried to climb it. They would wrap ropes loosely around their ankles and then, holding the trunk of the tree in an embrace, work their way upward to the bunches of coconuts if Puppy, their common breed dog, didn’t commence barking to alert her dad.
There were other times, however, when her mother would allow Ravindra to get to the top, where one slash of a cutlass brought coconuts down. Zella remembered the nutritious juice—how she and her sisters savored its sweet taste infected with their laughter. They also scooped out the soft, white coconut jelly.
The sound of drumming and that premonition of impending evil receded, but still, Zella was rooted in her astral world where she was suddenly alone—no paintings … just her and her mind striving calm. She looked down to see her sleeping body was. It wasn’t there. Panic slowly began to filter in. Think of NA! she thought fiercely.
She thought of the sour-sop tree that stood at the other end of their yard. A strange looking fruit, the skin riddled with spike-like protrusions; the insides creamy-white … the taste sour-sweet. Her mother, on special occasions, would extract the juice and add it to custard. The concoction was then placed in a churning can and made into ice cream.
Zella recalled the love she had of churning; she recalled too how much Cathy hated it. After numerous revolutions of the can’s handle, ice cream appeared. There were no sour faces when the special treat began sliding down their throats.
She thought of the old street on which she lived. The houses stood near each other, and children from families in the neighborhood played with and knew each other well. They entertained themselves by creating their games and diversions. At times like those, the adults listened to their radios. Entertainment came, generally in the form of live performances. Town fairs characterized that era. Television followed.
Zella thought of the house in which she was born. It was on Bread Street that was later changed to Charles Place after Sir Charles Wooley, a former British Governor. It was a neat wooden building owned by her grandparents. She and her siblings, however, grew into the large new house her father built … a house that was still standing strong.
Zella thought of her time at Primary School:
She walked every day to All Saints Anglican School, located some distance away from her home. For some reason, she was remembering the afternoon when, on the way home with her sisters and friends, there was a funereal viewing. There was a coffin on a makeshift catafalque under the shade of a genip tree before the house where pregnant Mrs. Tennessee lived and now was laid-out in the polished box. Zella liked Mrs. Tennessee.
“Let’s go see!” urged William, the loudest boy in the group Zella walked with. Many thought he was too damn curious for his own good.
“No!” Zella said, and the rest teased her for being always frightened.
“Look other children there, in the yard, Zel,” Cathy, her sister, said.
There were children between the somber-faced adults; among them were the Samuels twins, Desmond and Michael. They stood together. Zella thought Desmond, tall for his age, was more handsome than the other, and she really liked him—a fact that she kept from her sister.
William led their group into the funeral yard; Cathy followed; Zella tailed the group, reluctantly. The peculiar aroma from floral wreaths inter-mixed with perfume, assailed her and made her feel light-headed.
Her sisters and friends peeked into the coffin. “Zella!” William urged. “Come look!”
“No!” she said.
“She’s dead!” said William. “She can’t bite you! She frighten everything—even masquerade! Want to see she and she sister dead from fright? Eh? Let a masquerade bull-cow come ‘round here!”
Then the rest began to jeer Zella for being a ‘scaredy cat.’
“If she don’t want to look, leave her alone!” Desmond Samuels said.
“Who asked your opinion?” snapped William as he sized up the tall Desmond Samuels boy who ignored him. William took a sudden threatening step towards Desmond; Michael took an aggressive step toward William. Desmond touched his brother’s arm as if saying ‘don’t’ and walked up to Zella. “Zel,” he said, “you want to take a look? I’ll stand next to you.”
“Okay,” Zella said and stood next to.
“Come … you used to know, her,” he said gently. “It’s okay.”
With Desmond Samuels by her side, she looked at the powdered face of Mrs. Tennessee who Zella had seen just days ago, fanning herself on the veranda of her house on Alexander Street. Now here she was, laid out in a coffin in the yard for viewing. She died while giving birth, someone said. Zella began to cry.
And she was weeping now in an astral plane, and the resonant drumming was closer and at a crescendo.
Something malevolent was coming.
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