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Fools' Gold

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110 Pages

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An anthology of selected short stories, all of which were previously published in an individual writer�s collection or in either Stray or The Bed Book of Short Stories published by Modjaji Books. The authors include Sarah Lotz (internationally best selling author), Lauri Kubuitsile, Makhosazana Xaba, Meg Vandermerwe, Arja Salafranca, Wame Molefhe, Jolyn Phillips, Melissa de Villiers, Sandra Hill, Reneilwe Malatji, Jayne Bauling, Jo-Ann Bekker, Julia Martin, Isabella Morris, Alex Smith, Isabella Morris and Colleen Higgs. Several of the authors went on to win awards for their collections, see below, and one of the stories was shortlisted for the Caine Prize. Modjaji has a proud history of publishing debut short story collections that are successful in literary and sales terms. There are few other publishers who take the risk of publishing debut short story collections.



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Published 06 December 2019
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EAN13 9781928215851
Language English

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Copyright is held by individual authors.
The authors include Jayne Bauling, Jo-Ann Bekker,
Tinashe Chidyausiku, Melissa de Villiers, Colleen Higgs, Sandra Hill,
LLaauurrii KKuubbuuiittssiillee,, SSaarraahh LLoottzz,, RReenneeiillwwee MMaallaattjjii,, JJuulliiaa MMaarrttiinn,,
Wame Molefhe, Isabella Morris, Jolyn Phillips, Arja Salafranca,
Alex Smith, Meg Vandermerwe and Makhosazana Xaba.
Copyright for this edition Modjaji Books 2019
ISBN 978-1-928215-84-4 (Print)
ISBN 978-1-928215-85-1 (ePub)
Cover artwork and Lettering by Jesse Breytenbach
Book and cover design by Monique Cleghorn
NB Publishers for permission to use Jolyn Phillips’ story
‘The Fisherman’ from Tjieng Tjang Tjerries and other storiesC o n t e n t s
Botswana Rain WAME MOLEFHE
Stains Like a Map JAYNE BAULING
IInn tthhee SSppiirriitt ooff MMccPPhhiinneeaass LLaattaa LLAAUURRII KKUUBBUUIITTSSIILLEE
HHeeaavveenn ((oorr SSoommeetthhiinngg LLiikkee iitt)) SSAARRAAHH LLOOTTZZ
Southbound SANDRA HILL
LLeetttteerr ttoo MMaannaaggeemmeenntt JJUULLIIAA MMAARRTTIINN
The Dream of Cats is all about Mice ALEX SMITH
The Good Housekeeping Magazine Quiz JJOO--AANNNN BBEEKKKKEERR
AuthorsF O R E W O R D
A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage.
AA sshhoorrtt ssttoorryy iiss aa pphhoottooggrraapphh;; aa nnoovveell iiss aa ffiillmm..
Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They
are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner..
There’s no other description of the short story that describes it as succinctly and perfectly ass
that of the American short story writer, Lorrie Moore. A snapshot of lives, and without thee
lengthy commitment of a novel, some say a short story is ideal for our busy, digital-led livess..
TThheeyy aarree ccoommiinngg iinnttoo tthheeiirr oowwnn,, hhaavviinngg ffaaddeedd iinn ppooppuullaarriittyy aatt ttiimmeess,, tthhiiss yyeeaarr aalloonnee hhaass sseeeenn
a plethora of individual story collections being published, which is good news for the form.
Modjaji Books in South Africa, of course, has believed in and published short storyy
collections almost from the beginning of its inception in 2007. To date ten collections havee
been published and two anthologies, The Bed Book of Short Stories in 2010 and Stray in 2015..
TThhiiss ccoolllleecctteedd vvoolluummee ooff sshhoorrtt ssttoorriieess cceelleebbrraatteess bbootthh tthhee ffoorrmm aanndd oovveerr aa ddeeccaaddee ooff
publishing short fiction. There’s one story each from the ten individual collections and aa
handful from the two anthologies, showcasing an enormous variety of stories, styles, voicess
and talents.
I was both excited and honoured to be chosen to edit this selection of Modjaji fiction. II
lloovvee tthhee sshhoorrtt ssttoorryy –– hhaavvee lloovveedd iitt ffrroomm mmyy tteeeennss aanndd iinnttoo uunniivveerrssiittyy,, wwhheerree aass ppaarrtt ooff mmyy
uunnddeerrggrraadduuaattee ddeeggrreeee II rreeaadd sshhoorrtt ssttoorriieess ffoorr bbootthh EEnngglliisshh LLiitteerraattuurree aanndd mmyy mmaajjoorr ooff
African Literature. While I have always loved the sweep of reading novels, the short storyy
offers something entirely. Within a few pages a writer can evoke a world, a moment or aa
bright epiphany, that lingers and reverberates long after the initial reading. A writer doesn’’tt
need a novel to tell a story, or create a powerful impact in their story telling. Who can forgett
tthhee ppoowweerr aanndd tthhee ttwwiisstt ccoonnttaaiinneedd iinn CCaann TThheemmbbaa’’ss ffaammoouuss sshhoorrtt ssttoorryy,, ‘‘TThhee SSuuiitt’’ ffoorr
And the short story is remarkably flexible – ranging from microfictions of a page or two ––
to more conventional lengths to the sinuous, winding length of an Alice Munro story, whichh
contain novel-like worlds in them. There are stories that verge on novella-length works, andd
tthheerree aarree nnoovveellllaass tthhaatt mmiigghhtt jjuusstt aass eeaassiillyy ffiitt iinnttoo eeiitthheerr ccllaassssiiffiiccaattiioonn.. BBuutt wwhhaatteevveerr tthhee
length, they are, as Gaiman notes, ‘tiny windows into other worlds’ that still allow you to bee
back in time for dinner. They provide instant hits, so to speak, without the commitment off
following a novel’s plotlines – perfect for commutes, whether reading on a bus or train orr
listening to an audio book in a car, and perfect for our time-poor lives. Or, read a short storyy
bbeeffoorree bbeedd..
There are stories that are so full of meaning and depth that they been filmed as
featuree-length films or plays. The list here is long. Again I’m thinking of ‘The Suit’, which has hadd
been performed many times. And there’s the equally powerful ‘Brokeback Mountain’ by EE
Annie Proulx, which was made into a successful movie. And there are others, so many otherss..
RRaannggiinngg ffrroomm ddeeeepp iimmmmeerrssiioonn iinnttoo ootthheerr lliivveess,, hhiigghhlliigghhttiinngg rreellaattiioonnsshhiippss,, ppeeoopplleess’’
mmoottiivveess,, ssoocciieettaall pprroobblleemmss,, AAiiddss,, ppoovveerrttyy,, oorrpphhaanneedd cchhiillddrreenn,, ddeemmeennttiiaa,, rreessiilliieennccee,, ttoo ssttoorriieess
of humour and pathos, the following fictions are delightfully varied.In Meg Vandermerwe’s ‘The red earth’ we are witness to the thoughts and fears of aa
woman with living with Aids, her sense of isolation and fear palpable throughoutt..
Meanwhile in Reneilwe Malatji’s ‘Vicious Cycle’ the woman narrator ponders the problem off
ssoo mmaannyy aabbsseenntt ffaatthheerrss iinn aa ssttoorryy tthhaatt sseennssiittiivveellyy eexxpplloorreess tthhiiss iissssuuee..
Relationships form the backbone of many of the stories. In my own story, ‘The Thin Linee’’
I explored the fissures and cracks that seep into relationships – friendship or romantic – andd
break open bonds that we thought might last forever.
Similarly, Wame Molefhe’s ‘Botswana Rain’ is a mediation on the compromises inherentt
iinn ssoommee lliivveess aanndd ssoommee rreellaattiioonnsshhiippss,, wwhheerree iitt iiss nneecceessssaarryy ttoo bbee tthhoouugghhtt ‘‘nnoorrmmaall’’..
Colleen Higgs takes us back to the Yeoville of the early 1990s with ‘Spying’ in which aa
twentysomething narrator remembers the love she took so long to get over, with bitter-sweett
memories. This story perfectly captures the hopes and dashed innocence of the narrator.
And in Jo-Ann Bekker’s ‘The Good Housekeeping Magazine Quiz’ the story is toldd
tthhrroouugghh aa mmaaggaazziinnee qquuiizz ffoorrmmaatt iinn wwhhiicchh aa wwoommaann ccaann sseeee oonnllyy ttoooo cclleeaarrllyy tthhee tthhrreeaatt hheerr
hhuussbbaanndd’’ss ffoorrmmeerr lloovveerr ppoosseess ttoo hheerr mmaarrrriiaaggee..
A deeply poignant story, Makhosazana Xaba’s ‘Prayers’ examines childhood through thee
prism of a thirteen-year-old looking after her four-year-old sister, both parents having passedd
away within months of each other. The same youthful resilience is displayed in the youngg
girl at the centre of ‘The Fisherman’ by Jolyn Phillips, who needs a job fishing, as her fatherr
ddiidd,, ccaassttiinngg hheerr lliinnee iinnttoo tthhee wwaatteerrss ooff lluucckk..
A group of young South African women share a flat and cadge for whatever the cash theyy
can to live on in ‘The Chameleon House’ by Melissa de Villiers, in a story that has a deeperr,,
darker heart at its core.
And then we’re pulled into the past, into 1923, in ‘Southbound’ by Sandra Hill, in a wryy
ssttoorryy aabboouutt aann EEnngglliisshhwwoommaann’’ss lliiffee iinn DDuurrbbaann,, aass ttoolldd tthhrroouugghh tthhee vvaarriioouuss vviieewwppooiinnttss ooff
others, and their theories about her life.
Moving on from these debut volumes, The Bed Book of Short Stories is centred on the theme off
‘bed’ and bursting with a variety of stories tha imaginatively interpret this theme. It containss
a wide range of writers’ voices – both well-known and just starting out.
TThheerree’’ss LLaauurrii KKuubbuuiittssiillee’’ss wwoonnddeerrffuullllyy hhuummoorroouuss ‘‘IInn tthhee SSppiirriitt ooff MMccPPhhiinneeaass LLaattaa’’,, wwhhiicchh
centres on the sexual prowess of the late McPhineas, well-known bachelor, and the villagee
men’s desire to emulate his success with their wives.
Equally humorous is ‘Heaven (or Something Like It)’ by Sarah Lotz in which a womann
returns from the spirit world to her old flat, and settles right back in, watching TV 24/7 andd
ppuuzzzzlliinngg tthhee tteennaannttss wwhhoo ttaakkee oonn tthhee ppllaaccee..
TThheerree’’ss ‘‘SSttaaiinnss LLiikkee aa MMaapp’’ bbyy JJaayynnee BBaauulliinngg,, wwhhiicchh ffooccuusseess oonn aa bbeedd ppuurrcchhaasseedd bbyy aa
young Mozambiquan couple, a bed which follows them through marriage and into aa
clandestine new life in South Africa with all its challenges – the bed here is metaphor for lifee
Isabella Morris’s ‘The Outsider’ is a haunting and achingly poignant story of a youngg
wwoommaann llooookkiinngg ffoorr ssoommeetthhiinngg lleessss tthhaann lloovvee wwiitthh tthhee aarrmmyy gguuyyss wwhhoo ppaassss tthhrroouugghh tthhee FFrreeee
State town she lives in.
‘Fool’s Gold’ by Tinashe Chidyausiku is another story that catches you in the solar plexuss
– the story arcing over a day in the life of a young man eking out an existence carryingg
baggage for others.
TThhee llaatteesstt sshhoorrtt ffiiccttiioonn aanntthhoollooggyy ffrroomm MMooddjjaajjii,, SSttrraayy,, tthheemmeedd aarroouunndd tthhee ssuubbjjeecctt ooff
animals. This volume showcases two of the stories from that book. Julia Martin’s ‘Letter too
the Management’ tells the story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s awareness anddguilt that although her mother’s memory is gone, she is still aware of her less than ideaall
surroundings. Alex Smith’s ‘The Dream of Cats’ is the moving story of a lonely man’’ss
meaningful encounter with a street cat, and the effect animals can have on our lives.
RReeaaddiinngg aanndd rree--rreeaaddiinngg tthheessee ssttoorriieess wwaass aa ppoowweerrffuull iimmmmeerrssiioonn iinnttoo tthhee vvaarriieettyy ooff
fictional worlds offered in these debut collections and the anthologies. The story is bothh
photograph and love affair, and these varied pieces hold up a mirror to our lives and thee
places we live in.
It was my mother who rang to tell me. She called at that ungodly hour of the night whenn
messages of birth and death were usually conveyed. I felt the vibration of my cell phone onn
the bedside table.
““SSeetthhuu,,”” sshhee ssaaiidd wwhheenn II ssaaiidd hheelllloo,, ““II hhaavvee ssaadd,, ssaadd nneewwss ffoorr yyoouu..””
I knew then that it was serious. It was rare for my mother to call me by the name she usedd
when I was a little girl, rarer for her not to know the right words to say.
“Kgomotso is gone.”
“What do you mean Mama?”
““SShhee ppaasssseedd aawwaayy..””
“No Mama… How…When?” I whispered, pressed the cell phone to my ear, and waited forr
her to speak. I listened to her breathing, heard my heart beating in my head. I regrettedd
asking the cause of Kgomotso’s death, but I needed to know, even though I myself despisedd
the way Botswana people probed the cause of a person’s death the way a nurse felt your arm,,
sseeaarrcchhiinngg ffoorr tthhee rriigghhtt vveeiinn ffrroomm wwhhiicchh ttoo ddrraaww bblloooodd..
““SShhee ccoommmmiitttteedd ssuuiicciiddee.. TThheeyy ffoouunndd hheerr bbooddyy yyeesstteerrddaayy.. TThhee ffuunneerraall wwiillll bbee oonn SSaattuurrddaayy..
And, Sethu, she left you a note.”
A note? Why did Kgomotso take her life and why did she leave me a note? Fear frothed inn
my stomach like cola when you drop a pebble in it.
MMyy hhuussbbaanndd,, TThhaattoo,, llaayy ffaasstt aasslleeeepp bbeessiiddee mmee.. HHee sslleepptt lliikkee oouurr bbaabbyy ddiidd,, mmoouutthh sslliigghhttllyy
ooppeenn,, aann aarrmm ccrraaddlliinngg hhiiss hheeaadd..
What if Kgomotso’s note exposed my secret? I stole out of bed, taking care not to wakee
him, wondering if I would ever sleep so soundly again.
When I was a little girl, life was well-ordered. Winters were cold and dry, summers were hott
aanndd mmooiisstt –– tthhee wwaayy mmyy GGeeooggrraapphhyy tteexxttbbooookk ssaaiidd BBoottsswwaannaa wweeaatthheerr sshhoouulldd bbee.. WWhheenn iitt
rained, I raced outside and squelched the mud between my toes. I waved my fingers in the aiirr
shouting “Rain, rain make me grow,” as I chased after corn crickets that appeared with thee
rainbow, like marching soldiers.
After the rain, I played football barefoot in the sand, and didn’t care that people mistookk
mmee ffoorr aa bbooyy.. WWhheenn tthhee ssuunn ggoott ttoooo hhoott,, II rreesstteedd iinn tthhee sshhaaddee wwiitthh mmyy lleeggss ddrraawwnn uupp,, mmyy
elbows on my knees. Mama would creep up behind me and clap her hands, like cracklingg
lightning, saying, “Sethunya! Sit properly. You are not a herd boy.” I’d straighten my legs,,
and press my thighs together, trying to be more of a lady.
Back then, Kgomotso was my best friend. I was ten when her family moved into the housee
oonn oouurr ccuull--ddee--ssaacc.. WWee lliikkeedd llyyiinngg oonn oouurr bbaacckkss ttooggeetthheerr uunnddeerr tthhee mmoorruullaa ttrreeee,, hhoollddiinngg hhaannddss,,
sucking on its yellow fruit. She was a dreamer, even then. I would tell her a silly story andd
laugh out loud. She’d say: “Shhhh Sethunya. Listen. The wind is whispering my future too
me... listen. It says one day I’m going to fly to a faraway land where I’ll be whatever I dream.”
When my boy-hips filled out, my buttocks grew rounder and softer and the morula-sizedd
kknnoobbss iinn mmyy cchheesstt sswweelllleedd,, MMaammaa ssaaiidd,, ““BBooyyss aarree ttrroouubbllee.. RRuunn ffrroomm ttrroouubbllee..””
BBuutt sshhee nneeeeddnn’’tt hhaavvee wwoorrrriieedd.. BBooyyss?? TThheeyy ddiidd nnoott iinntteerreesstt mmee.. II wwaass hhaappppiieesstt wwhheenn II wwaass
with Kgomotso and I did not want to share her. When all the girls in my class wereewhispering and giggling about boys, wondering who was going to ask who to the
schooll-leaver’s ball, I really didn’t care. But all the same, I played the game. I did not want to be thee
odd one out.
As I grew older, life tested me. Home. School. Church. Everywhere, it seemed as if I was beingg
cast into a mould. In school I had to memorise what made dust different from dirt. II
struggled to remember whether to sweep first then polish, or polish first then sweep. Att
home, Mama asked: “What kind of a woman are you going to become?” As I grew older, shee
ggrraadduuaatteedd ttoo:: ““OOhh mmyy LLoorrdd,, wwhhaatt kkiinndd ooff aa wwiiffee wwiillll sshhee mmaakkee??”” II ttrriieedd hhaarrdd ttoo bbee aann
obedient daughter, a good woman.
Every Sunday, I dressed up in my floral two-piece to attend the early morning churchh
service. Whenever Father Simon warned “Hell is hotter than fire” and “Cast out the devil,” II
felt flames singeing my body. I twisted and turned in my seat. I taught Sunday school, sangg
iinn tthhee cchhuurrcchh cchhooiirr aanndd II ffeeaarreedd tthhee LLoorrdd.. II ssoo wwaanntteedd ttoo bbee GGoodd’’ss cchhiilldd aanndd II hhaadd ttoo ggoo ttoo
hheeaavveenn wwhheerree eevveerryyoonnee wwaass ffaammiillyy aanndd eevveerryyoonnee wwaass hhaappppyy..
I tried hard to douse that thing in me that caused me to lie awake at night, longing to bee
with Kgomotso, but I could not say no to her. When she held me close and pressed me too
her, I promised that it would never happen again.
My love for Kgomotso was like Botswana rain. Unpredictable. I gave it sparingly. Whenn
sshhee rreessppoonnddeedd,, II hheelldd mmyy lloovvee bbaacckk.. TThheenn sshhee wwoouulldd cclliinngg ttoo mmee,, lliikkee aa cclluummpp ooff ggrraassss
growing deep in the crack of a rock, trying to suck what moisture it could.
But now Kgomotso was dead… No! She had gone to that faraway land that I dreamed off
in delicate pinks and pastel greens – where the sun didn’t shine so bright and so long that iitt
dried people’s hearts and made them hard as biltong. Yes, this thought consoled me.
I relived the last time I visited her. She’d called me, saying she needed to talk. We met at herr
house. When she hugged me, I let my arms hang limply by my side. She had seemed distantt
and her words stayed with me after I left, like puddles after the rain, murky and brown,,
concealing rocks beneath the surface.
““DDoo yyoouu eevveerr tthhiinnkk ooff mmee??”” sshhee wwaanntteedd ttoo kknnooww..
“Do you love him?”
“But of course. He is my husband.”
“Maybe you could still come and visit… sometimes?”
II ddiidd nnoott rreessppoonndd..
“Do you ever think of killing yourself ?”
Her question had shocked me, but I said, “Never. Suicide is a mortal sin,” using myy
Sunday-school-teacher voice and my words stemmed her questions. She made me coffee, putt
in two sugars, no milk – the way I always made it. She watched me as I ate the cake shee
ooffffeerreedd mmee –– cchhooccoollaattee ccaakkee,, mmyy ffaavvoouurriittee.. BBuutt ssoooonn tthhee ssiilleennccee bbeettwweeeenn uuss bbeeccaammee
I left.
Although I did not want him to, Thato went with me to Kgomotso’s funeral. He was myy
husband and he always did what was right; that was his way. We drove in silence from ourr
hhoommee ttoo hheerrss.. II ssttaarreedd oouutt ooff tthhee wwiinnddooww,, wwoorrrryyiinngg aabboouutt wwhhaatt KKggoommoottssoo’’ss nnoottee mmiigghhtt