2018 SA Writers College Short Story Competition Runner Up

Runner-up-2018

'Hero's Brush With Mutiny' - by Amelia Warren

 

 

 
 
She had always known this moment would come. She had assumed it would happen at night – walking down a scab of a street, turning the corner and noticing the scream of glass beneath the passenger’s window. She imagined herself processing what had happened, the shock and irritation. And then gingerly stepping over the shards and opening the door to inspect what was taken.

The reality of it was different. It was morning, not night-time. The glass on the road looked oddly fitting for the crisp morning air, lying beneath her sunny yellow car like a jagged pool. She moaned, already going over what she had left there – what could have been taken.

Inside, the car was covered in grease. It clung to the steering wheel and betrayed fingerprints on the dashboard. Her radio had been taken, alongside some CDs. She had left a pair of high-heels on the back seat she remembered, on a night she and Claude had decided not to go out after all. She opened her cubby to see if anything was left inside. It was empty, aside – to her surprise - from a paintbrush. It was short and thin – the kind you would use for art not walls, and the wooden base was covered in sellotape. She pressed the bristles against her finger and found that they were soft and light. They reminded her of the down you might find on a baby’s head. She leant back against the passenger seat, inspecting it in the morning light. A halo of brown glowed around the tips as she imagined what it had meant to the person who left it there. It was comforting to think it was an important thing to them, left there like an apology for what had been taken.

She felt the cold air close by her cheek from the broken window and felt the dull weight of what she had lost sift back into her. She felt the grit of the insurance calls and the please-hold-tones and petty expense to come. The banality of the day ahead stretched out before her, and pricked at her eyes.

She became aware now of her puffed up face – full of the salt and mucus of last night’s fight.

Ironically, the first thing that had drawn her to Claude was his sense of finality. He was the type of person who would be vital in an emergency. His booming voice could organize a frightened crowd; he was one of those people who had perfected the scream of a whistle that could silence hundreds; and he spoke with this earnest clarity that made you want to believe him. When they had gone on their first date, she was struck that when he told her she was beautiful, she felt beautiful. She saw herself through his eyes and believed in that moment that it was indeed true – all of the greasy insecurity of adolescence wiped away with one sentence and two intent eyes.

Now, this ability of his is what hurt her most. When they fought he used this power to crush her, like a giant palm sweeping across her face. He told her she was mean, selfish, stupid – and she knew he was right about these things. She fought back, but knew he was telling the truth – simply because he always did.

Last night he had introduced a new adjective to their standard fight. He had overheard her making a flirtatious comment to a friend from work, and he had become fully convinced that she was having an affair, that she neither loved him nor no one else, that she was a ‘slut’. That word had sounded curiously wet in his mouth when he had reached the conclusion of his monologue. Slut.

This was not the first time she had been called this. When she was still in school, she remembered a boy lobbing the word over at her when she had refused to go to the dance with him. It had hit her like a ball of spit, and she had cried. But even then, it had seemed like such a juvenile term. One which should be reserved for school hallways, bubbling out of acne and inexperience. When Claude had said it, it became like something alive, writhing, salivating. Because it became true.

After that she had left, not telling him where she was going, to stay with her sister for the night. Driving along the dark and empty streets she had felt calmer, freed of the heavy grey air she so often soaked up at home. Her sister had been kind, and so she had cried and cried for all the things she had not had the space to previously. Finally, she had woken up – cracked and empty – to her similarly cracked and empty car.

She looked up towards the street ahead of her, rolling the brush between her thumb and forefinger. If they weren’t fighting, at this point she would usually call Claude. He would drive to her and pick her up, place her head on his chest, and know what to do. Even now, she thought he would probably still come. He was dependable like that. In fact, her broken window would serve as a kind of reconciliation mechanism. Like her acknowledging that she needed him. This dependency would reassure him. He had always liked her best when she was sad.

She looked down at the brush again. The small tool looked bashful in her hand, the bristles like fluttered eyelashes. For a while she had taken up painting. She wasn’t good at it, but had found it calming. The colours were all so bright, so sure of themselves. The smell had given Claude headaches.

She decided not to phone. She still stung from last night, and was not ready to give in. She would not go home either – at least not until he apologised. Something had to change.

She organised her next few hours in her mind. She remembered being told by the insurance company that if her car was stolen or harmed by someone unknown, she should first go to the police to get a case number and an inventory of what was taken or broken. This would be her first stop.

She found police stations daunting. In her mind, they would be full of criminals, victims, and heroes – all shouting out their archetypes as loud as they could. The station would feel full of action and noise and horror, and she was afraid that she would not be able to push through the burning crowd to make herself heard. In her actual experience however, this was never the case. People flocked there for a plethora of reasons, but all of them seemed hushed by the brick and bureaucracy that was the reality of the building.

The Claremont station she stepped in front of that Sunday morning was quiet. To get in, she had had to navigate over a carpet of shifting blankets. Bodies and heads tightly tucked beneath them in the hopes of shaving one breath of privacy off of the grey pavement. This was the safest place for them.

Inside, a long line of tired faces greeted her. A woman waiting at the desk with a shaved head looked sharply at her when she opened the gate, and then turned back to the policeman, raking the skin on her wrist. She sat next to someone reading a newspaper, whose head would, almost comically, drop and then rise every few seconds – her body desperately trying to snatch sleep from a rigid wooden bench. In the next room, she could hear a woman crying softly, and at the other side of the desk was a young girl in uniform asking for an ID photocopy for her driver’s license. The quietness of the room disturbed her. The fact that you could pick out every voice and know who it belonged to.

At home, she hated silence. Her happiest moments with Claude were when he was telling her about something that excited him, his voice would grow rich and strong and his grey eyes would lighten, having lost the shadow of his brows. When he was silent he was upset, either with her or with someone else – it often didn’t matter really. She would watch him sit, looking at the floor with his forehead bulging over his face, and she would feel tired and anxious but most of all old. The throbbing silence reminded her of all the time wasted, that she would soon be too tired and ugly to have a real life ever again. They say that tragedy is what pushes people to realize that they must ‘live life to the fullest’, but for her it was these moments of absolute boredom. She was paralyzed by the silence, and saw her squirmy life for what it was. She felt every strip of the quiet seconds pass like sheets of skin being ticked away. The fear of a wasted youth would rock through her body, as Claude stared on at the carpet.

Sometimes she said things just to say them, to have a conversation to help her wade through the stagnant hush. In these moments, she would look around the room, and grab anything to have an opinion about. In response to this, he would sneer, pick up her observation and scratch at it until it peeled off like a sticker.

Claude always said he welcomed old age. He wanted to have the years to accompany his wisdom, mostly so that people would have to listen. She was not yet satisfied with what her youth had given her, she wanted more of it – more noise and colour - at least until her ears and eyes sagged or strained.

A car alarm went off outside. It took a few moments before she realised it sounded like hers. The policeman behind the counter frowned and walked towards the door. She followed. On the street corner, a man was frantically searching her car, his legs sticking out on the pavement. The yellow metal was baking in the sun, and lit up the fringes of his ragged pants. The policeman shouted, and began to run towards the car. The man inside didn’t pause to look up, but shot through, opening the passenger door and staggering out.

She was too bewildered to feel anything at first, but as he hurtled out of the car she saw his face. His expression was set, and his were eyes bulging. But what hit her was how hopeful he seemed. In his widened eyes she saw the bright wish for escape. She saw him outrunning the policeman, making it back home. She saw his face tensed for relief, and she saw that every part of him was racing towards that relief. This expression of hope is what cut her, and what emerged from the cut was a deep gushing of the word “run”. Inwardly, she was screaming it, yelling for the man to escape, to win, to deserve the hope. She recognised that it was so clearly his only option. The only reality he believed in in that moment. She imagined herself jumping up and down, balling her fists and sweeping them across the air, hoping to move him faster.

The policeman caught him. He had the advantage of wearing real shoes. His arms wrapped around the protruding shoulders of the thief, and he grinned at her as he walked past, proud. The man bowed his head – his eyes staring at the ground. His body was tense but strangely still. He reminded her of the rabbits she used to have as a child, which stiffened when finally caught. In his left hand, he was clutching the paintbrush.

The police officer told her that she should come inside to give a statement. She said she would in a moment. After he had left, she got into her car, still seeing the man’s face after he had been caught. The mangled stillness of disbelief coupled with acceptance.

She drove home.

 
 
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Amelia-Warren My name is Amelia Warren. I am 21, and currently doing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Cape Town. I have always really enjoyed reading - both of my parents are authors and gave me a love of books from a young age. I keep a journal, but aside from that most of my writing experiences have come from ordinary school assignments. This was one of my first proper attempts - I enjoyed it a lot and I'll definitely continue writing in the future.
 
 

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