archive - issue 14

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  • Title
  • Date
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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Carla Chait

Carla Chait

Monday, 26 September 2016 16:54

The prisoner

The clink-clink of chains along the corridor of area 354 is indicative of the approach of a prisoner. A prisoner is approaching and I am on outpatient duty, on TTOs: to take out. Each of us gets a TTO day; all of us except for Jacquie, the head of the dietetics department in the hospital. Being on TTOs means that you are responsible for attending to all of the patients that enter the dieticians’ office on that particular day. Everyone: new patients; follow-ups; bookings. You need to attend, direct, or counsel, depending on the circumstance. My TTO day is a Wednesday.

‘You hear that?’ Anneke murmurs and my stomach drops. ‘Clink-clink. Clink-clink.’

The prisoners are chained across their wrists and ankles so that they hobble along Hospital Street and chime. Every man has at least one security guard with him. The camaraderie on show between the prisoners and their guards intrigues me. ‘Why?’ Anneke has asked. ‘You don’t see that kind of relationship between the staff and the patients in the wards,’ I told her. ‘A criminal offence is cooler than getting a hernia repaired,’ she said. ‘Do you think that the security guards respect the prisoners?’ ‘I think that they feel responsible for them. Like they need to protect them, to stand up for them.’ ‘Why don’t the ward staff feel that way about the patients?’ ‘The patients are sick.’ ‘The prisoners who come into the hospital are also sick.’ ‘But they’re not sickly,’ Anneke said. ‘Their guards defend them, they don’t look after them. It’s different.’

The clinking stops and the door handle rattles.

‘Push, don’t pull,’ Anneke grumbles.

The handle clicks down, the door is pulled back, and jams.


‘I think I’m going to make a sign,’ Claire says pointedly. 

‘What, ‘Push not Pull’?’ Anneke taunts her. ‘When you made a sign for the outpatient consulting times it made absolutely no difference.’

‘That’s because it was torn down.’

‘Well doesn’t that explain everything?’

Is this really the time to be arguing about this? ‘Should I go to open it?’ I ask them.

The door handle clicks again and releases. It clicks again and the door opens. Claire turns her head.

‘Prisoner?’ I ask her. I’m standing opposite, on the other side of the desk, behind Jacquie’s empty chair.

‘Prisoner,’ Claire nods.

‘Is he from your ARV clinic?’

‘I don’t know him, but he’s probably been sent here from 556.’

Anneke offers to see him for me.

‘No it’s fine, I’ll do it.’

‘Don’t let him try his luck,’ Claire bites, anticipating conflict and already taking up arms. ‘There’s a calculator on top of the filing cabinet.’

‘For what?’

‘To calculate his BMI.’

‘Right.’ I take a pen off Jacquie’s desk.

The prisoner has two security guards with him: a tall, broad man with a thick moustache, and a younger, shorter guard with excited eyes. The prisoner’s eyes are dark and piercing; his jaw, strong and angular; his body, slim and compact.

‘Can I help you?’ I address the three of them.

The younger guard taps the prisoner’s arm. The man raises his shackled wrists and moves the letter in his hands to the tips of his fingers. The guard gives the letter to me.

‘You’re from 556,’ I see in the top right corner.

‘Yes,’ the young guard replies, ‘from the clinic.’

The other guard slumps down into one of the chairs in our entrance and starts fiddling with a tear in the green plastic covering.

The doctor’s handwriting is illegible. I pick out the words ‘supplement’ and ‘hunger strike.’

‘I can’t read it,’ I say to the guard. ‘I don’t understand,’ I tell the prisoner.

The young guard explains, ‘He says that he was used to getting extra foods at the prison.’

‘What prison?’                         

‘The prison where he was before.’

‘He’s moved prisons?’ To more or less severe confinement? I look at the prisoner who’s looking at me, ‘And now?’

‘Now he doesn’t get the foods,’ the young guard answers.

‘What were you getting at the last prison?’ I ask the prisoner.

‘Extra foods,’ the guard answers again.

‘What extra food? Why?’

‘Because I have HIV,’ the prisoner speaks slowly, giving each word weight.

‘He needs extra foods. He have HIV.’

‘You only need extra food if you are underweight,’ I respond to the guard, but keep looking at the prisoner. ‘Come, should we weigh you?’

I can see that the prisoner’s not underweight, but it’s easier to go through the whole ordeal than to try fight through an explanation. If you weigh and measure then they feel serviced, and you feel justified in sending them away. But this is where Claire and I differ – I don’t care about being justified, I just want them to leave. I can’t bear having to go through the whole ordeal.

‘We are going to weigh him?’ The young guard thinks we’re doing something very important.

‘Yes, on the scale. Will you help him to it?’

The prisoner begins walking. His steps are small and locked; his arms swing from side to side. When the guard approaches to assist, he shakes his head and the guard steps back. But when he reaches the scale, he sees that there is a small step. He turns to the guard, who comes immediately.

I write the prisoner’s weight on the back of the referral letter.

‘You can take him,’ I tell the guard, who takes the man’s elbow.

The prisoner steps back. The young guard stays where he is. ‘What it means, the scale?’

‘I want to take his height first.’ The second stage.


I show the prisoner into the consulting area.

The guard wants to come too. ‘I must help him?’

‘There’s no step for the height meter,’ I tell him.

The guard steps forwards and backwards, and then moves from side to side in agitation. He’s acting out his part excellently: he defends, I refuse.

‘With your back against the wall,’ I tell the prisoner. ‘Wait...’

‘What?’ the guard leans sideways.

I extend the measuring arm and then instruct the prisoner to stand back against the calibrations. I write his height under his weight on the referral letter.

‘That’s fine, you can go back to the entrance,’ I tell him then.  

I do all of this, labour through it, but I don’t feel any especial antagonism for the prisoners. The strain is about the procedure, not the person. I’m curt because I don’t feel anything for the instructions.

The young guard leans over again, ‘Why you measure him?’

‘I want to see if he’s the right weight for his height. Claire?’


‘Don’t worry, I found it.’

The guard starts talking, but quiets when he sees I’m busy with the calculator. I calculate the prisoner’s body mass index, which falls into the normal range.

‘Your weight is fine,’ I tell him.

‘What you say?’ the young guard asks me.

Does he want me to spell it out? ‘He’s not underweight. He doesn’t need to be supplemented.’

‘You can’t give him something if he is HIV?’

‘Not if he’s normal weight.’

Claire rolls her seat away from her desk. She won’t let me handle it. She’ll intervene so that the whole thing goes up in flames.

‘What’s the problem?’ she comes to stand next to me. ‘If there’s a problem with the food in the prison, you must tell them.’

‘The doctor tell us to come here,’ the guard says.

She ignores him and continues lecturing the prisoner, ‘We cannot change what they are feeding you at the prison.’

‘He was receiving foods,’ the guard says.

‘Apparently before...’ What am I doing now?

‘I heard,’ Claire cuts me off. ‘He must take it up with the prison.’

‘You can’t write him a letter?’ The guard’s provoking her. Not deliberately, he would have asked this of any of us. But for Claire it’s a provocation, and she’s characteristically aggravated by it.

‘No, we can’t,’ she says firmly. ‘We have been instructed by the prison not to write letters of recommendation for their prisoners. They will attend to the problem if there is a problem. He must take it up with the prison.’ She goes back to her seat, having torn up the situation and unnecessarily inciting what have now become our opponents. She creates an opposition and her behaviour makes me want to take the other side.

The tall guard looks up with deadpan eyes. He stands up and stretches his arms, steps to the side and kicks the door by mistake. The young guard turns to look; the prisoner doesn’t turn. He’s kept quiet in all of this, unmoved by Claire’s performance. Unmoved by mine.

‘We go,’ the young guard turns to him. ‘We go back to 556.’

‘That’s fine,’ Claire tightens, but doesn’t look.

The guard doesn’t shut the door behind them, I do. I hang back in the entrance for a moment before going inside. Everyone’s carrying on as normal, although Claire is a wound-up spring.

Anneke watches me sit down. She must be concerned about Claire demeaning my professional ability by stepping in, which is insignificant compared to the scene that has to be made in saying no.

I scratch out the prisoner’s height and weight on the back of the referral letter and throw the piece of paper away into the bin.

‘Was that the referral letter?’ Anneke tries to ease my mood by talking.

That doesn’t usually work with me; I like to think about it first. ‘Hang on.’ I retrieve the letter. ‘Hunger strike,’ I look at her.


‘It says ‘hunger strike’ here in the referral letter.’

‘He’s probably refusing to eat because they won’t supplement him.’

‘I didn’t ask him about it.’

‘It won’t continue for very long.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘He’s new to the prison. He’ll adjust.’

I could have asked him, just so he could say.

‘Do you think that the doctor sent him here for a supplement?’ I ask Anneke.

‘It might have been the sister in charge of the clinic.’

‘The guard said that a doctor had sent them.’

‘What did the referral letter say?’

‘I couldn’t read it.’ I give her the pen that I was using. ‘Please ask Menán to put it on Jacquie’s desk.’

‘That’s my pen,’ Rianna reaches out and Anneke gives it to her.

‘They think that it’s some kind of potion,’ Claire bursts finally.

‘The Mealtime?’ Rianna is impartial here, or more likely, disconnected.

‘The porridge we give out,’ Claire is now talking directly to her. ‘It’s ProNutro. That’s what Jacquie said. It’s basically ProNutro.’

Menán tells us that she once heard Jacquie tell that to a patient. ‘The woman said that it wasn’t a matter of money. She would buy the porridge herself if she had to. It was the only thing that could help her.’

The matter of the prisoner will now be lost in a discussion over the placebo effect of Mealtime porridge. Every encounter is taken on the level of the supplement. I start looking around frantically on my desk for something to do.

‘A male nurse once phoned down from one of my wards asking if he could come and discuss a matter with me in private,’ Rianna says and I begin to sink.  ‘He was fidgety when he came down. When we sat down to talk, he told me that his sister was HIV-positive. He wanted to know if there was anything – any type of food – that we gave out to HIV-positive patients. I told him that we give them a porridge, but only if they are underweight and need it. He said that he wanted to have something to eat with his sister to let her know that it was okay. I said that he didn’t need the porridge and I didn’t know if his sister did either. But still he wanted it.’

She speaks with such a lack of understanding, I should get up and walk out. ‘It’s not such a private matter anymore,’ I mutter to Anneke under my breath.

She thinks I’m overreacting. ‘We don’t know who he is. He could be anybody.’

That’s precisely the point. ‘Still.’



Sunday, 12 July 2015 21:08

Knocked-over robots

My father has long been wanting to compile a photographic portfolio of knocked-over robots in Johannesburg. He and I have a running commentary trailing our sightings – “Have you seen the one on Corlett? Ground into the pavement, like dust.” Sometimes mended quickly, sometimes with delay, these robots are often then knocked over again. 
Wednesday, 21 January 2015 13:18

Smoking with Michel Houellebecq

What is the value of something? ITCH asks French author Michel Houellebecq, in the context of his 2005 novel, The Possibility of an Island
The Possibility of an Island follows two parallel narratives: Daniel1 is a comedian, living in the twenty-first century; Daniel24 and Daniel25 are Daniel1’s successors, clones or neo humans inhabiting a post-apocalyptic world in which the human species is becoming extinct. Why did you choose to structure the novel in this way?

The neo humans, Daniel24 and Daniel25, are entrusted with collating the life story of Daniel1, their original ancestor. The Possibility of an Island is the story of Daniel, told through Daniel1’s autobiographical writings and then reflected on by his clones, Daniel24 and Daniel25. I juxtapose the life story of a twenty-first century human being with the story of his neo human descendants to suggest the values and behaviour that lead to the decline of humanity in the twenty-first century, and to the subsequent rise of neo humanity.

In the first sentence of his autobiography, Daniel1 refers to his “vocation as a clown”. His comedic style is cynical and provocative. A joke: “Do you know what they call that fat stuff around the vagina?” “No” “The woman”. Why a comedian?

Daniel1 is a slave in a literary carnival in which the roles of slave and master are inverted. Daniel1 transgresses all normative hierarchies in subverting his master, society. His depravity reflects the depravity of twenty-first century society. If you’ll remember, after he tells that joke, Daniel1 marvels that despite that sort of thing, he still got good reviews in Elle and Télérama

Isabelle is Daniel1’s first love. She is the editor of a young girl’s magazine called Lolita. Is this detail intended as irony, in light of the previous question?
No. Daniel1 is genuinely both intellectually and physically attracted to Isabelle. The destruction of their relationship begins with the onset of Isabelle’s sexual decline. She is forty when they marry, the age at which Daniel1 believes life ends. Magazines like Lolita promote and perpetuate society’s obsession with endless youth. Choosing to make Isabelle the editor of Lolita, I express her disgrace and inevitable withdrawal from the publication when she feels she can no longer compete with youth and aging. This, to suggest contemporary society’s support of the young and dismissal of the old. 

There is a scene early in the marriage of Isabelle and Daniel1 in which she changes into her swimsuit in front of him and he recognizes her as “wounded in the flesh”. You use the metaphor of the human animal repeatedly in the novel.

Both humans and neo humans understand humanity to be animalistic, driven by the sexual instinct to procreate. When Isabelle sees her body in decay, she becomes humiliated and loses her sexual desire. She then becomes sexually undesirable to Daniel1 and their marriage eventually collapses. 

Are you suggesting that love between partners cannot be sustained in the absence of sexuality?

Yes, I am suggesting exactly that. Because we are animals. Man is an animal in so far as that, without his sexuality, he is dead. When the sexual instinct is dead, Schopenhauer wrote, the true core of life is consumed. 

You describe Esther, Daniel1’s second love, and twenty-five years his junior, as “a luxury animal”; “like all very pretty young girls she was basically only good for fucking”. Could you elaborate.
Esther embodies society’s younger generation that I refer to in the novel as a generation of definitive kids, on a quest for fun and sex. In a capitalist-dominated culture, youth and sexuality are commodified and the consumerist and materialist values of beauty, longevity, money, wealth and sex predominate. 

Here, Daniel1 is the “fatally wounded old animal”.

Yes, Daniel1, forty-seven when he meets Esther, is obsolete. He belongs to a generation that still values love and attachment, as a reflection of sexuality. The younger generation like sex for sex’s sake. Daniel1 commits suicide because his desires can no longer be fulfilled. Esther is not interested in being in love; she rejects the exclusivity that being in love entails, and her generation rejects it with her. The younger generation is love-less in so far as they are superficially concerned with sex.

During his marriage to Isabelle, Daniel1 is introduced to the Elohimites, a sect that worships the Elohim, extra-terrestrials believed to have created mankind and to have defeated death and dying through science. Can you explain this narrative thread?

My intention in including the Elohimite sect in Daniel1’s story is to expose society’s utopian wish for eternal youth. The Elohimites reflect Esther’s generation in that they have no moral inhibitions regarding sex and they do not want to grow old. 

Thus the sect leaders’ research into cloning?

Yes. The Elohimites intend to create a new species of the eternally young through genetic replication. Followers are required to submit a sample of their DNA to the Church. When their body grows too old to be a definitive kid any longer, they will die, usually through suicide, knowing that their genetic code will be perpetuated in a continued existence devoted to pleasure.

You say ‘Church’. Is Elohimism intended as a religion?

Elohimism is intended to replace religion, in that it feeds off a capitalist-dominated culture in which spirituality has been displaced by materialism. Elohimism even displaces consumer capitalism, promising the supremely desirable commodity – youth. 

Defeated by the loss of Esther and recognizing that his sexual opportunities were destined to become rarer and rarer as he grew older, Daniel1 takes his life, after giving a sample of his DNA to the Elohimites. The commentary of his clones, first Daniel24 and then Daniel25, is milder in tone than the passionate writings of their predecessor, Daniel1. How does this reflect the evolution of the species you imagine?

Neo humans are distinct from humans in that they feel neither joy nor sorrow, terror nor ecstasy; experience neither laughter nor tears. They live without mystery.

You’ve eliminated the prospect of pleasure.

Yes. Neo humans live in complete isolation from one another, connecting only virtually. They have a photosynthetic metabolism and so no longer eat. Their primary objective is to inscribe the life story of their human predecessor. 

Daniel24 refers to the First Decrease and the Second Decrease, in which the number of human beings was drastically reduced through environmental disaster, and continues to decline. The remainder of the species are referred to by Daniel24 as “savages”, and are kept out of the enclosures of the neo humans by a protective fence. What are you suggesting about humanity here?

I am suggesting that the spiritual and moral vacuum of the twenty-first century is responsible for society’s decline. A self-centred and hedonistic society, without love, cannot sustain itself. Neo humanity, an ostensibly more evolved humanity, regards human desire as barbaric and man as deserving of pity for his corrupted body and soul. 

At the end of part one of the novel, the life span of Daniel24 ceases. The neo human commentary is picked up by his successor, Daniel25, in part two. Re-inhabiting the residence of his predecessor, Daniel25 finds poems scribbled by Daniel24 that suggest “a curious, disabused bitterness”, “a strangely human weariness, a sensation of vacuity”. What are you suggesting about neo humanity here?

Neo humanity represents an intermediary stage, with the promise of perfection in the coming of the Future Ones, who Daniel24 hails repeatedly in his commentary. Neo humans are an imperfect species in that they show remnants of humanity. Turning away from the path of pleasure without finding an alternative, neo humans prolong the desires of humankind. Neo humans are eternally young, but they are still dissatisfied. The utopia is a failure. 

Is that why Daniel25 defects at the close of the novel?

Yes, Daniel25 leaves the neo human compound and ventures beyond the protective fence because happiness had not come. 

Because neo humans cannot experience pleasure?
No, because neo humans cannot experience love. The desires of Esther and her generation are barbaric because they are purely material. Sexuality without love is savage. Neo humans are not savage because they have eliminated sexuality in eliminating contact with the other, but they are not happy because they have simultaneously eliminated the prospect of love, the possibility of an island. There is no real happiness in the pursuit of pleasure, and there is no love in individual freedom, in independence; there is only love in union. Neo humans have no practical need for the other because the perpetuation of the self through immortality is guaranteed. But they still retain an emotional and sexual need for the other, and in this way, they are no different from Daniel1. 

Reflecting on his experiences in love towards the end of his life, Daniel1 writes, “I had never felt with such clarity that human relations are born, evolve, and die in a totally deterministic manner”. Do you believe in the deterministic fate of man?

It is suffering of being that makes seek out the other, seek love, and it is the loss of the other, the loss of love, that returns us to suffering. In a capitalist-dominated culture of fun and sex, man is fated to suffer because he loses his virility with age and with it, he loses the other. In a neo human culture of isolation and cloned immortality, (neo) man is fated to suffer because he is without the other and without love. Where there is love, there is suffering, because there is inevitably loss. There is no escape from man’s desire and his need for love, and, therefore, there is no escape from his suffering, no escape from himself. Every man has the deterministic fate of Daniel1: to need, seek, love and lose the other, and to suffer for it.

If you could choose immortality?

I wouldn’t. Love would lose its meaning. I would rather love, lose, suffer and die.
Thursday, 17 July 2014 14:12


Wednesday, 17 October 2012 19:51

Old Major's Speech in Consonants

‘Cmrds, y hv hrd lrdy bt th strng drm tht hd lst nght. Bt wll cm t th drm ltr. hv smthng ls t sy frst. d nt thnk, cmrds, tht shll b wth y fr mny mnths lngr, nd bfr d, fl t my dty t pss n t y sch wsdm s hv cqrd. hv hd lng lf, hv hd mch tm fr thght s ly ln n my stll, nd thnk my sy tht ndrstnd th ntr f lf n ths rth s wll s ny nml nw lvng. t s bt ths tht wsh t spk t y.

‘Nw, cmrds, wht s th ntr f ths lf f rs? Lt s fc t: r lvs r msrbl, lbrs, nd shrt. W r brn, w r gvn jst s mch fd s wll kp th brth n r bds, nd ths f s wh r cpbl f t r frcd t wrk t th lst tm f r strngth; nd th vry nstnt tht r sflnss hs cm t n nd w r slghtrd wth hds crlty. N nml n nglnd knws th mnng f hppnss r lsr ftr h s yr ld. N nml n nglnd s fr. Th lf f n nml s msry nd slvry: tht s th pln trth.

‘Bt s ths smply prt f th rdr f ntr? s t bcs ths lnd f rs s s pr tht t cnnt ffrd dcnt lf t ths wh dwll pn t? N, cmrds, thsnd tms n! Th sl f nglnd s frtl, ts clmt s gd, t s cpbl f ffrdng fd n bndnc t n nrmsly grtr nmbr f nmls thn nw nhbt t. Ths sngl frm f rs wld spprt dzn hrss, twnty cws, hndrds f shp – d ll f thm lvng n cmfrt nd dgnty tht r nw lmst bynd r mgnng. Why thn d w cntn n ths msrbl cndtn? Bcs nrly th whl f th prdc f r lbr s stln frm s by hmn bngs. Thr, cmrds, s th nswr t ll r prblms. t s smmd p n sngl wrd – Mn. Mn s th nly rl nmy w hv. Rmv Mn frm th scn, nd th rt cs f hngr nd vrwrk s blshd fr vr.

‘Mn s th nly crtr tht cnsms wtht prdcng. H ds nt gve mlk, h ds nt ly ggs, h s t wk t pll th plgh, h cnnt rn fst ngh t ctch rbbts. Yt h s lrd f ll th nmls. H sts thm t wrk, h gvs bck t thm th br mnmm tht wll prvnt thm frm strvng, nd th rst h kps fr hmslf. r lbr tlls th sl, r dng frtlss t, nd yt thr s nt n f s tht wns mr thn hs br skn. Y cws tht s bfr m, hw mny thsnds f gllns f mlk hv y gvn drng ths lst yr? nd wht hs hppnd t tht mlk whch shld hv bn brdng p strdy clvs? vry drp f t hs gn dwn th thrts f r nms. nd y hns, hw mny ggs hv y ld n ths lst yr, nd hw mny f ths ggs vr htchd nt chckns? Th rst hv ll gn t mrkt t brng n mny fr Jns nd hs mn. nd y, Clvr, whr r ths fr fls y br, wh shld hv bn th spprt nd plsr f yr ld g? ch ws sld t yr ld – y wll nvr s n f thm gn. n rtrn fr yr fr cnfnmnts nd ll yr lbr n th flds, wht hv y vr hd xcpt yr br rtns nd stll?

‘nd vn th msrbl lvs w ld r nt llwd t rch thr ntrl spn. Fr myslf d nt grmbl, fr m n f th lcky ns. m twlv yrs ld nd hv hd vr fr hndrd chldrn. Sch s th ntrl lf f pg. Bt n nml scps th crl knf n th nd. Y yng prkrs wh r sttng n frnt f m, vry n f y wll scrm yr lvs t t th blck wthn yr. T tht hrrr w ll mst cm – cws, pgs, hns, shp, vryn. vn th hrss nd th dgs hv n bttr ft. Y, Bxr, th vry dy tht ths grt mscls f yrs ls thr pwr, Jns wll sll y t th knckr, wh wll ct yr thrt nd bl y dwn fr th fxhnds. s fr th dgs, whn thy grw ld nd tthlss, Jns ts brck rnd thr ncks nd drns thm n th nrst pnd.

‘s t nt crystl clr, thn, cmrds, tht ll th vls f ths lf f rs sprng frm th tyrnny f hmn bngs? nly gt rd f Mn, nd th prdc f r lbr wld b r n. 1mst vrnght w cld bcm rch nd fr. Wht thn mst w d? Why, wrk nght nd dy, bdy nd sl, fr t vrthrw f th hmn rc! Tht s my mssg t y, cmrds: Rblln! d nt knw whn tht Rblln wll cm, t mght b n wk r n hndrd yrs, bt knw, s srly s s ths strw bnth my ft, tht snr r ltr jstc wll b dn. Fx yr ys n tht, cmrds, thrght th shrt rmndr f yr lvs! nd bv ll, pss n ths mssg f mn t ths wh cm ftr y, s tht ftr gnrtns shll crry n th strggl ntl t s vctrs.

‘nd rmmbr, cmrds, yr rsltn mst nvr fltr. N rgmnt mst ld y stry. Nvr lstn whn thy tll y tht Mn nd th nmls hv cmmn ntrst, tht th prsprty f th n s th prsprty f th thrs. t s ll ls. Mn srvs th ntrsts f n crtr xcpt hmslf. nd mng s nmls lt thr b prfct nty, prfct cmrdshp n th strggl. ll mn r nms. ll nmls r cmrds.

‘Cmrds, hr s pnt tht mst b sttld. Th wld crtrs, sch s rts nd rbbts – r thy r frnds r r nms? Lt s pt t t th vt. prps ths qstn t th mtng: r rts cmrds?

‘hv lttl mr t sy. mrly rpt, rmmbr lwys yr dty f nmty twrds Mn nd ll hs wys. Whtvr gs pn tw lgs s n nmy. Whtvr gs pn fr lgs, r hs wngs, s frnd. nd rmmbr ls tht n fghtng gnst Mn, w mst nt cm t rsmbl hm. vn whn y hv cnqrd hm, d nt dpt hs vcs. N nml mst vr lv n hs, r slp n bd, r wr clths, r drnk lchl, r smke tbcc, r tch mny, r ngg n trd. ll th hbts f Mn r vl. nd, bv ll, n nml mst vr tyrnns vr hs wn knd. Wk r strng, clvr r smpl, w r ll brthrs. N nml mst vr kll ny thr nml. ll nmls r ql.

‘nd nw, cmrds, wll tll y bt my drm f lst nght. cnnt dscrb tht drm t y. t ws drm f th rth s t wll b whn Mn hs vnshd. Bt t rmndd m f smthng tht hd lng frgttn. Mny yrs g, whn ws lttl pg, my mthr nd th thr sws sd t sng n ld sng f whch thy knw nly th tn nd th frst thr wrds. hd knwn tht tn n my nfncy, bt t hd lng snc pssd t f my mnd. Lst nght, hwvr, t cm bck t m n my drm. nd wht s mr, th wrds f th sng ls cm bck – wrds, m crtn, whch wr sng by th nmls f lng g nd hv bn lst t mmry fr gnrtns. wll sng y tht sng nw, cmrds. m ld nd my vc s hrs, bt whn hv tght y th tn, y cn sng t bttr fr yrsls. t s clld Bsts f nglnd.’

Old Major’s speech at the opening of George Orwell’s Animal Farm [1] is patterned on Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, a historical and economic analysis of the class struggle. Drawing a parallel between the exploitation of the proletariat by the rich and Man’s control of animals, Orwell intended in Animal Farm “to analyze Marx’s argument from the animals’ point of view” [2]. “A majestic-looking pig,” “wise and benevolent,” Old Major is modeled on Marx, theorist and visionary, who, predating Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, died before the Russian revolution. In Major’s revolutionary vision for a better society, Man is positioned as exploitative master, “lord of all the animals.” “Man serves the interests of no creature except himself,” Old Major says, addressing his “comrades.” “He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.” Major calls for the overthrow of the human race, Rebellion! “And among us animals,” he says, “let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.” “And remember also that in fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him.”

Three nights following, Major dies peacefully in his sleep and during the succeeding months his teachings are systemised into an ideology, Animalism, by two young boars, Snowball and Napoleon (representing Trotsky and Stalin respectively) together with a porker named Squealer. Following on is the “sudden uprising of creatures” on Manor Farm (their Rebellion, a Communist revolution), and the expulsion of farmer Jones (capitalism). ‘Manor Farm’ is renamed ‘Animal Farm’ and the principles of Animalism distilled to Seven Commandments, “an unalterable law by which all animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after.” In the power vacuum following Jones’s usurpation, the pigs, recognised as “the cleverest of all the animals,” quickly assume authority. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single maxim: ‘Four legs good, two legs bad.’

Orwell goes on to allegorise the fractional dispute between Snowball and Napoleon on farm policy, the exile of Snowball and the rise to power of Napoleon, under whose tyranny Old Major’s ideology is perverted and the Commandments defied. The pigs take up residence in the farmhouse, take advantage of the other animals, and assume all privilege. Napoleon is ensconced in his position (“rarely appeared in public”) and any animal opposing his totalitarian rule (“Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon”) is executed. “No animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind,” Old Major had warned. “No animal must ever kill another animal. All animals are equal.” “If [Animal Farm] does not speak for itself, it is a failure,” Orwell said” [3]. Years into his corrupt reign, Napoleon appears “in a black coat, ratcatcher breeches, and leather leggings,” “strolling in the farmhouse garden” on his hind legs, and with a “pipe in his mouth.” ‘Animal Farm’ is re-renamed ‘Manor Farm,’ and the farm’s “lower animals” compared to society’s “lower classes” by Mr. Pilkington on an evening when the neighbouring farmers come to join the pigs for dinner. “From man to pig, and from pig to man […] it was impossible to say which was which.”

With the vowels removed, "Old Major’s Speech in Consonants" reflects Orwell’s lampoon on the corruption of Socialist ideals under Stalinism. In the literal perversion of the text, Major’s own manifesto for equality, is the perversion of Marx and Engel’s ‘theory of freedom,’ where Marxism was transformed into an ideology used to justify the existence of a totalitarian state. On the collapse of ideology to class tyranny, Orwell said, “what you get is over and over again is a movement of the proletariat which is promptly canalized and betrayed by astute people at the top, and then the growth of a new governing class. The one thing that never arrives is equality” [4]. Here, the consonants represent what in Animal Farm is “the new governing class” – the pigs – and the vowels, the “lower classes” – hens, sheep, cows, the goat and donkey (the dogs are distinguished as the pigs’ guards). The discrepancy between Old Major’s speech with vowels and the corrupt version without vowels reflects the pigs’ moral decline, from Major’s words for liberation to a self-serving and abusive control. “It was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled,” Clover the horse says, reflecting on the leadership of Napoleon. “The scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on the night when Old Major first stirred them to rebellion.” In Major’s legible manifesto is the promise of “a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak” – all letters supporting each other to make words. The speech of consonants foreshadows the domination of a ruling class and the denied existence of an exploited class; what Clover refers to as “a time when no one dared to speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.”

In Clover’s reflection, but incomplete realisation, of the truth is the relationship between language and power. “Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them.” The process of deleting the vowels from Major’s speech represents “the execution of the traitors” on Animal Farm and Stalin’s Great Purge, in which anyone perceived to be a threat to the government was intimidated into confessing to imaginary crimes and killed. Manipulating Major’s manifesto to absent it of apparently dissenting vowels reflects the pigs’ manipulation of the rhetoric of Socialist revolution in their abuse of power. Orwell describes Napoleon’s mouthpiece, Squealer’s, “readjustment” of the reality of life on the farm: “Reading out the figures in a shrill, rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones’s day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy [...] The animals believed every word of it.” “Meanwhile life was hard.” Clover is “unable to find” words to express herself because the language of Animal Farm is so contrived as to perpetuate the existence of the ruling class – consonants only. Squealer literally adjusts the Commandments to accommodate the pigs’ ever-expanding corruption: the Fourth Commandment to ‘No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets’ when the pigs appropriate the more luxurious quarters of the farmhouse; the Fifth Commandment to ‘No animal shall drink alcohol to excess’ after Napoleon gets drunk on Jones’s whisky; the Sixth Commandment to ‘No animal shall kill any other animal without cause’ to justify “the tale of confessions and executions.” Reflecting the garbling of Old Major’s manifesto in removing the vowels in favour of the consonants, the pigs’ make nonsense of language as a means of securing their rank: ‘All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.’ On Animal Farm, oppressed is transformed to oppressor; the fundamental nature of Old Major’s speech is turned on its head and its tenets become indecipherable.

In reinterpreting Major’s manifesto in consonants, two words that are completely obliterated are the personal pronoun ‘I’ and the indefinite article ‘a’. “Of course I intended [Animal Farm] as a satire on the Russian revolution,” Orwell wrote to a friend. “But […] I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters” [5]. Individuality (‘I’) and singularity (‘a’) of expression are absorbed into the pigs’ dictatorship. Napoleon mounts the platform from which Major had previously delivered his speech and announces that “all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself […] there would be no more debates.” The three words which retain their form in ‘Old Major’s Speech in Consonants’ are ‘why’, ‘my’ and ‘by’. The appearance of the fully formed ‘why’ in the midst of consonants highlights the pigs’ distortion of Major’s reasoning in their accumulation of ‘my’s. ‘By’ way of rhetoric. “The whole management and organization of this farm depends on us,” Squealer tells his comrades. “Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples.” “Do not imagine, comrades,” he says on another occasion, “that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” “I meant the moral [of Animal Farm] to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement,” Orwell continued in his letter, “when the masses […] know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job […] there is no such thing as a benevolent dictatorship” [6]. A society in which ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ lacks the full perspective of Old Major’s original document. Without vowels, the consonants are incapable of forming comprehensive ideas for progress. They are merely pigs masquerading in human clothing. “One is almost driven to the cynical thought,” Orwell reflected, “that men are only decent when they are powerless” [7]. 


[1] G. Orwell, Animal Farm (London: Penguin, 1989).

[2] G. Orwell in V.C Letemendia, ‘Revolution on Animal Farm: Orwell’s Neglected Commentary’, Journal of Modern Literature, 18.1 (1992): p. 131.

[3] Ibid., p. 127.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 135–6.

[6] Ibid., p. 136.

[7] Ibid., p. 127.

Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00


His ghost settles
smothers like a fog
cuts with pin pricks and broken edges
A sharp punctures the surface
letting blood
my pleas drip to the floor
Your answers strike
dissolve deeper
The wrenching
The sickness inside
I am without weight with you
wringing my hands
One, two
then a torrent
then weeping
I ask you for a hollow hand
I'm asking for a spook
I am a mist
dripping blood for your answers
Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00


I noticed this while driving along Oxford Road, Johannesburg one day last year. The usual crowd hanging around the bus shelter nearby seemed unphased.

The fish were gone the following day. The hooks remained a little longer before also disappearing.
Saturday, 03 September 2011 02:00

The Shafer Family Tree

"He's gotten worse, Nate. He'll kiss me goodbye even if I'm just going to the toilet. And then when I've returned he'll squeeze my arm and hold my hand for five minutes. Samantha's become embarrassed to bring boys home."
"I'm sorry, Mom."
"He's started reading the death notices in the newspaper. I don't know why he can't take this business of the family tree to a professional. You've got your own things to do."
"It's fine Ma, I'll do it for him."
"He's driving me mad, Nathan. Last week- oh, here he comes. Dragging his slippers down the hallway- Yes, Sidney. Yes, I'm talking to Nathan. Alright. Alright, just hang on- He wants to talk you. We'll speak afterwards- I'm giving you the phone, Sidney. Here, I'm giving it to you. Take it-""Hi Natie. Hi my boy. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay, Dad, just a bit tired."
"How's the family tree coming?"
"Slowly. I've been busy."
"I'm sure. Your university work is very important. Have you included Barry Merkel?"
"Barry Merkel, your mother's sister's first husband. Do you know who I'm talking about? Nathan?"
"I think so."
"If you've included him, I think that you should take him out. We never liked him. They didn't have any children together so he's practically a stranger to us. He's no good, Nathan. If you've put him in there, take him out, alright. He's no Shafer. He's a disgrace. Nathan?"
"Roger, her second husband, can stay."

"Nathan, are you still there?"
"I'm here, Mom."
"Do you have all the family documents that he's sent: the birth certificates, old school reports, a record of my parents' marriage...?"
"They're sitting on my desk."
"He's become desperately concrete. He believes that if we've got it all written down, no one can say that we weren't here. I see the value in his effort, but it's driven by neurosis."
"What's happening with Sam?"
"She's decided to go travelling before studying. She says that she's not ready for another institution, yet. Your father thinks that if she goes away, she'll never return."
"I'll do it, Ma, don't worry."
"It'll mean a lot to him."
Saturday, 03 September 2011 02:00

M1 North M1 South

Monday, 21 March 2011 02:00

The Rosenthals

The evening tips over the windowsill, onto the carpet, spreads. Helen turns off the television, returns to the kitchen and stirs the onion with a wooden spoon. She flicks the hotplate to its maximum.

'I was watching that,' Harold grumbles.

She sighs, adds the celery and chopped carrots and sautés until golden brown. She adds the tomato, skinned and diced, then the mushrooms. She hears Harold's shuffled feet to the bathroom, then the light switch.

The space in the room frightens her. Everything is too wide, so open. She adds the peas, water, tomato sauce, celery salt and sugar. The faucet creaks when she turns on the tap at the sink. Hot is cold and cold is hot. For eleven years...Harold comes in. He can't find the remote. Look in the crack between the pillows, she tells him. It sometimes falls there when you're not looking. She's aware of a heaviness in her heart- the awareness of gravity.

They sit down to eat. Harold is propped up on the couch with a dinner tray hovering above his thighs. A serviette is tucked into his checkered gown, tucked where it overlaps beneath the hollow at the base of his throat, between the clavicles. She crosses her ankles, uncrosses them, recrosses them with the left one on top.


Her mother's cousin Merle with the yellow teeth, would trill, Have I got a nice boytjie for you! and Helen would pale and raise her eyes to heaven. Much to the horror of their future children, Helen and Harold were related before they married. Indirectly. Harold's aunt had married Jeffrey Hurwitz, and Jeffrey's mother and Helen's grandfather were brother and sister. So Fanny, Helen's mother, and Jeffery, Harold's uncle, were first cousins.

They met when Helen was still at school. She was seventeen in 1962 and completing her matric. Harold was older, twenty-one, studying at the university's medical school. He was taken with her, but she was seeing someone else at the time.

Their paths crossed a second time during her Honours year in psychology. She was doing her clinical internship in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where Harold was working as a houseman. He would keep her entertained for hours with anecdotes of his experiences there: A large man with multiple fractures to his skull reported hearing voices during the daytime. What kinds of voices? Harold asked, overjoyed to be treating his first schizophrenic, to which the man replied, Calling Dr. Rosenthal, Calling Dr. Rosenthal. Over the loudspeaker. A stout officer with one kidney, an enlarged liver, a distended abdomen and oedematous extremities was brought in by his girlfriend, although he felt perfectly fine. No complaints, sir? No complaints. Not one? Not one. Nothing? Nothing. Everything normal? Everything's normal, except- Except, except? Except that I don't sleep at night. Hallelujah. I'm a night watchman. And Helen's favourite: The catatonic woman, who had been standing in the same position for about a year, who took one look at Harold and said, Don't huck me a chainik.

Their courting was an impassioned one. There was a lot of breaking up and making up. Once on a separation Helen spotted Harold at the far end of her grandparents' Rosh Hashanah table. What are you doing here? she asked him, mortified. Your grandmother invited me and I came, was his simple response. They would quarrel, Harold would storm out, Helen would shout, I never want to see you again! and he'd phone a week later with, How's it? How's it going?

They married in the spring of 1968. Helen wore a gown of ivory silk, with ivory lace wrapped around her upper body, forming a collar around her neck and ending in two bubble sleeves over her forearms. Harold's mother's hair was coiffed in an orange puff, the two flowergirls wore lilac, Harold wore a bowtie, and Helen's four brothers were the pole holders.

She'll never forget how, at the celebration following the ceremony, her grandmother's demented sister, Ida, started screaming, Harold, you donkey! You donkey! and had to be carried out.

Once they were married, Harold became restless. Helen had just submitted her Masters dissertation and he felt the time ripe for them to see the world. He penned an application for a university in the States with the intention of specializing in cardiothoracic surgery. Helen thought the idea absurd: the division of cardiotharacics in the institution in which he'd studied was well and good, and in the country where the first human heart transplant had just been performed. But Harold was granted late enrollment and in early January of the year following their wedding the Rosenthals headed for the East Coast.

They stayed in a motel complete with neon light-bulbs and a view of Dunkin Doughnuts for the first month, and afterwards took a downstairs apartment in a large house in the suburbs. Helen began work at a local children's clinic. She would rise at dawn, prepare coffee for Harold, prepare breakfast, put on all the clothes that she owned at once, and then sit in the car and wait while he scraped the sleet off the windshield.

Soon she became ill. She was pregnant with their first child and there was bleeding, a threatened miscarriage. The physician ordered bed rest and Helen would lie around, feeling useless, watching the dust collect all around her. Too exhausted to cook, she would ask Harold to get take-aways on his way home from work, usually pizza. She would lift her head from the pillow and say, Please Harold, put it on a plate.

She begged him for them to return home, and he begrudgingly transferred the remainder of his internship.


Well all his fancy Western medicine couldn't save him now, she thinks with some satisfaction. She takes the chicken out of the freezer to defrost.

Harold is on the floor fixing a roller-draw that's broken. He's jamming the screwdriver into the unhinged wheel with no appreciable skill, believing himself to be doing God's work. He's sprawled out, legs splayed, belly drooping. His body has grown more and more peculiar over the years, she thinks. Not unlike a potato on sticks. Or like one of those avocado pear pips that he insists on balancing on toothpicks in a glass of water in the hope that one day it will shoot a root and they will be able to plant it in the garden and grow an avocado tree.

She rubs the chicken portions with oil. They're having Chutney Chicken and Bananas.

The skinniness of his legs is exaggerated by the perpetually rising hemline of his shorts. He traipses around the flat in shorts invisible to the naked eye, a grey t-shirt, slippers, and his gown. His beloved gown- drenched in yoghurt, covered in fruit stains, with bits of chewing gum hanging off it, post-its stuck on it, and an aroma of coffee around it.

With the expanding waistline, the atrophy of his limbs, and the disappearing shorts, came the narrowing of Harold's diet to its current menu of, for breakfast: raw oats with one tablespoon ground Miracle Seed Mix, five or six almonds, five or six blueberries, and a fat-free, unflavoured yoghurt (from his store in the refrigerator in the garage); for lunch: two grain biscuits, half a carton of cream cheese (from his store in the refrigerator in the garage), and an apple or a carrot; and then Helen's spectacular dinners.
She combines the salt, curry and cinnamon and rubs over each chicken portion. She combines the honey, lemon juice, chutney and mustard and pours the mixture over the chicken. She places the roasting dish in the oven to bake and then pages through the cookbook: Upside Down Chicken Pie, Barbequed Chicken, Chicken with Zucchini and Tarragon.

She takes her tea to the computer and googles tarragon. Tarragon n. a perennial herb native to the Northern Hemisphere.

There's a thump in the kitchen. Harold's dropped the drawer onto his toe. She hears him cussing, cursing to himself, then cursing her, 'Jesus, Helen, why does nothing work around here? It seems like just as I've finished fixing something, it breaks again. And what are all these magazines doing on the counter? They've been here for weeks!'

In the months leading up to his heart attack, Harold's short-term memory had become so poor that he began to carry a ballpoint pen and a wad of post-its around with him at all times. There were notes on the dashboard, notes on the breadboard, notes on the toilet flush. When he forgot to leave notes, he bought a small black dictaphone and would record himself driving to work taking notes.

Lately, he'll deliberately plant a variety of items (CDs, paperclips, prestik) in various locations around the apartment. If the marked item should remain unmoved for more than twenty-four hours, he'll shriek, See, I told you so!

She punches 'Harold Rosenthal' on the keyboard and clicks search. Eight hits: Harold Rosenthal, well-respected cardiothoracic surgeon, resident at...Harold Rosenthal, Honorary Professor...Harold Rosenthal, pioneer of the Rosenthal Technique, an intricate...blah, blah, blah. Donkey. She takes a sip of tea, types 'Helen Rosenthal', and gets twelve hits: Helen Rosenthal, one of the founding members of the Johannesburg Parent and Child Counseling...Helen Rosenthal, draft research paper with the running title...Helen Rosenthal, world famous figure-skater...cake decorator from Tel-Aviv...homeless shelter owner for abandoned dogs.

They swop places, passing each other in the passage. Harold pretends not to see her and then trips on the telephone cord. She carries on walking.


On returning from abroad they moved into a block of flats on Princess Place street. On spring day, September first 1970, Alex was born. Helen was twenty-four then, only just coming into her adulthood. Her parents were critical: She was feeding the child too much, She wasn't feeding him enough, Why wasn't she feeding him by clockwork?

Harold was wonderful in helping her to find her footing. And Alex was such a sweet child. He would fret a little, but was mostly easy-going and jovial. But at times she felt overwhelmed. She told Harold that she felt cooped up and would like to have a proper garden. He said that they couldn't afford to move then, and she took a locum job.

When Alex was twenty-two months, they moved out.

Joshua was born on the tenth of September, five years after the birth of his brother. Alex had gotten used to the exclusivity of his mother by then and was horribly put out by having to share her with a sibling. Harold felt equally excluded and an unshakable alliance formed between himself and the older boy.


For Harold's sixty-fifth birthday, she makes his mother Hilda's Orange Chicken. It takes her two days. First she coats the chicken pieces with flour. Then she sautés together an onion cut into half moons, one green pepper- deseeded and diced- and two stalks celery. To this she adds the chicken, a chicken stock-cube dissolved in one cup of boiling water, two teaspoons soya sauce, and a cup of orange juice.

When replacing the Knorrox cubes, she notices Harold's stock-on-hand on top of the cupboard: packets and packets of rolled oats, a tupperware of nuts, a supply of Miracle Seed Mix, stale Ryvita, Provita, Crackerbread, unopened Corn Thins, green tea, Nescafé Select, dried mango. Pathological hoarding.


When Joshua was three years old, Alex spray painted him entirely silver to resemble Ziki Zikombot, the cartoon robot who beeped and grunted and did about nothing else. Alex had a few paint cans leftover from a school project and no one was at home. Joshua agreed and stripped down to his undies. When his younger brother was lock, stock and barrel metallic, Alex realized that he was going to get into trouble. He threw Joshua into the bath and started scrubbing. He scrubbed, the smear got into Joshua's eyes, and then the howling started. Helen returned from the supermarket and opened the front door to a shiny, bobbing bullet screaming blue murder in the entrance hall.

That same year Joshua knocked out one of his two front teeth. They had just come back from visiting Harold's sister overseas and Joshua was en route to his parents' bedroom in the pitch black after a nightmare, when, disorientated from the time lag, he collided with his desk, full impact. His left front incisor detached with its root and floated to the floor. As compensation for the loss, they bought him a parrot, an African Grey. Alex named it Ziki (after Ziki Zikombot. Joshua agreed). They kept Ziki downstairs in the living room. The parrot would call, Hullo Cooks! whenever Helen entered, but would squawk hysterically every time that he saw Harold. After a year of, Hullo Cooks! and, Brrring brrring after the telephone, Harold took Ziki to the aviary.

On the morning of Joshua's sixth birthday, the enamel of his permanent left front incisor appeared on the rose-coloured tissue of his gum, and it snowed. People ran out of their houses, rang their neighbours, ran in circles: Snow in Jo'burg! Snow in Jo'burg! It hasn't snowed here since 1956...

Alex had just turned eleven and informed his parents of his intention to become religious. Helen had to buy him a separate set of crockery and cutlery. By Yom Kippur he wasn't speaking to anybody. But five days later he demanded that his father build him a sukkah for the Feast of Tabernacles. He hung crayoned paper Magen Davids, lemons that kept falling through their loops, and heart-shaped signs saying, I love Hashem. He shunned the family and sat in his construction the whole day, drinking Coca-Cola and saying Kaddish for their heathen souls.

When he was twelve-and-a-half, he spray painted himself entirely silver to resemble the definitive rock star, Ziggy Stardust.

Joshua was less experimental and Alex didn't understand him. He didn't have Joshua's forcefulness, his ability to survive.

Although Joshua could be volatile, his relationship with Harold was temperate for the most part. They neither agreed nor disagreed. Joshua had a certain perception of his father and Harold wasted his time upholding it or defending it. He recognized some of himself in his son and was both touched and repelled at the same time.


The seasons are changing again and Helen is feeling adventurous. She decides to try her hand at Myrna Rosen's Oriental Duck. She presents the meal to her husband on her mother's porcelain serving platter, but Harold is unimpressed, 'We're Jewish Helen, for God's sake, we don't eat duck. I'm dying, this is no time for jokes.'

As the days lengthen, his condition worsens. He's developed scar tissue in place of the dead myocytes from his attack and it's preventing his heart from functioning properly.

Towards the end, he's so shtupped up on painkillers and anti-inflammatries that he starts to hallucinate, calling Helen 'Venus' and calling her at all hours from the study. Harold, where are you? In the study, and then the receiver would drop.

She finds him on the kitchen floor at midnight, eating ice-cream with a serving spoon. Together they watch the brunfelsia flowers fade to white.


She never felt trapped. Harold was her husband, she loved him, but they were different - different people - separate in ways that were important.
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