Extract From Chapter 1

 

Geoff and Megan started the weekend with a leisurely dawdle around the kitchen table. They could probably have spread out the newspapers and letters more comfortably on the big old dining room table, but there was something intimate and homely about the round pine table in the kitchen. Ever since their grandmother’s time, they had, by preference, gathered around that table in the kitchen, with its bright fluorescent light and the warm wooden tones of its oak-finish surfaces. Anything else would have felt unnatural.

Idly, Geoff picked up an airmail envelope addressed to Megan and peered at the postmark, dated the beginning of the month. January 2000 – a new year, a new century, a new millennium. “From the States,” he commented. “That’ll be your mad American, I suppose.”

His sister giggled and snatched the envelope away from him. “That’s unkind.”

“Not at all.” Geoff stretched and yawned. He was still unshaven and in his sleeping shorts and t-shirt, for all that it was after ten in the morning. Saturday was his day for catching up on rest. By the time he had a full week behind him, he always felt the need for a slow, late start. He elaborated, talking through the yawn. “I saw her at your graduation, even though we never did meet in person. She was definitely on a different wavelength. One unique to her. That was barely a year ago, so she can’t have changed much.”

Megan took out the letter. She spoke absently to her brother as she began to scan its contents. “Shannon may be exuberant, but she’s one of the sanest people I met during my Honours year. Just because you’re such an old stick-in-the-mud …” She stopped in mid-sentence and began to read in earnest. “Oh no!” Her voice was aghast.

“What’s up, Megs?” Geoff sat up straighter, his curiosity aroused.

Megan raised a horrified face. “No wonder I haven’t heard from her for ages. She writes that her parents were killed in an air crash. They were something in diplomatic circles. Apparently they were on an official trip in a light plane and it went into the side of a mountain during a storm. She wants to come back to South Africa, make a new start. She’s asking if she can stay with us until she can get her life together again.”

Innate conservatism and an irrational antipathy towards this impetuous stranger combined to rob Geoff of his natural compassion. “What?” he exclaimed, more harshly than he’d intended. “That’s insane!”

His sister was shocked at his response. “Geoff, how can you? That is so insensitive. Not to mention totally unreasonable. We have an extra room.”

“Is it really unreasonable?” he demanded hotly. “What is she going to do for work? We’re not a charity. She can’t sit around here, throwing histrionics indefinitely.”

“For your information, wise guy, she makes a good living as a freelance writer. And she says she’s made some preliminary contacts here already,” Megan fired back, incensed.

“But you two did your Honours year in Cape Town. Her undergraduate degree was probably from who-knows-where in the States. What does she know about Durban?”

”This is a woman who grew up here, there and everywhere around the globe. Do you honestly think the difference between Cape Town and Durban is going to matter to her?” Megan stopped herself with effort, drew a deep breath and spoke with determined calm. “Tell me what is really bothering you about the idea.”

Geoff exploded. Irrationally, illogically, forcefully. He slammed the palm of his right hand down on the table top, causing coffee to slop out of mugs and papers to leap helter-skelter to the tiled floor. “Damn you, Megan, must you always try to analyse everything!” He lurched to his feet and swung round to storm out of the room. In his angry haste, he swung his weight too hastily onto his weak left side. His leg crumpled underneath him and he fell heavily against the table. A fierce curse of pain and rage burst out.

Megan closed her eyes for a moment and waited until Geoff had hauled himself back onto his chair. Then she knelt beside him, rubbing the bruises which arose quickly on his stiff left arm and on the thin flesh of his weak left leg. “I’m sorry, bro,” she said softly.

“Why did you never tell her, Megs?” Geoff had asked himself that question hundreds of times. This was the first time he could bring it out. The hurt and alienation he’d felt throughout his sister’s friendship with this strange American woman – feelings he’d worked hard to bury – rose to the surface, unbidden and unwelcome. They showed in his face and in his voice. “Why did you feel you had to hide the fact that your brother is a cripple?”

“You mean that’s what this is all about?” Megan asked incredulously. “That’s why you refused to meet up with us after our graduation? That’s the reason you’re objecting now?” She stopped her rubbing and stared up at him. “Geoff, that is so … so infantile.”

“Depends entirely on which side of the fence you’re sitting. Are you going to answer me?” Geoff’s voice dripped icicles. He had reached a stage of cool outrage which was rare for him. It meant that this was not simply a petulant outburst, that it bothered him deeply.

Megan’s shoulders sagged. Her deep dislike of conflict, especially with her brother, told in her determinedly placating tone. “Then why, in the name of everything sensible, didn’t you say something before now? I never hid it. Or I never meant to hide it. It simply wasn’t relevant in the contexts in which we talked about you.”

“I’d call it very relevant, personally.”

“To what? Your intelligence? Your studies? Your work with Ian? Your sense of humour? Your taste in books and movies? To the way you’ve always been there for me?” Megan responded defensively. “You weren’t there when the conversations happened. Of course you’re not going to understand. Especially when you’ve obviously made up your mind already.”

Geoff pushed himself up from the table. “Do your saintly bit and offer her the spare room, if you must,” he said coldly. “Just keep me out of it. But see to it that she’s fully informed before she lays eyes on me. See that she understands that, if there’s any soap opera pity or morbid curiosity, she’s out.”

He limped out of the room. Half an hour later, the door of the flat slammed as he left. He spent the day holed up in the office of the engineering design partnership he had set up together with Ian, his fellow student at university and his closest friend, some three years previously. It was his one consuming passion, an enduring challenge against which he could pit his anger, his frustration and his intellect.


 

Extract from the soon-to-be-released novel All of You by Nicola Rodda