Tag Archives: South African short stories

Arja Salafranca’s The Thin Line

  
 
 
Arja Salafranca’s debut collection of short stories, The Thin Line, was published by Modjaji Books in 2010. She has published two collections of poetry, A life Stripped of Illusions, and The Fire in Which we Burn. Her poetry is also collected in Isis X (Botsotso). She received the 2010 Dalro Award for poetry and has twice received the Sanlam Award, for fiction and poetry. She selected stories for The Edge of Things, an anthology of South African short fiction, published by Dye Hard Press in 2011. She edits the Life supplement in The Sunday Independent and is studying toward an MA in Creative Writing at Wits University. She blogs at http://arjasalafranca.blogspot.com and is a member of SA Pen. 
 
 
 
 

  
 
 
The stories in The Thin Line hook the reader from the first one, and reel you in on that thin line. You will be haunted by the carefully drawn characters: by Corinna trapped in her huge teenage body, by Cleo in love with a married man after all these years, and poor skinny Mark, as he sees his lover teeter away from him. Salafranca is an accomplished, award-winning writer, this long-awaited collection is a box of jewels.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“These stories chart a new direction in South African fiction, where each line, each page – each story unfolds subtly, reaching deeper and more intimately into the tender spaces that exist in all our lives between love and doubt. Reading them kept me up late at night, wanting to know more about the characters’ lives. I was enthralled by the clarity and compassion of her insights; and moved by her obvious love for our fragile country and the fierce power of our unrelinquished hopes.”
 
– Hamilton Wende
 
 
 
“Salafranca’s style in this collection is best described as cinematic. Each story plays out like a camera lingering on minutiae which, brought together, tell the reader a great deal about the characters and situations which form the subject matter.”
 
– Tanya Farber, The Star
 
 
 
“Searingly honest, sometimes painfully so, for both writer and reader, these stories will pop up in your head to haunt you long after you’ve turned the last page.”
 
– Kate Turkington, Joburg.co.za 
 
 
 
“There is a strong awareness of the structure of the short story and an implicit response to the tradition of the story.”
 
– Joan Hambidge, Die Burger
 
 
 
“Salafranca creates an almost other-worldly dimension as she takes the reader on a visceral journey into the lives of her characters. The stories range from explorations of modern relationships which do not have rules or traditions to guide their frail journeys, to examinations of characters from the past whose stories are shaped by the historical anomalies in which they found themselves. Whether you read about young South Africans debating their choices of staying in this country or looking for a less complicated future abroad, or whether you read about German Jews who have surnames imposed on them to make them more convenient to the regime in the 18th century, one thing is certain: Arja Salafranca is a short story writer at the pinnacle of her craft.”
 
– Janet van Eeden, Wordsetc and LitNet
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Couple on the beach
 
 
A middle-aged woman sits on the edge of the lagoon and watches a couple take photographs of each other. It is the beginning of a new year. It is low tide, and the waters of the lagoon have receded, leaving a vast expanse of wet beige sand. The couple stand in it with bare feet splayed, toes squelching into the coarse grains, taking photos with their expensive cameras.
 
It is nearly the end of their holiday together, and they are using up their film before they leave Knysna. They make an odd couple, as they take photos. The woman is wearing a smart jacket on this summer evening, it is too smart for this seaside town, too smart for this season, and too warm, too. The middle-aged woman wonders why she wears it, when her feet are bare and her jeans rolled up to reveal pinkly white legs. She can’t be cold. Although there is a breeze blowing, it is not a cold night, the day was warm, and the heat remains trapped as the sun goes slowly down. Perhaps it is to cover her body, perhaps she has gained weight and wants to hide behind her big black jacket. The middle-aged woman smokes a cigarette as she sits on the cement boulder and watches the couple. She knows all about gaining weight and hiding behind big clothes.
 
She has done it too. It is only now that she is older that she can afford to be freer, that she can wear anything and not be self-conscious and concerned that others, men, are looking at her, appraising her. She knows she is getting past the age of appraisal. She has read of the liberation that comes from middle-age – the loss of youth, menopause – she welcomes it.
 
Her hair is still mainly auburn, but lately she has been seeing the flash of silver streaks in it. They dart in and out between the dark strands, as though playing hide and seek, daring to be found.
 
The male part of the couple is tall and thin, as opposed to the female, who is shorter, slightly overweight, her gloriously auburn hair long and flying in the dusk’s breeze. He is skinny and awkward in his body, as awkward as the woman is in hers. He is uncomfortable in the casual T-shirt he’s wearing, and the middle-aged woman wonders why he wears it. Perhaps his partner, or whatever that girl is to him, asked him to wear it. The middle-aged woman has a feeling that he would be uncomfortable no matter what he wore. He is that kind of person, awkward in his body, in his life, hanging after this partner like a puppy dog eager to please her, compliant, pliant and soft, willing to do whatever it is that would make her like him, fall in love with him, something beyond this cold dismissive need of hers.
 
But she won’t let him go yet, she needs him, although she does not like him. She needs him and that is her weakness, that’s what makes her hate him, and hate a part of herself too. The middle-aged woman can see this as she smokes into the pale blue dusk, and watches the lagoon recede from this couple. She watches the roar of the sea at the heads, as it foams and dashes, as though the seas were a caged wild animal wanting to get into this quiet piece of solitude, preferring the domestic peace of the lagoon to the endless, deep, unfathomable sea. Her boyfriend keeps wanting to take her on the sea, perhaps on a small yacht, time and time again she refuses. She is afraid of the sea.
 
She smokes on the cement barricade, clutching the cigarette in her finger, looking at the beauty spot on her little finger that a man once found so attractive years ago, a dark mark on the fleshy folds of her baby finer. She watches couples take photos as the sky darkens and fish burns in a house nearby.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Patterns
 
 
I dreamed about you again last night. You were warm and funny as you helped me with some problem I had. It was so real, it felt just like old times. Except, back then, you did not like to help me with my problems, preferring to stay out of whatever would disturb the stasis.
 
I wondered then about the patterns in our lives and what brings us to the decisions we make, the people we choose to know. Whether we do it consciously or whether the reason is hidden somewhere back in our brains, somewhere that’s not easy to find.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Schmalz
 
 
In 1781, Emperor Josef II announced an Edict of Toleration for the Jews which established the requirement for hereditary family names. Jews were required to assume German-sounding surnames.
 

Shlomo comes in and says, “Here, you’re a Schmalz.”
 
Thrusts a piece of paper at me – not that I can read it – and says, “Look, says it there. You’re a Schmalz. So if you need to tell anyone, not that you will, you tell them Schmalz.”
 
Schmalz. Grease. Chicken fat. Schmalz! “That’s not what Dora and her family got!” I go outside, the piece of paper with the scribbles in my hand. “They’re Goldfarbers! How did they end up with gold in their name and we’re just grease?”
 
Shlomo looks up at me, scratches his chin, runs his hand meditatively around his greying beard. He’s scraping some kind of shit off his good leather shoes; he carries on scraping in the weak sunlight, and ignores me. He’s hoping I’ll shut up, go away; runs a stick through the shit.
 
I hold the piece of paper under his nose, “How did we become Schmalz and Dora is a Goldfarber and Rosa and her family are now Diamond?”
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
A man sits in a Johannesburg park
 
 
A man sits in a Johannesburg park on a late summer’s afternoon. He releases the lead attached to his spaniel’s collar and she bounds off to sniff trees and play near the river, perhaps she will even go for a swim again. The man will then take her home and turn the hosepipe on her, washing off the slime of the river water. The man’s name is Andrew Barker, a good ordinary enough name, a solid name that is easy to pronounce, easy to give over the phone. It’s an afternoon late in the week. The man is alone. His wife and children are packing, and this is the dog’s last run in his company. Tomorrow he takes her into six-month quarantine.
 
It’s hot, midsummer and Andrew’s face is red as he sits and waits for Lucy to finish bounding through trees and river. He sits, waiting, quite tired all of a sudden. He’s escaping the claustrophobia of the house, now almost emptied of furniture. His wife and children packing suitcases, still busy throwing out black plastic bags of rubbish, and still anguishing over what should not be thrown away. And Lucy, running through the litter of lives being packed up, tongue lolling to one side, excited, excitable.
 
 

*
 
 
 
Desire, with borders
 
 
It was a type of desire.
 
It was a desire without love, a desire with borders.
 
If you shut your eyes it could be any man, no names, just a man, fulfilling what a man is supposed to do. It was a hot February night in Johannesburg and the windows couldn’t be opened wide or the cat would get out. She didn’t want the cat to get out, her female tabby was a shy frightened thing, easily terrorised by the Toms in the neighbourhood.
 
And instead of a man with no name, he had a name. An exboyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who was now in the process of becoming involved with another woman, yet here they were, naked on her bed, hot, but still close enough for him to roll on top of her, to kiss her, to awaken something.
 
 
 
*
  
   
The Thin Line (Modjaji Books, 2011)  is available from Loot, Kalahari, Exclusive Books and Amazon.
 
Visit Arja’s blog.

Five short excerpts from The Edge of Things

  
 
 
The Edge of Things (Dye Hard Press, 2011) consists of 24 South African short stories selected by Arja Salafranca. The contributors are Jayne Bauling, Arja Salafranca, Liesl Jobson, Gillian Schutte, Karina Magdalena Szczurek, Jenna Mervis, Jennifer Lean, Fred de Vries, Margie Orford, Aryan Kaganof, Bernard Levinson, Hamilton Wende, Pravasan Pillay, Beatrice Lamwaka, Hans Pienaar, Rosemund Handler, Tiah Beautement, Angelina N Sithebe, Jeanne Hromnik, David wa Maahlamela, Perd Booysen, Gail Dendy, Silke Heiss and Dan Wylie.
 
 
Arja Salafranca’s debut collection of short stories, The Thin Line, was published by Modjaji Books in 2010. She has published two collections of poetry, A life Stripped of Illusions, and The Fire in Which we Burn. Her poetry is also collected in Isis X (Botsotso). She received the 2010 Dalro Award for poetry and has twice received the Sanlam Award, for fiction and poetry. She edits the Life supplement in The Sunday Independent and is studying toward an MA in Creative Writing at Wits University.  
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
“The Edge of Things is an eclectic collection of short stories traversing a vast distance emotionally and intellectually. For example, Arja Salafranca’s moving story about a woman forced to live in a restrictive apparatus in ‘Iron Lung’ is a million miles away stylistically from Aryan Kaganof’s tale of decadence and debauchery on a night out in Durban in ‘Same Difference’. … Liesl Jobson’s ‘You Pay for The View: Twenty Tips for Super Pics’ is a series of verbal snapshots of pivotal moments of a mother trying to find a connection with her children. It is written with poignancy and deep longing. ‘Doubt’ by Gillian Schutte is an examination of how passion can seep out of a marriage once the chase is over and when feelings of irrelevance grow due to being part of a couple.”

– Janet Van Eeden, LitNet
 
 
 
“There are 24 pieces here, some of which qualify as short stories, others more like prose poems and descriptions of emotional experiences. Relationships are central, aloneness integral and fictional reality flexible. The collection displays a variety of writing styles. It includes pieces by some of South Africa’s well-known writers, but also some gems from lesser knowns, including Beatrice Lamwaka’s prize-worthy ‘Trophy’ and Dan Wylie’s tour-de-force, ‘Solitude’.”

Cape Times
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
You Pay For The View: Twenty Tips For Super Pics
Liesl Jobson
 
 
3.  Kill the flash
1998 – Bryanston, Sandton, Alexandra
 
Behind the lens I was possessed. I stood between the cars on Jan Smuts Avenue at sunset for a feature on traffic for the weekly community paper where I’d landed my first job. I composed drivers’ faces that squinted in the low light, homeward bound.
 
To catch the taillights, red as the sky, I turned my back to the drivers for their silhouette, impervious to danger. When the circus came to town, the elephant enclosure caught my eye. I unclipped the flash and edged in slowly to avoid startling the beast. The deep creases in its skin, the bright circle of its eye drew me in. A group of children gathered at the gate, keen for adventure. The elephant looked primal, flapped its ears, but I had super powers. The right shot would make front page. I worked the angle, pulling in closer. Disengaging eventually from the viewfinder to put in a new roll of film I snapped from my trance. The children had followed me in. We were all too close.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
 
Doubt
Gillian Schutte
 
 
She is walking on the side path of her married life – as she has been doing for a few years now. She has created this well-worn path out of necessity because the central path is cluttered up with ‘ifs’ and ‘whys’ and ‘maybes’. After years of clearing up others’ paths she is just too tired to bend down and pick up her own doubts. Besides there are very few empty spaces left to pack them. This circumvented pathway has led her to many possible encounters – mainly with men in white shoes. So far she has sidestepped them all – only slightly grateful for the amorous glint in the eyes of the wearers.
 
One day she collides with a tall man in tasteful black leathers. She, prudent by habit, looks into the horizon, for she has in her memory bank the knowledge that the heave she feels in her bosom could only mean trouble. In such circumstances any response could cause a hasty and astonished retreat, and this hardly seems right to her because if someone appears on her pathway, it is unfair that a natural chemistry should compel her to feel like the intruder. She sidesteps the man in the knowledge that it is already too late to steel herself against the onslaught of previously repressed passions and that this is sure to establish a penitentiary of emotional incoherence rather than her usual free will and forthrightness.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Telephoning The Enemy
Hans Pienaar
 
 
Pretoria, January, 1983
 
Victim number two: Johnny had to go all the way to Pretoria North to fetch his big box of slides because none of us had a photograph of Suzy. Now people hang around the dining room table and look at the slides of her, which Johnny took when she was on holiday with us. Most slides did not come out good, something about melting in the sun, but you can still see that she was a sexy woman, long tanned legs without any varicose veins, not a single one, although she was 36 already.
 
That’s why Johnny took so many slides of her. That’s why she didn’t last: she was too sexy. Her lover did not pitch up here. He never will, the pig. When the bomb exploded, he went off like he saw the green flag on Kyalami, instead of trying to help people.
 
I mean, can you believe this guy! It was him who got her to play hide and seek and always meet him on the other side of the block so that the people at work would not see them together. She would never have walked past the bomb otherwise.
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Sepia
Angelina N Sithebe
 
 
Two months later Jean received an unsigned email: I was terrified. I felt I was on an express train to an unknown destination. Before you were a shadow, now you have a face. I still dream about you.
 
Jean’s answer was brief: I long for you more. Where and when? What changed?
 
Sanele replied: I thought we might not have even three hundred and fifty hours to live; we don’t have the luxury of waiting three hundred and fifty years while we equalise the past to at least try to discover each other. Tell me where the contaminated beach is.
 
It took another two weeks before they made it to the bungalow in Vilankulo in Mozambique. ‘Is this the place of your dreams?’
 
Jean asked as he led her on the beach.
 
Sanele nodded. ‘I’m Judas.’
 
‘You’ll deceive nobody except us.’
 
‘I’ll disgrace all black people and future generations for four centuries of conquest and oppression.’
 
‘You can’t reverse history.’
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
Bus From Cape Town
David wa Maahlamela
 
 
When I told my friend I had made love to a stranger, with tons of arrogance he was like: ‘Yeah dude, I also did that before.’ ‘Inside the bus,’ I added. ‘Was it standing?’ ‘No, it was on the road’. I started seeing a storm of questions blustering from his face, his eyes gleaming enthusiasm. ‘Were there passengers inside?’ ‘Of course, yes!’ I replied. ‘Tell me you’re joking. How did you do it? How did it happen? Where? I mean …’ He curiously confused me with questions. I didn’t even know which one to answer first. ‘Hooooh, relax broer. I will explain everything.’
 
He moved his chair closer to mine and sat directly opposite to me, with eyes that said: ‘Go on. I’m all ears.’ Even though Aryan Kaganof says that writing about a nasty event is a lot less nasty than the event itself, with my friend I knew I had to try and tell it as it was.
 
To be honest, writers do not write everything about themselves. There’s a certain locked shelf which is always untouched, hence they know exactly the impression they are intending to give their readers. My birthday holiday to Cape Town ended up being filed in this do-not-touch shelf, but after seeing how thrilled and fascinated my friend was when I was sharing with him about this adventurous trip, I thought … why don’t I hide this little secret of mine in a book despite how earthly saints will judge me? After all, blessed are those who admit their sins, right?
 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
The Edge of Things is available from Exclusive Books countrywide,
retail price R185.
 
Visit Arja’s blog here.
 
Visit Dye Hard Press.