Karin Schimke

The mole
 

Tara stood in the school yard in the easy light of an early spring afternoon listening to Sandy saying how important it was to get one’s daughter to do as many after school activities as possible. It could do no harm at all, she honked at Tara, as though Tara had offered a counter opinion.

Tara’s left thumb reached back to rub the mole on the plump part of her hand between her thumb and forefinger. Already the skin there was rougher than anywhere else. The mole wasn’t new, but since she’d moved to Cape Town, she had begun this obsessive reaching for it. It both comforted and irritated her. It had become than a mole: perhaps a reminder of something she had been, or could have been.

Sandy, a coffin of a woman, who towered over her and cast a shadow on Tara’s indistinct, slightly freckled face, was telling Tara about market day and what was generally required of “the mother’s who take an interest”. She tipped her forehead forward meaningfully as she said this. Sandy, it seemed, never missed a word in the weekly school newsletter, for which Tara was mildly grateful. She read it, but never remembered a thing it said.

At 37 Tara still felt underdeveloped as an adult, and a little dazed by life, which had carried her along on events, rather than by her own decisions, tastes and dislikes. Unlike Sandy, who appeared to be in control of every aspect of her and her family’s life, Tara never felt in control of anything. Life controlled her. She hadn’t made a decision to marry, or to marry Ted in particular. She hadn’t thought of falling pregnant, she just had. She’d never imagined what it would be like to be a mother, until she was holding a red-faced monkey apparently belonging to her. She had also not decided to move to Camps Bay from London. But then, she’d never protested against anything either.

And she did try very hard to be engaged by things.

Tara asked her where Sandy would send Jemma after junior school. The answer was long and Tara became distracted by Sandy’s sunglasses. They were black Wayfarer’s, like George Michael’s when he became famous in Wham. These were scratched and African beadwork straps looped past Sandy’s squarish jowls. They were too small for Sandy’s large face, too dark for her complexion.

Sandy’s words emerged like a scarf from the needles of an expert knitter. That such a simple question would elicit such a long response – encapsulating Sandy’s entire theory on parenting – astonished Tara. How much thinking this all must have cost, and how long ago. It was a well-rehearsed and oft-repeated speech, too slick to have been recently edited.

Tara she felt an unusual stirring of nastiness flapping against her consciousness. From the five previous times she’d been sucked into Sandy’s shadow, Tara knew that everything she was wearing accentuated her length and angularity. The T-shirt she had on was too long, too boxy and too pink. Its neckline was so high it left a vast unflattering wasteland of magenta between her thick neck and her badly packaged breasts. She wore only granny trousers, elastic-waisted, shapeless and beige, and they stopped an inch short of her feet. Sandy always wore flip-flops, Tara knew, and her toenails were incongruously tiny and were probably painted a glittering burgundy.

The school bell gave Tara a fright. She’d been dwelling in a part of her brain she didn’t know she had, a part that had to do with aversion and judgment. She didn’t know she possessed such strong feelings – hadn’t had them for almost 20 years.
 
Then she realized that she’d touched the edge of her mole. Her thumb seemed to be getting looser with practise. It was a funny accomplishment, not the sort of thing you’d share with your friends, but she felt glad that she might soon be able to feel the whole mole with the thumb of the same hand. Like a yogi eventually getting into the headstand position and keeping it.

Two nights later, Tara dreamt about a woman who looked like Sandy, but wasn’t Sandy. The woman was telling Tara what to put on a big orange plate, where to find glasses and what Tara should think of the guests who were coming. In the dream, Tara kept getting things wrong. She put soap on the plate between the strawberries, but didn’t know how she got to be holding soap. She poured beer from cans into a jug that was meant for juice. She knew the woman would be irritated by her, and she felt silly for not being able to follow simple instructions. But when she was finished doing all the wrong things, she felt a little smug. She went to the woman and said “I can’t stay.”

Then she went for a run that went on and on and on. She didn’t get tired. And she started laughing so loudly people stared at her.

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Terry Flint

Blood is thicker than water

 

Jessie and I stand across the room from each other, looking at ourselves. We are mirror images, my twin and I, but each with our own soul, and each with our own personality. ‘You can see a personality but you can’t see a soul,’ Mama used to say, ‘unless of course you look deep into that person’s eyes. Your eyes are the windows to your soul, be careful what lies there’. Today, I see what Jessie cannot hide. I see exactly what she feels. The resentment that she has allowed to fester inside her soul shoots through her sapphire-blue eyes into mine, numbing my brain. I look away, not knowing what to say. I feel so saddened that our relationship has come to this.

I glance uneasily around the large living-room, furnished with so many childhood memories. It seems like yesterday that we were playing with our dolls on the large green carpet and chasing each other round the sofa. I can see our beautiful Mama, sitting in her favourite rocking chair, reading to us, telling us we are her two little raven-haired angels, with dimples like sunshine when we smile. It was always just the three of us, Mama, Jessie and I. And now she’s gone.

Mama died last week after ‘a long illness bravely borne’. That’s what it said in the obituary column. I still think she died of a broken heart. I think her shattered heart never fully healed when she let my father go to follow his dream. Jessie and I were too small to remember and Mama never spoke of him. Ever. I often wondered if Mama had ever looked deeply enough into his eyes, unless of course, she had been blinded by love. But it was something I thought, rather than said. The yearning to know my father grew as I grew, but Mama was silent on the matter and Jessie just seemed to accept that. I never did. ‘Annie, just leave well enough alone’, Jessie would say to me, whenever I asked any questions. ‘Can’t you see you are upsetting Mama?’

I fix my eyes back on Jessie. Serious, dependable Jessie, who never left Mama’s side. Not flighty, like me, the one who took off in search of fame and fortune on Broadway, leaving her to cope with everything. I want to tell her how I nearly came back so many times. How I nearly gave it all up because I felt so alone and missed them so much. Then a chance meeting with him, a talented producer who understood my dream gave me my first big break. I know in my heart that Mama believed this would happen one day. I need to tell Jessie everything I told Mama before she died. It is something that Mama had made peace with in her heart. It is something I hope Jessie is also able to do.

I walk toward the sofa and sit down. ‘Jessie, please come here and sit with me’, I say softly, patting the empty place next to me. I see tears in her eyes as she makes her way over and sits in the chair opposite me. Always on the other side, I think to myself. When are we ever going to be on the same side, looking in the same direction, seeing things the same way?

‘You left us, just like he did,’ Jessie sobs, ‘and now you are going to leave me. I don’t have any other life to go back to, only this one.’ I start to say something, but she bursts out, ‘Don’t you get it? This is it. It’s just us now. Mama is gone and we only have each other. We have no other family. All of a sudden I feel so alone and so scared and I don’t know what to do.’

I am overcome with emotion. I reach out and grab her hands. All the resentment I thought she harboured was actually fear. Fear of being left alone. I pull her towards me and hold her, stroking her long dark hair. I want to tell her that everything will be okay, that I will never leave her, that she can come back and live in Los Angeles with me, that I want us to be a family again. But first I need to tell her something. Something I’m not so sure she will accept easily. I swallow hard. ‘Jessie, before we go any further, there is someone I’d like you to meet’.

I step away, walk to the front door and open it. I motion for him to come in. Jessie stares, opening her mouth but nothing comes out. She knows him already. This tall, slightly greying raven-haired man with sapphire-blue eyes and dimples like sunshine when he smiles.

By Penny Lorimer

Sunday fantasy
 

Saturdays were abrasive. He and she scraped against each other constantly, like two pieces of sandpaper. It was as if, at the end of each stressful work week, they needed a day apart to recover their equilibrium. When forced to interact they’d carp over minor things, causing the children to roll their eyes and fix their teenage attentions on screens of some description.

So they tried to stay apart. He would lounge on the sofa in front of TV sport broadcasts. She would go to movies or coffee with friends. They would nap or read in different bedrooms. By Sunday, they were usually able to communicate like two rational adults – unless a Saturday disagreement had been so bad that it had spilled over. Then she would not speak to him unless absolutely necessary – briefly. She was a sulker.

“Are you going to clean the pool today?” Instructions, pretending to be questions. That was all. And always involving the fucking pool in some way. God he was sick of it.

It was usually on one of these Sundays, (often when vacuuming the pool), that he’d drift into what he privately called his ‘divorce fantasy’. He’d start by sifting through their accumulated possessions in his head and deciding who would get what if they split. He’d get the cds – because he’d bought them. She could have a few – their musical tastes were different.

She would be devastated by his departure and he determined to be kind to her – remote, but kind. He’d be generous with the furniture and fittings. She liked flouncy, cottagey, oregan pine stuff that he couldn’t stand, so she could have it.

His new place would be a light-filled apartment on the Waterfront. Minimalist modern lines, leather couches, glass-topped tables, open plan, granite counters, blinds – all monochrome. He’d keep the flat-screen TV. She and the kids could have the other one, it was still perfectly good. He’d keep his music centre – she hardly used it anyway.

The kids would visit him every second weekend and they’d do fun things. They’d eat out nights. They’d go on boat trips or horse rides. He’d play Playstation games with his son, dispense welcome, masculine advice to his daughter. They’d moan privately about their mother and he’d urge understanding. He’d be a port in a storm. Holidays – he’d take them to his parents. Spread the load.

He’d meet another woman, dark and sultry. Too independent to live with him but they’d spend nights together. Sex would be amazing. She’d be adventurous and appreciative of him (at this point he’d suck his gut in). He imagined himself trim and fit – he’d ‘gym’ regularly and his membership would never lapse. They’d go to art movies together, have coffee and browse bookshops. She’d pay her own way.
    

Here he’d remember that he’d have to pay maintenance – at least while the kids were still dependent. Financial reality caused the divorce fantasy to fizzle out, leaving him feeling faintly cheered and slightly superior.

This Saturday he’d been unable to avoid a petty confrontation. She’d pushed all his buttons and he’d been driven to respond. Things escalated to a point where he heard himself suggesting separation.

“It’s obvious you’re not happy with who I am,” he said. “We don’t seem to have much in common any more. Perhaps it would be better if we called it a day.”

Strangely, she didn’t cry at this point, simply looked at him calmly.

“We can work something out if we sell the house,” he said. “We both work so it should be financially possible. The children would probably be happier and of course,” he looked at her kindly, “I’d make sure that you got fair monthly maintenance.”

I don’t recall saying that I would take custody of the children,” she said.

All the air disappeared from his lungs.

“What d’you mean?” he croaked.

“Well, you earn more and your hours are better, so it would make more sense for you to be primary parent. We could share weekends and holidays.”

It sounded as if she’d worked it all out! “I’d pay you maintenance. In fact, you could stay here and I could get a flat somewhere,” she said.

Modern furniture, clean lines, bookshop browsings were instantly sucked away, as if into a disposal unit.

“Maybe we’re being too hasty!” He had a new vision now. One of relentless school lifts, teenage bathrooms and hormone-fuelled arguments. “I think we should consider this more carefully. I mean one doesn’t want to throw away eighteen years.” He ran a shaking hand over his head, feeling, for a disconcerting moment, a small, bald patch on the crown. He sat down, avoiding her cool, opaque eyes, and picked up the paper.

Monica de Wet

De Profundis

She stands with her back to the room, looking out over the familiar landscape of fields and meadows, a view she has known all her life. Her arms are crossed protectively over her chest, her green cardigan and floral dress as much her as the room. She stands silently for a minute, and then with a sigh she reaches up and closes the curtains. Lovely curtains, a blue floral which matches the chairs. You really can’t beat Sanderson linen for wear and comfort. For a minute she is back in the distant past when they were newly married, and doing up the old farmhouse. But enough of that now, the nights are drawing in, and she has her evening chores to do.

She crosses the sitting room on her way to the kitchen.  She can just glimpse the top of Jim’s head above the back of his favourite chair. Amazing to think that they have been married for nearly fifty years, and that their love for each other has not diminished in all that time. Yes, they’d had their fights and disagreements, and their tragedies, losing baby John when he was only six months old, but in the end all the ups and downs, though frightening at the time, had drawn them even closer.

She walks over to Jim’s chair, just to look at him again. He is still a good-looking man, thick grey hair, and a straight nose. He leans back; eyes closed, one hand loosely on his lap, the other resting on the arm of his chair as if reaching for his beloved pipe. He is rather pale, but that is inevitable, and she rests her hand for a moment on the top of his head to comfort him. 

She must get on with her work, but just wants to look at him for a little while longer. He has such beautiful hands, long, slim fingers, always immaculately clean. They tease him, saying that he should be a pianist or a surgeon with those hands, not just a GP. She knows those hands so well; gentle with the sick, with children, with the frightened and the malingerers.  She can feel their touch, cupping her face; her skin recognises his every touch. A shiver of longing rips through her.

Well, she can’t hang around; she has things to do. She hopes desperately that their youngest daughter, Margie won’t decide to drop in. She lives just down the street, and often pops in unexpectedly. This is her time, hers and Jim’s and nobody else has the right to interfere. She realizes that she isn’t thinking straight. How can she after the shock, and the fact that she hadn’t slept all night? But she must stop thinking about it – things will work out. As long as she keeps herself busy, and her thoughts in control, she will be all right. If only she had not slept late yesterday morning, and had come down to make the tea as usual, this wouldn’t have happened. Stop it; she scolds herself. Just carry on as normal, and the future will take care of itself.

She decides to make sausage and mash for supper; it’s one of Jim’s favourites. As she bustles about the kitchen, doing what has now become second nature, the forbidden thoughts creep into her mind. She should really tell the children, and the relevant authorities …

NO, NO, NOT YET! She needs time for just the two of them. You can’t love someone for so long, and then just let them go. She knows she is being ridiculous, and a huge sob rises in her throat.

NO, she will not let herself go, she has too much to do.

What would Jim say if he could see her breaking down? He always admired her strength and relied on her, and she wasn’t about to let him down now. Dinner is finished and in the oven. She’ll go and sit down in her chair opposite Jim, and they can relax until dinnertime.

There is so much she wants to ask him. How will she manage without him? And how is she going to tell the children? Where will she live? Bitter, bitter thoughts; she wishes she could vomit them up like bad food, but not now.

Sitting in her chair, facing her beloved husband, she tries to see things clearly, to put them into perspective, but the thoughts dart around in her mind like demented hamsters.

She must try and relax, but her brain is mush. And then, clear as a bell, she hears Jim’s voice; “Ag, love, you know what you have to do – let me go.”

The tears come at last, cascading down her face. She lifts the phone.

Mikki van Zyl

Casual cruelty


 

Bertie got to camp late and went straight to bed. He fell asleep thinking about Kaz. How they had been friends for almost sixteen years! As students, they were both outsiders. Though an Afrikaner in an Afrikaner establishment, Bertie didn’t fit in with the other guys … brawny, loud and … rugby-ish. Kaz the Indian girl. She inspired quietude.

Her drawings first attracted him – eyes transfixed by the pencil swaying and curving on the page. In a few lines animals would emerge from the paper.‘Please may I have it?’ he surprised himself one day.

After that they felt free to greet each other. Became lab partners, the undisputed ‘A-team’ of their year. They shared an abhorrence of cruelty, though both understood nature’s violence. She accepted the protection of his friendship and he fell hopelessly in love with her.

Bertie still remembers the day she got this job. She burst into his lab, waving the letter triumphantly. The dreaded moment had come. He hated himself for wanting her so desperately he could thwart what she wanted most – to be a wildlife vet. She had paid with her youth for this moment.

‘Do your folks know?’

‘No. You’re the first.’

He barely contained his joy, secure now with knowing his place in her life.

‘Let’s have some lab coffee, for oulaas. Celebrate our rites of passage.’

Soon the aroma of coffee stilled the chemical smells.

‘Bertie. Bert. Wake up!’

Kaz was standing over him with an enormous mug of coffee.

He remembered. He was visiting Kaz at her lion project.

But something in her voice was awry. She looked hunched and miserable.

‘What’s up? Why do you look so …’

‘ … awful? … After you’d gone to bed, I overheard Mku talking to Desmond, you know, the pilot from Kaligari safaris. He came up from Mana pools yesterday … Something terrible happened near there.’

He waited. She would tell him in her own time. She walked over to the back of the tent, staring through the opening overlooking wheat fields. He came to stand next to her.

They looked at Mt Meru, a quarter moon riding behind wispy clouds, high above the dawnlit snows. A row of bluegums threw dark shadows on the other side of the golden field, a light wind rippling a sad song through the stalks.

Finally he laid his hand lightly on her arm. She sat on the bed, perched against his knees.

‘It was in the Zambezi.’

‘Someone we know?’

‘Manie Burger’s outfit.’

‘A little boy was eaten by a croc. An American and his son and daughter were in one canoe, and Manie and Sinza, his tracker, in another. They were paddling downriver when he noticed a big croc in the shallows. He told them to get to the bank, leave the croc space to go into deep water. They were a few yards ahead. Then a shout. He turned round just in time to see this massive croc lunge at the other boat. There was a huge splash, the canoe rocking dangerously. The little boy was holding onto the girl and their dad was desperately trying to still the boat. Next thing, the croc came shooting out of the water again, this time grabbing the boy. The girl also fell into the water. By now Manie had his handgun out. Everybody was trying to get hold of the boy. For one moment the croc let go of him, then gripped him firmly and swam off. Manie shot at the croc, but nothing happened. The boy was gone. Sinza had managed to get the girl into their boat. Manie had to hang onto the father who was ready to dive in. He went near hysterical when Manie was shooting at the croc.’

‘What then?’

‘They searched for two nights and two days. Eventually Manie shot the croc; they cut it open, found body parts of the little boy.’

‘What a terrible way to die? What a terrible thing to witness. Your son dying like that.’

‘Ja. Now apparently the American is trying to blame Manie, saying he should have been more careful, and accusing him of shooting the boy.’

‘It would have been a blessing if he had.’

‘Well, they could find no evidence to suggest that he’d been shot.’

‘Where was the child’s mother?’

‘In Harare. Doesn’t like the bush. Didn’t want the girl to go. Said it was for boys.’

They both know. Bad things happen in the bush. Often due to carelessness. Sometimes through pure chance.

‘Now there’s an enquiry. Manie won’t be happy. It’ll put a stop to his game plans for a while.’

‘Why? Why should he worry?’

Kaz looked at him askance. ‘I thought you knew.’

‘What?!’

‘Some of his trophy lions are very suspect.’

Bertie sighed. Why were things never clearcut?

Maire Fisher

Ocean-crossing

 

Mommy’s sitting in the rocking chair.   She doesn’t see Katy standing in the doorway.  Daddy says don’t disturb Mommy when she’s InHere. But Katy’s going to. She’s going to walk right up and say Hi Mommy! She is. And Mommy won’t speak all quiet and whispery. And scary. Like another Mommy has got right into her body. A mommy with the same long brown curly hair as Katy’s – such a nuisance to keep tidy, but we’d never cut it would we, Katy-Kate? That’s what Mommy used to say when she brushed Katy’s hair for school.

 Mommy sits, quiet as mouse, looking into the garden.  Everyone is quiet nowdays.  The only time anyone talks loudly is when Granny comes and cooks up a storm, filling the freezer, because heaven knows someone has to get some nurrishint into the child. Only thing is, Mommy forgets to open the freezer, and then Granny goes oh dearie me and rustles up something quick and easy. Most days she opens Katy’s rucksack and checks the message book and writes in it. Yesterday she wrote for a long time. This morning, when Miss Adams read it, she smiled at Katy and asked her if she’d like to play in the Wendyhouse. The other children all looked at Katy, and she felt funny, like their eyes were crawling on her, because we all know, don’t we children, that we can only play in the Wendyhouse if we have been very good, and finished all our work. It’s a Very Special Treat. And Katy hadn’t even started her drawing. So she just shook her head and picked up her crayons, the special ones Mommy bought because she was starting big school. 

Katy leans against the doorframe. Round-tummied teddybears dressed in sailor-suits tumble around the pale blue walls of the small room.  A mobile hangs from the ceiling. Sometimes, when Mommy is InHere, she winds it up and the bright tinkling notes of Teddybear’s Picnic scamper out of the room, down the passage to where Katy plays by herself in her own bedroom.

Katy touches the blue carpet with her big toe. Her thumb creeps to her mouth. She mustn’t suck her thumb, that’s not what big girls do, and she wants to set a good example to her little brother doesn’t she? But he isn’t here, so Katy can’t show him all the special things from her secret drawer – like the snakeskin Josie and her found, and Katy’s shoes from when she was a baby, only she was going to give them to him. Tucked right at the back of the drawer, folded tight, is the list Miss Adams helped Katy to write. Her favourite boys’ names in all the world. Zak and Max and Tim. Little names for a little baby. Miss Adams said they would stretch as he got bigger. Daddy said she was an absolute genius, because Mommy was besotted with ‘Theodore’, and nothing Daddy said could budge her. But when she read Katy’s list she looked down at her big tummy and said hello little Max, can you hear me?

Katy hides her thumb behind her back and looks at Mommy.  Mommy is stroking the arm of the chair, her fingers moving round and round, like her hand doesn’t know what it is doing. Other times it moves to her tummy and makes circles there. Until Daddy puts his arms around her and hugs her tightly. Katy watches them. That’s when they ask her to play in her room. And their voices sound far, far, away, as if they were talking to her from the bottom of the sea, way deeper than Katy would ever be allowed to go.

Granny says they’ll get Overit.  But Katy doesn’t want them to get Overit, because it sounds horrible, and they mustn’t have any more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, like Alexander in Katy’s best book ever, the one Daddy knows off-by-heart.

Katy takes a deep breath, filling her lungs, like when Josie and her see who can stay underwater the longest. Most times Josie wins, but sometimes she giggles and bubbles come out of her mouth in a whoosh. Katy’s tummy flutters the way it always does when she is nervous or excited. Like the day she started school. Butterflies in your tummy Mommy said, and she took Katy’s hand. Feel Katy, I’ve got a butterfly in my tummy. And Katy giggled because she knew it was something quite different, another word beginning with b. Buh is for bike and bubbles. Baby and boy.
Katy puts one foot forward. She’s going to walk right up and say Hi Mommy! The carpet stretches ahead of her like an ocean, deep and blue.

Katy breathes deeply and takes another step. Mommy turns in her chair.

‘Katy-Kate?’

Lone Jorgensen

A special occasion

Being bitter is the last thing she can think of so she just keeps on waiting.

“He just went out to do some shopping”. She tells the sleeping cat. “… Probably gone to visit somebody on his way.” She pauses. “Jenna and William? … they are awfully busy … got new jobs … you know what it´s like!”

Her old black cat stretches on the kitchen chair beside her. He gives her a forbearing look.

She sits in the kitchen sipping her coffee looking out onto the road where there is nobody to be seen. She doesn’t want to see anybody anyway. She drinks her coffee, the cheapest one from the shop. No need to waste money.

“They want me to go there. No way!” Her voice is suddenly very firm. “I can’t go anywhere. I have to be around … you know!”

She has started talking to herself lately. Or to the cat or the kitchen wall. At first it frightened her but now she has given in. It is rather nice to hear her own voice now and then.

She gets up and puts her cup in the sink. “I need to clean” she notes to the sleeping cat, as she looks around at the dishes piled on the filthy kitchen table, at the stove which is covered in a thick layer of fat and old dirt and at the walls, once light green now brownish. “I really need to clean”. The cat seems to be totally indifferent. He doesn’t even look up.

Right now she wants her nap. She lies down on the coach in the small lounge next to the kitchen. Not much light penetrates the heavy brown curtains: only a small ray of sun is shining through revealing specks of dust dancing in the light.

Before dark she closes the hen house in the backyard. That is the only time the neighbours see her except for Fridays when she stands in the doorway getting her groceries, delivered by Timmy, the errand boy. She always pays cash, and she always tips the boy. She knows they think she is dotty but she doesn’t want to be called stingy.

In the evenings she keeps herself busy embroidering cushion covers. She has got a stack lying in the old cabinet beside her armchair. All of them completed. “I just need to buy inners for them!” The cat looks up, yawns, and goes back to sleep.

They don’t know if she felt it coming or what made her do it. With a determination she hasn’t experienced before, she one day decides to open the green peeling door in the east end of the house. She has kept the key over the door frame for 18 years.

Filled with resolution, she turns the key but when she reaches out for the door handle her courage fails her. “I can’t do this” she wavers. “I can’t”

The cat, now suddenly wide awake, scratches the door.

She takes a deep breath and opens.

Everything is exactly as it was.

The dining room suit in dark polished mahogany. The heavy white damask cloth on the table. The immense chandelier hanging above. The crystal glasses, the silverware, everything exactly as it was left.

His smell is still in the room, his after shave, his tobacco, even the smell of his warm body. She sees the scene from that day in front of her eyes: him sitting at the table looking down telling her about the other woman. She sees herself jumping up, screaming and pummelling him on his chest. Then her begging him to stay.

After that only the room. Even the smell has vanished.

“…He has really gone ..!?”

Her skin prickles and something ascends from the back of her head.

“ … definitely need some fresh air in here,” she mutters and opens the windows wide.

She walks to the old wardrobe and finds the violet brocade dress with the gold braiding. Her dress for special occasions. It still fits her.

As the sun sets behind the spring green hills she makes herself a pot of the best soup and finds the sherry in the side board. She eats in the soft candlelight.

“Oh, I’ve got company”. She greets her dear husband at the other side of the table with a reverent nod. Her daughter Jenna sits to the left and William to the right. “Your health” she exclaims joyfully and takes a sip of her sherry. “Your health” she repeats and suddenly an immense fatigue overwhelms her to lie down on the couch.

The next day the neighbours worry when they do not see her. They find her lying on the dusty maroon velour couch.

They say she died happy.

They say she had a smile on her face.

Karen Lambrecht

Mutton Stew

 

The day balances, like a ballerina on the tips of her toes, somewhere between summer and winter, great blustering clouds brewing their empty threats of rain. Just after midday, she opens the dulling silver door of her Toyota Corolla, plants two crutches firmly on the ground and heaves herself up. Carefully, she manoeuvres herself onto the unevenly tarred kerb and hobbles through the gate to the cement bench under the weeping karee. Steadying herself, she pushes out her matronly bottom and lands with a soft thud.

It’s cold. She rubs her hands together vigorously.

Old hands. Too much skin. When I pinch it, look, the fold stands up like a little mountain. For ever. Doesn’t go down by itself any more. Feels like someone else’s hand. Someone else’s body.

She watches, unobtrusively, as the school yard fills up with moms, dads, grannies, aunties, nannies, all standing in little clusters. A young man stands alone, hands in the pockets of his low-hanging jeans.

Ah, these last few weeks have been wonderful. I wanted it to carry on for ever, but last night … can’t think straight any more. Mutton stew. That’s what I’ll make for supper. A nice nutritious meal I can do with my eyes closed. Then no one will know about the turmoil inside. Can dead people see what we’re thinking about? When oupa died, that’s what I told the kids. ‘He’ll watch you from heaven lovey. And he’ll smile when he sees all the things you are learning. And sometimes you’ll feel his love all around you.’ Only now, I hope it isn’t true. I wonder what he would think of me. 32 years together. And yet, how well did we know each other? We were happy. A good man. A wonderful relationship everyone said when we had that photograph taken at our silver anniversary, framed it and sent it all around the world, to hang in hallways. Did he, just like me have a whole other world going on inside his head and after a lifetime of waking up next to me, he never told? Why couldn’t I tell him that I longed to be desired, passionately, irresponsibly, wildly, that I didn’t always want to worry about decorum, about what the neighbours would think if I threw pink and orange cushions next to each other on the brown couch or if I hung that Gaugin poster sommer right over our dining room table. “But look at the tieties, Maureen, we can’t do that!” he would have said.

What would he have done up there in heaven if he could have seen me last night, shaking as I climbed in between my sheets long after midnight, breathless, satisfied. Those strong shoulders, his young back with the gently carved valley along his spine, his legs, strong and firm. Contours like liquid that caresses me in secret places I’m only beginning to discover. And for a few sacred moments, I thought I knew what could have been. And I felt life in these old veins again.
 

The shrill bell announces the arrival of an army of burgundy bodies. Jason knows she’ll be there, every day. He never worries that she’ll be late. Not granny. She’s always there on the bench. Waiting. Mom says it’s good to have a purpose. At her age. With those legs.

His seven-year-old eyes crease into a smile as he grabs her hand. Sides touch, then part, like waves, as they skip and hobble to the one-person gate, where mothers rush in late and children rush out exhausted.

“Look Granny, there’s Sam, can he come and play?”

“Not today darling, I’m tired.”

“My uncle fetched me today,” says Sam.  “Mommy’s sick.”

Maureen looks up. The blood drains from her hands.

Impossible. Was it him? Last night? She tries to push through the gate.

“Come quickly, we must go home,” she whispers, too loudly.

He walks patiently behind them as she limps, one agonising step at a time, to the safety of her car, pulls the door firmly closed.

“Just wait Granny, I want to say goodbye.”

Jason winds down the window: “Guess what Sam, last night at Granny’s art they drew pictures of naked people!”

The uncle’s eyes open wider. Eyebrows arch in amusement. He hesitates, turns around. Walks back. Bends down and smiles at her through the open window.

“Small place Cape Town,” he says kindly. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve been sitting for art classes for ages, you know. Not bad money. If you’re a student.”

But she’s already turned on the ignition so that she doesn’t hear the words coming out of his lips, and like a coward lets life carve out few more wrinkles.

Jaine Hannath

Hard boiled

 

The woman sat outside at a pavement table smoking a menthol cigarette. Snug in her fleecy brown coat she had avoided the tightly packed coffee shop where heavy fug trounced the air conditioner. She preferred to take her chances with the elements and watch the passing parade of shoppers, stallholders and street kids.

Still drowsy from therapeutic massage, she blew smoke from between pale lips. The white swirls merge with the steam rising from the glass of hot chocolate, briefly clouding and softening the harsh reality of daytime Main Street. 

She felt sensuous, limbs like liquid and in a reverie felt herself basking in the sun while Tom, trying to get lucky, rubbed Coppertone across her midriff, his long fingers easing up towards her loose bikini top.  “Beam me up Scotty” she thought as lifting her glass, she caught sight of the well-dressed man hurrying into the vacuumed entrance of the bank. Snapped back to reality she hastily dabbed at chocolate dripping from beneath her glass onto her corduroy trousers and glared at the waitress – there is NO intelligent life on earth! – What is THAT girl thinking?Delores the waitress had served the drink hastily, causing the hot liquid to spill over and soak the paper coaster – damn! I’m not going back inside for a clean saucer. She fished in her apron and placed a few serviettes under the sugar bowl in case the woman needed to mop up the spill. With a desultory air she stepped back and tried to get shelter from the blasts of cold air and rain that gusted in under the flimsy yellow awning. She wasn’t dressed for the cold. Across the wet car park, she watched the man in his black Driazabone coat, briefcase in hand, step into the Bank. A scowl fell from Delores’s face and was replaced with derision; Pompous ass scuppered my travel plans. I needed that loan.

Irritated, Delores thought about her customers and their small, boring lives. She detested them all. The old When We’s- “from Rhodesia my dear”. True blue pensioners, just like her folks, who through greed or folly had lost their money on Kubus or some silly “get rich quick” scheme. Now they could hardly leave the suburb let alone return to England. Glancing bitterly at the older woman deftly mopping up the spill, she imagined her turning the hard times over and over in her mind like a boiled sweet, savoring every tacky bit of it until the last shard of memory pierced her tongue and pain jolted her back into reality.

No big bucks now auntie thought Delores as she watched the woman inhale on her cigarette and only after keeping the smoke in her lungs for the longest time release it in a long soft stream. She seemed loathe to let it go – stingy bugger.

Stingy? Absolutely. Never had Delores found more than the usual two five rand coins left on the yellow oil skin tablecloth- which was always sticky no matter how often she wiped it down. She supposed it was the nature of oilcloth -if a tablecloth ever had a nature- to be sticky or viscid.
Viscid. She had found the larney word in the dictionary and had tried to use it but it didn’t roll off her tongue easily or sound right. Sticky stuck and the word sounded gooey – onomatopoeic, right? Yeh, another larney word!

Cupping her hands around the still warm glass, the woman looked at Delores with concern. She had seen it all before. Judgmental youth – the girl’s cynicism, aloof manner and arrogance masking fear for what might be and naturally – projections deluxe. Thank God always an unexpected chink in the armour, a crack in the ice and at last their vulnerability shines through. Let it go girl, let it go. Let go of your fears and inhibitions. Just hang onto yourself. I did- although she still missed Tom terribly; Money in the bank does not award happiness – which reminded her she had to go and see that young bank manager – better get going.

Having learned one lesson long ago, (She had generously left a R10 note on a table and then watched it fly away on a coastal breeze) she dug into her pocket and casually placed two five rand coins on the table. It included the obligatory ten percent tip – more than the girl deserved actually, but a show of good will and small daily investment into the girl’s future.

Delores could not leave her cold windswept post. Soon the stingy bugger would lick the last chocolate suds from the rim of the glass, rummage in her pocket and begrudgingly leave two five rand coins on the sticky table top. Delores really didn’t want the light-fingered and fast-footed street kids to grab it again before she did.