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Unleashed (Short story)

He limped home. The sky was orange with the occasional glow of the street lights as he trudged along the pavement through the path of trees. He mumbled something every other step and jerked his left shoulder as it twitched out of his control. His mother was told that he would live a normal life, but would never be normal like other kids.

He was her special boy and she loved him more than anything in the world. Now all he wanted to do was get home to Mummy. The blood stained the hems of his trousers. She would be upset, he was sure. But nothing a little Omo couldn’t fix, she would always say when he came home from playing soccer. But she’s not gonna like this, he thought as he limped home.

He had trouble expressing himself, even though the doctors said he would never speak with the damage done to his brain from the fall. Now he was thinking how he was going to explain this to his mother. He got home and rushed to his bed. He could still see them; the faces the blood all of the blood and there was screaming the woman wouldn’t stop screaming and then music kept playing the music didn’t care it kept on playing.

The monster ate them all.

“What’s wrong my boy?” she asked as she stepped into the room. His back was turned towards her as she entered and all she could see was a dark outline on the bed. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but it got stuck and his head bobbed forward as he gulped it down. It was the same way she came into his room, also at night, when the boys would tease him for being in the special class. Or the way they would laugh at him when he would try playing soccer with them and couldn’t keep up with the others. He would have to play with the younger boys and watch as the others had their fun.

“If you forgot the milk, it’s fine. I’ll just get it early tomorrow” she said as she rubbed his back. There was a knock at the door.

“Ai I wonder who that is this time of the night” she said as she stirred to get up.

“Mummy don’t” he said and grabbed her hand. He turned and grabbed her hand, hard and fast enough to frighten her. She saw his face for the first time since she came into his room. It was pale, his eyes moving around, dart-like movements, searching.

“I didn’t do it” he said.

*

The interrogation room was grimy and filthy. Not at all like on those American TV shows that Mummy watched. He sat there nervously and waited for the inspector to speak to him. Mummy wasn’t allowed to be with him because, according to the law, he was an adult of sound mind. So he sat there alone waiting. Inspector Kleinhans sat with his head in his hands. He had being doing this for twenty six years and never thought he would see the day when he would say “I never thought I’d see the day”.

He let out a laugh, like a stifled cough, then just grabbed at his hair and scratched his scalp vigorously. One deep breath later, he planted his hands on his desk and shot up in one steady motion ready to take on the boy. He knew exactly how he would approach this man with the feeble mind as he stormed into the passage and walked the four doors down and past the officer standing guard.

He burst into the room which gave Conroy a fright. He looked up, the face still pale, scared and nervous. Inspector Kleinhans slammed the door behind him with no disregard neither for the officer standing guard nor for government property. He slammed his fist down on the table and said “Who did it?”. Conroy looked up at him, mouth agape and his eyes swimming in his skull like tiny fish. Not waiting for an answer he went on and said “I want to know everything, I don’t have time for bullshit you tell me right now who you saw tonight”.

Conroy, mouth still open, couldn’t get a word out as he stared at Inspector Kleinhans, ready to burst into tears. At this point Inspector Kleinhans also looked ready to burst into tears, due to his red sweaty face. He was about to burst into another tirade when he was interrupted. “Eksuus, Inspecktor Kleinhans” said his deputy who knocked and walked in in one motion.

Ek, uhm, I have to speak to you for a minute” he said.

“Can it wait?” said Kleinhans, not turning his head to his colleague, eyes fixed firmly on Conroy.

“No Sir” he said, “Please Sir. Now”.

*

He was waiting in line at the garage shop with a bag of milk. He was looking at all the chocolates, but Mummy said that she would rather only give him just enough money for the milk. It wasn’t a very busy night, but the cars came in short bursts and with the money to collect and the shop to tend to, the ladies at the counter always had their hands full.

That’s when a tall man burst in and cut the line before Conroy could reach the counter. The bag kept slipping out of his grip and he had to change hands. The bags were cheaper and Mummy said that they don’t need such fancy things like bottles of milk.

“Sorry you can’t burst in” said Conroy. The man just smiled and said “the line starts over here, my friend” without looking over his shoulder. Conroy breathed in. The man was a bad man. The man was a mean man. He was like the others who laughed at him and looked down at him. Conroy breathe out. There was a wind outside, and something was coming. He could feel it. Before he could open his mouth to protest again, it flew down and landed right outside the window.

It stood right next to the petrol pump attendant. It looked right in Conroy’s face. He looked back. It was some sort of animal, like a human, but with wings. Its skin was tight and grey, and its nails were long, sharp and dirty. Just the way that Mummy told Conroy to never have them. It was watching him and as Conroy stepped forward to look at it, it also moved forward. The creature, the same height as him, was watching him like the dogs in the neighbourhood. But Mummy always said he must never run look them in the eye.

***

“What the hell?” said Kleinhans as he stared at the grainy black and white images on the screen before him. “It starts here Sir” said his deputy Coetze.

The images switch between the parking lot of the petrol station with three cars with young men drinking beer, the typical Sunday night routine and about three other cars at the pumps with attendants seeing to them. Like a photo album, turning the pages with the moving images. The yellow and red sign glowed above the boys with the prices of petrol and diesel, now monochromatic. The other image is of the convenience shop inside. The two ladies at the counter switch between collecting the money for the cars and helping the customers in the store.

At the counter is Conroy with a bag of milk. He is waiting for the ladies who are overwhelmed with the number of attendants waving the money at them, ready to help the next car. The screen changes back to the boys at their cars, eyeing each other’s machines from a safe distance and revving their engines. Conroy is still at the counter, this time eyeing the chocolates and sweets laid out to entice the young kids and their weary parents. Suddenly a man bursts in and steps in front of Conroy and points at the cigarettes behind the ladies at the counter. They both turn towards the tall black man in the Polo shirt and the keys dangling in his fingers. Mercedes, Kleinhans notes, in his head. Conroy unwillingly steps aside and is all but invisible to the ladies behind the counter who both look at the cigarettes.

The one lady goes on helping the attendants at the window, the other assists the distinguished man with the cigarettes. She is smiling and keeps looking down like a shy schoolgirl. She doesn’t even notice the bag of milk that is left on the counter as the young man now looks on as this man was being helped. The black and white image is now back on the cars outside. They drive in, get what they want and leave. The attendants help them with requests for petrol, water, air or oil and get the money. The next image is the tall man, the Polo shirt that is probably lime green and pink, now stained blacked, blood bubbling from his neck and cascades down his front as he lay on the counter. The women are screaming as Conroy leaps forward. He starts by pulling the jaw off one. That was one less scream. The other was not seen as the camera switches to the boys in the parking lot now looking over at the shop. They raced over to where the commotion is. Conroy punches his hand through the glass where the money is collected and pulls the arm off the woman who is watching in shock as he killed the shop assistant.

The boys race into the shop, but the camera switches to the other petrol pump attendants who are now also running over. The boys are now lying in a heap as Conroy walks out of the shop, stepping on and over the bodies lying there, staining the hems of his pants and shoes in blood. The camera changes to the cars outside as he walks right past them.

*

Inspector Kleinhans was still leaning on the counter as the young man in the surveillance video walked away.

“…how? I don’t… That was him” he mumbled.

“Sir, he’s still in the other room. What should we do about him?” said Coetze.

But as Coetze and Kleinhans, the detectives, the experts now numb angry and confused stepped out of the video room, what they saw shocked them again. More blood. Two bodies slumped over at the end of the corridor, led by streaks of blood as they were dragged there, the door still ajar.

Without a word, they ran over, Coetze reaching for his firearm in the holster on his hip. But there was no one. The killer was gone.

And as the search began for Conroy, he walked home, upright, his face blank as the moon shone full, a shadow crossing his path every so often. He looked up and saw the monster. He smiled. He smiled at the creature that killed all those people tonight and made them stop and look at him, even if just for a second.  Only he could see the creature flying in the moonlight. But he smiled at the monster.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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Second Time (Short Story)

“You look good” he said to me.

It was the first time we had spoken since the break-up. The middle of a mall, random awkward meeting as I left the store, his eyes sparkled amidst neon signs, the sun trying to filter in. They were smiling, his eyes, and if they were not I’d be worried.

“You too” I said. Not too quickly. Good job. I looked down so he wouldn’t see how tired my eyes were. I doubt they were sparkling.

“Are you done?” said Joe as he approached. He had his bag with the protein shakes and new weight gloves. He was not even looking up.

“Yes. Yes I am” I said.

As I turned to him my face was a blank as I realised that the love of my life was standing right next to my new… person.

“This is, Zody” I said, trying to keep my voice stable and consistent.

“That’s a weir… ah, Great to meet you, man. Really great” said Joe and shook his hand, firm as ever. He flashed his smile, big and bright, that ended as soon as the handshake.

“Yeah, my parents couldn’t decide between Zack and Cody. Don’t worry, it gets quite a few laughs” Zody said, looking at me.

“Great man. So… we leaving now” he said to me. It was probably meant to be a question.

“Yes” I said.

“Well come on” he said as he took me by the arm, his hand like a bear holding a baby.

Zody stepped forward as he would have done in the old days, the good days, always out to protect me. My lion.

But we were already a few steps away, me stumbling forward trying to catch up with  Joe’s steps. A calf, learning its first steps. At the same time I took out my glasses and put them on.

I turned my face to the side as Zody stepped forward. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he could see mine, the half of my smile, the tear about to fall. I turned away before the light caught it as it rolled down my face.

It was our second final goodbye. It didn’t seem any easier.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Tod (short story)

 He sat down next to her. She looked up, her eyes cloudy with tears.

 “You are beautiful”, he said. She stared at him incredulously, and then burst out laughing.

“You know, you actually may have just cheered me up with that one”, she replied. She wiped her eyes and looked at him closely. In his nurse’s scrubs, he was quite the sight; dark hair, tanned skin, strong arms and the darkest eyes she had ever seen.

 “Do you just wander the hallways in your free time talking to girls?” she asked.

 “No. What’s your name?” he asked. She breathed in deeply, looked at him warily and after a few seconds she reluctantly extended her hand and said

“Hi, I’m Stef”.

“Why are you crying, Stef?” he asked. She breathed in deeply again, feeling the tears re-emerging from the recesses of her pain. “My best friend was in a car accident. Double collision”, she said, “and apparently it’s not looking too good.”  “But let’s not get into that. What’s your name, Mr Nurse?” she asked.

“I’m Tod”.

*

“I’m sorry, honey”, said her mother as she held her tightly.

“It’s ok, I knew it was coming. I just want to be alone. I’ll see you at home”, she said.

 “Honey, I don’t think you should be alone. Your best friend just died”, said her mother. She bit her bottom lip, turned on her feet and slowly walked away. “See you later, mother”.

*

“So, Tod. How long have you been a nurse?” she asked him.

“Feels like forever” he said. “What is it that you do?” he asked.

“I study literature. English literature” she said. He gazed into her eyes. He said nothing, his face expressionless.

“Well, it wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to study drama, but you know parents. Always looking out for you and your happiness” she said as she rolled her eyes.  He smiled at her. A small grin, but a smile nonetheless. She admired his beauty, and then realised that it was the first time in five days that she was not crying, or thinking about whether Marcus would wake up from the coma.

“I should probably get going. My mother might get worried. Do you have the time?” she asked him. “Sure” he said as he looked down at his watch “It’s 12:34”.

She laughed and thought back to when she was a little girl and all the milestones in her life seemed to happen at 12:34. The first time she kissed a boy, when her baby sister was born, the second time she kissed a boy; but also when her beloved puppy Choccie died and when she learnt that the first person she really loved, her grandmother, had died. She snapped out of her reverie, and found herself still staring in Tod’s dark eyes.

“Hey, I’m not the best conversation right now. What do you say you give me your number and we continue this conversation when I’m not leaking tears?” she said.

 “Sure, you got a pen?” he asked. She reached into her bag and got a writing pad scribbled with her poetry and turned to a blank page. He wrote down his number, and his name.

 “Tod, only one ‘d’? That’s unusual” she said. He smiled at her again. It was the same honest and knowing grin.

“I meant it when I said that you are beautiful” he said.  She looked down and laughed and said

“I’m sure you say that to all the girls with smeared make-up, blotchy skin and bags under their eyes”. “I was not talking about the way you look, Stef” he said.

*

She walked away from her best friend’s now lifeless body. “Stef. Stef, honey come back. I don’t think you should be alone right now” said her mother. And as she walked out of the hospital room, she heard the doctor say to the attendee “Call it”. “Time of death, 12:34pm”.

*

“So Stef” said Tod “Do you ever get tired of running?” he asked as she was about to leave to check on Marcus again.

“What do you mean?” she asked looking a little confused as she looked back into the dark eyes. “From the pain” he said. She smiled and looked down. She pushed her hair out of her face, the tears now back in her eyes, but the smile was still there.

“All the time, Tod. All the time” she said. “What about you?  Have you got a story too? You know how much misery loves company” she said.

“I get tired too.  It feels like I have been running for lifetimes” he said “But maybe I’ll stop running this time.” He gave her that smile one last time as she walked away to be with her best friend. She walked down the hallway away from him and turned around to look at him one more time. They smiled at each other, but something was different. The dark eyes which had earlier intrigued her were now a glossy black. She thought she was imagining it; that the lighting in the waiting room was low and her eyes were deceiving her. She blinked hard and opened her eyes to see Tod with his usual dark eyes and charming smile. She turned away from him for good and nearly ran off, not sure whether what she saw was real or to be put down to fatigue.

*

She slowed down at the intersection, and scratched her wrist. The itching became unbearable and she removed her watch. Even though she was allergic to the silver, she could not bring herself to not wear her grandmother’s precious watch. It had stopped working after she received it, but she wore it regardless as a reminder of her grandmother.  However she was late for her poetry class and did not notice the car speeding behind her. He was also not paying attention to the intersection up ahead and rammed her into an oncoming car. The first collision sent her car spinning, and the second car overturned her car on its side. Both cars managed to smash all her windows. It was over in seconds, but to her it seemed to last a lifetime. She saw a bird fly by, its wings flapping ever so gently. She saw fragments of glass go by her face, so slowly she could have picked them like tear drops. She saw her watch, the time curiously still stuck at 12:34, fly slowly past her eyes. And then she saw him; tall, tanned, handsome and with the darkest eyes she had ever seen. He was looking straight at her, as calm and serene as could be. People around him were screaming and pointing at the occurring collision, whereas he simply just stood there looking at her. Things suddenly resumed their previous pace as she lay in the mangled car. She slowly turned her head to the side, groaning in pain, and amidst the chaos around the accident scene; there he stood, smiling at her.

*

“What are you reading?”, asked his mother. “Stef’s poetry book” he replied. His mother came around the bed and looked over his shoulder as he read the title of a poem on the last page. “What does ‘Tod’ mean?” she asked her son, Marcus. “Well, its German. It means death” he said. The air was heavy with silence. “Her grandmother taught her German when she was young. She gave her that watch”, he said as he pointed to the watch lying on the bedside table. “It was found clutched in her hand when she was pulled from the wreckage”, he said to his mother. Nothing more was said between them as they watched her lying there.

*

“Call it” said the doctor to the attendee. “Time of death, 12:34pm.” He looked at her lying there, peaceful and serene; and as he flashed his smile at her one last time, his eyes were now at their blackest.

 <p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Lost (Short Story) Part I

It was only the third time he had seen Steve, his brother’s “friend”. That was the official line and the family seemed to stick to it, rather religiously. Steve would come over and they would go to his room. Yaseen would move the little couch in front of the door and play his music just loud enough so no one would hear anything. Sometimes they would argue. Yaseen always had a hot head, a bad temper. Since they were boys, Zubair and Yaseen would play, and fight which belied their six year age difference. At the age of twenty seven, Zubair was no longer “big boeta” like he used to be, and Yaseen would spend more time in his room, or out of the house than ever.

Today, however, Zubair was meeting his brother’s friend for coffee in town. He hated coming to the city. Finding a parking spot in Cape Town always brought him endless frustration. He pulled up outside some fancy arts college and walked up to the Vida coffee shop that Steve mentioned when he called. “Can I please see you? I’m worried about him” was all he said when he phoned Zubair the previous night.

“Hi Steve” said Zubair as he sat down, not pulling in his chair again. Steve was already there, with a coffee in front of him. He had red-rimmed sunglasses on. Zubair was used to seeing him in these bright colours. The few times he had seen him, it was the same way that Yaseen dressed. It was one of the reasons why the boys used to tease Yaseen when he was younger. Steve had a scarf wrapped around his neck twice, even though it was not cold enough for that inside the cafe. Steve took off the glasses and Zubair’s eyebrows went up for a second. Steve’s eyes were bloodshot and puffy.

“Are you ok, man? What happened?” he asked Steve.

“Your brother” said Steve, and started laughing. There was no joke and he shook his head as he laughed, but he went on regardless.

“Look, man. I don’t know what happened with you two” said Zubair. It was the first time that he had spoken this much to Steve.

“He had another one of his outbursts on Friday and stormed out. My mother’s been crying since. He didn’t give a damn to even call home” said Zubair.  “We all just thought he was with you or something”

“Well, no. We broke up” said Steve. “Again”

It was a little too much for Zubair all at once. From trying to not acknowledge that his brother was dating this guy, to them speaking about it for the first time in a coffee shop, was something new for him. But Zubair knew that something was wrong. He could feel it. And he knew Steve could too.

“I just don’t know what to do anymore” said Steve and leaned forward, his face in his hands.

Zubair looked at him, his brother’s friend crying, and didn’t know what to do either.

“When last did you see him?” he asked.

Steve looked up and wiped his eyes, and sniffed. He got a tissue out of his pocket and blew his nose. It was loud and Zubair looked away as he did it. Steve exhaled. It was long and loud too. He looked up at the roof and blinked fast, exhaled heavily and looked back at Zubair..

“Well, he came to me on Friday night. We spoke a bit and I told him he could stay with me as long as he needed to, but that he had to go home and speak to you guys about what you were fighting” said Steve. “He didn’t like that and told me that I am taking your side”

He rubbed his hands on his buzz-cut head and leaned back again, as if he were uncomfortable in his seat. He took off his brown leather jacket and hung it on the back of the red chair. He looked at Zubair again.

“We broke up and made up many, many times Zubair. But I love that boy, dammit” said Steve.

This made Zubair cringe, as he tried his best to not let his face show what he was feeling.

“But this isn’t about us” said Steve. “I’m worried that something might have happened to him”

“Why do you say that?” said Zubair as he sat up again. He didn’t realise how he had been sinking into his seat, his arms crossed, until now. He also felt hungry. He did not realise that he had not ordered anything until he felt the turning sensation in his stomach.

“What is it, Steve?” he asked, leaning forward.

“Well” he laughed again, shaking his head, “Cape Town is a very small place. Tiny if you’re gay”

That word made Zubair’s face sour into a grimace, but he listened anyway. Steve reached into his pocket for his phone and started typing as he spoke.

“He wanted to go out when he came to my place. He wanted to dance, and drink, as usual. I had an assignment due today, so I couldn’t go out. That’s when he stormed out” said Steve, looking up occasionally at Zubair, still typing on his phone.

“You know how people talk” he said, not as a question, as if Zubair already knew the answer to that one. “Well, I got this notification yesterday, before I called you” said Steve and showed him his phone. It was a picture of Yaseen, smiling at the camera, his top off and his eyes half closed. It was a close-up shot. Zubair was now grateful that Steve had chosen to sit in the back corner of the shop.

“This was all over Facebook” said Steve. “I don’t know if you know how these boys get, but it’s not pretty. People were commenting and saying some very ugly things” said Steve, his voice shaking. Zubair looked away for a moment, hoping Steve wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t know what to do if he did. “This one was posted in a group called ‘Cape Town’s Sluttiest Boys’”

“Someone even commented and called him ‘Cape Town’s biggest gintoe’ and of course everyone just loved that!” said Steve, again with the laugh that seemed so out of place with the way his body was reacting. Zubair noticed his fists were clenched. Steve looked away and put his fist to his mouth. Zubair again, praying that Steve wouldn’t cry.

“He isn’t, you know. Not my Yaseen. No way. But he’s in trouble” said Steve.

Zubair looked at him again. Steve’s eyes were watery, but there didn’t seem to be any danger of tears, just yet.

“My friends who were in the club on Friday said they saw him. He was all over the place, and more crazy than usual. He was dancing with many guys and drinking a lot more than he normally would, according to them” said Steve. The tears were out of the way and he was back to matter-of-fact as he laid it out for Zubair.

“He never did drugs before, but I think he would try it out” Steve continued. “Well, my friends saw him with the guys who come to the club to sell and that was the last they saw of him” said Steve. “If he hasn’t called either of us by now, then I think we should be concerned. We always make up by now. We always do” said Steve, looking at his cup of coffee. It was cold and there was a film of watery brown muck floating on the surface as he stared at it.

“Steve” said Zubair. His eyes snapped up, woken from his daydream. “Let’s go”

 <p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Looking Up (Short Story)

Alice sat at the market, bored again. She was sick of selling the bags and doing the same pitch to the Christmas shoppers who browsed more than they bought. In fact, no one bought. Most of them just walked by and touched a bag, gauging the quality. The bags were meant to have a story- environmentally friendly and socially aware as they were made from old leather jackets, all sourced from within Cape Town to keep the carbon footprint down. Or something. Problem is they were hideous. Brown, black, patchwork, real, synthetic were all used to make these bags which she bought from her friend Sioban to re-sell. And they didn’t smell good either.

The idea was noble though, except for the young hotshot down the path with the same concept and better execution – handmade, cotton, made by homeless people bla bla bla, she thought as her eyes rolled. He had fliers, displays and worst of all, he had youth.

She looked up occasionally from her book and watched the feet go by. They were small, big, wheels, beige, high heeled, sneakered and squirrel. A squirrel! Cheeky buggers, she thought and smiled. She watched it run from the shrubbery, take a few leap-steps, sniff the peanut on the ground and grab it. It was the path in the botanical garden in Cape Town, the long stretch from Adderley Street, and she was slap bang in the middle. Alice had this theory that the people who walked right past her were headed straight for the food stalls, or they were already broke by the time they got to her, having passed so many other stalls.

Before the next surge of people came, the squirrel took its prize in its mouth and ran past her stand and ran up the tree. She smiled again watching the squirrel and how simple and uncomplicated its life was. When she looked back to the table, there he was, smiling brilliantly.

“Hi” he said.

“Hi” was all she could muster back, not as confidently (nor as brilliantly) as he just had.

Mark was the iced coffee seller from further up at the food stalls who sped walked up and down the path and sold the coffees to the vendors at a reduced rate.

“Iced coffee for you, Madame?” he said and bowed forward presenting the last paper cup on his tray.

“Well, aren’t you sweet?” she said and smiled at him. “But I haven’t made any sales today” She couldn’t help but marvel at how fresh he looked. His khaki shorts fitted just right, the long sleeved blue shirt looked cool and effortless and he always wore the hat and shades. He would flash a smile at her for the past week, since she had set up. With two days left of the market, she thought she was going to miss that smile.

Things were not going well for Alice. They could have been worse, she supposed, but her life was not going the way it was meant to. Her forties had brought a change in her. Besides being retrenched, her marriage had lost its, what’s the word, spark? That was what she noticed in books and movies. It just crept up on her. And here she was now, sitting at a market watching happy families walking by and flirting with a stud.

Collin, that’s her husband, was not a bad guy, but he could have done more for her, she thought. Here was a young man flirting with her, so she must be capable of better. But she loved her Colly more than she could say. However, she couldn’t help the thoughts of romance and running away and being swept away and going on voyages of discovery swirled around her head as this young man spoke to her.

Does he ever sweat?!, she thought as his smile, brilliant, shone on as she dabbed at her T-zone with a tissue. Cheek, cheek, forehead, quickly before he noticed. She fanned herself, not vigorously, and wishing she had not worn the sleeveless black top. She was always conscious of her upper arms.

“So, what do you say, we get a real coffee before the market closes?” he asked.

It was no surprise that her head was in the cloudless sky as she swooned on the inside. She kept her hands under the table and removed her wedding ring as quickly as she had ever done. She transferred the platinum band to her middle finger on her right hand and weighed her options. Collin was a good man. A stable man. He was ambitious enough, but never seemed to rise to the brilliance that she wanted. They were too middle class for her. He was still working in the same office for the past nine years. He should be a manager by now, she often thought.

She ran her hands through her frizzy black hair, leaned her head back considering him and smiled. A closed mouth, thoughtful and curious smile, she said “Yes, I’d like that, thank you”

“Great! Awesome. So I’ll see you around” he said and flashed her some more brilliance as he took two steps backwards and then sped walked off again, just as he had come. She watched him go down the path, smiling at his strong calves. He weaved his way between the small crowds of families ambling about. Then, before he was out of sight, she noticed him stomp his foot on the ground at something in his way. It was one of the squirrels eating a peanut. The little bugger ran away, clearly frightened and scrambled up the tree. He looked down and smiled as he walked on. She frowned at this, wondering why he would do that. Well, they shouldn’t be in the way, she thought. Right then her own squirrel came down from its tree to the right of her and took the gentle leap-steps onto the path. They were tentative steps forward, always testing the boundaries first, despite the many children bending down with peanuts in their hands.

She looked back down to the book, scanning over the words. People came by, touching the bags. She had long given up on the pitch of “These bags are made from… As you can see, the quality is… That one costs only…” But no one was biting. She didn’t even stand up anymore. Having sold nothing as yet, she read the book instead. It was one of those travel books where a woman goes to various places and discovers herself. She sighed. She paged. She looked left, she looked right. German tourists, the guys asking for a spare change, the locals who looked and pretended to be interested, a young, extremely tall man in a Masai warrior outfit. How strange. The people came from the right and the left, some bent down when they saw a squirrel. She could hear music further up at the entertainment and family centre. The mountain was somewhere behind the trees behind her. She sighed.

Alice looked up and straight ahead of her, just beyond the path was another squirrel running on a branch and eating one of the fruits hanging there. Again, it ran, leap-stepped as if on air. She looked down to the book again and not a few seconds went by before something was set down in front of her. A bouquet of flowers. Not too big. She didn’t distinguish between what they were, something she was usually good at. She looked up expecting to see Mark. It was Collin. Her smile froze. She was grateful that it didn’t go altogether.

“Hi beautiful” he said.

“Coll… what are you doing… here? You’re not supposed to pick me up for another two hours!” she said.

“Do I need a reason to see my girl?” he asked. He knew she hated when he called her that. It had become a way to tease her.

“But… why?” she persisted.

“Look, I know I haven’t been the best guy lately. I know it sounds dumb, but I’ve been a little down” he said “I don’t know how to talk about these things”

She was shocked. This was the first time her husband had spoken so honestly to her. And here of all places! She nodded her head slowly.

“And I’ve noticed you feeling it too” he said “I know it hasn’t been easy for you, with the retrenchment and working here. I know you hate it” and with that she burst out laughing, looking up at the branches above her, the sunlight flecking through. He laughed too.

“What do you say, my girl? Let’s get out of here and have a good damn Christmas and worry about everything else later?” he said.

It was then that the squirrel, probably the same one from earlier, ran from the path and stopped right next to Alice. Collin laughed; surprised that it would get this close to her.

“The little guy must like you a lot” he said.

That’s when she remembered the ring on her middle finger. As quickly as she moved it to the middle finger, she moved it back to the ring finger under the table. The squirrel didn’t wait for her, and scampered back up the tree as they watched it go.

“I vote for “yes”! Let’s get out of here” she said.

“What about your stall? The market” he said.

“Oh I have a feeling it will be just fine without me. No one wants these anyway” she looked at the bags and laughed.

She left her table with the ugly leather bags right where they were, never to be seen again. She grabbed her bouquet as he grabbed her and they walked arm in arm down the path, families, squirrels and pigeons walking around them.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Penny’s Prices (short story)

Penny opened the shop thirty years ago. It started out as a small second hand store with books and a small reading corner and a few odds and ends such as tins and jars like her grandma used to have in her house. What the shop had become since was undoubtedly the biggest junk shop in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. She couldn’t stop herself. The donations continued unabated as people dropped off their goods to be sold. Washing machines and tumble driers with the accompanying spare parts went at the very back, close to the small back room with a kettle and sink up four stairs. There were gardening implements and a giant gramophone that someone had dropped off after their father had died. She used to feel honoured, but now she had had enough.

She stood behind the till and watched another customer leave without buying anything.

“It stinks in here. How am I supposed to find anything in this place?” said the woman to her friend as she walked past the cabinet with the drawers, each one filled with something different.

Buttons, mirrored squares, cotton reels (in case anyone needed those), tiny combs, small mismatched doll shoes, each drawer held a different item.

Penny used to be most proud of the record collection. It was right next to the vintage magazines and had grown since she first opened the shop. But Penny had grown sick of this place. Her name was not even Penny. Alice had named the shop “Penny’s Prices” because it was catchy. Then everyone in the street always called her Penny and the name stuck.

After all this time and the shop not at all what she thought it would be, she couldn’t stand it anymore. After the two women left, she locked the door and lit a candle. She was sure that she would be able to claim the insurance as it was an accident. As soon as it was dark enough, she grabbed the curtain and pulled it towards the candle. It took flame and raced up towards the books on the top shelf. From there there was no stopping it. It spread faster than she had expected.

“What am I doing?” she said out loud and tried running to the back. She only got a few metres in before she screamed in pain from the heat and turned back.

“My God” she said as she watched it all burn down.

The dream of a family friendly shop where people would come with their coffees and spend time was going up in flames and she realised that the shop was what she wanted, whether it turned out the way she wanted, or not.

“Help, help!” she screamed, but there was no one there.

She was alone with her stuff that had flooded her shop and her life. The things that had filled up the shop were now being covered in flames faster than spilled water. The books curled and the tins, small and delicate, heated as they were about to buckle and bend to the heat.

Penny stepped out and sat on the pavement as it all burned down.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Reflection (short story)

It had been eighteen years since he swam here. It was where the water made his toes curl and jump back. In those days he preferred the water deeper in, where the trees were and the grass on the bank was damp.

Now he was walking this same bank in his shiny leather shoes, his black pants completely out of place amongst the sounds of the stream and the speckled sunlight filtering through the leaves above. The rays tickled his face as he bent down and pressed his fists into the ground. He leaned forward and touched the water. It rolled over his hands and tumbled away, before he could grab it, just like when he was a boy. He told his mother that the water looked like clouds and that he would catch one.

That was further upstream. It was the same river, he was sure of it.

“Are you ok? You just disappeared” said Carol.

They had been married for three years and he was beginning to feel the pressure. He was a young executive, one of the most promising advertising gurus in Cape Town and married to a former model now running her own agency. Their lives seemed perfect. They had everything, except the inevitable baby to complete their happy picture.

They had been having lunch at the restaurant where they first met five years ago. The main road in Franschhoek to the restaurant that was tucked away behind a market and some trees, down a path, close to the stream. They ate pasta and drank wine.  He had a glass of white, she drank red. She ate her mushroom and olive pasta slowly. She kept an eye on her iPhone at all times. Business waits for no one, she would always say. “While I’m young” was another favourite. He got distracted by the sound of the stream after she left the table, and he walked over to the stream.

“James! I’m speaking to you!” she said, looking back at the other patrons to see if she was too loud. He leaned forward and looked at himself in the water, clear as it rolled on leisurely. What he really wanted to do was lean forward and just lie there in the water. He sprang up.

“I was here before, but further up. This is the same river we came to when I was younger! Before my mother…” he trailed off, remembering his mother before the cancer.

“James” she said, sighing.

But he bent down again and looked at the water and saw himself for the first time in a while, without stress, expectation, face cream, blood shot eyes and hair product. He saw himself how he used to when he would play in the river. He turned his face to the left, and the boy in the mirror looking back at him did the same. Both young and old smiled at their reflections. James was mesmerised by his reflection as the sun shone a sparkle every so often in the river.

“You don’t want this anymore, do you?” she asked as he looked up at her.

She was looking away from him as she said it, her arms crossed. She already knew the answer as he stood up and faced her. That day there was no further discussion about babies or the next cocktail evening. They left the restaurant in his Mercedes for the last time.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Last Bloom (Short Story)

It was not the same way Daphne used to roll around in the grass with her kids. It was quick and unexpected.

Her kids had warned her about this house. Daphne remembered that now and tried to smile. Her adult son, Stephen, had warned her that the big oak tree in the back yard, not metres away from the wall, could prove dangerous. It was probably some naïve guy back in the day who didn’t think about how stupid it was having a tree this close to the wall in the backyard with the N1 highway parallel to it and the sports field two houses away.

And that’s exactly how it happened. She was bent over a bush when they hit her on the back of the head. I never even heard them come over the wall. Blood dribbled from her head as she lay there, smelling the earth, rich and dark. She was now between small bushes, lavender and rosemary, tomatoes not too far off. Green, purple buds, red bulbs with green crowns, she smiled and tried to laugh.

This was how her children used to describe the plants when she tried teaching them the names. After her husband Peter left her, she spent more time in the backyard and tended to the kids and her plants.

Oh sherbert, I wonder if they are still here! They probably took what they wanted to and left. I hope that Stephen doesn’t come to visit now. Observatory is so far for him to drive. I told him I’m ok and he shouldn’t worry with me.

She saw Maria next to her face, saying “Mommy what are you doing? Why are you crying?” It was the incredulous and impatient tone of a child. She used to spend hours in the garden, so the children wouldn’t see her tears. She cried into the pepper plants, feeding them with her tears. She would make up a story about how the onions were making her cry just like when she would chop them in the kitchen and Maria would laugh and chase the birds.

One of them landed next to her now. She always wished she had learned the names. It was tiny and brown, speckled with a little yellow stripe on its back. It hopped once, twice and once more before it flew away, the air barely yielding to its small body and strong wings. She watched it go as it left her there.

Daphne was sure that the men were gone by now. She hoped so at least. She was feeling tired, but didn’t yawn. She felt the cooling sun on her face as she tried to take one big breath.

Her eyes stretched as far as they could in her face and tried to take in everything around her one last time. The way the wall tried to contain it all, but all the plants were always wild and needed taming. She spoke to them like she was their mother. She cut them down to size like a teacher.

She looked past the plants at the house. It was not too far away, she could see it from where she was lying. She felt drowsy. As her eyes closed, she knew that there was nowhere else she would rather be.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

Long Way Home (Short Story)

Sometimes he would run his hand over the fence and look at the school on his way home. The short path lay between the houses at the back of the school and the fence, bordered by the towering pine trees. His mother warned him to not take what was actually a longcut.

Today the Grade Fours were allowed to leave early and Barry made his usual way down the stairs, out the main gate with the huge pine trees watching guard as he lugged his bookcase on his back with all his books in it, just in case he wanted to read one during interval.

He walked down Eastwood Drive and could practically hear his mother in his ear shouting “And don’t come late, you must still wash the dishes and clean up after those dogs!” He could have gone the other way out the gate and been home in a matter of minutes if he had walked up Howard Drive.

But he liked the path, the way it attracted him, with the promise of a hidden world he was yet to discover.

So he would get home just before his mother arrived from work and do his chores as fast as he could and rush to his room to do his homework.

He took the right at the Old Apostolic church and he was on his path. It was gravel and the brown pine needles were creeping out from the other side of the fence. The trees hung over the side and when he looked up he liked to imagine that they would pick him up and toss him between them like a ball, while he giggled. He closed his eyes as he walked on, his hand on the fence, when he saw him. A man standing at the end of the path. Barry knew he was in trouble. The man wore a beanie and his eyes were looking around all over the place. He kept his hand in his pocket the entire time. He had a skinny face like the guys he saw hanging around the 7/11 store down the road.

His mother had warned him of this path. It seemed darker now, the trees not reaching down to rescue him. The man walked towards him , a skollie, probably a tik kop like his mother called the druggies who would take anything to sell for their fix. Barry was stuck. The man was walking towards him on the path between him and the way out.

But he knew better. This was the backyard of the crazy dog as he was known by the other kids who always raced past here. The dog jumped up from behind the wall and snapped at the man walking towards Barry. Its pointed white face and slanted eyes looked straight at the man as it barked incessantly. The dog, who had jumped up all the way from behind the wall, held on  and was trying to scramble over, looking like a nosy neighbour. The man recoiled and fell backwards shouting, “Oe fok” as he was caught off guard. The confidence with which he was going to take whatever Barry had to sell for drug money was now gone as he cowered against the fence.

He ran home as the trees waved goodbye to him. Neither Barry nor the man saw the path again.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

This Room (Short Story)

I lie in wait for the man. The walls are high, ceiling seems so far away. The room is tiny. I could probably stretch over and touch one wall with my foot on the other like those fancy people do at the yoga studio in the main road. I’m always looking up at them when I’m walking.

But today I am looking up and around this room from this bed, on the colourful blanket, some cheap thing from Pep stores, while I wait. There is a desk nearby. It is grey and plastic. I could lean over from the single bed against the wall and touch it. I don’t. But there is a glass of water there. Looks a little cold, with the drops on the side. I’m actually thirsty, but I wait rather.

Kyle and I have been struggling for a while now. He was retrenched from the factory and his parents didn’t want him moving back in.

There is a shower nearby, just a few steps away. Small bathroom, just like the place Kyle and I share. The room is in Bo Kaap, close to town. I remember seeing the plants growing out of the street as we walked up the hill to get here. I smiled as we got there, looking at the funny street, the stones making it look so bumpy. Made us tired as we walked. Me and Kyle were behind on the rent and we took the train from Parow and came here. He said he found a website where we could do this. The one where he sold his car too.

While I was waiting, I took a shower and looked at myself in the mirror. Still steamy. They were outside to discuss payment.

The cupboard looked grey now.  The whole room did. It wasn’t that late, like five-ish. It was almost Spring, so it was supposed to be getting darker only later, but the high window kept the sun out.

I thought of everything we would do with the money. We had to pay Roan’s school fees and then I had to go grocery shopping. I would have painted this place a brighter colour. Oh ja, paint, we also need paint! When we buy our own house one day, we going to have wooden floors. Not these cold white tiles. Looks like a hospital!

Kyle comes back and says the man is ready for me. His name is Mario and he says we only have an hour. He lives alone here, but he’s renting the place. The guy is young and American. When he talks. Not an ugly man. So I wonder why he’s doing this. But Kyle said I mustn’t think too much. I see wires and plugs in the corner and think how dangerous that is and I wouldn’t allow it with Roan in the house.

Kyle shakes the man’s hand and goes outside. The TV is next to the bathroom door, high up on a bracket. Really like a small hospital room, I think. He closes the door and I lie down. The door also looks grey.

 

<p>Author <a href=”https://plus.google.com/102128103971030481396” target=”blank” rel=”author”>Jerome Cornelius</a></p>

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