Coldsleep Lullaby: A Mystery

Coldsleep Lullaby: A Mystery

by Andrew Brown

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250036001
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 956,934
File size: 547 KB

About the Author

ANDREW BROWN is an author, a lawyer, and a volunteer police officer who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for Coldsleep Lullaby, and his work has also been shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Africa Region). He is married and has three children.


ANDREW BROWN is an author, a lawyer, and a volunteer police officer who lives in Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize for Coldsleep Lullaby, and his work has also been shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa Region). He is married and has three children.

Read an Excerpt

Coldsleep Lullaby

A Mystery


By Andrew Brown

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2012 Andrew Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03600-1


CHAPTER 1

She drifted in the water's slow current, her toes caressed by the grasses and blanket-weed lining the muddy bank. Although it was early morning, the water was warm. The February sun was bright, already scorching the thin clouds that passed beneath it. None of the pleasant moisture of dawn filled the air; instead the prickly dryness of summer breathed down the valleys and over the thatched roofs of the farmhouses. Drops of water on the vines, sprayed finely from automatic sprinklers before sunrise, had already been absorbed by the breeze, leaving only a dusting of sulphur patterned across the leaves. The gravel strips in front of the labourers' cottages were baked hard. In the distance, tarred roads shimmered in the strengthening heat, the mirage broken now and then by the first trucks leaving Stellenbosch for Cape Town. The early morning whirr of Christmas beetles and cicadas had stilled. Doves cooed quietly on the telephone lines, the singing birds buried deep in the thorny shade of the berry bushes.

Three centuries earlier, the newly appointed Governor at the Cape had set out in such heat, perhaps less intense then – being November – but as overwhelming to the foreigner. He had brought his horses to the same water to drink, cool and brackish. This was the first river beyond the tiny colony; he and his companions had stopped on its banks and taken long draws of water, gratefully naming it the Eerste River. The river had witnessed the passing of history. For centuries, it had replenished ostrich eggs used by the San for storing water; it had quenched the thirst of the new colony's leaders and their horses; it had watered the first vines; witnessed the growth of the small settlement. And it had decided the fate of the town's inhabitants – the Dutch and English masters and their slaves, thrown together from across the world. The river had felt their dreams, their desperate hopes, cast like twigs into its course, flowing away from the town and into the sea.

Now the Eerste River pushed lazily along its bunkered course, grasses and boulders strewn across its path, sometimes blocking its way. Alien trees – pines, eucalyptus and plains – lined both sides, their roots snaking into the water. The grey crags of the Simonsberg, Jonkershoek and Pieke ranges gazed down onto the valley, holding it in a tight embrace and steering the river cautiously along at their feet. The town, 'Van der Stel se Bosch', nestled among the lower hills and slopes, protected and seemingly serene.

Now the main streets of the university town were traversed by young women with red cheeks and loose cotton dresses, and young men with goatee beards and sandals – men too big for their boyish bodies, pushing bicycles – making their way to the first classes of the day. All displayed a lack of haste, the lazy ease of students. Some paused beneath the shade of elderly oak trees – the foreigner's blighted gift to the Eikestad – stubbing a cigarette into the run-off whitewash collected at the bottom of garden walls, or rearranging a rucksack, before setting off through the early morning glare.

Oak trees dominated the centre of the town, their asymmetrical trunks bulging and narrowing along their lengths. Thick boughs emerged unexpectedly, branching at irregular intervals, heavy and with little foliage. The older trees sported protrusions at their bases, giving them the surreal appearance of having melted into the pavement. Some had massive hollows at their centres, where the wood had been gnawed by grey squirrels and beetles, or rotted away, leaving ledges of white and orange fungus. The patterned symmetry of the occasional cypress or pine only emphasised the confident majesty of the oaks.

Leiwater trickled alongside the paths, running under rounded pedestrian bridges and disappearing into drains, in places flanked by ornate whitewashed walls. The water oozed from beneath tarred roads over beds of moss and bright green algae. Fallen oak leaves, curled and browned by the sun like shrivelled dead chameleons, lined the sides of the deep channels, providing a moist cover for small black river crabs, shiny millipedes and isopods. Cellophane crisp packets and crushed cigarette boxes poked out from the beds of leaves, glinting in the sun. The smell of guavas mixed with the exhaust fumes of tour buses and taxis.

She floated, oblivious to the growing heat. The strong light illuminated the brackish water around her, the rays piercing deeply into the orange-brown hue. A platanna swam hurriedly past her, kicking its webbed feet backwards like a speed skater with its arms held out in front. She drifted face down in the water. Thin tentacles of hair framed her scalp, hovering like a jellyfish over the dragonfly larvae moving about on the murky surface of the mud below. Her breasts, pale in contrast to the darkened colours surrounding her, moved almost imperceptibly with the slight current, her nipples smoothed against the areola in the tepid water.

A glossy hadeda watched, waiting for her to pass by. Red and blue iridescence shimmered across its wings in the sunlight. The platanna buried into the mud next to a beer bottle. The green glass was coated with slime, the label eaten away by small black freshwater snails and the rasping mouths of tadpoles. She had collected these tadpoles when she was a little girl; she had caught them in the same canal, only further down where the water poured over the weir and swirled in deeper eddies before continuing on to the farmlands. She had picked them off the shallow rocks on the side, where they lay recovering from the shock of being sucked over the stony platform. She had taken them home in jam jars and poured them into a small square aquarium.

There, the water had soon turned murky and filled her bedroom with a putrid smell. She'd leave it unchanged until it was thick with algae, producing stale bubbles that clumped together unbroken on the surface. Then she would pour the liquid out, catching the developing tadpoles in a net as they plunged in a helpless stream towards the drain. A squirming mass of black, the individual bodies were only discernible when she filled the tank with fresh water and tipped them out. She would sit and marvel at the changes that had taken place, hidden from her until then. It was her favourite part – comparing the unseen changes in each of her wards: the small buds of limbs, the tails diminishing as their nutrients were absorbed into the growing body, the round pouted lips of tadpoles and the slashed mouths of frogs.

She was floating towards the weir now, the rushing sound of the water filtering towards her. A large tadpole swam confidently up from the bottom, coming up close to her swaying hair before darting back to safety. Someone poked her hard on her thigh with a black baton, pushing her hips under water and making her upper torso arch. The platanna left a swirling muddy cloud as it swam away.

A young policeman hovered on the bank, the toes of his black boots pressing into the mud at the water's edge. The naked woman in the water seemed both peaceful and taut, as if she was waiting to leap up and spray him with generous slaps of water, laughing and pointing at him. He did not touch her again. He looked behind him to see who was watching, but the couple who had been walking their dog was standing at a respectable distance, holding each other's arms and talking in hushed tones. He turned back to the woman in the river.

Her body was lithe, despite the slackness induced by the water. He wondered how old she was. Her heels were smooth and showed none of the rough, cracked skin of the poor or the homeless. Her rounded buttocks bobbed up out of the water, showing an uncreased line of skin from the small of her back over the soft mound and across her upper thigh. He could see only one of her arms, and the forearm was obscured by her head. Her other arm descended beneath her body, trailing in the mud and snagging on the remnants of newspaper and plastic packets collected on the bottom. Her hair spread out from her head, decorated with broken twigs and fallen leaves. A small black beetle sought refuge from the water, climbing delicately up one of the strands.

The policeman's attention turned once more to her back and legs. Thin strips of white skin contrasted against the tan of her lower back and thighs; a small white V trailing into the strings of a bikini bottom, wrapping around her waist and disappearing evocatively between her buttocks, slinking unseen towards her anus.

There was no similar marking on her back – no narrowing line of a bikini top or bra, he noticed. Smooth brown skin stretched invitingly from her shoulders down to the line around her lower waist.

His throat felt dry and he wiped his hands against his trousers, digging his boots deeper into the mud. The water ran over the polished leather, wetting the black cotton laces. Her arm dragged against the side of the bank, halting the gentle movement of her body with the current.

The young constable moved forward as the water pressed against her thighs, the pressure pushing her closer towards him. He felt himself looming over her naked body, tipping towards her. He flushed with boyish excitement as he edged closer. Then one boot slipped, sliding into the mud. He thrashed against the water, sending the hadeda into the air, protesting raucously. Scrambling to regain his balance, he bumped his leg against her hip. The solidness of her weight against him, the unexpected contact, bolted through him and he clenched his teeth, trying not to swear. A grunt forced its way out of his mouth as he fell back onto the bank, crabwalking away from her body.

He sat panting on the grass, embarrassed and alarmed. The man behind him shouted something – a questioning call which the policeman ignored. Instead, he slid down towards the water again. She awaited him, lying sleepily as he approached. Holding his baton firmly in his hand, he leaned towards her. The rounded tip of the baton pushed against her skin but did not move her. He positioned himself closer to her, close enough to reach out and touch her, to slide his hand underneath her and lift her towards him. Close enough to run his hand across her back. But he did not touch her. Instead, he pushed harder with his baton. She started to turn towards him in the water. The sun burned on his neck. He felt sweaty and grimy.

He first saw her arm folded limply across her stomach – loose muscles floating in brown water. She turned towards him in slow motion, showing her body to him in minute degrees. Still she hid her face from him. Her legs paused at the peak of their turn, then finally slid over one another with a small splash. The turn of her thighs brought her torso towards the sun, her feet disappearing into the water. Her bikini line showed brightly, wrapped around from her back and running just above the tight dots of shaven pubic hair. The change in her position was causing her body to sink, he realised. He reached forward, holding his breath, and grabbed her arm. Her skin was malleable, like soft plastic. He shuddered involuntarily, drawing her body up to his leg. A flaccid breast brushed against his trouser leg.

Still he could not see her face. Her hair was matted in wet clumps across her cheek. He let her head drop beneath the surface, still holding her arm. The water dragged her hair back, away from her eyes. Her face, still cloaked with hair, broke the surface again, and the woman stared straight up at the young policeman.

'Fok!' he cried out in shock, as if he had been hurt. Backing up the bank, he mouthed obscenities at the ground. The couple retreated towards the road, holding onto each other in alarm.

Her dark-brown eyes were wide and unforgiving. She was pretty and seemed very young. He did not recognise her. Her head dropped below the surface and rose again. This time her hair flowed beneath her, revealing her full face. An open wound – a deep, purple slash with raised edges – crossed her forehead. Clear water dribbled out of the side of her smashed skull.

'Nee, nee, nee!' The words rushed up into his throat, burning his tongue like vomit. He could not keep them in his mouth and his speech was reduced to a garbled string of fierce sounds.

'You okay?' the man shouted from the road, unsure whether to come to his aid. The policeman felt humiliated. He wished they would leave. He wished the man would take the body of the young woman away. He wished the man's wife would hold him tightly. He wanted to cry – from the horror, for the young woman in the river, for himself.

'You need a hand?' the man shouted again, making no effort to come forward.

'Nee ... no,' the policeman managed, looking back. 'It's okay. I've got ... her.' He turned back to the river and spat into the ground.

The constable leaned over against the bonnet of the van. The metal was hot, but the ungiving surface and hint of diesel were comforting. The radio crackled loudly with a complaint from a neighbouring suburb. The couple was trying to get their Labrador into the car. The young constable tried to calm himself down. He thought of his training at the barracks. He thought of his uniform. He felt the 9mm firearm strapped to his side. He touched the smooth roundness of his baton. He thought of the body moving in the river and felt the heaving breaths rising once again.

The radio came on. 'Call sign Philander. Constable Philander. Kom in op daai Kode Agt. Code Eight on that complaint. Response? Over.'

Constable Philander took a deep breath and stood up. His face was wet with sweat and tears. He wiped his mouth with the back of his arm, leaving a crusty mark on the skin. A dirty arc of mud stained his boot, and grass seeds stuck onto his socks. He opened the passenger door of the vehicle and slumped down into the worn seat, his firearm digging roughly into his side. The radio gave its customary beep as he pressed the button.

'Control, Stellenbosch call sign Philander,' he heaved. 'Jy kan dit ... positief. Positive, control. Positive.'

'Positief!' the radio crackled back at him. 'Wat bedoel jy positief? Wat gaan daar aan, man?' But the policeman ignored it.

* * *

The ibis returned to the bank of the river. The young woman stared up into the blue sky, unblinking and unconcerned as the gnats swarmed about her face.

    HUSH, LITTLE BABY

    Hush, little baby, don't say a word.
    Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird

    And if that mockingbird won't sing,
    Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring

    And if that diamond ring turns brass,
    Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass

    And if that looking glass gets broke,
    Papa's gonna buy you a billy goat

    And if that billy goat won't pull,
    Papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull

    And if that cart and bull fall down,
    You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

CHAPTER 2

Detective Inspector Eberard Februarie stood in front of a mirror, his light-blue cotton shirt unbuttoned. Water dripped off his face and splashed onto the tiled floor – grey-white squares with chipped and yellowed grouting. The bathroom smelt of wholesale disinfectant, the same bite of cheap chemicals that pervaded the entire building. The detective's waking hours were defined by the odour; it followed him wherever he went, wafting from cracks and corners, encircling his body and permeating his uniform. It was the only smell he could detect now that his senses had constricted. He thought it had been the cocaine that had damaged his nasal passages, searing the delicate membrane and burning his sense of smell away, but the truth was that his senses were abandoning his body. As his emotions numbed, so his points of contact with the outside world retreated. Food became tasteless; sounds seemed muffled and distant; everything he touched was smooth and sticky. But it was the loss of smell that he noticed most. Now, all the offices, in every station he visited, emitted the astringent smell. The corridors of the courts were washed with it, and, when he delivered suspects to the awaiting-trial cells, or interviewed prisoners in the prison itself, he walked past amorphous dark-green figures on their hands and knees, slopping the same substance on tired linoleum floors. It was the smell of the state, the smell of his captured life, and it followed him everywhere, impersonal, harsh and pervasive.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Coldsleep Lullaby by Andrew Brown. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Brown. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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