1. PREPARE CONTAINERS OF WATER   before starting, soft cloths and Brasso.

The acrobat chews with an open mouth, drumming a floppy rhythm with his slipslops all through lunch. It’s the first of many tortures devised to annoy the tuba player who likes his sandals tight and his rhythm precise. Erratic noises make his aura clash orange zigzags and black spots. The acrobat snaps his leotard’s straps and kicks the tuba player in the shin, giggling when he winces. The harpist with a nose for trouble, fetches salad, and doesn’t return.

2. Remove and disassemble all slides and valves, laying them neatly side-by-side.

The acrobat trails honey down his front and talks too loud. He sprays bread gobs back onto his plate, which everyone ignores. But when a soggy burden lands on the tuba player’s sleeve the acrobat stretches over and rubs the pasty mess into the weave of the cloth, spoiling the jacket. The gofers, who are only halfway good at following instructions, intuitively scoot their stools down to the other end of the table.

The tuba player smiles with vacant eyes until the acrobat starts making sticky fingerprint clouds on the glass tabletop. The tuba player, who has a fetish for polishing things, reaches over and wipes the surface with a serviette. The paper snags in the honey and the tuba player looks stricken. Uncle, says the acrobat, quit being a gay lord.

3. Take the body of the tuba and set it on top of a towel in a bathtub full of warm water and a little mild, non-abrasive soap.

The acrobat picks up his unicycle from under the table, overturns it and stabilises the saddle with his muscular toes. He spins the wheel searching for a puncture, kneading the tyre with strong hands. Ostensibly, he’s listening for slow leaks. But the gesture is obscene and turns the air into a bruise.

If only the tuba player would say something but he is silent. His fat temples flinch, his one visible muscle. The wigmaker says, Time for team building. The viola player says, Guess the wedding’s off. The wigmaker says, Remember how they go back together.

4. Rub gently with a washcloth to remove all the gick. Rotate the horn carefully, head over heels, to get all the water out. Allow it to air dry on a soft cotton towel.

Tomorrow, after breakfast, we’ll ignore the tuba player limping beneath his instrument. We’ll pretend not to notice that the tuba’s bell, which always glows like a giant halo, is dull with smears of something opaque. We’ll forget how we stuck our fingers in our ears when the tin of Brasso flew through the window and the shredded polishing cloths followed like sad feathers.

LIESL JOBSON is a South African writer, photographer and musician. She has authored  100 Papers: a collection of prose poems and flash fiction   (Botsotso 2008), and a volume of poetry, View from an Escalator  (Botsotso 2008). Her poetry and fiction have appeared in journals and anthologies locally and internationally. She was awarded a grant from the Centre for the Book (2007), the Ernst van Heerden Creative Writing Award (2006), the POWA Women’s Writing Poetry Prize (2005) and a special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology (2008). She is the national editor of Poetry International Web’s South African domain    and deputy editor of  Book SA, an online daily news source celebrating southern African literature.



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