Plain Text Version - Fiction
They open their folders, take notes when I talk, and say things like, Let me remind youÖ find a way forwardÖ in the childís best interest... appropriate developmental stage... manipulation.
The lawyer tells me Iím still playing the victim game, but I donít listen too hard because my daughter has changed her mind, doesnít want to go to boarding school after all.
Iím not sorry her father found out about her overdose from the school. Iím glad he was humiliated. I donít say so, donít need to. I am sorry I said terrible things about him to my daughter. I promise not to do it again, not because theyíre extracting the words from me, but because I made her cry. Mostly Iím relieved that the fightís gone out of this thing, because nobody can make a 14-year-old do what she doesnít want to do. No judge in the land. Thatís what the lawyer says.
I study a framed print of Beethovenís ear on the wall. Was he still alive when they sloshed his head in blue paint, making him lie sideways on the canvas? Was he already deaf? Already dead?
The notes of a symphony wander along the edge of his cheek, superimposed in silver. Strings of quavers cresting the helix and anti-helix, twirl about his ear lobe, and march out toward the frame.
Check these five words, I say. Kate takes the page in one hand, looking closer, holding a banana smoothie. Yam or yarn, she says. Iím doing a word puzzle, a linguistic charade. Three-letters, I say.
She looks at the next clue, says, What about horn? Horn-rimmed spectacles, maybe? A trumpet, a vuvuzela?
In America a hooter is a horn, I say.
In America a hooters are tits, she says. Youíd know this if you had a My Space page.
She nods and hands me the paper as she climbs under the white embroidered cover into bed with me, her bird on her shoulder. Has Pi had a crap lately, I say.
Yes, she says, irritated. You think Iím not a good mother? Pi thinks so too.
Why would I think that? Why would he?
Heís making a funny noise, like, not a happy noise, just cross, growling. She turns to kiss the bird. It squeaks. See? Like that.
Pi is hungry, I say. Put him in his cage to eat. I donít want him spoiling my bedclothes.
Ma-ahm. Heís not hungry. I already fed him a grape.
Shall we get back to the words? She picks at the pilling on her acid green socks, the same colour as the bird, flicking them onto the coverlet. I stop myself from telling her not to. She tells me that when fabrics are washed incorrectly, the fibres get tangled, like hair balls. We learned about it in Home Economics. Clearly you donít wash my socks properly.
Is that right?
The bird screeches in her ear, she pulls away, wincing, laughing. She looks at him, says, Why you growling, Pi?
Heís telling you to wash your own socks. Now take him to his cage.
But, she says, petulantly, I want him to stay with me; I want him to be happy on my shoulder.
Sheíd screamed at me when I told her no boarding school. Youíre so selfish. Youíre supposed to put my needs ahead of your own. Her father had told her I was disturbed. Itís not normal for adults to need their teen-age kids like your mother does.
So, she says, scratching the translucent skin beneath Piís beak. She looks at me sideways. Maybe Iím doing the same bloody horrible thing you do. She smirks at the hairpin logic.
I return to my puzzle. In America a hooter is a horn. Or a tit.
Itís Kateís last day of the school year. Sheís dyed her hair again. The towels and tiles and shower curtain are smudged with dark inky stains. I thought sheíd go orange when her roots started showing, or red, but no. Black.
We talked about losing the Satanist look, giving up the pentagram she wears on a chain round her neck, ditching the book of teenage witch spells. I raised my eyebrows and nodded when she emerged from the shower, her hair a wet mess of clinging black snakes.
Tonight Iíll take her to her father for the Christmas holidays. Sheíll sling her kit in the boot. Iíll kiss her and her bird. Sheís taking it along. Her father has erected a hook in the courtyard where she can hang the cage, safe from the cats.
I am writing up the article on the excavator operator I interviewed in Limpopo last week. Thereís just time before we leave to phone the plant hire business owner who drove me to the farm up on the neck. He is a white Zimbabwean who lost his farm in the land invasions. I ask him the details I forgot to write down at the time: the make of the vehicle, the tonnage, the names of the butterflies heíd pointed out.
Kate starts up the hair-dryer in my bedroom. I put my hand over the receiver, saying, Canít you go do that someplace else? She switches the hair-dryer off but doesnít leave.
The plant hire guy had showed me a green-banded swallowtail, a glossy black butterfly with a strip of emerald green, and a giant white guy, clouded mother-of-pearl. We also saw a shy impala ram that bounded away before I could take a photograph. He told me it was a conservancy, where endangered species are protected.
Kate preens in the mirror, stretching her neck, swinging her head, spraying the glass.
I ask how the repair to the dam is going? How is Andries?
Not well, he says. Looks like heís got shingles. I think heíll join the sleepers soon.
Hey, I say, Iím so sorry.
Kate stares up close at her new black eyebrows, making wide eyes.
Hey, he says. You take care.