IMG_1105.jpg

STORY

TELLING

December

- A coming of age story in three parts –

Karoo Sanatorium 

 

A speculative fiction based on many true stories

Small Strokes

Every home on earth has been touched by a case of a missing teaspoon. It's a crime that almost always goes unpunished. Not this time. When a teaspoon goes missing under lockdown, podcaster Beth Vale sets out to investigate, right from the scene of the crime – her own apartment.

Spooning

True crimes in confinement

MYMUSIC

In my spare time, I'm a singer/songwriter. 

ShelterBeth Vale
00:00 / 05:18

I forgave myself for the killings
of all the possible futures I chose to end
for looking too long at the blood around the plughole
wondering what filter would best show red on white porcelain
learning that lost is also a place worth going

HOT TEA

& TERMINATION

a short story of abortion

MA

They say all mothers have their remedies
Ours did too
First Tea Tree, then Aloe Vera, then that everything cream for the everything-hurt of every broken skin

I remember she used to stroke my forehead to rest
On those sleepless nights
she taught me to clench every bone and breath of my body
and I did. Until my fisted nails etched into my palms
and exhale.

I imagined her past body releasing into a prison blanket.

Those mornings before school when she buttoned my collar
Leaned my head back as the medicine, one drop at a time, hit the back of my throat

Rock Rose to alleviate terror and panic
Impatiens to mollify irritation and impatience
ClematisStar of Bethlehem to ease shock
And Cherry Plum to calm irrational thoughts

Ma,

She showed me first how rage can descend in tears
That sometimes there are not enough slammed doors to get the space you need
Some mornings we reckoned with the hurt we'd made in her dreams

Ma,

Who wrote all our skins into children’s books
Me with a mermaid’s tail
My brother piloting our worn denim couch through the air
His friend from down the road
Whose own mother smelt of Oros and gentle grey ruins

Ma,

Who taught me how to sit barefoot on the carpet
Head rested against the stereo speakers
and weep
Of Waiting in Vain
Moondance
And pining penny whistles
Of ‘Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by

Ma,

Who built citadels of newspaper castles
Branding ceilings and couches and old-oak dressers with stencilled gold stars
Who conjured fairies from the flickering car lights beyond the fence
Whose wake is smoke and whiskey and essential oils

and that one perfume that Dad brings home from airports.

Ma,

Who taught me of sugar biscuits
And Fuck Off
And kaftan colour dancing in the kitchen

Ma, whose skin reached out for sand and sea and sun
Then came home raw and red to do it all over again
Bathed me in tubs of maize-meal water

“Baba,”
She said
With cold milk across our tongues
“Okay.”

Blood in the Water

Performed at If Pussy Could Talk, August 2019

 

 

Mix soap and cold water on a white cloth. Then dab the affected area. If this is ineffective, pour hydrogen peroxide directly onto the stain and leave for 20 to 25 minutes.

 

– Quick Google: hydrogen peroxide.

– Result: Compound H2O2. Apparently used in concentrated forms to propel rockets. Like any woman in heat, is often described as “unstable”.

 

Either way, H202 is not in my medicine cabinet, even if, or so the internet tells me, it sells at Clicks for R15,50.

 

Option 3 on WikiHow suggests I “try an ammonia-based window cleaner”.

 

Is Mr. Muscle Window Cleaner ammonia-based? And also: ‘what the fuck is ammonia?’

 

Scroll for Option 4: Mix one part baking soda and two parts water to form a paste.

Seems achievable.

 

I peer over the pooled blood stain on my bed-sheet.

JUST STRESS

  1. The first consolation

 

 ‘It’s just stress’, the doctor said.

I send a text message, then worry it’s all wrong.

But if I remove it, they’ll know what I’ve done.

Because Whatsapp forgot that people embarrassed about their messages.

Are just as embarrassed about needing to delete them.

 

To delete the message before its read, I’ll just remove Whatsapp instead

Clear every picture I’ve sent, and every conversation I’ve had,

then I won’t need to feel bad.

 

Jesus, fuck

What have I done?

Who has no conversations on their phone?

A brothel owner, a drug mule, someone who can’t keep their fucking cool?

 

Spend two hours, and 900 bucks

Downloading software to restore all my chats.

 

No biggie, ‘it’s just stress’, the doctor says.

 

 

2. The second consolation

 

‘What are you anxious about?’

 

And they’re totally right

Who am I to be so goddamn uptight?

I’ve got like 20 degrees and a stable job

And just a sea, of privileged problems like

So much work, and I’m eating like shit

And I wonder if so-and-so will think I’m a bitch

If I don’t go to her thing

It’s really overwhelming

But don’t you see that all my worrying

 

Is propping up the world

Without it the centre cannot hold

 

Cos all that’s left then is that

I’m here

and it hurts

Better drown that out with other thoughts, like

Is this headache a brain tumour

And why can’t I breathe?

Surely I’ve got some degenerative disease

 

And that’s the real problem

Isn’t it?

It’s that you’re dying

with no idea of the timing

Which means you might not have time to fix it

Or be more

Or give them reason to adore you

 

3. The third consolation

 

Comes from my body

On the morning the world ends

When I’ve lost hold of all the pieces

And have no words or worries or reasons left.

 

That is when my body quietly rescues me

It wakes

It breathes in spite of me

It calls me to drink a glass of a water and now

I must fetch the glass and fill it

And rinse it and before I know it

 I’m doing things again.

 

It says:

'You are the same stuff as the tree

whose leaves, despite it, must green

whose fruit must rot.

And isn't it a relief that at least that was one thing you didn't have to decide?’

 

The body can’t deny itself like you do

You must be fucking exhausted

It can’t pretend it’s not mortal

or fragile

or suffering

or insatiable

or needing to be touched

It can’t spin itself flawless

 

Neither can you.  

 

You will bleed with the moon.

And dance till your feet hurt

And things will be broken.

You will seep from every wound.

And one day it will all be forgotten

Like every text you ever sent and re-sent

Like every perfect thing in this world.

MYPODCASTS

I've been very luck to be featured on a number of podcasts and radio shows, and to have produced by own podcast series. Have a listen!

Spooning: True Crimes in Confinement, which I write, narrate and produce. 

Listen to me talk about Health Politics and the Eastern Cape Karoo here

For conversations about HIV, Youth and Research; see here and here.

For my mini-series on Johannesburg Nightclub Culture, click here, and make sure you catch all four episodes.

For reflections on Art & Mental Health, click here. 

And for general thoughts on The South African Condition, click here.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR WEEKLY EMAIL

© 2023 by Salt & Pepper. Proudly created with Wix.com