If you go west from the schoolhouse in Port Howe, past the society hall, past St. Peter’s and a little beyond Zion, you’ll come to a neat white house, nearly hidden from the road by masses of brightly coloured Crotons, Bougainvilleas and Allamandas. The property once belonged to a certain Mr. Andrew. This loving husband had made the garden for his wife Annie, who loved the beauties of Nature, perhaps because she herself was one of them.
Mr. Andrew was more than a little jealous of his silent and marvellous Annie. He made her promise that she would never marry again, if he should be the first of the pair to die. Secretly he even trained his dog to chase away other men. According to Miss Rosalie and her sister Franceta, who knew more stories than anyone else in that place, the man did genuinely love his wife and promised to look after her always. It was a promise that was never broken.
Several years later, just as he had feared, the man died, leaving behind his still attractive wife. Without children, parents or sisters and brothers, Annie found herself quite alone in the World. But not for long. As anyone of sense could have predicted, a beautiful widow with a house and land and no children was too neat a package to ignore.
A great many men rushed to woo her even before the wild grass could cover the spot where her husband lay. As many as attempted to capture this great prize were driven away by the faithful dog or had their spirits dampened by Annie’s quiet determination to remain a widow.
The harried suitors soon tired of this game and turned their attention elsewhere. All but one. This fine fellow decided upon a most unsporting course of action: he killed the dog one moonless night. Making certain that no rumour of the callous deed would reach Annie’s sensitive ear, he thrust the body into a sack and threw it into a Blue Hole. After all, the waters of those bottomless pits flow straight into the ocean, which seldom gives up the secrets entrusted to it.
Next evening, hair slicked down with lard, that determined bachelor appeared at Annie’s door. He called out in his sweetest tones:
……….“Miss Annie, O, Miss Annie, O,
……….Open the door, Miss Annie, O.”
From the corner of the porch where the dog had once kept watch came this mournful reply:
……….“O, no! O, no!
……….Since my old master died
……….Nobody dares to come in.”
When he heard these words, the rogue of a suitor realized that not even death had had the power to remove the faithful creature from his ghostly visitation, as he was certain that the dead have no power against the living.
Undaunted by the lack of an answer from Annie that evening, the village swain continued to call every night for a week thereafter. His persistence was to be rewarded. After many days, Miss Annie gave in to his pleadings and invited him into the house at last.
He spent that evening and many others trying to win her affections, and win them he did. During his courtship, Annie was never allowed to see him for the scoundrel he truly was. As the spirit voice was never heard again, the man was sure that nothing would interfere with plans.
And it seemed that he was right. Annie agreed to marry him as soon as she came out of mourning for her late husband. Once they had “jumped the broom” as the old people say, Annie’s new husband relaxed his pose. As he would say to his cronies, “Once fish on hook, man don’ need no bait.”
Annie’s life became unbearable. Her delicate hands were soon roughened by the many mean tasks which the tyrant set for her. The poor woman was forced to bake bread every day, because her husband did not like “stale wittles.” This, of course, meant carrying great armloads of wood to fire the stone oven seven times each week.
He, who had owned a single shirt before he had inherited the first husband’s clothing, now called for a fresh one every day. Since her husband would not allow her to take the washing to the rock pools by the sea as the other women did, Annie was obliged to draw countless buckets of water from the well in the yard to keep abreast of her husband’s demands. She soon ruined her hands in the foul lye concoction that he had invented for the whitening of his shirts.
As Annie was no longer allowed to pay calls or receive them, and the husband met his friends elsewhere, it was with surprise one evening, that the couple heard a knock at the door.
“Who dat out dere,” called Annie’s new husband.
A thin voice filtered through the door:
……….“Miss Annie, O! Miss Annie, O!
……….Open the door, Miss Annie, O!”
The husband sprang up from his chair, ran to the door, flung it open, only to find an empty porch.
“Wha’ kinda business dis is?” he asked suspiciously. “Who you gat comin’ to dis place? I’ll tell yuh one t’ing, if I ketch dat son of a sea cat, I’ll pop ‘e guts an’ use ‘em for garter!” he boasted.
He was never to be as confident again. After this puzzling call, there began a persecution that was all the more frightful because it was carried out by an unseen agent.
It started quite simply one Sunday. Miss Annie’s husband was standing in the church porch exchanging pleasantries with the priest, when his braces broke. His trousers, having no further reason to defy the laws of gravity, fell in a puddle about his ankles.
Humiliated, the man hoisted up the delinquent garment, bade the priest good morning, and made his way home with as much dignity as he could muster. He cursed the unhappy Annie past the burying piece, past the society hall, past Zion Baptist and was still cursing when they reached the all-age school. In fact, he cursed all the way home. He was certain that poor housekeeping was at the root of the unpleasant episode.
The events of the afternoon gave little support to this belief. When Annie’s husband sat down to his dinner, his mood improved at the sight of his favourite dishes: steamed chicken, red peas and rice, fried plantains, roast potatoes, coconut tart and limeade. Of course, it never occurred to the bounder to thank his wife for the meal.
“Can’ gi’e dese woman-dem no ideas. Dey always get beside dey se’f when yuh too nice,” he mumbled to himself.
That was just as well, for he was to get little satisfaction from that food. He picked up a wing of chicken and was ready to savour it, when it was slapped rudely from his hand. The pitcher of limeade lifted itself daintily from the table, and emptied its contents over the head of the hapless diner. The potatoes, still hot from the fire, rose from their dish and went to nestle in the husband’s pockets, much to that gentleman’s discomfort. Thick slices of plantain slapped the man’s cheeks sharply, as if they were punishing him for daring to try to eat them. The peas and rice and the tart kept their places in the natural order of things, and very decently remained inanimate.
The husband was furious and frightened all at once. Furious because he had no reason to blame Annie and frightened because he had no satisfactory explanation for his misfortunes. Though he could not lay his troubles at his wife’s doorstep, he could certainly vent his ill feeling upon her.
He got up from the table and rushed into the kitchen to find his wife, who usually ate her meals there to escape her husband’s evil temper. He was about the slap the quaking Annie when he was hoisted by his braces and flung through a window, Once outside, the man’s troubles began in earnest. His leg was gripped and he was punched repeatedly, but he saw no hands. As many kicks as he received, he hat yet to gaze upon the attacking foot.
For a week, the husband’s days followed the same dreadful pattern with three exceptions: The events of the dining table could not be repeated, as he had lost his appetite after the third occasion. Secondly, the frightened man got no sleep after the third night. On the fourth night, he began to hear the rattle of a horse and carriage being driven at a furious pace over the stony roadway. The clatter drew ever nearer without actually arriving.
The strangest thing of all, perhaps, was the change which took place in Annie. She no longer quaked in her husband’s presence, but smiled constantly. Her secret smile only served to irritate her husband further. She seemed to know something that he did not.
The seventh day of this unhappy week was, unexpectedly, a day of rest. It was as if the unknown enemy had declared a truce. The man rose, as usual, to the clang of the fire irons as his wife cleared the kitchen hearth to lay a new fire of pigeon plum sticks and stopper wood. He dressed gingerly with every expectation of being harassed. To his surprise, his buttons remained buttoned, his braces continued to brace and his suspenders very properly suspended, as they ought.
Thus encouraged, Annie’s husband took a seat on the porch, lit his pipe and still nothing happened. As he was not a man to ask the price of fish that had been given to him, he decided to relax and enjoy the respite.
He, to whom nature had once been a mass of green, saw it that morning in all its glorious colours. He noticed that the gold of the chalice flowers cascading over the fence was less bright than that of the Allamanda blooms. He marveled that the hummingbird could hover above a flower, seemingly motionless, to probe its heart. The piercing metallic whine of the cicadas in the bushes now soothed, where once it annoyed.
When, at noon, Annie’s husband noticed that all was still well with him, he ordered a hearty lunch made up of all his favourite dishes, much like a condemned man. As he was able to enjoy this meal and the next, his temper improved to such an extent, that he even addressed a few kindly remarks to Annie.
At lunch, he said: “Where you get dese snapper, Annie? Dese so fresh, dey tas’ like dey jump straight from de sea into de pot. You outdo yuhse’f wit’ dis potato bread, gal.”
His remarks at dinner were similar: “Mr. Rispah kill hog, ey? Dis pork tas’ corn fed; only Rispah does gi’e his hog crack corn.”
After this second lengthy speech, Annie ran outside to check the weather, the coming of a storm sometimes caused people to act strangely. This could be the only reason for her husband’s friendliness. As the sun had gone down red, however, Annie found no answer in the skies.
The source of Annie’s puzzlement moved from the dinner table to his favourite chair on the porch, thinking to end that perfect day with a long quiet smoke before bedtime. In a perfect world, he would have enjoyed his pipe. With his first puff, came the sound of a distant rattle which grew louder and louder. It was almost certainly the rattle of a horse-drawn carriage driven at a furious pace down a stony road.
In his mind, Annie’s husband could see the sparks fly as the horses’ shoes struck flint rocks. Sharpened by fear, his imagination drew him a picture of the carriage rocking from side to side, the foam frothing from the speeding horses’ lips and the sweat glistening on their heaving sides.
The reality was far more horrible than all his imaginings. Out of the night rushed a huge carriage that was blacker than the heart of a hurricane and certainly more terrifying. The horses, which drew it, were as white as the foam on a moonlit ocean with eyes flashing red sparks. They stopped at the gate, pawing at the ground, rearing into the air, gnashing their great teeth and straining at the traces.
Though the husband had lost the power to speak at the sound of the first rattle, he found it again when he saw that the carriage was driverless. He at once began to squeal like a pig having its tail docked. Then adding pitch to black, white to chalk, nightmare to horror, the doors of the carriage flew open. Unseen hands pushed the husband, now witless with fear, into the ghastly vehicle. As soon as the doors were shut again, the horses once more took up their maddened pace.
No one knows for certain what happened during this unearthly ride. The old people say that Annie’s husband stumbled back into the settlement at dawn the next day, much changed in manner and appearance. He who was once bold had become meek, and his night-black hair had grown as white as cotton bolls. Thereafter, as long as he lived, he was a kind, considerate husband to Annie. If no one else knew the source of Annie’s good fortune, Annie certainly did.
“Miss Annie” was originally published in An Evening in Guanima: A Treasury of Folktales from The Bahamas by Patricia Glinton (Guanima, 1993), and reprinted in WomanSpeak 5 in 2010.
•••Patricia Glinton Meicholas is a writer from The Bahamas best known for authoring An Evening in Guanima, a collection of Bahamian folktales, published by Guanima Press. She published two volumes of poetry, Robin’s Song and No Vacancy in Paradise. Her writings on Bahamian art and culture have been included in the Encuentros series of the Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center and in the MacMillan Dictionary of Art. Her folktale, “The Gaulin Wife” appears in the Penguin anthology, Under the Storyteller’s Spell. As Senior Vice President of The Counsellors Ltd., she wrote and directed numerous historical film documentaries made for television. In 1992 she co-wrote the book, Bahamian Art, 1492-1992, a definitive study of five hundred years of art from The Bahamas. In 1997 she co-founded The Bahamas Association for Cultural Studies and in 2000 founded the association’s literary journal, Yinna, and has served as editor for four volumes of literature and scholarly work.