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Passings (Short Story)

“Did he have to do it in front of our house? Anywhere else, but he had to go and be a hero where we live!” she thought to herself. His mother was wringing her hands and looking out the dining room window at the spot where her son ran out and stopped the young man trying to rob the old lady. The tik koppe got braver, no longer content with stealing copper tap heads to sell for their drug money.

That’s the way she remembers it. Old lady. Young man. Robbery. Car crash. Rob dead. Trying not to think too much about that day. Too much detail just brought it back. Everyone just stood there as she ran over to his limp body as he was cringing and just kept trying to tell her that he loves her and to tell Ruben too. She just told him to be quiet and not to worry that everything will be taken care of and he will be back home in no time to do all that himself. But the next time he came home, it was not alive.

She saw those two weeks after he died in flashes before she would break down in tears. It started slow. A smile and a single tear as she thought of him. She always thought it would be a reminiscent, fond memory. She proved herself wrong every time. Every day.  A year later and the tears still flow like the streams in which he used to swim when they went camping. The stream became a torrent as her face contorts and the… what was the word he used?… huckles. The huckles was what he used to call them. “Huck, huck, huckle” was the way he used to tease her when she cried freely while watching a romantic comedy. “You know how it’s going to end Mummy” as he rolled his eyes. But she fell for it every time. Now she was huck huck huckling as she stared at the spot in the street outside her window.

She was now slumped in the chair. The big faux leather seater that he hated when she first bought it. She never let him forget how much he hated it when he fell asleep in it. And the endless nights of movies and popcorn where he would not move while working his way through his childhood favourites. She was now rocking back and forth and not a sound came out of her upside down half-moon mouth. Yet the tears came regardless. She shook her head in disbelief. She could not believe that she was still feeling this way, but also that he was not going to walk in the door after his afternoon class.

The doorbell rang.

She missed any car that might have pulled up and quickly checked, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed. But there was nothing. She sprang up and wiped her face with the flats of her hands. It was a far cry from the way he told her to always dab with the ring finger so as not to stretch the delicate skin under the eyes.

It was Ruben.  “Shit”, she said and wiped again. She fanned her face with her hands as she tilted her head back. She pressed her hands to her eyes and she shook her head. She kicked off her shoes behind the door and opened it. His head came into view, revealing itself to her only as fast as she would allow. There he was. In all his smiling handsome glory.  Rob certainly had better taste than she ever did. He held a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine in his hands. They appeared to smile, his hands. They were golden brown and always so soft. Glowing.

“Hi Ruben. Sorry my dear, I just woke up” she said, squinting her eyes from the sunlight that was apparently too much for her.

“Really now?” he said, with that smirk and his head tilted to one side.

When Rob first brought this boy home, she was convinced that he was too smart and cocky for his own good. He would make polite conversation about the weather and he would walk over to her vases or paintings and ask her about them. Where she got them? The history behind them? What it meant to her? “Your friend is quite… inquisitive hey?” she said to him one day. He resented the “friend” excuse and how she couldn’t bring herself to call him by what he actually was.

She let him inside and she sat down. She couldn’t pretend with this one. He and Rob had a bond that was sickening at times. She had to remind herself to be happy for him. But you have your whole life ahead of you to be serious, she would tell him, thinking more about her own failed marriage and early foray into dating and raising a child.

He dropped the flowers into the vase on the coffee table and put the wine down next to it. His hair was now shoulder length, black as ever and still perfect in every way. He took great pride in that hair, she always noted. Rob didn’t care about his own brown locks, cutting them off when it got longer than he could run his fingers through.

“How are you Esther?” he asked as he sat down. She hated that he called her that and not Miss Thomas, or Aunty Esther.

“I’m good my boy” she said, letting out a sigh that indicated otherwise. Her automatic replies had become a problem in her life. “Yes I’m fine” Rob would tease her whenever she would say it to friends and not mean it.

“Ester?” he said, his eyebrows raised, head tilted down.

“Yes?” she asked back.

He shook his head slightly, a hint of a smirk emerging from his mouth.

“What?!” she asked, surprised that he was giving her what she thought was a judgmental stare.

“Ok, that’s it. Up you get. Let’s go” he said grabbing the bottle of wine again. He went over to her and took her gently by the arm.

“What are you doing” she said. “I… I don’t have my… where are we?… Wag” she shouted as her persisted to lead her towards the front door again.

“We are going for a drive” he said as they continued to the door. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror in the foyer and she nearly gasped in shock. She had forgotten that she was wearing eyeliner and mascara when she started crying earlier. The black was smeared from her eyes to her temples in two big streaks on either side. He knew and didn’t say a thing.

“There are wet wipes in the cubby hole” he said as they got in the car.

He pulled out of the driveway and they both looked at the spot where the car hit him a year earlier when he was trying to stop the old lady from being a victim of crime. Ruben visited often after Rob died. It wasn’t easy for her. More so than she could have ever imagined, having buried both her parents and two siblings. She was alone now. There was a huge hole in her heart when she lost Rob. She could almost feel it. A burning whenever she thought of him. Worse than any heartburn she had ever experienced. Ruben would come over and they would have polite conversation, only ever mentioning Rob in passing. Both were scared that bringing him up would mean that they would then have to deal with it all over again.

She watched the world pass her by as Ruben drove, like she had been doing for the past twelve months. Her world came to a standstill and things just seemed to go by as she moved in slow motion. She only wore make up so that people would stop asking her if she was ok. And now she was sitting in the car with Ruben wiping off the make- up and cursing it for wearing it in the first place.

He pulled into the cemetery parking lot.

She knew they were coming here, but nothing ever prepared her for it. They got out of the car and walked over to the old lady selling flowers at the entrance. He bought two big bouquets before the old lady could say “blomme my engel? blomme” and flashing the missing front teeth. He would always laugh and wonder why she would ask him as if she had anything else to sell besides flowers.

They walked together through the entrance with the heavy wall and wrought iron gates. His grave was not too far from the entrance. She wanted only the best headstone for her Robby. Her mouth contorted as they approached the neatly mowed lawn in the well maintained cemetery. Only the best. They stood there looking at the grave. Two bodies looking at the earth with their beloved, with only the silence and the sunlight between them.

“Drink?” he said and held the bottle out to her.

She turned her head to him and his mouth was now in a closed upside down half-moon, eyebrows raised, yet humble. For the first time in a very long time, she saw a sadness in those big brown eyes. She took the bottle and took a sip. She wiped her mouth, not used to drinking from a bottle, and smiled at him. She passed it back to him and he nodded at the bottle, telling her to take another swig. She smiled, shook her head then laughed. She drank again and then gave the bottle back to him. He took it from her as she walked to the tree a few metres away from Robby. She sat with her back towards the tree as she watched his back as he drank. His head tipped back as the sun lit up the white wine.

“I miss his ass” he said after wiping his mouth.

She looked up at him. He laughed and said “he was the only person who was more competitive than me. No one on that track could beat me but him.” She looked at the back of his head as he spoke. He turned around and walked towards her.

“He was the only one that I couldn’t keep up with” he said. The tears in his eyes sparkling in the setting sun. “I would give anything to run after him again” he said as he sat down next to her.

“You know, when I met you, I didn’t really like you that much” she said.

“No shit! I thought you were a bitch” he said. She laughed and grabbed the wine from him.

“I’m glad that you had each other” she said. “I don’t, I mean I didn’t, understand it, what you two had” she said looking at the label on the bottle and back to him. “But I’m really happy he met you.”

“Thank you Esther” he said. “Thank you”

She rested her head on his shoulder as they watched the sun set. The earth and the amber met as the two finished the bottle, one slug at a time. That day there was no more huck huck as they found their peace.

 

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

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Story from the Tracks (Short Story) Part 2

Well, I was 12 years old, she started.  It was the usual Sunday service and I sat in the front row with my grandma and grandpa. It was boring and I was fidgeting with my dress when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. This woman down the pew on the other side of the aisle started nodding her head back and forth. It looked as if she were just agreeing with the pastor and was nodding in agreement. But it was slower and became exaggerated as her head went further back and forth. I tapped my grandpa on the knee, but he just shooed me off and said, without even looking at me, “If you have to go pee just hold it in, it’s almost over” and went back to listening to the sermon. I got agitated as the woman’s head went back and forth, slower and more rigid than before. I was wondering why no one else saw this.

Then I saw that they were all staring straight ahead and had their eyes half way open or completely closed with a hand up as they said “Jeeeesus” or “Prys sy naam”. My breathing got shallow as this woman’s movements became increasingly unpredictable. She was now jerking her head to the side every so often and her eyes rolled back in her head. She was a big woman. Ok, that’s being polite. She was really fat. She wore short heels and she had uncomfortably thick ankles. She wore a long black pleated skirt and white camisole with a white cardigan straining at her huge bosom. She wore a simple beige hat which must have been attached with hair pins as it only moved slightly as she moved. Then out of nowhere she stood up. No, she rose up. Chest first. It was as if she was being pulled up by someone grabbing her by the front of her too-tight cardigan. There she stopped. She just stood there. The people in her vicinity now turned to her and stared. My grandparents were still fixated on the pastor and whatever he was going on about.I tapped him on the knee again, now even more agitated. He was brushing my hand off, but I was relentless. I hit him hard on the leg and he said Eina, really loud in fact, and turned to me. But no one noticed him. Everyone was now staring at the woman in the front row. The pastor leaned in from the pulpit and said in a low voice (even though the church was small enough for everyone to hear him) “Is everything ok, ma’am?”. She did not respond and just stared straight ahead. It was tense as everyone was now watching her. I leaned forward and noticed something strange.

She was still standing with her chest pointed up as if she had been yanked up, with her generous back even curved inward, but she was also on her toes. Not on her toes like a ballerina, but literally on the tips of her toes, just balancing as if it were nothing. She stared straight ahead. The pastor, probably keen to diffuse the tension, stepped down and walked towards her. He touched her elbow and leaned in to say something but she yanked his arm away and snapped her head towards him. She suddenly spoke in some foreign language and in a deep voice. It sounded like gibberish to me. She grabbed him by the arm and he started shouting in pain as she gripped it with force.  The people were also shouting, some ran out, but most stayed probably frozen in fear as I was. He was now on his knees as she stared straight ahead again, still on her tip toes and squeezing his arm. My grandpa rose up, with a determined look on his face and my grandma instinctively shifted up close to me, her Bible clutched tightly in her hand. He walked towards the woman with the pastor still at her feet yelping in pain. The other men in the front rows also stood up. Not a word was said as the four of them stepped towards her. It was as if every bit of communication was done with their eyes. They approached her and just as they were about to grab her arm to get her to release the pastor, she suddenly snapped out of her trance and threw him one side with incredible force.

The people in the church gasped as he now writhed in the corner. The men stepped closer towards her, but she must have felt their presence as they approached. She broke out into a short sprint as she pushed her way through them and ran towards to side exit door. I was aware of a baby crying in the back, but it seemed so far away now. She just made it past me and I felt my body go cold. I was paralyzed as I felt my grandma tighten her grip around my shoulder, saying a prayer under her breath that came out as one word. The younger men ran after her and tackled her to the ground, my grandpa hobbling after. She was face down and writing as they held her down.    She was shouting in the strange foreign language and the men were being jolted as she tried to throw them off. My grandpa reached her and they lifted her up and turned her to face him. He started praying for her and tapped her on the forehead every so often. His eyes were closed and she was moaning as if in pain. She tried to snap at his hands, but almost as if on impulse he just pulled them away, just in time. His praying was at a constant murmur and I could not make out what he was saying. The other three men had fear on their faces as they held her down on her knees. He hit her harder on her head, and each time he did that her head would go back, further than before, and would jerk back looking at him with more anger than before. He was now speaking faster and faster as he hit her harder each time. She started shaking furiously and the men struggled to hang on to her. He tapped her one final time on the forehead as she threw the men off of her and fell back. She collapsed right in front of me and turned her head slowly to the side.

I remember her eyes, they were strange. They were bloodshot and bulging, but the white part was a dirty green. Her hat, long gone, could no longer hide her hair which was now a mess, like wild fingers pointing everywhere. Her back arched up again one final time as my grandpa walked slowly towards her again and said, this time with more volume and force “DEVIL BE GONE”. Her face writhed in pain and she turned to me again and smiled, the eyes as crazy as before. Then it was as if she deflated. Not only did her back even out, but she also exhaled the deepest and longest breath I had ever seen. There was a long groaning sound as she let out that breath. My grandma continued praying for a few minutes after as my grandpa sat down next to me again, bending forward, his head lowered, exhausted.

We were all staring at Stacey with mouths agape. Even Grant. “I think I’m going to call my dad and check if he is ok”, I said. “I hope he got his train in time”. But as I took out my cellphone, I saw it. Or him. A little boy standing on the tracks with his dog. Scrawny and pale in tattered shorts. I tried screaming but I couldn’t bring myself to. He was in the distance, but I could make out with the trains headlights approaching. Everyone in the train was either deep in thought, or asleep. But the driver was not sounding the horn either. The boy took a step forward and as the train moved towards him he jumped up and dissipated into smoke when he hit the glass.

All I saw was a blank grey face and the matted hair as I felt a cold feeling come over me.

 

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

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Story from the Tracks (Short Story) Part 1

Hello Floor Jawers! I thought I would publish my first  published short  story here. It appeared in issue of Jungle Jim magazine  in 2011http://www.junglejim.org/?p=391

This is the first of two parts. Enjoy!

Story from the tracks

“Dad, wait!” I screamed running after him. He turned around, hardly seeing me as I ran towards him. “You took my bag this morning?” I asked angrily. “I nearly missed this train” He had been battling with the flu, but it was no excuse to mess up like that. He just looked at me lazily with heavy bloodshot eyes and sniffed. I gave him his bag and ran past him with the rest of the night shift crowd up the huge concrete staircase to the platform.

We were the new South African dream. At least that is what the government made it out to be. It formed part of the new plan to revive the economy. A twenty four hour work force; everyone who applies for a job will get one. We were a part of the new night shift. No longer the realm of just security guards and party goers, we took the train at about 7pm and headed to the city centre, ready to complete a shift.

It was paying off though. The new trains, with an upstairs level were of a European standard and were clean and efficient. However, true to form, they were as segregated as ever with a second class being implemented for those who could not afford the first class and were too lofty for the paltry third class.

This still did not account for the fact that I was a 28 year old man still saving up for his own place and living with his parents. Dad and I took the taxi together to the train station and then the long ride to our place of work; he, the manager at a small export company; me, a junior manager at a delivery company.

I made it to the front of the train and ran up the short staircase to the upper level to the four-seat compartment at the front. We sat in the same seat every night like school children on a bus. I got there just in time. There was Stacey, Nobz and Grant. My “train friends” as I secretly called them. We had met on this boring journey and had become closer as the rides seemed to become longer. Nobz was facing the front of the train and sat at the window looking down at the world. I sat next to her on the aisle, with a bird’s eye view of the train cutting into the night air as it forged its way forward. Stacey usually sat next to me and I would find a reason to look over at her as she spoke. Or I would look out of the window at the “scenery”, and just stare at her. I always wondered why she never just asked me to swap seats. But today that smug son of a bitch was sitting next to my girl. He had his leg crossed over and his hand trying to force its way past her shoulder. Stacey was too nice to turn him down, but was clearly uncomfortable. Her face lit up as she saw me, his did not. Nobz was laid back as usual.

The sky was rapidly darkening and turned a murky grey as it engulfed the amber sun. “Are you OK?” said Stacey as I settled into my seat, still slightly out of breath. “Where were you? And where is your dad?” she asked as I usually arrived with him as we all met at the platform to board. “He missed this one. He will get the next one though”, I said, trying not to show that I was too upset. I flopped down and was soon coddled by the gentle rumbling of the train. No one said anything at first.

The train continued, relentless. We went past the usual “non-scenery” as we called it; the under belly of the country. Stations piled with rubbish and rubble, industrial areas, electrical distribution centres, factories, spaza shops, huge lots of abandoned cars. We went past a “Sleeperworld” used car lot. I could make out brown cars and brown people using welding irons taking the rusted cars apart. I just saw the figures coming to life as the bright spark of light shot up every so often melting the chunks of metal. There was a fat white man shouting orders at them. Some things never change. I smiled at the name, Sleeperworld. That was like us, riding into the night as the rest of the world slept.

“I’m just so sick of his shit”, I suddenly said. The others startled. Grant had given up trying to make small talk but had forgotten to take his hand down from next to Stacey’s shoulder so it was in an awkward bent shape like he was stretching. “What? Who are you talking about?” she said, leaning forward looking genuinely concerned. “My dad”, I said. He is such an asshole. “Hau”, said Nobz now paying attention. “That’s your father you are talking about”, she said in her deep voice. “Have some respect”, she added. “I do”, I said.  “I try, but he treats me like I’m a 5 year old. I hate living at home. I hate it!”, I said. “Ah come on”, said Stacey. “It can’t be that bad. I mean we all still live at home. It’s just a matter of time until we save enough and fly the coop, she said with that sweet smile of hers”. I looked at her and wondered when I would build up the nerve to ask her out.

“I just think it would be easier if he was dead, then I wouldn’t have anyone to explain myself to”, I said, realising too late how childish and dramatic I sounded. Stacey’s mouth dropped slightly before she quickly closed it. She looked down at her hands. Grant just smiled smugly and looked away. No one knew what to say. A few minutes went by as the world outside grew darker. “Oh come on, you don’t mean that”, said Stacey pleadingly. I said nothing. I looked past Nobz at the world silently drifting by outside.

“In my culture, we respect our elders”, said Nobz. “You Coloureds have no culture”, she said, her head still facing the window and now slightly turned towards us. “You must be careful when you say such stuff. Have you heard about the train people?”, she asked us. “Oh God!” said Grant, rolling his eyes. “My dear Nobuhle, we are not interested in your township tales. What next? You going to tell me to step off the train backwards so I don’t take the spirits with me?”, he said as he chuckled to himself.  “That’s only after twelve o clock at night when entering your house, you idiot”, said Stacey. He looked at her surprised. “According to the folk stories my parents told me growing up”, said Nobz, not concerned with the bickering, “the train people used to live on the tracks. They were a family who lived under the bridge and would collect scrap to recycle. Then while playing with their dog, the little boy ran into the path of an oncoming train and was killed. According to the legend, if you see a little boy at night, it means that someone close to you is going to die, so watch what you say wena”, she said rather abruptly looking me square in the eye. I just looked down. Feeling a little awkward, and really guilty, I asked, “Do you guys believe in that stuff?”.   “I do”, said Stacey. “You have a ghost story?”, asked Grant, back to his smug ways.

“Well, I don’t know if it counts as a ghost story…” she started.  “Oh go on”, Grant interrupted her. “Just give it to us. Scare us shitless”, he said as he looked at us all with that crooked smile and raised eyebrow. She gave him a side glance, extremely irritated, but continued anyway.

 

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

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