2018 SA Writers College Short Story Competition Third Place


'Mother Knows' - by Hendri Rhodes


‘It’s another one of her special announcements.’ I press my shoulders back into the soft leather to try and relieve the stress I feel building up in my neck.

‘Don’t entertain her need for attention,’ Doc’s voice is steady, like someone who knows all about narcissistic sociopaths but has never actually met one.

‘It’s more trouble not to, if I don’t go, she’ll spread a rumour or have my dog murdered or something. Besides, I’m going for my siblings. Moral support and all that.’

I wonder what it’s going to be this time. The possibilities are endless; maybe she’s getting married again, or she’s returning to India for her second stint in the artful studies of Kama Sutra. My mother really is a character.

‘Tell me something nice about her,’ he asks.

‘She was involved in a smash and grab once.’ I wait for him to say something, but I hear nothing except his steady breath.

‘Anyways, when the police officer tried to calm her down from her panic attack she told him, and I swear this is true, that she was starting to hibernate! Not hyperventilate!’

I laugh hysterically until tears come out. ‘She can make me laugh. Does that count?’ I ask.

Still nothing. I think about the question seriously without letting sarcasm infiltrate my answer. Apparently that’s not healthy.

‘She gave me my siblings,’ I say it and I mean it so earnestly that it aches. I think of the twins, who are so far away, studying in Germany.

‘What would you say if I came with you tonight?’

‘I’m sure you have better things to do. It’s Friday night.’ I really hope he doesn’t.

‘I think it would be beneficial if I could observe her to create a profile on how you can best handle her in the future.’

I relax at the idea of having a date to this doomed occasion. ‘Okay, if you think it could be useful.’

Doc picks me up at six thirty. Since it’s a semi-formal occasion he had no choice but to dress up. Gone are the oversized grandpa jerseys. Not that I mind those, he looks so snuggly in them. Like a writer who lives in a snowy cabin somewhere unknown, beyond the world of dysfunctional psychology.

His suit is brown, which he pairs with a light blue shirt, and his shoulder length hair is tousled in a come-to-bed way. Just an observation, the man is fourteen years my senior… and my therapist! If I had any appeal, it vanished with the idea that he could inherit my family.

I wear black. My siblings and I decided to always wear black to these occasions as a symbol of our shared grief.

We arrive promptly at seven o’ clock. Sparkling Porches and pretentious SUVs with personalized number plates indicate the type of people we can expect; Assholes.

‘Let’s go in the back.’ Doc gives me a suspicious look but he goes along with my plan.

We hide behind the kitchen door. I tell myself it’ll all be okay if I can just make it to the bar and get a drink in me before I have to deal with all of this. Lucky for me the house is bubbling with conversation, but I know somewhere amongst the smiling faces, she waits, to pounce.

‘This is very infantile behaviour, Frances. If you want your mother to realize she has no power over you, you need to act like she doesn’t’

‘Listen Doc,’ I start to reprimand him, but I’m caught off guard by his smell, like a warm sandalwood breeze just blew in from a pine forest. It drifts off of his body and mesmerizes me. Just for an instant. I try again. ‘Listen Doc, you are here at your own request as an observer. If I act any differently, she’ll sense something is up and you would have wasted your time.’ I scan the room once more to make sure I am not intercepted before I reach the bar.

‘Now remember the cover story, you are my date for the evening. You’re new in town and you work as a patent lawyer at my company.’

‘Yes, thank you.’ He nods and the corner of his mouth curls up ever so slightly. What is happening to me? Why have I never noticed how intoxicating he is? Forget about that, I need to get through this night. Act normal... Normal? What is normal?

‘Take my arm.’ Doc has his arm out, real gentleman style.

I raise an eyebrow. He’s relentless. Clearly he doesn’t understand the concept of blending in.

‘We’ll walk in together,’ he nods towards his arm presented to me at a right angle. ‘Trust me,’ he adds.

‘Fine.’ I take his arm and stand up straight. I hadn’t realized I was crouched all this time, like a kid spying on adults. What must he think of me?

‘Ready?’ he looks down at me. I never realized how tall he is, and the way he smells…

Instead of saying something witty, I make a sarcastic gesture and a little snort comes out. Well done Frankie, turn on the charm.

We glide gracefully together through the crowd toward the bar. Before we reach it the guest toilet door under the stairs swings open. Mary, my oldest sister reaches out and grabs my arm.

‘Get in here!’ She spots Doc. ‘Oh, hi Doc, do you mind?’

‘Not at all. I was just about to get a drink. Can I bring you girls something?’

‘Oh how kind, but Felix is on his way. We’re, we’re just discussing something,’ Mary smiles, as if having a group discussion in a toilet cubicle is normal at parties. It is for us, but right now in Doc’s company I realize how ridiculous it must look. We only started doing it so mother couldn’t send for us in our bedrooms. The guest toilet became our safe space.

Felix, my youngest brother arrives carrying a fully laden tray. Six shots of Bourbon, three wine glasses and a bottle of Pinotage.

‘Going in?’ Doc is so gallant it makes me all mushy. Please Lord, if I’m going to fall in love with him, can it be another night?

‘Ah Doc, I didn’t recognize you,’ Felix is a six foot two version of Mowgli. His father is a rich British Indian man, and he definitely got the best of both worlds, with his exotic features, Dutch height and green eyes. He balances the tray on one hand and greets the good Doctor with the other. ‘Come to observe the beast in her natural habitat, have you?’ he asks.

‘Indeed I have,’ Doc smiles. ‘Well, I’ll be around’ he winks at me. For a moment I replay the image of him winking at me over in my mind.

‘What a night you’ve chosen. Won’t be long,’ Felix enters the bathroom, tray and all and shuts the door behind him. It’s not cramped inside, it provides just the right amount of intimacy and space. Felix and I sit on the small armchairs against the wall and Mary, the oldest, takes the throne. In the minds of children, it was the important seat.

We don’t say anything. First things first, we chug the bourbon and wash it down with a gulp of Pinotage. Come on alcohol. Get in my tummy and hit that brain barrier! Let’s go go go!

I look at Mary. She is tough and yet has the most gentle features, a serene beauty if ever there was one. I must say, my mother’s children are striking, tall with piercing eyes and full lips, but on the inside, it’s turmoil.

Mary folds her hands in her lap. ‘Alright Felix, what is it?’

‘There’s a girl in the crowd who referred to herself as ‘the carrier’. Felix raises an eyebrow and sips his wine. ‘She was accompanied by a Dr Fitzgerald’

‘Oh God, what is she up to now?’ Mary shakes her head and purses her lips.

Then a childhood pact re-enters my mind.

‘This is what we’ve always spoken about remember? The five of us, all grown up. We can sever the ties, or at least limit our involvement. Maybe it’s time we stop entertaining the madness.’ As the words tumble from my lips, a great relief seeps through me. This may just be our last special announcement ever.

Felix says what we’re all thinking; ‘Just like we always said. We’re free. This is it.’

Mary nods her head in agreement. ‘It’s time we start living our lives. This will never stop. We have each other, the five of us.’

We conclude that our mother and the mysterious Dr Fitzgerald are going to harvest the organs of the young woman one by one as our mother’s body deteriorates. We laugh, but at the same time, we are completely aware that this scenario is not impossible. Well, it doesn’t matter now. We won’t be around to see it happening. After tonight we will start implementing the plan. Phase one would be to limit phone calls, and then we’d have our first ever Christmas without any drama. Just the five of us.

Felix and I finish our wine. One by one we slip out of the door and join the crowd unnoticed. It’s an art. We disperse into the crowd and meet up again when the bell will sound for the announcement. Yes, there’s a bell.

In my mother’s mind, she is the queen of the universe. A master manipulator who lives the lifestyle of a multi-millionaire without having to work a day in her life. Her friends become servants, her servants become followers, her followers are mind-controlled zombies who live for her every word. Imagine if Charles Manson was a woman of magnificent beauty. Imagine the shit storm and you would get what we have here tonight.

I don’t recognize anyone. Most of the guests are, like my mother, in their late fifties, not really old enough to be harvesting organs. I laugh to myself; maybe it’s the dank air in that room that gives the three of us these crazy Sci-Fi ideas.

The music stops. The crowd as a one-minded animal turns to face the podium. Oh yes, there’s a podium, and it’s custom built. The podium stands on a small yet elevated stage in the corner of the dining hall.

The bell chimes.

Mother appears in a white gown, arms outstretched in welcome. She nods. Everyone cheers.

The mere sight of her makes my heart squeeze into a tight ball. I drink more wine. Doc walks up next to me. He slips his hand under my elbow for reassurance.

‘Welcome friends.’ She smiles down to what I’m sure she sees as sub-humans. Her blushed red lips tear open into a smile that is both seductive and soothing. Oh yeah, these people are screwed. Then I remember: this is it. I smile, my heart explodes in my chest. This is it. I want to burst out laughing but I stand perfectly still because Doc’s hand is still on my elbow and it feels so good.

I spot Felix and Mary standing in the corner. We’re all thinking the same thing. Whatever she says, tonight we will celebrate. Let the madness go on without us.

The young woman joins my mother at the podium. Mother puts her hands on the young woman’s shoulders, then she looks directly at me and says: ‘I am very happy to announce that, thanks to my foresight of freezing some of my eggs, that I will become a mother again through surrogacy.’

The revulsion prickles in my toes and flames up inside me filling me with heated anger. It feels like my eyeballs are being cooked from the inside. Completely overcome with a Molotov of emotions and no way to respond without exploding, something inside me gives in, stops fighting and lets go.

In the words of my mother, I start to hibernate.



  Hendri-Rhodes About the author, Hendri Rhodes:

I started telling stories to entertain my five younger siblings. I had to write the stories down because no one spots a plot hole like a kid. I bought a small pocket book and wrote down all kinds of half stories, jokes, and one-liners for movies, sure that I would use them one day. I filled up pocket book after pocket book until one day staring at the paperwork on my desk, I decided to take writing more seriously. I wanted to write for movies so I did some Googling, and started online Screenwriting courses. After completing some courses I wrote a pilot for a South African action drama, which now lives in the second drawer of my desk. More Googling led me to SA Writers College. I enrolled for the Copywriting Course (which is very illuminating and highly enjoyable) and that is how I found out about the SAWC Short Story Competition. Currently I am working on a new screenplay and live happily at the foot of a mountain with my husband and three dogs.


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