Mary Mitchell settles down in the comfortable couch. With the fire crackling in the hearth, she allows her mind to wander back in time – a rare moment of weakness brought on by the raging Cape storm outside. It’s on cold winter nights like these the walls she’s built around the painful memories of the past come tumbling down, to expose the raw nerves that still bleed whenever she touches on those thoughts.
Life has had many surprises and many disappointments. The time in the orphanage remains a blur of suffering and survival; then her abusing father was shot and later she first joined a band before entering the convent. And when she finally gathered enough courage to meet up with Boggel again, she had to swallow the bitter fact that Lucinda had her sights set on him.
It’s all so confusing and unfair. Why – oh why – has life been so cruel? Surely she didn’t deserve everything that happened?
Yes, she admits to herself, the time with the band was a mistake. The love was superficial at best and false in reality. Drugs nearly killed her. But that’s why she joined the convent: to say sorry, and to do good to others in repentance. And when she expected understanding and caring from like-minded people, she discovered a heart of stone in the stern and facetious Mother Superior.
That’s why, after leaving Rolbos to Lucinda and Boggel, she couldn’t return to the convent. No, she said to herself, life had dealt enough bad hands – she’ll have to change that. She had a little money, she was still young enough – there had to be a rainbow somewhere. Sitting around and moping wasn’t the answer. Boggel was lost to her, anyway, with that Italian beauty hanging onto his every word.
It’ s not as if she’s afraid of being alone; over the years she has come to accept that she won’t find that special person who’d care for her with the deep and loyal respect that is essential before love becomes a reality. It’s okay, she always tells herself, who needs a man?
A year ago she started a small business: Mitchell Music, in Adderley Street in Cape Town. Her idea was to provide a recording studio to the many small-time musicians in the city and the surrounding townships at affordable prices. The demand for such a service was a surprise. For a modest fee, the rappers, singers, musicians and poets lined up to receive a CD of their efforts. All to soon the demand for more and more copies forced her to hire a bigger premises and so Mitchell Music became a minor, but important player in the local music industry.
And then she discovered Dagger Eyes. This ex-convict can rap like nobody else. His smooth delivery without any accompaniment and his sharp wit soon established him as a local icon. The invitation to open an act for Snoop Dogg and the Ice Cubes came out of the blue. Suddenly, Mitchell Music became the hottest item on the international rap scene.
Now, in her comfortable cottage in Clifton, Mary Mitchell sips the exquisite red wine in the crystal glass…and breaks down crying. The woman who had no fear for loneliness, experiences the solitude of her success while she waits for the doorbell to ring. Charles Farnham is coming over tonight; he wants her to sign a contract with Universal Records in New York – a deal that’ll make her fabulously rich.
Later, after the dinner of crayfish, salads and roasted potatoes, Charles leans over to touch her arm. She noticed he used this little mannerism to show how sincere and honest he is, and she’s not impressed.
“You know, Mary,” he always drops his tone when he says her name, “I suggest we sign the papers now. Then we can finish the champagne and you can tell me more about yourself.”
She’s not fooled. When a man has that light n his eyes…
“Why on earth shall I do something like that? Tell you about myself? For what? I’ll consider signing the papers, but my personal life is my own.” She knows it may sound rude, but she doesn’t care. If Charles thought the contract is a way of getting her to accept his advances, he’s mistaken.
“Oh no,” he back pedals, “don’t misunderstand me. I thought it’d be nice if we get to know each other better. Being business partners involves a certain degree of trust after all. I mean, here I am, offering you the chance of a lifetime – surely you can be more accommodating than being aggressive right now?”
Mary Mitchell, with the weight of all her past failures dragging her down into the dark pit of reality, knows where this is leading to. First there is the innocent approach; then follows the hurt rebuke about being misunderstood, and then, finally, the more direct approach after more champagne. So predictable…
“You can go and get to know a thousand girls better, if you like.” An unknown fury is brewing deep inside her. Men! She hates them! Always the same story. “As for you and your contract, I’m not sure any more. In fact, I’m not interested. So, to cut a long story short, thanks, but no thanks.”
“But…” Charles isn’t sure what’s happening. Surely these things should be simpler? Contract, an amicable social evening, a little fun on the side… “Don’t be like this. Everybody knows how these things work…”
“No.” she says softly, reading his mind, “I lost my heart to a man a long time ago. He’s not much to look at. But he understood me and my complexities and I’ve vowed that I’ll never want to lose his love. Now, this contract is a wonderful opportunity to be out there in the world and become a player in the major league.
“But you know what? That’s not me. Mary Mitchell is an honest woman – especially towards herself. I belong in the little league. I don’t dish out favours just because people want to give me money.” She takes a deep breath. “No. I think you must take your papers, bid me goodnight, and leave.”
And so we find Mary Mitchell on the couch, deep in the cushions and deep in thought. Men! There was a man once, who loved her just the way she is.
He recited a poem once:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Maybe he meant it?
Shaking her head, she gets up. No. She should stop hoping and dreaming. Life passed her by and that’s the end of it.
She clears the table, puts the dishes into the washer, and goes to the bathroom to brush her teeth. The telephone interrupts her just when she wants to put on her pyjamas.
Men! They’re so predictable.
But when she answers, she’s surprised to hear a female voice.
“Mary? This is Gertruida. I don’t know if you remember me…”