Something terrible has happened in the house next door. Mrs. Allen has lost her son. Meaning he has been taken from her. The first I know of it, late-afternoon sirens fill the air, and from my bedroom I see police cars lining the street, jammed edgewise. Many other neighbors have come to look. I see Julie Terblanche, the school teacher, and her husband Jan, and where Thomson Street becomes Heather Street, Mrs. Broome and her two boys are hanging about the wrought iron gate, Mrs. Broome hissing at them to stay close. Of Mrs. Allen nothing is seen. Presumably she is inside, being questioned. Presumably I will soon be questioned too.
Let me state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I spent this Friday like I spend everyday, the morning in bed reading, with my cat Tim curled at my feet. Mid-morning I walked to the supermarket on Lansdowne Road to buy milk and coffee and get my daily exercise. For lunch I made myself a toasted cheese sandwich and drank a Diet Coke, and after lunch I took a nap, not sleeping, just drifting, until the late-afternoon sirens upset my routine. Look, you can see the lunch dishes are still in the sink. I didn’t have time to clean them.
At this point in my interrogation I would probably offer the policeman a sandwich, which he would refuse, thinking it is a bribe, or more likely accept, knowing how rife corruption is in our South African police force.
But my interrogation, like so many of my imaginings, does not come to pass. When the clock strikes five-thirty I am still alone, unvisited. I remove the dress I had put on, printed with strawberries, and hang it in my closet, and wipe the makeup from my face.
Removing my makeup is like archaeology now, only in reverse; the more I uncover, the less sense my face makes. My hair is wispy over a peeling white and red scalp. I had plump lips once too, but now they are thin and flat. Not long ago, I kissed the mirror, just to see what it would look like.
After I am finished in the bathroom, I mount the spiral staircase to my bedroom upstairs, where I have a clear, unobstructed view over the Allens’ wall, right into the intimacy of their living room. Thankfully I live in the largest remaining Victorian house in the neighborhood, towering over the newer mortar and brick homes. From here I see all the lights are on in Mrs. Allen’s house. Mrs. Allen is on the couch, a towel covering her forehead. The poor woman is elongated and stiff as a corpse. Beside her, a group of women fusses, bringing her steaming drinks. Occasionally Mrs. Allen raises a hand and a friend grips and squeezes, and once they help her to the bathroom and back, encircling her waist for support. I suspect she is drugged.
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