Her father, Denfield Palmer, was to blame for her name. A fine sportsman, he approached football with precision and was a star with the village-side. He wasn’t too literate though. That’s what came of scudding school religiously for the football field. Maybe he’d heard someone refer to another girl as prissy and taken it to mean pretty. Long and short of it, while her mother was still out of it, he gave his preferred name for the birth certificate and turned his child into a pappyshow.
Red, that’s what they called the girl’s mother, a white woman, didn’t fuss; didn’t have as firm a hand as you needed to with someone like Denfield.
So, Prissy Palmer, it was. Wasn’t need for a nickname or a grinding name to ridicule her with after that. Also setting her apart from the children in the village was the fact that she didn’t go to the village school, or the one in the next village, or the next or the next, not even any of the ones in town. No, her mother – who had abandoned her American father’s dreams but not her trust fund, sent Prissy all the way cross country every day, to Mountain High where the various expat and socie children went. Being from a village behind God back, Prissy didn’t have friends there either. The island was mostly black, the school was mostly white, and Prissy, with skin the dull shade of a peanut shell, was neither this nor that. Always a minority, and cursed with her daddy’s cast eye and the bully-bait name he’d burdened her with, school days were very long for little Prissy Palmer.
After-school was long too. Several bus rides and a long walk through to the back of the village where her parents farmed their plot, long. Long even for a healthy, young girl raised on ground provisions; long and tricky, especially the part where she had to walk past Stanlee’s dogs.
There was no fence and the dogs were never tied. Roaming dogs weren’t unusual in the village but Stanlee’s dogs were so fierce even other dogs feared them.
It was usually dusk by the time Prissy Palmer typically tiptoed past Stanlee’s plot. If she was lucky they’d still be sleeping, the draining island sun had that effect on dog and man – though usually only dog could indulge the pull of sleep high day. And little girls with only one route home tried to slip by without waking them.
But then there were evenings like this one when Prissy could feel the heat of their breaths on her calves, the sense, false or otherwise, of something sharp nipping at her, which is when she ran. The absolute last thing anyone should do when waylaid by dogs, let alone Stanlee’s dogs. Prissy Palmer had strong legs from all the walking she did, and she pumped them hard as the dogs followed their instinct and gave chase. Keeping pace, dancing in and out of her feet, like she was a playmate, instead of food. When she tripped, they approached, looking like jumbies in the dark. Panting jumbies with wagging tails. They didn’t bark or attack. And though Prissy’s bum and pride were bruised, and her breath hitched in fear, her small hand tentatively reached towards the closest one’s muzzle, petting it. She smiled when it practically swooned, its ha-ha-ha breathing blowing hot on her face. The others approached curiously, one butted its head against her side gently, the other pushed its way under her arm, jostling the first one out of position, as if to say, my turn. Another leaned heavily against her back. She could hear more of them in the dark. How many of them were there? She petted them all, whispering soothing things, “you’re not angry, you just want to be friends”. That was something she could understand. Little Prissy Palmer wanted friends, too.
She had lost hold of her book bag in the fall. One of the dogs brought it to her, straps between huge white teeth. It was damp when she took it. She wiped her hand on the pleats of her uniform jumper and pulled herself to her feet.
“See you then,” Prissy said, turning toward home. The dogs followed her. She tried to shoo them away but they were persistent. The pack of them set up camp right there in her parent’s yard and didn’t budge no matter how much her father cursed and her mother fussed.
Stanlee came looking for his dogs, of course, and when the dogs wouldn’t leave with him threatened to report Denfield and Red to police for animal theft, and when that had no effect threatened to throw poison meat in the yard because if he couldn’t have the dogs no one would. When that didn’t work, he returned with his cutlass and threatened to chop tout monde sam and baggai. That’s when the big black one that seemed to be the leader growled at him, the others advancing until Prissy urged them to “settle”.
Stanlee backed off after that, stumbling down the road, grumbling; defeated.
After that little Prissy Palmer seemed happier, her canine friends making up for her lack of human ones, even though her father complained about all the howling they did at night, and her mother teasingly called her “crazy dog lady”.
About the Author
Joanne C. Hillhouse lives in Antigua, in the Caribbean. She is the author of six books including a children’s picture book and Caribbean fairytale entitled With Grace, a teen/young adult novel Musical Youth – which was a finalist for the Burt award, a romance Dancing Nude in the Moonlight – which has had a 10th anniversary printing, and a coming of age novella The Boy from Willow Bend. With Grace – described by critics and readers as “rhythmic”, “soulful” and “meaningful” – is her latest release. More about Hillhouse and her books at http://jhohadli.wordpress.com Also find her on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouse
About the Illustrator
Arushi Gupta is a 20-year-old alien studying to be a dentist in Chandigarh. She is
a die-hard otaku and wishes to go to Japan soon. You can find her singing Japanese songs, making some artsy concoction or taking weird photographs in the streets of Chandigarh.
You can find her works here.
Little Prissy Palmer is one of the many amazing stories from the upcoming fourth edition of the literary collection The Machinery.
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