Friday, 12 February 2016

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.

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