Papa-yo! So you want to hear this nasty story? In truth, it is a story you own daddy used to beg me to tell him all the time when he was a young boy too. You daddy, and he wicked brothers, and all they badjohn-boyfriends just the same. The whole gang of them sitting around me in the big circle—still wearing they schoolboy-shortpants and they scruffy-up washykongs—all with the big smiles on they faces and they bony knees crossed before them like if I was born yesterday, and I haven’t raised up nine of them myself, and they think they can hide anything from me. Because of course, the youngboys can’t hardly contemplate nothing more than they own little crab-os poking out between they legs, that they can’t keep they hands out they pockets five minutes together without squeezing, and stretching, and playing with it—particularly when I start to give them this story—and in truth, that is a nastiness they never do grow out of no matter how long they live, papa-yo!

Well then, it happened in the old, old-time time, this story, and it happened in a village up on the north coast of this same island of Corpus Christi. It is a little village that you know good enough yourself, because you have passed through many times going on excursions with the scoutboys, just there beyond the rickety bamboo bridge, on that same trace following the coast beneath the foots of the mountains. The village is settled there on the banks of a river the Spanish explorers named Madamas when they drew out the first maps, even though the Caribs had long called she Yarra in they own tongue—that is to say, “the river of women’s tears”—winding she way down from the forest of rain, and golden parrots, and green monkeys in the mountains, to empty sheself below in the blue Caribbean Sea. The village, as you have already discerned, is called Blanchisseuse. It means, in the local French patois, washerwoman, because that was the name the people gave to this woman living on top the mountain up above the village. Of course, they all knew that that was not she real name in truth. Because to this day nobody had ever found the courage to approach the woman sheself and ask her she name. It was the only name they knew her by, and so many long years that after a time the little village and the people theyselves came to be called by the same name too, that is to say, the village of Blanchisseuse.

She wasn’t an oldwoman. Still, even the oldest oldmen in the village could never remember a time when she didn’t live in the big estate house, perched high on top the mountain looking down over the village. Just how she came to own the house and all the many lands of the big estate nobody knew for sure. Some used to say how that estate was purchased by a wealthy Portugee planter from the King of Spain, because that was long before the English pirates arrived with they long blue beards, and they ships shooting off all the cannons. And so it happened that many years later—after Spain and England both began to lose interest in all these islands sinking down in the sea—when the price of sugar and cocoa beans fell, and the tradings away in Europe were already finished, that they say this Portugee planter abandoned he estate and picked up heself to go back home. Some used to say the woman was the mistress of this rich Portugee—she was very very beautiful in truth—and that is why he left the estate to her. They said she was waiting there in the big house for him to return to her from across the sea. But most people said she wasn’t the mistress of the Portugee planter a-tall. She was he own outside child by a Yoruba slavewoman, and that is where she got the color of she skin, deep and rich liked burned saffron. Most said the Portugee planter did not abandon he estate, but that one day the woman decided to take it for sheself. They said that on the same morning of she thirteenth birthday—the very same morning the woman saw she first menses—she murdered both she Portugee father and she Yoruba mother with two clean swipes of she cutlass across they throats.

She was a very tall woman. Some said as much as seven feet, but it was difficult to tell, because she always wore she hair piled in the tall jackspaniard-nest up on top she head. She was very particular about she clothes, always dressed head to foot only in white. A white kerchief tied up around she beehive-nest of hair, a white lace shawl draped over she shoulders. With she long white dress dragging behind in the Martinique style—layers upon layers of white frills rippling down she long neck, down over she ripe tot-tots, and down round she smooth, shapely bamsee—rippling from beneath she chin all the way down to she toes. On she feet she always wore white alpagats. And beneath the dress one confusion of starched white undergarments—camisoles, and corsets, and garters and such—and so many starched crinoline petticoats, that they said she dress would have stood up in the corner without her inside. So many starched white petticoats that on still mornings you could hear the soft rustlings of she footsteps all the way down below in the village, rustling louder and louder until at last the swoosh! sucking the air behind her like a tall sea wave, one by one as she walked past each of the little board houses of the village. Nobody never saw her dressed in any other way, and nobody never saw her without she cutlass neither. She used to wear it tucked beneath the hair, shoved front to back at the base of the tall jackspaniard-nest, with the handle of purpleheart wood protruding out in front above she forehead, and the long silver blade poking out behind.

Early every morning she would descend from the house up on top the hill, the big bundle of laundry tied up in a white sheet toting on top she head. Back and forth and back and forth along the trace cut out from the side of the mountain, sometimes passing for a second behind a huge immortelle tree covered in blossoms of bright orange, or a tall poui bursting out only in pink. Sometimes disappearing for a moment inside a cottonwool cloud that had drifted in off the sea to lie lazy against the flanks of the mountain—then all in a sudden appearing from out the cloud with a woosh! on the other side—back and forth and back and forth until after long last, she arrived at the banks of the river down below.