Friday, 12 February 2016

The runner up in the Wallace Arts Prize for Short Fiction 2016 is Nod Ghosh

Seven Lesbians and a Bar of Soap

I've had seven so far. Maybe more. China plinks ice into my overfull glass. The volume of liquid suggests the number is irrelevant.
I've had too much too drink, and it's long past midnight.
Red light on her cheeks, bones like porcelain, China's African dance tunes beat the air like molten syrup. She closes the ranch-slider on June night light, dark as pencil lead.
Leilani pecks China on the cheek, proprietorial. Leilani's hair is streaked with bottled sun. China's is as black as swans. I want to touch it with my lips until it squeaks.
Sugar lights a cigarette and dances to a tune in her head.
Sugar sweet petit fours and Pavlova topped with kiwi-fruit line up for attention on china dessert plates. I sip my gin and tonic; the bitter bite of quinine no stranger to my palate.
I want more.
China pours me another. The thump-thump-thump of blood somewhere near my middle ear warns me to stop. Lines of lemon decorate the starboard side of the cocktail bar. She squeezes citrus into the blackness of my glass.
"For you."
"Sweet as," I say, and she slips a slice of green fruit studded with seeds into my mouth.
Leilani pulls China away, her fingers laced through her lover's. She tugs her towards the light, away from me.
"I forgot the starter," she says. "Give me a hand." With graceless moves, Leilani assembles ceviche. Knife on board. Chop. Her finger oozes blood, telltale streaks of red on white flesh. Fennel fronds and coriander sprinkled like rags over the fish.
Fait accompli. Bon appétit.
But it's too late. Leilani is too late.
Fait accompli.

Teri's netball-toned leg protrudes from a dog-brown blanket on the sofa.
"Where's Helen?" she asks, her waking voice is treacle thick. She waves away the dish Leilani offers.
Maxine and Sugar refuse the fish too. Their teeth skitter like tambourines. A smattering of dust under noses tells a story they're not ready to share.
The ceviche is untouched.
It's definitely too late.
Sugar changes the music. The singer's dusty tones match the frisson of want in the air. Does Sugar know what's happening? She dances with Maxine's head on her shoulder. They rotate like twin engines.
"Did anyone see Helen?" Teri asks again, delirious with sleep. A line of women, shoes on, shoes off, locate the buzz from the bedroom, like rats in a Skinner box.
The hum of Helen's Lelo crescendoes in ursine waves. Her cries sound like fur between teeth.
"Who's she with?" Teri growls. Leilani checks for China's presence, accounted for by virtue of a hand in hers. We count the line of women with our eyes. We count ourselves. Teri, Leilani, China, Sugar, Maxine and me.
"She's on her own," Maxine smiles, her teeth white against her skin, dark as Africa. We tiptoe away.
"Hey! The spa-pool! Let's go in." Teri's bright demeanor brought on to mask her embarrassment. En route, we drop clothes, black, red and party-white, discarded like spent weapons. We jump into the pool, watch its level rise. The cycle of lights, yellow, lime, emerald, cornflower, violet, red like disaster, orange, kōwhai yellow and back to the colour of fruit China pushed into my lips.
Helen appears, her face oval with satisfaction. She slops into the pool.
China wears designer lingerie, like she knew this was going to happen. I stare at the delicate ridge of her collarbone and hope the transparency of my desire is smothered by splashes and inattention. The jets roar into action and a head of foam builds like packaging against the sides of the tub. It accumulates between seven bodies, glistening like fish, cubes of fish in a box. It expands until there is no watery meniscus. The cold kiss of night air makes no impact on warm bodies.
The foam grows.
"Did someone put soap in here?" Leilani hisses. "Turn the jets off." A wall of froth threatens to suffocate us. Sugar's fingers slip on the controls. The lights go out. A rabbit's tail of suds climbs towards my nose. I think China winks at me through tufts of foam, though it's hard to tell in the dark.
There's a splash. Leilani screams. And in the tangle of limbs that ensues, the serpentine curl of fingers in mine assures me I have not imagined tonight.
China's eyes lock on mine as she squeezes my hand.
 And the foam climbs, until it tips out in ermine waves.

The Winner of the Wallace Arts Trust Prize for Short Fiction 2016 is Jade du Preez with Lily of the Valley

Koro was eleven when he lost his words. Not Lost. That sounds forgetful. His words were taken.
V said, “That happened to a generation – “
I said, “What kind of a name is V anyway?”
Guess I got a bit happy on the bourbon. Didn’t usually talk to randoms.
V curled her mouth like she’d been waiting to be asked.
 “A dirty one,” she said.
She looked over the top of her paper cup like she reckoned she was actually in a movie or something. Like she had a crystal glass that caught the light of the hotel chandelier and she’d just admitted to being a double agent. Like she wasn’t actually at stupid Kingi’s stupid graduation, half in the dark, on a lawn turfed up by cars, accompanied by a sound system from the nineties playing songs from the eighties.
“Great,” I said, flat as I could, “You can explain it to the guy over there,” I nodded to a flat-peak leaning on a Corolla, “been checking you out long enough.”
“Him?” She looked over serenely, “Nah. He asked me to ask you.”
“Eh?” I stared so he noticed. He was nervous. Laughed with his shoulders. “Why?”
V grinned, “Probably ‘cause he doesn’t know you’re a homo.”
“I’m not.” I sighed. This was the softball thing again.
“Pity,” V said, then – even though I never asked – “My name is Lily.”
Was she joking? There was pretty much nothing lily-like about her. Not silent. Not lily-livered. Definitely not white.
“It was updated to Lily of the Valley – get it?”
“Ha - yeah. Funny.” I didn’t get it. But that was none of her business.
“V is faster to say. Easier to yell.”
She raised her eyebrows. Closed her eyes. Could’ve been in a movie, I forget which one.
Turned out she was studying languages. A linguist. She had a research project. She wanted to speak to my Koro. Yeah, fine. Not my business.
She came over four days after. She had a laptop and flash glasses.
Away from that crowd she spoke differently; softly. She pulled out and threaded her sentences. Throw her any line and she’d weave it into her long-winded odyssey of history and policy. It turned out her name was a kind of homo joke.
My Koro liked her.
She came over again. Then again. Sometimes it was just me at home. Then it seemed like we weren’t starting new meetings, just that there were some interruptions in one long one.
I called her Lily. I wanted to keep a secret part of her. She wasn’t a lily like one of those wild monster ones that crowd out the compost. She was more like one of those bursting ones from the shops. All kinds of colours, bright-smelling, dropping pollen all over the rug. Lingering.
She’d come back from uni and release her latest phrases; all the sad German ones, all the stubborn French ones.
She said I love you in eleven languages.
Three of them had no words.
She retold the story of my Koro. She shuffled through photographs and found a likeness in me.
“The way of his lip,” Lily said, “He’s resisting a fight. You do that.”
“I’m not a chicken,” I said.
“Come away with me,” she said.
She won a scholarship. She was that smart. She was going south.
Then everything went south. Koro was given a few months max. I didn’t tell Lily, just cancelled our meetings. Koro wasn’t up to much, I’d say, really tired today. Wasn’t her business anymore. I didn’t want too many people poking around anyway. Full on sorting out the meds, food, dressing. She didn’t need to see that.
It was fast. First he stopped speaking. Then seeing. Then he was just the pair of lungs in my grandfather’s body in the hospice.
I lost my words. I hated all those ones from “kind” people. For the best; put to rest; so impressed; blessed; lest.
Less, I thought. That is all that comes.
No more I love youse.
Lily came up. Sprung from nowhere. Someone must’ve told her. Wasn’t their business, but I let it go. I didn’t say much to her. Watched the spot on the ground where her roots would’ve if she’d been true to her name.
When we were alone she read me her research. Put him in the story. I didn’t mind that.
                “How does it finish?”
                “It doesn’t,” she said.