Speakeasy

Downtown Johannesburg back in the day. Oh yes, late on Thursday nights through the arcade, down two flights of stairs, through the padded black swing doors, with the bodyguard’s muscles testing the limit of his too-small shirt.

It was not the booze that was illicit, but the company we kept. Apartheid, you know. There was Thandi riffing and bending on her alto sax in her high heels and fishnets, and dark frilly party dress. Her full lips needed no lipstick but she wore it anyway out of defiance.

We all listened, sitting squashed up cheek by jowl at small round tables, our legs crossed and wrapped round each other to save space. Early in the evening, a slow intro to Baker Street, with a slightly altered syncopated African beat. The drummer in his dark Ray Ban shades.

Andrea always liked a neat scotch on the rocks. The saxophone brought that risqué strand out in her.

Tonight there was a new woman there. She had ordered a beer but could not reach the bottle or the glass that the overworked waiter had put on the table.

Thandi was in full swing now flirting with the guy on the keyboard.

Andrea took that beer glass and held it at an angle, and slowly, as the sax did more bends with a vibrato flourish, poured the perfect slim beer for the woman eyeing her.

She handed her the beer silently, and lifted her own glass in a toast. That woman had lesbian eyes. It was too loud to say anything. Thandi was having a good night on the stage tonight. And how.

©2019 Allison Wright
[277 words. 7 minutes writing, 3 for typo correction]

Dream remembered

In was in these very hills soon after I came to this place that I had a vivid dream.

After climbing steep hill, I was led through a large courtyard painted white, up some stairs and through tall, heavy wooden doors into what seemed like another world.

Inside, tall thin arches covered with long drapes in rich fabric wafted slightly in the breeze. The hall – for that’s what is was – had drapes hanging everywhere, so that the precise size of the room could not be discerned. One could not see the walls themselves.

There was a large rectangular table at one end with people seated around: Arabs, Africans, men, women, all in grand attire. In the centre, a heavy round table, covered with a cloth. In the corners of the room were large brocade cushions piled high. People were dressed in long robes, and cloth headdresses studded with jewels and reclining, comfortably talking, and drinking out of jewel encrusted goblets.

As I entered, wearing a plain purple robe and leather sandals, but no other adornment, an imposing woman stood up.

She had the most magnificent robe of all. Deep purple, with swirls of bright blue, and gold brocade on a matching outer cloak. It complemented her dark brown complexion perfectly, and set off her bright eyes with a power I had seldom seen in a woman.

As she rose, so too did everyone else. She approach me slowly , with the dignity befitting her office.

She said, “So, you have come”.

I stood tall, bolt upright and held her gaze, “Yes, I have”.

She took her time and circled around me, at about two metres distant, inspecting me, it seems. The hall was quiet, but not unsympathetic.

I stood motionless and looked straight ahead. When she had come full circle she faced me once again. Raising her chin ever so slightly, as those of authority do, she said in a deep, resonant voice, “Welcome!”

With that she handed me the gold goblet in her hand. I raised it in a toast to her, with my head bowed for a moment, and then drank my first sip. I felt as if I had come home.

(This was the first dream I had, very soon after emigrating to Portugal.)

©2019 Allison Wright
[366 words. I cheated again: total time 12 minutes + 2 minutes for editing.]

A visitor

We discovered that the young guy at the meeting was called Thabo. We also discovered that his uncle’s big house was just around the corner from where we lived. Well, just around the corner, if you can walk with ease, that is. He already had elbow crutches, and walked with difficulty. I could see it in the tensing of his arm muscles and clenched grip. And he knew very little about what MS was going to take from him. New diagnoses are the hardest.

But hey, this guy was so determined to “keep on going”. We said, “Come around on Saturday, we’re home all day”. So he did.

It was the time of the food shortages. He was very respectful to arrive at 2.30 pm. The fact was that we had not eaten yet. I was about to serve our lunch, when the bell at the gate rang.

He followed me up the drive, and took a seat. I said, “Now, listen, I can see that you walked all the way here. We were about to have lunch. It is chicken wings and gravy with rice. And some spinach from the garden. We would love you to join us in our meal”.

The tall, skinny young man beamed bashfully. “Only if there is enough…” Yeah, I thought. He had not eaten yet today either.

“Today, there is”.

So there we sat, the three of us in our lounge, with trays on our laps. And plates piled with real food. I silently thanked God that on this day, we had enough food for everyone.

We had a lovely conversation after that, with our bellies full. He could tell a good story, that Thabo.

©2019 Allison Wright
[285 words. Total time: 11 minutes ]

The box

“What this doing outside?”

Cath and Andrea had just moved house. Outside the side door on a narrow strip of cement running the length of the building was a box of papers belonging to Andrea.

“You need to sort it before it comes inside,” said Cath.

Andrea pouted. “What if it rains?”

“Best get to it, then, sweetie.”

Andrea sat on the box for a few minutes. “Bloody hell!”

Then she lifted it up and took it to the back garden. There was a 44-gallon drum there. She tossed most of the papers into the drum, doused them with cigarette lighter fuel, set a match to them, and watched them burn.

Her early literary efforts went up in flames, apart from one of two sheets of paper. She figured that she had sorted those papers pretty well. Done!

©2019 Allison Wright
[140 words]

Office

She was on the phone when Andrea walked in. Cath had her feet crossed at the ankles, resting on an old manilla folder on top of one corner of her enormous desk. Her ankle-high Continental-style leather boots were scuffed at the heel, and the soles were somewhat worn, but still held faint traces of chic.

Black tapered trousers, red and white flecked jacket, white shirt, and fancy wrist watch. This was Cath faking it until she made it. Not that she wasn’t doing too badly on the making it part, but she was ambitious.

She motioned to Andrea to turn around so that she could see how Bert had cut her hair. Andrea obliged.

“It’s a war zone around here. Operations just don’t get it. But you’re looking great, my love. Thanks for the burger, by the way”. She smiled as she took her first bite.

©2019 Allison Wright
[145 words]

Bertram

“It feels weird being here without Cath,” said Andrea as she sat down in front of the mirror. Bert flashed a bright smile at her, but said nothing. Always so composed, in his designer blue jeans, loafers, and perfect white shirt, cuffs rolled, scissors and comb at the ready.

He looked intently at her in the mirror. “I was thinking maybe we could go shorter here. Assymetrical.” Andrea turned her head to one side as Burt drew the line against her scalp to show her.

“Do your thing, Bert. Strictly club cut, though.”

“Of course.”

It was like a meditation. Bert’s clean shaven head, his neat hands. Always, his mouth closed, his relaxed, even breathing. The sculpture was conducted in silence, while the latest hits played at low volume in the background. This was his art; he was in his zone.

©2019 Allison Wright
[142 words. Writing: 7 minutes; editing 3 minutes]

Scouring

I watered the garden while thinking about this, then came inside and wrote it. So, not five minutes’ worth, exactly.

Cath was at the sink, cleaning the pot. Her shoulders were hunched, Every now and then she dabbed the steel wool in the plastic container full of scouring powder. Scrubbing, scrubbing. God only knows why. The pot wasn’t burnt or anything. No. It has to be perfect, as always, shining as if it were new.

The old stainless steel pressure cooker was used for almost everything. Now she was scrubbing the outside. And now the lid.

She ignored Andrea who had walked into the kitchen, tossed her bag on the kitchen table, and said “Hi, honey, I’m home”, by way of humour. Cath seemed intent on not turning around.

Then Andrea saw. She was crying. Jaw clenched, red cheeked. Tears streaming down her cheeks. That’s when she sniffed. Andrea came closer, and put her hand on her shoulder. Cath whipped around, eyes huge and angry, “What?!”

“I was about to ask you the same thing”, said Andrea.

“It’s Len. He’s dead. Bert told me when I saw him at the salon today.”

©2019 Allison Wright
[192 words. Writing: 7 minutes; editing 3 minutes]