Sometimes Grace wished her father would just die. She knew it was wrong, a mortal sin to have such thoughts, but she couldn’t help thinking how much easier life would be if he just got sick or had an accident or something. She tried to halt her thoughts before they formed but her head went in that direction and she found herself cataloguing the ways in which it could happen: car accident, work accident, stabbed in a fight while drunk. All of these had already happened to him, but he was still with them.

“Onkruid vergaan nooit,” her mother sighed down the line to Aunty Joan after another one of his misadventures. Mama and her sister Joan spoke every day on the phone, but her aunt wasn’t allowed to set foot in their house.

Grace was lying in bed, turning over her macabre catalogue of possible demises in her mind when her mother appeared with a cup of tea.

“You’re awake, my girl!” Mary said, her appearance belying what had happened the night before. “Sleep okay?”

Grace nodded.

Mary flashed a bright smile, make-up flawlessly in place. For the millionth time Grace marveled at her mother’s beauty, while awe’s twin, disappointment, burrowed further down in her chest. Mary’s looks had skipped a generation. To have a mother so beautiful and not resemble her in any way, to get so close yet to have missed out, was one of the lesser crosses Grace bore, sometimes with fortitude, other times with spite. This morning she was again awestruck at her mother’s ability to paint a fresh face over her sad night-time one with a few deft strokes of the hand. No matter what happened in her bedroom at night, Mary emerged transformed in the morning, coated with a new, resilient skin scraped from the jars on her dresser.

“Drink up your tea while it’s hot.”

Her morning gift, brewed to apologise for last night and to coax Grace out of bed, came in a dainty floral cup and saucer. Pretty things mattered to Mary. Something beautiful to look at or hold against your skin could get you through a lot. And though the house might be crumbling around them paint peeling, doors broken and unhinged by drunken fists Mary had mastered the art of carving out, in the midst of this ugliness, a personal trove of beautiful objects: a pretty tea set, a luxurious blouse, an expensive coat. Things to stroke or smell, things from which she derived a direct sensual pleasure. These were her pretty little secrets. She lied to Patrick, always, about the origins of her luxuries. A gift from her mother, or a distant aunt. Patrick would growl for days whenever something new and pretty appeared. Sometimes he’d break them in the fights that followed.

Grace straightened up and took the cup from her mother’s outstretched hand. Mary had taken extra care with her appearance this morning. Pressed curls framed her face, cascading around her shoulders, and a new shade of blush warmed her cheeks. Her brown-black eyes were lined, the lids shaded just so; her lips were the right shade of peach. Mary always stressed the importance of grooming and professional looks in her line of work, especially to Patrick, when his suspicion about her dollying up poisoned the house. Hers was the steady paycheck – always larger than his, even when he had plenty of work – which kept them housed and fed when Patrick was out of work; another of Mary’s sins. She was the first line of contact any customer made, one of the few coloureds behind an actual desk. Once, having locked herself out of the house, Grace had paid a surprise visit to the bank and found herself transfixed by a strangely familiar woman. It took a few seconds before she realised it was her mother. Mary had looked like a different person: light and animated, not cowed to deflect the next accusation, the next blow.

Grace sipped her tea while her mother stood over her with a faraway smile. She was already wearing her coat, with her leather handbag on her shoulder. In a few moments she’d be gone, getting on with her day in a world far away from this oppressive room.


Tell us: Why do you think Grace sometimes wishes that her father would die?