Anne Woodborne

Autumn numbs the plumb line
of reaping the stillness, the lingering
end of dusty cobwebs, musty with staleness.
The gusty south-easter blows
about the blotted spots of Jackson Pollock.
Thinking about the new leaves of flower-dotted hills
keeps winter’s sleep wilting into wakefulness.
I feel a fresh newness, a clean sweep to
spring- a tring of a bell, the note of hope,
of expectant, searing reason, groping for
day prayers as they stray unbidden.
First on my list is to listen.

Anne Woodborne

Struck by lightning

Dusk settles like the wings of a moth. His face is taut in the blue glare of the TV. I sit a cup down on the side table and say in placatory, soothing tones, ‘I made a nice cup of tea for you.’ He turns towards me, eyes alight with anger. ‘Why don’t you have a nice cup of arsenic?’

For a minute I think this is a joke. A joke of the vulgar, music-hall variety – give her arse-a-nick. But then I see the relentless stare, he is on the rampage tonight. He has another song-and-dance routine in mind.
As if on cue, a jagged forked tongue of lightning flashes into the sea. I feel the destructive intent behind his words; he sucks on his cigarette, the tip glows red, acrid smoke pours from his nostrils. The message is clear; annihilate yourself.

‘What have I done?’ my voice shakes, I stammer, my lungs hold my breath prisoner.
‘You know what you did.’  I think frantically. I wasn’t here when he got home from work? I can’t pay all the bills, money is short? Just my presence irritates him? His anger is corrosive, it burns into my brain, sears my nerves. My heart begins its nervous pumping.

‘You,’ he leans closer, jabbing a forefinger in my face, ‘tried to get off with poes face – whatsisname? You tried to seduce him.’

What? I blanch. I did what? Now my brain is jelly. His eyes leer at me with cunning smug satisfaction. They promise hours of goading.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’  Thunder drowns my words.
‘What? Don’t mumble,’ he shouts. ‘I can’t hear you.’
‘I haven’t done anything.’ I raise my voice a decibel.
‘You wrote a poem,’ he says savagely. ‘I read it in your diary.’

The penny drops. Poes face is the kind neighbour who helped me when my car broke down. I curse my compulsive need to write, to record things.
‘You have no right to read my diary.’  He bats my feeble protest away as if it were a gnat. ‘You have no right to write a poem to another man. ‘Undone by kindness’– stupid fucking title, by the way.’

‘You’re being ridiculous,’ I say. ‘The man was kind, he helped me get my car started. He patted my arm and told me not to worry.’ Not like you, I think, you would have blown a gasket.
‘I wrote a poem, that’s all. Hardly seduction. He never saw it. Just a kind man.’
‘And I’m not kind? Never the helpful husband?’ His lips tighten into a hatchet line.
‘Not always.’ I manage to say the words.
I can’t tell him the stranger’s kindness was like a sudden beam of sunshine in an otherwise stormy existence. A reassuring antidote to permanent anxiety. I always feel jittery, act guilty under his suspicious scrutiny.

‘Ungrateful bitch. Next time you want to write a ‘poem’, he spits out the word as if it has the taste of poison, ‘to a kind man, be sure to drink a cup of arsenic first.’
I swallow bile as it rises in my throat. His words strike lightning fear into my heart. Thunder rumbles, echoes against the mountain above the sea.

Anne Woodborne

Evening falls on the Al-haktu oasis in the middle of the desert. A green alien with long antennae stands there, chewing the cud dejectedly. It stands on stick legs, wavering as its antennae twitch a handful of clicks and blips into the still air. ‘Where the kcuf am I?’ This universal expression of bewilderment exists as far afield as Verdigris Vertigo in the outer galaxy of Veridian from which our little alien hails.

Its antennae absorb the hot, dry feel of the desert and it grows ever more despondent. Its solitary eye scans the surroundings with 360° mathematical precision. The images are relayed to its perpetual motion mind machine – dry, gold sand dunes, blue fading to grey sky. The few leaves and grasses around the waterhole are green but in too small a quantity to sustain the lives of fellow Vertigians.Its inner mincers chew the remnants of its last meal back on Verdigris Vertigo –green filigree fillips – it has to maintain its mind machine’s output. The green juices send Omega threes and sixes to oil the myriad cogs, wheels and pistons and fire up the synapses of its think tank.

After some deliberation, its antennae jerk into action and fire off a series of beep-beep-blips through the stratosphere, into the ether. ‘Calling all Vertigians. Mission impossible. Destination error. Situation code black. Send new wormhole ASAP. Repeat ASAP to the source of this signal. BEAM ME BACK EITTOCS.’

The antennae stop relaying their fractured signals, the solitary eye waits, its lid half-mast, the inner munchkin-mincers still their grinding. Our little green alien waits on wafer-thin struts. As the evening darkens, its solitary eye notes the bone white of the round moon with deep cynicism – not even that is green. Whose supreme error of calculation was this? Eittocs? Then, after hours of contemplation, it senses a faint ripple in the atmosphere, a barely discernible movement of atoms but the solitary eye jerks open, the antennae begin to quiver. A portal is descending on the Al-haktu oasis. Alien hops, jumps, emits squeals and squeaks from its antennae. The whirling portal reaches the little creature, sucks it into its spiral, bleeps, then zip,zap,zing, our little alien whips through a timeless fast track back to Verdigris Vertigo, safe and sound, leaving a set of small blimp prints in the sand to confuse weary travellers at the Al-haktu oasis.

Anne Woodborne

Earth Time

Long ago, Pueblo Indians crouching
on the rocky slopes of Chaco Canyon ,
charted the silent sun and moon passing
overhead; cut slits in rocks where light shone
like daggers, marking seasons, solstices,
equinoxes; they built temples to
mirror angles of heavenly bodies
with the earth as they traversed to and fro.
So do I measure the passage of time,
most precious commodity of the old,
with digital clock and musical chime.
Too fast flows the contemporary world,
I am trapped in my calendar of days.
Only God metes time in mystical ways.

Anne Woodborne

My Mountain Faces

I watch the passage of the sun and moon-face
with stony eyes set in my implacable face.

Long ago, fire and fumes belched from my open maw,
my molten self erupted to free my dragon face.

Now, in my mountain steadfastness there is a core
that can never be eroded; a granite face.

My careful mountain goat picks its surefooted way,
then bursts over a waterfall with exuberant face.

In joyful playfulness, I gurgle over river beds,
ephemeral morning mists soften my craggy face.

White cloud pom-poms dance from peak to pinnacle,
a haphazard waltz to celebrate my frivolous face.

The rising sun warms my ancient crone-stones,
stains in slow saffron blushes my silhouette face.

The south wind feeds the inferno with burning breath,
Anne is the creeping snake fleeing the wildfire’s face.

Anne Woodborne

The Yellow Teddy-Bear

The pulsating racket draws Ellen from the shelter of her home. This
throbbing, pounding noise. She stands at the entrance to the Fairground, with its Ferris wheels, merry-go- rounds, beer tents, stalls, throngs of people. The smell of braising onions, sausages, hot chips, reaches her nostrils. Her stomach growls unexpectedly. A man tears a ticket, says, ‘That will be ten rand.’ She stares up at him myopically, adjusting the angle of her trifocals. She squeaks, ‘Do you give discounts to old-age –pensioners?’ He shakes his head. ‘Oh, well,’ she grumbles. She scratches in her bag for her purse. Her fingers are all thumbs, she can’t see clearly. ‘Let me, Lady,’ the ticket dispenser is impatient, there’s a queue behind Ellen. ‘Oh, but,’ she protests. He extracts two coins from her purse and waves her on.

Ellen pauses and leans heavily on her cane, clutching her bag close to her chest, under her heart. The letter’s in there, the one from David in Adelaide. He writes that her granddaughter is going to have a baby. A baby? Her granddaughter was little more than a baby when she left this country with her parents twenty years ago. The news has filled her with joy, short-lived, then with sorrow. She doubts she will ever see this great-grandchild. ‘Excuse me,’ she whispers to passers-by. ‘Can you help me?’  They rush past. Is she invisible?

She takes a few steps here, a few steps there, blinded by the brilliant lights, deafened by the cacophony. She becomes aware she has a shadow. She turns. Who is this person with the white painted face, the sad clown’s eyes, peaked eyebrows, red bow lips? He mimics her limp, her dormouse stare, an imaginary bag clutched to his chest. She moves. He follows. She turns to stare at him. He looks behind him. ‘What do you want?’ she quavers. He removes his cap, holds it humbly in front of him, clown eyes beseeching. ‘No,’ she folds both arms over her bag. ‘I – you can’t – I don’t have any.’ He droops, shrugs.

In front of her, a stall with numbered prizes. She sees a large yellow teddy- bear with button eyes, expectant stitched smile and a tartan ribbon round his neck. His arms stretch wide as if to say – come get me. The soft yellow fur would be ideal for a baby to hug, to take to bed. ‘Oh,’ she cries, ‘can I try?’  ‘Hoopla,’ the stallholder bellows. ‘Try your luck. Throw a ring, win a prize. 50c.’

Ellen fumbles. ‘Here, lady,’ the man says, reaching for her purse. ‘Oh, drat,’ she says. ‘How – what do I . . .’  ‘Take this ring,’ he thrusts a rubber ring into her shaking fingers. ‘See these hooks?’ he gestures behind him. ‘Aim for the number you need.’ She veers her eyes to the teddy bear. No.6. She finds the hook with no.6 above it. She steadies herself against the counter, tries to focus. Do I throw overhand or underhand? she wonders. She swings wildly. The ring shoots sideways, clipping the stallholder on the head. He swears. A group of children jeer loudly. ‘Kyk die ouma –sy gooi mis.’ Ellen shrinks. ‘May I?’ A smooth voice in her ear. She turns to see a dark –skinned man reach out his hand for the ring. His teeth shine white. ‘Let me. No.6?’ She nods, transfixed. Where does this stranger come from? Nigeria? DRC? He has exquisite manners. The ring sails through the air, falls on the hook. The yellow bear is safe in Ellen’s arms. ‘Thank you –how kind.’ He bows, vanishes into the crowd.

Ellen meanders contentedly towards the exit. She will send this to her great-grandchild. But how will she package its bulk? And the cost? Nothing is straightforward. A couple, walking nearby, stop in mid-tracks. Ellen hears a moaning gasp from the woman as she clutches her bulging stomach under a tent dress. She and the man look down at her wide-spread legs, at the water gushing into a puddle. The woman cries in distress. ‘My water’s broken. Pete, get me to the hospital.’

Peter dials a number. ‘Don’t panic- just breathe. Victoria Hospital’s a minute away.’ Into the phone. ‘My wife’s in labour. Send an ambulance to Maynardville immediately.’ Ellen hovers, her heart beating. A crowd gathers to witness this drama. Ellen remembers her own labour, long ago. Oh, the agony and the ecstasy. An ambulance rolls through the gates, red light flashing. Paramedics lower a stretcher, push through the crowd. The woman lies down, moaning, her eyes wide with fear. Ellen surfaces from the past, approaches her, holding out the yellow teddy-bear. ‘Here, lovey,’ she says, ‘take this for your baby, it will bring you luck. ’ The woman’s eyes beam gratitude, despite her pain. She disappears into the back of the ambulance. Doors shut. Ellen watches the ambulance drive away, then turns her back on the Fairground. She has a box of baby patterns at home somewhere. She can still knit – something small perhaps? Bootees, bonnets, bibs. Did babies still wear them? Yes.

Anne Woodborne

When he drank his first glass of whiskey, and the amber liquid swirled down his throat, he felt such a state of expansive well-being, for once free of anxiety, he had to prolong that glow. He drank another, then another and many more. In those reckless moments of spontaneous mutation, his future was cast in stone as surely as if his feet had been set in cement shoes by the Alcoholic Mafia and he was thrown into a swift-moving river. Some might call it a Mystic River but most thought of it as a Mystifying River, a wayward current that never failed to stupefy and obfuscate.

This mutation occurred at the end of an unpredictable autumn when flurries and squalls of an insurgent wind blasted dying leaves, like hopes, from trees. The fall from grace precipitated a winter so bleak, so extreme that his previous existence seemed to have been a perpetual summer. His winter of discontent resembled a synoptic weather chart of the North Atlantic, characterized by a never-ending series of cold fronts, swirls of depression and lots of cloud cover. His winter storms rivalled the gaseous red-eye eruptions on Jupiter in their sustained fury. If he had known the magical elixir would throw him into such a dense black hole, would he ever have  started?

Conversation # 869
She said: Take your bed to the pub and sleep there. Then you won’t have to drive home drunk.
He said: You drive me to drink. You and your expectations.
She said: This is outrageous. Our expectations are no more than the average family.
He said: You think you can do better? Go and earn the money. See what it’s like out there.
She said: We agreed when the children were born that you would be the breadwinner, I would be a stay-at-home mom. Now you want to renege?
He said: I have to entertain clients. If you don’t like it, earn the money.
She said: I don’t have your earning power. I will never have your earning capacity.
He said: Then shut up and let me do my job.

Tuesday 5 September 1987
Shock, terror. Can’t think. Rats scurry in my brain.  How’d he get so crazy? Mikey said Dad school fees are due tomorrow. Screaming frenzy. Stormed out. Revved car. Squealing tyres down road.  What now? Sat in the dark waiting, shaking. He came home 2am. Evil face. Garbled garbage. Police laid charges of assault against him. Fought drunk monsters. He loves my fear. Stokes it. Gloats. I’m in deep trouble, he says. Later, phoned H.S. at William Slater in panic. He says I’m between devil and deep blue sea. Tell me something I don’t know. H.S. says could be onset of paranoia, could have him committed. God! Somebody? Can I go now? Can I be excused from this life?

As a righteous manifesto, her journal was an accurate rendition. Every drunken incident, every crisis and misdemeanour was recorded in meticulous detail. A predictable pattern emerged of his growing dependence on alcohol and her corresponding slide into despair and loneliness. As she often wrote in her black, ring-bound book – ‘I am a close friend of mental anguish’.

The hidden picture wasn’t recorded – the shadowy graph of two people growing apart then coming together again, of two characters being tempered in the fire, stronger because of an addiction that seemed so mind-blowingly meaningless. He discovered his true self, the man who didn’t need alcohol to numb fear; she learnt there was freedom in relinquishing control, then came the gift of compassion as she witnessed his physical and moral disintegration and subsequent recovery.

Anne Woodborne

Incantation

Don’t think, don’t speak, don’t feel.
Panic pushes, fear rushes,
don’t think, down the wormhole
of hidden truths, unspoken things.
Stifled screams, dragon wings.
Don’t think, don’t speak, don’t feel,
past the battened hatches
into dungeon dark, hidden things
from my desiccated past.
Husks of moths, skeleton leaves,
petals of paper and whispering wings.
a musty fragrance, weakened bars,
a breath of air and a strangled gasp.
I cry out loud at their fragile state,
they exist, my forgotten selves of
don’t think, don’t speak, don’t feel.
Up they rise from twisted pits,
tremulous, nebulous deadened cries
choked to death in my throat’s demise.
Behind battered heart and shuttered eyes,
shadows, buried images ghostly dreams of
don’t think, don’t speak, don’t feel.

Anne Woodborne

the iron soil shimmers in the heat/ ystergrond sidder in die hitte
a waterladder to the stars / waterleer na die sterre
the diamonds shatter / diamante spat tepletter
the smell of the womb / die reuk van die baar
Mikki van Zyl

Back to the Womb

Arrow to the light,
streaming to the taut surface
of my writing dam.
I become lost in urban mazes
and beyond, where derelict cows
wander, ridged and ribbed,
the iron soil shimmers in the heat.
Ystergrond sidder in die hitte.

Heat shivers into blinding drops
of tears; the bereft weep
for the barren, iron soil.
Deepening sky closets itself into night.
Teardrops, falling, shifting, shape
a waterladder to the stars.
Waterleer na die sterre.

Stars, diamond- bright,
flash their brilliance,
morse-codes of stories,
more numerous than Scheherezade’s.
I am dizzy from story- telling
when the diamonds shatter.
Diamante spat tepletter.

Shattered, blinded by stars,
I wake in a throbbing red cave,
my arms and legs entwined
in a foetal dream; my heart
throbs in unison with mother,
alone in her fruitful belly,
in the smell of the womb.
Die reuk van die baar.

 

Anne Woodborne

Deeper than I think

Deeper than I think,
I fall through layers of self,
through the back door of busy mind,
the perpetual motion machine.
I land in an unknown place
where deep silence
and the vastness of being waits.
I have escaped the chattering monkey mind.
Here in the graveyard of self,
rudderless, I write, falling
deeper than I think.
In an ocean of consciousness
with pen in hand, I escape
the tentacles of cliché,
waiting for my muse.

Waiting for my muse,
I escape the tentacles of cliché
with pen in hand
in an ocean of consciousness.
Deeper than I think,
rudderless, I write, falling
here in the graveyard of self.
I have escaped the chattering monkey mind.
The vastness of being waits
and deep stillness.
I land in an unknown place
through the back door of busy mind,
the perpetual motion machine.
I fall through layers of self,
deeper than I think.

Anne Woodborne

The big heart

Love and imagination mingle,
coupled in the big heart
of a writer’s soul, a lover’s soul.
Seeds sprout,shoot – threads intertwine,

coupled in the big heart,
reeling in ideas and images.
Seeds sprout,shoot – threads intertwine,
trapped in cracks of uncertainty,

reeling in ideas and images
quickly, before fear pounces.
Trapped in cracks of uncertainty,
timid, fearful, I venture beyond

quickly, before fear pounces,
before my seeds wither and fade.
Timid, fearful, I venture beyond
where love and imagination mingle.

Anne Woodborne

A music barely heard

A flute shivers on a vibrato note,
suspended by a music hardly heard-
I reach for shadows and bruises from the past,
they slip through my fingers, barely grasped.
Passion once ignited by electric shock,
sizzled in the violet heart of a flame.
Arrow wings of birds beating above
trip sensations down my spine.
Your image, a fading, receding blur,
smudged behind a closed eyelid –
a tinkling confusion of lost melodies,
a music barely heard.

Amne Woodborne

Kol Nidrei – a moment

He carried his cello onto the stage,
settled himself and began to play;
a deep, rich sound sang
from the belly of the cello
the Jewish prayer for the dead,
rising, falling in phrases of mournful beauty,
full of yearning for all who have gone-
the orchestra followed softly.
Strange – a gentile boy playing Kaddish-
a gentle, gentile boy singing to the dead,
drawing mellow sadness from his cello strings,
singing instead of an old Rabbi.
The last note died into a silence
followed by a hush. Someone said,
‘He has an old soul.’

Anne Woodborne

Nightfall – a villanelle

The indigo sea of the night
lulls the pale, shell moon into view,
smears dreamy beauty on my sight.                                                                       

Owlsong, death knell of scuttlers, frights                         
from tiny feathered throats anew
in the indigo sea of the night.

Dark fingers chase the dying light,
wounded by stars’ sparkling dew,
smear dreamy beauty on my sight.

Clamours hammer on eardrum tight,
whispers of absent friends I knew
in the indigo sea of the night.

When morbid fears are in full flight,
night’s dark charms hold a secret hue,
smears dreamy beauty on my sight.

Gold rays spike, omens of last rites,
Eternal mystery’s tender cue
in the indigo sea of the night,
smears dreamy beauty on my sight.
 

Anne Woodborne

Searching in a Nightmare

In the early hours of dawn, I find myself standing in a meadow. There is a breathless hush, a waiting. The world is crisp, clear, its colours pearly pale. I run my fingers over the rough bark of a spreading giant oak tree and smell the newness of clusters of bright green leaves. I stride through grass heavy and wet with dew, stride through carpets of tiny white daisies and wild crocuses. At the far end of the meadow stands the house. Red-bricked, double-storied, shuttered windows. The closed- in look of the house pulls me. I move with speed through knee – deep meadow plants, feel blue iris heads swing back against my legs. I skirt round the front of the house to the back that leans into the woods.

A wooden door with cracked green paint yawns open. I step into the kitchen. It is dim, dirty; cobwebs hang from an old chimneybreast, which has been opened for an old stove to fit in. A round table stands beneath a bare,swinging light bulb. My family waits for me around this table; they stare at me in silence. This was our house, we lived here once.

‘This house needs work.’ I say to my family. ‘You must help me fix it.’ Especially the kitchen, it is so dark, dingy and run down. They look at me in silence.

I remember something. There is something in this house I desperately need but I don’t know what it is. I look around me. Whatever it is, it is not in the kitchen.

I move into the hallway. A large mural painted on the wall immediately catches my attention. It glows as if it lit from within. A rural scene peopled with country folk busy with village activities. The mural is dense with little figures. The scene is rendered in rich, jewel colours. As I watch, the figures come to life -they run, talk, laugh, sing and dance. It is a celebration of some kind. I hear their tiny little voices like distant bells. I am spellbound. Part of me wants to blend with them in their happy, productive little lives, but I stay in the wings, in the gloom, watching, always the observer. I watch their antics until, as suddenly as they came to life, they freeze back into position.

Behind me, a stairway goes up to a landing. The sun shines brightly through a stained glass window on this landing. The something I seek is up those stairs. As soon as that thought enters my mind, a male figure materializes on the bottom step. He is tall and strong, dressed in tight fitting T-shirt and trousers. He stands with his legs apart, his arms akimbo, his bald head gleams. His eyes are hard and fierce. Brutal. He looks like a gaoler. You will never get past me, his eyes say.

I turn away and open a door leading from the hall. Beyond the door lies a room in which an ironing board stands. On a table, a jumble of clean washing straight from the line. Piles of shirts, jeans and socks. The iron hisses and gurgles, steam shoots out from the holes underneath. I smell warm metal and fragrant washing. A woman stands bent over the ironing board, smoothing away at the pile of laundry, hanging the pressed shirts on rows of hangers, stacking layers of neat jeans. Tears roll down her cheeks. Every so often, she sits at the table, takes a letter from a bundle, opens it and reads slowly, wiping away her tears. Carefully, she folds the letters back in their creases and replaces them in their envelopes. I draw closer and see she is my younger self.

I close the door, drift down a passage and stop at a window. I open the window and stare into my future. In the distance is a railway station. I am boarding a train. My children stand on the platform, awaiting my departure. ‘Come with me?’ I ask them, but they stand silently. The train moves out of the station slowly. It puffs its way through the countryside, up a hill. But the hill keeps growing steeper and steeper until it becomes almost vertical. The train struggles up the steep incline until it can go no further, then it topples backwards down the slopes, its carriages fall apart, lopsidedly, strewing themselves over the countryside. I climb out of my carriage. I am unhurt, but as I look around me, I find myself in a strange barren land, where boulders lie haphazardly on gravel soil.  I wander this barren land, depending on the indigenous people for help. Eventually I find my way back home.

I close the window.  Back in the hallway, I feel again the urgency. I have to find what I am looking for – this infinitely precious something. I know now, I have to pass the male gaoler. This prize I desire so desperately, seems unattainable. I shall have to climb the stairs and search up there, in every room, even the attic. I have to.

I turn back towards the stairs. The man, glaring, waits on the bottom step. I put one foot on the step, and push, but he easily repels me; I try repeatedly but he is a pillar of iron. It becomes a matter of life or death. I try to scramble up the banisters, try to jump past him. The intensity of my desire gives me extreme mobility; I leap, I hover, I fly. My male opponent clones himself, appearing before me wherever I try to ascend.

The struggle continues until the dark sky shows beyond the stained glass window and I am exhausted. I turn from the stairs. In despair, I peer at myself in the hallway mirror. To my horror, my left eye turns black and vanishes into its socket as if it has been burned with acid.

I turn to look at the cloned gaolers with my Cyclops eye. I know the struggle to reach whatever it is I so desperately seek will be a long one. I won’t find it in this dream.

Anne Woodborne

Winifred’s Carving Knife 

Winifred lurched across the linoleum floor of the Marylebone Police Station towards Sergeant Spencer’s desk with a rolling gait that spoke of arthritic knees and hips. She stopped, spraddle-legged, halfway there to adjust her trifocals and pull on the hairs of the mole on her chin reflectively. At the Sergeant’s desk, she patted her blue-rinsed hair and straightened her baggy, man’s cardigan.

‘ ’Ello, love. I’m here, Inspector, to make a statement about a break-in an’ a attempted burglary.’ She squared her shoulders and lifted her chins. ‘ Me ’usband an’ me foiled ’em.’  

Sergeant Spencer lifted his eyebrow at the unexpected promotion.

‘Just a minute, Madam. Let me take your details. It’s Mrs.?’ He reached for a pad and a pen.

‘Whelan.’ She leaned forward over the desk, fixed the Sergeant with a penetrating stare and said in a tone of confidentiality.

‘I tells you what, lovey, it ain’t every day you wake up to find a masked man in your bedroom. I sez to meself – Winifred ,old gal, you’re dreamin’ and it’s Zorro straight from the movie. I was wearin’ me old flannel nightie. I thought, if only I’d knowed ’e was comin’, I would have wore me hospital nightie with the pink ribbons an’ the lace trim. But there you are, life is full of surprises, eh lovey?’

Sergeant Spencer coughed. ‘And what time was this?’

‘Oh, late, we’d been in bed a while after we watched the Kumars on telly. Wilf, me ’usband was already snorin’ when I prodded him and sez – ‘Wake up, Wilf, ’ere’s a masked man in our room.’
I jumps outta bed an’ I sees it ain’t Zorro at all,’e ain’t got a sword an’ a whip,’e’s  only got a little knife. So I sez to meself, Winnie, old gal, this geezer’s up to no good. Quick as a flash, I sez to Wilf -‘ Wilf, get the stun gun outta the drawer’.’

Winifred stopped and cupped a wrinkled hand to her ear where a pink plastic hearing aid nestled like a mollusc in a shell.

‘Then I ’eard sounds coming from downstairs an’ I sez -there’s another of these intruders. I’d better do somethin’, so I rushed past Zorro. Oh yes, Inspector, I can rush when I ’as to . . .’

Sergeant Spencer said faintly. ‘And where did all this take place, Madam?’

‘In me ’ouse, Inspector, I told you. I came across two masked men, one in me bedroom and one in …’

‘Yes Madam, but where is your  . . ?’

‘So I rush past Zorro downstairs into the kitchen and grab me carvin’ knife from the dresser. I sez to mesel’ – thank Gawd,Winnie, for big families, big turkeys and big carvin’ knives, if you catch me drift, Inspector?’

Sergeant Spencer shook his head slowly like a befuddled grizzly bear.

‘ No, I don’t think I . . .’

‘Crocodile Dundee.’ Winifred said triumphantly.  She put her hands on her hips and chuckled like a rusty gate creaking in the wind. ‘I remembered the scene in the movie where Paul Hogan sez to the mugger in New York – Call that a knife? – then he whips out a huge knife. So I whips out me carvin’ knife an’ I sez to Zorro – ‘Call that a knife? Now this is a knife’ – an’ I show him me carvin’ knife, fourteen inches long, it were. ‘Ow long is yours?’ An’ I point it at ’is belly. ’e looks down at his knife an’ says ‘er, mebbe ten inches’- then quick as a flash Wilf creeps up behind ’im an’ zaps ’im with the stun gun.’

Sergeant Spencer held up his hand to stop the torrent of words and mild splattering of Winifred’s saliva as she sent a fine spray across the desk with the excitement of recounting her ordeal.

‘So, you say you were asleep with your husband in bed when you were woken up by two masked intruders… ?’

‘That’s what I sez.’ Winifred rebuked him with a glimmer of impatience in her faded blue eyes.  
 
‘Ain’t you listenin’ ? Then Zorro – that’s what I calls ’im, only ’e ain’t Zorro – screams when Wilf zaps ’im with the stun gun an’ ’e falls down. Then his partner in crime comes runnin’ from the parlour an’ Wilf zaps ’im too.’

‘Madam, can we start again? I need your details – age, address and so on.’

Winifred stared at him in disbelief. She pulled at the hair on her mole and blinked. Her eyes, magnified behind thick lenses, gave her the look of a marmoset monkey.

‘But I’m almost finished me story, Inspector. ’Ang on a mo’.’

She straightened her jersey, smoothed her hair and adjusted her glasses.

‘Now, where was I? Oh, yes, ’is partner falls down, too, an’ Wilf stands over them in case they need stunnin’ again. Wilf sez, ‘Winnie, I think we’ve got them under control. Call the cops.’ So I did. You’ll be pleased to know, Inspector, they came real quick-like. They handcuffed the burglars and took them down to the station. They sez we must come an’ make a full statement. But I sez to Wilf, you get ready for work, luv  – ’e’s a ticket collector at the zoo – I’ll go down to the police station an’ give them all the information they want. So ’ere I am.’

She spread her lips and revealed her large, perfectly plastic dentures in a self-satisfied smile. Her eyes glinted like knives behind her glasses. Sergeant Spencer stared at her in wonder.

‘Not bad for two eighty-something ’ear olds, eh,Inspector? Just a pity I wasn’t wearin’ me pink nightie. Aah,well.’
 

Anne Woodborne

There’s something you should know.

There’s something you should know, Mortie. When you step out onto the tarmac of Domestic Arrivals into the windy furnace that is Cape Town today, with your latest conquest, your model trophy on your arm, you will be met with the news that your silver Chrysler Neon X will not be waiting for you in its storage facility. The Sheriff of the Court impounded it this week to pay for our divorce. What divorce? I can hear you say as you receive this double whammy. I can see those eyebrows, those black- winged, daredevil indicators of your charismatic personality I used to find so devastatingly attractive, arching to the perfectly trimmed line of your quiff. I can almost hear your thoughts, I know you so well, ‘Two weeks of bliss in the Seychelles with Miss What’s- her- Name, and now this, tsuris?’

What divorce you want to know? The divorce I initiated a few weeks after I discovered the existence of Miss What’s-her-Name, the third party in our marriage. Almost a year ago, I was sitting on the upstairs balcony of La Playa above the entrance to the V.and A., having a solitary coffee after some retail therapy, when I caught sight of the two of you, sauntering towards the entrance below me. You had left the house bright and bushy-tailed that Saturday morning with your golf bag slung over your shoulder. Silly me, I thought you were actually going to play golf.

At first I thought it was our daughter, (the creature hanging on your arm had the same leggy blonde beauty), on a surprise trip from Australia to visit us and you were bringing her to me at the Waterfront. But you didn’t know I was there and you were holding her in a most unfatherly fashion. Your hand was roaming over the curves of her backside and thighs in a disturbingly knowing way.

The shock of that roaming hand hit me like an electric dart to the heart, the proverbial ton of bricks. You schmendrik! What were you thinking? What if somebody in my bridge club, or my gardening club or my bowls club or any member of the health and racquet club had seen you? Fondling this Barbie-Bimbo young enough to be your daughter in public? Oh, shande, the humiliation, the stupid narcissism of your treacherous male ego.

I could see all those pitying looks from my friends, the snide remarks behind the hands. ‘There’s Thelma. Don’t say anything, but Mortie’s on the prowl again. Oy vey, a young shiksa. Poor Thelma, so sweet, so passive. Always the cuckolded wife.’

In my first flurry of emotions I thought I would plotz. I almost ran downstairs to confront both of you, my mind was racing with self-righteous indignation, contempt and rage. I wanted to claw her eyes out. The headlines flashed before my eyes. ‘Enraged wife disfigures advertising ace’s model lover with bare hands.’ But then, I thought, wait, Thelma.

I remembered a decade ago when you were in your forties, having your first mid-life crisis after the death of your father, God rest his soul, that lovely man who is turning in his grave now, Mortie, because of you and your wandering periscope, that leering, peering erection always on the look-out. One morning I answered your cell phone while you were in the shower, God knows why, and I heard the voice of Miss Husky-Throat, your Secretary Bird, whispering intimacies I could never have dreamt of.

Oy, the path we went down, the path of soul-searching, breast and brow beating, heartfelt confessions. You promised on the souls of your dead mother and father never to stray again. To honour your wife and daughter. What happened,Mortie? You strayed again, you fahkumfte ghetto trash, and with that model you used in that Bakkie advert, the one where the shiksa opens a bottle of Heineken with her eye-socket. ‘Tough but Pretty.’ I know its her. That’s just like you, Mortie, to go for the bizarre, the wacky and the offbeat.

So as I sat in La Playa, thinking of all these things, I ordered another coffee. The confrontations and the recriminations hadn’t worked in the past. In that moment I had a shift in perception. I took a quantum leap and bypassed the aggrieved wife, I skipped the woundology part and landed in another role. From victim to victimizer, from passive to proactive, from wronged wife to vengeful wife.

When you returned from your Saturday’s ‘golf’, reeking of deceit and deviousness, I said nothing. I remained the demure, dutiful Thelma I had always been. On Monday morning, I started to plan my revenge. After weeks of searching and asking amongst my friends and acquaintances, without anyone knowing my motives, I pieced together my plan. First I found a piranha of a lawyer, Abe Silberstein, known for his ruthlessness in divorce cases. I dressed in black whenever I went to see him, very downcast, the long-suffering wife – which I was, Mortie, you snake. I told him I was married to a serial adulterer and this time I had hired a private investigator to follow you and Miss Heineken and photograph you in compromising situations. It’s amazing what corners a camera lens can get into, Mortie. I had proof. I told Abe Silberstein you were racked by abject guilt and would not contest the divorce. You had agreed I could have everything. Abe nodded in vicious glee when he heard this. You signed the divorce papers without knowing what you were signing. I told you I was pursuing investments on behalf of both of us. Only half a lie. So you signed away our marriage and all of your assets with the same careless insouciance with which you embarked on your endless infidelities. Once you were so sweet, Mortie, now you’re a leper, with a periscope that is always up and looking, with a penchant for quirky blonde models with cast iron eye sockets.

I’ve been consulting with Myra Goldberg, my bridge partner, and together we decided losing your family, wife and daughter, and your worldly possessions wasn’t enough punishment for you. Together, we plotted how to go the extra mile in retribution. And gloib mir, Mortie, the memory of your roving hand that fateful day at the Waterfront was enough to motivate me whenever I thought ‘enough already’.

Enter Myra’s sixteen-year-old son, Byron, the computer whiz kid, with the combined intellect of a Goethe, an Einstein and a Newton. This boy genius can hack into anything, Mortie, even the CIA’s security system, if he had to. I must admit, I had a few qualms here. I didn’t want to the boy to be corrupted into thinking crime pays, but whenever I remembered your roving hand and wandering schmeckle, my resolve stiffened. Myra promised him a week in New York to visit a Bill Gate’s Software Exposition with spending money if he did what we asked, kept his mouth shut and didn’t ask questions.

It was all a question of timing, Mortie. Six months ago I put the house on the market. I employed two hotshot estate agents and swore them to secrecy. I wanted to surprise you, I told them, you had always hated the house, and so I was going to sell it without your knowledge. I also told them you had a phobia about estate agents and I couldn’t guarantee their safety if you found them on our property. No show houses, no boards, prospective buyers to view the house only at specified times. Everything was going along in slow motion when you, Mortie, provided me with a window of opportunity. You told me casually one evening you were going to Jo’burg on a business trip for two weeks. Immediately I smelt a rat. I phoned Myra, she got Byron to hack into S.A.A.’s passenger lists and there you were, the two of you, Mr. and Mrs. Mortie Bremer, off to the Seychelles, via Jo’burg.

I tell you, Mortie, I had to ram my anger down my throat and continue to act cool, sweet Thelma. Only the thought of what was in store for you got me through those days. But on the morning of your departure, I was able to kiss you good-bye with a happy smile and tell you to look up my cousin, Sylvia, in Jo’burg. What you didn’t know, Mortie, was that that was the final good-bye kiss.

So. The house had been sold three weeks before, the papers signed. While you were schmoozing in the Seychelles,I went to work. I had all the locks changed. I sold all the furniture. I gathered every personal memento of our marriage; documents, certificates, photographs of every birthday, holiday, family gathering, anniversary, and I had them shredded. Imagine that, Mortie, all the memories of a thirty-year-old marriage gone into that efficient machine.

Byron contributed his share. He hacked into the Population Register, the Voter’s Roll, SARS, the Traffic Registration Department; he deleted all proof of your existence. It was as if, Mortie, you had never existed, never been born.

Remember all those insults you hurled so bombastically at your boss, Arnold Weinberg, in the safety of your own home? I do, I’d heard them so often. How you could kvetch. I took the liberty on your behalf after your departure to e-mail Arnie with your resignation. I wrote :

Dear Arnie,
I can no longer work for an anally- retentive, creatively- challenged, mentally- constipated, control freak like yourself. I leave the country today on a new life. I’ve had it to the back teeth with the rat race, the advertising world, in particular the Gold Leaf Advertising Agency and you, Arnie, you yutzi, the biggest rat of all. You can stick your job up that part of your anatomy, your tuchis, where the sun doesn’t shine. I leave today with a woman thirty years my junior. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Arnie. She may have the I.Q. of a soggy tennis biscuit but she puts new meaning into the word carnal.

Have a good life, Arnie. I will.

L’Chaim, Mortie.

I sent similar e-mails to all your friends and colleagues.

So, here you are, standing in the full glare of the windy furnace at the airport. You’ve discovered your car is gone, your marriage is gone and as the days unfold, you will discover in a series of regulated shocks, that everything else is gone too. By the way, after I’d removed all the cash from your accounts, I closed all your banking services down, because technically you had left the country. I gave my car to Byron. Myra has already registered it in her name until he’s eighteen then he can drive it. She has resprayed it and changed the registration number.

These are all things you should know, Mortie, but I’m going to destroy this letter because I think you will handle the news better in small increments. As you claw your way back into official existence, I hope Ms. Iron Eye -Sockets can deal with your histrionics.

As for me, I start a new life today as well. I fly to Australia this afternoon. All my new- found gelt is sitting in off-shore accounts and I will be a free spirit, no longer a slave to a man who doesn’t deserve me. I will roam the world and live to the full. Its very possible we may pass each other on the N1 to and from the airport. It will be the last time our paths will cross.

Good-bye, Mortie.

Anne Woodborne

Home-coming

Brightness fades from the sky and with its passing, a mellow feeling of dusk enters the room. Beyond the window, shadows lengthen and gather in the garden. A dog barks. The sound is strident, ear shattering in the expectant silence. Five Hadedahs string out in the air above the house and send their harsh cries to echo against the mountainsides.

She has just arrived home, driven by her daughter. In this transitory, waiting hour between afternoon and evening, the interior of the house wears a mantle of sad neglect. Her daughter’s anxious eyes take in her father’s bleary face with its belligerent expression, and the empty cane bottle and the overflowing ashtray standing on the table in front of him.

‘I must go. It will be dark soon and the traffic . . . ‘

She watches her daughter’s slender back, her halo of black, knotty hair as she retreats from the house without a word to her father and without enquiring if she would be all right. The red berries of the Eugenia tree and the sharp needles of the Casuarina droop and sigh – Don’t go, don’t go- over the departing figure.

‘Must you?’ She calls after her, but hears only the car door slam, the motor cough as the car reverses out of the driveway. It revs in low gear as it gathers speed to climb the hill. As the sound surges and fades, her hope of escape dies with it. The metronome in her heart clicks on. Pitter-patter.

The silence in the room drags endlessly. She feels the full brunt of his intense gaze.

‘ So. You’re home. Back from Death’s door, but there’s nothing wrong with you. Just a fuss over nothing. A waste of time and money.’

His face has that intractable, glaring look of unplummable resentment and ill will. Outside the world holds it’s breath, waiting.

She tries to keep her voice flat and unemotional because the pain has started to make itself felt in the middle of her heart. ‘ I had chest pains. My blood pressure was 240/ 140. I could have had a stroke.’

Everything in the house is as she left it since her sudden departure on Monday night after an emergency visit to her doctor and an ambulance ride to Cape Town. Dust gathers on surfaces, the sunflowers have begun to wilt and drop their long leaves, the cushions on the chairs need to be shaken, they have fallen in with neglect. The smell of Monday night’s supper lingers in the air, a savoury odour of braised steak and onions, dried out carrots and peas. A mildewed whiff from the washing machine’s unhung laundry. Through the open window she sees a pigeon flutter its wings into the dense clusters of leaves on the Ficus tree and riffle through to its nest.

‘Bullshit! You’re a liar. I phoned Dr. Horak yesterday and he told me there’s nothing wrong with your heart. He did a stress ECG on you and said you were fine. He said so. So don’t come with your could-have stories.’

Their gazes lock. His eyes are full of animosity, hers are weary, resigned. She knows that fear lies beneath his anger, knows what his look means. It says – I am the broken one in this relationship. I need all the care and constant attention. Why are you exhibiting these signs of heartbreak? This is not your role. You may never abandon me, not even for three days. You have to be the witness to my broken state at all times.

A motor bike revs and roars its way like a rocket down the road, the pool pump drums into action and sends little waterfalls of fresh water into the pool, the creepy crawly begins its monotonous beat.

‘ How can you say that? I’ve been in Intensive Care for two days and two nights. Do you think they would have kept me there if nothing was wrong?’

Her heart drums along with the pounding of the creepy-crawly, her anxiety mounts and the pain extends up into her neck and down her left arm. He says nothing but takes a long slurping drink from his glass, his lips pursed into a funnel.

‘Why are you doing this?’

His eyes jerk back to her, he sets the empty glass down with a clatter.

‘ Because you’re a liar and useless. Because you always want attention. Because – because.’ He flicks his hand at her dismissively.

The room is claustrophobic with the density of his rage. His anger pulls her, sucks her towards a gaping black hole. She teeters on the brink, a hostage to the barrage of his verbal abuse.

She turns and opens the French door and steps out onto the deck. She inhales the fragrant night air, the briny ocean smells and pungent wood smoke. In the distance a Technicolour sunset, the sky awash with indigo, lilac, aquamarine and tangerine. Hens clutter and squawk in the bush. A solitary peacock and his peahen put tentative claws down on the tarmac of the road, lift their tiny beaks and call their ferociously loud catcalls. Guinea fowl craw and creak as families peck their way up the grassy pavement. She breathes deeply. Her tension slowly seeps into the space outside the cave of her heart and the sharp pain in her chest dissipates.