Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: June 2015

Panties on the Line

I have been in a bit of a creative hiatus for a while so when I saw a friend’s Facebook status this morning I decided to use it as a writing prompt and I wrote this short story. I am going to challenge myself to write something every day. Let’s see how I go.

Panties on the Line

 The combination of morning sun and wind creates shaky stripes on the wall as the light comes through the slats of the bedroom blind. I forgot to close it properly again last night (every night), and the flickering penetrates my closed eyelids, developing my hangover even further. Now it is a pounding headache, a metal and bitter aftertaste, a swollen shut throat, and pulsing on the inside of my eyeballs. The rest of my body feels strangely dislocated and I am almost grateful.

Images of stumbling up the stairs, fumbling for and dropping the front door key, falling over when bending to pick it up, and sitting on the icy cement of the corridor come back to me in flashes.

Oh god, Dawn in the next apartment had opened her door a crack, leaving the chain on, but peering through, so all I had seen was an eye and the daisies on her flannel pyjamas. She had clicked her tongue and double slammed the door, making a point of her disapproval.

Weekend drinking is my habit that friends, family, and even strange unfriendly neighbours are having to get used to. I roll over and the duvet offers up a sick sweet smell of me.

The hiss of the wind pushing through the crack of the window pane becomes more annoying than the flickering stripes of light. I am going to have to get up and do something. Pull the window more shut and stuff the folded envelope in the crack, twirl the stick that shuts the blinds more. I can’t get up. I can’t fall asleep again. I am disgusting. Disgusted. I sit and then stand up.

My knee. My knee for goddamnfucksakes. I hobble to the window. I have absolutely no recollection of doing anything to my knee.

I twirl the stick. I twirl it the wrong way and the slats are suddenly entirely open, parallel to the world and offering an uninterrupted view of beyond. Blinding light, I pun to myself. I am clearly not dead yet. I pull the damn string and the blind goes up, to the top and smacking the dry leaves of the almost dead delicious monster on the way.

I look around the room. I had managed to crawl out of my shoes and jeans, all lumped together in a pile on the floor next to my bed, but I had slept in my t-shirt, and bra. My reflection looks back at me from the window glass. Hair all standing up on the one side of my head, red crease marks, like welts, on my cheek and chin, and my frown line deep, with what looks like ash embedded in it. On impulse I push open the window, the best way to not see myself.

Staring back at me from between her giant old-lady panties hanging on her balcony washing line is auntie Elise. She drops the pair she is hanging, disappears as she bends to pick it up, clearly hoping I haven’t seen her, and does a slow-motion, almost impossible for her age, creep back up. Our eyes lock and even from across the busy Sea Point road that separates us, I see her scorn and pity.

My divorce story is so predictable and mundane (cheating husband confesses true real life love affair for online dalliance and leaves me stranded), and my response to it so typical (despair, thoughts of revenge but too immobile to actualise them, drinking), it feels like auntie Elise is the only, tiny unlikeliness in all of it. She is Peter’s mom’s sister. Peter is my ex. I had no idea, when I rented this flat in a haze of brokenness and betrayal, that the bedroom window would open out directly across the way from auntie Elise’s balcony. I had no idea that she would witness my slow deflation into a used balloon person, and I would see her Sunday panties.

Auntie Elise washes and hangs her panties every Sunday. She hangs 14 pairs of these giant bloomers, in varying shades of ex-colours. Mostly it is a kind of grey that unifies them. And their shape and size. I cannot get my head around auntie Elise’s panties. They take up her entire double laundry line on her balcony. They are never accompanied by anything else. Not a sock, or pair of pantyhose, or a bra ever makes an appearance on the line, ever. Why does a person need to wash 14 pairs of giant panties every week? That is two a day. What makes it ok to hang out one’s range of knickers on a balcony for the entire world to see?

She catches me staring. I don’t know what happens. I shout, “Oh, voetsek!” and turn back inside to put the kettle on. It is pointless. I have no coffee, or tea, or milk or sugar in the flat. On weekdays I get my caffeine fix at the office, at my delightful job of office assistant to a couple of estate agent sisters. Aside from doing the phone, email and advertising, I am also there to prevent them from killing each other. The job is punishment for my sins. I was a stay at home married person, and now I am a depressed divorced slave. On Saturdays and Sundays I have to go out to put anything in my mouth, liquid or solid. I need to wait for my face to settle down before I leave today though.

I find myself back at the window. Across the way is Auntie Elise, stock still and open mouthed. Her face is framed by two pairs of her panties, like puppet show booth curtains.

Staring at her, I fumble for my jacket with my foot, goddamnmotherofaknee, drag it towards me and fetch it from the floor. I am looking for my cigarettes and a lighter. Even though I cannot remember most of last night I am certain I would have had the foresight or intelligence to leave a few cigarettes for the morning. I find the lighter and then my heart jumps as I feel the hard edges of a cigarette box. I open it without looking. Nothing. Empty. I managed to keep an empty cigarette box. Pathetic.

As if she could read my mind, and then punish me, auntie Elise brings a lit cigarette to her lips and draws on it hard. I feel a wave of irrational rage and bite the inside of my cheek.

What I know about auntie Elise. Never married older sister of Maude, my ex mother-in-law. They are not close, which is why I didn’t even know she lived in the block across the road from the flat when I rented it. The story goes that auntie Elise changed the whole library system at the Sea Point library in the eighties by letting the young black foreign children come in, take refuge and read, much to the horror of the ancient white miseries who would gather there in the winter when it was too wet to stand around and gossip on the promenade. She was fired when one of the old miseries complained to the Jewish Board of Deputies that she had said something anti-Semitic. Nobody believed that she had, but nobody would stick up for her either. To this day a few black children, now grown and with children of their own, make their way up to her flat to visit.

While I am thinking I have relaxed my gaze on auntie Elise, but a movement draws me back to her. Her panties are shaking, like curtains, like sails, with the front washing line sagging sharply in the middle. I see auntie Elise’s hands now, pulling on the line, and her head wobbling up and down on her neck. Now the line is under her chin somehow, and her mouth is opening and closing like a fish. What is she doing to me I think, before realising that something is terribly, hideously wrong and I start looking for my phone, which should be but isn’t in my jacket pocket. It is a miracle that I see it lying on the floor, half under my jeans. It is the first time in eight months that I call Peter.

It is now later and I am in auntie Elise’s flat, staring back at my window, past the balcony and across the road. Auntie Elise’s stroke had brought me and Peter into the same room, after eight months of silence and shame and hate. We had waited together for the ambulance and the paramedics who whisked her away. Peter left in his car, following her to the hospital.

I open the balcony door; I don’t know why, and I straighten and tighten the washing line. Now I put the fallen panties back up, just like they were, upside down, with pegs at the leg elastic, and evenly spaced.

 

 

 

Of South Africa and Cape Town and me, and the things we don’t really say

Woodstock wheelbarrows

 

I have so many thoughts flying through my brain that I have no idea how to order them. I know I want to write about this stuff but I am all over the place, so I thought I would start with a photo I took yesterday, on the pavement across the road from The Biscuit Mill. These guys were finished for the day (I think they were doing something to those newly erected, weird brick boxes that are obstructing the pavement there) and while they waited for transport they turned their wheelbarrows into these crazy, artistic chairs. I loved this image and I asked them in isiXhosa if I could take their picture. I got a mixed response, but everyone agreed after a pause, and I took the picture. Afterwards one of the guys asked how much I was going to pay, and I said I wouldn’t pay anything. Then he asked for, then demanded and then nagged for a cold drink. The others waited to see my response. I laughed them off. And suddenly everyone was ok and we hung about, I showed them the photo, we giggled and shot the breeze for a moment or two and I left. I left with that very familiar, complicated feeling. That one that impresses upon me the enormous weight of how much we still have to get through, wade through, negotiate, respond to, before we are just people, not black people and white people of South Africa. Yes, it is getting better, because I am getting better at managing myself. When I walked away from this brief connection I noticed  a white guy in a bakkie, parked at the side of the road who gave me that ‘I was watching you the whole time, to see that you were ok’ look. I think that’s what he was doing. I am most probably projecting again. Things are so very complicated.

I was rushing home to pay my new house cleaner (is that an ok title?). This is another complicated story.

For years Buyiswa (Thelma) cleaned our house. I inherited Buyiswa from another place and time in 1997 when I lived with a crazy, slightly drug addicted somebody for a while. When I moved out of the flat we were sharing Buyiswa came with, to clean Southfork, the huge dilapidated house that was a commune, refuge, crazy creative site of giant parties, and home to the beginning of me having animals. Buyiswa moved when I moved, and came into my marriage, and my houses that I shared with Big Friendly. After a terrible road accident in a taxi that left her with a chronic sore back, and being ripped off by the lawyers who took her case to the RAF, it became harder and harder for her to move around. Public transport was challenging, and she was in constant and sometimes unbearable pain. At the end of September last year we agreed that we would pay Buyiswa to not come to work. This was the only way we could think of doing a kind of retirement fund, since we had failed at being responsible and registering her etc.

My relationship with Buyiswa was (and is) complicated. We love each other (but not as much as Big Friendly loves her). Buyiswa was delighted when I started courses to learn to speak isiXhosa, and she would talk to me and teach me. I knew all about her life, and her family, and her house in the Transkei, and her niece that she brought up as her daughter. I knew about her grown up son, who was unemployed and who she was obliged to support. I was (and still am) critical of her very expensive funeral stokvel club. She knew the ins and outs of my most personal things. She understood and sympathised with my unresolved and challenging relationship with my mother, she packed away my underwear, she loved the visits from my brother, she was deeply critical of my non meat eating diet. We knew all the wrong things about each other. The thing is, we were both destined to carry an enormous amount of our own, terribly complicated, unresolved, unexplainable stuff between us. Stuff that wrote her as the victim and me as the saviour or perpetrator. Stuff that made no sense to me at all, like her asking me if she could have something that I had thrown away, or me giving her something that was clearly an insult. She could make me feel guilty, and ashamed and conflicted just as I could make her feel enraged, and misunderstood, and maligned. And we carried a lot of silence and judgement and resentment about each other too. I knew long before I admitted it that she could no longer manage to clean the house, since she was too sore. And yet we both pretended.

Finally, when we worked out a settlement, and I explained that I wasn’t leaving her in the lurch, and she explained how worried she was about what would become of our house (rightly so), we said our physical goodbyes at the end of September last year.

In the beginning Big Friendly and I were brave and stoic and really tried to keep a clean house. I did not want to rush into getting more help, and it felt a bit ridiculous really, I mean, it’s not like I have a 9 to 5 job, or kids, or lack of time or even energy. But, we slid the slippery slope for 6 months. One day a friend came for tea, and I saw the house through his eyes. I was horrified and disgusted. The dust stood inches thick on everything. There were dust bunnies the size of actual bunnies under the bed. It was enough.

I reluctantly put out a call on Facebum for help. And I met, interviewed and employed Clementine. She has been to our house three times in two weeks, just to get us, and her up to speed. And boy are we up to speed.

Clementine is from Rwanda. She has been in Cape Town for two years. Her Rwandan husband has been in South Africa for thirteen years. They have a ten month old son, Moses, the cutest pie. And, in three sessions, Clementine and I have begun to know each other a little better.

There is no stuff between us. She works for me, and I pay her, and we are curious about each other. I am interested in her and her background, and she is fascinated by me and what I do. She told me that in Rwanda she was studying information technology and working as a waitress at a hotel. She had never cleaned houses until coming to Cape Town, but she wanted to work, and so chose to do it. She speaks English with a delicious french lilt. She complains bitterly about the bananas and fresh fruit and white bread, and coffee in Cape Town. She struggles to understand the differences in white, coloured, black, Indian, Christian, and Muslim Capetonians, and was pretty confused to discover I am an atheist of Jewish heritage. We have (briefly) spoken about xenophobia, and crime in Cape Town, but it was general and not personal, I think.

It is an entirely different experience having Clementine in my space and life. She is a cleaning whirling dervish. She is funny, and stylish, and open and forthright. She doesn’t pull my strings and push my buttons, and I don’t think I pull and push her’s. I may be projecting again here.

I have terrible guilt that I didn’t specifically choose a South African, particularly someone I could talk isiXhosa to, but I feel so shifted, and excited and strangely clear about this new change. I feel like it is possible to have a relatively ‘normal’ relationship, albeit friendly and curious, with somebody who works for me. And I am saying this out loud.

I would love to hear all your thoughts, good and bad, and personal and critical on this. Please let me know, people of Cape Town, and South Africa. What is it like for you?

A few things Improv

On Sunday I performed some improv in Jozi with people I had never actually even met before. I was cheeky enough to invite myself to play with the Jittery Citizens who do a monthly stint at Kippies at The Market Theatre. We played Armando, to a tiny audience that included my very vocal nephews (who adored the show), and I was reminded that improv is an amazing thing; with a bit of robust confidence you can play with anyone, anywhere, and even play anything. I had never played Armando in front of a live audience before.

When I do something like this I end up getting re-inspired by what we do in Cape Town. I am reminded of how unbelievably good we are, and how well we know each other, and I know that we can do absolutely anything. Our annual Improv Festival is testimony to that.

Lately I have been feeling that our regular TheatreSports short form improv shows on a Monday night have been in need of a bit of a face lift. We haven’t been attracting huge houses, and us players are also in need of inspiration. So I am excited by our brazen new idea that will bring a completely different format every single Monday night. It started off two weeks ago with a Stuck in The Middle, a great format where one improviser (in this case Leon Clingman) was on stage for the full hour of the show, and the rest of the team put him in different scenes. This Monday’s show was an improvised documentary and I hear it was fantastic (I was in Jozi, so I missed it). It is a format that I think I might have invented and I have played in and seen some outrageous ones.

This coming Monday is SuperScene, a fast paced, high energy, competitive format, where ‘directors’ create scenes and stories played by the team. The audience votes out their least favourite scene in rounds and there is a winning story at the end, that gets a final big finale scene. I’ll be playing and directing in this one and already my competitive juices are flowing. I love winning SuperScene. The cast are Carolyn Lewis, Tandi Buchan, Tarryn Saunders, Anne Hirsch, Ryan Jales, Leon Clingman and me. That is a pretty hot line-up.

Apparently the week after that is Road Movie. I don’t even know what that is yet. Guess we’ll make it up! So, if you like your improv varied, shaken up and different every single time, call our booking line 0729393351 to book. Our Monday night shows start earlier than before, at 730pm, and we perform at the sexy Galloway Theatre at the Waterfront Theatre School. And, of course your weekly dose of improv is still unbelievably ridiculously cheap at R60 a ticket. Pathetic really. For those of you who have never been, here is a handy map too. There is usually convenient parking at the old Hirt and Carter building just a little way down the road.

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