My pink house in Tarpum Bay is right across the alley from the Methodist Church—and the Methodist Church is the communications center of our town. Immediately behind the church is the bell tower, a wood frame structure with a dangling rope and a sign which instructs people to ring the bell only in the case of an emergency—if there’s a fire, or someone is lost.
Everybody respects the bell—even the teenagers who hang out on the wall just across the street wouldn’t dare tamper with the town’s social networking system. And the only time I hear it ring is a half hour before church and then again when the service convenes—and once in a great while when it tolls slowly and ponderously because someone has died.
The bell clanged a couple of days ago, a 7:30 AM death announcement. I didn’t ask then for whom the bell tolled, but later Miss Brenda came down to tell me that it was for Kervin’s brother, who lived in Huston and was dead at 54 of a sudden heart attack. She was, she said, going to Nassau where Kervin was working in order to be with him.
Kervin gets very upset when someone dies, she told me. “Last time, they had to give him the needle,” she says. Kervin isn’t answering his cell phone now, and his sister who also lives in Nassau can’t get him to come to the door. Brenda is catching the plane in two hours, and I am taking care of the grandkids, age 9 and 15.
“OK,” I say. “You go do what you have to. This is an emergency.”
That was last week. Today, Brenda knocked on my door at 9 AM, a face of sorrows peering through the crack in the curtain. Wordlessly, she hands me one of Miss Barbie’s cheese Danish pastries and invites herself in. “Oh, Miss Judy,” she says, “You remember Goaty? The one who give you his paycheck? He dead.
“They find him last night in his back yard. He had a rope around his neck and now there’s that ugly yellow police tape all around his house! I don’t see how he could have did it to himself, how can you do that when you be sitting in a chair?”
I tell her I don’t know. I don’t know anything, I say. I don’t know how you can be dead in your own back yard while you are sitting in a chair with a rope around your neck, and I don’t know how even the jokey guy with the raspy voice could even think of such a thing on a beautiful, warm Bahamas night.
I do remember Goaty, of course. He was a regular at Donovan’s Fish Shack, and regularly Donovan had to help Goaty get home after a night of too many Kalik beers. The night Brenda was remembering was the night Goaty thought I should have his paycheck from the Bahamas Electric Corporation as a ‘present’. When I refused his gift, he went home and brought back some beautiful sea shells from his extensive collection—perfect specimens which he gravely presented with a kiss to the top of my head, and which still sit on my kitchen window sill.
Kervin told me later that Goaty was a generous man, often buying clothes for kids who needed them or giving away the money he had in his pockets. Of course, Goaty liked his Kalik—way too much, most people agreed. And he had 7 or 8 children of his own from a variety of island ‘marriages’.
But Brenda says the National Insurance will cover the burial costs and so his family “won’t need nothing more than the neighbors will provide.”
“Wait, Brenda,” I say as she prepares to leave. “I didn’t hear the church bell. It didn’t ring for Goaty.”
“No,” she says. “And it probably won’t, neither. They can’t ring it until his family makes the announcement that he’s dead. And they don’t want to talk about it just yet.”