Slade Harris will do anything for a story. He doesn’t think twice about jumping out of a plane or conducting disastrous love affairs to gather material for his writing. But his selfish way seems to be catching up with him: stumbling through his late thirties hopeless and a little drunk, his agent after him like a particularly stubborn strain of venereal disease, Slade has a dazzling, dangerous idea, which sets off a motion of events that will change his life forever.

It’s going to be Slade’s ultimate story, and all he’s hoping for is to survive it.

"Absorbing, chilling, funny and original ... definitely a fresh new voice in South African fiction." - Hamilton Wende

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chapter 1: At Least Someone Is Having An Interesting Morning

At Least Someone Is Having An Interesting Morning

In darkness: headpounding, stomachswimming, eyesitching.
I reach for the bottle of San Pellegrino I keep next to my bed. Someone has taken it. Bastard.
No, that’s not right.
The neighbour’s junker is grumbling. Jack Russell barking.
I left the bottle in the den last night, was using it to top up my whiskies. Amateur mistake. I raise my eyelids just enough to get a bright slice of white ceiling.
After a few shallow breaths I stand up and fall down. Starsinhead. Dizzy. Make it to the coffee machine and flick the red switch. It growls.
Scratch my stubble. Brainonfire.
The morning glare through the kitchen window is ruthless. I close my eyes for a while to give them a bit of a rest. I need to piss and shower and eat something greasy. Breakfast at Salvation Café. A double Bloody Mary blitzed with raw egg and Tabasco.

Now warm, the coffee machine grinds, blasts and spits. The fridge is vacant apart from some old oil-blemished pizza boxes, crystallized balsamic syrup and a never-opened jar of mysteries picked up at the last organic market with Eve. I should never go to organic markets. And I should never have bought such a leviathan fridge. Peering into its airy innards makes me feel lonely. It never used to be this way.
This appliance has seen its fair share of riches: countless bottles of Veuve Cliquot and glittering round tins of Russian Caviar, like gold coins for giants. Now it sits, sulking, vacant, desolate. My heart is an empty refrigerator.

The milk is beyond rescue and it swirls down the sink trap. I stir the coffee too hard, slopping it down the side of the mug, leaving an eclipse on the pale marble slab of the counter top. I’ll clean it up later.
Like the walking dead, dripping hot mug in hand, I stagger to my writing desk in the den to survey the damage, taking care to not trip over the piles of books lying in the way. It doesn’t look too bad at first glance. Doesn’t look too bad at all till I see my murdered Moleskine lying like a dead animal on the edge of the bureau, creamy belly exposed, inky guts ripped out.


“You look like shit.”
“Thanks. I look way better than I feel.”
It’s been a wreck of a morning so far and smiling hurts. I kiss her on the cheek and grab the chair in the shade, not too close, in the empty hope that she doesn’t smell the stale whisky leaking from my pores. I put my phone on the table beside her bunch of keys: her silver apple keyring glints in the sun.
She is dressed up. I wonder if she is meeting someone after breakfast. Another man maybe, or a sponsor. Or maybe it’s a shoot: apart from being an artist, she is a partner in a small film company. I am immediately jealous.
She lowers her very large sunglasses slightly and takes a look at my sorry state.
“Did you party too hard last night with what’s-her-name?”
“Kind of,” I grin. Ouch. “You could say that.”
Eve sits back with her arms crossed. She always has her arms crossed. She’s always disapproving in a hot librarian kind of way.
“So? How are things with her? What’s her name again?”
The waitress arrives with menus too big to be practical. I struggle with mine and almost knock over my pre-ordered double-hot Bloody Mary.
“It’s over. So it doesn’t matter.” I mumble, but she gets the gist.
“Why am I not surprised?” She sighs, closing her menu and setting it down on the table.”What happened?”
“I broke it off last night.”
“Another non-surprise then.” She makes a show of yawning. Taps the table leg with her ballet flat. “Very boring, Slade.”

This jabs me in the stomach. There are not many things I fear more than predictability. Being a bore: I find that terrifying. She knows this and indulges me with a half-smile, to show that she was half-kidding.
God, Eve is sexy in her tailored ivory suit and bare pink lips. Jackie O shades. Although she looks just as desirable in the paint-stained oversized men’s collared shirts she works in. And her ponytail. I love her hair in a ponytail. What I wouldn’t do to grab … I realise I am daydreaming and try to remember what it was we were speaking about. I hide behind my Oakley’s: this babbelas is making me feel a thousand years old.
Ponytails, lips, yawning: Ah, whatshername.
“Well, it wasn’t working. I had to end it. She was no good.”
A man from the adjacent table glances over, curious, then turns away before I can tell him to mind his own damn business.
“No good for your writing, you mean.”
“Yes. Well, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? It’s not like I can be okay without my writing.”
It’s all I have.
I don’t tell Eve I broke the news to the woman early in the evening so I could get home in time to work on a few notes. It didn’t work: nothing came to me. In the end I – apparently - finished a bottle of whisky and tore up my notebook. Which is becoming a habit.
I ignore the flash of annoyance in Eve’s eyes. She nibbles a nail.
“How did she take it?”
“Not as heartbroken as the accountant, not as happy as the talk-show host. Somewhere in between. Pretty neutral, really. I think that’s what I didn’t like about her.”
“Her grace? Equanimity? Even-temperedness? I can see how that could be very unappealing.”
The waitress is back with a hopeful look on her face.
I clench my fist.“She didn’t give me anything.”
The man looks over again: I can feel his eyes on me. Who is he? A fan? A spy? An assassin? I glare at him and he immediately begins to inspect his sunny-side-up. Nosy fucker.
“I bet you didn’t give her anything.”

I look into the distance and adjust my scarf against the breeze. We order the Brie omelette and Caribbean sweet French toast with maple syrup, berries and organic cream. A giant pot of Earl Grey.
What Eve didn’t know was that karma had burnt me just that morning. The hangover wasn’t the only thing nudging me to the edge. As I had lurched from my writing den to the front door and turned the key, I heard a car door slam shut outside and burn rubber. I remember thinking: at least someone is having an interesting morning. I’d made a distracted effort to close my dressing gown over my old Iron Maiden T-shirt and grey jocks, put on my sunglasses to mitigate the evil brightness of the Johannesburg sun, and opened the door. Nothing looked out of place but I’d had a strange feeling in my gut, which may or may not have had something to do with the previous night’s Glenfiddich. A few cool, barefoot steps later I had the newspaper in one hand, coffee in the other, and felt a little better about life in general. Until I turned around.
It wasn’t that bad. I mean, she could have thrown a Molotov cocktail through the window and burnt the place down altogether. She could have pulled an Al-Qaeda and detonated some sweet-smelling plastic explosive on the front lawn. She could have hired a Casspir – Mellow-Yellow - and mown the house down. That would have been worse. Instead she had graffiti’d ‘SLADE HARRIS YOU CUNTING FUCK’, all along the front wall in a particularly fetching shade of crimson. I still haven’t decided if I enjoyed her creative license with the shoddy punctuation and the transmutation of the word ‘cunt’ into an adjective. Anyhow, it has a certain ring to it, and it’s certainly not easy to forget. Full marks for punchiness. Standing there with the cool morning air on my still bed-warm thighs and admiring her work had a kind of justice in it, I suppose, for I have hurt a lot of women and it seems time that one of them has become intent on punishing me. It is unfortunate, however, that this particular one happens to be a psychopath.

When I get back from breakfast with Eve I am still a little jumpy. I keep picturing Sally standing motionless outside my house, looking straight ahead, the epitome of calm apart from a single spray-paint-stained hand. A street version of Lady Macbeth. The idea unsettles me a bit, so I like it. Not because I’m fearless: the opposite is true. I spend the rest of the day avoiding walking past windows and don’t open the door to anyone, not even the feather-duster man. I like it because having a beautiful, persistent, bunnyboiler ex could be very interesting.
And I am desperate for interesting.

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