Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Life and Holidays and Life

I've been sort of taking the easy route lately with my blog. On Mondays posting one of my short stories and on Wednesdays recycling my columns from The Voice newspaper that many of my blog readers aren't able to read. I thought today we might do a bit of a catch-up.

1. Most of this year so far I've been working on editing my far too ambitious novel, If Not For This, which I discussed in My Next Big Thing. I reorganised a lot and edited as much as I could and now I've sent it off to three people who were brave enough to offer their incredible brains and eyes in an attempt to improve on my mess. My hope was that I would get all of their comments back and then get invited to one of the two of the writers residencies I applied to, then I would go off and spend a month or so with their comments and my manuscript and try my best to make it as good as possible. Which leads us to No. 2....

2. This week I found out I've been chosen to attend a month long writer's residency in Switzerland at Chateau de Lavigny from the end of June until end of July. I'm so very excited.

3. The other quite big news is that my kids book The Second Worst Thing (Oxford University Press-SA,2013) is to be included in the schools' catalogue in South Africa for grade 7s. The book is a happy take on divorce and how families cope with all of the changes.

3. I recently wrote a post for one of my publishers, HopeRoad about my writing process, here's an excerpt: 

I grew up in a working class family. We were taught that a person should work hard and the work they do should put food on the table. So, I’m not that writer who knew since she was four that she was going to grow up to be a writer. I was going to be a cowboy. If not that a teacher or I wanted to work in the circus. I came to writing in a circuitous route and thanks to a big pile of hard work that now sees me having twenty of my books published, and a fair amount of good luck, I’m able to write full time and make a living wage.

You can read the entire post HERE

4. Also recently I was asked to give a short quote about love for a series at Efrika TV:

Love is human and, like us, stinky. It is messy and undecipherable. Cotton with hidden knives.  Exciting and dog-dull.Simple as making bread and as complex as string theory. We need more, and less, and in-between amounts. But we always need some. Sexy and wet and missionary dry, and ubiquitous in its artificial form, but so rarely found pure and unadulterated. So rare, we kneel down and weep at its alter.

An unalienable human right.

Maybe the only one that matters.

 Any sense?? I guess they thought I knew something about love since I've written a few romances. Little did they know I'm as lost as the next person.

 ...And life goes on. It's autumn here and the leaves are falling in the pool. The days are lovely, warm with a breeze and blue skies. My puppy is no longer a puppy. The fish population has exploded and my little family here are all healthy and relatively happy. And it's just about a holiday and I get to do some relaxing. Hope you do too!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Colours of Love (short story)

He arrived with the spicy purple of the sunset, at the end of a long, hot, dusty day. They sat on the cool veranda and watched him walk up the side of the road into town.
 “Where’s he from?”  asked Mma Boago the owner of Mable’s Takeaway, a takeaway that had never known a woman by the name of Mable.
 “Don’t know. What’s that he’s carrying?” Johnny-Boy, Mma Boago’s perpetual customer and occasional bed-mate, asked, squinting his eyes to get a better look. 
 “Looks like a guitar. Dirty long dreadlocks and a guitar. He’s not bringing anything we need around here, that’s for damn sure.” Mma Boago turned and went back inside; she had magwinya in the deep fryer and couldn’t waste time keeping track of unwanted strangers.
 Warona was dragging her daughter, Kelapile, to the clinic when she spotted him. She wasn’t one to believe in love at first sight and fairy tales with happy endings, having witnessed Kelapile’s father’s profession of undying love just before he slipped into bed with the neighbour. It was more than being heart sore: Warona’s heart had been pulled out, knocked around for twelve rounds, then placed back into her chest to perform only the bare minimum required to keep her moving. Some days she wished it would give up on that, too.
 “Hurry! They’ll fire me if I’m not back in an hour.”  Kelapile’s legs could only go so fast, decided by their three-year-old length. Warona bent down and pulled the child up onto her back. When she looked up again, there he was.
 “Do you know where I can find the guest house?”
Practical Warona didn’t mention to anyone the way that her eyes went a bit funny the first time she saw him.  She didn’t mention the golden light that surrounded this odd stranger. It made her feel warm, and a barely held memory flooded over her, a remembered feeling, one that she had flung away deep into the folds and creases of the grey matter of her brain to be forgotten forever. It was joy; she felt a warm, orange joy.
“Are you okay?” he asked. His full lips and kind dark eyes twisted with concern.
 “I’m fine, thanks. The guest house? Come with me, I’ll show you. It’s near the clinic where I’m going.”
As Kelapile fell asleep on her back, Warona, with each step, fell in love with this stranger. It was reckless and without sense, but irresistible. It was a curious, spooky magic, but she welcomed it.
 “I’m Silas,” he said.
 “I’m Warona.”

That was the beginning. The village looked on with jealous eyes as the pair flew high up to the clouds floating lazily in the silky blue sky, while the villagers stayed stuck to earth with their leaded minds and chained hearts. Resentment built against the couple and leaked out in words whispered in hidden corners and small actions made in public.
 “Nothing good can come of that,” Mma Boago cautioned.
Johnny-Boy nodded in agreement. They knew only that love defined by the limits of a stingy life. Status gaining love. Money grubbing love. Security seeking love. It had been so long since pure love had moved among them all they could see was an outsider, an enemy.
Days passed. Silas played music while Warona hung bits of forest-green glass in the sunny window to create emerald patches of light that flicked around the one-roomed house. Kelapile danced. It was like that every day as they tried to circumnavigate the tricky path they’d set out on.
Silas was happy where they were, but he spoke of other places where he’d travelled, of the world out there where every step brought a new surprise and a new way to think about things. Aquamarine seas with whip cream waves. Brown and gold beaches. Magenta mountains. Warona would lie in his arms and listen about those magical places and Silas would rub her head opening her mind to make space for all of the pictures he created.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The hovering gossip filtered through their shell of private dreams, and Warona was affected. She wondered if the rumours were true. When she slipped into the villagers’ way of thinking, she fought against Silas.

“Stop it!” she’d shout. “What do you want from me? Go back where you came from; you know you will one day!”  Tears flowed and she pushed her mind to make her heart a block of cold white ice.
Silas was not troubled by this. He knew words backed down when you faced up to them and told it like it was. He would slowly reel Warona back in, pour warm love over her ice heart, and set her back on the course they were travelling.

Then one grey day, they disappeared. All three of them. Mma Boago was cutting off chicken heads when Johnny-Boy came rushing in. He ran this way and that, his eyes wild with excitement. “I saw it myself.”
 “Saw what?” Mma Boago said as the cleaver came down with a thud, separating surprised body from instantly dead head.
 “They’re gone.”
 “Who’s gone?”
 “Warona, the baby, and the stranger. They walked down the road, back into the sun from where he came. Walked and then just … they were suddenly gone.”
“Better. People were getting ideas. We don’t need that kind of thing around here.” MmaBoago raised the cleaver and slammed it down hard into the wood of the chopping block.
Johnny-Boy pulled out a beer from the under-counter fridge took a big gulp and nodded his head. Like always, Mma Boago was right. 
(This story is included in the collection of stories set in Botswana: In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Common Questions from New Writers

I get emails and phone calls from people with all sorts of questions. I thought it might make more sense to answer some of them here.

1. I’ve written a Christian counselling book, how can I find a publisher?
As I’ve said in this column before, unless your book is for schools then you won’t find a publisher in Botswana. They might agree to publish it, but they don’t know how to market a book for a trade market so it will sit in their storeroom, which does you no good.

For a book like this, you need to know a bit about yourself. Do you work in religion or in counselling? Do you already know people who will buy your book? Do you do speaking engagements around these topics? If the answer is yes, than I think your best bet is to self publish. Make sure you hire a good editor. Get your book designed and printed. And then market it yourself. Sell it when you move around and speak on these topics.

 2. How do I find a publisher for my novel?
Again, if your novel has no chance of being chosen as a prescribed book in Botswana, you’d rather look for a publisher elsewhere. The first place might be South Africa. You can approach publishers in South Africa directly without an agent. To find South African publishers, take a tour of the local bookstore. Which books are like yours? Note the name of the publisher. Then do research on the internet to find their website with their submission guidelines. Sometimes publishers want you to send only a synopsis of your novel. Others want the first three chapters and others want to see the entire manuscript straight away. Follow the submission guidelines to the letter; you don’t want them hating you even before they’ve read your manuscript.

If you want to see your manuscript published overseas, then in most cases you need an agent. The best place to find a good up-to-date list of agents is the website Predators and Editors. What is good about this site is they tell you if the agent is a deadbeat or if they're a star. They give you the agent’s website so you can check the other authors they represent. Do your research. And again, most agents have submission guidelines on their websites- follow them. Once an agent takes your manuscript on, they will then approach publishers on your behalf. This is good because if you have a good agent, they have connections and know what type of books each publisher is looking for so your odds of getting published are increased. But note they will not do this for free, they will be taking a percentage of your royalties, usually 10-15% but that varies. This is good in a sense because they then have a vested interest in the success of your book. If an agent asks you to pay them any money directly, say no and stop communicating with them, they are trying to cheat you.

 3. How can I get my poetry or short story collection published?
Getting poetry and short story collections published is very difficult. The reason is that publishers find it difficult to sell them. If you do poetry readings often, I would suggest self publishing. Your market will be the audience at each of your readings.

If you want to get shorts stories and poems published, you would best start by being published in literary magazines. There are many online magazines and some very prestigious print magazines. The more your stories are out there, the more your name is known, and the more likely a traditional publisher will be willing to publish a collection of yours.

Some prestigious literary magazines in Southern Africa and Africa are New Contrast, Coin, African Writing, and Botsotso. But with the internet there really is no reason to restrict yourself to Africa.Most literary magazines have submission guidelines online.

4. How can I be sure they won’t steal my manuscript?
This is such a common fear of new writers but if you are careful it is one that is completely unfounded. By careful I mean, you check out the people you’re sending to. You never send to a publisher or agent that charges a reading fee. If you think about it, what would be gained by a reputable publisher stealing your manuscript? You would likely complain and complain loudly. Writers would begin to see the publisher as a crook and would stop sending them their manuscripts. The publisher, having no books to publish would go out of business. It’s simple- reputable publishers don’t steal manuscripts. 

(These questions and answers were first published in my column in The Voice newspaper, It's All Write, 4 February 2011)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Childhood Tragedy No. 34: Sea Monkeys

Every kid in America knew Sea Monkeys. The perfect little undersea nuclear family. The tall commanding father with his crown and long monkey tail with a little arrowhead at the end. The kindly mother with her Mary Tyler Moore flip hairstyle except in blond so we all knew she was a stay at home mom. That’s what blond hair meant in the 1970s. The prepubescent daughter, naked, with her perfect white toothed smile. And the naughty baby brother. They lived under the ocean in their majestic purple castle, a happy loving home full of fun and laughter. I suspected they played lots of board games together. From the moment I saw the Sea Monkey advert I had to have them.

I dreamt about my future Sea Monkey life. They would be my friends. At first a bit confused about the abrupt shift from their ocean home to my fish bowl on top of the water heater. But then they’d settle in and they’d tell me all about their life under the sea and I’d tell them about my life on land. They’d be the best kind of pets, talking ones. I knew this because from the photo in the Richie Rich comic book it was obvious they were conversing with each other. And I lived in America at the time, so, of course, Sea Monkeys spoke English, none of that foreign Sea Monkey talk.  It was going to be great.

I was nine years old and had a bit of experience with comic book buying. I’d already bought the X-ray glasses. I was obsessed with the idea that once I got those glasses I’d be able to see my horse Barney’s skeleton. While everyone else wanted to look under Miss Mason’s dress, I was more interested in the equestrian bone structure. It didn’t matter in any case, the X-ray glasses didn’t work, not to see horse bones or third grade teacher’s very pointy boobs.

I bought the life-size glow in the dark skeleton poster which I hoped would scare me at night. Where all other kids were afraid of ghosts and monsters that filled up bedrooms at night, I welcomed them and they never showed up. I hoped the glow in the dark skeleton poster would fill in until they did.  The skeleton did glow in the dark, so that was a good thing, but only for a very short time, seconds. Not long enough for you to forget it was a poster and to trick you into thinking you had a glowing skeleton man in your room ready to eat you.

So my comic book buying experience was a mixed bag. But for some reason I was sure the Sea Monkeys wouldn’t let me down. They were like the Cleaver family. Would Beaver let you down? Maybe by accident, but never on purpose. Never, never on purpose.

I was a big fan of happy nuclear families mostly because I’d never known a real-life one before. I knew all of them on TV, though. I knew the Partridge Family. And Laura Ingalls Wilder’s happy pioneering family living in The Big Woods in books, but on TV they lived On The Prairie. I knew the Brady Bunch. I knew happy families were out there. I even sometimes had hope my family, with my mother living in the mental hospital, a stepmother filling in who wasn’t too pleased about the situation, and my father who tried his best to stay away from home for as long as he could, would transform. I  hoped my family would be one of those happy TV nuclear families. It didn’t matter if they didn’t though because I was sure once my Sea Monkey family arrived I’d be welcomed into their lovely functional watery family life and everything would be perfect.

So I sent off my money collected from weekly 50 cent allowances and waited.  When the package arrived, I was worried. It had no air holes. There was no water. The post takes some time and I was sure they’d killed my sea monkey family with their negligent packaging. I tore it open and inside I found two packages of powder with lengthy instructions.

I’m genetically predisposed to instruction avoidance. I know many people claim this affliction just to get out of reading instructions, but I have evidence that I actually have it. The evidence is my father. My father was keen on DIY and purchased a set of DIY encyclopedia from the TV. These encyclopedias had detailed instructions about how to build all sorts of things. For my father, the lengthy, detailed instructions were just taking up space, he bought the books for the pictures. Using those pictures he managed to build a picnic table that if your stepmother, for example, sat on one side and you plopped down very hard on the other side, directly opposite her, you could launch her like Apollo 11. He also built an elaborate brick barbecue stand using the DIY photo in the encyclopedia that got all sorts of compliments for being the most beautiful dog house in the neighbourhood.

So like I said, I had no ability to read instructions much less follow them. But I tried my best. My sea monkey family depended on me. I dumped both packages in the fish bowl and added warm water. I was sure they’d want warm water. In the photo they didn’t even have clothes.

Then I waited for the Sea Monkeys to emerge. I wondered how big they’d be. I knew they wouldn’t be my nine-year old size, but I was sure they’d be about the size of the goldfish that I’d won at the fair that had previously inhabited the bowl, at least the father would. The daughter, Debbie, maybe half his size, and Tommy, the little brother, half of Debbie.

Days passed. Each morning I rushed downstairs to the water heater to see what had happened over night. At first I just thought they were slow starters. But then brown bubbles began to form on the surface of the water. After two weeks the smell was so bad I was afraid it might harm Arnold, the hamster that shared the water heater with the Sea Monkeys. After two weeks, I dumped my Sea Monkeys and all of my Sea Monkey dreams down the toilet.

Now that I have a bit of distance, 38 years of distance in fact, I guess I was to blame. I should have read the instruction more carefully. But after reading other people’s “successful Sea Monkey experience” I think I’ve decided I am not the most culpable for this tragedy. The bulk of the blame rest on the shoulders of the inventor of Sea Monkeys- Harold Nathan Braunhut aka Harold von Braunhut. First, I think we can agree any person with aka in their name is a shady fellow. But too, I find out now he put over 3 million adverts for Sea Monkeys in comic books. Three million lies targeted at naive kids like me because there was never going to be a happy Sea Monkey nuclear family. Sea Monkeys were just a few sizes above microscopic, they were not monkeys, they were not even mammals. They were brine shrimp. Even the inventor didn’t have much faith in them as was discovered in an interview done in 1997 when journalist Lara M Zieses interviewed Harold Nathan Braunhut aka Harold von Braunhut  for The Baltimore Sun, a man who she describes as “a cartoon character come to life”. When speaking about Sea Monkeys he admits, "Keeping them alive was a terrible struggle."

Great. In a way I guess it makes me feel a bit better. Only a bit though.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When it Comes to Books it's a Man's World and It's Not About to Change

Nora Roberts is one of the most successful authors ever and yet her books never appear in the New York Times Book Review or The London Review of Books. The reason they give is that romance is not considered serious literature, but that's not true. What they mean to say is that romance written by women is not serious literature. A US group just released a study that shows despite the talk men are just taken more seriously in the book world even if they write romance.

"Marina Warner, author and reviewer, described the imbalance as "marked", pointing out that it also applies to which titles are given to which reviewers, "reflecting how readers are subtly influenced to respond – even before starting to read. [So] a romance by a male author reviewed by a male reviewer gains stature beyond the usual expectation of the genre.""

And in fact it is not just romance written by women, it's anything written by women. Even the critiques. Men dominate everywhere.

"But the latest figures show that little has changed since 2010: at the LRB (London Reveiw of Books), in 2012 24% of reviewers were women (66 out of 276), with 27% of books reviewed written by women. At the New York Review of Books, 16% of reviewers were women, with 22% of the books reviewed written by women. At the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), 30% of the 1,154 reviewers were women, and 25% of the 1,238 books reviewed were written by women."

And yet there are people out there who still think we don't need special prizes for women writers (i.e. The Orange Prize, currently in transition but thankfully being saved) and magazines like Mslexia.
We still have a very long way to go.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Birds of a Feather (a short story)

     Bontle hated everything about Gaborone Birding Club: the heavy khaki shorts that created an embarrassing ‘shwish’ sound when walking, the wide expanse of khaki vest advertising she’d not earned a single birding badge, and, most of all, the pith helmet written- “I’m a Gaborone Birder!”. 
     The members lived in some La-La Land where bird lists and call recognition created an odd hierarchy they worshipped with voracity unseen outside of African Evangelical Churches. She knew on their ladder she was at the bottom rung, but she also knew she had only herself to blame. It all began because of lust and a lie.
     Bontle had lusted after the tall, heavy-brained Dr. Kavindama ever since she heard him give his speech- ‘Cloning- It’s Always Good to Have a Spare’. One day in the university cafeteria he said, “I love bird watching”, and without thinking Bontle responded, “Me, too.” Now, here she was.
     “Don’t forget your guide, Bontle, we don’t want another embarrassing incident,” Lillian Molemi shouted already pushing to the front of the queue. Lillian -the Birding Queen. Bontle wondered how she moved weighed down by all of her badges; ‘Best Birder’ 1989 through 2007, alone, took up the whole left side of her vest. Then she had ‘Warbler Call Recognition’, and ‘Complete List’ for ducks, birds of prey, and- the coveted- owls.
     The Bird Queen called and the group congregated like moths to a cherished lamp. “Turn Newman’s to page 471, Voila! Today’s bird- the Long-Legged Buzzard. Let’s be on our way birders!”
     Professor Kavindama pushed to the front, his pith helmet slightly askew. “Lillian, let’s not forget, a sighting will earn the person a ‘Rare Vagrant’ badge.” He smiled up at his Queen.
    Bontle looked away. Professor Kavindama of the Gaborone Birding Club was not the Professor Kavindama with a passion for clones. He likely stole hair samples from Lillian with the hope of reproducing his own Birding Queen back in his lab. Bontle felt ill.
     Lillian kept a brisk pace when hunting a bird and Bontle quickly fell to the back. She’d never be the first to spot the Long-legged Buzzard anyway. The members were ruthless when a badge was at stake. On a trip in the Okavango Delta,  Gothata Modise, a slightly built accountant,  pushed two members into a hippo-infested channel just so he could see a copper sunbird and earn his ‘Complete List: Nectar Feeders’ badge.
     ‘Kraak!’  Bontle strained her ears.  ‘Kraak!’
     Wait-she knew that call! It was a White Back Night Heron, a very rare bird for this area.  If she found it, she’d get one of the most prestigious badges- ’Rare Night Water Bird’. She looked left then right- she was alone. Bontle set off towards the sound. 
     Suddenly she heard the group in the distance, they had heard the call too and were coming her way.  Bontle ran, ignoring the thorns tearing at her bare, chubby legs.  She pushed through some reeds and then- there it was; the white eye ring and yellow legs gave it away.  
    In seconds, Lillian’s annoyed face appeared through the reeds. “Imagine you stumbling upon that, Bontle.”
     “No stumbling involved. I heard the call, I followed it. I don’t believe you have this badge, Lillian, am I right?”
     Ignoring her, Lillian ordered a bit too harshly, “No time to waste ogling that, let’s find the buzzard!” She set off and the group trailed away after her.
     Bontle sat down on the mat of reeds, happy, and watched the heron hunt in the marshy water.
     “Quite a find.”
     Bontle jumped; she’d thought she was alone. It was Professor Kavindama. They both watched the bird for some silent moments. “I wonder…. would you like to accompany me to brunch later?” the Professor asked hesitantly.
     The heron pulled its beak out of the water holding a wriggling frog- finally -hunting success!
Sharing the imagined thoughts of the bird, Bontle looked back at Professor Kavindama and smiled. 

(This story is included in the book 50 Stories for Haiti which raises funds for the people there affected by the hurrivcane)

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Collector of Lives (a short story)

(  I wrote this story just after the Tsunami, trying to find a way to understand what 200,000+ people dead really means)
 SHE LAYS still, her body bloated and pale.  In the constantly moving water, her long, black hair waves like ribbons in the wind. Fish swim past; nibble a bit at her battered leg, then move on. A small crab creeps over the mound of her bare stomach. A piece of seaweed is wrapped around her toe. He wonders where have her clothes gone to.
   Then he shakes himself awake. Dripping with an icy sweat, he manages, after long minutes of confusion, to pull himself into reality. The sharp truth that she is gone, gone not known where, settles once again in its usual place. He reminds himself that a dream is not the truth, the dream of her alone forever on the floor of the unfeeling ocean. It is not the truth, it is only an option.  An option among many, he assures himself. Why, when there are so many options, must the worst one be the truth? Why couldn’t she be alive and a few steps away from their own front door, just now ready to knock?  Why couldn’t tomorrow be the day that they lay in bed holding each other until the sun rises high in the sky for fear that letting go would dissolve the truth of their togetherness like so many grains of sugar in tea? Why not that? He spoke out to no one because everyone was gone who could have heard.
    They stayed for a while. They were lost, wandering this way and that- crying out, keeping silent. They paced his beach with him. They too looked out with anger at the sea; shouting impotently and at other times, silently watching, waiting. But then others came and said, "It is time to move on." And everyone left.  It was not worth their time to rebuild the village. They had no will to fight the ocean for the land. The sea had taught them who would be victorious. Throwing up their hands in defeat they walked away.  
    Once alone, without interference by "I'm so sorry" and "you must move on with your life" - he felt better. Strict routine helped. He woke at day break. Ate a sparse breakfast and spent the day patrolling. He would search the coastline up and down to see what the sea decided to return. To check if his Kade was among the ocean’s rejected rubbish. So far she was not. So far the sentence of her leaving was not complete.
    But others had returned. Nameless people, lives washed clean. These he would spend the afternoons burying. They were quite a few now, an even dozen since the day before yesterday when a girl, a teenager, washed ashore. She wore only the remnants of a purple t-shirt nothing else. Her face was gone and her left hand had only a thumb. She might have been twelve or thirteen, small nubs of her new breasts poked through the holes in the tattered shirt and curly dark hairs sprouted here and there around her pubic mound. Womanhood was just around the corner for this girl when she died. Somewhere her parents mourned her. Because of that he removed her purple shirt before laying her in the grave he had dug. Folding it carefully he placed it in the box with the eleven other identifying bits and pieces that he would show the buried ones’ families if they should ever decide to return. So that their question marks could be changed to solemn but finally ending full stops.
     The dream of Kade held deep on the ocean’s floor decided that sleep would elude him so he moves into the small light from the moon and opens the box. He has come to enjoy looking through the objects, creating the lives of the dead.
   There were pieces of various coloured clothing, a few rings, some necklaces, three single shoes. He took whatever the sea agreed to give back. Carefully, he turned a plain gold wedding band back and forth in the moonlight. He remembered it, it was taken from a short, fat woman with a kind face and a small pert nose who washed up only a few days after everybody was gone. He thought that she must have been loved by her husband for her soft, round body to hold for comfort in the inky darkness of an uncertain night.
    Digging to the bottom, he searched for the silver necklace, one of his favourites. It was a beautiful thing, smooth and well crafted. A man had worn it, a tall, well-built man maybe his own age. He imagined him one of the rich jewelers who populated the capitol. He was Chinese and he knew the Chinese in Jakarta were very wealthy. Though the poor often held animosity for the rich, he felt none for this dead jeweler.  If he were to be honest, before perhaps, but not now, loss had equalized things, pain had set the meter back to zero and everyone could now look eye to eye.
    Soon a thin line of light appeared through the hole that once held the glass of a window. He puts everything carefully back into the box. Getting up, he rolls his sleeping mat and places it in the corner of the empty room. He grabs the door on both sides and lifts it to the side. It’s a bit small for the space; their door had been torn off and taken somewhere else so he had replaced it with another found abandoned at the shoreline. He walks into the coolness of the new day. After stoking the fire back to life, he adds a few broken pieces of timber till it bursts into flame. Placing his tin of coffee at the edge of the fire, he goes back into the house for a few pieces of dried fish that will serve as his breakfast. He eats watching the sun slowly climb into the sky.
     Breakfast finished, he makes his way to the beach. Stepping over piles of broken wooden walls, he spies the brown teddy bear lying trapped in a low bush as he does every morning, its owner maybe dead, maybe moved away. As he passes it he gives the toy a benevolent nod of common circumstance. They both wait, wait for the uncertain return of their heart’s owner, both hope that the likely truth- for them- will not be so.
   Patrolling is calming and nerve wrecking at the same time. At least finding her beautiful body would put an end to it.  He could maybe move on, as they all like to say. He’s become accustomed now to his routine, though. He hates to admit it, feels guilty even to think the thought that he’s come to accept it somehow. It is a small contained life but a life nonetheless, something he was not sure he’d ever have again.
   By the time that he reaches the water’s edge, the sun has risen completely. A gull screams at him for disturbing his morning hunt. Looking out over the water, he sees something floating in the tide wash a few metres down, he quickens his pace towards the dark spot in the distance. As he nears, he knows that it is a body. He has seen so many he is nearly an expert.
     It is as he thought. He knows without turning it over that it is not her, though. This person is taller than Kade, the hands are not right. Relief washes over him. He pushes the body over and sees that it is a woman.  Her body bloated, just like the one in his dream. Three toes are missing, her chin nibbled off. She wears the remains of a beautiful dress. Even in its tattered state it is evident that money was spent by this woman to buy the dress. She walked through air conditioned shops, overseas perhaps, through store after store looking for a certain dress. A dress that would accent her almond eyes, for he could see, even in the state that she was in, that her eyes where beautiful, a feature to take pride in. And she brought the dress home, anxious to show her husband. She pranced in front of him, reminding him once again of her beauty and why he should be thankful she agreed to marry him. And he was thankful, as all men with beautiful wives are but was that thankfulness not also tinged with a bit of anger at her boastfulness? Or was he a kind man who knew she was just making a present of herself for him? He wondered these things as he looked at this body of a living woman long gone.
      The sweat poured from his face and down the middle of his back as he dug the grave. The steamy humidity of mid-morning pressed on him and the digging was slow going. But, he had decided to dig proper graves and, as his wife had often said, he was a perfectionist once he had found a goal.
    In the end, the sun sat on the edge of the horizon when he finally laid the shovel down and went for the body. He rolled her, face down, onto a washed up board and dragged it to the plot. At the side, he tipped the board and she fell to the bottom of the grave, lying almost perfectly on her back. He picked up the shovel and pushed soil into the hole mechanically, standing up straight when the task was finished. In the light from a full mooned night sky, he repeated a short Islamic prayer they’d memorized as small children. It was about the love of Allah and Allah’s love for a good wife. He thought that it was appropriate, though he believed none of it himself. After all that had happened, he was convinced that there was no god; that he was absolutely sure of.
    He had taken the wedding ring from her finger and the belt of the fancy dress for his box.  He pulled a smooth piece of broken timber from a nearby pile and, using a piece of charred wood from his fire, wrote 'gold ring with two small diamonds and yellow belt of an expensive dress' and he pushed the timber into the ground to act as a headstone. It was his system. Then he tied the ring inside of the belt. He would put them in the box and if ever her husband arrived he might go through the box and find the belt of her expensive dress and the wedding ring he gave her and then he would take him to her grave where he knew she would always be.
      When he was done, he sat down next to the grave exhausted and watched the moonlight shimmer on the calm surface of the deceitful ocean. He heard a noise behind him and turned. To his shock, he saw his wife standing in the distance; the moonlight glowed around her, her silky hair pulled back into a tidy braid that laid over her other shoulder down to her waist. He stood up and ran to her shouting, "Kade? Kade is that you? You have returned! You have returned!"
     He ran as fast as he could towards her until he was a few metres away, then he stopped short. His heart fell to the earth with a thud, and the aching sadness that he thought he had managed to escape from with his routine and his patrolling, with his box, came crashing into him and he felt his bones shatter in despair. A howl echoed down the coast as he fell to his knees. 
    "Sir, please do not cry. Please do not cry," a woman's voice said.   She could do nothing but speak the words. She could add no edge of kindness to ease his burden. No hand to rub a shoulder; only words was she able to offer. She needed him to stop, her ears were overflowing with the sound of people's pain and she could take no more.
    After some moments, his sadness put loosely back in its place, he looked up. "What do you want here? Why did you come here?" he snapped, not meaning to be so abrupt but having no choice in his state.
     “I wanted to check if my son has returned, “ she said ignoring his rudeness.
     He got up from his knees and looked this woman over. She was slightly older than him and he regretted having been short with her so the next words he spoke with gentle kindness. “I patrol this beach. Since everyone has gone I’ve buried thirteen that the sea has returned. I have a box, I can show you."

    She followed him away from the beach over the broken homes, past the stuck bear to his house. She waited outside while he moved the door to the side and entered. He returned after some minutes with a large metal trunk. Setting it near the fire, he pointed at a stool he had salvaged for her to sit on.
    "How old was your boy?" he asked.
  She rocked a moment then bent her head down and held it hard between her hands. She had found by doing this she could force the pain back inside and then she could think of her son without going insane. "He was ten years old." He watched but thought nothing. In such times acceptance becomes very wide.
    "There was a boy," he said opening the lid and letting it fall over onto the ground where it clanked to a stop. "He arrived two weeks ago, maybe it's three weeks now. I’m not sure; the days are a bit muddled. He wore a shoe, only one but if it’s him you’ll know it as it had something tied on it." He dug through the box and finally after a time, said, "Yes, I remember now, it had a bell." And he pulled the shoe out and handed it to the woman.
   She snatched it from his hand and pulled it close to her body. Falling to the ground, she rolled violently back and forth, sand sticking to her body, twigs catching in her long braid. "Budi, Budi!" she moaned in a deep, ripping voice.
    He sat quietly poking at the fire, closing up his box.   After a time, when the moon was already small and white, hidden half behind a drifting cloud, she sat up, still holding the shoe next to her heart. "Where did you take him?" she whispered.
     "He is with the others. Shall I show you now?"
      She stood up as her answer. They made their way to the makeshift cemetery where he had to read a few of the headstones before he found her son. "Here it is."
     "Thank you," she replied. "Now you can go and leave us."
    When he stepped away to go, she fell on top of the grave and he was surprised that her wailing began yet again. The limitlessness of her grief astounded him. Silently, he crept back to his house and fell asleep on his reed mat. 
   In the morning, before eating his breakfast or beginning his patrol he went to check on the woman. Her cries of Budi pushed above the roar of the excited ocean. She lay where he had left her the night before. Knowing that there was nothing that he could do, he turned around to begin his day.  By morning, a soft drizzle began. From his patrol he could see the woman still on the grave. He turned to check her every once and a while, but soon he forgot and went about his daily routine.
     And so it went for four days. He attempted to bring her food and water, but she was unaware of him. Her grief was opaque and sturdy, blocking off all around her. He told himself that she would know when it was time to come away from her son, so he left her.
   On the night of the fourth day, she came to stand next to where he sat on the beach. The sea was rough and the wind howled so he had wrapped himself in a torn curtain he had found. "I wonder what I should do now," she stated and he jumped at the sound where none should have been.
     Sitting next to him, she pulled her legs up and wrapped them with her arms, and then reaching behind she undid her braid and let her long hair fall around her to insulate herself from the wind. He looked at her and repeated what he knew he must, without conviction. "You must go from here and move on. Make a new life."
    Turning she looked at this strange patrolling man and laughed. A wild, abandoned laugh full of the uselessness of life, of love, of loss and the open pit of uncontrolled emotions that she was unable to cover politely with a lid, a laugh that nearly swallowed them up in the despair of it.
   When it was quiet again, he said in response, "Yes, I suppose you're right."
   And that was how their life began- amid the rubble and the sea, with bodies floating in and being buried. With hearts like mangled meat, they began, step by step.  It was a simple routine without a shred of contrived pretense. No, there was no room for that. They patrolled the beach and they collected the bits and pieces that described a life so that those who were searching might one day be found. And on a certain day a hand accidentally touched an arm, and then, later, a kiss opened a heart that had been shut tight with cement and chains, thinking only the awaited one had the key or the hammer to open it up again. But surprisingly, inside was found a small place, a growing place, which could make just enough room for one more.