Iowa Writes

COURTNEY MCDERMOTT
A Bottle Full of Nothing


This dagga feels good smoking in smoking out. And bits of smoke ride in front of my eyes and out. . . well, out there somewhere. I'm here. I pat this nice crate box seat, nice cuz it isn't the ground. My back leans up against the wall of the bar. The voices of bottles and men from inside, they rattle through my head.

"Ho joang!" Thabo greets me. "Whatcha doing?" He's a blur of black and red walking through the door.

"Nothing," I say, but he's gone, flish-flash cuz my lips move slow.

Each day is winter slow, long dark days of nothing to do but sit and drink. Sitting and drinking cuz there aren't any jobs. Or are there jobs and they just won't take me?

"Thabo!" I shout and he comes out then, twin bottles twinkling in his hands. "How come I don't have a job?"

He laughs. Cuz that's what we all do. Sit and drink and laugh. "The mine closed. No more diamonds."

"No mines huh?" Though can't remember through my wishy-washy brain if I worked there. "South Africa has mines. Lots and lots of mines."

"This isn't South Africa, Bokang. Lesotho is poor, not like South Africa."

This dagga feels good smoking in smoking out. And bits of smoke ride in front of my eyes and out. . . well, out there somewhere. I'm here. I pat this nice crate box seat, nice cuz it isn't the ground. My back leans up against the wall of the bar. The voices of bottles and men from inside, they rattle through my head.

"Ho joang!" Thabo greets me. "Whatcha doing?" He's a blur of black and red walking through the door.

"Nothing," I say, but he's gone, flish-flash cuz my lips move slow.

Each day is winter slow, long dark days of nothing to do but sit and drink. Sitting and drinking cuz there aren't any jobs. Or are there jobs and they just won't take me?

"Thabo!" I shout and he comes out then, twin bottles twinkling in his hands. "How come I don't have a job?"

He laughs. Cuz that's what we all do. Sit and drink and laugh. "The mine closed. No more diamonds."

"No mines huh?" Though can't remember through my wishy-washy brain if I worked there. "South Africa has mines. Lots and lots of mines."

"This isn't South Africa, Bokang. Lesotho is poor, not like South Africa."

"We're poor. Poor poor poor."

That's why there's no food, only papa–boiled maize meal–crumbly like the crumble mountain rocks. Dry cuz there's no rain. No rain, no food. No money, no food. No job, no money. A lot of nothing in Lesotho.

Thabo leaves and others come and go go and come. The sun is too bright—too burning white bright like if smoke was solid it'd be like that and get in your eyes and burn. I hear nothing but cows and laughter and wind—I feel like my head is blown away but my feet are still here, so I must be here. I'm dizzy with nothing to do.

A chicken struts by pecking into the ground and coming up with more nothing. It's ugly-like, scraggly and dust-ruffled. But under dusty feathers I can almost taste fried chicken on my sour tongue. And my wife and children love fried chicken. And we're all hungry and it's right there. And I'm right here.

I take off my blanket wrapped for unneeded warmth and stumble across its path. I pin it down. Squawk squawk squawk. My arms are twisted in the blanket and when I can tell arms from blanket I take my near-empty bottle and drink the rest—glug glug glug—and bonk it over the chicken's head. Dead and done just like that.

I go inside the ugly bar and ask for a plastic sack and another bottle. No money but always drink. No job but always food. The plastic crunch crunch crunches. I pull up the blanket with a swoosh and nothing there. Just one feather and lots of dust. No one around but cows that blur into the rock that blurs into the mountains that blur into the clouds in the sky. One world that's so blurry it looks like nothing.

more

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


COURTNEY MCDERMOTT

Courtney McDermott is a native of New Hampton, Iowa, and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Lesotho. She has had work published in the Iowa Source Poetry Anthology, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Italy from a Backpack. She teaches humanities and yoga at Scattergood Friends School in West Branch.

This page was first displayed
on November 19, 2008

Find us on Facebook