Liesl Jobson

The elderly Portuguese man selling the house was clean-shaven. He said he had black thumbs, waggling them for her inspection. But the discolouration was liver spots and the yellowed patch between his index and middle finger from cigarettes. He told a funny story about how everything he tended died. His pit-bull terrier wagged a stumpy tale in agreement. The woman laughed, and thought about moving the irises to a shadier spot, dividing the roots of the agapanthus and clivias that grew too close together.

Beard-like tufts hung from an aloe that grew in a twist against the shabby perimeter wall. Brown drips wept from rusty nails embedded in the concrete panels. Now, when she sees it, she wonders how she missed the plant's ghoulishness, the sorrowful wall. At the time, she had merely suspected poor soil. She'd thought about bright paint.

The old man told another story, laughing, about how the dog had chased kaffirs out the yard, carrying off a shoe. She winced under the smile on her face, hating herself for not challenging him, regretting that she remained silent. She would burn sage, to cleanse the house of the hate speech.

A black flash of movement through the rockery, like a whipped shoelace, caught her attention. Snakes? she asked. Lizards, he said. Later she wondered why she hadn't left then, but the house was a good price, with lots of space. She hoped her children might return to her. It was near their school. They were growing up and could choose for themselves where they wanted to live.

The house had big windows and the sun streamed through in all seasons. Loeries and coucals flitted through the garden. A pair of hadedahs swooped onto the pool fence each evening, then hopped down to the water's edge to drink.

The seller laughed a lot. He had worked as a lighting engineer and rigged neon lights that flickered on when the power failed. He'd placed hidden speakers in the pelmets so that music played in every room of the house, even the bathrooms. Surround sound, he said, the gold cap on his tooth glinting, the tatty velvet carpet uneven under foot.

She was thrilled when the sale went through. Doubly thrilled when her daughter said she wanted to move in. The woman would learn to be a mother again, she'd drive her girl to school in the mornings, go watch her sports events in the afternoons.

Before the furniture arrived, they slept all four of them on borrowed mattresses on the shabby velvet carpet in the lounge. It was a cold July but the night sky was clear. She lay awake watching the stars setting, looking at the tail of the Southern Cross, remembered where she'd come from, glad to have survived.

The movers shuttled back and forth from the truck to the front door. She directed them around the house. Bookshelves here, antique dresser there.

When the contractors came to lay new carpets, they discovered slasto underneath. Purply-brown sheets of slate made a crazy patchwork. She fingered the glue balls stuck to the stone and asked if it would clean up nicely. She imagined a rustic finish, like she'd seen in game park rondavels. It would complement the wooden ceiling. She liked natural textures.

Slasto is a menace, said the carpet guy. It chips and bubbles. It flakes off in chunks. Even if you seal it.

The new carpet would never be level unless she pulled up the slasto and threw a new screed. He warned about the mess: We have to take picks to it, rip up the old screed. She looked at the piano, wondered where she'd put it while workmen pounded through the house.

She asked about other options. Lay extra under-felt so that you feel the variation less. She imagined walking, as if on a mattress. Anything else? Live with it, said the contractor.

Liesl Jobson is a South African. Her debut collection of prose poems and flash fiction, 100 Papers, has just been published by Botsotso Press.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200808flaw.htm

Detail from drawing on page main page courtesy of Erik Kristensen.

w i g · l e a F               07-28-08                                [home]