Is 1958. On a hot, dry island. Somewhere. In the Caribbean. Is 1958 and I hearing the screams of Dr. Ratfinger’s patients — the whole village of Bethlehem hearing the screams of Dr. Ratfinger’s patients and knowing them as their own. Everybody screaming like this at least once before on a visit to Dr. Ratfinger’s office.
Ratfinger not really his name, but Ratzinger, and is me, Gitfa, and Sara who christening him Ratfinger. We writing his new name on a piece of paper and burning it under the big chenette tree in my yard as we repeating an obeah spell we making up. After that he was always Dr. Ratfinger to us — it suiting him better.
He always there — in the village — Dr. Ratfinger. (It seems like that now.) He coming during the war. The War. That is how everybody calling World War II— the War. My mother saying one morning they getting up and brip brap just like that there he be —Dr. Ratzinger — high and dry in his house — one of the biggest in the town of Bethlehem. And is from the rooms he calling his surgery — at the front and side of his house — that the screams of friends and neighbors coming.
War babies — me, Gitfa, and Sara — is how our mothers calling us. All born at the same hospital in town, within a day of each other at the end of the War, so we not really war babies, but we feeling really important when people calling us “the war babies.” I couldn’t be remembering any of the things I talking about, my mother saying, since I was born after the war: “You too young to remember the screams of Dr. Ratzinger’s patients,” she telling me, but I knowing otherwise.
And why should I be trusting her memories any more than I trusting mine? My own crick-crack-monkey-break-he-back stories…
My own fictions…
“So, Miranda,” my mother saying to me one day as we sitting down at the kitchen table for the evening meal, “is why you biting the man hand?” I watching the hot water pouring out from the spout of the old black kettle she holding, into the yellow and blue enamel bowl, and the steam rising and the kitchen filling up with the smell of coconut oil the cassava farine parch in.
“I telling you, Ma, I not liking the way he touching my tongue and telling me how it not going to hurt.” My mother spooning some of the farine on to my plate and covering it with fish and gravy. “Hear him, Ma – ‘Dis will not hurt—you will not feel any pain – only ze pressure.” I talking like Dr. Ratfinger now and I seeing the laughing running all over her face, but she holding it in.
“Eat,” is all she saying to me.
“And I remembering how he making people scream, Ma, so I biting him, Ma – hard hard.”
And is Dr. Ratfinger turn: is he who screaming and yelling at me and I thinking he hitting me. But he not doing so. Instead, he refusing to fill my tooth, so I suffering weeks and weeks of the tooth hurting. And my mother packing the rotting hole with cloves that smelling sweet and sharp at the same time.
The next day me, Gitfa, and Sara celebrating and since is Saturday we running around town like we owning it, and in we own way we was owning it. When the woman who selling tickets not looking, we sneaking under the curtains and into the Strand, the only cinema in Bethlehem and watching King Kong Meets Tarzan.
“Is not Jane that that King Kong holding where Tarzan?” Gitfa whispering to me and I whispering to Sara. And we feeling frighten as the ape waving and waving the little, tiny white woman over the big tall building with a spike.
King Kong looming big big in my memory: he stands eighteen inches tall behind the glass display case — “A jointed steel frame, rubber muscles, and a coat of rabbit fur. Stop frame animation moves the model slightly…”
It is 1988. On a damp, cold island — a long long way away from 1958. On a hot, dry island. Somewhere. “. . . expose a frame of film, move the model again…”
Stop frame: me, Gitfa, and Sara sneaking under the curtain, over the Empire State Building, into the dark dark theater, finding seats, grabbing each other, and screaming for so as King Kong and Tarzan coming up big big on the screen.
Stop frame: “. . . use miniatures. . . glass shots.. . real and model aircraft” as King Kong waving Jane — “No, is Fay Wray that!”
Stop frame: Dr. Ratzinger. Ratfinger — was he a Nazi? It was a long time — a very long time — after he had left us and the screams had died down, that I learnt what the word meant, although it didn’t matter that I didn’t know — the way my mother saying the word “Nazi,” holding in it everything that evil, and I believing Rat-finger was a Nazi who fleeing Germany, and carrying out experiments on the people of Bethlehem. But bad teeth not caring about politics and despite all the mango wars and the cow-itching, Ratfinger still having patients.
Stop frame: move the model slightly — did Sara know about Nazis? She was Jewish. If she did, she and I never talked about them, running round the town of Bethlehem as if we owning it.
Stop frame! Me, Gitfa, and Sara sneaking under the curtain, into the darkened cinema, finding seats and grabbing each other for comfort in the scary parts of the Tarzan movie.
Stop frame! Tarzan — what did I know about Africa? Nothing except “me Tarzan, you Jane.”
Stop frame: Tarzan, Nazis, Africa.