Albert waved to the guard at the gate and drove his car to the top of the driveway; it was a long, winding, uphill pass and the stately modern home at the end of it was presented proudly like an expensive oil painting, hung askew. He cut off the loud clattering engine and with it the music, he heard the roar of the old machine’s cooling fan before pulling out the key and slumping his body out of the metal frame. Vaguely intrigued by the sublimely decorated aesthetic, abstract but familiar, he took a moment to intake the surroundings of the post-modern, post-apartheid home. He looked at the flowers decorating the driveway, and stared up to the clear blue sky, gliding his gaze to the mountains and the once wild forests in the surrounding distance, onward to a faraway ocean glistening peacefully.
He sighed, turned his head toward gigantic shut doors anticipating an awkward greeting. The butler Stephenson opened the doorway and with a hunched frame smiled at Albert while bidding him into the property. Stephenson was a pale, white South African with short black hair and a large brow, small eyes; he was raised strictly Christian on a farm at the opposite end of the country. His usual flat-ironed shirt and tie were slightly disrupted, opening numerous possibilities as to what it was he might have been doing prior to Albert’s arrival. Stephenson’s earnest expressions and mannerisms always implied he was in the middle of a task, which made Albert feel all the more guilty; his visits always seemed to carry a strange weight.
‘How are you, sir?’ Stephenson said with less fatigue than usual.
‘Fine, thank you, and yourself?’
‘Oh, you know, a fine day not to be working!’ Stephenson broke into laughter, to which Albert had to muster some effort to follow.
Entering the property, Albert gave a conclusive nod and Stephenson vanished. Albert then had an odd moment of remembrance: Stephenson’s holiday plans, he had excitedly mentioned the trip on Albert’s last visit weeks before, scheduled for several days, and it was to commence at the start of school holidays, but he hadn’t decided where he was going to spend it, either in the city or back at his family’s farm. Albert gave a quick shrug and forgot the thought almost as soon as he had considered it.
The hallway was empty and there were only two directions in which to walk, left toward the kitchen, or right, which led to his father’s office. Next to the office were a set of stairs leading to the bedrooms on the first floor, like most of the house the hall was open planned and the hallway of the first floor doubled as a balcony looking down onto Albert. Before he could decide where to go he heard Timothy inanely strutting above, his loud steps echoing. He was whistling the same off-tune song he had insistently, but not masterly, constructed over the years. Its evolution went further and further from what one would call classical composure. It denied any sense of scale or rhythm, being closer to a strange humanised bird call, exasperated and ongoing without any sense of a beginning or end. It was mere habit that oddly fit the slow moving ways of young and heavy Timothy. It was a possession of time and space that irritated Albert to no extent.
‘Hello brother’ Timothy called down in surprise.
‘Hi, thanks for keeping me waiting out there.’ Albert retorted sharply.
‘How goes it, brother from another mother?’ Timothy said beaming.
‘Left my spare charger in the bar, you haven’t moved it have you?’
‘Nope, let’s go look for it and I can beat you at pool.’
‘I doubt I’ll be here that long.’
They walked toward the kitchen underneath the still life paintings of fruit bowls and photo-realistic portraits of African tribesman and women. Either side of the hallway, scattered on heavy tables made from restored beach wood, lay photographs of the family with now deceased dogs playing in a now forgotten England. The brothers got to the end of the hallway and walked past the dining room, it could sit up to thirty on Christmas (or other special occasions). They walked into the open design kitchen that doubled as a sitting room with high ceilings and heated granite floors. There was a set of white sofas facing a 52” plasma screen at the end of the room. A rectangular table, that would sit up to fifteen during a big rugby game (or other light social occasions), and behind it a six-stove cooker.
Grass at an utterly controlled length, a pool so clear you might not guess it was intended for swimming. Beyond the garden, far beyond the white walls of the property, lay the iconic mountain watching over the city and the far-reaching sea beyond it. In the fashion of early European settlers, who once saw the promise of wealth in the mountain’s mighty stature, the Collins had been sure to build their stately home in a precise position to capture as much of its view as possible.
Albert and Timothy stepped into the garden and saw the third and youngest brother, Jack, running back and forth between a set of orange transparent cones with Jurgen, the family’s German fitness trainer, timing him with an old style stopwatch. Jurgen was in his usual attire, skimpy shorts, a tight polo shirt and a Jagermeister cap (a party-animal client had once given him). His small face glistened under sharp eyes, short blonde hair hidden under his cap. Albert often wondered if he did some sort of facial weight training as whenever he smiled it looked more like his cheeks were clenching rather than rising.
‘Hey Jurgen!’ shouted Timothy, waving his long arm.
‘Hey Tim, Hey Al!’ he cried back, waving his much thicker arm back, ‘Al, am I going to see you soon?’
‘Hey, yeah, I’m going to book a session next week.’
‘Just let me know, OK, Jack keep going, three more minutes!’ Jack moaned and tilted his head back, aware of his brothers. Jack panted and sputtered, his long skinny limbs doing their best not to flail under exertion. His nose was crinkled, something he did whenever he concentrated too hard.
‘We’ll be in the bar, Jack.’
‘Cool…huh…Dad’s in there.’
‘Peace, dickhead’ Albert cried as he turned his back and went toward the bar.
As soon as they entered the gym they could here a loud crowd and muffled cheering along with static commentary coming from the opposite end of the building. George Collins was silhouetted in sunlight pouring through the church like windows. A godly shadow in his own temple.
‘Yes!’ Bellowed their father.
‘Who scored?’ Piped Timothy
‘As if you care’, Albert muttered in the smoke.
’The Arrows just made a magnificent try, right off a really shaky scrum.’
‘Hey, Dad, is my charger here?’ blurred Albert.
‘Ahh, eldest son, how nice.’ George’s head gave a dominating tilt in his sons’ direction.
Albert walked obediently over to his father, who after a brief pause and a quick inspection delivered a hard clap on his back, it made Albert’s skin fizzle and he coughed. The eldest son skulked to the other side of the oak bar and pocketed his phone charger lying on top of the mini fridge before rummaging inside of it for a Krenksa beer. He grabbed his father’s cigarettes, which stood on the oak surface next to a gold lighter refracting a garden’s light.
George Collins was a tall and wide man whose stature was matched only by his roaring voice, gravelled through a long career of smoking, but powerful nonetheless, perhaps more so. He had bright blue eyes and a patchy mop of shabby, curly hair, now a greying blond, and he took pride in not having worn a suit in years, choosing instead to spend as much of his time in highly expensive, and nondescript, plain khaki shorts and loose T-shirts. The casual look was reflected in his bar, his favourite area of the house, the one section he was given creative freedom during the designing process six years earlier, it was a sanctuary to him, a temple of sports and leisure that provided opportunities of both solitude and socialising.
Albert opened his beer while the Arrows made a conversion kick on the large screen.
‘Yes!’ George screamed and again clapped his hands, ‘grab us a beer, lad.’
Albert bent back down and retrieved a bigger Monument beer, he handed it over without opening it. Bored by sports Albert took heavy gulps of his drink while droopingly staring at the eye-catching memorabilia draping the tall brick walls around him: cricket and rugby shirts signed by national players, a Gibson guitar mounted above a Marshall amplifier, caricatures of his Step Mother along with endless photos of friends, most of which Albert had never met. It was then he noticed the empty frame sitting at the end of the bar, a brand new hammer and a box of fresh nails.
‘That frame over there, what is it, another sports prize?’ Albert shot a look at Timothy. George broke his stare away from the mounted set and turned his darkly bronzed neck just far enough to catch a glimpse of the frame.
‘Ahh, yes, you coming for supper this Sunday?’
‘Errr, I mean, I wasn’t –’
‘Well you have to be here this Sunday, we’re all on parade, very special guests coming.’
‘Look, Dad, I know I’m out Saturday night and there’s talks of a braii at a friend’s place Sunday afternoon.’
‘Not up for debate, Al.’ George said in a much lower tone.
‘What time?’ Albert said in an overly enthusiastic tone.
‘Oh come on, Al! Five ok?’ he spat angrily.
‘Five’ Albert said, feeling deflated. Sullener he worked to finish his beer so he could squeeze another one down before making an exit. Albert rummaged again, this time picking a smaller sized Boerhook, which had been crammed so far at the back of the fridge so that it now stung to the touch. Albert cracked it loudly and grabbed another cigarette, this time using his own novelty pink lighter with the cartoon of a stoned Rastafarian on it.
‘Pool?’ Timothy said from across the room, racking the balls before he could get a reply.
‘Sorry, I’m only here for a minute, have some reading to do back home.’
‘How are studies?’ George said, his ears pricking.
‘Still struggling to pick a dissertation topic, leaning towards Chaucer.’ Albert said with regretful anticipation for what was to come.
‘Whan that Aprille with his shoures soot the droghte of Marche hat preced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour!’ George sang with his eyes gliding upward toward the cathedral-like ceiling. He recited the lines stressing the Middle English accent in such a way that it sounded like an old Monty Python sketch.
‘O Level English, I used to be able to do the entire prologue,’ George boasted.
‘You don’t say.’
Walking back to the kitchen Stephenson was at the island with a large pitcher filled with light green liquid, ice cubes, and mint leaves, floating at the top like lost green souls. He was preparing a tray with glasses blown from the finest sand, arranging them next to a large silver bowl filled with expensive potato crisps that looked like potpourri. A canapé of sushi, dried meats, fruits and cheese, food from entirely different cultures arranged playfully for an anonymous crowd. Albert was tempted to help himself, urged by the beers, but he managed to resist, and instead supplemented his greed by taking some extra beverages from the kitchen fridge. ‘I won’t have to stop at the bottle store’ he thought to himself, which was shutting in a half hour. The plush dog baskets by the garden door were empty, his stepmother was walking them, there was no reason to stay any longer, he could avoid at least one more routine catch up. He turned to Stephenson on his way out.
’What is the occasion tonight, Stephenson?’
’I believe it’s a fundraiser, sir, a lot of people coming, your mother is out now to tire the dogs.’
‘Hmm, tell Abby I said hi, I’ll be back on Sunday.’
‘OK, enjoy the weekend, hope you’re walking by Sunday!’ he laughed, throwing a quick smirk at the six pack in Albert’s right hand, ‘bye’, Stephenson said as his smile receded into concentration.
Back in his car Albert adjusted the radio and shot down the spiralling drive toward the heavy wooden gate, which slid horizontally open like an ice-cube across a hot surface. His sense of direction was mechanical, making absent minded turns at the end of the wide roads, instinctively stopping, gearing up or down for optimum efficiency. He drove toward Kirstenbosch botanical gardens through the forest pass, the road was hazardous at night - trees lay broken, the ghostly, unnatural scars of frequent, often drink induced, accidents. It was at this point, toward the city, that Albert flexed his mind. The sun was penetrating his eyes in a blunt glare. He had drunk too much before driving. He reduced his speed. He lowered the music. He lowered the driver’s window.
The route past Kirstensbosch gives a clear view of the northern side of Table Mountain, the clouds were draped and illuminating a splendid radiance from the soon-setting sun. Albert remembered his mother, she used to show him pictures of the ‘table cloth’ as a child, low clouds draping over the flat peak of Table Mountain; he never thought then it would be a feature in his life and he never thought she’d just become a picture in his wallet.