About Life

Where There’s Smoke

The heat here has turned grasses into a balding, crackling, brittle mat; the ground sounds like dry Rice Krispies underfoot. Clumps of locusts, skilled in martial arts and armored up in primary colors (mostly red, yellow, and green), strut around with rude self-confidence.

If they’re part of the food chain, I’ll eat my hat. As far as I can see (which is not very far), nothing cares to dine on them.

The first time I heard a unit of these menacing foot soldiers (they can fly too) swarm forth (from a bush I’d just walked past) I swung ’round with my heart in my throat – a scuttling collective suggests, to my ears, a snake with the circumference of my thigh slithers through the Rice Krispies.

When the Locust Legionnaires infiltrate our patch of crunchy paradise I take the dogs’ poop scoop paddle and bat them (it doesn’t hurt; they’re indestructible) across the dying lawn, growling Go! and Out of here! and other infernal, ineffectual things. Some do go back through the wire fence they’ve breached. Others are thrown over. I get a-hold of an athletic hind leg and the locust dangles briefly from my finger tongs, bristling outrage, before I throw it over the fence. It’s pointless. There are too many, and a fence is a fence, not a deterrent at all to something that small.

You might ask: what’s on the other side of the fence? Neighbors I don’t like? A captivated audience?

We live on a beautiful farm, so it’s a stony pasture some of the time and a dog walking ‘park’ most of the time.

I’m fighting a losing battle. Only an hour ago, I walked outside and almost stepped on a copulating couple (a pair of locusts, not people – I’ll be at my computer so fast, giving you the low-down, if that ever happens). I gave their conjoined bodies an acid, cursory glance and got the washing in. I hope they’re infertile, or a plant they’ve ingested is a contraceptive. If they multiply any faster I’m going to need a shrink and a safe house.

You know what they say: Where there’s smoke there’s fire. This is the thin edge of the wedge. I cannot ignore the sense of foreboding crawling over my skin, up my spine, into my hair, onto my mouth…


Hitchcock, help me.

I would light up right now if I smoked.

Which brings me to another little tale

I stated in a post I wrote about cooking dandelion leaves that I have never smoked a plant. I was referring to dagga. I failed to put tobacco under the umbrella of ‘plant’ where, of course, it absolutely belongs. And I have smoked tobacco. Rarely, but I have. I’ve tried puffing on friends’ cigarettes to see if I can smoke, motivated by a scene in The Hours. Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) makes smoking look like it belongs to writing like pen and paper belong to writing.

I’m hopeless and, to be honest, I’m not built for it.

The only time I got it right was when I was not much taller than a few cartons of cigarettes placed end to end.

Where there’s smoke…

there’s a boy and a girl who didn’t have to crouch behind a hedge or lonely wall to sneak a smoke.

We are four siblings (later, and at last count, we are seven). I am eight years old, the second eldest. My older brother is nine.

We board a plane because we are going to spend some of the long December holidays with our father who is no longer married to our mother. We are alone, unaccompanied by an adult. Flight attendants walk us across tarmac to the waiting plane, clip seat belts closed, supervise dinner trays and toilet routines. Our biological father collects us at the landing airport and plonks us in a flat with a woman (who might have been his girlfriend) because he has urgent evening business to attend to.

I’m sleeping when she wakes me and my older brother up and whispers, Please have a smoke with me. I hate smoking alone.

We leave our mattress to have a fag with a faceless, strange woman who wakes children to pass them lighted cigarettes, purring encouragement as they puff and blow down to the filter, making her happy. She says, Thanks. Don’t tell your Dad.

I have no memory of coughing my virgin lungs out. I lay claim to being a promising juvenile smoker just as I was a promising juvenile actress: a younger cousin co-starred in diverse productions we put on entirely for ourselves, by ourselves, about ourselves (or adult occupations we fancied at the time). We did it for hours, without the accolades The Hours got.

Now it’s time to parsley along to…

The Parsley Postcard.

I doubt anyone has smoked parsley or pretended it was their wedding bouquet on their wedding day. Only when the parsley seeds my eldest son planted this morning sprout will I know whether parsley defeats Locust Legionnaires. For now, I hope you’ll enjoy the herb’s starring role in the latest MantisWheel vid-ee-o.

Wishing you a fragrant, fresh weekend visited by toast soldiers and braai smoke.

xxx ❤ PenMantis (Michele)

The Parsley Postcard…a message for you

6 thoughts on “Where There’s Smoke

  1. …a younger cousin co-starred in diverse productions we put on entirely for ourselves, by ourselves, about ourselves (or adult occupations we fancied at the time). – Is this me?? I remember us singing and dancing for hours on end!!! Loved those times in your little bedroom xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is you! And we did so in your bedroom too! 😂 We had props like alarm clocks and a chalkboard and weird scripts about teachers and whatever else we thought of (crazy, funny things). It was such fun. xxx Michele


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