Out of Air
This is a small sample from chapter 1 of my novel OUT OF AIR ©Naomi Estment
More info is included at My Books.
Monday 14 February 1994
‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me!’
As she fired off the words, Gina Duncan flung the contents of her wine glass into the face of the man sitting opposite her. Most of the Merlot dribbled down his fine features, landing on his tailored blazer, while the rest spattered onto the crisp white tablecloth. Clenching his jaw, he snatched up the salt-cellar and emptied it over the spreading stains. His other hand swiped hard across his cheek.
‘I think that we must finish this conversation outside,’ he said, his distinctly French accent wired with restrained rage. People were turning to look. The fashionable Cape Town restaurant was full of diners celebrating St. Valentine’s Day and Gina’s outburst had interrupted the love song that murmured in the background. It had also jarred rudely with the sultry summer’s evening, now drawing to a close, which was accentuated by the soft rumble of the nearby ocean.
‘No, we can finish it right here!’ she fumed, completely disregarding the beautiful surroundings and building murmurs. Her petite body was taut with tension, perfectly sculpted in a micro mini and halter-neck top. The minx outfit matched a pair of killer heels, in Ferrari red. Blonde hair bounced around her shoulders and down her back. Fury flashed in her azure eyes.
‘She has fear for the elections,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘She demands that I return very quick.’
‘Well, I completely understand her point of view!’ she shot back. They were busy with starters. A few crispy squid heads cowered on her plate, while his fork lay forgotten amid half-eaten mussels. Her delicate French perfume – a gift from him – drifted on the air, intermingled with the aromas of fine seafood and freshly baked bread. All of it was lost on her in the storm of anger, but even this didn’t detract from her exquisite, elfin looks.
‘Gina, you are a girl very sexy’, he continued, ‘but we say at commencement that this is not serious.’
‘I still have the right to know I’m sleeping with a married man!’ She spat the words, mad as a caged African wild cat. The tiny gold dolphin ducked at her neck, as her chair clattered to the floor. At twenty-five, Gina might not have known precisely what she wanted, but she definitely knew what she didn’t. ‘Happy Valentine’s, Jean-Claude!’
She grabbed the crimson rose that he had presented to her earlier, and flung it at his purpled face, before slicing for the door, just preventing a trip on her towering stilettos. Everyone around them was paying attention. This was most unusual for Blues. Frequented by the Cape Town chic and famous for its views over Camps Bay beach, it had a trademark ambience. Not this kind. Calling for the bill, Jean-Claude fumbled some notes onto the table and left the restaurant a few minutes later.
Meanwhile, Gina stumbled down the flight of stairs to street level where, struggling with the straps, she stripped off her shoes. Her car was parked a block away. Across the road, pale sand meandered to the moonlit waves, but she was oblivious to their soothing swish. As street lights spilt magic around her bare feet, she trampled it into the pavement, scarcely registering the roughness that caused her to wince every few steps. Behind her, Jean-Claude disappeared in the opposite direction.
Who the heck does he think he is? she seethed. Here he was, playing her fiddle, while his wife waited in France. Thank goodness for the elections in April, even if they did bode possible violence. They’d forced his hand. Every cloud had its silver lining and this was her personal shred of it. Heaven knows how long he’d have hung around if it weren’t for that. Screaming her VW Citi Golf to life, she careened up the hill. Just as well it was only a few hundred metres and reasonably steep or she’d be bust blind for speeding.
Arriving at Sugarbush Heights, she stopped in the narrow, protea-lined driveway. Gina adored the name, and the place. A born-and-bred Capetonian, this was home. Magnificent vistas graced both sides of the building; the back of Table Mountain swooped down to her front door, while her bedroom and living room gazed out over the expanse of the ocean. Marching inside, she locked the door in the dark and followed her footsteps into the bedroom, where she thumped her keys down on the bedside table, next to the telephone. Then she flipped on the bedside lamp, before flopping onto the unmade bed.
It was queen-sized, only because a king couldn’t quite fit, despite the only other furniture in the room being an inherited oak wardrobe squeezed into one corner and a matching chest at the foot of the bed. Luxurious sleep was one of Gina’s particular pleasures, so she had invested in Egyptian cotton linen, albeit with the most fun design available, in the form of huge embroidered daisies dancing across the white duvet. Habit lifted her hand to stroke the life-sized dolphin that lay happily beside her, which she’d bought on a whim once at a soft toy sale. Turning her head, she glanced at the sea.
Bastard! Why do guys have to be such bastards? The Atlantic soaked up her question, smiling into the starlight. It was why she slept with her sheer, champagne coloured curtains wide open, and why she had chosen this slightly run-down, third floor apartment – along with the excellent rental. She had taken over the contract from a friend who had recently emigrated. Prompted by a foreign work offer, he’d needed little encouragement to escape South Africa’s unrest, which was building to a head in advance of the landmark elections that could forseeably put an end to decades of apartheid government.
‘I’m sorry it’s short notice,’ he’d said, needlessly apologetic, ‘but I know you’ll love it.’
‘When can I move in?’ she’d asked. It was an absolute no-brainer. It didn’t matter that there were days when the wind whipped with ballistic rage down the mountain. Then it would slam into the windows of her kitchen and bathroom, intent on sweeping the block from its very foundations. The views more than made up for that, supported by the balance of spectacular weather on other occasions, such as this.
Screw them all! Gina had always wanted to travel, but had consistently lacked the funds to go. Instead, she had satisfied her Sagittarian wanderlust by befriending foreigners, abundant around Cape Town. To her sister’s eternal chagrin, a number of them had tumbled through Gina’s bed, in a roller coaster of longing and loss, which reinforced what she’d learned long ago: that love had a habit of leaving, repeatedly. Her father was a seafarer. Navigation was his life. As far back as she could remember he’d sailed the ocean, returning intermittently. She was finally done with it – all of it.
Getting up from the bed, she pulled off her clothes and dumped them in a crumpled heap on the carpet, which was a few shades darker than the curtains, before stumbling to the bathroom. Although small and decidedly old-fashioned, it served her needs. There wasn’t enough room for a separate bath and shower, so these were combined. Square, white tiles covered the walls and floor, lending a sanitary feel. As she brushed her teeth, mint toothpaste banished the taste of the wine, cleansing her of Jean-Claude’s kisses, which she spat out for good measure. Tough about the make-up! It can wait until morning. Too bad what they say at the Spa.
Back in the bedroom, she picked up her flimsy negligee from the foot of the bed and in a graceful sequence, slipped it on and slid between the sheets. Switching off the light, she felt the darkness envelop her, along with the full force of every disappointment and romantic rejection she had suffered. A rush of emotion flooded her psyche, rolling her over to hug the dolphin to her heart, as her tears dissolved into his fluffy grey fur. Sleep claimed her some time later, but not before the weeping had receded with an elemental pull that left her stranded like a shell, hollow and discarded on a distant beach.
Tuesday 15 February 1994
The telephone trilled in Gina’s ear. ‘Hello?’ she mumbled on auto pilot.
‘Jeans! My word, did I wake you? What you need is a few kids running around. They’d get you out of bed in the morning!’ It was Pippa, cheerful as ever.
Opening her eyes to the morning light, Gina glanced across at the trio of paintings on the opposite wall. Vivid art on stretched canvas, they conveyed the magnificence of Namaqualand’s flowers. Abruptly awakened and saturated with memories of the previous night’s woe, she didn’t appreciate them as much as usual. ‘No, Pips, the last thing I need is kids! Being an aunty does me perfectly fine, thank you.’
‘Why so grouchy? I called to let you know I’ve found a man for you.’
Gina took a deep breath. Her sister had her matchmaker voice on. ‘I guess you forgot about Jean-Claude,’ she said wearily.
‘No, but I know how those things work. How’s it going anyway?’
‘It isn’t . . . wonderful Valentine’s surprise. He’s married!’
‘Gina, I told you!’
‘Shut up, Pippa! Give me the occasional break, will you?’
‘Sorry. I’m really sorry,’ Pippa said sincerely. ‘Are you okay?’
‘No, I’m not!’ Gina snapped. ‘I’ve had it! So you can take your “man for me” and shove him.’
‘Jeans . . . sweetie, he’s exactly what you need,’ Pippa cooed, ‘especially after this.’
‘I don’t need anyone, Pips! I’m fine on my own!’
In the background, the unsteady scramble of toddling feet was followed by symbol-clanging chaos. ‘Kids! No fighting!’ Pippa shouted. ‘Listen, Jeans, for blessed once. His name is Archie Jenkins. He works with Stu.’
Archie? Short for Archibald, no doubt. It wasn’t a name that fitted anywhere at all into Gina’s paradigm of “stud”. Neither did his apparent profession of accountancy. She doted on her brother-in-law. Even more for the way he treated Pippa. Stuart Price was a model husband, and father to their two children, but Gina craved adventure in a way her older sister never had.
Pippa pressed on. ‘Stu knows him well. He’s such a decent guy. He’d never mess you around.’
‘Forget it, Pips! Is my only alternative death by boredom? Come on, I love you to bits, but for heaven’s sake, drop it!’
‘I love you too,’ Pippa soothed. ‘It would be perfect if you settled down with a wonderful man. Then our kids could be cousins without a generation gap between them.’
A pretty picture of domestic bliss flashed across Gina’s mind. The husband wore a huge question mark over his cardboard face. ‘I promise one day I’ll find an incredible man,’ she said resolutely. ‘Maybe even have his babies, but I’ll do it all by myself, thank you!’
‘You’ve always been so bloody independent,’ Pippa grumbled. A spine-splicing yell ripped through her words. ‘Oh Lord, I have to go! He’s strangling her with the pink panther. Bye, Jeans, chat soon.’
The receiver burbled into a long drone. Good. Enough of that. It was over. Gina drew a lung soaking breath. Let it go and move on. No matter the heartache, life was surely too short to hover in history, too sweet to wallow in self-pity. She stretched, supple as a leopard, pushing her dolphin onto the floor. Outside, the sea sighed away to the hazy horizon. Above it, the sky shimmered pearl blue. Slipping out of bed, she sat cross-legged on the carpet, preparing to meditate. It generally helped to centre her scattered energy, which today felt closer to entirely absent.
Gina had heard something once about how you can’t discover new oceans, unless you find the courage to let go of the shore. Despite the challenges her young life had presented, she had always sensed that the discovery itself was the living, the dying, and everything in between – so she’d immersed herself in life. Tactile to her toes, she had gravitated to massage therapy and was now employed at the Protea Spa on the Cape Town Foreshore. Her first treatment was at nine o’clock.
Twenty minutes melted by, leaving Gina feeling less alone and more empowered. Rising, she made for the shower. It was an old one, with an oversized head. She let it run hot, basking in the steamy embrace. Rose soap made love to her limbs, washing away Jean-Claude’s cologne, which she visualized disappearing down the drain, along with any affection she’d felt for him. After drying herself off, she reached for her comb, wincing as it tugged through the inevitable knots. ‘Be nice,’ she told her curls, fingering them with mousse. ‘I don’t deserve a bad hair day!’ Maddeningly fine, her hair was invariably unplayable, the bane of her life.
Tripping naked to the living room, she reached for the radio, sending music swirling like happiness through the air. Gina sashayed as she sang along, hopelessly out of key. She wove around the suede lounge suite, sinking her toes into the rug, which merged together the strong autumn shades of the simple decor. A pine cabinet graced one wall. It bore a radio-tape combo, scattering of photos and a small TV. The dining recess housed a six seater table, sprawled with magazines. Each corner of the room cradled a plant, except for one. This featured a hat stand overgrown with caps and scarves. The cream painted walls sported two large prints of dolphins at sunset.
Gina boogied to the bedroom. She would change into her therapy outfit at work. Stopping with the music, she swung open her wardrobe, exposing a full length mirror inside one of the doors. In the background, the tempo was teased down. As she rummaged undecidedly through her clothes, fabric flipped into the air and onto the floor. Finally, a pink g-string twanged against the provocative protrusion of her hip bones. Next, a denim mini grasped her swaying pelvis into a sexy squeeze. In a raunchy, reverse stripper move, a rough-knit beige vest shimmied over her head and close behind, a leather belt snaked its way around her hips. Beat perfect, her dancing feet pushed one by one into cowboy boots, rather more aggressively than they usually would. As the song sighed out, her reflection moved defiantly like a movie star in the mirror, fitting pearl studs to her ears.
‘Who needs men anyway?’ she asked aloud, before pausing.
I do, she realized, looking into her own eyes, but not that kind of man. I need the kind I can love forever.
From the living room, a newsreader’s voice crackled dispassionately over the radio. ‘Suggestions have surfaced of an independent Zulu kingdom, and white Volkstaat.’ Gina knew that South Africa was racked with dissent. Unbidden, recent rumors of potential civil war raced across her mind. Surely not! Either way, I can’t blame Jean-Claude’s wife. She hurried to snap off the radio. Gina abhorred the media. It was all so impersonal, and interminably depressing.
Please, God, grant us peace, she prayed, feeling a faint prickle of sweat breaking on her skin.