Meet the author: Morgan Reid
Could you tell us about your motivation for writing the story and what you hope readers will take from it?
My mother left Jamaica when she was nine, but she still has so many memories about her childhood on the island. “You better be thankful that you have me because people don’t treat children well,” my mother would often say. I only knew the insignificant details about my family history until I urged my mother to explain when I was old enough to understand.
My great-grandmother passed away from a stroke when my grandmother was a child, so my grandmother had to be ‘raised’ by distant relatives and friends. She was abused, overworked, and never received a formal education. When my grandmother had her two children, she decided to pursue domestic work opportunities in America on a work visa. My mother and Uncle would live with family friends during this time. Their caretakers were neglectful, even though my grandmother sent money to cover my mother and Uncle’s expenses.
I was motivated to share my mother’s story because I always thought it was so fascinating, especially considering the spiritual elements. I also wanted to expose how children are mistreated by adults who simply do not care, while parents are searching for a better life in another country. Jamaica is a popular tourist destination for travelers around the globe, but I want readers to understand the dark side of an island paradise.
There seems to be a tension between movement and stillness throughout the story (e.g. mother leaves while children stay behind, people of Little London stuck in the past, brother’s immobility). Could you speak to the experience of change and movement, versus waiting and being stuck as a thematic element of the story?
The young mother in my story had to move to carve out a better future so movement represents transformation, a kind of rebirth to begin a second life. In many parts of the world, when you’re born poor you die poor, and there are hardly any chances for upward mobility in society. In Jamaica, leaving is always the best option for the working poor.
The stillness represents the dysfunctional way of life and behavior which traps my characters physically and emotionally. Prince has physical limitations and Kimani is a spectator who worries and waits for change to come. Remaining stuck hinders their progress. In fact, they regress because of the depressed living situation that they are placed in.
Movement saves the main characters in my story. They had to move to find peace, safety, and prosperity.
Could you tell us about the significance of the cat in the story?
Obeah is understood to be a form of sorcery in the Caribbean, but there are religious and healing aspects of this secretly practiced tradition. The cat represents the spiritual element of my story. The cat is threatening and destructive, carrying out all its thrills with a haunting call. Ms Edna, the caretaker, is responsible for sending this demonic spirit to prey on Prince out of jealousy.
Like most cultures, to have a first-born son is considered invaluable in Jamaica, so Ms Edna sends the cat with the intention to disfigure Prince permanently. She carries out a punishment because Prince is the boy child of a woman who is on the cusp of making a better life for herself and her family.
How does your piece speak to what might be Otherwise?
This story explains the sacrifices a person must make in life to progress. Hardship is a part of the journey toward reaching stability. To change your life, sometimes you must change your surroundings. I think everyone who has felt stuck can relate to yearning for more and striving for better.
Clarence is the everyday, slice-of-life story that shows a different perspective about the complexity of the human condition. It is a challenge to overcome a disadvantaged background, but through sheer grit, resilience, and hard work, I really do believe anything is possible even when obstacles seem absolutely soul-crushing.
My story forces readers to examine familiar situations that they would otherwise overlook. There is so much power in recognizing unfortunate life circumstances and what it takes to overcome them. No matter the culture or country, there is the shared human experience and this short story speaks to the idea that everyone yearns for a harmonious existence. It simply takes courage and self-belief in knowing that one deserves more than just a temporary situation.
Your story has a particularly strong narrative arc, effortlessly moving the reader through time and space. Could you tell us a bit about your creative process for structuring the story?
I wanted the story to start with loss. The reader can understand the kind of love and concern that children lose when their parents put them in the care of others. The journey to Ms Edna is long and the small community in the countryside holds a lot of secrets. Most isolated or widespread areas can hide dysfunctional people because of the remote lifestyle and lack of exposure.
The story quickly transitions into the cat's frequent night visits which causes misfortune. The scenes displaying the cat's presence further emphasizes how Kimani and Prince suffer from neglect. The cat's visits show a pattern of behavior that the characters find difficult to avoid. Kimani and Prince are under the cat's command and the only person who can save them is their mother.
Only a mother can protect their children with the strength and ferocity needed to defeat an enemy, so naturally, I wanted the mother to be the ultimate hero in the end. The mother's appearance at the end of the story represents safety and change. The mother removes her children from a troubled environment and travels to a place where they all can escape the people who remain sunken and stuck in time.