Dup Dup!


I got off the hospital elevator, looked up, and found myself outside the morgue.

It’s unobtrusive, of course, the morgue. I only knew I was standing outside the door because there was a man there, 65 or older, a confused man with a very deep limp, loud in saying he was supposed to pick up a body; did anyone know where he should be?

Well, now. If there was any doubt in my mind that my brain is bicameral — half-Jamaican, half-American, all such doubts went out the damn back door.

My American brain, said, Oh, crap. I really zoned out and missed my floor. I wonder how this one old, handicapped guy is going to load a corpse in a vehicle all by himself?

My Jamaican brain screamed this: [Translation]

I’ve seen dead bodies before. My siblings and I have gone to identify my chilled mother on a slab in a Kingston funeral parlor. You can probably imagine that I was haunted for a very long time by the ugly image of the workers sitting her body up to dress her for burial. It wasn’t until I wrote about it that I was completely exorcised.

Also, as a teenager I’d gone with my neighbor and friend, Paula, to identify the body of a young woman who worked for her family. The young woman had fallen off the back of a truck and had been killed. I’m hazy on exactly why I’d gone to the hospital with Paula (her own mother had died,) but I remember the stiff bloody body and the green tail-less lizard hung high on the wall.

So, why was I so spooked standing outside this locked hospital morgue in San Francisco?

Because I was unprepared, caught off-guard.

Because when I was a girl in rural Jamaica, everyone was freaked when a corpse was carried from the hospital. On a shuddering litter. With great ceremony and liquor and chanting and bottle-lamps along dark country roads on the shoulders of frenzied men — viz the liquor and chanting.

Because my nicely-educated mother was afraid of only two things: the dead and the insane.

Because our nursemaids told us duppy stories at night, the only light the fire over which they roasted sweet potatoes. Know this: there are no good duppies. The baddest one, though, is the rolling calf, and if you listened carefully, sometimes in the middle of the night you can hear the rattle of its chains. Bet you didn’t know that!

And bet you didn’t know that duppies live at the foot of cotton trees. Or that you shouldn’t ever pitch water from any container into the dark of night without warning the duppies. Bet you didn’t know that you can banish every duppy by florid, extravagant swearing or blaspheming loudly: JESUS CHRIST! Or that you can ward off a duppy by wearing red panties inside out?

Do I believe this shinola now? Nah. Not really.

But, I swear my Jamaican brain trumped my American brain in that hospital corridor. I, the very nosiest of them all, a woman who watches everything and sets down notes later, hightailed it the hell out of there, boy. Can’t help wondering how that old guy got the corpse to the car single-handedly, though.

[tags] Jamaican, duppies, rolling calf, Dup Dup, bottle lamps[/tags]