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by Cornelia Fick

Aunt Janet choked on her beer, and then wagged a finger at her husband, Ted. “I hope the worms eat you ragged, you swine. I hope they start on your soft parts.”

“That was uncalled for,” her daughter, Elle, said.

Aunt Janet, Elle and two other women were sitting on kitchen chairs in a semi-circle under a peach tree. The meaty smoke from the barbeque enveloped them. They were celebrating Aunt Janet’s seventy-fifth birthday.

Once proud and beautiful, Aunt Janet had become a bony woman who couldn’t wait for the morning to put on her brown coat in search of brandy. Flecks of discoloured skin on her lips were wet with spittle. “He had a child with a woman in my church,” she continued. “He slept with all the women in the Mother’s Union.”

“He was a good father,” Elle said, desperate to believe in a man who had left when she was ten. It was a matter of life and death for her to believe in him, and by extension, in her own husband, Ben.

The men were gathered around the fire made in half of a rusted drum. One top of it meat sizzled on a grid. Ben had a bottle in one hand and braai tongs in the other. They were discussing the merits of the fire and the best way to marinate lamb chops.

“I was young when I met him. Just out of school. He won me over with his sweet talk. That is what men do, you know. When they meet you they—”

“Change the topic, please.” Elle worried that Ben might overhear.

“That is the first stage,” Aunt Janet said. “There are four stages, the second stage is when you’re married and they stop flattering you.”

“My father was a wonderful man.” Elle searched the faces of the other women, looking for support. “He always helped people.” The women avoided her gaze. “Do you remember how he helped you when your son died?” Elle fixed her attention on a woman with bright red streaks of hair dye wrestling to hide the grey.

“He only did it for personal gain,” Aunt Janet interjected. The woman squirmed on her chair. “On our honeymoon he started with his nonsense.”

“Why do you do this? My dad’s been dead for thirteen years and you still talk about him as if he’s alive.”

“I love you he said as he kissed me.” Aunt Janet’s voice grew thick with longing. “We were supposed to grow old together.” She pinched a stray tear. “When he was tired of me he started treating me badly. That was the third stage, the bitterest of all.”

Aunt Janet stumbled towards the house.

“What was the fourth stage?” Elle asked. She had been drawn into the story against her will. Normally, her mother was silent, morose. “You forgot to say, you drunk fool!”

Cornelia Fick was longlisted for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award (2016). She has just published Eye of a Needle: And other stories, which originated as a thesis for the Masters in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. Her poems and short stories have been published in local and international magazines.