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.