Carnival Hangover

Note, Trigger Warning, & Disclaimer: This is a re-post of a fictional piece that ran on a website called The Crier (under a different title) – the problem with online pubs is sometimes they up and disappear and so does that publication credit. This one I didn’t write for the credit (well, I don’t write anything for the credit) but because I wanted to speak to an issue that casts a shadow over one of my favourite events, Carnival –  that blurry line between over consumption and consent, rape and silencing, self-blaming and victim blaming (for the record, no amount of perceived “vulgarity or lewdness” is an invitation to rape). As with so much else, I’m writing to explore the things I’m trying to understand, and to talk back to our society. It is a work of fiction, but it does reflect a reality it would do us well to confront. Any resemblance to actual events, people, or locales is coincidental. 

Burgundy beads on Bourbon Street

When she wakes up, she is alone, on the back of a float, pieces of her costume missing and other pieces askew, and the mas yard is all but abandoned. She can hear voices but it’s dark and she can’t see anyone. It gives her a disconnected feeling, like she’s not quite in her body.

Last she remembers, she had a glass in her hand and music in her bones.

They were jigging up High street, wet and high, dancing the way toddlers do, no sense of their own body, just happy to be moving. And she remembers feeling in that moment like she could do this forever and be happy.

When a body eased up behind her, she leaned back in to it after a head tilt to see, as much as one could see in the waning light, if he was wearing the same mas colours as her – to make sure he wasn’t some random guy tiefing a wine.

It have people who, when they play mas does get tired, does need to pee, does complain they foot burning them. Not her. And though she was the kind of can’t mash ants girl who never let no man pass his place with her – the very cliché of a stoosh bank employee, Carnival was different. Is like Shorty sang back in her mammy time, the time of the leggo tourist, Lucinda, and all dem so, Carnival is fantasy.

A fantasy of body suits and shiny things, music and rum – the very act of Carnival itself a masque or an unmasking, she supposed, depending on how you chose to look at it.

Time jumped because next she know herself she was at the top of High street, sun had long set, and they were turning toward the mas camp. Still a good hour of jumping and wining to be had.

She looked around for her friends, impossible to find anybody in the dark. She felt for her cell, but what was the point in all this noise. She briefly considered sending a text but couldn’t hold on to the thought long enough to follow through. She went instead to the moving bar to top up her vodka and cranberry. Then she kept on dancing, like the thousands of bodies around her, going where the music and good feeling took her.

Last thing she remember was a hand snaking familiarly ‘round her waist.

She aches and not just in her legs and feet, in places not touched by the music.

She can’t find her phone and walks instead toward the voices.

“Girl, ah looking all over for you!” One of her friends recognizes her before her eyes adjust enough for her to make out any details in the dark. Her friend stops an inch shy of hugging her, studying her. “Mmmm like somebody get some!” She opens her mouth to ask who before she realizes she is somebody. And she wants to ask then what her friend sees when she looks at her. What’s so blatant to her even in the patchy half-lit mas camp. What does it mean that she can’t remember any of it?

She showers so long when she gets home her mother has to come and tell her to stop wasting the little Government water allowed them.

And when she lies down, she can’t sleep. Her skin feels like it is being zapped with electricity. She can’t remember a face. She can’t shake the feeling that she has been violated. She can’t put voice to what she is feeling.

A man on the radio calls them jezebels, these girls with everything hanging out at Carnival time, delilahs, luring men with flesh and the promise of flesh. She turns off the radio. It is the usual post Carnival nonsense, as if the society feels it has to do penance for blowing off some steam, even though life is a constant pressure cooker. She doesn’t usually have time for the hypocrisy of it, as if woman is sin-self, as if man don’t have no mind of his own, as if wining and jumping have to be about anything but you and the music, as if a woman, any woman who dare to have some fun, just asking for it.

Her body breaks out in goosebumps and the staticky feeling catches her again right there on the highway on the way to work and she has to pull off lest she ‘cause an accident because she feels in that moment like she is going to come apart.

She still hasn’t found her phone. Even so, the bank doesn’t take kindly to workers calling in sick the day after Carnival – two days holiday is plenty, the way they see it, never mind that revelers spend every waking moment of those two days on the road, taxing every inch of their bodies before returning to being bone-tired, hung over citizens.

“You okay, miss,” somebody pauses his car alongside hers to ask.

He waits through the inevitable eruption of horns behind him.

And she considers telling him, this stranger, the truth, that no she isn’t okay, that she thinks maybe she was raped, but – between flashes of unsympathetic police, accusatory headlines, online chatter, and streetside side eyes, and her own uncertainty about what was and was not – she just nods and he nods back and moves on.

-by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Neither image nor text is to be reposted or used in any way without permission. Feel free to share the link, of course.