Family Portrait by Lisa Deane

TW: physical/sexual violence, racial hostility, profanity

LOCAL ARTIST RENDERS ‘SORDID’ PAYTON FAMILY IN LIFE-SIZED PAINTING. That’s the latest headline: Friday paper, back page. The artist did it in oil – me, Nora, the kids, looking grotesque, of course – and the gallery framed it in something gold-toned and gaudy, so it would have an Old-World feel, like it happened centuries ago. People could swallow it better that way, or so they pretended. Truth is, hardly anyone can stop themselves from looking, from gawking, one fucking way or the other. They see me and they think, There he is, there’s a respected businessman who likes to play plantation slave master with his mixed-race wife. What is she, Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, Afro-Trinidadian? How does a person end up being all those things, anyway? And now, she’s missing. Who’s he kidding? That bitch is dead. 

***

The Ratho Mill Hotel, St. Vincent & the Grenadines 

A family-owned luxury boutique hotel in a rambling 100-year-old building overlooking a white sand beach. 

Wanderlust1 wrote a review in Jan 2020:

I stayed at this hotel just after my divorce. Risky choice for a newly single gal, since it’s supposed to be haunted. It does have a spooky, gothic vibe at night (Poe fans will love it), but in the morning, when the sun comes up, it’s your typical tropical paradise: fresh fruit, seafood breakfast, beautiful quiet beach. The owners, Charles and Nora, are super friendly. They took me on a whole-day sailing trip down to the Grenadines; I got to see the famed Mopion Island – just breath-taking! They seemed like a sweet married couple, with two cute kids. No funny business. Not like what the news is saying. They live in a suite in the same building as the hotel, and I’m a light sleeper (I raised three fussy babies, plus my husband), so I would’ve heard if anything untoward was going on . . . I hope she turns up okay.

Response from The Ratho Mill Hotel on 1/13/2020:

Dear Marisa,

It was a pleasure having you. Thank you for your kind review and your well wishes for my family during this difficult time. Hope to see you back in these parts soon. 

Charles

***

From: Calliaqua Police Station <calliaquaps@vincysurf.com

Re: Charles Payton, husband of missing woman Nora Payton 

To: Director of Public Prosecutions <dpp@vincysurf.com>

Dear Sir, 

Please see the attached per your request. The incident report from two years ago is all we have on Charles Payton. We didn’t get anything from questioning him that we didn’t already know from the Martinique police, but I included the relevant part of the interview transcript for reference. 

Sincerely,

Keith Jones

Superintendent of District 3

2 attachments 

Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Investigative Report 

Call type: Information only 

On the evening of July 27, 2018, I went to the Ratho Mill home of Charles and Nora Payton, aka the Ratho Mill Hotel, after receiving information from a worker that Mrs Payton was being hurt. The informant believed that Mrs Payton was in distress due to grunts and cries heard coming from a cellar. The informant further expressed concern that the Payton children may have been left unattended. Upon arrival, I asked to see Mr and Mrs Payton, but reception could not locate them and invited me to wait. I inquired as to the whereabouts of the Payton children and confirmed that they were in the Payton residence under the supervision of a nanny. I inquired as to the whereabouts of the cellar and was taken there. I asked Mr and Mrs Payton to present themselves. From the cellar door, I observed Mr Payton unshackling Mrs Payton from ceiling-mounted restraints and removing a blindfold. She had welt marks across her torso and back. There was blood splattered on the floor and walls. Mrs Payton refused medical attention. She indicated that the activities were consensual. 

Interview Transcript 

Interview date: March 3, 2020 

Case #: 01AG557

Interview of: Charles Payton with Attorney Daniel Hart

Interviewed by: Corporal James Henry

Note: This interview was conducted via video conference in compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

[TRUNCATED]

JH: You took your wife on a leisure trip to Martinique?

CP: Yes.

JH: How long did you go for?

CP: The weekend. 

JH: That would be Friday afternoon to Monday morning?

CP: Yes. 

JH: How did you get there?

CP: We flew. 

JH: You flew on your personal airplane, right?

CP: Yes. 

JH: And you left Martinique alone on Monday February 17 between 8 and 9 a.m.?

CP: Yes. 

JH: Why were you alone?

CP: My wife wasn’t ready to leave. 

JH: Why not?

(silence, private exchange between Charles Payton and Daniel Hart)

CP: There was some shopping she still wanted to do, but I needed to get home.

JH: What was so urgent at home?

CP: We only had childcare up to Monday, and there were some work things that required my attention. 

JH: I see. And were you going to fly back and get her when she was done, er, shopping? What was the arrangement?

CP: If I had the time, I would go back and get her, or she would fly commercial. We hadn’t decided. 

JH: Okay, what kind of shopping was she planning on doing?

CP: What kind of . . . (pause) She was going to buy cheese, that I knew of, but knowing her, other things too. I didn’t ask for the details. 

JH: I see, because she didn’t show up in any store or street surveillance footage on Monday February 17, or the next day, or the next day. In fact, Martinique immigration has no exit record for her, so ostensibly, she never left the country, and yet she can’t be found. 

CP: Odd. 

JH: Indeed. (pause) You didn’t have anything to do with your wife’s disappearance, did you, Mr Payton? She’s alive, as far as you know?

CP: (unintelligible)

DH: Alright, that’s enough.

***

I’m smoking again. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s the sweet burn of tobacco in my lungs after eleven years of abstinence. I wonder what my accusers would say if they found out I’m not so much a sadist as my wife is a masochist. Nora has always been wild. I was afraid I’d lose her if she didn’t get what she needed. And you know what, I started liking it. After a while, I enjoyed whipping my wife bloody for her flirtatiousness, which isn’t fair, but what in a relationship is? It’s what attracted me to her in the first place: her brazenness. She came right up to me and said, “How ‘bout it, babe?” Back then, I was a nice strait-laced guy who was literally a week away from marrying a nice strait-laced girl – a girl that likes vanilla sex (well, ‘like’ is a strong word) and isn’t the type to get into trouble. It was hard to go back on my word. I hate inconvenience. But Nora and I wanted each other more than anyone. My friends were fascinated by her, mesmerized, the way one might watch a tornado sweep through a city. My former friends. 

This post is brought to you by
The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos
 by Abby Bland


The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos explores the intimacy of human relationship and growth against the backdrop of the natural world, moving through moments of grace, brokenness, and wonder.

Published by Perennial Press

***

Voicemail from +044 20 2341 3421 on 4/9/2020 at 8:24 EST: 

My dearest brother, you wouldn’t happen to be screening your only sister’s calls, would you? At the risk of sounding like mum, I wish you would just tell everyone where Nora is to clear your name, although you haven’t really told us, just that she’s alive and ‘well enough’, whatever that means. Is it rehab? It must be something urgent for her to travel in the middle of this COVID-19 business. Still, it’s selfish of her to take off and let you and the little ones go through this hell. You say you’re not a murder suspect, not really, only in the court of public opinion, but the hate crimes and the stress . . . The kids don’t understand now, but when they do, what will they think?

***

Interview with Dr Geniene Garvey on 5/18/2020, Women’s Empowerment (WE) FM Feminist Community Radio: 

Presenter: Good morning, you’re listening to WE FM, here to empower women every single day. Today we have Dr Geniene Garvey phoning in from Atlanta to talk about the most recent crisis in the East Kingstown community: the disappearance of Nora Payton, whom many fear is dead. Dr Garvey has published in the Sociological Science journal on what she calls the ‘inherent dysfunction of interracial romantic relationships’ in postcolonial societies. If you’re not brushed up on your history this early in the a.m. folks, that’s us, former slave-holding colonies. Dr G, several of Nora Payton’s old schoolmates have come forward describing her ‘adamant’ attraction to white men, and as you know, her white husband, British-born hotelier Charles Payton, is Suspect #1 in her disappearance. Thoughts? 

Guest: Good morning everyone. First off, thank you so much for having me; I’m honored – and truly horrified that this has happened in my community. Let’s get right to it. It’s very well-established that such behaviour is indicative of psychological maladjustment, so if this sort of thing goes all the way back to Nora Payton’s schooldays, it’s safe to say she’s had some longstanding issues, maybe to do with the likely violent circumstances that led to her diverse ethnic composition, such as rape, possibly, and other subtler but equally sinister forms of coercion. Meanwhile, from her husband’s perspective, white men’s sexual attraction to ethnic women is often understood as the exercise of possessory power, or at best, some combination of curiosity and rebelliousness. White heterosexual men’s unassailable socioeconomic dominance means that for them, interracial relationships are more fun than dangerous. Basically, an affluent man like Charles Payton can afford to indulge his exotic taste and even institutionalize it in marriage, and little harm will come to him as a result. But for his ethnic female partner, this creates an incredibly volatile situation, where any tension, from within the relationship or even just from the general pressures of life, can manifest as aggression directed at her. You take the race factor and you couple that with the physical and social power imbalances that characterize mixed-gender relationships and that’s already a lot to navigate, but with Charles and Nora Payton, there are significant age and income differences at play too that might contribute to his egocentrism – 

Presenter: That might lead him to view her as disposable if she offended him?

Guest: Precisely. I mean, he’s nine years older than she is, and he’s an immensely successful architect, while she has no discernible profession. Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for disaster to you? 

***

#therealRevFranklyn #LeonMarks4reparations #wheresNoraPayton

YouTube live stream: Kingstown Heritage Square Prayer Rally 

[Closed Captioning]

[With these candles, we light the way home for Nora Payton and for everyone around the world who is lost.]

[We pray for her safe return. We pray that her loved ones who are searching for her will be comforted, that her children, Sean and Emma, who are still young enough to need their mother above all things, will be comforted.]

[We pray that the guilty, those who have done evil and caused pain, will be punished, that they will repent and be forgiven.]

[We pray that the authorities will hear our call to action and that other agents of justice will step up in their stead if need be.]

***

That guy just won’t quit. He’s the ringleader, my wife’s low-key racist BFF. He appointed himself the local spokesman of the reparations movement, but since Nora’s been gone, he’s had a new cause. I always suspected he was mad she chose me, always thought that underneath his brotherly love he hated her more than just a little bit for whoring herself out to white men and never fucking him. He was standing next to her on our wedding day, all pious and martyr-like, but I didn’t even see him, because she was so beautiful, and all I could think was that I’d made the right choice, that there had never really been a choice . . . The goddamned vandals are back, in ski masks this time: graffiti on my gate, shit thrown into my yard. I fire shots, but they have guns too. I won’t bother going to the police. This all started when the police report leaked. On a small island, even the bureaucracy gossips. Harmless whispers, at first, about how Nora and I liked freaky sex. But when Nora didn’t come back, friends, neighbours, staff, they all started coming forward with testimonials. Like they know. Like anyone can ever know.

***

Dear Charlie, 

You’ve done everything in your life right, except for me. I told you I would mess it all up. But I also promised to love you spectacularly, and I do. I need you still, to forgive me and love me in my chaos. We can all be together again when I learn to control my thirst. Oliver is helping me. He feels awful, as he should. 

You should never have taken me to Martinique. You know how irresistible I find the French. But after you left, I turned him down. I told him I’m married and irrevocably in love with you. He only meant to taste me and let me go, I think, but he lost control. Apparently, that can happen to even the oldest and most compassionate of vampires when the blood is delicious. (Flattering, at least, eh?) And so, poor contrite Oliver drained me, and instead of letting me die, he made me one of them. One of us I suppose I should say now. I know I’ve told you this before, but hearing the truth again and again is the only way to keep wicked doubts from consuming you, my love. 

Every day, I feel the monster in me getting more humane. I don’t know how many more days it will take, but when it’s time, I was thinking we could try out Nunavut or Alaska or Finland. I’m told I’ll have a strong preference for darkness and cold, for a while. The kids will love it! And when they’re grown, they can go out into the bright sunshiny world with a helluva childhood to tell about, and it’ll just be me and you, forever – really forever – and when they’re old enough, if they want, we can turn them too. 

Your good girl,

Nora

About The Author

Lisa Deane studied English literature at the University of Toronto, St. George.

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