2018 SA Writers College Short Story Competition Winner

 

 

1st-Place-2018

'There's and App for That'- by Simon F. Ratcliffe

 

 

 
 

I know that look. You saw it there, on the side of the road, didn’t you? Near that intersection? Who had it? I bet it was that guy who says he’s a Rasta. His stutter is French but his breath is Russian Bear when he tries to grab your sexy place. No? Was it that Congolese kid, with his perfect white tracksuit and silver Dolce and Gabbana crucifix? When he grins his grills are also made out of Jesus.

No? Ok, the Old Man then? Ja that makes sense, the way you look.

Hey, take it easy! We’re in this together, after all. Now eat your pudding.

Ja, he’s a little guy, that Old Man. He doesn’t even have to bend down to look in through your car window. He always smiles when he sees your elbow on the door lock. The ‘white lock,’ he calls it. But of course everyone does that these days, unless you have one of those larney central locking jobbies on the steering wheel. You can’t be too safe, I scheme.

I think he smiles to show off that gold tooth of his, to catch your eye. Everyone loves gold, right?

And now that the Old Man has your eye he shows you his, playing hide and seek behind cornrows as grey as a rough diamond, as grey as that solitary eye. You can’t look away when he speaks to you, because he knows you’ve seen what he has and you want it. You just nod as he scampers up the muddy pavement to fetch that selfie stick from among his stash of fake superglue and oversized sunglasses and even crappier selfie sticks.

‘I call it The Wand,’ he says.

You look in the rear view mirror, anxious about holding up the traffic, but no one is in a rush. It’s an overcast Sunday and the three cars behind you seem as sedate as their drivers, engines barely ticking over against the sludge of apathy that has set in, listless occupants gazing out the window or looking at their cell phones. A fanbelt squeals a weak protest. You realize deep down that this is always how it goes, here.

‘Don’t worry about them,’ the Old Man says. ‘They’ll make time for The Wand.’

You don’t ask why he calls it that, or why it’s so surprisingly expensive. You just empty out your wallet and the Old Man’s right eye, the brown one, flicks across the notes counting Mandelas while that rough diamond watches your fingers caress The Wand. Exploring the shape of it. How cold it feels.

‘How does it work? Are there instructions?’

‘Oh don’t worry about that my friend. The Wand will show you.’

‘Um, what?’
‘Here, it has a connector for your phone.’

‘It’ll take you to the app store to set it up. Yes?’

‘Ah! Right! You know, I…never wanted one of these before.’

The Old Man backs away from your window, returning to his midden of plastic curiosities.

‘They all say that.’

And before you can ask what he means, the car behind you revs and hoots, time coils its slackened spring as tight as the furrows between the driver’s Oakleys, a dismembered scowl in your mirror.

Oh…ok totally, if you’re not going to have it. Butterscotch is my favourite. Mmm, thanks.

Sure, you feel pretty stupid. You go home and chuck it on the counter with the rest of your shopping. You always give yourself a little treat on a Sunday, maybe a nice meal or new pants or another one of those books on poetry or Buddhism you never get round to finishing. Hey, don’t look so guilty. No one does.

But there is a reason why it caught your eye, this thing you don’t want.

It is scintillating, quite literally. Even though it is just plastic and metal and mostly black, it has a gleam to it, like glitter. As you go about your chores it always makes its presence known.

And it only glitters when glimpsed.

You pick it up and are surprised by how much it weighs, heavier than you would have thought but still comfortable to hold, even more so once you’ve clipped your phone on. It balances out nicely as you extend the monopod and take a snap in front of your bookshelf. You check the photo and try four more, adjusting the books to make sure the desired titles are in focus. The results are pretty arb, even with a filter, but you post them anyway.

OMG! Cant believe i bought a selfiestick!

chilledsunday reading firsttimeshelfie

By the time you’ve had dinner it only has three thumbs and no hearts. One of them is your Mom.

You put down your cell, pause the GOT episode and look at the two connectors on The Wand. One plugs into the headphone jack and the other into the phone’s data port. You think about the Old Man and his grey cataract poached in spent tractor oil as you slide your phone home onto the socket.

Yes, you trust this accessory.

Yes, you want to get the App.

Are you sure?

Does it usually ask that? You hesitate just a moment, but then remember your phone is backed up, secure in the knowledge you can roll back.

Yes, you’re sure.

AKARON KABA! TAKE A PHOTO! The APP is only 9 Megs. There’s not a lot of reviews but they’re all glowing, and it’s free with the selfie stick. You GET Akaron Kaba.

Feet up with a glass of wine, you take your first proper selfie with The Wand. It looks amazing. YOU look amazing. You didn’t even realize the sun was setting behind you and sure enough, the rays boast a palette of colour that you’d only expect from an epic movie, a cinematic depth that makes you want to tip forward and into the picture in delightful vertigo.

You are pensive yet playful, on fleek AF. Everything is in focus. You don’t even try for another shot.

Perfect end to a perfect weekend!! africansunset nofilter

The next morning you have 152 likes, 53 loves, 17 shares and a Superlike by an unexpected admirer. You swipe right away. By lunch time your photo trends on sunsetsofafrica.

That evening when you put yourself to bed early with a cough and a Medlemon, you have 44 new friend requests and a rather suggestive PM. It feels pretty good.

In the coming week you post a couple of foodfies. While they look

scrumptious, you don’t have the heart to mention the dishes are insipid. That crowd pleaser of a lasagna recipe perfected by your Mom is bland as an Al Gore documentary. Your flat white has less kick than warm milk, even with its

COFVEVE art.

But then you’re tapped by a clickbait to write an article and ‘Food Selfies: Five Ways To Capture The Best Foodfie’ earns you four times what you paid for The Wand and an onslaught of followers and friend requests. So, yeah! That’s fine.

On Thursday morning your boss calls you into her office and is absolutely delighted to inform you of your promotion, with Social Media Coordinator being added to your portfolio! She’s extremely excited by it all and you know you should be, like, happy or something.

And then it’s Bland Friday. You feel like shit scraped off a takkie but it’s the weekend; The Wand sits and waits, expectant. You’re surprised by how much it waits.

A few celebratory cocktails with colleagues on Friday night, a short hike with some friends on Saturday and clawing through another vanilla Kirstenbosch Gardens show on Sunday with that suggestive Superlike are posted as

TGIF! weekendcocktails bestjobeva

and

Table Mountain you beauty! humbledbynature bffs

and

Gonna download the album! date kirstenboschsummerconcerts

OldMutuallybeneficial

The following Monday your phone is flat when you get home from work. You’ve rushed into the bathroom to cough up a knot of phlegm and you venture a look in the mirror, the first analogue glimpse of yourself in days.

The person who looks back at you isn’t you. That person has a bluish shade to their lips like an overboiled egg. That person can fit their index fingers into the black hollows below their eyes. That’s not the same person on your phone who was just emailed by a bank wanting to use you for their next Youtube ad, the kind you can’t skip even after five seconds, ‘cause OldMutuallybeneficial.

You’re sent home by your boss the next day and the neighbourhood tortoiseshell climbs onto your bed to purr on your chest. That night she poses for one Petfie before leaving for good and QUEENOFCATS catsofinstagram is Liked by all 4999 of your friends. Because that’s the limit.

The Wand is never far from your bed over the next couple of days and your post Down ‘n out! Can I haz teh chicken soup? flusucks illfie gets over 17k comments from your friends all over the world, including quite a few chicken soup recipes and at least eight vouchers from nearby restaurants. And of course a few mean comments too because, internet.

>Hey you, malingering much or just calling a sicko, LOL!

>Too hot to be sick! humblebrag fakenews

>Dont ya totes hate wen ppl dont whatsapp after a date? fml

and the inevitable

>Babe, HR called, inbox me, ‘K? xx

You can see the problem, of course. You look fucking great. And with all those comments you feel like a very lonely Influencer as you try to close AKARON KABA and show your friends and followers and HR you’re not faking, but the App doesn’t have a logout option.

The next morning you’re too weak to go to the toilet and you eventually call your Mom lying in your own piss. She uses her key to get in and bursts out crying when she sees you, mumbling stuff like, ‘Oh God! My baby, I’m so sorry!’

You open your mouth and your voice cracks like a blister pack,

‘It’s ok Mom. I really didn’t think I was that sick.’
She is already calling the ambulance and smiling through her tears and perceived failure, a hand on your brow like when you were a kid.
‘You just looked so…great! You know?’

So here we are almost a week later, in this together. Ja, your Dad’s gone to get fresh clothes and your Mom’s sleeping, I scheme. Those last two posts with your doctor and that chemo kid are trending big time by the way. You know there’s a vigil for you both outside? Crazy shit. Just crazy.

You wanna know what I see? Ok, I’ll be straight; you look like crap. Actually, you look like if I sneezed I’d punch a hole through you, kinda like rice paper. I can see your spine and the way your lungs push against the weight of your chest, and the blood that moves like mud in the highways of your arteries. Sometimes when you have to sit up to spit out your bits I can see that lamp there right through you. Ja, sometimes I can.

Hey, I have to know something. Did you go back to the Old Man? Sorry for asking, it’s just - sometimes I can see what he’s up to, sometimes I can’t.

Ok, I thought you might. What did you ask him?

Hmm.

Well, no. You can’t roll back.

Ok hot stuff, time to go. Let’s take one parting shot first, for everyone to remember you by. Ja sure I know it’s not real, but you’ll look fabulous and it’ll be real enough to them. Over time far more real than this body of yours in an open cask with wax and cotton and makeup restoring those sunken cheeks. Doesn’t that sound better? Here, let me help you. Nah it’s chilled, I won’t show up in the photo, I never do.

Oh and if it makes you feel any better, it’s not just you.

Some are affected more than others but everyone is being robbed these days.

There’s just not much soul left to go round.

 

 

 

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  Simon F. Ratcliffe describes himself as a complete tourist to the writing realm. He has worked in theatre, co-produced films and has popped up on several panels including a few Franschoek Literary Festival events. A musician and professional sound engineer, existing publications are mostly linked to his previous life in academia such as the non-fiction work titled, completely unironically, "Sound Engineering for the Visually Impaired." His most recent project, Little Wing, is a noir fairytale book for grown-ups working alongside illustrators Helo Samo and Caitlin Mkhasibe. Simon occasionally disappears up the mountain and returns with a full beard and a couple of stories.

 
Simon-Ratcliffe  
 
 
 

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