Between Lives

W.H. Saayman


      "Oh, my God. We heard you'd died!" The Browne sisters jump up and down and drag me out of the audience at Salif Keita"s concert.
      "In a car crash," Sheila, the eldest, says.
      "No, you were decapitated on a bike," Aileen, the youngest, chuckles.
      Suzy, the third sibling, throws her arm around me and that's strange, because she never liked me. "I heard you got herpes and died of Aids." She doesn't blink, but punches me, hard, and laughs that laugh of hers.


      I'm sitting outside our house with a flickering pumpkin. It's Halloween and hordes of children have descended on Barnton Road. The concept of Trick or Treat is lost on them; they shove and grab to get at the sweets that my wife, Cath, spent time shopping for. When we try to engage them they walk away. The older ones mutter--"Losers" and "How lame"--and roll their eyes. I feel like throwing the sweets at their heads, or luring them into the garden and subjecting them to some ghoulish experience.
      One of my neighbour's Huskies bounds off the pavement and knocks down a little girl. There is screaming and blood as kids scrabble for the fallen child's takings.


      Traffic and banks often send me into a rage, though I haven't the faintest idea why I feel the way I do. Answers regarding the human condition seem to be in short supply. I test myself with questions like "Where does my anger come from?" or "Why am I such a miserable twat?" Then I sit attentively and wait for a reply.

      I've read that the all the answers are contained within oneself, but my thought is: "Bullshit." The only questions that I get replies to are one's like "Do you want to sleep with me?" (I'd love to, but I'm married) and "Can my mother come and visit?" (Maybe later, my love).

      I'm a surfer, permanently locked into the tube; even though there is much happening around me, I only see the sliver of blue sky directly in front. This is probably why I have no friends and even my family only call when they need money or a ride to the airport.

      Cath puts my melancholy down to the following: I wasn't breastfed for long enough and, even though I have a genius level IQ, I am unable to fathom the origins of the demons that hound me. In this I am no different than my father, who phones me, slurring, with talk of guns and depression and feels embarrassed the following day. He is a hard man, a big man, who only recently realised that contemplating suicide is nothing to be ashamed of.

      Now he and I discuss the nature of depression. Our relationship is changing, we're going somewhere. He tells me his great regret is that he discovered the power of positive thinking too late in life, and I am saddened by the fact that I've only had glimpses of it. I am a grumpy bastard who lives a charmed life, screams at people from the safety of my car, and grinds my teeth in the bank.


      I'm going to a comic shop run by a Polish immigrant. The shop has the best selection of graphic novels I've ever found and yet it's a well-kept secret. Along the way I come across Bobby. He is a malcontent. I know that he collects comics and unfortunately there's a part of my character that wants everyone to love me, so I ask whether he'd like to come with me. Bobby's heard about the shop, but has no clue where it is. He scowls and wants to know how I found out about the place. Before I can answer he says, "You always end up in the right place at the right time, don't you?"
      I keep quiet, take him to the shop, and leave while he's still browsing. He is married to a nutritionist named Candice who wears too much make-up. They have two children who look perturbed and are badly socialised.


      My father phones to tell me that his gun (a revolver, a pistol, I don't know the difference) is haunting him. This weapon was stolen from his house twenty-three years ago, but the police recently recovered it after a raid and returned it to his care. Late at night it lies gleaming, and pleads with him. I suggest that he disposes of it, but he doesn't reply.


      I'm sitting in the toilet, because I am hiding. I've been there for nearly an hour and Salif Keita is busy with his encore. Numbers are scrawled on the walls. Boasts and testimonials. There is a smooth-edged hole in the wall that keeps catching my eye. Every few minutes someone tries the door. When I grunt they go away.
      I think of Suzy Browne grabbing my hand and placing it on her breast, "Six grand and they"ve been worth every cent." Her nipples feel like moulded rubber. Somehow I manage to disentangle myself and escape to where I now sit. On the cubicle wall I come across the following:
      "My wife said she'd give me a blowjob for Xmas. I'm luckier than Donald Trump, Batman or (this is illegible). I'm the luckiest man in the world!"


      I saw a woman today that I dated years ago. While I was going out with her she kept asking me if I had a dog. I didn't. She told me that a friend of hers said that I used to have sex with this animal. Total bullshit. I broke up with that chick because she had the ugliest feet I ever saw. I told her so.
      Soon after, wherever I went, people were looking at me strangely and pointing and stuff, and suddenly I was famous, I was the guy who fucked his dog. People believed this and it nearly ruined me.
      So, today I saw this woman again and I was delighted, because she was really fat and had three snot-nosed brats hanging off of her.


      My pumpkin has a ragged toothed smile and one good eye. Word of mouth says we have the best sweets on the block. A boy with boils and oozing sores all over his face gets my vote for the best costume. Bobby's wife Candice comes walking down the street. She inspects the contents of our packet and tells Cath and me that her sweets are better: they're tartarazine free. She alludes to us being irresponsible and attributes this to the fact that we don't have children. It strikes me that Candice and Bobby are a perfect match.
      I go inside while Cath joins the Halloween block party further down the street. Some time later I see Candice peeping into my yard. The truth is that I once kissed this woman, but I can't tell my wife that. I duck behind the curtains and wait. Parents are collecting their children when Cath comes home and gives me a look.
      "She was looking into our yard."
      "Really?" I run water into the sink.
      "Didn't you see her?"
      "I was feeding the fish." I make foam bubbles and contemplate the power of thoughts. My father once told me that thoughts are just hot air. It's only when you act on them that the math changes.


      When I wake up there are six missed calls and a curse on my phone. Spat down the line and saved to memory. Cath says, "You must have done something to upset this woman."
      I look at my wife and think, I suppose I did. I rejected Suzy Browne's advances and didn't tell her why. I ran away and hid in a toilet. I'm the invisible man. All that's left of me are vague memories, lodged in the minds of a few people. I disappeared and now live a quiet life here in Greenside. On the day that I die, life will carry on without a hitch. My ashes will be scattered off Milnerton Beach and won't prevent any waves from breaking. Right now I'm merely invisible. Then I'll be gone.


      The parcel is heavy. I collect it from the post office, but I don't open it. When Cath comes home I'm sitting in the lounge. We agree on the weight, but disagree on the size of its contents. We study my father's handwriting and comment on the amount of packaging tape. My neighbour's Huskies start howling. It isn't full moon yet. I run outside shouting and bang on the fence, but the damned dogs won't stop.

W. H. Saayman

W.H. lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Another one of his stories has been published by Pindeldyboz.