This is my story, a kinda memoir, kinda because you have to add some flourishes to keep it interesting. Based in South Africa in the 1980', its a Goth romantic comedy. Kinda. Plus I've added some of my own photos to it to try add to the overall feeling of the piece.
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Outside Cam’s house, Belinda and I sit on the wall in our school uniforms watching a skinny kid skim across the hot tar, his skateboard bucking the other way while she tries to break up with me. Distracted for a moment while a tabby cat climbs the short wall onto her lap I think how...
Outside Cam’s house, Belinda and I sit on the wall in our school uniforms watching a skinny kid skim across the hot tar, his skateboard bucking the other way while she tries to break up with me. Distracted for a moment while a tabby cat climbs the short wall onto her lap I think how quick the rush of this morning’s confrontation has faded.
While the cat ignores me she says “I think I’m just depressed and sick of life, you know? I’m so sick of getting into trouble. I go to class and the teachers moan at me; outside class the bitch prefects moan at me.” The road slopes down to our right with the weight of five series BMW’s parked back to back. The kid gets up slow, picks tar-shrapnel from his hands and knees and looks over his shoulder at us. She says “I’ve failed four subjects so far this term alone and I’m coming third to last in my class. Do you know the scale of moaning that’s going to happen when Janice finds out about this? It’s gonna be biblical.”
I think about the condom in my wallet, in my pocket and I imagine scientists digging up my body a hundred years from now, the little blue plastic square lying perfectly preserved in amongst my pile of bones and they’ll stand around it and the guy with the trowel will say “What a tragedy. He must have thought he’s get some before he died.”
She says “Every time we’re together I want to be near you. I want to touch you and kiss you and every time we’re together it feels like you’re moving further away.”
I light two cigarettes and hand her one which she just holds.
“We went out the other night; you didn’t say a word to me all night. And the thing is I love you, you know? And I know you don’t feel the same way. About me.” Looking at me now, her eyes unreadable behind the black Wayfarers she says “You’ve never told me you love me?” Reeling from this sudden turn, all I can think to say is “But you’ve never told me before now, either” as she looks away and strokes away a tear from beneath her glasses. I want to do something. The right thing. Any right thing. But I’m paralysed between wanting to hold her and tell her I’ll fix it and just walking away.
“I didn’t know you felt like this?”
“Like what?” she says, incredulous. “Like I actually have feelings for you? What have you been doing?”
“I do” I say. “Of course I do. I just-. I never know what you’re thinking.” I imagine being single again, seeing the girls at Community Arts and just as quickly berate myself for even thinking this and then my breath catches in my throat as I remember I’m being dumped. That Belinda doesn’t want to be with me. And as I rock between these states I know my mouth is filling in best it can.
“I mean, I feel-. I mean, what we have is good, isn’t it?” This is to say, not very well.
“Not anymore, it’s not. You just seem kinda empty.”
“There are moments when it is; moments when you hold me and look at me and I see you and we’re together and it’s just so fucking beautiful. You know? I know you know. You’re there. But it’s kinda, too little. And getting less.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t feel that. I’m just, you know-. I’m just trying to figure some things out.”
We watch in silence as three young school boys get dropped off a few houses up in a black Mercedes. The maid slings their bags over her shoulder and ushers them gently up the driveway while the grey gates close slowly on hydraulic arms.
She says “You remember that night at the Pig and Whistle during the holidays?”
“Yeah” I say, dragging hard on the cigarette, enjoying the light relief the buzz gives me.
“That night my dad was there at the bar?”
“Yup,” the taste of her tears, salty as I kissed her face outside the bar on a wet bus bench where she sat on my lap and the slow Saturday traffic hooted and hollered.
“Well last night I dreamt-. “ She holds the cigarette, unsmoked between her trembling fingers, her black nail polish chipped and flaking. She says “I dreamt I kissed him,” before she dissolves into floods of tears with her head in her hands in her lap and I try to hold her. “On the barstool, he was you. He was sitting up that bar and he was you.”
“Jesus” I say trying to bring her closer to me but with little conviction, feeling a little sick.
“Hey, hey, it’s just a dream, Bel.” I say “It’s just a dream. We can sort this out. I didn’t know any of this. We don’t need to break up; we just need to talk more.”
She looks up at me, pushes her glasses up on to her head, wiping away her tears, black mascara smeared down the side of her face.
“No, it’s not just a dream,” standing up she pulls her shades back down and looks at me, her voice soft.
“Its how I feel. I know it’s weird and all. But really I’m leaving you before you leave me.” She drops her cigarette on the pavement, straightens her dress and walks down the driveway back to Cam’s house.
I stare at hers, still alight on the floor while I finish mine and the short twilight settles in. I listen to the sound of a thousand Mynahs roosting in the avenue of trees, before walking up to the local cafe to ring dad from their call box. He answers and I can hear the telly behind him and mum tells him he should get some milk and Peracon on the way back and then it gets muffled while he tells her everything will be shut and while I wait for them to figure it out I have to drop another twenty cents into the phone.
Like a glistening mirror ball on the last slow track of the night, the silver gun hovers in the darkness in front of me, its curved edge glistening in the artificial light. The inside of the barrel is bleak, the swirls mesmerising as they puncture the dark. I’ve had this dream before. Twice the barrel...
Like a glistening mirror ball on the last slow track of the night, the silver gun hovers in the darkness in front of me, its curved edge glistening in the artificial light. The inside of the barrel is bleak, the swirls mesmerising as they puncture the dark. I’ve had this dream before. Twice the barrel has floated quietly in the dark. This time there is a sudden explosion out the front and I feel nothing. Everywhere is black, thick and tar-like, but peaceful as I vainly try to find my breath. I inhale the thick cold goo while my heart beats slow, the black perfectly endless. Panic flows up through my body and it’s only in some disconnected way that I notice it, like I’m watching my reflection. And then even that fades and I know I’m gone and there’s nothing I need to do. Nothing I need to feel. All that remains is a silent joy at not existing.
I wake slowly, my forearm the only dead thing in the bed. Flipping over onto my stomach I hang it over the edge, trying to shake some life into it, listening to the noise of my parents moving slowly around the house.
The two week hiatus of sitting on my ass trying to find any old time sucker for my dull days seems to have done me some good. This last week it’s not like I’ve looked forward to school exactly, but the thought hasn’t filled me a full fire dread. Like we’ve finally moved on from the heavy rotation video that’s been played in my head every morning, showing my own aimless and baron future over the wasteland of my own failings. And really, it’s only now that the tapes gone that I realise how soul-suckingly often it’s been played without my conscious realisation.
Things seem a little different at school, too. For one, the subjects aren’t the same tired set of curriculums that you know two generations of understaffed state school students have been brutalised with since JG Strijdom. I know History is supposed to be stuck in the past, but I’m almost excited we’ve broken the back of 1948. Geography, forever the dumping ground for every shape-shifted piece of supposedly significant knowledge unfit for the other subjects has now started up on migrant labour, something that at least has a current significance. Biology is banging on about human reproduction and in English we’re reading 1984 which is a fuckside better than the Mayor of Casterfuckingbridge!
Still on a slight buzz walking through the corridors before Thursday morning assembly I run into Matt and Cam dangling a rather fat book upside down by its spine.
“Chaps” I say.
“Chap” says Matt.
“What you doing?”
“Hopefully some selective reading” says Cam flipping the book back up at some seemingly random place.
While Cam reads Matt says “We’re trying to find the rude bits in this old copy of Ulysses by assuming that kids have been doing the same thing for years.”
Cam, looking up continues “the theory is it should naturally open to the most read pages”
“And? I ask
“And nothing. Not a sausage,” says Matt grabbing the book from Cam. “Unless we’ve already found it, in which case it’s a pretty poor substitute for porn.”
“How’s the t-shirt business?” I ask.
“Good” Says Cam. “I printed that Freedom Charter stencil you drew, last night.
“Look good?” I ask.
“Ya, looks very good.”
“Excellent. Your t-shirt cotton was much better than that Ecumenical centre shit.”
“I know. Theirs was like some 1985 Wham video, all hanging off the shoulder and stuff. Camp and not cool.”
The assembly hall bell rings right in our ears and I say to them as we walk off “We need to take a sample back to them over the weekend.”
“Agreed” says Matt.
“What were they called again?” I ask.
“Assembly for Human Rights something or other”
“Wasnt it Legal Defence for Ethical Rights?” says Cam
“No, it was anti-something,” says Matt.
“Anti-legal Rights for the assembly of Binmen?” suggests Cam.
“People’s front of Judea?” I say looking for the Anarchy sign which disappointingly seems to have been effectively scrubbed.
Sitting near the back row of assembly while razor-hair headmaster drones on about security and vigilance we pass a gushing letter from Sam between us, Cam clearly uncomfortable. He says “Just because things are changing in this country doesn’t mean there is no more danger. If you see anyone who doesn’t look like they belong here. If you see any bags or packages that look suspect. Report it.”
She says “Matt I love you. Don’t push me away like this. What’s going on with us? I love you so much, it hurts sometimes. We have something special don’t we?” And so on and even I have to pass it back after a bit, feeling a little weird reading with Matt’s I-don’t-feel-anything smile out the corner of my eye.
With his hands firmly holding the lectern like it might just float away if left unattended Mr McKellar says “Just because we can see the winds of change all around us, doesn’t mean there are not people out there who don’t want do us harm. I urge you, be careful.”
Leaning over I whisper to Matt, “What’s this about?” pointing to the letter in his lap with my nail-bitten thumb. Folding back up he says “She’s paranoid. And giving me the shits.”
He says, “This is the beginning of the end, boys. Not the end.”
“She thinks I’m seeing someone else.”
“You?” I say, hopefully hiding my scepticism.
“I’m spending all this time at Cam’s.”
Surveying us from his Bulwark like we’re a ragged and disobedient bunch of deck hands, he says “And with that in mind I will ask the Matrics to stay behind, please. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Once the rest of the school have noisily shuffled out McKeller walks up the aisle talking to a very weather beaten individual dressed in thick Camo. He introduces him as Brigadier Wynand Swanepoel from The South African Defence Force, Natal Command who “will be giving you some understanding of the conscription commitments required of you next year.”
His thick pants balloon all the way down to his shins where they are severely tucked into his black boots. His combat fatigues covered in multi-coloured ribbons over the jackets left hand pocket.
His lips part in what presumably is a smile as he takes all of us in, his eyes deep blue pools in an outcrop of leathery creases.
He says “Next year all of you here will be eligible for conscription into the one or more areas of the SADF. We will welcome you all.” He looks around at us like he has all the time in the world, Mckeller standing behind him distracted and edgy.
“The SADF has been in existence since 1961 during which time we have encountered difficulties that many contemporary defence forces have not had to face. Despite the international arms embargo, a war on multiple borders and an increasingly hostile world we have succeeded. We have proved ourselves the equal of a total onslaught from terrorist guerrilla groups and an internal destabilization campaign.
Now many of you young men will be well aware of your upcoming opportunity to serve your country in the South African Army, Air Force or Navy.
And of course the sad news for you is that this is the first intake that will only have to serve a year. Many of you will be disappointed that you won’t have two.” The few laughs he gets do not deter his attempts at smiling and I think to myself how alien he looks. Like some Tarzan taken from the jungle and trying to convince the local population that he enjoys the strange cultural rituals he’s been thrust into.
He says “You may have many heard things about the SADF. There is a growing initiative to discredit the force but next year you will get the chance first-hand to experience it for yourself.” I redraw the Freedom Charter banner on a pad of paper on my lap while he details life as a serviceman.
After a while he says “We do our training on the basis of ‘train hard, fight easy’. The harder our training, the easier we find the battlefield.”
I whisper to Cam “What’s happening about tonight?”
He says “You coming?”
“To yours?” I say.
“Yup, Belinda’s gonna be there”
“I know she invited me”
“She did? She told me you’d invited her”
“Weird.” Janice has her chained to that house Monday to Friday; I wonder why she’s aloud out tonight?
The Brigadier is fielding questions now about squash courts and pass-outs.
“No idea” says Cam, looking at me like he doesn’t believe I don’t know.
The Brigadier says “The army provides many with full time jobs and good careers, so yes you can receive sponsorship for training. But not during basics.”
I whisper to him “Something’s up”
“Maybe Dave wants you to be his best man?”
“Ho, fucking ho, funny man”
Answering a question near us he seems to be looking straight at me when he says “No son, only your boots and food are free”
Cam says “Maybe she wants to know what you want to call your kids?” Staring straight ahead he grins at his knees, trying to stifle his laughs and I short-punch him as hard as I can in the side of the leg.
I look up, catching the thousand yard stare up short and it takes me an instant to catch my breath, during which time his look doesn’t waiver. He says to me “Son, you have a question? For me?”
“Um,” I think Oh Fuck, feeling the heat of my blush rising up through my face.
He says “During basics we endeavour to train poorly disciplined servicemen into good soldiers. What’s your question, son?”
“Um” I say. “Is it true that you are allowed to refuse township duty?”
He stares at me still and I have to look to the left of him just to keep up my nerve. “There are now sixty day camps where some of you might be asked to assist in coping with the unrest. This is obviously a serious issue for you, why don’t we discuss it afterwards.” He says and looks around for some more questions.
I say “can I just ask, what will happen though?”
“What? If you don’t want to serve your country and be patriot?”
“If I don’t want to be in a situation where I might have fire on my own people” and after I’ve said this I hope like hell whatever his answer is, it’s final because I know I don’t have the balls to keep this going.
“Your people?” he says, laughing now. “All I can tell you is its serious, like jail time. So really, the answer to your question is no. Anymore?” he asks everyone else.
We shuffle out shortly after, a hundred scuffing feet still audible above the low mumbles. As the anger dies I think to myself that the township thing is as much a convenient catch phrase on a banner to fly for a much greater fear. That, if I’m honest about it and I’m dragged into this army there is no part of me that I can see coping with it. There is no part that won’t fight every order, refuse every punishment or participate in their indoctrination. And as the last flush of self-righteousness slips from my body I also unwillingly comprehend that while I think death is somehow heroically the endpoint of this indulgent daydream the reality is far more likely that I will just eventually adjust; which at the time, one green blazer amongst a hundred replicas seems brutally worse.
The sun, low over the university burns limber angles across the lounge walls, projecting the slow flow of dust in its beam. Belinda lies on the carpet paging slowly through Melody Maker, elbows resting on a flat cushion, her long tanned legs beneath her short skirt. I perch on the edge of the scratchy, sangria-coloured...
The sun, low over the university burns limber angles across the lounge walls, projecting the slow flow of dust in its beam. Belinda lies on the carpet paging slowly through Melody Maker, elbows resting on a flat cushion, her long tanned legs beneath her short skirt. I perch on the edge of the scratchy, sangria-coloured couch staring at the TV. In the stifling February heat with the front and back doors open I get up again and flip the channel, Sunday slowness seeping in, three green ceramic ducks flying up off the wall. Over the TV dirty macramé lace curtains lie still, trapped in the dusty windows behind red velvet like the petticoat on a long-dead great aunt. I wait for Nelson Mandela to walk free of Victor Vester prison but on all three SABC channels there is nothing but footage of closed gates.
Mum has told me I need to spend these two weeks studying but because we’re so early in the term I don’t know what we’re supposed to be studying. Plus all my books are still at school. Double-plus, I can’t seem to find a place where I give a fuck anymore.
Cam and Matt copped the same two weeks and for the last one, Matt has been camped at Cams screen printing T-shirts. Cam’s father-in-law has moved his car onto the lawn and Cam and Matt have converted the garage into a lo-fi screen printing factory. Cam’s parents have bought the basics like emulsions, inks, squeegees and tape but Matt and Cam have built the table and frame from scratch all week.
Yesterday I took down one of my designs and we printed a t-shirt each. Matt had a giant CCCP logo, Cam had a Tuxedomoon record cover he lovingly recreated, while I, of course had an Anarchy sign in black.
At Belinda’s there is no beer, but at least we’re alone. Unless you count her deaf Gran in the room next door and the perennially-hungry and poo-matted poodles. We have three litres of coke in the empty fridge and a plastic pool outside, full under the creaking rotary washing line.
“I’m so bored” says Belinda
“Can’t be much longer, now”
“That’s what you said an hour ago”
“What can I say?”
“I’m gonna head over to Sam’s”
“At least they’ve got a descent pool.”
“Hold on a minute”
“You’re not listening”
The coverage has been going on for hours now with no sign of an escape. Belinda has insisted on the sound being off so tinny Talking Heads blares from Belinda’s bedroom tape-deck instead.
“I don’t understand why we need to watch this anyway?” she asks me.
“Cos it’s important. It’s history.”
“So, he’s been locked up forever and it’s about time they let him out.”
“But he’s a fucking terrorist”
“No, he’s not”
“Yes he is.” She says finally looking up at me. “He’s a fucking Kaffir terrorist who’s killed white people and now they’re letting him out so he can kill more white people. I’m so bored, stuck in this house.”
She shuffles closer to me on her knees. “I’m here and all you want to do is watch-” she looks up at the TV for a second “some closed gates.”
She tries to pull my head away from the TV.
“I’m here,” she says.
Dragging my eyes away from the TV for a second, I say “What do you mean, I’m here?”
“I mean, I’m here and he’s not”
“Well, I mean, he’s old and black and a terrorist and I’m here and God knows when he gonna get out.”
I push her onto the floor and we kiss and I say “You make a persuasive case,” while I undo her bikini top under her black t-shirt, the thrill of it still reminding me of the first time.
Alongside her on the ground I pull off her underwear, her breasts lush, tasting faintly of coconut from this morning’s swim and Coppertone tanning. She undoes the zip and button on my fading jeans and while I begin to take them off she grins at me and says “What you doing?” so I stop. “Gran’s next door, moron.”
So with my jeans now inconspicuously around my knees, her skirt covering my hips, two cushions under her red knees and her underwear in my hands she jockey’s back and forth, grinding against me. I thrust deep inside her and she holds it still while she kisses me and I picture us dressed in black walking hand in hand through endless fields of yellow daisy’s. I pull her closer our bodies damp in the sucking humidity, her neck salty as she starts up a rhythm again to the base-driven drumbeat of Once In a Lifetime. Looking into her dark eyes, seeing this look of desire, I feel a moment of bliss that starts slow in my belly and then rushes up through my chest. I think to myself as her tongue flicks against mine; her mouth smoky, that I never even knew that look existed. Like we just invented it, feeling close to coming.
She sits up, her hands pressing into my chest and then stops.
She says “Oh well, there he is,” staring at the TV.
“What, where?” I crane my neck to look back and up and she says leaning into me “Don’t look.” And licking my lips in a slow circle, she starts up her grinding rhythm again and before long with her heart beating against my chest and her firm breast in my mouth, I come; the flash footage of Winnie’s raised hand in Nelson’s and a swish of the black, green and yellow flag that blocks them for a split second replayed behind my closed eyes.
Standing in front of the TV I turn up the volume, the condom stretching slowly off my declining member. Riaan Cruywagen says in his deep Afrikaans inflected drawl “His steps firm, his gait measured” and Belinda yelps “She’s coming, shit! Quick. Move!”
Pulling up my jeans I bolt for the toilet, my shirt in my hand. I wonder again at her uncanny penguin-like ability to recognise the sound of her mother’s car from all the others, as it turns into her street.
I drop the condom into the toilet with some toilet paper, pull on my t-shirt, break off half my cigarette and flush. Lighting it from the crumpled box of Lion, I walk back down the passageway to the familiar sputtering sounds of the over revving Volksie in the driveway.
Lying back down on the couch I continue to watch Nelson, my feet on the large worn and cup-stained coffee table. The poodles yap at the front grate, setting off Belinda’s Gran who yells from deep in her room. “Bel, the dogs have gone”. Wondering back from her room, straightening her dress, she says “No they haven’t Gran.”
Janice kicks in the grate with the dogs yapping at her feet. Still in her work uniform, her bag over her shoulder, and her hair in her face, she drops the shopping bags, lights a cigarette in the passageway and looks at me. Inhaling deep, her smoke catching the last of the days rays like some distant moving galaxy she says “Hey Nick, what are you doing here?”
“Um, I don’t know,” taking my feet off the coffee table.
“He’s watching the Kaffir,” says Belinda trying to steer her mother off course.
“What Kaffir?” her voice shrill and sharp, assuming her normal tone of faux-panic. The dogs begin barking again and her Gran, still in the room yells, “Belinda, the dogs have gone” and in unison mother and daughter yell back
“It’s ok Gran.”
“I’m going to tell your mother you smoke. What Kaffir?”
“Can you both just stop saying that?” I ask.
“What?” Janice says, looking for an ashtray. “Kaffir. It’s offensive.”
“To them. To me. It’s really offensive.”
“To Who? Kaffirs? Of course it’s offensive to them. It’s supposed to be.” She talks like a firing range, every word spat out, every word a weapon in battle against whatever.
“They’re letting him out today”, Belinda says, adjusting her underwear through her skirt. “He wants to watch”
“Nick” says Belinda, confused.
“No, watch who?”
“Nelson” she says.
“Mandela” I say with a smirk that I just can’t help.
“Mandela.” She picks up the shopping and heads for the kitchen, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, mumbling “Christ, it’s all over” and I imagine the condom bobbing up and down in the toilet, waiting for her.
My mother finally pulls up outside the school, double parks illegally out front, stubs out her cigarette on the ragged coir mat outside his office before storming into the principal’s office. The door left open she asks him how long I’m supposed to be off for. “Two weeks” he says, pen in hand, his nails...
My mother finally pulls up outside the school, double parks illegally out front, stubs out her cigarette on the ragged coir mat outside his office before storming into the principal’s office.
The door left open she asks him how long I’m supposed to be off for.
“Two weeks” he says, pen in hand, his nails chewed to the wick.
“Two weeks? This is Matric. His final year. He can’t afford the time”
“Mrs Forth” he starts, before putting the pen carefully down “would you like to close the door”
Politely, she says “No, I’m sure it’s just fine. In fact Nick, get in here, now” I walk in and stand next to her trying to hide my tattooed fists.
“Does it have to be two weeks?”
“Mrs Forth, he needs to learn some discipline”
“For what exactly? For drawing…”
“Scraping a, what?”
“Anarchy?” she says like she’s trying out the word for the first time, sounding foreign in my head like the two of them just sucked the meaning from it.
She says “What were you thinking,” looking at me for the first time since she arrived.
“I…” I start
“Just lash him”
“How many, is it?
“Is it six?”
And so on until with no concessions and my two week suspension still standing we head back out to the car.
Driving home, it’s like nothing just happened and I have to endure hand after hand of this afternoon’s bridge game, replayed for my benefit. The winning of four hands was not, for her the highlight. The best part of the day was apparently the host smuggling three ounces of Durban Poison into the afternoons Black forest cake for tea. Seasoned drug taker that my mother is, she knew instantly and confronted Jenny in the kitchen over refreshed London Dry’s where they giggled like school girls. I gaze out of the window at the passing suburban gardens, staring straight ahead, creating an alternating blur of terracotta and green. We are almost home when she asks me whether I think UV light gets through windows and whether it’s still possible to get burnt sun-tanning naked indoors.
Pulling into our street, I try to steer the conversation away from my mother’s nakedness by asking her if she ever got suspended from school. She thinks for a while and says no. “But it was a pretty close call once. I think all I got was detention. I broke the nose of this feminist who stole my boyfriend at one of those Architecture balls they used to have.”
“You punched her?”
“Kinda. It was a long time ago. He had a Mark II Jag is all I remember. Very swish.”
Getting out the car and pushing Zeus away from her crutch, she says “I never liked school much.” Much preferred the freedom of university to all those rules and regulations made by that mass of underachievers.”
“That Mr McKellar doesn’t like me much”, I tell her in a rare confessional moment, getting Zeus into a headlock while he tries to lick my face.
“Well no, he doesn’t really – best to avoid him altogether really. Especially now that he’s going through this very messy separation. God, poor woman.”
“I just feel sorry for those children,” she says drifting off. “Yes, and don’t go telling all you little friends in black that little gem either. He’s bound to be a little cranky about it all.”
She says “You always were an odd child – even as a small baby you used to scare the Bejesus out of your father and me. Did you know that you used to bang your head on the side of the cot if you didn’t get enough attention? You would have these massive bruises on your forehead from banging away all morning. Terrible. Your father and I were beside ourselves with worry. We had psychologists around to look at you. Doctors took blood. Tests were done,” she unlocks the front door. “What happened? I don’t remember this.”
“Well you wouldn’t – you were very small. I don’t know what happened – you just grew out of it. Just stopped doing it. Maybe we gave you more attention, I don’t remember.”
“Uh huh” is all I can think to say.
“You’re so quite now, by comparison.” She walks through to the lounge dumping her handbag on chair, her back to me. “I hardly know what’s going through your head. Maybe, like then, you’ll just grow out of this black thing.”
Fuck her. She was doing so well.
That night I dream of the White Datsun and Ochre Chevy, sitting side by side, boot to bonnet. The parking lot, seemingly endless beyond the office block, smoky grey and orange where the setting sun catches the windows; blinding me periodically as I descend from a hundred metres up. Stairs cover the outside of the office block now which, as I get closer, morphs into a face brick motel, bland and derelict. The vacant isolation of the dusk block is marked only by the bleak open corridors. Dark and menacing, I can hear the light echoes of footfalls inside them but see nothing.
I feel a sharp pain of grief that takes my breath away as I consider ascending the stairs, the pan pipes of Durham Town cramping my gut as I do. Climbing the stairs the echoes get closer and I realise they are my own. From the dark first floor balcony I look into the open side window of the Chevy, a woman hunched over the steering wheel, crying as the building sighs behind me.
I wake slowly, the funk of the dream still pulling me along until I have to force myself to get up in order to shake it. With only the hot cicadas awake I look out over the valley and through the drumming rain I see thousands of blue bubbles rising up from the house of Dobermans below.
By lunch time on the third day of school of our new term of our final year I’m suspended. That it took three days is I guess surprising. In the end it was almost incidental as if my constraint had somehow brushed off the on the faculty and only when physically placed in front of...
By lunch time on the third day of school of our new term of our final year I’m suspended. That it took three days is I guess surprising. In the end it was almost incidental as if my constraint had somehow brushed off the on the faculty and only when physically placed in front of the headmaster did he feel any compulsion to act. Our Afrikaans teacher had finally been the one to send me to him for an offense so closely aligned to the one for which I would be suspended as to be a little uncomfortably similar to fate. The school policy of having to cover your school writing books every term, no matter what year had become increasingly cringe-worthy as the years rolled by, but by Matric it was the equivalent of having silver, tongue-goo’ed stars stuck on your forehead for good behaviour.
This time last year I had been sent to the same headmaster’s office for the same offence by the same Afrikaans teacher and been told to remove the pictures of Nelson Mandela from the front cover. I asked if I could leave Walter Sisulu and Oliver Thambo. He said no and if I didn’t have it replaced with something suitable to the class subject he was going to replace them himself with pictures of PW’s cabinet from Huis Genoot. I had time for the guy.
He also took us for English and had once asked us about the vast array of University students demonstrating outside our school one morning. Did any of us know why? None of us had put up our hands and he’d told us that it was illegal for them to engage students first but we were completely free to go up to them and ask them what they were doing there. We never did find out.
He stares at my A4 size peace sign cut out from a copy of New Musical Express and super-glued to the face of the book. I notice he’s quite young for a headmaster, maybe forty – a thick head of yellow-greying hair that looks to have served time elsewhere as an ashtray for a decade or possibly more; wire-brush moustache to match. The thick dirty-blond combination of hair and early wrinkles gives him a jaundiced, sweaty look of a funeral parlour director that the slow ratcheting fan overhead only accentuates.
He finally says “Yeah she told me about this. She says it’s a satanic symbol. She says you’re doing it deliberately to antagonise her.”
Not asked a specific question I don’t answer. He looks up at me for the first time since I walked in and says “She thinks you’re a Satanist.”
“Uh huh” he says, encouraging me to carry on.
“It’s a peace sign. Everyone knows it’s a peace sign”
“She tells me it’s an upside down broken cross. And did you see that article in Sunday Times a few weeks back? They were saying the same thing”
“Well first of all, if you look at it the arms come out from the middle, so it can’t be upside down”. He leans his chin into his upturned hand, watching me, not looking at the book.
“And even if it was an upside down broken cross, wouldn’t that be a double negative and therefore back to a Christian symbol?”
He carries on looking at me and with little enthusiasm says “While it’s kinda interesting, I’m not sure your fusion of maths and Symbology make that convincing an argument“
Sighing he says “It’s not really even about the peace sign, if that’s what you want to call it, it’s about you doing what you can press as many of Mrs Vorster’s buttons. And I’ll admit she has a few.
“Isn’t it about facts?” I ask, blushing. “And what about self-expression,” thinking to myself, you’ve just fallen into his trap, dumbass.
“Self-expression? Did you forget for a second that you are still at school? And is this the same self-expression that was scratched in the floor outside the assembly hall?”
Fuck, I think to myself. For the head of a school I always found him extremely uncomfortable around kids. I thought to myself, a while ago, that maybe it was a kind of therapy. Like putting an Arachnophobe in a room full of escaped spiders and telling him to return them all to their jars.
“What are the names of your two mates you hang around with?”
“I don’t know which ones you mean”
“Well, let me narrow it down for you then. The only other two boys in this school with punk bands written all over their bags”
“They’re not punk bands” I say, thinking I am such an idiot.
“Punk bands, whatever. What are their names?”
I don’t say anything, just looking at him for a second or two before blushing off to the side.
“Because your two friends,” he ruffles through some papers on his desk for a bit, opens a draw and pulls out two pages of notes stapled together. “Cam Olson and Matt Hewitt were the ones who carved a large A into the concrete with you on the last day of last term, right?”
I don’t say anything, looking away.
“I’m not the police; I don’t need a confession from you. I have enough evidence to feel confident that I know who it was. And that’s enough.”
He reaches for a pen and pad of official school letterhead paper and starts writing while I think what an idiot I am and how angry I am with myself that I thought I liked this guy. That I thought he was ok.
“I’m suspending you for two weeks as of today. It’s early in the term; I don’t think there’s much risk of you missing much school. Nothing you won’t be able to catch up on when you get back. And when you do get back I want the peace sign gone. And I want the Sex Pistons or whatever they are, gone from maths and I want the pink Vamp girl gone from my English class. In fact I want everything off all your books. Nothing but brown paper. Ok?”
My heart sinks and I’m thinking about how mum is going to flip.
And when you get back I will excuse you from Religious Education like you’re mother has asked if Rev Basin’s rather, um conservative political views seem offensive to you. And I will also tell your home teacher to excuse you’re refusal to participate in Civic Education, if that’s what you want?”
In shock, I don’t really know what to say.
“Ok. And in return when you get back I would like a model student who is focused on doing well in his final year of school. Deal?”
“A lobotomized weasel?” I say
“Deal?” he says holding out his hand, getting agitated.
“Deal” I say shaking his hand. He says by way of dismissal, “Now wait outside while I call you mother”
“What about the others, I say” on my way out not sure if I’m dobbing them in by saying this.
Without looking up from the pad he says “The same.”
I open the door and start heading out before he says “You don’t get it do you. You’ve been at school all your life. Eleven years. And this is it. These are the last few months left. But you’re blowing it through bad grades and frankly a shit attitude.”
“Maybe I’m just realising what a waste of time it’s all been”
“Christ” he says
“On a rubber cross” I say, slamming his door behind me.
Sitting outside his office on the church pew, drawing Love and Hate on my knuckles with a school pen, all I can really think of is Belinda and that night in the cemetery. The crass thrill of it all, the night completely dark by the time we finished, the rain pouring down in huge drops, hard on my back. The rest of the crew also caught out, screaming for us to come on and us in turn screaming back that we were on our way, desperately trying to get our clothes on before they left us there. One last kiss and a thanks to Alan Paton, 1903 to 1988 for providing his bedrock, before dashing up the hill back to Ian’s house and safety.
The east side of the city and harbour bluff continue to sporadically glow under the distant sheet lightning like some errant neon strip down the end of a deserted mall, playing over the roofs on the ridge below. Passing around the recently opened bottles of Black Label, Cam asks us what we reckon is going to happen about the...
The east side of the city and harbour bluff continue to sporadically glow under the distant sheet lightning like some errant neon strip down the end of a deserted mall, playing over the roofs on the ridge below. Passing around the recently opened bottles of Black Label, Cam asks us what we reckon is going to happen about the Anarchy sign we carved into the concrete floor outside the assembly hall. With only two hours and double English to go before the end of term it seemed like a good idea to carve the giant A in a circle with a large nail we found in the dilapidating fence behind. Like we were all on some tag team and weren’t the ones who would have to come back next year. Like they might forget about it over the holidays.
“Do you think it’s still there?” I mumble between lighting two cigarettes for Belinda and myself.
“Of course it’s there. You can’t just lay down some Jays and a mop and hope it’ll just disappear. This is awful,” handing the beer back to Belinda who in turns squeals loudly after a long gulp which echoes uncomfortably across the valley below.
“They’ll have to get rid of it, somehow, won’t they?” I say.
“Probably,” says Matt. “But we’re still fucked”
“Fucked” agrees Cam, taking no relish in his swigs either.
“Sh, hold on” says Sam. “I think I heard something.”
“I heard it, too,“ says Belinda “It’s the abortions coming to get us.” She holds my arm close in mock terror saying “Protect me. I don’t want to be taken away by the Brood”
“They’ve got no proof it was us” I say.
“What’s the collective noun for a pack of abortions?” Belinda asks no one in particular.
“Come on” says Cam “Are you serious?”
“Yeah ‘cos there are so many other people in our school who could have done it. That’s why we have such a good time of it there.”
Matt says “We will be hung, drawn and courted on the first day of Matric. Probably not the best way to start our final year.”
“Sh. Seriously, I hear something,” Sam in almost a semi crouch position now.
“I am serious” says Belinda
“That’s our spot.” continues Matt. “That’s our place we meet every break. It has our spit stalactites hanging from the Goddamn roof”
“Stalagmites, broe. How dof do you need to be?” “What about a Jiffy?” suggests Belinda.
“Someone’s coming down the path. Matt, do something” instructs Sam.
“A jiffy of abortions. Or maybe a coat rack.”
“You’re ill” I tell her looking up the path as the sky lights up and I register something human-like.
We’re all suddenly silent as we stare up the path, trying to make it out in the humid moonlight.
Behind us, too late, we hear the heavy footfalls and someone screams out “Hands up, who wants to die!” and we all flinch and I’m sure I make some horrible little noise from the back of my throat while Belinda screams and drops the beer which doesn’t break but pours over the grave of Alice Gift before I can rescue it.
“Ian” I scream. And then a little quieter “You are such an incredible asshole!” as Robyn walks down the path, laughing, bags in hand.
“Oh man, you should have seen yourselves”, he says laughing, grabbing the beer from my hands. “You all jumped about a foot. A foot, Jesus! Am I wrong my love?” taking a long gulp and trading the beer back for my cigarette.
“At least a foot, probably more” Robyn says handing out blankets for us to sit on like its Salvo relief hour.
Ian hasn’t stopped giggling when Belinda, still annoyed, suggests to me that we go for a quick walk. “Where to?” I say, sounding a little too panicky on the replay in my head.
“Not far, but far enough, you know.”
I say Ok and tell the others and Ian says “But ze vampires vil suck your blood, no?” in something between pseudo-Slav and Afrikaans. Sam sings “There’s a light. Over at the Frankenstein place” and as we walk off into the dark, blanket and beer in hand they’re well into the first verse of Science Fiction/Double Feature. With the soundtrack behind us we slowly navigate down the valley through the labyrinth of headstones like giants cutting a lazy path through neighbourhoods and suburban avenues.
As Belinda leads me by the hand this time, I imagine the tiny people below us running for cover while we cut street corners, collapsing lampposts, walking over graves as houses disintegrate like brittle chipboard beneath our unrepentant black boots. In a rare moment of self-examination I think how bizarrely and probably inappropriately happy I am just walking around this dark cemetery with Belinda, her warm hand in mine, my head light from the alcohol and free, for the moment of the white-noise self-doubt that dogs me daily like weekend homework.
She finally stops, looks back up to make sure she can still see the others and while I can hear them singing, their movements are only flickers in the dark.
“Here?” she says blanket in hand. “Here” I say. “Should we ask permission, first?” She stares at me like she’s actually contemplating it and then lays down the blanket on the gravestone and I dump my bag down, taking a long swig on the bottle. She finally says “After. When we head back, we’ll check. Ok?” I say Ok, not really understanding what she means.
I lay back down on the blanket, beating my bag of jumpers and mixed tapes into a provisional headrest and stretch out as Belinda lies on her side, her head on my chest. I shake out a few crumpled cigarettes from the remains of my beaten pack of red Stuyvesant’s. Belinda takes one out and placing it carefully between my lips, straightens out the twists. I tell her the matches are more than likely in my front pocket, her side, and while I breathe in, she stares fixedly at my forehead digging around in my pocket. Pulling out a slightly damp cop-van yellow pack of Lion matches, she pushes out the tray and I grab a match and together we finally get it alight and stare at the few dim stars bothered to make the effort.
Taking the cigarette away from me she says she never wants this summer to end. She says she never wants to go back to school. To those bitches. To those bitch teachers. I tell her that I’m dreading the first day of term, too, but I haven’t even finished the sentence before I know it’s not what she means. Ian’s high-pitched giggles issue from up above and reverberating below make our seclusion less isolating, like the reverb marks our borders. She says she hates the nights she’s alone, the nights she drags out in front of bad TV, Janice hogging the phone in her room, arguing with Dave. I hold her tighter, my forearm staging the first signs of numbness and say the closer I get to the end of school, the more anxious I become. Like I’m so close to making a decision of my own. She rolls onto her back, pulling me with her. We kiss, her lips hot and sticky, running her fingers through my hair and I pull back slightly. She says “You OK?” and I say “yeah I’m here” and she looks at me for more and I say “I’m just happy I guess.”
“Jesus, you really know how to talk to a girl.”
Feeling easier now, like there’s really just the two of us here – giants in our minitown boneyard. I say to her “I’m happy and there’s no place I would rather be, right now than on this grave stone with you and Mr…” searching the gravestone above for a name. She yells “No. Don’t look,” and grabs my head back down towards her, laughing.
“And let’s not forget a toast to this very lightly chilled beer” raising the bottle up to the bleak sky as the lightning flashes closer “who has kindly given up his life so that we could be here tonight.” I take a long swig and then stream half of what’s left down Belinda’s chin instead of her mouth until we’re giggling in each other’s arms as we feel the thunder pulsing through the stone beneath us.
She takes off her chiffon top and I kiss her neck while she arches and I take off her bra and my lips taste chalky dry from her base and sticky sweet from her blackberry shade lipstick. Almost dreamlike, she reaches for the collar of my t-shirt, pulling it over my head, her hands on my peeling back. I can feel myself almost recede from all this as her body moves beneath me, strobe-like in the quickening thunder as I count ten seconds before the low bass rolls in up the hill.
In her kiss I can see the flash of her Aztec statute out the side window, down a sunken field, its razor sharp tongue pointing out of its cold blue skull face. She grinds her hips against mine and my hand works beneath her skirt and I’m shaking because I know. I know this is our night. Her breath like need and my nerves jangly and raw like I’m just learning to walk. I desperately want to stop shaking as my hands pull her hips closer to mine. Kissing her neck, my eyes closed, I feel more than see the shock of a stark grey office block from a hundred feet up. The sun sets over it, catching two cars side by side in the middle of a vast endless parking lot, cut to ribbons with parking lines. The tan brown Chevrolet tastes sweet on soft lips and the white Volkswagen, new bright white is the look in her eyes as she searches mine, my hands inside her. The Aztec tongue, covered in tattoos flicks in and out and then I’m still as I spin away from the parking lot and cars, faster until it’s a just a blur.
By the next sheet lightning that pulses through the bulbous clouds we are naked in the stagnant heat, her bourbon breath heady and close. I say “Are you sure?” and she reaches up and kisses me by way of response, the feel of her warm body all across mine, exhilarating. She says “I want to do this”. She says “With you” and wanting what she wants, I shut the fuck up.
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