A speculative fiction based on many true stories
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.
True crimes in confinement
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
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
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”
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
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
Who taught me how to sit barefoot on the carpet
Head rested against the stereo speakers
Of Waiting in Vain
And pining penny whistles
Of ‘Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by’
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.
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
With cold milk across our tongues
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.
I peer over the pooled blood stain on my bed-sheet.
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.
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
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
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 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.
'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 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.
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 reflections on Art & Mental Health, click here.
And for general thoughts on The South African Condition, click here.