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Colleen Higgs

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Archive for the ‘LBF 2010’ Category

Are you warm enough?

Just for fun and to cheer myself up from an acute case of ‘Not the London Book Fair Blues’, I thought I would post this story that was accepted for Urban 04 (Dave Chislett’s publication, which had to get shelved, due to lack of funding) and then was published in New Contrast. I can’t find my printed copy of NC, so can’t accurately give the volume and date, but it was either late in 2009 or early 2010.

Are you warm enough?

Do you remember that weird time in about ’92? Before the elections. There was a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway you must remember my friend, Ruth – I bet you never heard that she had an affair with my brother, Grant? Ja, it wasn’t for that long, a couple of months at most. Anyway it was when he was a clown in a play at the Market Theatre, did you ever see it? So he got really trashed on something, white pipes, I don’t even know, I was never that au fait with all the options. Ja, apparently he couldn’t sleep for two weeks and he disappeared with the clown suit. No one knew where he was. Later we heard he’d been painting garden furniture at a friend’s parents’ place somewhere out at Fourways or Lanseria, and talking about becoming a tennis coach. He even spoke of getting an Arthur Ashe tennis racquet. Ruth was the only one who spoke to him while he was lost. And she believed him, she believed all the tennis coach stuff and she encouraged him. He sounded so convincing. Passionate, knowledgeable – you remember what he was like? I would have laughed at him if he’d told me that tennis coach shit. Except I would probably have cried instead.

So they had to cancel the play because there was no understudy and no extra costumes. It was some kind of improv play that had been his idea in the first place. Ag shame man, Grant’s name was mud with those okes, as you can imagine, for years, not just months. Some of the other actors in that play went on to star in big shot TV series like the one about Barney Barnato and Isidingo even. Grant was a brilliant actor when he wasn’t drugging, I always felt sad for him, he could have also been famous and that.

So anyway after the whole clown fiasco, Grant spent a couple of years on the streets, in Yeoville and then in Cape Town. I even heard from someone that he tried to score free Kentucky from one of his army mates who worked at KFC head office. He phoned the oke from a tickey box. Remember how there used to be tickey boxes hey? The oke pretended he didn’t know Grant, how blind is that? Even my Mom didn’t hear from him for at least a year.

Poor Ruth was a bit in love with him for a while; he was so sweet and fucked up, and he played the guitar and sang to her and made romantic gestures with flowers. He rode a motorbike, nothing fancy, just a Honda 250 or something like that, and he had this amazing World War 2 jacket he’d got from my grandpa. My grandpa was in Monty’s army in North Africa. Grant wore it all the time, it was the Real McCoy, he always had a soft spot for family memorabilia. And old Grant, he knew how to spin a line hey. The gift of the gab, my Gran used to say. When he was a kid all his teachers loved him, even though he was a cheeky little bugger.

Ruth had just broken up with Nathan when she got involved with Grant. Nathan was one of those single-minded okes, funny and bright, quick witted. Sports-mad. Ag in the end it had all got too intense for her with him. She began to wonder if the main reason he was with her was because her father was a famous political lawyer and he was hoping it would rub off on him. Ja, anyway, the next thing was, Nathan and I started sleeping together. I can’t even remember how it happened. It was like comfort eating. Suddenly you wake up and you smell the roses, or should I say doughnuts. One day it seemed like – there he was, I woke up and there he was, Nathan was in my bed. I remember some uptight friend of mine saying at the time that my bed was like a railway station. She really cheesed me off. Why is it better to only ever have slept with one or two men? Can you tell me? Look, I was being kind to Nathan. He was very cut up about Ruth. When we were alone he was sweet like some dogs are, you know golden retrievers, sort of soppy and well meaning. I couldn’t bear to see how sad he was, and I wasn’t involved with anyone else. And he and Ruth had broken up. So it wasn’t completely wrong?

Anyhow when Nathan heard about Grant and Ruth, he was over to Ruth’s like a shot. I was the kiepie who told him. Fuck, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. So Grant and Ruth and Nathan had one of those B-movie scenes, only it happened in Muller Street. Grant climbed out of Ruth’s bedroom window onto the balcony, he was in his underpants and he sat there while Ruth and Nathan argued with each other in the lounge. Ruth didn’t really want Nathan to know that she and Grant were kafoofling in the middle of the day. I suppose she didn’t really want Nathan to know about Grant at all. That is the thing I feel the most shit about, even now, when I think back. I mean Ruth was my friend. Ja, so Nathan didn’t know Grant was right there. Luckily Grant was stoned enough to be fairly cool about sitting outside on the balcony half naked. They fought for so long he even fell asleep out there, or so he told me.

Grant lived in a flat at the bottom end of Dunbar Street. You didn’t ever see his flat did you? I only went there a couple of times. And the one time I visited him there he’d filled his whole flat with branches he’d brought in from when the Council pruned the plane trees in his road. He was so mal, hey. Bos bevok. He didn’t want to leave them there to die in the street like rubbish, he said. His place spaced me out, completely. Apart from the branches, which was enough to push me over the edge, his flat was dirty and I mean vuil, hey. Dishes and pizza boxes and crusty pots rotting all over the place and I’m not exaggerating. Stompies and bottlenecks – not even in ashtrays. The oke was living like an animal. I was glad my old lady couldn’t see how he was living, she would have turned in her grave. Well she isn’t dead yet, but you know what I mean. No furniture apart from the mattress and sheets and blankets so filthy you couldn’t tell what colour they were originally. It was worse than bergies, and that’s saying something. I couldn’t stop myself from tuning him, “Sies man Grant, how can you live like this? Are you a dog?” But you know what? Not even dogs, not even pigs live like that.

Old Grant was always such a joker, so full of life and laughs, I felt like a dried up old prune around him, even when we were kids. He could always make you hose yourself. But I’m sorry that flat was the end for me. Something inside me tightened. It scared me. I don’t think Ruth ever went there, she would have run a mile. Grant used to visit her in his leather jacket, somehow emerging from that bloody pig stye cleaned up enough for a person like Ruth to be cool with. No you’ve got to hand it to the oke, he’s pulled off some tricks in his day and getting involved with Ruth was one of those occasions – big time.

In any case, Ruth and I were never close again. I suppose she didn’t trust me after all of that shit went down. I still think about her sometimes, miss her even, but in the end there was too much water under the bridge. Nathan, the dweezil, told Ruth about his ‘fling’ with me as a way of tuning her for Grant. Yessis we were all so dof. Look it didn’t help him, Ruth never forgave him for that, nor me. Things between Grant and Ruth also cooled off, she lost interest, she was too cut up about everything. Grant was pretty freaked too; he really dug Ruth. She was older than him, and she was very mooi and soft and they’d had this lekker playful thing going between them. She was probably the classiest chick he’d ever got near.

*******

I remember this one night, we were all at Dawson’s. It was before Ruth and Nathan split up, she and I were still friends and somehow Grant came along for the ride that night. He used to pitch up at my place when he wanted something to eat and he couldn’t come up with a better plan. One time when he couldn’t find me he ate loquats from one of those big gardens in Jan Smuts near the Zoo, where the trees hang over onto the pavement. Anyway I think that was when they met, Grant and Ruth. The Radio Rats were making a comeback and Dawson’s was cooking. People like James Phillips and Johannes Kerkorrel showed up. Definitely the best jorl in Joburg that night. We all danced like mal, even Nathan, who wasn’t really a dancer. His heart wasn’t in it, but that night he was jiving with the best of us. That journalist who got shot a few months later in Katlehong was there too. Everybody was at Dawsons, even the short drug dealer who always wore that mustard-yellow felt homburg. When I think about it now, it was like we were celebrating the end of something terrible that we’d lived through our whole lives. It was like the war was over and who the fuck knew what would happen next?

******

After everything cooled down between the four of us, Nathan and I still slept together sometimes. He would drive past my flat, down Kenmere Road on his way home. He lived up in those larney flats behind the water tower. If my lights were on he’d phone from his place. It was before cell phones.

The conversation would go something like this,

“Howzit. Are you there?”

“Ja.”

“What’re you doing?”

“Reading.”

“Are you warm enough?”

“Almost.”

A few minutes later he’d be there, smiling and as pleased as all hell with himself, at my door. We would usually fuck and then curl up and sleep tightly wrapped together. Those nights with Nathan were quite lekker, a bit less lonely, you know. The mornings were sometimes a bit awkward. Deep down I knew I wanted more than a bit on the side here and there. One night I said “Ja, I am,” when he asked, “Are you warm enough?” and then he didn’t call again. Just like that. Can you believe it?

The next time I bumped into him he was dropping a video into the slot at that shop in Parktown North with his four-year-old daughter. I was living down the road in Blairgowrie. Married and everything. But that’s another story. She was only cute hey, his daughter, big blue eyes and wild, curly blonde hair. I couldn’t believe it, almost. If I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes. Somehow I’d never pictured any of us jollers with kids and all of that. He was a hotshot corporate lawyer about to emigrate to Canada.

I haven’t seen Ruth for years. Sometimes I hear about her, what she’s doing from mutual friends. The weird thing is that she also lives in Canada. She makes really short documentary films. I don’t know if she ever got married or anything.

Grant opened up a video shop in Mossel Bay with his wife, Jeannie. I don’t know where he met her, I’m too scared to ask. How she tamed him, your guess is as good as mine. But the life down there suits him (rather him than me – hey?) He fishes and surfs quite a bit. Drinks every night. But not too much. They take it in turns at the shop. He fetches and carries the kids, they’ve got two beautiful little girls and can you believe it – he designs websites in his spare time as a sort of a cross between a hobby and a job. He was always someone who was going to be able to reinvent himself. It’s not a bad life. Oh and he also has a fucking conspiracy theory blog, most of which he makes up himself.

Anyway I better dash. You look great, next time you must tell me all about where you’ve been.


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