Extract from Beverly Rycroft’s latest novel A Slim, Green Silence

A small town in South Africa is the setting for the adventures of an unusual character in A Slim Green Silence by Beverly Rycroft (Umuzi). Constance West is back in town, but in ethereal form.

This is an edited extract

With the dawn light starting to pool around the houses in the Scheepersdorp Valley, all the changes have begun floating to the surface. I’m looking particularly at the outside of number 22 Plumbago Way: the peeling paint on the walls and the tiny, greasy fingerprints on the brass handle of my front door. How long has it been? Six months? A year?

The house looks smaller from this height, as if it’s squatting under the sky like a toadstool. The back yard and the plot behind it are laid out like a drawing, the perimeter fence a thick pencil line.

Below this cluster of roofs are all the people I ever loved.

Right here, next to the front steps, is where I sowed a bunch of vygies in the shape of an M. That was in my last autumn. I’d half hoped to be here to see them come up myself. If not, I still liked the idea of it dawning slowly on Bart or my sister Sylvia what I’d done. Though even now, I can’t tell you how Bart fitted in with me. Lover? Friend? A bit of both, I suppose.

At the time, I’d pictured him stumbling across my planted message, stopping to wipe a tear – till somebody happened to notice him. Or giving a grim smile. I never was quite sure if Bart enjoyed my jokes or found them too dark at times.

None of that matters now. At least not to me, or the me I find myself to be. I’m no longer a set of organs neatly packed and stitched inside a skin. More like an orbiting planet. A consciousness.

Driven by what? Revenge? Curiosity? Irritation?

Because I can see the front lawn needs mowing. And the flower beds are riddled with water grass.

There was a stage when seeing that mess would have set me off big-time. I’d have been desperate to get stuck in and make it all neat and right again.

Not any more. That urge to weed and feed and prune dissolved long ago. The only thing pulling me on now is the thud, thud, thud of footsteps down the wooden passage of my house.

Keeping pace, I flit past the windows. I peer in at the framed photos on the walls, and notice they’re thick with dust. Apart from that, not much has changed: the faded striped wallpaper, the worn runners on the passage floor, the doors opening on to chaotic bedrooms. Sylvia, Marianne, Bart. So far, so pretty much the same. Except for one large photo at the end.

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