booksdefineme

the journey of a budding author


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Impressions of a Summer Evening

The full moon just risen, calls me from my hot and airless room to sit and marvel at the drama of approaching nightfall.
Bats rejoicing in the freedom of the dusk, flitting in the fading light like eager children unconfined by lessons.
Bird mothers murmur their blessings to drowsy chicks, as night birds startle awake to join the bats at catching dinner.
I sit on sun-warmed bricks and watch as large-bosomed clouds are softly kissed adieu by fading day, while crickets strike up their endless one-note serenade.
Lights stream from the house, and curtains swish across the windows. Shall I go in? I feel remote and loath to return to mundane things like supper and the seven o’clock news.
I turn away to watch again. Shadows grow and friendly corners of the garden are a bit unsettling now; I cringe at the thought of treading the familiar stepping stones to sit on that now mysterious bench. I dare not disturb the creatures of the darkness, the wiggly, bitey, ghosty things that may just lurk there.
Distant voices from next-door houses are tranquil sounds, like sleepy birds, settling in the safety of four walls that shelter them against the night.
From quite close by I hear the croaky call of the newly-woken Dikkop in the veld across the way, and the panicked cries of Plovers wheeling in the sky above to warn away some predator from babies in their nests.

The sun has gone and left to itself, the moonlight bathes the garden in an eerie silver twilight.

Chilly, I creep in to fetch a shawl and hoping to elude detection I tiptoe out once more to tryst with night.
But then,’Oh, is that where you were? We were wondering where you’d got to?
What’s for supper?’
The spell is broken,
and humdrum duty encircles me once more.

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Death of a Dentist. A Short story

     She jumped off the bus, umbrella blossoming against the rain, glad that it was home-time. She’d had an awful day at the office. The boss had been very full of it today. Picking on her for no reason, just looking for faults, so of course, he wouldn’t let her go early, so that she could miss the rush, that was worse when the rain started pelting down. Why is it, she thought, that when the sun is shining in the morning, the traffic is smooth but suddenly when there is a downpour in the afternoon there seem to be so many more cars and so many more people rushing, jostling, elbowing. Where do they come from, they seem to appear out of nowhere. . .

     As she hurried to the train station, ahead of her, a slight figure caught her eye; bare head, rimmed with white hair above the collar of a shabby overcoat, hunched shoulders. No umbrella. He looked like a tramp. She accelerated past the pathetic little man, glancing sideways as she did. With a jolt, she recognised him. Those horn-rimmed spectacles. The moustache. Doctor Smith.

     In a flash, it all came back to her.

     The school dental clinic in the middle of town. For poor children. Her mother used to take her for her check-ups, and she’d loved going there. Once they had been to the reception desk to check in with smiley Mrs Barnes, her mother would take her small hand and together they would climb the magical, starry stairway to the second floor. It was only when she got a bit older and was allowed to go on her own, did she realise that the stars were only some kind of glittery additive in the concrete. The staff were kind and there were lovely toys to play with while they waited. Especially she remembered that mechanical rocking horse, that all the children headed for and laid claim to, as soon as they arrived. She seldom got a chance to ride on this wonder. But there were compensations; dolls and blocks and picture books to keep her busy.

     But all that ended when she went to high school. High school patients had to go to the fifth floor. In the lift. No more starry staircase. And no more kind staff. The benches were hard and there were no pretty pictures on the walls, no more distractions. Just Doctor Smith and his stern-faced nurse. And you waited your turn with trepidation, as you sat, hating the smell of disinfectant and clove oil, the steam billowing from the steriliser and misting up the windows and worst of all the prospect of being in the hands of the Nazi.

     He was a typical Roald Dahl villain, now that she thought about it. He had a Groucho Marx moustache and round wire-rimmed glasses that glinted in the light over the dentist’s chair. His breath and clothing smelled strongly of stale cigarettes, and he had yellowed uneven teeth, his scant hair parted in the middle. He wasn’t amusing like Groucho; he was cruel and nasty to every kid that climbed, trembling, into That Chair. He never used an anaesthetic, oh no! That would have been too nice. He would drill and grind away at cavities, not caring that he was making someone cry. And you would wait your turn, heart pounding. . .

     The last time she went there, he performed a root-canal treatment on her, without an anaesthetic naturally, and when she was groaning and weeping under his rough handling, he told her, sneering, ‘It’s not sore! You are nothing but a cry baby!’ as he ground and dug away her tooth, until she was almost fainting with the pain.

     She never went back.

     A few years later, at a party she met a young man called Gordon, who, she found, had also suffered under the Nazi.

     ‘I never hated anyone as much as I hate Doctor Smith. There must be so many of us who hate that man,’ he said, ‘we should form a club. Did you ever see Murder on the Orient Express. How a whole lot of people ganged up on a villain and murdered him, by taking turns to stab him in the dark, so no-one knew who had actually killed him?’

     ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she said, and she moved away, but she realised that, talking about it to another victim, her feelings of childish revenge had boiled to the surface once again. She hated the man too.

     And now here she was, walking along the pavement with the dreaded Dr Smith. She fell back a few paces, but stayed near him. As they crossed the road to the station she felt a strong urge to push him into the path of the oncoming traffic.

     She was shaken by the strength of her emotions and was relieved that her innate sense of self-preservation prevented her from doing the deed, but as she followed him into the station and through the barrier, all her frustrations of the day rose up and focussed on the little man in front of her. It seemed he was travelling on the same train as she was and they descended to the platform on the escalator, she, still a few paces behind him.

     She mingled in the crowd waiting for the train, only just able to see the top of his head. Suddenly she became aware of a burly man not far from her. Gordon. The train was slowing down and Doctor Smith was in the front, as the crowd surged forward. Suddenly there was a scream, and a screech of brakes.

     ‘What has happened?’ she asked the man next to her, as she craned her neck to see.

     ‘A jumper. An old man jumped in front of the train.’ the man said, excitedly.

      But she knew better.

     Gordon. Their eyes met as he turned and slipped through the milling confused crowd.

     And he winked at her as he passed and ran lightly up the escalator.

 


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Freedom

Have you ever watched someone doing something that looks simple and you decide to try it and you sit down at the piano after watching a virtuoso and you place your fingers on the keys and play and all you hear is Bing Bang Plunk Boing and your fingers feel like lead. You hope no-one heard you making a fool of yourself.

Or you watch someone doing the high dive and think it looks easy and you climb up the high steps of the highest diving board and you walk to the end of the board… When your friend has peeled your fingers off the railing and you look down miles to the surface of the pool and you feel sick in your stomach and you freeze and then shuffle ignominiously back to safety, averting your eyes from the grinning professionals as you creep down to the ground and cover yourself with your towel and rush off to the change rooms. You’ll never try that again.

One day when we were in high school my best friend invited me to go ice skating. I must explain that Charlene went for figure skating lessons every Saturday and had her own sparkling white boots and little flared skirt and tights and everything. I had never been ice skating before

We arrived at the old Wembley Ice rink one glorious Saturday morning. The air in the rink was chilly and we had jerseys and gloves on too, I will never forget the cold smell of the place. I had to hire skates as I didn’t have any kit like tights and short skirt and….OK. You get the picture. I probably wore my gym skirt and shirt. In those days they didn’t have the rigid plastic boots they have now; they had ancient leather boots that were so worn and soft and wobbly you had to also hire an ankle guard, which made the hiree look like a polio victim. And you still wobbled along looking more knock-kneed than you really were. Charlene helped me to tie the boots on as tightly as was comfortable, then the ankle guards, and then she helped me stagger out to arena. I was so exhausted by the time I got out there, I opted to sit and watch for a bit. Fat excuse. I was terrified.

Charlene was a real expert. She could skate backwards and twirl and glide on one foot. And do fancy little jumps .It looked like magic. Finally I was ready to brave the ice. With ankles twisting painfully, I lurched to the gate onto the ice and held tightly to the barrier as I stepped out onto the ice. My feet promptly slipped out from under me and I clutched the barrier like grim death! That was the story of the rest of the morning. I clung desperately to the edge, slipping and sliding and hanging when I couldn’t control my feet. Each time I came around to the little entrance onto the ice, which looked and felt like a chasm which I could not bring my self to skate across. I climbed off and tottered across the meter space to the next leg of the journey around the rink. It was the bing bang plunk boing again, but on the ice.

What a relief when they had a speed skating session. And then they spent time scraping the ice with their huge machine, which was also a welcome respite. I could sit nonchalantly pretending I was an old hand at this. Then it was back onto the ice.

At the end of the morning when I took off the boots, I could hardly walk. My feet, and especially my ankles felt as though they were broken. My knees and bottom felt badly bruised and I was quite sure that my arms were at least 20 cms longer than they should be. But I was smitten.

It was all I could do to get back to the ice rink the next Saturday. When Charlene didn’t go, I went on my own, which meant a long journey across town to Turffontein by bus. And I repeated my performance, getting covered in bruises, and clinging to the barrier and walking across the chasm….etc etc.

Finally when my mother realised I was really serious about this, she bought me a shabby pair of second hand skates. Dilapidated as they were, they were far better than the hire skates. I began to get my confidence and soon I was able to skate across the meter gate to the other barrier. Then I skated across the middle. What a day that was. As time went by, I bought a beautiful pair of white boots, and a little flared skirt. I started taking lessons and was able to skate backwards and twirl and glide on one leg; and more. The ice-rink became my second home and I made some wonderful friends. Perseverance won in the end. The freedom to be able to skate properly was amazing.

Where to from here? Flying lessons? High diving? Piano lessons? Who knew. The world was my oyster. I had proved to myself that I could overcome anything .

Hike to Gudu Falls

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Hike to Gudu Falls

As I walk out of the midday sunshine, I am swallowed up in the dim green shadow of the indigenous forest. I am confused by the darkness and I stand still, unsure  of where the path is. The closeness of the trees deadens all sound. It is as though I have stumbled into another world. That momentary pause gives my overworked muscles a chance to be felt and I become aware of the excruciating agony in my legs. I remove my hat and blink as perspiration pours down my face, through my eyebrows and lashes over throbbing  cheeks and into my dry mouth. I have followed the others up the sunny mountain trail carried along by momentum rather than will and now I stand, aware of the tearing in my lungs as my breathing slowly returns to normal. The blood is drumming in my ears, my face, my whole body pulses with the surging of it. My eyes adjust and I see to my dismay the path to Gudu Falls turns into a natural stair of large black rocks, leading upwards at a sharp angle. I can go no further.

Then I see another path, level, leading off to my left. I furl my red umbrella as the chill of the deep humid shade envelops me, clings to my moist skin and I shiver. I can hear the muted voices of the others and I am not sure where they are, but at least they are not on the black rock stair. Gratefully and slowly I walk step by painful step towards the sound. This  is a well-trodden path, but still, large tree roots snake along as if intentionally to trip my faltering steps. My laboured breathing has slowed and I am able to look about me at gnarled and ancient trees of the indigenous bush which arch over me and I marvel at the casual beds of wild pelargoniums in the undergrowth. In the peaceful twilight, I vaguely hear a pair of Crested Barbets strike up their mechanical warble and I think of Keats’s Nightingale ‘In some melodious plot of beechen green, and shadows numberless, singest of summer in full-throated ease’.

I become aware of another sound; a rushing torrential roar ahead. As I come around a bend in the path, I am dazzled by the spectacle of the narrow cataract, cascading, thundering into a sunlit pool. The air is sodden and the trees drip with the mist that is generated by the waterfall. All the others are on a rock on the far side of the pool and the children have already stripped down the swimming gear and are wading into the water. There is nothing for it but to remove my boots and wade across too, as there is no way around. It’s through the pool or nothing.

I sit down gingerly on a wet rock and remove my steaming, aching feet from my boots and plunge them into the icy water, cringing with shock. The bottom of the pool is lined with beautiful coloured pebbles and the children are in thigh-deep in order to scoop up handfuls of agates, the bounty of the Drakensberg. All I can do is concentrate on getting to the other side without falling in, my tender feet tortured by the sharp stones. Finally I am able to sit on a broad rock in the sunlight and enjoy the splendid sight, fortified by tea and sandwiches from Paul’s pack. How delicious the simplest food tastes after a long arduous trek. I could lie here at ease, for hours. All the effort has been worth it after all and my eyelids droop involuntarily. I daydream of climbing on the wings of a friendly eagle and being wafted effortlessly down to the campsite.

Suddenly thunder growls quite close. It can be deadly on the mountain in a thunderstorm, and we are galvanised into action. Hastily pull half-dry socks onto damp feet; fumble with recalcitrant laces, pack up the remains of the picnic and rush headlong down the mountain again as the storm begins.

Copyright Elaine Young 2012

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