Essay 47: City of Daughters
Just yesterday. Driving to the pool, early. An old Destroyer song is playing very quietly, and this song has a story about the end of a friendship attached to it, which should lead to a story about three of us sitting outside the 7-11, high as kites, and me telling a stranger that he should let his girlfriend dump him. Given time enough, the story that is only vaguely linked to the Destroyer song would include the subsequent trials of the stranger, who turned out to be someone we knew, later. It would also include a part where I stand up and stretch my hands over my head and say This is how high I was. It’s important that you understand. It’s not, actually, important. Given world enough, the story would include what I was wearing, and the fact that my jersey would later resurface tied around the waist of a person I will probably always be frightened of.
I open my mouth and think that maybe I’ll start, but then we drive past a house, and it’s sort of Peach, and something funny with the columns (too square? Too many?), but mostly the issue is the two animal heads mounted on the verandah wall. A huge sort of T-Rex sized wildebeest head, and then a more straightforward sized other kind of buck. They’ve been stuck to the wall so that they are forced to stare down at the passing traffic. There are a number of directions to take, here. For example what is inside the house, if this is what he thought to put on the otherwise barren verandah. For example does he have a grown-up daughter. For example what is he trying to tell us. Neither of us have ever seen it before, but I take this to be an oversight. A man doesn’t just one day wake up and drag a dinosaur-sized stuffed animal head out into the open air and think Here. This is especially the case if the man is living in an extremely peach house. The man who agrees to live in a house of peach is not the man who later decides to send the public a message via taxidermy. I just don’t think it works this way. The two things have to happen together, or not at all, and the paint on the house looks old. The whole set-up has probably been like that for years, and I am only just now noticing it. I’ll tell people about it, maybe, and will realise that there’s a connection to be drawn between this man and the one on Flower Street. The terrible stuff he used to paint on the walls outside his house, like ABSOLUTELY NO HAWKERS and NO BEGGARS EVER and a lot of exclamation marks, and the implied threat of violence. I used to drive past that house and think There is probably a law against this, but then remember that I don’t know anything about property.
We are at the pool now, and Dan Bejar is still hissing away, which means that all this has taken less than three minutes. 2:29 seconds, actually. It’s a short song.
Then cap on, goggles on, and then waving at the girlfriend of someone I have never actually met, but that doesn’t matter because this is Durban and after a while you just start to assume that you are friends. She knows my dad. There is a spot for us on the far end of the pool but on this end there is a man who looks exactly like Slavoj Zizek, doing lengths with his high-school aged daughter. This is not normally the kind of thing I would say, and it’s not like I could give you a physical description of any other famous Marxist besides from actual Karl, and it’s not like I have even read Zizek, but I know what he looks like, and he looks exactly like the man in the pool. Besides from an honestly uncanny facial similarity, he possesses the main quality that a Zizek impersonator needs to have, which is that he looks like he is smoking all the time, even when he is not holding a cigarette. I would say especially when he is not holding a cigarette.
We do our laps on our side of the pool, and we talk about how we our doing our laps, and then we get out at the same time as Zizek and his daughter. He is actually smoking a cigarette now, as well as continuing to impress upon us his aura of being A Smoking Man. Really it’s like he is smoking two cigarettes. There is a word for this, and I bet you Zizek would know what it is. He is wrapped in a former Soviet-bloc looking towel (huge and rough and floral), and he is staring at the water he has just emerged from. His daughter is kind of circling around him in an anxious way, and then I go into the change room and she comes in after me. It’s only when we are together in the change room that I look at this girl and see that what I thought was anxiety, about being late for school or whatever, is actually something else. This is a girl who needs looking after. She doesn’t go to the kind of school I had first assumed for her. The girl comes and stands pretty close to me, and asks me some questions. They are very easy to answer. She goes off to another corner of the change-room and asks another woman another very easy to answer question. This woman, though, for whatever reason, doesn’t answer back in a nice way. She says What? And then she says I have no idea what you’re talking about. The girl repeats her question, and this woman again says What? I am trying to be brave enough to say something, and then the girl comes tearing around the corner with her head down and then she is out the door.
I am standing there dripping water onto the floor – no towel – and then the woman comes into my bit of the change-room and sits down on the slatty wooden bench and just looks at me. I want to tell her how horrible I think she has just been to this girl, and also why are you staring at me so much. I look at her back, and I see that there is something messed up happening around her eyebrows. They are all painted on in a wrong way, and there is something going on with her hairline too. This is not to suggest that all people with fucked-up eyebrows are lonely, but I know what loneliness looks like, and it looks exactly like this woman sitting opposite me. It’s immediately impossible to say anything to her about the girl, or really to say anything at all. I change as quick as I can, and I can feel this woman just staring at me. As I wrap my goggles around my wrist, she clears her throat. Where does one get shorts like that? She talks to me as if we have known each other for years. I wonder if she has a daughter. I tell her the short version (second-hand, a million years old). I think about the long version on the way home, which is that these shorts were given to me by the person who stopped being my friend, right at the beginning of this story. He used to buy me clothes sometimes, which is I suppose an eccentric thing to do, but I have continued to wear the hell out of them for six years now. I was wearing them that time outside the 7/11. He used to pick me up from my parents’ house, in his parents’ car, and I would give him mix CDs I had made. Nearly all of them featured the old Destroyer song from the beginning of this story. Sometimes I’d just put it on twice. We drove around and around, but never once past the peach house with the animals mounted to the verandah wall. I take this to be an oversight.