Margery Morell's fortieth year, something exciting happened. She won a Crossword competition. The prize was very
grand; seven day's accommodation at the best hotel in Umhlanga, breakfast included.
Margery imagined the holiday she was overwhelmed by a precognition. I'm going to fall in love, she guessed.
A holiday romance - like the ones she liked to read - an old fashioned love story in a glamorous setting with a handsome hero.
blew the money she had saved for her car's service on a new wardrobe (for the fuller figured romantic heroine) and a good,
strong perm; rigid enough to cover the patch on her head where the hair didn't grow.
the day of check-in arrived.
Miss Morell. Shall I call a porter?"
Margery shook her
head no, no, no. She wasn't sure how to tip porters in luxury hotels.
desk clerk raised an eyebrow but allowed Margery to wrestle her own gym bags to the room. She was struggling along a
passage, when an Italian accent interrupted her.
me to 'elp you m'am."
man. Margery jumped.
… " she fumbled. He was a dreamboat.
carry those for you."
fingers were long and beautiful. His smile made her dizzy.
you," she breathed.
her room, Margery flopped onto the organza bedspread. She spent the drizzly afternoon staring beyond the ruby velvet
drapes framing the Juliet balcony, fantasizing about the foreigner with the dreamboat smile.
next morning, Margery rose with the sun. From her balcony she watched the staff set up the sun loungers around the adults'
hurry… thought Margery, pulling on her one-piece …if I want a lounger. She checked her reflection,
put some cream on the rash from her lip-wax and wrapped a sarong around her cauliflower thighs.
chose a lounger set on a rise; the elevation offered an expansive view of the sea, the beach and the boardwalk.
Danielle Steele lay unopened on her stomach as she watched the waves cart-wheeling onto the shore, tumbling with a slosh and
receding with a fizz. It was already very warm and the beach was blooming with umbrellas like the Namaqualand after
of a busker's song drifted on the ocean breeze: "Summertime and the living is easy … yore daddy reech and yo momma good-lookin
noticed that the woman lying on a nearby lounger was staring at her quite blatantly. The woman's face was shaded by
a white stetson; her eyes hooded by white-framed sunglasses with a gold G on the arms. Her white bikini was teamed with
a brief white sarong that hung off hipbones as sharp as shark's fins. The woman was dazzling.
didn't recognize her.
did recognize the dreamboat man coming down the steps to the pool, though. Her heart flipped like a dolphin. To
Margery's disappointment, he stopped to speak to the woman in the white Stetson. Eventually, he sat down on the woman's
lounger and, as they chatted, he absently trailed his beautiful long fingers over her tanned skin.
felt her fantasies draining away like old bath water.
watched him stand up and return to the hotel.
lifeguard crackled over the speakers: "Attention members of the public. We have blue-bottles in the water today, folks,
and strong undercurrents, so please exercise caution when swimming."
was pleased that she had privileged access to the hotel pool.
looked around. The woman with the stetson was waving at her.
still didn't recognize her but … there was something familiar about the voice … it was rough and sexy - like satin
snagging on stubble. The voice jostled her recollection. A memory swum towards the surface of her consciousness
… for some reason, Margery smelt burnt toast. An impossible smell in the clean ocean breeze. Toast burning.
No, not toast. It was hair.
froze as the full memory returned, as sharp as a blue-bottle's sting. She was ten years old, in a classroom. The
kids had turned in their desks to stare at her, open-mouthed, their necks craned like vultures, their eyes so big she could
see flames reflected in them.
Her hair was on
Margery stood up, screaming, spinning, thrashing, she saw teeth. The girl behind her was smiling; she had a lighter
in her hand.
woman spoke again, recalling Margery from her trance.
me - Shawna Jolie. Don't you recognize me?" The woman smiled. "We went to school together."
way that the eye-teeth shuffled the grin into something carnivorous confirmed Margery's recollection, but by then it was too
late. Shawna Jolie had seen the realization dawn on Margery's face.
it's me - Shawna. Don't look so shocked - you look like a deer in headlights."
seemed genuinely pleased, like a bored house-cat that has spotted a three-legged mouse.
sit here. Let's catch up. It's been years!"
picked up Margery's bag and laid it on the lounger next to her own. She's forgotten the fire, thought Margery
fingering the glassy bald patch on her head, It's natural ... it was so long ago.
Shawna moved around the lounger, Margery noticed another strong scent.
smell that she associated with mechanical things and … her garden shed. In her mind's eye, she saw the spades
and rakes against the shed's wall, the lawnmower, the plastic container in the corner. Petrol.
smelt of petrol. Impossible, thought Margery, it's my mind playing tricks on me. I associate her with
fire and lighter fluid and so I've imagined a petrol smell.
yourself down," Shawna patted the lounger. "How the heck are you?"
sat primly, while Shawna lolled across her lounger like a panther on a branch. Her fingers drummed on the mattress like
spiders dancing. Her nails were as white as shell and shiny like plastic.
fine," Margery said cautiously. "I heard that you married a film producer and moved to LA." Shawna had dreamed
of being a movie star; of seeing her face magnified onto a film screen. Her uncommon beauty had assured her success
with men, though not as an actress.
he died years ago. An accident. I haven't had much luck with husbands. I guess it's because I like
the adventurous ones."
ant was crawling across Shawna's lounger. She tilted her head to watch it. Her finger curled like a scorpion's
tail and then the white plastic fingernail sliced the insect in two.
life hasn't been easy … losing two husbands. Tragedy after tragedy." She looked at Margery with bent brows
- a melodramatic expression that would be credible only in a soap opera.
well," she sighed. "I shouldn't linger on the negatives - it isn't healthy. I'm lucky, I guess - I've got Barry.
I met Barry - my current husband - at the Yacht club. He's also a producer. And he also likes his little adventures,
so I guess I haven't learnt my lesson yet."
smiled like a Fado singer.
his water sports. He's taking his jet-ski out this morning, even though I asked him not to. The gas gauge is faulty."
heard a loud csshhtickk. She flinched at the sound and looked up. Shawna had a lighter in her hand.
mean the petrol gauge is faulty. I forgot that over here you call it petrol." When their eyes met, Shawna
smiled, fingering the lighter, letting it burn for a while before finally flicking it shut.
does remember, thought Margery, stunned.
told him to get it fixed. It's the small things that end up being dangerous. The devil in the details. But
you know how men are … they don't listen." Shawna's face had a tight, preserved look, as though cling-film had
been stretched over her face.
that your husband …" Margery cleared her throat "… that man you were talking to earlier?"
no, don't be silly. That's Lorenzo - my personal trainer. My husband and I have an arrangement - if he brings
his Swedish nanny on holiday, I'm allowed to bring Lorenzo. Fair is fair."
with your trainer and your husband?"
look so shocked, Margery. Naiveté is not attractive in women over forty." Shawna summoned a waiter and ordered
two Pina Coladas.
hundred sinful calories in a Pina Colada but too delicious to resist, don't you find? My husband," Shawna's tone became
brisk, "is always away on business. Never at home. But I am well looked after. Material things can be very
comforting. So we have our arrangement… he plays with his toys and I play with mine. Which reminds me …"
pulled binoculars out of her beach bag and scanned the sea.
noticed that the strap had snagged another item in the beach bag. The end of a clear plastic hose jutted out the bag
like a periscope.
siphon hose. Margery, who had once been 4x4ing, recognized the piping used to siphon petrol. Why does she
keep a siphon hose in her beach bag?
my husband over there …" Shawna said, pointing at the sea. "On the jet-ski. Here, take a look."
looked through the binoculars. It took a while to locate the floating dot because it was in a swiftly moving current,
drifting quickly out to sea. The object had the shape of a jet ski. There was a man on the craft, as tiny as a
fingernail. A little stick-figure, waving at Margery.
waving," Margery said, puzzled.
grabbed the binoculars.
would he be waving?" asked Margery. "He couldn't possibly know that we're looking at him."
he is, Shawna. He's definitely waving."
scowled at her.
is not waving, Margery. He's …" Shawna paused as if she'd forgotten the right word, "he's fishing."
he's full of little eccentricities. He's not waving, he's casting. Like this …" Shawna mimicked the
flicking wrist of a fly-fisherman.
maybe … but perhaps he's in trouble. Maybe he's trying to attract attention. You said the petrol gauge is
faulty. Maybe he's run out of petrol. He seems to be caught in a current and if he's run out of petrol, he'll
be lost at sea."
course he's got gas. I filled up the tank this morning."
filled up the tank?"
I do a lot of things for Barry. In fact, I do everything for him. I organize his holidays, pay his insurances
Pina Coladas arrived.
do you remember …" said Shawna, "… that time I set your hair alight because you wouldn't let me copy your answers
in the exams. God, it was funny."
flicked her lighter again.
were absolute demons when we were kids. Little devils. Seems like yesterday."
slurped her cocktail through a straw, contemplating whether to raise the alarm.
sound paralysed her. Margery watched the dot drift further and further towards the horizon until it dropped off the
edge of the earth.
hun." A voice from behind. Shawna blanched beneath her tan.
short man walked around to sit on the edge of Shawna's lounger. He was wearing a gypsy earring; his few remaining strands
of blue-black hair glistened with gel. A pot belly protruded from his open shirt. Propped on Shawna's chair, he
looked like an expectant toad.
Barry - Shawna's husband." The man offered Margery his hairy hand.
mmMargery," her relief overcame her confusion. "I'm surprised to meet you. Shawna told me that you'd gone out
on your jet-ski today."
me. I didn't feel up to it today," said the toady man. "So I let Lorenzo take it out. He's been bugging
me to let him play with it. Did you meet Lorenzo? He's my wife's personal trainer. I'm surprised he's not
with y'all. He should be back by now."
Click here to read more Short Stories in this