Celebrate National Short Story Day on 21 December 2013!
Join us today from 3-9pm!
As the afternoon sun fades and the longest night of the year rolls in, we’ll be posting a series of excerpts from our recent short story collection, You, Me & a Bit of We. So grab a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa, slip into your jimjams (or PJs depending on which side of the Atlantic you hail from) and get ready to hunker down and dig in to some exciting new short stories! Here’s the list of the 42 stories coming up. There will be six excerpts posted on the hour, from 3-9pm.
9pm – Ava, Leigh, Sarah, Minnie, Annie, and Me by Zarina Zabrisky / The Colours of Her Soul by Monika Pant / Pony Harris by Tanya Jacob Knox / Island Rocks by Dora L Harthen / Our Something Said by Zena Shapter / A House for the Wazungu by Anne Goodwin
Ava, Leigh, Sarah, Minnie, Annie, and Me by Zarina Zabrisky
The air smells like Thanksgiving: roasting turkey, rosemary, and cranberry sauce. The kitchen is hell. Hot, loud and sticky. The sink is overflowing with pans covered in grease and steaming water. The water sprays all over Max, our ginger cat. He’s playing with a piece of lettuce on the windowsill. He jumps sideways and knocks over the pot of mint, and Ava shoos him with a mop, laughing. Stuffing crumbs and mustard are all over the floor, mixed with soil and mint leaves. Annie crawls unnoticed and finds a spoon under the stove. She thinks it’s cookie dough, licks it but then bawls because it’s baking soda.
This chaos happens every year as we get ready. Ava’s the oldest. She’s calm and cheerful despite it all. She always knows where everyone is. It’s amazing how she can do everything. That’s because she takes after Grandmother. I think she looks like her, with her frosting-blue apron and hair up in an old-fashioned bun.
‘Annie, stop crying,’ she says. ‘You’re a big girl now, a good girl. Here, get out of the corner. Don’t suck your thumb! Put your doggie on the bed, like this, good girl. Woof’s going to sleep now and Annie is going to take a nap, too.’
Annie is whining, but she lets Ava put her to bed and dozes off, thank God.
‘Sarah, stop texting, sugar,’ says Ava. ‘Rolf will wait.’
Ava probably feels like she’s the captain of a sinking boat.
‘It’s not Rolf, it’s Gary,’ says Sarah, twisting her mouth, her fingers clicking on the phone like crazy. Sarah is a bubble-head. She only thinks about guys. I wonder if she even knows it’s Thanksgiving…
The Colours of Her Soul by Monika Pant We found Mrinalini strange. Weird.
Her ways were odd to us and we were not, by any stretch of the imagination, conservative. In fact, we had come a long way, climbing the ladder so to speak, working and socialising in high places—in government service or in private business. We moved in circles that were the hallmark of modern, urbanised India.
We never commented on her belonging to a different social class, her lineage not in keeping with ours. We knew she couldn’t help the circumstances she was born into. Nor did we concern ourselves with the different traditions she followed. Those we would have found quaint. Perhaps we might have even adopted a couple of her customs. After all, what else is marriage but an alliance between two ways of life?
The problem lay elsewhere. Mrinalini was a nonconformist, a wayward individual, a girl who kept to herself as if not part of the human chain of togetherness. Mrinalini was a grain against our social milieu.
To a tight-knit family such as ours—a family that ate together, went on outings together, shopped together, celebrated together—her behaviour amounted to rejection. Mrinalini seemed disdainful of everything we said or did.
She was always sweet to our faces, of course; she was not so naïve. Sometimes she would sit with us, but more often than not she remained isolated in her room and refused to engage in conversation. On such occasions we could hear her muttering and humming to herself. Other times she would take off on a whim to some godforsaken gathering of those who thought and talked as she did.
Yes, Mrinalini was odd, and we did not understand her…
Pony Harris by Tanya Jacob Knox We met Pony Harris in line for The Rocky Horror Picture Show in West Los Angeles back in our early twenties. She was this short fat girl with no apologies and a square, flat face that looked remarkably like a bull. Piercings up her ears and one through her bottom lip. A voice that was dull and funny. She liked riding horses.
Her smile sat strange in our stomachs. She was intimidating…
Island Rocks by Dora L Harthen Sentinels, slick with rain and mist from the sea, we line the coast. Jagged, our dark shale is lethal. No beacon cuts through the blackness of night or the fog of day; there is no safe haven here, no help for the stricken. Alone, we watch and wait, bearing witness to the passage of time. After years of silence, our peace is disrupted. Incessant chatter ripples across the tide and echoes against our granite backs. A large craft anchors in the distance beyond our rocky stacks. Tentative steps taken from a bobbing dinghy announce the new arrivals.
Once there was a time when they were all so eager to leave. Hardships endured for centuries grew intolerable to the dwindling number of inhabitants. We remember the first. We remember the last—intrepid explorers, faithful monks, crofters and seafarers. All struggled to survive. We remember the final two. They refused to leave and waved off the last of the evacuees with a dismissive shrug. The old woman died two months later. Her husband held out for a full year.
A strange spectacle, these seasick tourists with their clicking cameras…
Our Something Said by Zena Shapter In all our hearts lies the fear that someday our children might be taken from us. For some of us though, it’s more of a knowledge. We live waiting for the day it will happen. We’re not sure how exactly it will happen—after all, our children are only three, four, maybe five—yet they behave so differently from others that the idea of losing them feels inevitable.
It’s why we hope no one sees us as we leave our community health centres. The more people who know that our children are in counselling, the more people will judge. Our parenting will be blamed, and people will say we’re the ones with the real problem, projecting it onto our kids. In part, they may be right. But until we know that for sure, we don’t want to be judged. Our children’s demise is hard enough to bear as it is.
So, on the road outside the centre, we hurry our families into cars, checking over our shoulders as we always do. Is today the day we’ll be spotted?
‘Let’s go!’ we mutter to our husbands, who aren’t quite as anxious.
‘I don’t know. Yes, I suppose. Let’s just go.’
When our husbands pick the beach route home, buzzing down the car windows so the kids can watch the surf, we’re mad at them for not understanding—until we realise it’s okay if someone sees us now. It’ll just look as if we came from the playground around the corner. So we allow ourselves a moment and breathe in the salty sea air, exhaling slowly.
In the silence, our husbands try to make us feel better. ‘You know it’s not us, right? Our parenting is fine.’
Not moving our eyes from the horizon, we nod. ‘But we have to try.’
‘By doing what?’
‘I don’t know.’
Our counsellors have told us to spend at least ten minutes a day playing ‘special time’ with our children They say the same thing to all of us, though we don’t know that at first. We think their advice is specific to our individual situations…
A House for the Wazungu by Anne Goodwin The day the helicopter came, it hovered over our village like an airborne hippo, rocking the sky with the buzz of a churchful of bees. The children threw down their pencils and raced out to the football field to wave. We parents were not so readily impressed; we might have raised our heads from our work and squinted up against the sun, but only for as long as it took to wipe the sweat from our brows. We knew that no helicopter could help us get our maize planted or cook the ugali at the end of the day, so we continued working. All but Albert Lumumba. What could he do? A man cannot call himself a teacher unless he has pupils to teach.
By all accounts, he reached the football field in time to see the broad-shouldered men in dark glasses step down onto the rough grass, to watch them hand out sweets in cellophane wrappers to the children. Just in time to clap his hands and draw his pupils’ attention to how the blades that lifted the machine into the sky were shaped like the wings of a bird, as if the sudden appearance of two men from the city were part of his lesson plan. Albert Lumumba escorted the visitors back to the school. He invited them to sit on stools in the shade of the great thatched roof and watch his pupils perform their song and dance of welcome. He sent one of the children to Miriam Moto’s stall to fetch chai in china cups. What else could he do? Visitors, however noisy and inconvenient, must be entertained.
Before the sun went down, Albert Lumumba called us to the school to meet the strangers from the city. He said they had a message that concerned us all. We sat cross-legged on the floor while the broad-shouldered men explained that if we built a brick house with its own latrine, wazungu would come and spread dollars around our village.
We laughed. Why would the wazungu want to come to Kanini? Wazungu like to see elephants, crocodiles and leopards. Elephants that trample the crops in the fields. Crocodiles that steal the best bathing places in the rivers. Leopards that snatch sleeping babies from their hammocks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have no elephants, crocodiles or leopards in Kanini…