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This One Sky Day

Leone Ross,

Faber, 2021

Review by Ingrid Persaud

 

Leone Ross’s novel, This One Sky Day, might have taken her fifteen long years to complete but it covers only one day on Popisho, an imaginary archipelago that bears elements of Jamaica and Scotland, the lands of her dual heritage. In that ‘strange day, full of surprises and moments with sharp teeth’ we follow the fate of former lovers, Xavier Redchoose and Anise Latibeauderre.

Popisho is a lush paradise with colourful bougainvillea tumbling through the fantastical scenery where plums are inscribed with poetry on their blue skins. This enchanted landscape is matched by the magic within each of its inhabitants. ‘Everyone in Popisho was born with a little something-something, boy, a little something extra. The local name was cors. Magic, but more than magic. A gift, nah?’ One character, Romanza is capable of discerning truth from lies. Anise has healing hands. Xavier is the ‘macaenus’ – one who intuits the perfect seasoning and preparation of any dish. In return his cors demands that he cook a meal tailored to each Popisho inhabitant once in their lifetime. No one knows when their turn will come and they live heavy with anticipation for the day when Xavier ‘gave you what you needed, and that wasn’t just food: it was inspiration.’ Only Sonteine, daughter of Popisho’s despotic governor, Bertie Intiasar, appears to have been born cors-less.

I was pulled under Ross’s spell. What is my cors? Would my identical twin boys share a single cors? How different would our lives be if we each had a cors?

But possessing magic does not save the protagonists from themselves. Anise fails to heal her own body and suffers the loss and trauma of numerous miscarriages and ultimately rejection by her husband. Romanza might see truth clearly but that simply heightens his physical pain and lonely, marginalised existence as a queer person. While growing up in Popisho, one learns the art of eating a butterfly for the intoxication it brings. Not for Xavier. He is haunted by a moth addiction that ‘killed you over time, like revenge.’ Guilt and grief at his wife’s suicide keep pace with his steps wherever he goes.

On this one sky day, Intiasar has commanded that Xavier cook for Sonteine’s wedding feast. He must cook this meal even though it is not either’s turn to be fed by his hands. In the quest for ingredients Xavier follows Romanza out of the market to the Dead Islands – home of the ostracised ‘indigent’ peoples. They set off across the waters in a boat but to Xavier’s surprise they drop anchor some way from land. Romanza disembarks and appears to walk on water. After some coaxing, he persuades Xavier to follow. Hovering beneath the water’s surface he sees a matrix of coral. Obliging fish form gentle platforms gliding the men from one coral outcrop to another until they reach the shore. I walked with them, utterly enchanted by the ease with which Ross’s politics seeps into the text.

Meanwhile Sonteine and her fiancé are terrified of their impending nuptials and consummating the marriage. Sonteine’s terror is compounded when suddenly her pum pum falls off. It just comes loose and drops to the floor. She chases after it and is distraught to see it swept away by the river. Intiasar decrees a 24-hour cessation of all sexual activities in the hope of finding his daughter’s pum pum. It isn’t long before the population discovers that this is the day when every single pum pum in Popisho came loose and fell off. Anise experienced her pum pum coming loose ‘like a heavy battery falling out when the tiny locking device is retracted. Compact, self-contained. No blood, no mess. Just a chunk of her, lying there, rocking slowly.’

I love Ross’s uninhibited way of writing about sex and sexuality, exposing its pain, joy and comic absurdity. One sex worker refrigerates her pum pum, to be reattached at a more convenient time. She is warned it may be mistaken for a piece of pork, fried and eaten before she returns for it. And there is Lydia, fed up with her pum pum, happy to discard it forever. Sonteine, finding Lydia’s abandoned pum pum, claims it for herself. The couple are relieved to have a rather more experienced sexual organ than the virginal one that was lost.

The archipelago itself is responsible for upping the magic that causes this event. It is rebelling against corruption, over-development and victimisation of the indigent peoples. And in this apocalyptic moment the landscape opens a space for women to talk about sexuality and female power. For society and the very earth to heal we must reckon with women and their wellbeing.

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