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Crime Beat

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Chameleon – Installment Three

chameleon Barbara Erasmus’ new novel, Chameleon, is being serialised as a blook on Crime Beat. Catch the latest installments through the Chameleon Blook tag.

It’s dark.

Not literally of course. If I look out of the window from where I’m standing in front of the bathroom basin, the sky is indelibly blue. It’s one of those summer days that only happen in Cape Town. The colours seem brighter than anywhere else on the planet. The lawns rolling down to the fringe of trees look newly painted. Even the bathroom has a view in my house. It’s inconceivable that the world can look this bleak to someone as fortunate as me.

That’s what I told Tom when I went to get a new prescription for my pills. I can’t get through the day without them. They don’t dissolve the problems but they take the edge off. I can cope with everything when I take them. Well, almost everything.

I relate well to Tom. I feel he understands. I’ve been coming to him for years. Long before the Eric crisis. He saw Lisa through all the common childhood ailments. We’re on first name terms. I play bridge with his wife. Or at least I used to. I’m not playing much bridge at the moment. I make excuses every time she calls. I can’t concentrate. I haven’t the faintest idea how many trumps are out. I can hardly remember what contract we’re playing. I’m not in high demand as a bridge partner at the moment.

Tom looked up from the magic formula he was filling in on the letterhead that lay on my file which was open on the desk in front of him. He took off his glasses and folded his hands in front of him. It was a characteristic pose. I knew what was coming.

‘You don’t have to justify how you’re feeling Leigh,’ he started gently.

‘But it seems so unreasonable,’ I replied. My usual script. I say it every time. ‘I’m so lucky. I’ve got everything I could possibly want. My family. My home. My lifestyle. The… the business with Eric – it’s over now. Life’s back to normal. Everything’s on track. It should be full steam ahead. I tell myself that every morning but I can’t seem to pull myself together. I struggle to get out of bed, no matter how much is scheduled for the morning ahead. And I can’t face going to bed at night because I know I’ll never sleep – even if I’m exhausted.’

Tom shook his head.

‘You wouldn’t feel unreasonable if you came to me with measles,’ he continued. ‘You wouldn’t be ashamed to tell me about your symptoms. You probably wouldn’t be able to explain your rash or your high temperature. You’d just accept that you were ill and those were the symptoms.’ Tom tries to vary his examples. Last time it was TB and coughing. But the message is always the same. I understand it. I just don’t believe that it applies to me.

He proceeded with paragraph three which always covers treatment.

‘If you had measles you’d expect me to give you a prescription to make you feel better, to make the symptoms go away. Depression’s also an illness. It’s not your fault you feel depressed. You’d never criticize anybody for having diabetes. You can’t help the genes that you were given. It’s perfectly safe to stay on these pills for as long as you feel they’re helping.’

Tom makes the same speech with minor variations every time I go there. I could make it myself if you put me in a pulpit and asked me to address an entire congregation of depressives. It’s probably true for them but I know it isn’t true for me. My depression isn’t related to a chemical imbalance in my genes. I’ve earned it. I manipulated the most important people in my life to reset the family stage exactly the way I wanted it to look. Everything dates back to Angela. She’ll never know that she was the catalyst for all my moves on the family chessboard.

I force myself to lean across the basin and put toothpaste on my brush. I’ve worked up quite a praiseworthy lather when the phone rings. I don’t want to answer it. I carry on brushing, hoping it will stop. But it doesn’t. It’s insistent. It rings and rings. My feet walk over to it of their own volition. They’ve been programmed never to ignore a ringing phone.

‘Hello? Yes! How are you? I’m very well thanks. Rushing around as usual. How was the holiday? Provence’s marvellous isn’t it? I think it’s my favourite European destination…
Wednesday evening? That’d be wonderful! Don’t forget that I expect a wad of photographic evidence…’

I gush on and on. Exclaiming over details. Wishing she’d hang up. Wishing I’d never answered. Wishing I hadn’t said we’d go on Wednesday. It’ll be an ordeal but I’m a survivor. Vivacity is as programmed into my responses as my phone-answering feet. We have to get back into the swing of things. For Eric’s sake. Our friends are eager to encourage our return to the social circuit. Not that they ever made me feel excluded; everyone applauded the way I carried on regardless, even while he was away.

I always say while he was away.

I can’t bring myself to mention jail. Facing the facts has never been my strongest point.



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