I joined a fun and informal writing group and then promptly missed two Mondays (I was away for one and working for the other).
Last night I went back for what I was hoping would be a jolly bit of relief after a relatively crap day – I reversed my car into an extended piece of pole that I couldn’t see and smashed in my rear windscreen, only to discover Outsurance wanted me to pay an excess of R1250 and take it to PG Glass who would charge them an additional R3000 for the job. This seemed like a terrible idea since I could get the glass from an SABS approved place, Commercial Auto Glass, for R1600 in total. I had to speak to Outsurance at least four times, first to find out about and then to cancel my claim. So, I worked out that I am paying Outsurance monthly, to not have insurance. I decided it was time to cancel my non insurance with them and got put through to the whatever department to speak to someone who would convince me not to cancel. Suddenly my excess for glass was reduced to R250 (not for this claim, but for a future one!). What a bunch of crooked chops. When I pointed out that THEY were in cahoots with a company that were ripping them off and that I could get them a better deal with another SABS approved company, they dismissed me. Their arrangement with PG Glass is a stinky quagmire of insurance corruption. Anyway. I needed distraction.
Our first exercise was a two word prompt to write for ten minutes. The words were acrimony and winter storm (I know, three words, but). This was my first story.
George threw the last piece of dry wood onto the fire. He had left it too late and stood, with his hands on his hips anticipating disappointment, expecting that the log wouldn’t take and then he would have another thing to feel bitter about.
“Margaret. Is there more wood?” he half mumbled, but with energy. He absolutely knew that Margaret would hear his voice but not the words and he counted down. Five four three two one.
“Sorry George, I heard your voice but not your goddamn fucking words.”
She stood in the doorway with an unlit cigarette in her one hand and the special fire matches in the other. “I am going to stand on the stoep and smoke. There’s a storm coming, and I want to smoke before it rains.”
“I don’t need an explanation for your idiotic behaviour.” he said to her retreating back, but he timed the words to coincide with the down beat of her expensive stilettoes. She wouldn’t hear, and he wouldn’t be brave enough to say that to her face.
George turned his own face of disappointment to the fire grate and was irritated to see that the log had caught after all. A golden flame curled around the flaky bark and was making inroads into the hard, fragrant fig wood underneath.
He heard the wind pick up and thought about Margaret outside, trying to light her cigarette with a match. He couldn’t help himself. He smiled. He reached for his wine glass and swirled the purple liquid around before sipping it. He felt like he was in a life insurance ad.
The rain came, slashing hard against the lounge window. The loose, wooden frames rattled, and the curtains sighed even though the windows were shut. George went to look. He watched as a giant branch ripped free from the Elm and tore straight into Margaret’s head.
Not exactly cheerful stuff, but hey. I could blame the prompts.
Then, for our main exercise we were asked to write three questions on pieces of paper and to hand them out. We had to ‘answer’ the questions in our next piece of writing.
These were the three questions I received.
- Can you trust a liar?
- What did he/she take from the store?
- What is at the centre of Jupiter?
And here is what happened from my brain. Trigger warning. Violence against women and children.
Del walked along the road, dragging her feet and making tiny dust puffs behind her. The back of her white cotton dress had already picked up the red of the dust, looking like old blood, washed out but never totally removed. From the back she looked like a ten-year-old child, bored and lethargic in the summer holidays, with no plan, no urgency, no direction.
From the front she looked broken. Tear tracks ran into her neckline and smudged the dirt and her mother’s rouge on her cheeks. Her top lip was swollen, and the fine, black curls of her fringe were stuck down with sweat.
She repeated a line. A marriage vow. “I will. I will. I will.” Over and over. Through thick swollen lip.
Suddenly she stood still. She heard the sound of a car. No, truck. She bent her head. Saw her bulging pocket. She remembered.
Del had gone to buy cigarettes for her mother. She was always buying cigarettes for her mother. When her mother needed her out of the flat, when she had to talk to some man. Sometimes a strange man. Sometimes a familiar man. Del went to buy cigarettes from the store exactly fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes there and fifteen minutes back.
Today Del had pushed open the shop door without thinking. Mr Kamaldien was bent over the counter and Del thought he was sleeping even though she had never seen him sleep before. His black hair was lying in blood. Without thinking Del had approached him and put a brown hand on his stripe shirted shoulder. “Mr Kamaldien.”
A skinny man boy had jumped over the counter and pressed a knife to her throat. He had pushed her against the cold drink fridge and smashed her head into the glass door before pulling down his pants and trying to do something to her, squeezing her and shoving his body between her legs in a sharp and breathless way. She had thought about Jupiter. A planet. A familiar man had said that if you went to the centre of Jupiter there would be space candy there. The kind that pops in your mouth.
The skinny man boy had shouted. It sounded like he had scored a goal. There was something wet and warm on her legs. The skinny man boy had said “I’ll kill you if you tell!” and ran. Del got up. She went behind the counter and filled her pocket with two packets of Styvesant Blue. Then she took two fizz pops. “I will pay you later Mr Kamaldien.”
“I will. I will. I will.”
This is the bleakest and most violent piece I have written and it has shaken me.
Finally I got to the lightness in our last warm-down exercise. It was another prompt one. This time our story had to move from one emotion to another. I got from jealousy to apathy.
Mrs Hartley watched as the silver Polo Vivo negotiated the tight parking space. Three manoeuvres and it was in. The car door popped open with no effort and Mrs Hartley was reminded of her own stiff Honda Civic 2007’s door. She breathed out a puff and the net curtains separating her from the outside gaze shivered.
Dale jumped out of the driver’s seat and then folded his body back in to fetch something. Mrs Hartley had a perfect view of his designer jeans wrapped snuggly around his taut thighs and bum and the blush of shame coloured her neck.
“Cara, he is here!” Her call rang out and floated upstairs. She hoped it sounded light, chatty, warm, friendly.
Dale made his way to the door, his face obscured by a bunch of almost opening St Joseph’s lilies. Mrs Hartley flushed again. They were her favourite. “Cara!”
Cara’s footsteps were muffled. She was still in her slippers. They shloop shlooped along the landing. Sponges sucking all energy out of the room. “Mom, please. Tell him to go away. Mom.”
Mrs Hartley’s smile fixed itself to her face as she opened the door. Dale, about to present the flowers, noticed it was her and pulled his arm back. Their eyebrows expressed individual shock, shame and confusion before settling into polite and friendly.
“Come in Dale. Come in, Cara is nearly ready.”
As the door shut behind him Dale felt the heaviness of the home come down and on him as Cara’s slow, disembodied voice dragged itself down the stairs.
“I do not want to go on another of your arranged dates Mom! I am a lesbian, mom. A lesbian. A LES. BE. YAN.”
I’d love to know what you think.