2013 NZ Writers' College Short Story Competition Winner

 

'The President, the Ski-Instructor and the Watermelon' - by Jade du Preez

 
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The watermelon hurtled through space. In the style of a perfect rugby pass, it spun on its longitudinal axis, striations blurring to a mid-green. Imagine it now with momentum slowed; one might even call it graceful. It was pregnant with black seeds, now ignorant as astronauts as to the direction of up. But slow it was not. The melon barrelled onwards; a shock to the naked eye in the stillness of the morning. It was annihilated in 1983 on a sidewalk in Queenstown, pink innards splattered within a 1.5 meter radius, rind split into seven tectonic segments.

From eight stories above a short woman beheld this landing and exhaled dragon’s breath into the wintery air. She looked back inside.

“Uso! Uso-tsuki” she condemned my father. Lie. Liar.

This event, the splitting of the melon, is largely theoretical. The blueprints for this story were provided by my father. I have simply coloured in and sometimes over the lines.We all need our back stories. Snow White had her apple, didn’t she?

My father sat on the bed; his fingers were neatly laced and as closed as his mind to the rebuke of his former-lover. To his knowledge no lie had been uttered. It was the truth that she disliked. The truth was he had met my mother; that he intended to continue meeting her. He felt no distress over the watermelon. He was only present in body in that hotel room. His cogitations had been reassigned, diverted to orbitthe topography of my mother’s bosom. When I feel generous I say it was simply his nature; a successful businessman does not occupy himself with regret. He moves steadily onward, no reverse gear in his manufacture. Always onwards, always next.

The watermelon had been purchased as half of a pair for comedic reasons. I don’t suppose they kept the photos. So funny, so decadent to purchase in exactly the wrong season! Suika it is called in Japanese.

“Suika,” the wronged woman has whispered to my father only the night before.

And it was only the night before that she had kissed his undeserving knuckles and complimented his heroic buttocks. In fairness he could have brought the whole thing up earlier. In fairness, that’s easy to say when the parties involved are murky suppositions. At times I wonder if I have ever passed this woman, the melon’s murderess, in the subway.

But with that action her part ends. On the next flight, with make-up re-fixed and promises snapped off, this woman was zipped back to Tokyo. My father was left with a pants-press, a walker’s guide and his own conscience. He responded to these stimulus by fastening his perfect pants, tying on his walking shoes and striding from the building at a determined pace. Outside the watermelon flesh was cleaned away. Only ants traced the crime scene of its spilt juices.

A benevolent council of mountains watched as my father took his scheduled walk. It was a strange place, he considered, roads and parks yawning with space; boys who played at thuggish mud sport, then skipped across harsh pavement, cleats swinging in plastic bags. It was all unordered and unoccupied enough to make a change in. The air sang with possibility. It was his first holiday in seven years and it was worth it. To him nothing was, nor is, greater than balance. What could be finer than a destination mirrored in hemisphere and matched in suicide rate? Two long, thin islands rich in alpine retreats and lonely hearts. Queenstown, fit for a queen, with its buildings of stone and hats of wool and people of grim-countenance. It was like stepping outside of real time.

My mother was a ski-instructor; she used to drop down slopes. Her combination of profession and gender was impossibly exotic to my father. Her hair was whiskey coloured. Her laughter, provoked by his mispronunciation, was loud, abrupt and somehow forgiving. She slapped his back for encouragement. He shakily remained upright. He winced after her example as it travelled into whiteness. She balanced lightness, momentum and certainty. The curves of her body were re-written inserpentine tracks.Far, far below she finished with a break-neck twist and a wave of powder. The ‘swush’ whispered long afterwards.

Had she moved slower, surely she would have melted her way down. Her smile alone sent wisping stream from my father’s head. She was coal-fire radiant. My father clapped, though not too loudly; he suffered from a fear of avalanches and an over-sized opinion of his abilities.

Over hot drinks and open fires, he asked after the Earnslaw, which was too hard to pronounce, and became instead ‘The Rady of the Rake.’ They touched on shingle groundings and strong-armed captains.They found favour with the Maori names for things, those having the vowel sounds familiar to my father’s ear.

“Tahuna” he said.

“Tahuna,” she agreed.

He promised horizons of legendary Fuji and the mystical East. My father, diminutive in stature and magnanimous in bank balance, plucked my mother from that mountain as though she were not at all approaching six-foot tall.

Done.

Sold.

Next.

Upon arrival at Narita my mother was full of expectation and growing fuller of me. Six months into her stay in Tokyo her streams of ex-school friends and family members grew to a trickle. Then a drip. Aeroplanes weren’t for everyone. Soon I was the only arrival to look forward to.

I arrived on time, born in the reverse order to dying; I moved towards the light then into the gore. I moved away from the calming thrum of our combined heartbeats. We all must take responsibility at some point. I took responsibility at birth.

I was the perfect combination of my antithetical parents, which is to say I looked like neither of them. More importantly, I sounded like neither of them. I took a good long time to begin saying anything at all. It raised concern and inspired medical testing. Had I been quicker, things might have been different. Of course, no one considered the difficulties of your life-lessons heard in Japanese and your nursery-rhymes in English. One must first differentiate the woodblock from the marimba. I suspect such expectation is prompted by the unusual ratios of infancy; small of body, large of brain. Surely the first year is spent in shock at a world un-shaded, un-muffled and utterly disjointed?

Had I spoken sooner, would I have said the right thing?

The story of my mother and her curse I will tell like this: one morning, when I was about five my mother gave me a pat on the head, and a packed lunch. My lunch included tasty rice, a flower-shaped egg-half, a seaweed salad and plum pickles. The last were Spring-green.

My mother said “Be good.”

Off I went.

When the house had been quiet an hour she pulled on her boots and spoke solemnly to the empty kitchen:

“I have to go,

I cannot stay,

It’s time that I should go away.”

And she strode to the front door, grasped its handle, stepped one foot outside then changed her mind.
Too much to ask.

On the morning of the next day I was given a pat on the head and my packed lunch. This lunch had tasty rice, a flower-shaped egg-half, a seaweed salad and turnip pickles. The last were Summer-yellow.

My mother said “Be brave.”

Off I went.

When the house had been quiet an hour she pulled on her boots and spoke solemnly to the empty kitchen:

“I have to go,

I cannot stay,

It’s time that I should go away.”

And she strode to the front door, grasped its handle, and went through. She stomped her large feet in their large boots all the way to the first traffic intersection, and strained to look over the tall buildings, trying to remember the direction of Mt Fuji. But the skyscrapers seemed bigger than mountains, more eternal than a forest and she changed her mind.

Too much to imagine.

On the morning of the following day I was given a pat on the head and my packed lunch. The lunch had tasty rice, a flower-shaped egg-half, a seaweed salad and cabbage pickles. They were Autumn-red.

She said “Be patient.”

Off I went.

When the house had been quiet an hour she pulled on her boots and spoke to the empty kitchen:

“I have to go,

I cannot stay,

It’s time that I should go away.”

And she strode to the front door, grasped its handle, and went through. She stomped her large feet in their large boots all the way to the first traffic intersection and crossed it. She walked on until the buildings grew shorter and indeed Mt Fuji became visible!

She was so focused on that mountain that she didn’t notice her boots wearing out. The soles rubbed off like eraser shavings. She didn’t notice when her feet went the same way, rubbed to dust as she quested on. And as her ankles, knees and thighs disappeared she had some vague notion of the world around growing taller, but inched on nonetheless. When worn down to a limbless and gutless and breathless remainder her body, so well-versed in her intentions, was drawn forward still rubbing and rubbing away. In the end there was only dust. To her great fortune the wind took pity on her and blew it home to the mountain, and it swirled and sparkled there in the snow.

There it is - the end of the story. But being divided in parentage, it is only fair that I tell it the other way.

My mother was a ski-instructor; she used to drop down slopes. She felt alone in crowded streets and polite situations and never remembered to remove her shoes. When she did they dwarfed the footwear around them. It was true, she did yearn for Fuji, she wanted something bigger than herself. My father was so small, and I was even smaller. With her miraculous internal combustion, my mother could sustain temperatures well below zero. It was endless, meaningless, courtesy that left her cold.

One morning she braved Shinjuku station to find the train to Hakone, to Fuji. Her red head bounced over the top of all the black ones, a lit match among those burnt out. Everyone was so busy and purposeful. Everything was already organised, and not for her. And the more she thought about it, what was there to do? Climb the mountain? Climb back down? The longer she thought, the more Sisyphean it seemed.

In the end she did meet the train for Fuji. As the express hurtled into the station my mother balanced lightness, momentum and certainty, and dropped from the platform.

It wasn’t a curse; it was an error in judgement. My mother’s fault was to yearn for Peace. Peace! Peace in clear skies and rippling water. Peace as declared by photo calendars. It isn’t a desire for the living. To live is to have your every atom aquiver. No peace in the swan-filled lake. It belongs in a river traversed by an impassive boatman. My father tells me useless things like this.

He once said, “She sung you songs, don’t you remember?”

I said, “Of course not.”

“You know it. You know the one.” He said, “Something-something Aloha.”

I said, “She wasn’t Hawaiian.”

I have had many such discussions, used words that divide and repeat. I return and return again to wondering: had I spoken sooner, would I have said the right thing? What language would we understand? What would I say if I were to meet her?

Tearoha – something –something –something…

 

jade dpJade du Preez is a graphic designer / visual artist with an on-going ambition to complete her first novel, "The Prince Who Would Not Be King".

Du Preez was first published earlier this year in the short story anthology "Counting Down the Seconds."




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