When Mabel’s testimony was over and it seemed to her that it was not nearly the catastrophic catharsis her previous attempt had been, she floated down the steps of the court building to where her little hatchback Toyota was waiting like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. With her big, bouncy curls framing her round freckled face, she felt empowered. Strong. She wasn’t much of a Cinderella but she felt like Wonder Woman.
It lasted all the way down to the third traffic light in Church Street.
By then the sun was forcing its way into her Tin Lizzie and flame grilling her right arm and thighs. Damnit. I’m in no mood to feel like biltong. Maybe I should just take my father’s money and buy air-conditioning on wheels, Mabel thought. Minibus taxis were surrounding her on four sides and each engaged in an orchestra of honking to get the attention of potential passengers. This is the sound of midtown Jozi…Johannesburg. People as far as the eye can see. As many cars. Almost as many minibuses, the artery of public transport here. And the godforsaken heat. Heat that forces your finger to the window button, where it rests awhile, only to leave it closed. This is Jozi. Car-jack country. A droplet of sweat was running down the middle of Mabel’s back and some more were forming on her forehead and nose. The damn heat…
And then it came. The Black Wolf. It clawed its way from Mabel’s stomach, where it hibernated during better times, all the way up her esaphogus, and took hold of her trachea. There it rolled into a ball, pushed against the sides of her throat, and burned.
So it happened on this day that while Mabel Ackerman was navigating her way back to Pretoria on a very hot day, the stress of the day, followed by the brief sense of triumph, respectfully excused itself and left open the back door for sadness to skulk in like a cheap thief. She turned off highway N1 North and parked under a cross-over bridge…hoping some twit wouldn’t render her a customer of Pretoria State Morgue the next day.
Mabel sat in her little car, hands on steering wheel, and stared at the lines of cars in the distance running toward home like an army of ants. Her large, pleasant mouth serious and her freckles, usually dancing across her nose as expressions moved over her face, was still, morbid. She just stared out ahead of her. Tears started flowing down her face. And not a Demi-Moore-trickle either. Streams of water spilled out of her large brown eyes, washing down mascara in uneven lines.
She reached for her handbag under her seat. Calmly she took out her purse, and took from it a small black and white ID photo. She stared at the image for minutes. If someone had walked by right then they might have thought Mabel was staring at herself. Perhaps just in thinner days. A large friendly mouth was laughing up at Mabel. Large brown eyes. Freckles.
Mabel held the photograph against her chest and fell into deep sobs. She pressed her lips against the photograph. Wept. Her anguished lungs begged for air. The grief took dominion of her. But then it succumbed to grace and she was allowed to let her head fall back and draw in large gulps of air, forcing the Black Wolf back down her into her stomach. Air was moving in and out of her chest now, another triumph for the afternoon. Mabel knew the Wolf would return again. But probably only later tonight when the world became silent and the demons descended into its dark habitat. Then she would be alone with it. And as she has done next to the pounding on the N1 North, she would fight back…