- My name is Nathan Lucius. I sleep with the light on.
- I buy old photographs of people I don’t know. I give them names and arrange them into a family tree on my wall. This means I can have a new family whenever I want.
- I’m happiest when each day is exactly like the one before.
- I like to run. I hate the beach.
- When Mrs. du Toit next door masturbates I can hear her coming behind my wall of photographs. I’ve never seen her husband. Maybe that’s why she does it all the time. Sometimes the sound inspires me to the same. I think of her even though she is over forty.
- I work at a daily newspaper where I sell advertising space. It’s a job.
- I like to drink. I like to watch TV.
- I had a girlfriend a while ago. One day I told her that I’d rather wank than have sex with her, so she left.
- My name is Nathan Lucius. I am thirty-one years old.
- I live in a flat in Pansyshell Park. I have no pets.
Often the news in the morning edition doesn’t get much past page twelve. After that it’s business and sport. Sometimes you’ll find that page twelve is already in the business supplement. There are seven billion people on the planet. It worries me that the journos can only find enough stories to fill twelve pages. What a boring species we must be.
There are more ads than stories anyway. It’s like the journos are there only to fill the gaps between the commercial stuff. Maybe it’s enough to put them off writing past page twelve, the knowledge that you’re just writing around ads for cars or margarine. It must be disheartening. In the three years I’ve been here it’s become harder and harder to sell ad space even though the spaces have got smaller. You measure the spaces in centimetres up and by columns across. I’ve always struggled to understand that.
It’s like measuring something in so many cubits high by so many wombats wide. My boss Sonia blames the bad sales on the internet. She blames most things on the internet. Child porn, global warming, the wrong election results. Sonia has been here far longer than I have. She tells me that in the old days it was piss-easy to sell a double-page spread. Those are her words. Sometimes she speaks like a sailor. Double pages used to cost as much as a small house back then. Advertisers would buy them all the time. Now we have to “add value” by “bundling” sales in the print edition with online sales. It’s a carrot to get advertisers to spend money. We sell fewer double-page spreads than ever. Everyone is reading the news on their phones or their tablets or whatever. The bosses say we have to keep the print edition going. I don’t know why. Me, I’d just call it a day.
In summer Sonia wears no bra and cotton tops that don’t hide her long nipples. She has a great wild bush of blonde hair and little blue Renée Zellweger eyes. Before Renée got a new face, I mean.
She tells me, frequently, that her commission was so good back in the day that she didn’t know what to do with her money. So she started taking drugs and ended up in rehab. The paper paid for it all. When she was straight she was very good at her job. She had to take a salary cut to pay them back. She says this was a good thing. It meant that she had less cash to blow on drugs. She tells me this mostly when we go to Eric’s Bar. Clearly rehab didn’t cover drinking. She tells me that the drugs are never further away than the tips of her fingers. All she has to do is reach out. Like reaching to scratch an itch that itches all the time. Counselling other people helps, she says. She sees herself in their eyes at every session. Sonia is pretty and sweet-looking. Most girls want big cow eyes. Sonia’s little eyes suit her. The drug thing scares me and so do the long nipples.
When I feel like a beer and Sonia can’t make it I go to Eric’s Bar on my own. I’ve got to know Eric quite well over the years. He is an enormous mountain of a man. Sometimes when he is tired at the end of the evening he gets a waiter to reach for the drinks in the fridge under the counter. His accent is thick and German. He once wrestled for Germany in the Olympics. He was a Greco-Roman specialist and fought in the 74–84 kg category. He didn’t win anything. That was a long time ago. Then life took over, he says. I suppose that life might add up by way of an extra hundred and fifty kilograms. Some people accumulate things. Even me. I accumulate photographs and money I can’t spend. Eric accumulates flesh.
If it’s quiet he’ll draw with a pencil on a large white pad while we chat. The stuff he draws comes from his head. He’ll draw kitschy Bavarian alpine scenes if he’s feeling uninspired. It’s actually the same scene each time. With the same mountain and the same trees and the same small-windowed house. The roof looks too big for it. Like it’s trying to push the house into the ground.
Or else he’ll draw wizards or witches who look like they’ll hex you right off the page. Demons that threaten to drag you into the paper with them. I tell him he could be famous. He shrugs me off. He gives his witches and wizards to drinking dads to give to their kids. Long ago he pinned one of his alpine scenes to the edge of a shelf. It’s gone yellow over time and the corners have curled up. I keep meaning to ask him why he doesn’t replace it with a new one. He must have hundreds by now.
“Where is that?” I once asked him as he began another. As usual he’d started with an outline of the mountain. He shrugged and put his pad away.
Sometimes Sonia’s boyfriend comes up from the newsroom to visit her. His name is Dino and he’s a reporter. He has no problem with filling the spaces between ads. He is proud of the fact that he does only hard news. Crime, violence, corruption. No kittens in trees or hundredth birthdays. He is bilingual and we all know that he writes for the local Afrikaans daily on the side. It’s our competition and he’s not supposed to. Dino is tall and wiry. He runs marathons and climbs rocks and cycles up mountains. He doesn’t drink. Sometimes he’ll join us at Eric’s and have an orange juice. Once some old greybeard took his face out of his whisky glass and tried to give Dino a hard time about the juice. Dino stared at him without blinking. The greybeard shut up and turned away. If I’m busy with Sonia and Dino appears I’ll find a reason to go back to my desk. He takes over the chair I’ve been sitting on and kind of lies on it. He splays his legs and puts his hands behind his head and generally inhabits the whole of Sonia’s cubicle. I don’t know how she can breathe with him in there. Even from my desk I can hear him bragging about a story he’s just broken. How he’s had to dodge a drug lord’s bullets. How he’s been getting death threats since writing about some politician or other. How he has some pet policemen in key positions who always slip him the good stories first. Today he’s on about a body found in the Liesbeek River with a crossbow bolt through the chest. I suppose it’s all very exciting if you’re a certain kind of person. I’d like to sew his mouth shut with a curved needle and catgut.
I wait for Sonia in Eric’s bar on Thursday after work. A woman comes in and sits on a stool near me. She is tall and wears a short skirt that is dark green and shiny. Her sunglasses are pushed up to keep her hair back. She orders a drink and lights a cigarette and then lights another and another and then orders a second drink and lights a cigarette. Three cigarettes per drink seems to be the going rate. She keeps looking at me as if she is trying to catch my eye. Something in her face tells me she has a smile waiting. I’m sure it would launch itself if I looked at her properly. I manage a glance at her crow’s feet and the heavy mascara and the vertical wrinkle above her nose. I don’t look her in the eye. There are a lot of people in the bar. I wish she would look at one of them instead. Her hands are older than her face. Her long legs are a bit lumpy at the thighs. I know this because she keeps crossing and uncrossing them on the bar stool. Her skirt rides up higher. I try hard not to look. The harder I try the more she does it. I haven’t showered for three days.
I am talking to Eric and watching her out of the corner of my eye when she gives a little grunt and jerks up off her stool and slides to the floor. She hasn’t been here long enough to be that entirely drunk. It must be something else. I go over to her and shake her around a bit. She doesn’t respond. I put my ear to her mouth. It sounds like she isn’t breathing. I put my forefinger to her wrist. I can’t feel a pulse. I kneel and pump down with both hands on her chest. I can’t remember the ratio. I pump a few more times. I put my mouth over hers and hold her nose closed and blow down her throat. I do it again and again. Then I slip my tongue into her mouth. I don’t know why. She tastes of cigarettes and some sweet drink. The weirdness of pumping away at some strange woman’s chest and then putting my mouth over hers makes me break a sweat. I pump. I put my mouth over hers and blow. I taste her cigarettes and her drink again. I promise myself that I will shower after my run in the morning.
Eric must have called the ambulance. Paramedics stand over me. I’m kneeling next to the woman and gasp for breath. I can smell my sweat. I feel I deserve a break. Other people from the bar stand around. They haven’t done anything. As if looking concerned will wrench her back into the land of the living. I have the woman’s lipstick all over my face. I try to wipe it away with my wrist. I think she is breathing again because her eyelids flicker like she is having a bad dream. A paramedic looks at me sideways. He takes my hand off her boob. I hadn’t even realised it was there. It’s only then that I feel her breast in my palm. They put her on a gurney and wheel her out. I go with them to make sure they don’t drop her or something on the way. After all that I feel like she’s mine. Just a little bit mine. They manage to get her into the ambulance okay.
The ambulance goes screaming into the dark and I go back inside to finish my drink. Everyone starts clapping when I walk in. Next thing Eric is lining up all the drinks everyone has bought me. I look around for Sonia. She hasn’t pitched. I’m happy to spend the evening with my new friends. My last memory of the evening is actually in the morning when I wake up late for work. I open my eyes and wonder if the ambulance siren has implanted itself in my brain in the form of pure agony. I put my clothes on which are mostly yesterday’s. I remember that I’ve forgotten to shower.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Winkler. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.