Ayiti Read online

  Praise for Ayiti

  “[Haiti’s] better scribes, among them Edwidge Danticat, Franketienne, Madison Smartt Bell, Lyonel Trouillot, and Marie Vieux Chauvet, have produced some of the best literature in the world. Add to their ranks Roxane Gay, a bright and shining star. Ayiti is an exciting new chapter in an old and beautiful story.”

  —Kyle Minor, author of In the Devil’s Territory

  “These are powerful stories written with verve and there’s this great sense at the collection’s close that nothing will stop the Haitian people, the human spirit, or Roxane Gay.”

  —Ethel Rohan, author of The Weight of Him

  “A set of brief, tart stories mostly set amid the Haitian-American community and circling around themes of violation, abuse, and heartbreak … This book set the tone that still characterizes much of Gay’s writing: clean, unaffected, allowing the (often furious) emotions to rise naturally out of calm, declarative sentences. That gives her briefest stories a punch even when they come in at two pages or fewer, sketching out the challenges of assimilation in terms of accents, meals, or ‘What You Need to Know About a Haitian Woman.’ … This debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  Praise for Difficult Women and Roxane Gay

  “There’s a distinct echo of Angela Carter or Helen Oyeyemi at play; dark fables and twisted morality tales sit alongside the contemporary and the realistic.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “Gay’s signature dry wit and piercing psychological depth make every story mesmerizingly unusual and simply unforgettable.”

  —Harper’s Bazaar

  “Writing that seems to cut to the bone.”

  —Seattle Times

  “Like Joyce Carol Oates’ Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? or Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, this is fiction pressed through a sieve, leaving only the canniest truths behind … Addictive, moving and risk-taking.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle

  “Roxane Gay … charges from the gate … These are the places I’m going to take you, Gay seems to be saying. Are you prepared?”

  —Globe and Mail (Canada)

  “Roxane Gay is a force.”


  “[Gay’s] goodness cuts to the quick of human experience. Her work returns again and again to issues of power, the body, desire, trauma, survival, truth.”

  —Brooklyn Magazine

  Also by Roxane Gay


  An Untamed State

  Difficult Women


  Bad Feminist: Essays

  Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body




  Copyright © 2011, 2018 by Roxane Gay

  Cover design by Becca Fox Design

  Cover art © Lyn-Hui Ong

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove Atlantic, 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or [email protected]

  Published simultaneously in Canada

  Printed in the United States of America

  This book set in 12 pt. Warnock Pro

  by Alpha Design & Composition of Pittsfield, NH

  First published by Artistically Declined Press: October 2011

  First Grove Atlantic edition: June 2018

  ISBN 978-0-8021-2826-3

  eISBN 978-0-8021-6573-2

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data

  is available for this title.

  Grove Press

  an imprint of Grove Atlantic

  154 West 14th Street

  New York, NY 10011

  Distributed by Publishers Group West


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  For my mother and father



  Praise for Ayiti

  Praise for Difficult Women and Roxane Gay

  Also by Roxane Gay

  Title Page





  About My Father’s Accent

  Voodoo Child

  There Is No “E” in Zombi, Which Means There Can Be No You or We

  Sweet on the Tongue

  Cheap, Fast, Filling

  In the Manner of Water or Light


  The Harder They Come

  All Things Being Relative

  Gracias, Nicaragua y Lo Sentimos

  The Dirt We Do Not Eat

  What You Need to Know About a Haitian Woman

  Of Ghosts and Shadows

  A Cool, Dry Place


  Back Cover


  Gérard spends his days thinking about the many reasons he hates America that include but are not limited to the people, the weather, especially the cold, and having to drive everywhere and having to go to school every day. He is fourteen. He hates lots of things.

  On the first day of school, as he and his classmates introduce themselves, Gérard stands, says his name, quickly sits back down, and stares at his desk, which he hates. “You have such an interesting accent,” the teacher coos. “Where are you from?” He looks up. He is irritated. “Haiti,” he says. The teacher smiles widely. “Say something in French.” Gérard complies. “Je te déteste,” he says. The teacher claps excitedly. She doesn’t speak French.

  Word spreads through school quickly and soon, Gérard has a nickname. His classmates call him HBO. It is several weeks until he understands what that means.

  Gérard lives with his parents in a two-bedroom apartment. He shares his room with his sister and their cousin Edy. They do not have cable television, but Edy, who has been in the States for several months longer than Gérard, lies and tells him that HBO is Home Box Office, a TV channel that shows Bruce Willis movies. Gérard hates that they don’t have cable but loves Bruce Willis. He is proud of his nickname. When the kids at school call him HBO, he replies, “Yippee-ki-yay.”

  Gérard’s father does not shower every day because he has yet to become accustomed to indoor plumbing. Instead, he performs his ablutions each morning at the bathroom sink and reserves the luxury of a shower for weekends. Sometimes, Gérard sits on the edge of the bathtub and watches his father because it reminds him of home. He has the routine memorized—his father splashes his armpits with water, then lathers with soap, then rinses, then draws a damp washcloth across his chest, the back of his neck, behind his ears. His father excuses Gérard, then washes between his thighs. He finishes his routine by washing his face and brushing his teeth. Then he goes to work. Back home, he was a journalist. In the States, he slices meat at a deli counter for eight hours a day and pretends not to speak English fluently.

  In the second month of school, Gérard finds a bag of cheap colognes in his locker. “For HBO” is written on the front of the bag in large block letters. It is a strange gift, he thinks, and he hates the way the bag smells but he takes it home. Edy rolls his eyes when Gérard shows his cousin his gift, but takes one of the b