A Short Story

By Courtney Molony

A smear of cigarette smoke staggers between the bars of a black iron gate. The grubby orange steps at the back entrance of the pub is her seat where the girl snatches a five minute break.

The silver ice bucket next to her – a makeshift ashtray – is a documentary. Each crushed stub an autobiography. The blonde waitress smokes Marlboro Golds. Her lipstick leaves a red ringed mark. The Mozambican chef smokes Craven A menthols down to the filter.

Cheese bubbles as pizzas cook in the kitchen ovens – their salty scent mingling with tobacco and old beer. The smell of beer changes when it passes from the girl’s hands and into the throats of men. It becomes sickly sweet – a staleness that makes her yearn for a time when she could still sit on her grandfather’s knee.

The smell of beer is of sunlight and dust and an old Nelspruit house. It calls up the memory of her uncles’ laughter as they sit in plastic garden chairs next to a paddling pool. In those days her feet were always bare, always encrusted with dried mud and roughened by stone paths.

Her feet now are encased in scuffed sneakers. She longs to pull them off.

To survive the eight hour shifts, she has learnt exercises on the internet that are supposed to relieve tension from her muscles. Sometimes she does them in the bathroom where the stall doors muffle music and wine-soaked laughter. Sometimes she curls up on the bathroom floor and sets her cellphone alarm to five minutes.

Across the grey parking lot, between a block of flats and cluster of trees, is the glint of the ocean. The setting sun washes it with oranges and pinks. The day’s last light glints off the wing of a bird.

The sigh in her chest is a thick woollen blanket.