That night Malcolm’s father phoned. Must have been early Monday morning. His father spoke to his mother for a long time, but didn’t have all that much to say to Malcolm. “I envy you spending so much time in America,” he had said.

“It’s not like you think.” Malcolm hoped his father might ask him why. But he didn’t. Then at one point Malcolm got up the courage to ask what had been on his mind for some time: “Are you going to be living with us when we come back?”

“It is your mother’s decision. Discuss the matter with her.”

The conversation was over. It put Malcolm in a funk for days. He even avoided Becca. But she eventually marched right into Althea’s house and yelled at him to get his “butt in the pickup”. So he did. She drove them right up to the ranch. Her father didn’t appear to be home. Malcolm was grateful.

“Hey, did you hear about what Althea got up to at the commune potluck meal?” Becca asked.

Malcolm gave a non-committal grunt in response.

“Well, according to Suzy, who was talkin’ to Alice, she said that …”

He was always amazed how Becca could chat so much about nothing much. On one hand, she would say the most profound and insightful things, and, the next, she would demonstrate the true definition of that American phrase, ‘chewing the fat’. It confused him. Yet he kind of liked it.

“And then apparently your mother–”

“My mom?”

She nodded. “Yeah, your mom goes along to those things. Think she likes the company.”

He frowned.

“Malcolm, your mother is not a lesbian. My mother knows. In fact, apparently that painter guy who came to the potluck asked for her number.”

His brain started to hurt. Some man was asking for his mother’s number? What painter?

“Malcolm, stop looking like that. She’s not doing anything. The whole town is dying for your mother to provide decent gossip. Poor painter would have better luck trying to capture wind.”

Poor painter? What about his father? They were just taking a break. Nobody said it was over-over. Was this just to get back at his dad? Not that he could blame her. What was his father doing letting them come to America like this?

“Malcolm!” she snapped, while throwing a saddle over a horse. “Your mom is only taking part of that workshop course thing that they’re doing at the potlucks. I’ve just told you. That ‘Appreciate The Skin You’re In’ craziness that Althea is drumming on about.”

“Yeah, my mom does have a lot of self-help books,” he muttered, as his mind reeled with the news.

He had hardly registered all the stuff Becca was shoving into saddlebags. What were they doing again? Hey, and what was that big spray can for?

“Exactly, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” She gave the horse a firm pat on the neck. “So Althea wants these portraits done in the nude so they’re all …”

His mother was getting naked with other women? No, this was too much. He just thought she needed friends.

“Malcolm!” She stamped her foot, just like a little kid. “If you’re not going to listen to my story properly then there is no point in getting all worked up about this.”

She had a fair point. But it still sounded like his mother was losing it. Naked? Wasn’t that gossip? What more did the town need to talk about? Or was this town so insane that even this wasn’t worth their notice. What was wrong with these people?

“Listen, the whole point is that Althea had this idea and almost everybody told her no. Fine. Forget it.”

“Did my mother say no?”

She paused, tilting her head.

His stomach hurt.

“Not sure, now that you mention it.”

He visibly winced.

“Like I said, forget it, I’m sorry I brought it up.” She gave the horse a kiss on the nose.

He tried to focus on something else. His eyes locked on the can poking out of the saddle bag. “Hey, what’s with that?”

She gave him a look that made him feel like an idiot, “What, fraid I’m gonna spray ya?”

“No, seriously, what’s up with it?”

“It’s bear spray.”

“You’ve got bears up here?”

She laughed. “Oh, you’re hiliarous … as if some bear wants to wander way up here. Naah, they prefer the forest and rivers.”

Which said everything that needed to be said about those creepy trees. Even so, “Then what’s the bear spray for?”

“Mountain lions. But hey, I hardly ever see one and when you do, all you have to remember is not to run, look as big as you can and if it keeps approaching, throw something at it. Anything. And if it gets too close, I’ll spray it with this. OK?”

Well no, actually. Why had she never mentioned these creatures before? How big were they? They weren’t like African lions, right? Damn, they could hold the Xhosa initiation ceremony right here, be just as dangerous, maybe more.


Next thing he knew she had him up on that horse and they were riding out into the pasture. It was impressive. So much so, it made it rather hard to concentrate on his problems; even if his father wasn’t speaking to him, and his mother might be posing … naked. Why would she want to do that?

He had tried to talk to his mother about his father’s last phone call, but all she had said was, “Your father needs to make some decisions,” which didn’t exactly illuminate the situation.

He tightened his arms around Becca’s waist. She was commanding the horse as if she was starring in a Western movie. She held the reins casually, her wrist resting on that saddle horn thing, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. But her thighs gave it all away. They gripped the horse so firmly, that Malcolm wasn’t in any doubt who was in charge. The horse didn’t seem to mind. Frankly, Malcolm wouldn’t mind, either.

Other than pony rides when he was younger, he couldn’t recall riding a horse. And he certainly never rode like this. Her butt was rubbing right into his crotch; which wasn’t helping his concentration. He had a suspicion she knew it. In fact, he was pretty sure her butt didn’t have to move as much as it was, but then again, it was nice. Just a bit odd, given they were on a horse. A horse she liked enough to kiss it on the nose. That was kind of weird, wasn’t it?

They rode for about a half an hour. It was relaxing … sort of. Aside from her butt and the thoughts of those lion-things. The sky was bigger; the trees were further off, and the world felt wider. It made it easier to breathe. They said forests provided oxygen, but it hardly felt that way. They thickened the air, making it stick inside his lungs. Out here there was space. Almost like being on top of Table Mountain. Well, not exactly. Not quite. Not at all, really; but it was something.

She brought the horse to a halt in a pasture where the sheep grazed a comfortable distance away. She smoothly dismounted from the animal. He followed, dropping to the ground like a sack of mealies. She giggled. Her eyes twinkled. It made his embarrassment worth it.


Tell us what you think: Is Malcolm being too serious about everything? Should he just relax and enjoy the adventure?