Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vanilla (Edited)

So Finally Vanilla is finished and Chaz was kind enough to fix my spelling. Yes I know I cant spell lets get over it.

17:03, the time had seemed odd at first but it had been days since I had first been witness to this intrigue and I had long since stopped pondering its significance.
It was no more than the metallic clatter of a door opening above the din of the evening crowd and she was there.
Back straight and determined she marched….no “strode” across the dimly lit room, undeterred by the feathers of cigar smoke brushing the slight blush on her cheek.
She wore heels as always with her hair swept back into a twist. I divined that it was a skilled accident that escaped the dark fringe from its pins and brought it romantically over her left eye.
Always the left eye.
She did not check her step as she grazed past the waitress tending my table.
Vanilla….. everyday Vanilla.

“Your becoming a regular”
The busty waitress crackled, her voice grated.
Her face was pretty yet marred by hard years. The yellowy shade to the inside of her well formed lips belied years of cigarette smoke. Her eyes were smiling that forced dutiful smile.
Soft on the eye, hard on the heart, possibly trodden dreams of a silver screen like many her age in these parts of Jozi.
Her long blond hair, an impractical style for waiting tables and though her finger nails were clipped short one could see the glossy finish of a clear nail varnish.
Hers were the stories I lived for.
Everyone has a story, everyone has a battle and they wear them on their bodies like patchwork raincoats.
Out on the street a beggar wears the grace and air of a former life. His shoulders square and the fleeting flickers of pride in his sallow face tell of a man who hit the bottom harder because of the distance he fell.

I nodded at the waitress, smiled and drew the glass nearer.
My attention momentarily wandering from the woman cloaked in vanilla to the bubbles bobbing in my beer. It took but a moment for me to find her a place.
I’d type her in tonight.
“She’d like that” I thought to myself, Ill make her an actress or a cabaret singer in a smoky Broadway club.
She disappeared her long hair escaping its bonds as she turned on her heel and headed to the rowdy crowd near the bar.

When I returned to Vanilla she had found her table, deserted as usual, in an uncomfortable corner in the back of the pub.
The light was a smoky amber and for a moment I considered perhaps “the mistress of a gangster” but the thought left as soon as it came, there were no showy pretences of riches about Vanilla she wore a classical class that oozed of pride, she was an effortless sexy but most of all she was mysterious.
And it was this that brought me here every night with the blue collar crowd.

Her poise was not downcast but her chin was tilted only far enough to let the shadows cloak her eyes
Eyes that never scanned the room.
She knew he would come.

Serene I thought as my mind gripped at adjectives to dress Vanilla in.
She sat slightly sideways, her legs comfortably crossed accentuating the curve of her calve.
Nothing about her was anxious or expectant.

7minutes later he entered.
He entered as he always did, allowing himself the slightest pause to drink her in, always the phantom of a smile in his eyes as he spots her in the corner.

Ignorant of my movie star waitress cooing her good evenings at him in syrupy tones he begins the journey towards the back of the bar.
Journey…..
He wears the black linen of a well tailored suit only to mask the beat of his heart, is it anguish, is it fear, that implacable emotion that twitches the sinew in he’s square jaw. Implacable though it may be it’s not the twitch I noticed first.
As he comes shuffling through the crowd past my table I catch a glimpse of it again. Misty gray eyes swallowed in a strong draft of longing and sorrow.
There was no smells or distinctions about this man, tall undoubtedly handsome and yet simple.

If she had sensed his presence, nothing about her belied that. She sat still her chin still tilted hiding her eyes from me.
When he reached her table he pressed his right hand to his left breast pocket, the effort was deliberate but not forced, and it gave me the idea that this man needed to force very little in his life.
Yet he came with intention every night, and night after night his intentions were the things that kept the synapses of my brain firing late into the night.

The waitress was back to clear my glass.
Her body blocked my view of the couple in the corner as she replaced the ashtray and removed the foamy remains of the beer.
I shuffled uncomfortably in my seat, anxious to be rid of the girl.
“Another” the words sounded short and rude as I croaked them at her and I felt the temperature drop
“Please” I added a bit to quickly and forced a smile at her.
With a difficult curl in her lips she shuffled of to the kitchen.
I didn’t notice the gentle sway in her hips as she weaved her way trough the people, my attention was fixed on the story that refused to reveal itself in the back of the bar.

He shifted easily into the small chair across the table from vanilla, it was only then that she lifted her face into the smoggy yellow light and allowed me to see her eyes.
It was the moment I had played out in my mind each night for two weeks, the moment I could not write, single seconds that had afforded me countless rewrites and driven me to the limits of my abilities and instincts.
Something moved in those deep hazel eyes as they settled on the unassuming honest face of the man across the table.
It was torturously implacable and yet so intensely honest.
A remarkable unknown that had driven me to weave, destroy and rethink every web I had built for her.

They did not greet one another.
Not a hand shake nor a hallo passed between them. He simply sat down and met her gaze with his.
It was not a challenge nor was it a scrutiny.
He seemed to settle in her eyes.
Minutes passed and still they had no words for one another just an impenetrable stare.
Around them the pub seemed to heave with end of day relieve.
Some laughed and a group of businessmen near me toasted some recent success. My waitress fought a sea of wandering hands with wavering patience to deposit my beer wordlessly on my table.
And yet Vanilla and the man sat lost in their own place oblivious to the milling push of humanity around them.
The cackle from the large woman in the booth behind them shattered the air and yet passed without a flicker of notice from the dark little table in the corner.

Minuets drew on like this.
Until as suddenly as she had come, she got up and moved for the door
The clatter again and she was gone.
Swallowed up by heavy hot air of Johannesburg’s nocturnal throbbing.

I watched him heave a sigh but it wasn’t relief. Perhaps self loathing.
As if on queue a mousy little waitress appeared at his table with a scotch glass. He nodded and smiled easily at the uninteresting little creature who scampered back to her post behind the bar and left him alone again.
He sloshed the golden liquid and ice around in the glass twice brought it to his lips and swallowed it with a single gulp.
He looked at the drained glass remorsefully as he held it at eye level propped up on his elbow.
I tested the water again and conjured up a world of industrial espionage as he placed the glass and a R50 note on the table. But dismissed it again as he passed me on this way to the door.
Deeper I thought to myself. Human, yes, and honest.
Unchecked unrefined and untapped the story that sat only tables away from me would not be tamed as easily and try as I may she would not let me dress her in the intrigue and flattery of a commercial best.
No Vanilla would be raw.

She was still in my mind when I left the pub. Stepping out into the smothering air I sniffed a futile sniff hoping that her scent my guide me.
But there was nothing.
Nothing more than diesel fumes and noise that crowded the narrow sidewalks of a changing city bursting at its seams with societal contrast.
I would try tomorrow again, but I was starting to fear I was a fool and a brick wall.
I flicked a silver coin at the hobo with air and grace before moving the old Pontiac Barracuda into the snaking traffic.


*******

By 16:30 the view from my office window had changed its face. October rains had thundered down on the tall buildings and dirty streets all day and washed the grime from old jozi leaving her smelling of sun baked tar and sulphurous lightning.
The evening sun was just starting to pierce the bruised clouds and shot shards of red light into the allies and windows of dilapidated buildings.
Street venders and beggars started to emerge from the cities wounds, they oozed from every crevice and unoccupied shelter.
Hobbling up and down the lines of parked German luxuries pleading for the copper stuff that rattles and jangles in the pockets of the bankers and brokers who pour through the turnstiles of the four giants of the economy.
She had come so far and she had seen so much, and yet her inhabitants carried with them the daunting premonition that the beast that stirs below the vibrant surface may wake at any moment.

I stepped out into the streets, considered going for the Pontiac only momentarily before seeing the long line of red tail lights stretched out along Commissioner str.
My city is bleeding I thought to myself and congratulating myself of my poetic flare.
I’ll have to use that somewhere.
At a slightly hurried pace I set of along the bustling sidewalks feeling the city air seep in through my pores.
Today will be the day, I was sure of it, as I had been the thirteen days preceding today.

I ambled along the twisting city blocks lost somewhere in the black and whites of cloak and daggers still to be written, in the humid little cubical I rented from the citizen news paper where I banged out an endless drone of columns and human interests on the old IBM.
It was there but only for a moment.
My mind had not yet had a chance to process the broken pieces of an image and dismissed it almost instantly.
The knock off Rolex on my wrist grew heavier as I realized how late it was.
I quickened my pace and it was as I slipped between the throng and press of human bodies I saw it again.
This time the picture lingered long enough to scrape the confines of comprehension.

Ahead in the street
She was wearing white I recognized the fall of fringe across her left eye and her confident gaunt.
Parts of me wanted to touch her, wanted to dip into the soul of a woman so untouchable yet so painfully honest but parts of me feared that what I may find would tarnish the dazzling reality I had built for her.
I could write her an Olympian goddess in her white linen skirt that blossomed ever so slightly around her knees.
She could be my Aphrodite, an immortal perfection only she could do justice to, a Mary Magdalene perhaps, cloaked in secrets powerful enough to crumble the walls of faith.

No I won’t touch her.
I dare not ripple the cesspool of captivation and poison it with the mundane.
I chose rather to walk in her shadows.
Hers a confident step that parted the pedestrians in her way like Moses parted the waters mine and uncomfortable duck and weave as I struggled to maintain the distance between us.
A distance so close that I could make out the fine hairs in her neck so close that I could smell the vanilla of her skin yet I kept her out of reach willing my finger tips not to reach out to her.

I checked the Knock-off again as the bar on the corner came into sight. 17:02
As I looked up she had stepped off the curb stones onto the steaming tar to cross the street that lay like a ravine between her and amber light pouring through the windows.
The constant rhythm of the clack of her heels on the sidewalk paving quickened as she trotted across the black surface, her white skirts trailing in the evening breeze she was a Lipizzaner in a graceful canter.
Splashed across the city noises.
Trucks ,
Cars,
Voices,
Foot falls
Sirens……sirens.
It was the human fascination with the macabre that dragged my eyes from the goddess in the street and searched the untidy maze of road and stone for the origin of the screeching scull splitting noise.
The damp mob on the pavement in front of me pressed me back as I found the electric blue flash of lights and the screech of tires and metal grew closer.
It showered her face in streaming blue light and for the fist time I saw Vanilla display undisguised emotion but I was pushed further back caught in the retreating press.
I struggle against the bodies

I was afforded only moments to drink her up.
Only moments and I could drown in her eyes
I lived a hundred lives in the fall of her body.
It was seconds and my senses were grappling with the realization of her mortality, but my mind, my mind allowed me the stretch of a life time, one spent imprisoned by her embrace delirious from her sent my mind afforded me a thousand mornings with her a beautiful waste of time


The noise must have been unbearable it was the dull thud that boomed in my mind and paralyzed my body.
The police cars with their white and blue war paint ripped an open wound in the city streets. It was like summer lightning tearing closer to my Vanilla.
It seemed that the city exhaled when the effort to swerve brought the car into a vicious velocity driven slide.
And then the thud.
I had tried to grasp her so many times but it was like trying to catch and hold onto smoke, Perhaps that was why I clung to a bitter hope that she would evaporate ahead of the side long slam that must have broken her back.
But alas she would not be carried away on the chill that swirled among the high buildings.
No wind would sweep her away and perch her out of harms way

Her body was not twisted and contorted into the macabre puppetry of the pain her final moments must have afforded her.
I don’t know why I thought it would be.
The steam that rose from the road had swallowed her up as she fell and swept a curtain of ghostly silver across her face.
Her eyes were closed guarding the onlooker around me from pits of sorrow that swam in her hazel eyes.
And her hands, still warm in mine. Each perfect finger weaved into mine and I was a fool for imagining I could feel the blood pulsing through the fine blue veins underneath her cashmere skin


Peace.
There were no fancy words or flourishes I could bathe her lifeless face in.
Her hair had come loose and the dark tresses framed her beautiful face, the evening light burning red shards into the chocolate colors of her hair.
I understood now why people often revert to such an unimaginative cliché when revering to death.
Moments drew on and I felt the heat in her hands dissipate and I held her tighter willing it to remain just a little longer.
People mulled about her I recall a paramedic check a pulse I knew he would not find.

“Did you know her” it was a shout in a thick African accent from the medic at her other arm.
I don’t know how long it took me to respond because he repeated the barked question before I was able to stutter a reply. Was I crying?
“yes” it was weak and only barely audible over the voices and noises that amplified the horror of the scene.
“tell me her name”
Words that were never there died to dust in my mouth as I searched the angelic face of a woman I’d never known.
I didn’t know her name, and yet I held her hand tighter, willing the reality away trying with my every fibre to hold onto it at as the heat slipped from her hands and the sun kissed glow dissipated from her skin.
In desperation I averted my eyes and searched instead for answers, or sympathy in the dark little face of the medic.
But I found another face nearby. In an ocean of curiosity and fascination he stood. Unassuming and sallow his shoulders were slumped.
It was the current of unmasked pain and open regret in the tearful grey eyes that made me let go of her.
I had intruded. Walked on holy ground

I was faced with the burning bush and nothing in my career or life could have prepared me for what I found in this man.
He had aged a hundred years as he stared down at the cold vessel that was once Vanilla and the sadness that swept him felt like a cold blade flaying the skin on my lips.
It was tangible almost and yet he didn’t cry, he didn’t offer and explanation.
He just stood as if cast from stone watching until she was taken from him.
It was the slightest twitch of his hands as they lifted her to the ambulance that broke my heart.
Had he wanted to touch her?
He never touched her in the bar.

Slowly the crowd wandered off, their blood thirst satisfied.
I sunk then into my own sadness and confusion realizing that I had lost so much more than my hopes of a best seller.
But when I looked up he was gone.

A week had passed since Vanilla had baptized the city I loved so deeply in her blood, and each day I avoided the little corner pub and its crushing memories.
But my absence from the place did not dispel her from my mind.
she was there always flirting with my sanity, in crowds on the television I smelt her hands in mine despite the soap and water I used to wash her from me.
I could see her
I could smell her and worst of all I could feel her.
I was no match for vanilla and it was not long before I found myself in the little bar at 17:03 waiting for her….
It seemed that my vanilla had left the place unscathed.
The busty blond waitress with her tray, carting drinks and glasses from table to the bar.
The regulars robust and rowdy in their revelry.
The little table in its uncomfortable corner empty lifeless and my mind conjured up hazy phantoms of her painted in vanilla.

“She’s gone what are you doing here” I scolded myself “get up and leave”
But I didn’t leave
Instead I sat a while longer and watched him shuffle in.
Without ceremony, or bells and whistles. He may have gone unnoticed by the other patrons.
Nobody looked up to notice the sallow look on his face or comment on his sunken eyes framed in that bitter purple color that speaks of sleepless nights.
He’s step was slow and deliberate as he reached the little table and he sat down heavy under the hear ace and despair that covered him like lead.
He was an unfortunate figure as he swallowed the scotch.

I had never been able to approach her, too fragile was my bond with her to dare chance the meeting, and yet there I was my hand on the back rest of her chair across from his sunken dreams prepared suddenly for any eventuality.
I sat down and fixed upon him and yet he did not seem alarmed at my presence not did he move to be rid of me.
I had stepped into his grief uninvited and yet undeterred.

He swallowed again and met my gaze.
“I saw you with her, on the road”
It was not a question, it was not even a statement yet I sensed it was a justification.
“ her name was Eve” he’s voice deep when he mentioned her name.
“I met her here 2 years ago and she made me feel like my life had just begun. I came back every night just to talk to her, just for her to look at me like she sees me”
It was whipped from his face as soon as the tear appeared.
“you see sir, I have lived so much of my life being invisible…..”
There was hesitation in his voice
“and I deserve to be. But with her…. With Eve I had substance”
“I am married you see….” Something about his tone told me that I didn’t see
“but Farah had taken to drinking when our child was still born three years ago. She drank to numb it she drank to forgive herself, she drank to forgive me for not falling as far she did, and after a while she stopped seeing me”
It was not the story I had imagined, but I kept still and watched as it played out across his face
“I came here every night to see Eve and she never presumed anything even when we had fallen so deeply in love that every fiber within me longed to touch her.
She wouldn’t of coarse, I was married and she had too much class to walk that road even if I had the courage to let her.”

He spoke long into the night.
At times he cried.
He had promised her a life together but Farah had taken a fall that night that had put her in a wheel chair.
A fall that had plunged him into the pits of guilt to heavy and sick with it to move.

Finally he finished. Eyes swimming in sorrow and relieve.
My words had no place here so I remained silent and watched him leave.
When I left the bar that night my mind was awash with possibilities.
He never touched her and yet he loved her.
The purity was almost to hard to believe and yet I wanted to with everything in me I wanted to believe and I wanted to tell it.
And I did.
Months latter the little paper back about a woman named vanilla who met a man in a bar every night to hear him say they could be together. About a man bound by guilt to his drunken wife and about a promise that could never be fulfilled hit the shelves under a dark cloud of critic.

“it lacked substance and believability” one said
“an idealistic love story, out of place in its modern setting, more suited for the housewife genre” another had taken printed.
Vanilla never made second edition and while I did not know it at the time but vanilla would be outsold three fold by a glossy commercial about a busty blond waitress who dreams of becoming a movie star.

The sidewalk was grubby and the night air would suffocate you in your sleep, with the newspaper and its hateful remarks tucked under my arm I ambled along the city streets cursing their insolence.
“How dare they”
“How dare they say that about her”
It was bitter as bile in my mouth and I cursed the shadows about me and this city that could not love her as I did.
“I loved her”
When I stepped into the smoggy little room my eyes caught a glimpse of him in the corner. Slumped slightly against the wall.
I had not spoken to him since the night of his confession and now as vanilla fell to the bottom of the must read list I had no intention peppering either of our wounds.
I took a table and ordered a bear intending to wash the hurtful words from my mind with the abrasive bubbles.
The waitress was still a waitress and she was little more than a dull figure in a cookie cutter spell in a book that did not fight me like vanilla did.
She delivered the beer, grinning a crooked grin and her hate of being here.
But there was something wrong.
My view had changed and I noted he was leaning on the wall and not simply slumped to one side.
I hated that he had fallen this far.
He was my hero Adonis in my pages and here he was squandering vanillas place in scotch and cigar smoke.
It angered me and as the horror bubbled up I stood and walked to him.
Deliberately, with intention.


The scotch had been laced with poison.
The police report would confirm.
It would latter be called a murder and I thought it more dignified as I folded the napkin and put it in my breast pocket.
Maybe one day I would write Vanilla again, he had given me my ending.
On the napkin in my pocket, in the scraggly hand of a dying man four simple words that she would never hear
“To be with you”

2 comments:

etain_lavena said...

Hi Nos:)

The rythem and progression is great. Just remeber to keep your reader intressted, you lost me a few times. Just because I was not sure where the narator fitted in, in the begining. Keep going girl, it's looking good:)

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