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
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
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.
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