Sunday, May 16, 2021

“The Letter” by Jacqui DeBique


Sarah sat frozen on the edge of the double bed that until a few months ago she had shared with Ella and Darlene. She shifted restlessly, trying to find a comfortable spot away from the metal coils poking through the thin mattress from the weathered box spring beneath. She was still in disbelief. The letter hung limply from her fingers and she stared at it blindly.

Sarah had taken great care opening the envelope, intent on preserving the thirty-cent foreign stamp of the young queen so she could add it to her collection. Foreign was any location other than one of the neighbouring Caribbean islands. Sarah turned the letter over slowly and reread that passage. Her sigh was deep, heavy, laden with a burden she had one week to resolve. One week.

Eighteen months ago, there would have been no cons to weigh against the decision to leave. A job as a domestic in Canada, like her cousins Ella and Molly, was the chance of a lifetime – probably her only chance to make real money, to get Canadian citizenship, to make things better for her mother and for herself and for Darlene.

Darlene. Eighteen months ago, there was no Darlene. And now that an offer was here, inked on the paper dangling from her hands, how could she even think of leaving her little girl, barely walking and still in diapers? Besides, her mother had been clear; she had raised her own child and her nieces and did not intend to raise grands as well.

“Wah, wah.”

Sarah wiggled across the bed to cuddle up beside Darlene, who was snuggled in a lightweight cotton blanket. She drew Darlene into the circle of her arms, and Darlene’s crying stopped just as quickly as it had started.

“Baby girl, what’s best? What’s right?”

Darlene gurgled, her eyes glued to Sarah’s face.

Sarah returned Darlene’s look with an intensity of her own, as though trying to find an answer in her coos and bright brown eyes. Closing her eyes, Sarah touched her baby’s face. Her fingers found her dimpled cheeks, uneven brows, her flat nose. Sarah squeezed her eyes tighter with every touch.

Would she need to draw on her mind’s eye to fill the void? Because truth was, living abroad as a housekeeper and nanny would mean leaving Darlene behind.

Sarah drew Darlene closer to her chest. The softness and warmth of her baby’s body relaxed her. The mild, natural fragrance of the Pears bar soap she had bathed Darlene with earlier reached her nose. She drew in a long, slow, loving breath.


Her mother’s heavily accented voice rang through the house and jolted Sarah upright.

“Girl, whey you dey?”

Sarah knew better than to have her mother bellow her name a second time.

“In the bedroom, Ma!”

Sarah swung her legs off the bed just as her mother burst threw the door. No knocking. Not when her mother was mistress of the house.

Darlene slid gingerly off the bed and wobbled to her Nana.

“Dar Dar, my sweet girl, come here.”

Darlene looked up expectantly, happy for her Nana to scoop her up. Despite everything Norma had said when she found out Sarah was pregnant, she couldn’t get enough of her granddaughter.

Bending towards Darlene, Norma’s eyes drifted to the letter that Sarah belatedly realized had fallen to the floor. She wasn’t ready for this conversation, but Norma was too quick for her.

“Say-rah, what is that paper by your foot?”

“Uh, nothing, Ma.”

“Girl, don’t vex me, you hear!”

Norma held onto Darlene deftly with one hand as she bent to pick up the letter with the other.

Sarah stiffened. Her breathing slowed to a heart-stopping rate as she watched her mother’s eyes dart left to right across the page. Norma’s lips moved in silence until she got to the passage.

“The family needs someone right away to help with the house and the children,” Norma read aloud. “I have to let them know by April 1 if you’re interested.”

“Say-rah, April 1 is Thursday, and I am finding out like this?”

“Ma, this came in today’s mail! It’s a surprise to me, too!”

“So, what you going to do?” Resignation was in Norma’s question.

“Ma, what should I do?” Longing was in Sarah’s.

Their words collided in mid-air. Norma’s voice had dropped an octave and her gaze was fixed on Darlene. Her face softened and her mouth quivered. A smile? Tears? Sarah had only seen her mother cry twice; when Molly had left home and then again when Ella left. Norma was a hard nut, but she had cracked when her nieces emigrated for what they all knew were greener pastures.

Sarah’s eyes locked with her mother’s. The words went unspoken. Norma walked towards her daughter and with Darlene still in her arms, drew Sarah tightly into her embrace.

Jacqui DeBique has worked in corporate communications for 25+ years where her writing has focused on telling the stories of others—other organizations and people. She has recently started to flex her creative writing skills to tell her own stories, a dream too long deferred from childhood.

 See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.


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