by W.H. Saayman
Vic was looking at the oil that his tenant had spilled on the driveway's brick paving. There were shapes to be found if he defocused his eyes and let his mind drift, but he wasn't in the mood. The stains angered him. His tenant had ignored all requests to have his car repaired. It was patently obvious that the man had no respect for other people's property. Every day the world of shapes was growing, colonising the bricks, and Vic's patience was wearing thin.
He was muttering to himself when the two girls in school uniforms appeared at his front gate. Both were sucking on lollipops that had stained their lips and tongues a ghastly red. They had nametags pinned to their shirts: the one said 'Bridget', the other 'Kelly.' The former held out a printed sheet and asked if Vic would like to buy a raffle ticket. The school was building a new pavilion and needed funds. 'You can win a BMW.' Vic took the form. On it was a picture of the car and the school's motto: 'Carpe Diem.'
He told them to wait and went to get his wallet. They were whispering when he came out. He handed them the money and received a ticket in return. 'Could I use your bathroom?' the one girl asked. Her friend was peering down the empty street. It was a quiet afternoon. After a brief hesitation he let them in.
They entered the house and he pointed the way to the bathroom, then went back to the lounge. The other girl was looking at one of Stella's astrology books, but she put it down when Vic entered the room and averted her eyes. Vic went over to the CD player, but couldn't think of what to play. Minutes went by. The girl had an open sore near her ankle that she couldn't leave alone. She kept glancing at the door that led to the bathroom.
When the other girl returned from the bathroom she looked different. She had put lipstick and eye make-up on, but it was smeared and her white school shirt was torn. Vic could see her one breast through the tear in the fabric. Something was terribly wrong. Then he realised that the girl had a bag full of Stella's cosmetics and jewellery under one arm. She was also carrying Vic's DVD player.
'What's going on?' he asked.
'You tried to rape me and now we're leaving, that's what. If you make a fuss I'll start screaming.' The other girl got up and took Stella's astrology book. They stopped at his front door and the one with the ripped shirt poked him in the arm. 'Give us some money, you pervert.'
Vic took out his wallet and she grabbed it, removed the cash and threw the wallet on the floor. Then she leapt forward and punched Vic in the mouth. 'You understand, don't you?' They were laughing as they ran out the front gate.
Vic's head was throbbing. He was shaking with anger and frustration. His mouth was bleeding and he felt stupid. There was nothing that he could do. He'd been had by two teenage thieves. He watched as the girls disappeared around the corner. Stella was going to be furious. Vic felt an urge to break something and even considered chasing after the two to extract some form of revenge. It was all empty wishful thinking. He was going nowhere. He was in shock. A black face appeared on the bricks and crowed at him for being so gullible. He went to scratch around in the hall cupboard. Back outside he placed a number of nails on the driveway paving, carefully judging where his tenant's wheels would come to rest. Those who didn't listen would have to learn the hard way.
Stella was livid about the theft. She asked him again. 'Are you sure you didn't touch those girls?'
Vic was beyond himself. 'What do you take me for?'
'I have to ask. Its a very weird story.'
'How do you think I feel?' Vic's bottom lip was swollen; the girl's fist had broken the skin. He had phoned Stella and she raced home, and now they were sitting in the kitchen taking stock.
'Have you ever seen these girls before?'
Vic shook his head. He kept thinking about the open sore on the girl's leg. 'What are we going to do?'
Stella walked through to the lounge and looked out at the front gate. 'What can we do? They're gone. Probably best just to forget about the whole damn thing.' She took her keys and handbag. 'I have to go back, maybe you should see what else of mine they took?'
Much to Vic's chagrin, his tenant's car developed no punctures. The fifty-three year old man continued to arrive with his twenty-something girlfriend who never smiled, and sported a tattoo of a rabbit with a dagger stuck through its heart. The girl would howl and yelp with pleasure in the garden cottage, and the tyres stayed inflated. Vic could see nail heads protruding from the rubber, but there was no letting of air. He felt dissatisfied and ineffectual. In desperation he put down more nails.
The following Saturday Vic and Stella took a nap in the afternoon. They woke to the sound of blaring rock music. Outside the two thieves were throwing their heads back and forth; like people do at metal concerts. Tight black denims rode low on the hips and their lips were dark red and petulant. A boom box stood on the ground between them. When they saw Vic and Stella they stopped thrashing about and wiped the hair from of their faces. The girl who had punched Vic held out her hand. 'We want more money.'
Stella stepped up to the gate. 'I want my things that you stole.'
'Give us money or we'll go to the cops.'
Stella stood with her arms folded. 'Go and play with someone your own age.'
The girl's eyes were wide and her skin was shining with sweat. 'We're not fucking around, we want more money.'
Stella replied in an even voice. 'You keep saying that, but you know its not going to happen. Go away before I call the police.' Then she turned and walked away.
The girl shrieked. 'Go get stuffed, bitch.'
Vic and Stella went inside. The girls banged on the gate and swore for a few minutes and then they left. In time the music faded away.
In the middle of the night a metallic, clanging sound woke them. In front of their door they found two empty cans of spray paint. One red, one black. Vic and Stella stood out in the street and looked at the writing on their wall. 'Rapist.' 'Paedophile.' Everything was underlined in red and finished with exclamation marks.
Vic spent the rest of the night repainting the wall. They only had one brush. Stella made coffee and kept him company. Later they heard sirens in the distance. At half past five, when the first joggers rounded the corner, the wall was spotless and they went back to bed.
The following afternoon they drove to the shops. On the way they came to an intersection. Beyond it they could see a number of cars parked next to a tree. People were tying ribbons around a tree and laying down flowers and wreaths. There were tyre skid marks in the road. A man was being comforted by a woman and some teenagers were weeping inconsolably. Stella looked at the scene through the rear window. 'We should go back and find out what happened.'
A few days later, Vic was attempting to clean the oil off the bricks. His mother had told him that Coke, bleach, or disinfectant might work. He tried each in turn and found Coke to be the most effective. He was impressed. He'd managed to remove the taunting black face, but in its place the faint grey outline of something hateful appeared. His tenant still didn't have a puncture. None of Vic's actions had any impact, he didn't seem capable of effecting any change.
When Stella got home she suggested that they take a walk. They passed well-kept pavements and walls so high one had no idea what the houses on the other side might look like. Fierce dogs lay sleeping or threw themselves at metal gates. And in the trees flocks of birds were readying themselves for the long trip north.
Bouquets of flowers were heaped around the tree and several mourners had written messages of condolence. There was also a photograph of the deceased. Vic and Stella looked at one another. It had been taken at a party of some kind, a smiling young girl was waving at the camera. They studied the picture to make sure, but there was no doubt. Stella stepped back from the tree and took in the whole scene. 'Bad things happen to bad people.' Vic looked around. 'I wonder what happened to the other girl.'
More oil was spilled on the paving. A black stain emerged and as Vic studied its shape he realised that it reminded him of a Halloween pumpkin with jagged teeth and one shuttered eye. He confronted the tenant and the man threw his hands up into the air. He was a recovering addict with more pressing matters to attend to and he didn't care about bricks. He handed in his notice and told Vic to stop being anal. The following day Vic removed all the nails and cleaned the bricks again. Only a ghostly reminder lingered.
A few Saturdays later they went shopping. Vic was closing the boot of the car when Stella nudged him and pointed: the girl that had ripped her shirt and stolen Stella's things was in a wheelchair; dozing off outside the bank. Her one leg was in a cast and she had a neck brace on. Pieces of metal entered her skull at various points. She looked tired and pale. Vic looked at Stella. They hurried to the stationer's and purchased a few items. When they came out she had drifted off and was dribbling spit onto her Metallica t-shirt. They released the catch on the chair and wheeled her away. The girl was mumbling, but they ignored this and pushed intently.
When they got to the main entrance of the mall they quickly affixed the cardboard sheets that they had purchased, to the sleeping girl's body; back and front. Then they left her there and walked away without a glance, not turning back to see how the other shoppers would react to the girl in the wheelchair with the words 'THIEF' hanging from her.
About the author:
W.H. Saayman is a native of Cape Town, currently living in Johannesburg, South Africa. He works as a film editor and shares his home with his wife, three cats and 20 fish. He is currently working towards an anthology of short stories, working title: Pull Back The Blinds. When not writing fiction he records music under the name Swim Club (previously weaver001).