Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet [NOOK Book]


In their bestseller Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams showed the world how mass collaboration was changing the way businesses commu­nicate, create value, and compete in the new global marketplace.
This sequel shows that in more than a dozen fields—from finance to health care, science to education, the media to the environment—we have reached a historic turning point. Collaborative innovation is revolutionizing not only the ...
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Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet

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In their bestseller Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams showed the world how mass collaboration was changing the way businesses commu­nicate, create value, and compete in the new global marketplace.
This sequel shows that in more than a dozen fields—from finance to health care, science to education, the media to the environment—we have reached a historic turning point. Collaborative innovation is revolutionizing not only the way we work, but how we live, learn, create, govern, and care for one another. The wiki revolutions of the Arab Spring were only one example of how rebuilding civilization was not only possible but necessary.
With vivid examples from diverse sectors, Macrowikinomics is a hand­book for people everywhere seeking a transformation of industry and institu­tions by embracing a new set of guiding principles, including openness and interdependence. Tapscott and Williams argue that this new communications medium, like the printing press before it, is enabling nothing less than the birth of a new civilization.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101443583
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,202,086
  • File size: 898 KB

Meet the Author

Don Tapscott and David Ticoll co-founded the business research and consulting firm Digital 4Sight in 1994. They have written for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, The Globe and Mail and Forbes and appeared on national broadcast media around the world. Both live in Toronto.


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At night, for an hour before going to sleep, Ginny read the personal ads. Not because she was looking for a lover, but because she was mesmerized by the language people chose to describe themselves. She found herself underlining standout lines by women and men, old and young. Platinum frequent flier, phenomenal legs, does museums in two hours max wrote a thirty-six-year-old businesswoman. Generally a barrel of laughs when not contemplating thoughts of an untimely death quipped a fortysomething filmmaker. Ginny also enjoyed Capable of holding entire conversations with answering machines, and Rides badly, speaks three foreign languages badly, cooks badly, but does all with vigor & enthusiasm. She sometimes thought of pairing up two ads with each other: Zero maintenance having sushi with Non-needy seeks other non-needy. Her affection was stirred by the fellow who claimed to appreciate all manner of candor—he was seeking a mate with poise, wit, and joie de vivre. There is no such thing as too much information, another singleton declared. Ginny laughed; she loved that. Her friends found the personals to be categorically depressing, but Ginny had developed a near-obsessive fascination with them, and found in them a source of hope both mundane and profound. Still trying to chance upon a unifed theory of everything, but in the meantime, searching for a soul who is wildly intelligent and in possession of some sadness. This from an eighty-year-old retired physics pro-fessor, who sounded like a winner to Ginny, in spite of the forty-fve-year age difference. But by far her favorites were three of the simplest: Adventuresome, liberal, hair; Got dog?; and Good in a crisis.

Ginny was in no way looking for a mate herself. She described herself as happily married to the single life, and didn't want to be responsible for anyone else's socks or chicken dinners. If she were a plant, her instructions would have read: Needs ample sunlight; thrives in solitude. Some winter evenings she would turn off her phone, start a fire, open a book—and swear there was no home happier than hers. Her friends called her commitment-phobic to her face, but why label as fear what was simply a choice? When she told them she dreamed of being an old spinster one day, of course no one believed her. But she knew her recent restlessness had little to do with love.

Ginny had no illusions about marriage. To her it looked like boatloads of work and a lifetime of compromise. She realized she was in the minority in her disaffection for the institution; the world was peopled with the betrothed. Still, occasionally her friends confided details that supported her aversion: Jessica's husband, Ted, taped The X-Files over their wedding video; Katrina could never cook with her favorite spice, dill, because Leo didn't care for it. And parenthood—parenthood looked like slavery. Ginny found herself newly in awe of her own parents now that her peers had begun to procreate, and she could see up close what was involved. To consider all they had given up—the time, the freedom. Maybe I'm just too selfish to have children, she confessed to Jessica over the phone.

Let's not forget, a lot of people have children for selfish reasons, Jessica said. In order to have someone to play with, or to take care of them when they’re old. Or because they’re bored and don’t have anything better to do. Jessica herself was pregnant with baby number four, and Ginny knew her motives were of the more magnanimous variety: She wanted to adore her children in a way she had never been adored. Truth be told, Ginny already had children—I've classes full of them. Despite frustrations, her favorites were the seniors. Twenty seventeen-year-olds were hers for AP English every day, fifth period, right after lunch, when all the blood in their bodies that wasn’t already servicing endocrine glands was busy digesting pizza and Gatorade. Nonetheless, she made it her duty to try to love them. And she attempted to impart a few morsels of wisdom; she tried very hard, but more and more she felt that something was being lost on them. She did everything she'd always done: She took them on the field trip to Walden Pond; she read from writers' obituaries; she told them who were the alcoholics, who slept with whom, who were the geniuses and who were the hacks, which one subsisted on a diet of only white wine, oysters, and grapes for so long she had to be hospitalized for anemia. Still, they looked at her with what could only be called accusation. As if she were withholding something. As if there were something that she, Ginny, was supposed to be doing for them, or giving them, but she was simply too selfsh or too lazy to do it.

She'd heard of the great teachers who said they learned more from their students than they taught them, so she examined her teenagers’ faces with fresh scrutiny and pored over their essays with renewed vigor, wondering what she was supposed to glean. Her kids were so disaffected, so sophisticated, so urbane. A couple of times she could have sworn Marc Campbell had winked at her in the hall-way. She had them read Suite Française, a World War II novel whose author had perished at Auschwitz while the manuscript was rescued by her daughters. Ginny asked if there were any questions.

Do you think the sum of the good things mankind has done outweighs the sum of the horrible things? It was Julia, her star student. Ginny panicked for a second, genuinely stumped, then made up an answer about how it's not always useful to quantify things.

If they wanted difficult questions, she'd give them the difficult questions. Love is an attempt to penetrate another being, but it can only be realized if the surrender is mutual, she said the following Wednesday. She was reading to them from The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz. It is always difficult to give oneself up; few persons anywhere ever succeed in doing so, and even fewer transcend the possessive stage to know love for what it actually is—

And you, Miss Porter? asked Jimmy Galway, interrupting. He was a confusing child: He had the attitude of a tattooed rebel but the fresh-pressed shirts of a diplomat.

And me what?

You one of the few? It briefly flashed through Ginny's head that she would never have dreamed of interrupting her teachers, never mind daring to ask if they had ever truly succeeded in falling in love. She leaned back against the front of her desk and wished the slit in her slim black skirt stopped an inch lower than it did. But she didn't believe in lying, least of all to the young.

I have often been in love, she said, matter-of-factly. But never of the surrendering variety. Or rather, if I do surrender, it doesn't seem to be sustainable for very long. Just then the bell rang, and brought relief. Within the relief, there was also a small pearl of pride, that pleasurable feeling that sometimes accompanies speaking the plain truth.

The pride didn't last. The days dragged; her kids became less and less engaged. Some would unabashedly toy with their cell phones while she was teaching. They didn't do their homework; they chewed gum in glass; Tim Harris sat with an unlit clove cigarette perched on his lips during the entire first act of Waiting for Godot. It was as if they were challenging her, calling her out. But she didn't know what was wrong, or how to reach them. Hadn't there been things that had reached her once? Books, films, scraps of beauty that had moved her so deeply she had wept with gratitude? How could she now not remember what they were? Even the well-worn volumes on her own syllabus seemed to have become mere words on a page.

There's more to life than grammar and spelling, she announced on a rainy Friday afternoon, but it only made them slouch deeper in their chairs, squeaking their sneakers against the linoleum. She felt like a hypocrite. Grammar and spelling, sadly, were her lifeblood. Against her better wishes, she’d become an enforcer of the picayune. Her students must have perceived her failure; with the wisdom of children, they sensed that she had chosen the easy path in life, and they resented her for it.

I’m sure they don’t resent you, Jessica said cheerfully, placing her spoon on the edge of her saucer. All around them, the bright voice of Sam Cooke was greeting itself in the gleaming surfaces of the diner. They’re teenagers. They probably don’t give you a second thought. They’re too busy thinking about each other, or how to get out of that hellhole. Jessica had so seamlessly made the transition from pink-haired punk rocker to wife and mother that Ginny sometimes forgot about her undying empathy for the disenfranchised.

That hellhole is my life, Ginny said.

I know, honey. I'm sorry. I feel for you. You know I do.

I need to get out of there. It’s just—something's got to change, Ginny said. She cupped her mug with both hands. You know, when I was their age, I loved English class. It was better than honors chemistry with Mr. Marks. Or writing the Presidents report for Mr. Tully. It was exciting. It was English, with Mr. Hennessey. Jessica arched an eyebrow. Mr. Hennessey, the one you were in love with?

I wasn't in love with him, I was inspired by him. He was my inspiration.

Uh-huh. I thought you said you had your first sex dream about him. Ginny was grateful she didn't blush easily. He was my mentor. I mean, all these years, he's been my invisible mentor.

Why not make him visible? said Jessica.


Why not look him up?

Whatever for? Ginny said, but Jessica only shook her head, slid belly-first out of the booth, and went to pay the check.

Ginny thought about doing a search on the Internet, but in the end, finding Mr. Hennessey was as easy as calling her old high school and speaking to the secretary from whom Ginny used to procure late slips on account of the bus—by God, the same woman still worked there. Arthur Hennessey lived in western Massachusetts now, had stopped teaching ten years ago. His address was 49 Merriam Street, Pittsfield. She had a phone number on file but wasn’t sure it was current.

Arthur. It was strange to think of his first name. He’d been, what, maybe thirty-five when she was seventeen?

Which would make him ?fty-four now, give or take. She wondered what he’d be doing, why he’d left teaching; it seemed he’d been born to teach. Perhaps he owned a bookstore or had started some sort of nonprofit. Or she could picture him as a ski instructor; he’d always been the chaperone for the school-sponsored ski trips. Would he be married, with a family? He'd been a perennial bachelor back then: tall, dark hair, broad shoulders—practically the bachelor from Central Casting. It was occasionally rumored that he was engaged, or had a girlfriend, but he never seemed to actually get married. He sometimes had a little BO, she remembered, which Ginny’s adolescent self had found oddly sexy. Mainly, though, he had the peculiar beauty of a person in love with what he does.

His classroom had all the elegance and electricity hers lacked. He would pepper his lessons with quotes from John Cheever, Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan. He seemed to know something about everything, and he wielded his knowledge not as a weapon but with self-effacing humor and quirkiness. He promised his students two dollars for each time they brought in an example of bad grammar in a pop song—an arrangement that easily could have bankrupted him. Ginny was the first to produce one. I have a quote from the song 'Hungry Eyes,' she announced shyly one afternoon. She didn't have to say what it was. I feel the magic between you and I! Mr. Hennessey blurted out, as if he were removing a painful splinter from his heel.

He didn’t draw the same boundaries her other teachers did. He told them what books he was reading, what movies he liked, what happened the week he was out on jury duty. We were seated around a large table, and the lawyer questioning potential jurors said: 'Each of you needs to choose which of these adjectives best describes you: leader or follower.' 'Leader,’ reported the first. ‘Leader,' said the next. Then it was Mr. Hennessey's turn. Well, if these two are leaders, I’d better be a follower, he said. But I should inform you, these words are nouns, not adjectives.

He had them memorize and recite their favorite poem. He said he would bring in his guitar and accompany them, if they wanted to sing it. The students laughed, but he was serious. Each of you should make a point of having at least one great poem committed to memory, he said. In case you ever have to spend some time in prison.

In the spring he missed half a week of school, and the substitute teacher told them his mother had died. When he returned to class on Thursday, he was quieter than usual, but beneath the surface, the old self blazed. He gave them an essay assignment so he could sit at his desk, writing what looked like thank-you notes. Write a three-page composition, either fiction or nonfiction, that illustrates how fragile yet how durable we are. Ginny wrote something relatively unimaginative about her dog. That afternoon, when she got home from school, she went to her bedroom, locked the door, and cried.

Never listen to the world, he announced one sunlit morning in the middle of June. It was the last day of school. The world gives terrible advice. In fact, more often than not, do the exact opposite of what the world says. This was her final memory of the man, her favorite teacher. She couldn't locate him in the crowd at graduation, couldn't find him afterward to tell him about her college choice, thank him for his recommendation. But he had inhabited her consciousness all these years. Of course he had. And now she had his address.

At first it had seemed fitting and adventuresome to drive to his house on a Saturday afternoon, rather than calling ahead. The world gives terrible advice, she repeated to herself, speeding along the MassPike. What kind of advice would Mr. Hennessey give? But now, sitting on the side of the road with the engine still running, she felt ridiculous. She was about a mile from the house, had driven by twice, seen a truck, seen the light on in the kitchen, and kept going. It was October, and both sides of the dirt road were lined with trees whose yellow leaves had already fallen. She knew her students were out at soccer matches and football games, and in the silence she heard their shouts and cheers. While here she sat on a country road, where not a single car had passed her. One minute she was prepared to go back to the house; the next she was ready to drive the two-plus hours it would take to get home. This must be what a midlife crisis feels like, she said to herself. Then she remembered Good in a crisis, from the personal ads, and laughed. The next thing she knew, she had pulled into his driveway, turned off the engine, and was slamming the car door.

The house was modest and unremarkable. Greenish paint, beige shutters, a few shrubs along the front. An old-fashioned black mailbox hung beside the door. The truck in the driveway was rusted, and the word toyota across its back was missing its final A, rendering it a palindrome. Ginny rang the bell and waited, feeling a bit queasy, preparing herself for a wife or child to answer, or a stranger—perhaps this was an old address—anything. She rang the bell again. A moment later, there he was. Mr. Hennessey.

Yes? he said through the screen door. She could tell he didn't recognize her. She wore her blond hair long and curly now, and her face had settled in a way that gave her cheekbones she hadn't had when she was seventeen. She was wearing jeans and a brown suede jacket, and carrying an oversize handbag that she thought of as her schoolmarm's purse.

Mr. Hennessey, hello. It’s Virginia Porter. I was a student of yours.

Virginia Porter, Mr. Hennessey said, a smile widening his face. Come on in. How the heck are you?

I’m all right. I'm a teacher myself now, she said, wishing she’d waited a little longer to say it.

No kidding! Are you really? He opened the hall closet. Here, let me take your coat. If he was shocked to see her, he showed no sign of it. He spoke as though they did this every third Saturday in October. She pulled her arms out of her jacket, and he helped her. I am, she said, trying not to grin. She was surprised at how good she felt. Mr. Hennessey’s face had surprised her—it had more lines, but it was the same face.

Have a seat. Do you feel like coffee or anything? Tea?

Tea would be great.

The two of them sat on a worn leather sofa opposite a beautifully carved coffee table, holding their cups of tea. Ginny commented on the table, which featured a landscape of seraphs and Cyrillic letters under a sheet of glass.

I made it, Mr. Hennessey said. I meant to sell it to someone, but then I ended up keeping it. Funny how things work out sometimes.

You're a natural—it's gorgeous. Is that what you do these days, woodwork?

I do a bunch of things; handyman stuff, mostly. I have some friends with farms who do a lot of canning, so there’s seasonal work. It suits me; I like being outdoors. It’s nice out here.

What made you give up teaching? Ginny said, not realizing until she asked it how the question had been pressing on her. You were so great at it.

You don't know? Mr. Hennessey said, adjusting his position. It was quite the scandal back in the day. I thought everyone knew.

Ginny felt her face go hot, ashamed both that she didn’t know and that she might have brought up an indelicate topic. I guess I’m behind the times. I never heard a thing.

Oh. Well. It was six or seven years after your class. On a ski trip, one of the boys was arrested for smoking pot. Just one of those kid things. No harm done, really. He and his friends had taken a bag to the top of the mountain, presumably to get high and then ski down. But since the trip was in Canada and they’d carried it across the U.S. border, it became a big deal. The authorities pressed him about who sold it to him, and the kid said I had. Said I gave him the weed earlier that day. That everyone knew I would supply students with drugs—all they had to do was ask.

It was entirely made up, of course, probably out of desperation. But the school board took it rather seriously, as you can imagine. They searched my house, deposi¬tioned me. In the end I was vindicated, but after that, it was as if the wind had gone out of my sails. A year later I left.

I’m so sorry, Ginny said. I didn't know any of this. I didn’t know a thing.

Don’t be sorry. It all turned out for the best. I like it here. I have plenty of time to read. And it’s quiet. Peaceful.

Ginny surveyed the room—the crowded bookshelves, the dusty white curtains, the guitar case in the corner next to an expensive-looking stereo. It did seem like the abode of a contented person. Simple but homey.

He lifted his teacup. What about you? he said. How do you like your life?

My life is generally a barrel of laughs when I’m not contemplating thoughts of an untimely death, she said, which she’d hoped would make him laugh, but it didn’t. I like my life all right, she said, and found her¬self wishing they were drinking beer rather than tea. She remembered the restaurant in Chinatown that was the only place in Boston where you could get alcohol after serving hours, by ordering a kettle of cold tea. Cold tea, wink wink.

Anything exciting going on? he said. Where do you teach?

Lexington High School, she said. English. I even have the AP class.

Ah! Mr. Hennessey said. Our archrivals! How could you?

It's just the way the numbers worked out. It’s nothing personal, she said, as if she were a professional ballplayer.

And forgive me if I was hoping you’d say English rather than chemistry.

Ginny made a snort. All I remember from chemistry is Avogadro’s number. And even that I don't remember.

Avogadro isn’t worth remembering. Unless you’re out on a date with a chemist you want to impress.

I guess that explains why that one never called again, she said. She found her gaze shifting to Mr. Hennessey’s hands. There was no wedding band; there was no evidence of children’s things around the house.

How about you? she said. Dating any chemists?

No. Did you ever marry?

Mr. Hennessey put down his cup of tea. No.

Why not?

He looked at her. He’d always encouraged his students to be candid and direct, and his expression implied he was pleased that someone had ? nally taken him up on it.

Just not for me, I suppose.

I know what you mean, Ginny said. I feel that way about eggplant.

Mr. Hennessey clicked his tongue. Now that’s a pity. That means you won’t be able to sample my beer-battered fried eggplant extraordinaire.

I hope you’re kidding, Ginny said. Wow, you’re serious? How about just a beer, minus the eggplant extraordinaire.

Mr. Hennessey rose to his feet. All right, Virginia, he said. But it’s your loss.

Two beers later, she was feeling much more relaxed. Mr. Hennessey had put on a Tom Waits CD, and Ginny thought he had the saddest yet most hopeful voice she'd ever heard.

Mr. Hennessey, would you mind if I asked you a question?

On one condition: You have to stop calling me Mr. Hennessey. You make me feel as if it's still 1987. We need to bring ourselves up to date.

Ginny offered her hand. Deal, she said. She took a breath. Arthur, do you think the good things human beings have done outweigh the hideous things?

Mr. Hennessey nearly spilled his beer. What the hell kind of question is that?

The kind my kids ask. That's from Julia, who’s an ace, but so shy. She writes these ingenious paragraphs about the overlooked dross of the world, but never makes a peep in class. Then the other day she finally spoke up, and I let her down. I couldn't help her, Ginny said. It was awful.

I'll tell you what I think: It only takes one moment of perfection to atone for a lifetime of waste. Ginny sat up as if he'd slapped her. Perfection? I beg your pardon? Aren't you the man whose blackboard perennially read: Strive for perfection, but learn to work with imperfection? You taught us perfection was a chimera. I thought it was a fiction.

So did I, he said. But I was wrong. Perfection isn’t outside us. Perfection is a way of seeing.

Ginny fell silent. You were less cryptic before you became enlightened, she wanted to say, but the lines on his face appeared freshly earnest, as if each were the receipt for some suffering, and she changed her mind. Mr. Hennessey split the caps off two fresh bottles and handed her one. She thought about declining, not certain what it would mean in terms of her drive home, but she accepted, and clinked her bottle to his.

To perfection, she said.

To 1987, said Mr. Hennessey.

While Mr. Hennessey was in the bathroom, Ginny realized she was drunk. It felt good; it felt as if she’d needed to get drunk for a long time.

Personally, I think the whole endeavor is overrated, she said as he reclaimed his place beside her.

Which endeavor is that?

Life. The pursuit of happiness. Love.

Is that so.

That is definitely so. I swear by it. My kids, for example. My class. They’re so suspicious and disengaged. I think they sense something insincere in me, and they hate it. They hate my class. Is there something insincere in you?

No. Well, yes. I mean, teaching. I'm not sure I want to be a teacher anymore.

The words hung in the air; Mr. Hennessey didn’t seem to have a response. I'm sorry, she said. I didn't mean to burden you with all this stuff. I just thought you might have some advice.

He leaned back against the couch. Tell me, he said. What do you think will become of Julia? She didn't blame him for changing the subject; she hadn't meant to dump her life in his lap.

I don’t know. She's so sensitive, I worry. I think either she'll have to toughen up, or the world will toughen her up. Ginny had noticed that people didn’t seem to value sensitivity much. Don't be so sensitive! they’d shout— not the most delicate way to handle a finely attuned person—as if sensitivity were voluntary.

He smiled. Or not.

What do you mean?

Maybe she'll find a way to capitalize on her sensitivity. I doubt it.

Why's that?

I just do. Ginny thought about the way Julia's hands shook when it was her turn to read aloud, how the skin on her arms turned to gooseflesh whenever she read a sentence that was especially moving.

You don’t think it could ever be an asset—perhaps her greatest asset?

No. Ginny laughed. I don't.

Mr. Hennessey gave her a funny look. Interesting, his expression said. Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?

That'd be only fair.

What was your poem? When I had the students memorize their favorite poem and recite it.

Oh, God, I don't remember. That was so long ago. I couldn’t begin to remember. He smiled an enigmatic smile she didn’t appreciate. He was sitting only a foot away, and she found herself partly wanting to scoot over next to him and partly wanting to reach for her purse and flee. He leaned forward and set his bottle down on the table. Well, I'd say if you truly don't enjoy teaching, you should leave. But if you do enjoy it, you should stay. Personally, I can’t picture you as anything other than an excellent teacher.

But—I’m not like you. I’m not the way you were.

You’re like yourself, he said. Even better.

You don’t know me, she said, becoming annoyed, wishing she hadn’t accepted that last beer. Or was it that she felt as if she were only seventeen again? Her father had taken her aside that year, told her he was worried about her, that she was like a turtle without a shell. You don't know me, she said again. I toughened up. I grew a shell. I'm not— He put his hand against her back but, oddly, she felt it in her stomach. Your shell is papier-mâché, he said. You are a piñata.

She looked into his face. It was still so handsome. You were my favorite teacher, she wanted to say, but she was too embarrassed, too afraid she would sound like a schoolgirl with a crush. You were everybody’s favorite. He held her eyes. And I'm no good at being in love, either, she said abruptly, shifting away from him. She sometimes had a talent for dispelling awkward mo-ments by making them even more awkward. I don’t like the idea of giving yourself up, of surrendering. Why does it have to be like that? Who invented this system, anyway?

Mr. Hennessey appeared stunned, and she wondered if she'd scared him.

Did you put truth serum in my drink? she said, hoping to recover a little. But he had grown pensive. For the first time, she recognized the expression she knew from the classroom.

I don’t know that you necessarily have to give yourself up, he said. Maybe your self just becomes larger.

Spoken like a lifelong bachelor, she said, but when she saw his face, she regretted it. I was engaged once, he said, turning to the window. Outside, the sun was setting, and the western sky was the colors of a bruise: purple and yellow, fading to gray. She was curious about everything. And what a heart. As he spoke, the room seemed quiet in a way it hadn't before. Ginny sat perfectly still.

Her name was Isabel, he said. When she left, it took something from me. Changed me. I almost feel as if I’ve been in hibernation. For a while, I suppose I was waiting for her to come back. But at a certain point, I imagine one's supposed to give up. His face had a vulnerability she’d never seen in it when he was her teacher. I guess I just never knew when to give up.

He seemed about to say more, but then he stopped. He pressed his lips together. If I see this man cry, Ginny thought, it will break me. If I see him cry, I will break in two. But instead of attempting to say more, he just smiled—a broad, apologetic smile—as if he were laughing at his own predicament, at how funny it was to have been through such heartache.

That was five or six years ago now, he said, sitting up. The interesting thing is, I stayed friends with her father. He lived right up the road. I used to go over and help him out with repair-type stuff around the house, things he was too weak to do himself.

Sometimes we'd just sit and talk. But we never mentioned Isabel. One day, one of the last times I saw him before he died, he looked at me and said: 'Arthur, God answered all my prayers. All my prayers in life—except for one.' I knew he was trying to help me. Ginny didn't know what to say. She wanted to help him, too, but she didn't know how. She felt terrible then, terrible that she was considering leaving teaching, terrible that she was such a failure.

I'm sorry if I let you down, she said softly.

Mr. Hennessey shook his head. You didn’t let me down. You could never let me down.

He lifted her chin. You were my Julia, he said. You were my quiet ace.

Ginny closed her eyes. 'Suddenly I realize that if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom,' she said, and kept her eyes shut, afraid to open them, afraid of everything. James Wright’s 'A Blessing.' Of course. That would be the perfect poem for you, he said. Then he leaned in and kissed her, respectful and slow at first, then in a way that let her feel his hunger. She kissed him back, raising her hand to his neck. The simple act of touching him with tenderness made the hair on her arms stand up. When they stopped kissing, he pulled her into a hug, both arms locking her against his body, tight. Then they both started to laugh—real, deep laughter—and the more they laughed, the more they wanted to laugh. It was as if they had just heard the funniest joke in the world. It was as if they were the funniest joke in the world. When they stopped laughing, Ginny felt as if she might start to cry again. She stared at the vertical row of buttons on his shirt.

I can't remember what I used to think was beautiful, she said. You're beautiful, he whispered. You just might be the most beautiful thing.

You're drunk, Ginny laughed. And insane. Both. But her giddiness quickly evaporated. She didn't want to hurt him, not Mr. Hennessey, not this great, invisible love of her life. I should get going, she said, releasing him and glancing at her watch. I’m not sure you’'e medically fit to drive, he said. Besides, I was just about to offer you the guest room, and suggest we make pancakes tomorrow morning, then lounge around all day reading books.

Reading books, eh?

Or engaging in stimulating activity of one fashion or another.

Ginny smiled. I told you, I’m no good at the love thing. I'm willing to wager you're better than you think. And who said anything about love? I said pancakes. She stalled for a moment. She knew she should leave. She knew her pattern, her tendency to leave a broken heart in her wake when she returned to her solitary ways. Arthur—


She reached for her purse. I can't. I'm sorry. I really have to go. She started for the door.

He took her arm. Wait, he said. He drew a breath. I do miss it. I miss every damn thing about it. I should never have left. It was ego, pride. I'm envious of you, he said. I'm jealous.

Ginny sat down, shocked. What? That's insane. Why don't you go back, teach again somewhere? You could start fresh.

He was shaking his head. It's not that simple, he said. I've been away for so long. Sometimes you can miss something even when you know it’s not for you anymore. That's a load of bull. You were a fantastic teacher. You could get a job again in an instant. Heck, you can have my job. You just have to teach me how to carve tables.

Classes could be arranged, he said, taking her hand.

She slipped her hand away. The clock on the wall read 8:35. The alcohol was wearing off, and she suddenly felt very tired. I really should leave, she said.

Fair enough, he said, and they both stood up. Then he kissed her again, and it was as sweet as before. When she opened her eyes, his pupils were wide.

Hold on—I'll be right back, he said. I think I still have something you’ll get a huge kick out of. Then he headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

While he was gone, Ginny scanned the room, her eyes lighting on the bookshelves, the stereo, the coffee table. For a moment, she took in the whole scene, herself included, as if viewing it from above. She laughed. She knew then that she would leave teaching; she could see how much it had been misplaced admiration for him all along. And she imagined with equal clarity the possibility that he would return to it. She could see the strands of their lives crisscrossing like two chromosomes.

Outside, the sun had fully set, and a few lights glimmered through the clouds. Somewhere in the darkness a dog barked, and she heard a screen door slam. Ginny took her purse, and without making a sound, went for the door. All of her instincts told her to vanish, to flee. All of her instincts, except for one. The next minute, she was climbing the stairs—very slowly, like a woman sleepwalking, incapable of imagining the dream that awaits her when she wakes up.

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First Chapter

Everyone should have a farm like that in their childhood too idyllic to be real outside the tangible world of a childs imagining. And it really was like that, the perfect background for a charmed and untouched childhood. The farm itself was untouched: by ugliness, unpleasantness, poverty, politics, or so it seemed to me. Until that particular year when it was spoiled. Everything was spoiled.
As an intense teenager, years later, filled with angst and misplaced sensitivity, I wrote a poem about my childhood, I wrote of a white sheet hanging on the line on a summers day, rippling and flapping in a gentle breeze, warmed and dried by the cloudless heat of the day. Then I showed it fallen, a graceless heap on the grassless ground, soiled by filthy footprints which could have been mud, but which looked a bit like blood.
Dont think badly of me. Everyone is filled with self-pity at fourteen. And for many years I carried the full guilt of that year. I lugged the intense, silent burden of having caused everything that happened by doing something very bad, or not standing in the way of the bad things to field and divert them from us, from my farm.
I had too much faith in the way things would continue, in the beauty of before.
When I was older, I realized that, after all, I had been just a child, powerless to deflect the horror, not strong enough to be chosen as the cosmic goalie. Then I felt sorry for myself, until I was older still, and the guilt ? more collective this time settled again. That was when I locked myself away from all the perplexing ugliness of life, from any taint of hurt or violence.
But I didnt set out to tell about 1966. I dont want to talk about it. I want to describe how it really was, how it was before before the ugliness. I want to tell you about the soft, lilting nature of my holidays there.
This is how it really was. Each morning at five we awoke, my two brothers and I, to the same sounds. The drowsy sounds of hundreds of chickens, interspersed with the sharp crow of awakened roosters. Lying very still in my bed I could hear the grating beat of the belt-driven generator. From the bedroom next door, the early news on the Afrikaans service, then my grandmothers soft-intoned, Afrikaans-accented reading from the English Bible, before my grandfathers deep English voice joined hers in the Lords Prayer.
The skree-bang of the fly-screen door into the kitchen and the cleaning noises in the lounge invisible cleaning, for we never saw it being done. When the smells of bacon and Jungle Oats finally reached us, we catapulted noisily from our three beds, just in time to join my father heading for his unfailing early morning swim.
Before the full sun of the morning heated the dusty path through the orchard, I trotted barefoot alongside my father while my brothers raced for the pool. We joined them only after my father and I had stood to eat still-cool figs from the tree. And he invariably said: The only way to eat figs, straight off the tree before the suns properly up.
The swimming place was huge and old fashioned, a reservoir built in the war years, now used only for swimming. Moving hand over hand along the sides in the morning, one could be sure of finding a bullfrog or two wallowing in the small square holes just above water level.
Shivering and chilled, we would make for the warmth of the kitchen, where we dried off before the huge coal stove, pinching cinnamon-flavoured soetkoekies from the china jar on the dresser. The admonishments this would draw from enormously fat Dora, who ruled the kitchen, never managed to outlast her chest-quivering, almost toothless laugh.
Breakfasts were huge, lunches merely a welcome interruption to an otherwise unfettered day, in which the grown-ups remained satisfyingly remote from our adventuring, but comfortingly near at hand for my little-girl needs. Ouma, solid and practical, had a face
which brooked no nonsense and truly softened and sweetened only when she looked at us kids. To my kind, literary Oupa so civilized and impractical she spoke always in a hectoring tone, which he answered meekly but with a wink at me. Once, while I sat on his knee being read to A Child's Garden of Verses, I think it was, though I cant be sure he told me it was Oumas way of showing her love for us, the dreamy impractical ones, her way of chivvying us into coping with the harder side of life.
But it never worked. She always called me pieperig, and Oupa always sat reading or writing in his library, his soft, persistent cough and wisp of pipe smoke betraying his presence. Ouma, whom I never saw with a book other than the Bible, was out on the farm, supervising the feeding of the new chicks, the nailing of sacking over the chicken hoks before a threatened hailstorm and, of course, the killing which I was never aware of and never went curiously in search of, as my brothers did. And when the crunch finally came, when the hardness of life finally came home to me, I wasnt strong enough to deal with it. My grand-mothers attempts to toughen me were no defence against the events which caused the collapse of my life and the devastation of my childhood or so it seemed to me at the time. Even if, in retrospect and with adult consciousness, you smile cynically and think me melo-dramatic, I can describe it in no other way. Anyway, I wasnt going to talk about that time.
I was going to talk about Oumas boys William, her right-hand man, Petrus, and the others who smiled at us and loved us and carried me over the dusty ground when the sun heated it too much for my small feet to bear. They let me plunge my hands into the barrels of feathers and gently hold the tiny yellow chicks among the deafening chitter of the new arrivals. And each morning after breakfast I would sit with William and Petrus in the boys room, drinking forbidden coffee from a tin mug, poured from a large can boiling on a brazier and sweetened with their ration of condensed milk.
And I havent yet described the glory of the long lawn rolling from the front of the house, the wonder of Oumas pride: the flowers that caused travellers to stop and ask if they could buy an armful. Ouma would generously fill their arms for free and when she had done so, the plentiful garden looked no different, no emptier. The enormous spreading wild fig tree at the bottom of the garden provided the shade for the long summer evenings, when my father would carve up a watermelon and we would gorge ourselves, the sweet, sticky flesh causing rivulets of juice to run from our chins and down our arms to our elbows.
This is where I should stop, leaving the impressions of long, adventure-filled, dusty days of swimming, exploring, climbing trees. Of lying full length on the library floor with a fluttery, exciting feeling of reading some never-before-discovered book. Of the wildness of the veld and the magic of the people there. I shouldnt go on to tell you about that holiday, the one I have clutched silently to myself for all these years. What good will it do to bring it out now
It was 1966. I was eight years old, in Standard One in Port Elizabeth. In this small coastal city of the Eastern Cape, where everyone knew my family, I grew up believing I was something of a princess. The youngest child and only daughter, I attended a girls-only school where we wore panama hats and regulation bloomers. There they stressed the importance of turning out young ladies; of deportment; of climbing the stairs one at a time.
The cataclysmic political events of the 1960s had, for the most part, passed me by. But I did know that blacks, or Africans as I was instructed to call them by my enlightened, English-speaking parents, were badly treated and poor. Dont call them natives, dear, they dont like it.
But I knew that we were on the side of right, as my parents treated Africans with kindness. They were early Progs and werent scared of arguing with their friends, not all of whom were so sure that Africans were capable of exercising the vote ? qualified of course. But dont you see, my father would argue, your argument doesnt stand up. According to the Progs policy, old Joseph, your garden boy, wouldnt have the vote, but the educated African would and hes probably more capable than some of the poor whites who have it now.
I knew that if we had our way and got those damned Afrikaners out of power, everything would be OK. And maybe the Progs would win one day. I had a fantasy of taking a ragged child from the street and dressing her in nice clothes and giving her books and money for school. In those days, the days when the fanatical Dr Hendrik Verwoerd was prime minister, we felt bad that we received a good, free education, while blacks had to pay for theirs.
But of the inferiority of Bantu Education I knew little. I remember only that my mother would lecture me when I complained about going to school. Education means so little to you because you have it so easy, she would say. Some African child would die to be able to go to school as you do. So I thought of giving this chance to some child, who would weep with gratitude and her parents would clutch my hands with tears in their eyes. I felt so warm and good.
Of course, like everyone else we knew, we had a maid. She loved us as her own, hugged us, read to us, dressed us each morning and carried all three of us on her back until we were too big to fit. Margaret cooked for us and cared for us and I couldnt imagine life without her warm presence and love. She was the first person we three scampered to greet the moment we heard her comforting clatter each morning.
But I can also, still with a smarting clarity, remember how I hurt her that year. And for no explicable reason other than the ease with which I could do so. This is an unpleasant story and it puts me in a bad light. But Ive decided that if I am to speak of that year and that life, if it has to come out now, I have to tell it all no matter how badly you might think of me. And somehow, I think that if I speak of everything that happened that year, all that I did, it might help me to understand what happened later.
I dont think it would ever have occurred to me to use the word native when addressing black people. It wasnt used in my home or at school. But when I was warned against using it, I can remember that quite suddenly it became a forbidden word, unbearably enticing in its wickedness.
Native, I taunted Margaret, running guiltily through the kitchen. Oh no, she said, dropping her head while her face became, it seemed to me, frightening in its desolation. Of course she forgave me, never mentioning it again. But for ages it would come to me, that cringy sweaty feeling of regret, of wondering if she could still love me. And then, of course, I hurt her again. But this time it was worse, because it was a rejection of her.
Dawdling and dreaming, I would fairly regularly miss the number eight bus, which carried us Mill Park girls home from school. I relished the stomach-trembling adventure this gave me, of having to walk to my fathers office across the Donkin Reserve. I loved the imaginings aroused by the gracious buildings lining this humpbacked commonage.
A slight detour took me past the delicate metal lacework of an old gate, which had once swung open romantically to admit butterfly ladies in horse-drawn carriages. Gazing through the gates into the sash-windowed hotel, tracing the filigree with my fingers, I could so easily believe that I lived in that grandeur outside of my allotted time.
A zigzagged wander took me to my second lingering ritual, which was to run across the grass to touch the red-tipped lighthouse and gaze over the top of downtown. Beyond town, which squatted comfortably at the foot of the hills steep bump, were the wind-whitened tips of the waves ? a startling blue in sunshine, muddying to dirty green under clouds. And the ships moving inexorably past me to the harbour wall.
Just beyond the terraced houses which snaked their way down the swelling bulge of the hill, was my fathers office. Here, I could play with rubber stamps and be spoilt by beehived office workers who looked so similar I would confuse them. Will you take me up and down in the lift again I asked one, only to find it was another dark beehive with fluttering false eyelashes who had taken me on the trip in the metal-caged lift.
My mother would usually arrive at the office within ten minutes of my phone call. In her miniskirt and upswept glasses, she would breeze in efficiently and carry me home in her car. But on that particular day, sometime in 1966, my mom was out when I called. Margaret came instead, using her own money to catch the bus into town and struggle up the hill to the office. When she took my hand for the walk back into town, I was humiliated by the thought that people would think me baby enough still to need a nanny, one whose hand I had to hold. Petulantly I flung myself away from her and spat out that I didnt want people to see me with her. She never spoke a word of reproach but held firmly on to my hand, telling me the streets were dangerous.
1966. I hated school that year. Removed from the comfortable sub-Standards, we were now part of the real school and no longer permitted to hide behind our infant status. But school was such a small part of my life and I was, in any case, such a daydreamer that I could float free any time I felt the need. To escape the vitriol of our pinch-mouthed teacher, Miss Harper, with her pointy blue glasses, I would picture Margaret in the kitchen and my mother taking her afternoon rest. Tea and Salticrax to the sound of the childrens programme and Womans World in the afternoon.
That was the year Prime Minister Verwoerd was killed. There was no sorrow in our family and I remember it only because of two things. Miss Harper, her crissy hair pulled tightly back from her face to make it straighter, told us that our leader, Dr Verwoerd had been murdered by a madman. But the silence of her solemnity was broken when she announced a half-day holiday to mourn his passing. And on a Friday, a special bonus.
That I remember most of all. My friend Jackie and I rode our bicycles to the local newsagent to collect the June and Schoolfriend comics which they held for us each Friday. Only British weeklies, of course. We werent allowed, on pain of tearing up, American com-ics like Caspar and Richie Rich. With our comics and an early picnic lunch, we retired deliciously to a tent we had pitched in our garden and read them from cover to cover. Thats the only reason I remember the assassination at all.
But on the Monday it was back to school, without another thought for Verwoerd or who would come next. Each day we hung up our hats and lined up outside the school hall. At the first piano-thumped strains of march music we would parade in. There, at the piano, we would see the dead-straight back and teased bouffant of our one glamorous, pancake-smooth teacher. After the hymn, psalm and prayers of assembly, monitors inspected our bloomers, fingernails and hymn books and closely watched us file from the hall to check for stairs taken two at a time.
But I had another life. Each morning at half past five my father would wake me by staring silently at my sleeping face. As the sun was rising in summer, we would be stepping on to the chilly sand in its warm early glow. The first shock of the water always gave way to the fresh cleansing of salt and the exultancy of being the first people in the world, or so it seemed, to squint over the gold sparkling water and imagine where the ships were going and what they were carrying. Tide-walkers, we would find treasures like false teeth or money, or more wonderfully, signs, boxes or bottles from faraway places, washed in from exotic ships. If we had time we would drive to the steep point of the aloe-stalked hill, where we would revel in the full sweep of the golden bay. Or to the harbour, where my father would talk to sailors and, just sometimes, wed be invited onboard to look around. After that, how could the restrictions of school seem harsh
When school was over, there was adventure. Perched on opposite hilly points, our suburbs plunged, in their centre, down to the wild scrub bush of the Valley. With its small river and sheer rock cliffs plunging headlong, it spelled a questing excitement. On its rough forbidden paths we could dash through monkey ropes and gnarled, bandy bushes. We could bundu-bash through the adult-tall reeds along the river and shriek at the surprised tuk-tuk of the thrashing guinea fowl and the yell of the hidden hadeda. Mimicking the piercing ah-ah of the peacock, we would disturb them into flustered flapping and indignant cries.
Dont ever, ever go into the Valley, we were told. I more forcefully than my brothers, who were boys and impervious to danger. There are bush-dwellers down there.
It didnt stop us from following the little-used paths from suburb to suburb to visit each other, or to go adventuring. But it added spice. We never saw a bush-dweller, yet the throat-tingling fear of possible watching eyes gave us the grillies. What they would do if they found two or three exploring little girls we never could imagine. But once, when we found a rough, abandoned bush dwelling, roofed with bendy saplings, we scrambled and ran, screaming deliciously and giggling, up the overgrown, nasturtium-strewn hillside to the safety of houses and streets.
I remember the music my brothers played that year: Eleanor Rigby, Nowhere Man and Yesterday played one after the other on our portable gramophone, with a clunk as each stacked record dropped into place. I, following the example of my mother ? But they scream so, and they look so nasty with all that long hair ? hated the Beatles, to the noisy derision of my brothers. Sometimes one, sometimes both of them, when the elder could be shaken from the scornful superiority of his advanced years, would chase me and hold me down. One would tickle me till I wet my pants, while the other would hold my head to the thump of Please Please Me on the wireless. I would scream futilely and hold my hands to my ears.
My favourite seven-single was Telstar, which I played into scratchy submission. But my absolute best was kwela music, which my dad would play on his mouth organ before supper in the evenings, thumping his foot on the carpet. He had all the Spokes Mashiyane records, which my mom would never allow him to play. All that African music is so repetitive, it drives me mad, she would say. But she never stopped him playing it on his mouth organ. He held it the wrong way round, the way he had taught himself as a child, away in the backveld.
My most urgent memory of that year is Snowball Scratchkitten. If you to go school without crying and moaning, your Ouma says shell send you a kitten from the farm, my mother told me. Oh, the waiting for this kitten to arrive; the anticipation which plunged into despair each time I cried and was told the kitten wouldnt be sent.
But he came, a beautiful, clean, pure white piece of the farm, into which I could bury my face each day after school. I loved him and played with him but he was always that little bit wild, never quite tamed into easy domesticity.
As the year drew to a close, with my first school exams and the smell of jasmine plunging my room into holiday anticipation, my excitement about Christmas on the farm grew. My friends couldnt understand why I would look forward to spending summer holidays away from the beach and I couldnt explain to them. I didnt have the words to tell them that I longed for the sights, smells and tastes of the farm: the smell of coal smoke, which to this day wrenches me unwillingly to an earlier place and time, the clustered clucking of the fowls, the taste of those unbelievably huge free-range chickens, roasted for us nearly every day, and the skree-bang of the fly-screen door. So I told them only of adventures to be had, of the huge reservoir and exciting grounds to explore.
On the last day of school at the end of the year, we were all given free tickets to the circus, which had just arrived in town or perhaps they were half-price discount vouchers, I cant remember. On the school bus, the full load of excited little girls in their school gymslips and panama hats was cluttering with anticipation at the prospect. I, who would not be in town to
see the circus, fantasized about giving the ticket away to a poor African child, who would weep with joy. As we stepped off the bus, I saw my opportunity.
Parked in the street was the dust van, from which the dustboys loped, lithe and long-legged, into our gardens to empty our dustbins into the huge baskets they carried over their shoulders. We usually kept a slightly fearful distance between us as they were always running, leaping for the back of the van as it moved off. They never smiled or stopped to chat, as the nannies and garden boys did, with a Hello, little missus and a respectful duck of the head. And they carried the tainted smell of the open garbage in which they had to ride.
This time, one of the men had sat down briefly under the kaffirplums on the wide, grassy verge. He was cutting the front off his worn takkies with a penknife. Here, I said, holding out the ticket. Take your children to the circus. He stared at me with so little warmth in his eyes with none of the indulgence I was used to from the Africans I knew at home and on the farm. Then he ran, without a word, for the van which had begun to move.
Dont worry, said one of my friends. He was mad. Did you see He was even cutting holes in his shoes. I felt humiliated and rejected but, even then, knew it wasnt as simple as that.
My end-of-year excitement and shivery joy were gone, and I didnt quite understand why. Perhaps he didnt speak any English, I thought. When I consulted my brothers, of course they crowed. They jeered at my childish gesture and said I was stupid for not knowing that Africans werent allowed to attend the circus.
So I didnt tell them about his shoes. But I held that memory in my head where it worried at me. Only years later did I manage to work out for myself what he was doing: he was cutting the fronts off his takkies to free his constantly running feet from their constraints. Too small, he had probably just discovered them in the rubbish. And his eyes ? those blank, cold eyes they followed me too. And afterwards I saw them as an omen. But of course, thats just silly.
That was the start of it, the holiday which caused everything in my life to change colour, smell and taste. But please remember, it was an aberration. That holiday, which imprisoned me in the glass of my adult reclusiveness, wasnt what the farm was all about. So why couldnt I have stopped it Why couldnt I have done something to prevent those inexorable events which moved us all into disaster and despair
1989 15th October
We fought again last night. I with my glassy silence, he with the rage of a sudden hailstorm. As usual it was hope ? or rather my lack of it which started it.
I married a patient man, comfortable in his large, warm security. I think it is only I who, constantly testing in my imperturbability, can drive him to the wild savagery of last nights fury. And somehow I just cant seem to stop myself. Safe in the secrecy of my glasshouse, I even feel a heart-twisting sense of satisfaction. It is my belief, you see, that human beings are inherently violent, cruel creatures. It amuses me, in my remoteness, to demonstrate this so graphically with the mildest person Ive ever known.
Oh yes, hope! I am incapable of it, you see. I see no point to it. No, I think I should be honest, now at least, and say that its more than that. It twines around my neck and chokes me. I cant provide God ? that rancorous Spirit who created Man in His own loathsome image ? with that kind of weapon.
I feel it a bitter cosmic joke that I, who am entirely without hope, should be doomed to live through a time that is so full of it. Were at the end of 1989 and I am in my early thirties, married but childless ? by choice. My choice, I should add. I live in one of Johannesburgs nice suburbs, dark with tree-shaded old houses. The village, as the suburb and small cluster of shops are referred to in that twee northern-suburbs style, is populated by young executives. So new age they are, in their identical polo shirts and baby backpacks, and their wives, with clothes carefully chosen so as not to betray their affluence. The older residents, those brown-skirted women with short grey hair ? their cracked heels pressed to flat leather ride their bicycles or walk their Labradors, retrievers or collies, and behave with public and uncompromising liberalism.
But now has begun a time of a great sparkling euphoria, delicately balancing on the very verge of change. For most of those charming executive families, negotiated happiness and non-racial heaven seem tantalizingly close as they stop to chat outside the Spar shop. Some of them now daringly sport ANC T-shirts, still illegal but, of course, carrying little danger of arrest in these days of hope and glory. And those same grey-headed dog walkers, who have always voted Prog (even when it became the Democratic Party), discuss whether to join the ANC when it is unbanned ? its inevitable any day now, my dear or whether to stick with the Progs from loyalty. That great shining unbanning feels imminent. And I know that after today, I will have to suffer even more any day now conversations with earnest, glowing faces.
Today, as no one could have missed, after a full week of jubilant crowd stories in the newspapers, is the release date of the eight jailed heroes of the struggle. All this week the jubilant crowds have been busy, it seems: jubilant crowds marching, jubilant crowds singing, jubilant crowds dancing thats what caused the latest storm in the tranquillity of our marriage teacup.
My husband is desperate for us to form a little jubilant crowd.
Hes finally been overtaken by the general euphoric hysteria. Its everywhere. Its everywhere! Right in the middle of our supper last night, he burst forth. Should there be a rally in Johannesburg to toyi-toyi a welcome to the leaders, he said in all seriousness; he thought we ought to go. Apparently, the word around if youre in the right circles of course is that a rally is likely within the next couple of weeks.
I gave him my look Im very good at it now half mystification, half amusement.
What is your case It erupted from him as if it had been waiting there all the time, hovering in the wings behind his tongue.
I remained silent. Im expert at it at this stage of my life. Its probably the only thing I have truly perfected. His hands were shaking and hed thrown down his fork. I could see the
gravy dripping in great brown globs on to the table. It was his idea to eat at our beautiful yellowwood dining-room table every night. Years before, he had triumphantly discovered it on a sortie through Graaff Reinet and carried it exultantly home to the Transvaal on his roof-rack. I stared at his shaking hands and remembered how he had lovingly scraped the generations of paint from it and ruined his hands with paint stripper and steel wool. I carefully placed another forkful on my tongue and consciously savoured it. It was remarkably good actually, a roast chicken from Woolworths. Its funny how so many moments of consequence in my life have been marked by roast chickens.
Cant you, just once, respond to me Cant you shout or rage or tell me something about what youre thinking I just dont think I can cope much longer with your fucking superior smile and your vacant expression.
That hurt, of course. I dont mind the superior bit. Thats what Ive perfected so well. But vacant I didnt answer. I never do. Finishing absolutely the last grain of rice thats my curse from childhood, my inability to leave a speck of food on my plate I pushed my delicate riempie chair back roughly to watch him wince. And then I spoke. I very often save my most cutting comment for the moment when Im on my way out, a parting shot while Im already retreating to safety.
Its funny how the times we live in seem to have sucked the brains from all you former "bright young men". Turned into empty-headed zombies, thats what you are, with nothing left but faith, hope and glory and an idiot smile.
I thought hed given up as I ran the bath in my favourite retreat he stayed away so long. Our fights never last long. He batters against me with cold fury while my little glasshouse remains impervious. It is our unspoken code that when I return from my retreat in the bath, I speak as if nothing has occurred between us. And he, well, he recovers more slowly. But he never speaks of it again. What would be the point
But this time was different. Hes really got it bad, this hope thing. Its even overflowing into our marriage. That makes me distinctly unsettled. I think we have a very workable marriage. Im comfortable with it and I dont like it messed with.
I heard him knocking on the door but I had to turn off the taps before I could hear what he was saying.
What is it that causes you to be so bitter I could hear the tears in his voice. There was a certain gratification ? but also, if Im to be honest now, a deep-down shame in being able to bring him so quickly to tears, while I remained unmarked by those particular battle scars.
What on earth was it that made you feel so unworthy, that makes you hate yourself so much Why do you always act as if you dont deserve anything, not even a small bit of happiness
It must be a terrible burden to you to be a failed Psycho One.
Fuck you, just fuck you!
Retreat at last. Did I feel a sense of triumph I dont know. I dont think I ever feel much of anything. I lay and gazed at the soap dish, with its mushy soap lying in the small puddle of water which never seems to escape entirely. And the razor: that absolutely safe modern twin-blade razor.
I think about suicide a lot. In a very abstract way of course I wouldnt like you to think me melodramatic. Its just that I look at that razor and consider how impossible it would be to use. I think of all the sharp knives in the kitchen and imagine the strength one would need to force the blade through unyielding flesh. Its all very theoretical. I could sink my head beneath the surface of the bath the ultimate retreat and take a long, last, considering breath. Merely contemplating all the ways there are to make myself disappear calms me. I dont have to do it, but the option is always there. It makes it easier for me to face the next bout of life.
I stepped silently, nearly invisibly, into the bedroom, pyjamad and gowned. Thats my choice of sleep clothing. He likes to be naked in bed. Of course! It is only lifes most confident fools, its innocent dupes, who need so little in the way of defences.
You always make such a big deal of the fact that I failed one lousy year at varsity. He rolled, fully clothed still, on to his back to catch me. In the full glare of his very blue, spotlight eyes, I felt very visible, uncomfortably conspicuous.
But Im not going to let you get to me any more. You may have got your lousy MA cum laude, but what do you expect What else could you have done you were nothing but a bloody swot who never said a word in tutorials, or moved from the library, for your entire university career.
I sat gingerly on the edge of the bed and looked down to avoid his riveting gaze. My hands were shaking.
And what have you done since then
I shrugged. He knew I hated my job. He knew I was incapable or unwilling to do anything about it.
Nothing. But what do any of us achieve, actually A job is a job. Most people on earth are put here just to get through it. Im not conceited enough to think I could actually have made a real mark on the world. And whats the point of that, anyway You still die, whatever you do, and people forget you.
But at least I enjoy what I do and really believe in it, in its worth. I actually feel some satisfaction in doing the best I can for my clients and, believe it or not, I actually still believe in justice.
Oh, my God. No one really believes that, do they Not in real life. And certainly not in your snooty Wasp law firm. All they believe in is money.
Shut up, Im trying to get through to you here. Cant you listen to me for once without sniping Now things are finally happening in this country. And Ive finally broken into labour work. With this union as a client, and consulting during this strike, I really think Im, well, part of things, of the change thats happening.
So youve got your snotty Establishment firms token "public interest" client. You really feel like the white knight, dont you You really think youre doing something as if you play an important role. But youre really nothing but a useful little tool. And if your stuck-up senior partners had given you management as your client, you would have been equally useful to them. Just dont expect the workers to fall neatly into your naive, liberal "noble savage" mould.
He sighed and rolled away from me, to gaze into the darkened garden. Our high white wall was just visible through the gloom, but the pool had already disappeared. The bronchitic gargle of the pool pump was very loud through the wide-flung summer windows, which welcomed in the drone and clatter of suicidal rose-beetles and the suffused sweetness of jasmine.
I relaxed and pulled back the duvet, beginning my fussy ritual of placing my pillows. I thought hed given up, you see. How wrong could I be The worst was still to come.
I want to go to the coast this Christmas. He meant the East Cape coast, where we both grew up.
You know I dont go to the Eastern Cape, ever.
What is it about that place What happened to you there
Nothing! I bellowed, cornered now by the tightness of the duvet, held down by the weight of his body It was perfect. It was a perfect childhood. Its the most wonderful place in the world. I just dont feel like going back. One cant travel backwards. Weve left there. Why cant we leave well alone
And it was perfect, I thought, as he finally gave up and slammed into the bathroom. The perfect place to grow up, to be a child.
The smell of the jasmine, that youthful harbinger of Christmas, of end-of-year holidays, began suddenly and inexplicably to suffocate me.
1966 ... Seventeen days to Christmas
I was carried, coiled in sleep, from the car, too dark and dreamy to join in the half-heard greetings and embraces. My cheek against his jersey, I could smell my fathers strength in the sweat of his body. But the chill of the night air feathering my hair carried, inevitably, the essence of the farm that foetid mixture of soil, coal smoke, chickens and pigs.
Warmth embraced me as we passed from the veranda, my fathers feet shushing on the smooth stone, into the wooden echoes of the old house. In its musty smell of old books and excitement I could discern our passing through Oupas library. And then the passage, with drifting aromas of newly-warmed bread and vegetable soup. Yes, surely it must have been soup. It was always soup. The smell of welcome, of murmured greetings in the sleepy darkness.
And then the smell of sleep in crisp, clean cotton and woolly blankets, soon to be kicked off in the closed-in heat of the shared room.
I awoke early, in the brisk clarity of just-risen light. I sat up quietly, rejoicing in the stomach-coiling excitement of the crowded kip-kips and the strident, competing call of roosters. The other animals, the few cows and pigs, were too far away for me to hear. But I strained to catch I could picture them grunting their greeting those wriggling pink piglets, born just before our previous visit. Bigger now, I was sure, but not yet gross and unsympathetic in their scaly-skinned imperviousness.
Standing on my bed I could gaze through the window at the constant, grating belt of the generator, stolid in the settled dust of the yard. Curtains were never drawn in our family my father believed in the rightness of waking with the morning. But here on the farm, we children would always wake earlier than he, to his chagrin. Built on, to accommodate the first grandchild nearly sixteen years before, our room now contained three narrow, spring-based beds beneath the largest windows in the house. My fathers sleep would be broken only when the strangled early sun could force its way through wood-framed panes to reach the bed. In our room it burst unrestrained through the wide, modern metal windows, which were Oumas pride.
The squealing creak of my bedsprings brought my brother, Michael, instantly upright in the bed. Were here, were here, he yodelled, bouncing on his bottom and flinging his pillow at me. Just as suddenly he subsided, with a sigh of ennui and a glance backwards at the other bed. My elder brother Neil, superior in his almost sixteen, teenaged status, was groaning exaggeratedly and shaking his head, wearing his grown-up-bewildered-by-puerile-antics-of-siblings expression. Michael, at twelve, swung wildly between unrepentant childhood and unappreciated attempts to emulate the exalted age and behaviour of his brother.
Oh my God, cant you piks run outside and make that noise Neils groan betrayed the slightest catch at the end, a faint memory of childhoods piping squeals.
Oh shut up, youre not so grown-up, you vrot backside. Michaels humiliated fury was transposed into motion as he leapt from the bed and raced from the room, grabbing one of the pile of swimming towels left for us by Ouma.
I can remember the sudden quiet return to the room and the distant skree-bang of the screen door. Its funny; I can still remember every feel and smell of that holiday. Every minute has the clarity of a glass-encased specimen. I often think of it as one of those ornamental snow-filled domes with a castle or church inside. I never thought, until now, that I would be leading anyone inside that dome to taste the bitterness trapped, hidden inside the castle. But now that I have begun, I must do what I have been avoiding for so long, and finally confront its ghosts.
I often wonder when exactly the awfulness began. At the start, everything was as it always had been, as it should be. And I do want you to feel that, to know that thats how it really was. Its just that now, knowing what happened, it seems to me that the violence didnt just collide with the peace of my world in one gigantic crash. From the moment we arrived, it seemed to slither insidiously into the joy of the prosaic everyday, into the innocence of roast chicken and the happiness of baby chicks. But perhaps its only in hindsight, in knowing what was to come, that I feel as if a malign force was festering all the time we were there. Perhaps its the memories of that suggestible child, who died that holiday and was replaced by this dark-filled shell, which makes me remember it as a grub nestled in the heart of a perfect pear.
That morning, the first morning, all I wanted was to feel the farm, to touch it with eager eyes, to smother my face in its smells. Standing on my bed, I thrust my head through the small rectangular hole in the meshed-metal burglar bars where the window catch was intended to fit. My bed being the one directly below the window, I used this hole every year to catch my first-morning sight of the farm.
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