A story inspired by Richard Hart’s paintings and first published in his catalogue for the exhibition ‘Kind Pockets’ at the whatiftheworld gallery in Cape Town in 2009
Don’t ask me how it happened, how every man and boy in a community could, one Tuesday morning in June, just drop down dead. That’s right, dead. Dead while doing whatever it was they were doing. Half way through a sentence or song, mid swing on the golf course or in the playground and well… then there were none.
Don’t ask where the mothers, daughters, siblings and sisters put them or how long they mourned. Don’t trouble yourself with the biological ins and outs of the whole drawn-out debacle.
You might amuse yourself with conspiracy theories. Google the name Vermonia Blackwood and read of a lesbian nuclear physicist harbouring one diabolical grudge or a mousey lab researcher grown fed-up of the letchy paws of her boss, Mr Bradshaw, and battering ram fists of husband Ned.
Read of how such a potent germ was concocted in Mrs B’s basement lair, first tested on male rats before unleashing it into the town’s water supply. One blogger has even taken the trouble to post records of the dwindling rat population in the months leading up to the incident.
If, however, you are a person of faith, you might ignore such bogus back-page speculation and comb the Old Testament for psalms to support the theory that women were always destined to inherit the earth.
But I digress…
After scientists had sounded the alarm, presidents and politicians were quick to respond. What if such a contagion were infectious? What if it were to spread? What if the all knowing, all powerful men of the world were to one day drop down dead?
A decision was made to erect a great wall around the town. Quarantine, they called it, until such a time when scientists could prove that none of the females carried in them the deadly strain. To avoid widespread panic, the women and their daughters were fenced off from the outside world, all forms of communication prohibited and food rations dropped weekly by air.
Seven years have passed now. Seven years and still no news of a release date. It’s hard to imagine them all cooped up inside that fishbowl realm, sleepwalking the derelict suburbs and overgrown parks. What odd means of amusement might they have forged to forget the slow passing of time?
Occasionally, a leaked letter or image happens to find its way over the wall. Images and words, which reveal a society in the grips of something beyond despair. Look closer and you will see that the faces are not marked by anguish or longing, but rather reveal a gentle acceptance for that which cannot be changed. As if they have erased our world from all memory and would prefer it if we stopped circling those petitions and staging protests and did the same with theirs.
You may have heard that it was Mrs Mazawatti who was the first to sew that peculiar-looking pouch on to the front of her dress. You may have heard how disillusioned she had grown with all those tea parties and book clubs (discussing the same books week after week, year after year, to the point that most had begun rereading them in reverse or memorising by heart their three hundred pages of prose). How with her daughters entering their teens, resisting now her molly coddling, she had adopted a pet piglet to smother instead.
The twins Su and Lu, at first disturbed by the sight of their estranged (perhaps deranged) mama doting daily on her pouch piggy, were later inspired by this new and novel way to pass the hours. Tossing out their dollies, they substituted them with a pair of monkeys — monkeys which they had doped by slipping their mother’s sleeping pills into a bunch of ripe bananas.
It was Lulu, the twin’s lugubrious babysitter, still pining for her first and only love (Lance –the drummer in a death metal band) who captured her pelican from the neighbour’s Koi pond. At first her pelly proved a volatile catch, but Lulu the stoic refused to give in, petting it sweetly and cooing the lyrics from Lance’s favourite song.
“Love is hell, love is pain. Peck out my eyes, my heart, still I’ll love you just the same. I’ll love you just the same.”
Of course it wasn’t long before all the women and children of the town had taken to the idea, neglecting their scrap booking frenzy in favour of filling pouches with whatever unsuspecting critter they could lay hands upon. Soon there wasn’t a pet store, lawn, park or zoo that wasn’t emptied of all its wild life.
I will not bore you now with the details of Sophie Schooner and her anaconda, Katy Calvino and her Iguana, Aurora Greenstone’s mad infatuation with a ladybird. I’m sure you’ve heard about Nelly Elliot — who, after pursuing her bush baby up into the canopy, vowed to never again set foot on terra firma. And about Tatum Lugones, the girl who donated her grandmother’s chihuahua to appease the belly of her pouch grizzly.
What became, you may wonder, of Ruby Lalottavich, the same Ruby whose mother was so busy fawning over a swan that she forgot she had a daughter at all. How little Ruby, left to her own devices, regressed into the dark playroom of her mind, melting wax crayons into multicoloured puddles while mastering the art of speaking rabbit.
You may recall the rumours of courageous Lucy Eagleton, who in a bid to protect her lamb from the roving jackals — let loose into suburbia after the hoards of nurturers had wrenched open the zoo cages– slept sitting up, a paper mache mask fastened to the back of her head and hammer waiting at the ready.
Personally, I’m most affected by the plight of little Emily Lace, a twelve year old who lost her mother at the tender age of three and whose daddy dropped dead on that regrettable Tuesday in June. Left alone for all those years, Emily had wept uncontrollably, wailed even more when she learnt that there were no more animals left fill her empty pouch. That’s right, not a cockroach or horsefly to claim as her own.
And so lonely was little forsaken Emily that she dusted off her mother’s sewing kit and retrieved one of her father’s squash socks from under the bed, then lovingly stitched a creature she could pet and keep. Then, to mark the occasion (the end of seven years grief), she stitched three silver buttons to her one moist cheek.