A Whiff of Bleach has been judged a Caribbean Highly Commended entry in the 2010 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. This is a wonderful triumph for me and for my writing. I started working on a collection of short stories in October six years ago, fresh with the drama of Ivan. The collection is growing and it is near time to have them sorted an published, on my blog and hopefully in a bound publication. For now, here is my entry.
A Whiff of Bleach –
©Suelin Low Chew Tung, 2010
Bills gather in heaps at my feet. I watch them beat about on the paint encrusted tiles, in the slight breeze seeping in under my door through a space big enough to let in the lizards, centipedes and mice which use my house for shelter when the rains come. But the rains have not come. A week to Easter, and still no rain. Not even back to back cricket matches, usually enough to entice the rains to douse the field just when our team is winning, can sweeten the rain to fall. Young fruit die sunburnt under confused mango trees that flower and bear at the same time. The plants look like when you drink something sour and your face falls into itself. The cow itch vine, whose windblown fibres make me want to scratch skin off my bones, head in the ground. Even the weeds are seeing trouble.
In many places, the grass pull away up to two inches from the edge, like close family who suddenly vex, and cracks appear under the washing line, large enough to lose a foot. Under the washing line, any meager drips get sucked up by the heat, and never bless the grass. Only the necessaries can be washed, by hand in a bucket, and then only at night. In the day, they dry in half hour, covered in dust and grit. Every mouthful of water leaves me thirstier. Anything else congeals heavy in my stomach. All the windows are open, but my only comfort is a damp washrag on the back of my neck, another between my legs spread open before two fans working tirelessly to stir this thick soup of heat with dust dumplings. Grit in the sheets, in my skin, in my teeth.
When the rains do come, overnight the sahara becomes the amazon, thick lush and all consuming. But not today. I went out early early this morning to cutlass. My blade hit a stone, set off a spark. Next thing, smoke. A bucket of water to flush the toilet later, douses what could have become one of those fires that red the sky almost every night for the past few weeks. Careless people. Malicious people with nothing better to do than watch people house and land burn. To watch the engines run back and forth along the river road, to find a hydrant to fill their tanks. Sirens echo across the valley all hours. The river is too low, too dry to use. 200 fires for the year. For every fire, thousands of gallons of water use up, and the next morning my tap still dry. I cannot tell you how unwholesome it is to drink water sitting in a plastic bottle nine days old. It tastes as what it appears, still with a hint of brown and a whiff of bleach. My kitchen looks like the long days and nights after that last hurricane – every available container filled with water, bleached covered and waiting.
Aah, the heat makes me crazy. My man gone two years ago, in a dry season such as this. Too much for him to be in a hot house, in perpetual dust, and me biting everything within reach. He gone with that beautiful smile a swift planass stick to his face. This damn heat. The hills, some mornings are covered in a thick mist. Usually that means rain is on the way. But these days, the mist disappears, and then sun, more sun. When the rains come, and they will come, I’ll go out in the backyard and tend to his grave.